Selected Sayings of Sahl al Tustari (d. 283H)


Imam Abu Muhammed Sahl ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Tustari (203-283H) was among the early scholars of Sufism/Tasawwuf. Ibn Taymiyya included him as an adherent of “Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamah” saying:

“The great shaykhs mentioned by Abu `Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami in Tabaqat al-sufiyya, and Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri in al-Risala, were adherents of the school of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a and the school of Ahl al-hadith, such as al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, Sahl ibn `Abd Allah al-Tustari, `Amr ibn `Uthman al-Makki, Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Khafif al-Shirazi, and others, and their speech is found in the Sunna, and they composed books about the Sunna.”  [Ibn Taymiyya, al-Risala al-Safadiyya (Riyad: matabi` hanifa, 1396/1976) 1:267.]

Some of the sayings of Sahl al Tustari (may Allah preserve his secrets) in commentary to the verses of the Quran are quoted below:

On abiding by Quran, Sunnah and Ijma

{O People of the Scripture do not go to excess in your religion} That is, do not exceed the limits in your religion through innovations (bidaʿ), or by deviating from the truth, which is the Book, the Sunna and consensus (ijmāʿ), by inclining towards the desire of your lower selves.And he [Sahl] said:The backbone (qiwām) of religion and this world is in three things: knowledge (ʿilm), propriety (adab) and initiative (mubādara). However, the ruin of religion and this world comes from three things: ignorance (jahl), folly (khurq) and laziness (kasal).On another occasion, I heard him say:There are four things which are among the buttresses (daʿāʾim) of the religion: to uphold the truth even against your own self and others; to renounce falsehood in yourself or others; to love the people who are obedient to God and to detest those who disobey Him.

On opposition to heretical bidah

Sahl b. Abd Allah al-Tustari said: “No one has ever innovated a thing in matters of religious knowledge, but that he is questioned about it on the Day of Resurrection; should he conform to the Sunna, well and good; otherwise, he shall perish.” [Ibn Qudama in Tahrim al-Nazar fi Kutub al al-Kalam]

{As for those who have divided their religion and broken up into factions} He [Sahl] said:They are the people of whims (ahwāʾ) and innovations (bidaʿ) in religion. For them there is no form of repentance. Thus, has it been related from the Prophet that he said, ‘For every sin there is a form of repentance except for that of the people of whims and innovations, for truly I disown them just as they disown me, and God, Mighty and Majestic is He, has excluded them from repentance (tawba).’ That is, He has made the way to repentance difficult for them.

{You will not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day loving those who oppose God and His Messenger, even were they to be their fathers} He [Sahl] said:No person whose faith is sound enjoys the company of the innovator (mubtadiʿ), nor does he comply with him, eat with him, drink with him or keep his company. Rather, he shows him hostility and loathing from himself. On the other hand, whoever fawns over an innovator will have the sweetness of [following] the Prophet’s ways (sunan) removed from him by God, and whoever shows love for an innovator, seeking honour in this world and some worldy gain (ʿaraḍan minhā), will find that God humiliates him with that honour and impoverishes him through that wealth. Moreover, whoever jokes with an innovator will find that God removes the light of faith from his heart. As for the one who doubts this, let him try it for himself.

On the meaning of the verse {the Hand of God is above their hands}

{the Hand of God is above their hands} He said: That is, the power (ḥawl) of God and His strength (quwwa) is above their strength (quwwa) and their action (ḥaraka). This is in their saying to the Messenger at the time of the pledge (bayʿa), ‘We have pledged to you that we will not flee, and we will fight for you.’ There is another possible meaning of the Hand of God is above their hands, which is, the grace (minna) of God is above them in their being guided to take the pledge, and His reward (thawāb) for them is above their pledge and their obedience for you.

On Quran as the Speech of Allah

{And there would never come from the Compassionate One any reminder that is new, but that they used to disregard it.}  He said: That is, whenever there came to them, through revelation, knowledge of the Qurʾān which was new to them and of which they had no prior knowledge, they would turn away from it. This is not to say that the Reminder (dhikr) itself is created (muhdath), however, for it is from among the attributes of the essence of God, and is therefore neither existentiated (mukawwan) nor created (makhlūq).

On the creation of the Prophet

He created Adam from the clay of might consisting of the light of Muḥammad

God, Glorified and Exalted is He, created him as a light within a column of light (nūran fī ʿamūd al-nūr), a million years before creation,

the light of the prophets is from his [Muḥammad’s] light, the light of the heavenly dominions is from his light and the light of this world and the Hereafter is from his light.

On the principles of his school of Tasawwuf 

He said: The principles of our school are three: consuming what is legitimate; following the example of the Messenger in his character (akhlāq) and actions (afʿāl), and sincerity of intention (ikhlāṣ al-nīya) in all works. He then said:Impose upon yourselves three things, for the best of [all] that is in this world and the Hereafter is contained within them: keeping [your self] close to [lit. making it consort with, suḥbatuhā] His commandments and prohibitions by adherence to the Sunna; establishing within it the attestation of God’s oneness, which [brings about] certainty (yaqīn), [and imposing upon it] knowledge (ʿilm), through which the spirit attains union (fīhi ittiṣāl al-rūḥ). The one who possessesthese three [traits] is more knowledgeable about what is in the earth’s core than about what is on its surface, and he regards the Hereafter more than he regards this world. Furthermore, he is better known to the angels in heaven than he is on earth to his own family and relatives.He was asked: ‘What is the knowledge through which the spirit attains union?’ [He replied]:It is the knowledge that God is taking care of it, and being contented [with that].

On Jihad al Nafs

He [Sahl] said:All forms of obedience to God involve struggle with the lower self (jihād al-nafs). There is no struggle easier than the struggle with swords, and no struggle harder than opposing the lower self.

On Remembrance of God

{And remember your Lord inwardly, humbly and fearfully} [Sahl was asked], ‘What is the true reality of remembrance (ḥaqīqat al-dhikr)?’ He answered:It is the realisation (taḥqīq) of the knowledge that God, Exalted is He, witnesses you, and it is that you see Him close to you with your heart. Thus, you feel shame before Him and give Him priority over yourself in all your affairs. Then he said:The one who claims to keep remembrance (dhikr) is not necessarily one who [truly] remembers [God] (dhākir).He was asked, ‘What is the meaning of the saying of the Prophet : “The world is accursed and what it contains is accursed save the remembrance of God (dhikr Allāh), most High?”’ [He replied]: His saying ‘the remembrance of God’ here means renouncing what is unlawful (zuhd ʿan al-ḥarām), that is, when something unlawful comes a person’s way he remembers God, Exalted is He, and he knows that God is watching him, so he avoids that unlawful thing.

Sahl was asked, ‘What is remembrance (dhikr)?’ He said, ‘Obedience (ṭāʿa).’ Then someone asked, ‘What is obedience?’ He replied, ‘Sincerity (ikhlāṣ).’ Then he was asked, ‘What is sincerity?’ and he answered, ‘Witnessing (mushāhada).’ Someone then asked, ‘What is witnessing?’He replied, ‘Servanthood (ʿubūdiyya).’ Then they asked: ‘What is servanthood?’ He answered, ‘Contentment (riḍā).’ Then they asked, ‘What is contentment?’ He replied, ‘Neediness (iftiqār).’ He was asked: ‘What is neediness?’ and he said, ‘It is humble entreaty (taḍarruʿ) and seeking refuge [in Him] (iltijāʾ). Submit! Submit, until death!’

On Kashf

Indeed, God willing, I have been granted wisdom and [knowledge of] the unseen which I was taught from His unseen secret (min ghayb sirrihi), and thus He sufficed me from the need for all other knowledge…and He completed what He had begun with me out of His grace and beneficence.

On Karamat

Sahl used to say to a youth who kept his company, ‘If you are afraid of predatory beasts then do not keep my company.’ And he was asked, ‘How does a man reach the rank of charismatic gifts (karāmāt)? He replied:‘Whoever abstains from (zahada) the world for forty days in veracity and sincerity (ṣādiqan wa mukhliṣan), will have charismatic gifts (karāmāt) manifested to Him from God, Mighty and Majestic is He. But if [such gifts] are not manifested to a person, it is due to the lack of true faith and sincerity in his renunciation’

On Awliya, Abdal & Awtad

{Assuredly God’s friends, no fear shall befall them, neither shall they grieve} Sahl said: They are those whom the Messenger of God described, saying, ‘When they are seen, God is remembered.’ They are those who strive in God’s cause, who outstrip others in their [journeying]towards Him, and whose actions are constantly in conformity (muwāfaqa). Those are the true believers [8:4].And he [Sahl] said: All goodness comes together in four things, and through these they [believers] become ‘Substitutes’(abdāl): an empty stomach, seclusion from people, the night vigil, and observing silence. He was asked why the Substitutes (abdāl) are called Substitutes. He answered: It is because they substitute their spiritual states (aḥwāl) [one for another]. They have submitted their bodies to the vigour (ḥīl) in their innermost secrets (asrār). Then they move from state (ḥāl) to state, and from knowledge (ʿilm) to knowledge, so that they are constantly increasing in the knowledge of that which is between them and their Lord. He was asked, ‘Who are more excellent, the Mainstays (awtād) or the Substitutes (abdāl)?’ He answered, ‘The mainstays’. Then he was asked, ‘And how is that?’ He replied:It is because the Mainstays have already arrived and their principles (arkān) are well established, whereas the Substitutes move from state to state. [On this subject] Sahl also said:I have met with one thousand five hundred veracious [servants of God] (ṣiddīq) among whom were forty Substitutes (abdāl) and seven Mainstays (awtād), and I found their way (ṭarīqa) and method (madhhab) to be the same as that which I follow.

Furthermore, he used to say, ‘I am the proof of God (ḥujjat Allāh) against you in particular and against the people in general.’ It was [Sahl’s] way and his conduct to be full of gratitude and remember [God] a great deal. He was also constant in observing silence and reflection. He would dispute little and was of a generous spirit. He led people through his good character, mercy and compassion for them, and by giving them good counsel. He held fast to the principle[s] (aṣl) [of religion] while putting into practice [the rules] that are derived from it (farʿ). Truly God filled his heart with light, and invested his speech with wisdom. He was among the best of Substitutes, and if we include him among the Mainstays he was the Axis (quṭb) around which the millstone [of the world] revolves.

Faith in God is established (thābit) in the heart, and certainty is firmly rooted (rāsikh) [in it] through veracity (ṣidq). Veracity of the eye is refraining from looking at all that is forbidden. Veracity of the tongue is relinquishing engagement in that which is meaningless. Veracity of the hand is not extending it to seize what is forbidden. Veracity of the feet is refraining from walking in quest of indecent acts. The truth of veracity (ḥaqīqat al-ṣidq) in the heart is that it constantly reflects on the past and refrains from regarding what is to come. Verily, God, Exalted is He, has granted the veracious (ṣiddīqūn) so much knowledge that if they spoke of it, the ocean would dry up with their speech. They are hidden and do not appear in public before people, except when it is [absolutely] necessary for them, and until a virtuous [servant] (ṣāliḥ) appears, at which point they make themselves known, and teach the learned (ʿulamāʾ) from their different branches of knowledge.


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