Session 9: Tasawwuf, Selections from al-Qushayri's al-Risala al-Qushayriyya

This session's reading is a selection from B. von Schlegells's translation of selections of al-Qushayri's famous Al-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah. I have included a bit of the Introduction by Hamid Algar to give you an idea of the importance of the work and the author. The book really ought to be read in full so, as a poor substitute, I have included the table of contents. Please study it carefully and try to guess the general plan of the book. For each topic, try to think of why, of all the many things that Qushayri could have chosen to discuss, did he choose to discuss this thing? What does he mean by the mention of each of these things? After that I have given you two sections from the book itself: the first on tawbah and the second on mujaahidah "striving."

NOTE: I have preserved the paragraph divisions as they were in the printed text. On the other hand I have not been able to make sense of the way the translator has divided up the text into paragraphs. Often there seem more straightforward ways of dividing it up. So please use you own judgment in this.


Selections from Al-Qushayri's Risalah Qushayriyyah, translated by B. R. von Schlegell.

(From the "Introduction" by Hamid Algar)

Al-Qushayri's impact on his contemporaries was considerable. From 437/1045 onward, he was constantly engaged in the teaching (imla') of hadith, not neglecting this pursuit even during his two journeys outside Khurasan. Thousands are said to have "received" (akhadha) hadith from him in the traditional manner. He also maintained a duwayra—a kind of lesser khanaqah—in Nishapur where he trained his disciples in Sufism and gave instruction in his own books. Apart from those who had such intimate contact with him, he attracted the townspeople of Nishapur to his sermons, which were renowned for their excellence in style and content.

He had a total of six sons: three by Kadbanu Fatima, herself a woman of scholarly accomplishment, and three by a second wife, the daughter of a certain Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Charkhi al-Baladi. Several of them became important scholars in their own right; a commentary on the Qur'an entitled at-Taysir fi 'Ulum at-Tafsir frequently attributed to Abu 'l-Qasim al-Qushayri is in fact the work of his son, Abu 'n-Nasr 'Abd ar-Rahim. The pattern of erudition persisted at least into the third generation, and included female as well as male descendants of the great master. The Qushayris became in fact one of the four principal Shafi'i families of Nishapur, and administered a madrasa that bore their name.

Al-Qushayri's greatest legacy, however, consisted of his writings. He seems to have been conscious of their value himself, for he employed a number of scribes to copy them under his supervision and used them as texts in many of the classes he taught. Not all of the works attributed to him have survived, and by no means all of those have been printed. Apart from the Risala, there are six published works of al-Qushayri.

Lata'if al-Isharat bi Tafsir al-Qur'an is a complete Sufi commentary on the Qur'an, which al-Qushayri began writing in 437/1045. The two significant words in the title— lata'if ("subtleties") and isharat ("indications")—were no doubt chosen by al-Qushayri in allusion to a celebrated dictum of Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (d. 148/765). He had discerned four levels of meaning in the Qur'an: the Ibara (obvious verbal meaning), directed to the mass of believers; the ishara ("indication," which lies beyond the obvious verbal meaning), perceptible to the spiritual elect among the believers; the lata'if (further subtleties lying beyond the indications), addressed to the saints (awliya'), the elect among the elect; and the haqa'iq (ultimate truths), comprehensible only to the prophets. In his commentary al-Qushayri does not discuss the `Ibara of the Qur'an (having dealt with it, perhaps, in another tafsir, now lost); nor does he seek to unveil the haqa'iq. It is the second and third levels of meaning that he elucidates in a melodious prose of exemplary lucidity. He had been preceded in the Sufi exegesis of the Qur'an by Sahl at-Tustari (d. 283/897) and as-Sulami, and Lata'if al-Isharat shows particularly strong signs of influence by the latter. Al-Qushayri's work nonetheless stands out as an elegant summation of the first period in the evolution of Sufi tafsir.

Sharh Asma' Allah al-Husna is al-Qushayri's elucidation of the 99 names of God, together with the ethical and spiritual lessons to be drawn from their contemplation.

At-Tahbir fi 't-Tadhkir is a somewhat fuller work on the same theme.

In Kitab al-Mi'raj, al-Qushayri examines the nature and meaning of the ascension of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and also considers the claims of certain awliya' to have accomplished ascensions of their own.

Ar-Rasa'il al-Qushayriya is a collection of three brief treatises of which the most interesting is Tartib as-Suluk, a description of al-Qushayri's own method of wayfaring— something not to be found in the Risala, for all its voluminousness. Particularly significant is the recommendation that the initiate should gradually proceed from the cultivation of vocal dhikr (remembrance of God) to silent dhikr, the dhikr of the heart.

Four more short treatises are collected in Arba'a Rasa'il fi t-Tasawwuf.

The fame of al-Qushayri has always rested principally on his Risala, generally known as ar-Risala al-Qushayriya. More fully, and perhaps more correctly, it is sometimes entitled ar-Risala ila 's-Sufiya, "The Epistle to the Sufis," for despite its great length the book is intended, at least formally, as al-Qushayri's missive to the Sufis of his age. Like many of the early Sufis, al-Qushayri was filled with profound dismay at the apparently degenerate circumstances of the day. Shallow and deceitful men had emerged who, falsely invoking Sufism, claimed to have reached spiritual degrees that exempted them from the observance of the shari'a. It was al-Qushayri's aim to counteract their influence by providing an accurate and comprehensive record of the lives, teachings and practices of the earliest and most authoritative figures, those whom the Sufis of his own time should emulate. Sufis, however, were not the only intended audience of the book; al-Qushayri was also concerned to demonstrate to all the shar'i appropriateness of distinctive Sufi practices (such as sama') and to show that the creed of the Sufis was identical to that of the Ahl as-Sunna (in its Ash'ari formulation).

Those twin purposes—reminding Sufis of authentic ancestral tradition and vindicating Sufism against those who doubted its legitimacy—had already inspired two earlier Arabic compendia on Sufism: the Kitab al-Lum 'a by Abu Nasr as-Sarraj (d. 378/788) and at-Ta'arrufli Madhhab Ahl at-Tasawwuf by Abu Bakr al-Kalabadhi (d. 391/1000); later Sufi writers frequently invoked the same purposes as well. It can be said that Sufism has often been marked by a sense of historical pessimism, an awareness of spiritual decline that the Sufi must strive to arrest.

In the opening pages of the Risala, al-Qushayri explains his purpose in writing. In the first two chapters, he discusses the creed of the Sufis, laying particular stress on tawhid and the relation of the divine attributes to the divine Essence. Then comes the first main division of the book: a mention of 83 Sufis of the past. After tersely characterizing each of them, al-Qushayri provides a selection of his sayings, complete with isnad. It is noteworthy that a number of contemporary shaykhs are named at various points in the Risala, but none of them—not even Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq, al-Qushayri's own master—has a section devoted to him in the biographical part of the work. Al-Qushayri may have wished to observe a certain discretion with regard to the living.

Then follows a lengthy section on the terminology of the Sufis, each term being analyzed in terms first of its etymology and general usage and then of its particular Sufi application. Next comes a series of chapters on various stations and states that the Sufi traverses in his wayfaring. Each of these chapters is introduced by apposite quotations from the Qur'an and hadith and is built upon a reasoned succession of dicta by past authorities, always accompanied by full isnad. Finally, al-Qushayri deals with various aspects of Sufi practice and technique: the dealings of the murid with the shaykh and his fellows, the permissibility of sama', the meaning of sainthood (wilaya), the significance of dreams, and—above all— the permanent necessity of observing the shari'a with all its minutiae.

Al-Qushayri himself gave instruction in the Risala to his pupils and associates, providing them with a license (sanad or ijaza) to teach it in turn to others. This was the customary mode of transmission for books of hadith, and it is one more indication of the close relation that existed between early Sufism and the science of prophetic tradition. He lectured on the Risala even while traveling outside of Nishapur; a copy of the work used by him for this purpose in Baghdad still exists. After al-Qushayri's death, the transmission of the Risala seems to have become a widely established tradition in several cities, notably Ghazna. Najm ad-Din Kubra (d. 617/1220), the eponym of the Kubrawi order, is known to have studied the Risala, receiving an ijaza from a certain Abu'l-Fadl al-Hamadani, and Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (d. 672/1273) alludes to it in the Mathnawi as a text commonly studied by Sufis.

The attention continuously paid to the Risala is indicated also by the commentaries written on it and the translations made into different Muslim languages. In 893/1488, Zakariya al-Ansari, who had an ijaza, for teaching the Risala that went back to Abu'l-Mahasin 'Abd al-Wahid ar-Ruyani, a pupil of al-Qushayri, wrote a commentary on difficult or obscure terms and passages of the Risala entitled Ahkam ad-Dalala 'ala Tahrir ar-Risala. Al-Ansari's work was greatly expanded in 1271/1854 by Mustafa Muhammad al-'Arusi (an adherent of the Arusi branch of the Shadhili order) with his Nata'ij al-Afkar fi Bayan Ma'ani Sharh ar-Risala al-Qushayriya. Two other commentaries in Arabic remain in manuscript: Sadid ad-Din Abu Muhammad al-Lakhmi's ad-Dalala 'ala Fawa'id ar-Risala, completed in 638/1240, and one by the celebrated Herati scholar, Mulla 'Ali al-Qari' (d. 1014/1605). There is also a partial commentary in Persian by Sayyid Muhammad Gisudaraz (d. 825/1422), the well-known Indian Chishti; he criticizes al-Qushayri in several connections.

A complete Persian translation of the Risala was made by a pupil of al-Qushayri, Abu 'Ali Hasan b. Ahmad al-'Uthmani, who was evidently an important hadith scholar in his own right. There are two translations in Ottoman Turkish, one by Hoca Sadeddin Efendi (d. 1008/1599) and one by es-Seyyid Mehmed Tevfik; the latter was commissioned by Bezm-i Alem Sultan, the mother of Sultan Abdulmecid (r. 1255/1839-1277/1861). Likewise, there are two translations in Modern Turkish: that of Tahsin Yazici (Risale, Istanbul, 1966, 2 vols.) and that of Suleyman Uludag (Bogus Devrinde Tasavvuf, Istanbul, 1978). An Urdu translation of the Risala by Pir Muhammad Husayn was published at Islamabad in 1970.

The influence exerted by the Risala on Sufi literature has been considerable. The Kashfal-Mahjub of Abu'l-Hasan Ali Hujwiri (d. 464/1071?), the earliest complete treatise on Sufism in Persian, is indebted to the Risala for much of its contents. Al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111) can also be presumed to have drawn on the Risala when compiling his magnum opus, the Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din; he had in common with al-Qushayri a threefold devotion to Sufism, Shafi'i fiqh, and Ash'ari theology. Much of the anecdotal material in the first part of the Risala is reproduced in the Tadhkirat al-Awliya' of Farid ad-Din 'Attar (d. 617/1220). Parts of the Minhaj al-Fuqara' of the Turkish Mevlevi master and commentator on the Mathnawi, Ismail Ankaravi (d. 1041/1631) read like a paraphrase of the Risala. Traces of the Risala in the literature of Sufism are, however, too numerous to be gauged even by an extended listing of specific titles.


  1. Introduction
  2. Translator's Notes
  3. Repentance / Tawba
  4. Striving / Mujahada
  5. Retreat and Seclusion / Khalwa wa 'Uzla
  6. Fear of God / Taqwa
  7. Abstaining / Wara'
  8. Renunciation / Zuhd
  9. Silence / Samt
  10. Tear / Khawf
  11. Hope / Raja'
  12. Sorrow / Huzn
  13. Hunger and the abandonment of Passion / Ju' wa Tark ash-Shahwaat
  14. Humility and Submissiveness / Khushu' wa 't-Tawadu'
  15. Opposition to the Self and Remembering Its failings / Mukhalafat an-Nafs wa Dhikr 'Uyubiha
  16. Envy / Hasad
  17. Backbiting / Ghiba
  18. Contentment / Qana'a
  19. Trust in God / Tawakkul
  20. Thankfulness / Shukr
  21. Certainty / Yaqin
  22. Patience / Sabr
  23. Vigilant Awareness / Muraqaba
  24. Satisfaction / Rida
  25. Servitude / 'Ubudiya
  26. Desire / Irada
  27. Steadfastness / Istiqama
  28. Sincerity / Ikhlas
  29. Truthfulness / Sidq
  30. Shame / Haya'
  31. Freedom / Hurriya
  32. Remembrance / Dhikr
  33. Chivalry / Futuwa
  34. Visionary Insight / Firasa
  35. Moral Character / Khuluq
  36. Bountifulness and generosity / Jud wa Sakha'
  37. Jealousy / Ghayra
  38. Sainthood / Wilaya
  39. SupplicatoryPrayer / Du'a
  40. Poverty / Faqr
  41. Sufism / Tasawwuf
  42. Correct Behavior / Adab
  43. Gnosis / Ma'rifa bi'llah
  44. Love / Mahabba
  45. Longing / Shawq

Repentance: Tawba

1. [Note: The translator has the following useful definition of the word murid in a footnote: "Murid: the one who "wills," i.e., wills to attain the goal of the Path precisely by submitting his will to that of the spiritual guide."]

2. God says, "Turn all together toward God [in repentance], O Believers, that you may attain bliss" (24:31).

3. It is reported on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of God (may God's blessing and peace be upon him and his family) said, "The one who repents from sin is like one without sin, and if God loves a servant, sin does not adhere to him." Then he recited, "Verily God loves those who turn unto Him [in repentance], and He loves those who purify themselves" (2:222). It was asked, "O Messenger of God, what is the sign of repentance?" He replied, "Remorse."

4. On the authority of Anas b. Malik, the Messenger of God (may God's blessing and peace be upon him and his family) is reported to have said, "There is nothing more loved by God than the youth who repents."

5. Therefore repentance is the first degree among the degrees of the wayfarers and the first station among the stations of the seekers. The inner meaning of repentance in Arabic is "return." It is said, "He repented," meaning, "He returned." So repentance is to return from what is blameworthy in the law of Islam to what is praiseworthy in it.

6. The Prophet (may God's blessing and peace be upon him) said, "Remorse is an act of repentance." Therefore, those well versed in the fundamentals of religion among the people of the Sunna have said, "There are three conditions of repentance [which must be present] in order that it be sound: remorse for the violations that have been committed, immediate abandonment of the lapse, and firm resolve not to return to similar acts of disobedience." One must apply these principles to make repentance effective.

7. Someone has stated, "By the saying 'Remorse is an act of repentance' he meant that the major portion of repentance is remorse, just as he (may God's blessing and peace be upon him) said, 'Pilgrimage is 'Arafat.'" That is, the greatest part of its elements is the standing at 'Arafat, not that there are no other elements in pilgrimage. So his saying, "Remorse is an act of repentance" means that the greatest part of the elements of repentance is remorse.

8. One among the people of realization has said, "Remorse is sufficient in fulfillment of that because it has as its consequence the other two conditions, for it is impossible one should be remorseful for an act in which he persists or the like of which he intends to commit." This is the meaning of repentance by way of summary definition.

9. By way of elucidation and explanation, we may say that repentance has causes, an order, an arrangement, and divisions. The first cause is the awakening of the heart from the slumber of heedlessness and the servant's becoming aware of his evil state. He attains this by means of the divine favor of attentiveness to the restraints imposed by God (may He be exalted) that come to his mind. This is by means of the audition of his heart, for it has come in the report, "The warner of God in the heart of every person is a Muslim." The tradition "There is a piece of flesh in the body which, if it be healthy, the whole body is healthy and if it be corrupt, the whole body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart" also speaks to this matter. If his heart reflects on the evil of his deeds, he perceives the despicable actions he commits, and the desire for repentance comes to his heart, along with refraining from repugnant doings. Then God (may He be exalted) supports him in correcting his firm intention, in embarking on the path to a goodly return, and in becoming receptive to the means of repentance.

10. The first of these means is to part company with brothers in evil, for they prompt him to deny this goal and cause him to doubt the correctness of this firm intention. And that is not complete except by perseverance in witnessing, which increases his longing for repentance, and by the presence of motives impelling him to fulfill his resolve, from which he strengthens his fear and hope. Then the despicable actions that form a knot of insistence on his heart are loosened, he ceases the practice of forbidden things, and the rein of his self (nafs) is held back from pursuing passions. Then he immediately abandons his sin and concludes a firm resolve not to return to similar sins in the future. If he continues in accordance with his goal and acts in conformity with his firm will, this means that he has been granted true sincerity.

11. If repentance diminishes once or twice and his desire causes him to renew the lapse—which may happen quite frequently—one should continue to hope for the repentance of such a person, for "Verily, to each period is a decree established" (13:38).

12. Abu Sulayman ad-Darani said, "I frequented the gathering of a preacher, for his words made an impression on my heart. But when I departed, nothing remained in my heart of his words. So I returned a second time. That time there did remain a trace of his words in my heart until I returned to my house. Then I broke the instruments of sin and I adhered to the path." Yahya b. Mu'adh commented on this tale, "A sparrow catches a crane." By the sparrow he intended that preacher and, by the crane, Abu Sulayman ad-Darani.

13. Abu Hafs al-Haddad remarked, "I abandoned a certain [reprehensible] deed and returned to it. Then the deed abandoned me, and I did not return to it after that."

14. Abu 'Amr b. Nujayd, in the beginning of his wayfaring, frequented the gathering of Abu 'Uthman. His words made an impression on his heart, and he repented. Then a trial came upon him. Abu 'Amr began to flee Abu 'Uthman when he saw him, and he absented himself from his gathering. One day when Abu 'Uthman met him, Abu 'Amr turned away and went down another path. So Abu 'Uthman followed him. He continued with him, following his tracks until he overtook him and declared, "O my son, do not be a companion to one who does not love you unless it be one who is sinless. It is only Abu 'Uthman who will help you in your present condition." Then Abu 'Amr b. Nujayd repented and returned to muridship and remained faithful to it.

15. Sheikh Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (may God grant him mercy) said, "One of the murids repented, and then there came upon him a trial. He was wondering, 'If I return to repentance, how will it be?'"

16. "Then an invisible caller said to him, 'You obeyed Us, so "We thanked you; then you abandoned Us, so We granted you respite. If you return to Us, We will accept you.' So the youth returned to muridship and remained faithful to it."

17. When a man abandons major sin, loosens from his heart the bond of persistence, and firmly intends not to return to sin, at that moment true remorse comes to his heart. He regrets what he has done and reproaches himself for the repugnant acts he has committed. Then his repentance is complete, his striving is true, and he exchanges the comradeship of the evil companions he previously kept for isolation and for aversion to them. He works day and night in sorrow, and he embraces sincerity of regret in all of his states, erasing by the flood of his tears the traces of his stumbling and treats the wounds of his sin with the goodness of his repentance. He is known among his peers by his debility, and his emaciation testifies to the soundness of his state.

18. None of this will ever be complete except after satisfying the just grievances of his adversaries and putting right the acts of oppression in which he persisted. The first stage in repentance is satisfaction of adversaries as much as possible. If what he has is sufficient for restoring their rights or if they consent to abandon their claim and pronounce him innocent, so be it. If not, then he should firmly resolve in his heart to fulfill their claim whenever possible to God (may He be exalted) with sound supplication and prayer for them.

19. There are qualities and states for those who repent. They are characteristics of the penitent which belong to repentance without its being conditional upon them. This is indicated in the sayings of the masters on the meaning of repentance.

20. The master Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (may God grant him mercy) said, "Repentance is divided into three parts. The first is tawba [repentance], the middle is inaba [to turn to God], and the last is awba [return]." He placed tawba at the beginning, awba at the end, and inaba between the two. Whoever repents out of desire for [divine] reward is in the state of inaba. Whoever repents for the sake of obeying the [divine] command, neither for the desire of reward nor for the fear of punishment, is in the state of awba.

21. It is also said, "Tawba is the quality of the Believers." As God Most High says, "Turn [tubuja.ll together toward God in repentance, O Believers" (24:31). Inaba is the quality of the saints and those drawn nigh unto God. God Most High says, "And those who brought a heart turned in devotion fmunibj'[to Him]" (50:33). Awba is the quality of the prophets and messengers. God Most High says, "How excellent a slave. Ever did he [Solomon] turn [awwab] [to Us]" (38:30 and 38:44).

22. Al-Junayd stated, "Repentance has three senses. The first is remorse; the second is the resolve to give up reverting to what God has forbidden; and the third is the righting of grievances."

23. Sahl b. 'Abdallah declared, "Repentance is giving up procrastination." Al-Harith asserted, "I never say, 'O God, I ask You for repentance.' I say, 'I ask You for the longing for repentance.'"

24. Al-Junayd went to see as-Sari one day and found him distraught. He asked, "What has happened to you?" As-Sari replied, "I encountered a youth, and he asked me about repentance. I told him, 'Repentance is that you not forget your sins.' Then he contradicted me, saying that repentance is that you do forget your sins." Al-Junayd said that in his opinion what the youth said was correct, and as-Sari asked him why he held that opinion. Al-Junayd replied, "Because if I were in a state of infidelity and then He delivered me into a state of fidelity, remembrance of infidelity in a state of purity would be infidelity." Then as-Sari fell silent.

25. Abu Nasr as-Sarraj is reported to have said that, when Sahl was asked about repentance, he answered, "It is that you not forget your sins." Al-Junayd was asked, and he said, "It is that you do forget your sins." Abu Nasr as-Sarraj related, "Sahl was indicating the states of the murids and the novices [muta'arridun], which are constantly changing. Al-Junayd alluded to the repentance of those who have attained the truth; for they do not remember their sins because of the majesty of God Most High, which has gained mastery over their hearts, and their constant remembrance of Him." He also observed that this is like what Ruwaym said about repentance: "It is repentance from repentance." Dhu'n-Nun al-Misri commented, "Repentance of the common people is from sin, and for the elect, it is from forgetfulness."

26. Abu'l-Husayn an-Nuri said, "Repentance is that you turn away from everything other than God [may He be exalted and glorified]." 'Abdallah b. 'Ali b. Muhammad at-Tamimi declared, "How great a difference there is between a repenter who repents from sins, one who repents from forgetfulness, and one who repents from the awareness of his own good deeds." Al-Wasiti said, "True repentance is that there not remain a single trace of sin, hidden or open. One whose repentance is true does not concern himself, morning and evening, with what state he is in."

27. Yahya b. Mu'adh stated, "O my Lord, I do not say, 'I have repented.' I do not return to You because of what I know to be my disposition, I do not swear that I will not sin again, for I know my own frailty. I do not say that I return [to You] because I might die before [truly] returning." Dhu'n-Nun noted, "The plea for forgiveness made without abstaining is the repentance of liars."

28. When Ibn Yazdanyar was asked about the principles underlying a servant's setting out toward God, he replied, "They are that he not return to that which he left behind, not heed anyone other than the One to Whom he goes, and preserve his innermost heart from perception of that from which he has dissociated himself." It was said to him, "This is the rule for one who has departed from existence. How will it be for one who has departed from non-existence?" He replied, "The experience of sweetness in the future in exchange for bitterness in the past."

29. Al-Bushanji was asked about repentance, and he answered, "If you remember sin, and find no sweetness in it when remembering it, that is repentance." And Dhu'n-Nun observed, "The essence of repentance is that the earth be too confined for you, for all its spaciousness, so that there is no rest for you. Then your soul will be too confined for you as God Most High has told in His Book by His saying, 'And their souls seemed straightened to them, and they saw that there is no fleeing from God, except to Him. Then He turned to them that they might repent'" (9:118). Ibn 'Ata' declared, "Repentance is of two kinds: repentance of inaba [return] and repentance of istijaba [answering or fulfillment]. The repentance of inaba is that the servant repent out of fear for his punishment. Repentance of istijaba is that he repent out of shame due to His generosity."

30. Abu Hafs was asked, "Why does the repenter loathe the world?" He answered, "Because it is a dwelling where sins are pursued." And it was said to him, "But it is also a dwelling that God has honored with repentance." He said, "The sinner has certainty from his sin, but danger from acceptance of his repentance." Al-Wasiti stated, "The joy of David (peace be upon him) and the sweetness of submissiveness he enjoyed caused him to plunge into lifting breaths [lasting sorrow]. While he was in the second state [of sorrow] he was more complete than the time when the matter was hidden from him." One of them remarked, "The liars' repentance is on the tips of their tongues." That is, the saying, "Astaghfiru'llah [I ask forgiveness of God]." Abu Hafs said, "The servant has nothing to do with repentance. Repentance comes to him (from God), not from him."

31. It is said that God (may He be exalted) revealed to Adam, "O Adam, I have bequeathed to your descendants burdens and hardship. I have also bequeathed to them repentance. I respond to the one among them who implores Me as you have implored Me [just] as I respond to you. O Adam, I will raise up the penitent from their graves cheerful and laughing, and their supplication will be answered."

32. A man asked Rabi'a, "I have sinned much and been exceedingly disobedient. But if I repent, will He forgive me?" She replied, "No. But if He forgives you, then you will repent."

33. Know that God Most High says, "Verily God loves those who turn unto Him [in repentance] and He loves those who purify themselves" (2:222). One who allows himself to yield to error is certain as to the slip. But if he repents, he is in doubt as to the acceptance of his repentance, particularly because God's love for him is a condition of that acceptance, and it will be some time before the sinner comes to a point where he find marks of God's love for him in his character. The duty of the servant, when he knows that he has committed an act calling for repentance, is that he be consistently contrite, persevering in renunciation and asking forgiveness, as in the saying "The awareness of dread until the time of death." And as it is said in God's words, "Say, if you love God, follow me, that God may love you" (3:31).

34. It was the practice of the Prophet (may God's blessing and peace be upon him) to ask for forgiveness constantly. He said, "My heart is clouded, so I ask forgiveness of God seventy times a day."

35. Yahya b. Mu'adh stated, "One single lapse after repentance is more dreadful than seventy before it." Abu 'Uthman observed, "As to the meaning of His saying 'Lo, unto Us is their return' (78:25), it indicates 'Unto Us is their return, even if they roam freely in the commission of sin.'"

36. 'Ali b. 'Isa the vizier rode in a great procession, and strangers began asking, "Who is this? Who is this?" A woman who was standing by the side of the road inquired, "How long will you say, 'Who is this? Who is this?' This is a servant who has fallen from God's protection. So He has afflicted him in the way that you see." When 'Ali b. 'Isa heard her, he returned to his house, resigned from the vizierate, went to Mecca, and never left it again.

Striving: Mujahada

37. God Most High says, "And those who strive for Our sake, We will certainly guide them to Our paths. God is with those who do right" (29:69).

38. On the authority of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, it is reported that when the Messenger of God (may God's blessing and peace be upon him) was asked about the best kind of striving [jihad], he answered, "It is a just word spoken to a tyrannical ruler." Tears flowed from Abu Sa'id's eyes when he heard this.

39. The master Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (may God grant him mercy) declared, "God will beautify the inner faculties with contemplation for one who adorns his outer being with striving, for God Most High says, 'And those who strive in Us, We will certainly guide them to Our paths'" (29:69).

40. Know that anyone who does not exert effort at the beginning of his wayfaring will never attain the slightest benefit from the Path. Abu 'Uthman al-Maghribi stated, "It is a grave error for anyone to imagine he will attain anything or that anything will be revealed to him of the Path without persistent striving on his part." The master Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (may God grant him mercy) asserted, "The one who makes no firm stand at the start of his wayfaring will not be allowed repose at its end." He also said, "[Their saying] 'Exertion is a blessing' means that exertion of one's outward abilities brings forth blessings in the inner faculties."

41. Abu Yazid al-Bistami related, "For twelve years I was the blacksmith of my soul. Then for five years I was the mirror of my heart. Then for one year I gazed at what was between the two, and I saw an infidel's girdle visibly around my middle. I worked at severing it for twelve years. I gazed once more, and I saw an infidel's girdle around my inward being. So I worked at severing it for five years, wondering how I could cut it. The answer was finally revealed to me. I looked upon mankind and saw that they were dead, so I pronounced 'Allahu akbar'over them four times."

42. As-Sari said one time, "O young men! Strive earnestly before you reach my age, when you will become as negligent as I." Al-Junayd reported that, even though as-Sari said this, the young men at that time did not have as-Sari's fortitude in acts of worship. Al-Hasan al-Qazzaz explained, "This matter [Sufism] is based on three things: that you eat only when it is necessary, that you sleep only when overcome by drowsiness, and that you speak only in cases of urgent necessity."

43. Ibrahim b. Adham observed, "A man attains the rank of the righteous only after passing through these six steps: (1) He must close the door of bounty and open the door of hardship. (2) He must close the door of dignity and open the door of humility. (3) He must close the door of repose and open the door of striving. (4) He must close the door of sleep and open the door of vigilance. (5) He must close the door of wealth and open the door of poverty. (6) He must close the door of worldly expectation and open the door of preparedness for death." Abu 'Amr b. Nujayd declared, "Whoever holds his soul dear [NOTE FROM IZ: Not "soul" but "his self", himself: i.e. if you are in love with your comforts...] holds his religion in contempt."

44. Abu 'Ali ar-Rudhbari said, "If a Sufi says after five days [of deprivation], 'I am hungry,' then send him to the marketplace to earn something."

45. Striving is essentially weaning the soul of its habitual practices and compelling it to oppose its passions at all times. The soul has two traits that hold it back from attaining goodness: absorption in worshiping its passions and refusal to perform acts of obedience. When the soul bolts, like a horse, toward a desire, one must rein it in with the bridle of piety. When it stubbornly refuses to conform [with God's wishes], then one must steer it toward opposing its desires. When it rises up in a rage [at being opposed], then one must control this state. Nothing has a more excellent prospect than what arises in place of an anger whose power has been shattered by good moral character and whose fire has been put out by kind acts. When the soul finds sweetness in the wine of arrogance, then it will be dejected unless it can make a display of its feats and embellish [its deeds] to whoever looks at it. One must break it of this tendency and submit it to the penalty of the disgrace that will come when it is reminded of its paltry worth, its lowly origin, and its despicable actions.

46. The striving of the common people consists of performing acts, and the goal of the elect [in striving] is to purify their spiritual states. Enduring hunger and sleeplessness is very easy, but cultivating moral characteristics and cleansing them of all lowly aspects are extremely difficult.

47. One of the harmful traits of the soul most difficult to perceive is its reliance on receiving acclaim. One who takes a drink from this cup bears the [weight of the] heavens and the earth on one of his eyelashes. A sign of this enormous burden is that, if that drink be [later] withheld from him, he will revert to indolence and cowardice in his striving.

48. For many years a certain sheikh prayed in the front row of worshipers in the mosque he frequented. One day something prevented him from arriving early at the mosque. He was forced to pray in the last row. After that he was not seen for some time. When someone asked him the reason for his absence, he answered, "I used to pray in the front row, and for a year now I thought I was sincere in doing this, for God's sake. But the day I was delayed, I felt ashamed to be seen praying in the back of the mosque. I knew from this that my lifelong zeal in prayer had been nothing but concern for the opinion men had of me, and so I had said my prayers."

49. It is related that Abu Muhammad al-Murta'ish said, "I used to go on the pilgrimage on foot without taking any provisions. I realized once that all my effort was defiled by my sense of pleasure in the way that I performed it. This came to me one day when my mother asked me to draw a jar of water for her. My soul found this burdensome. I knew then that what I thought was great obedience to God in my pilgrimages was nothing more than something pleasurable for me, coming from a flaw in my soul, for if my soul had been pure, I would never have found irksome something incumbent upon me."

50. There once was an old woman who was asked about her state. She responded, "When I was young, I had vigor and experienced many states. I thought they came from the real strength of my spiritual state. When I became older, these states faded away. I know now that what I thought were spiritual states was only the vigor of youth." Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq said, "Every sheikh who has told me this tale felt compassion for this old woman. Surely she was an honest woman."

51. Dhu'n-Nun al-Misri declared, "The greatest honor God can confer upon a servant is to show him the lowliness of his soul. The most degrading thing God can do to a servant is to conceal from him the lowliness of his soul." Ibrahim al-Khawwas asserted, "I have confronted all my fears straightforwardly."

52. Muhammad b. al-Fadl said, "Repose is being free of the desires of the soul." Mansur b. 'Abdallah related, "I heard Abu 'Ali ar-Rudhbari say, 'Harm comes upon mankind from three things: the weakness of natural disposition, clinging to habitual practices, and the keeping of corrupt company.' I asked him, 'What is the weakness of natural disposition?' He replied, 'Consuming forbidden things.' Then I asked, 'What is clinging to habitual practices?' He said, 'Viewing and listening to prohibited things and engaging in slander.' I inquired, 'What is the keeping of corrupt company?' He responded, 'That is when you follow whatever passion toward which men incite you.'"

53. An-Nasrabadhi said, "Your prison is your soul. If you escape from it, you will come into endless peace."

54. Abu'l-Husayn al-Warraq reported, "When we were starting out on the Path at the mosque of Abu 'Uthman al-Hiri, the finest practices we undertook were that when we were given charity, we gave generously of it to others; we never slept with anything left undistributed; we never retaliated against someone who offended us—we would excuse his offense and behave humbly toward him; and if we felt contempt in our hearts for a certain person, we would take it upon ourselves to serve him and behave toward him with kindness until the feelings of contempt ceased."

55. Abu Hafs said, "The self is complete darkness [of its own]. The lamp of the self is its secret. The light of this lamp is success [in striving]. One who is not granted success [in striving] by his Lord, in his secret he is darkness, all of him." In saying, "The lamp of the self is its secret," Abu Hafs means that the secret of the servant is what is between him and God Most High. It is the locus of his sincerity. By it the servant knows that all events are the work of God; they are neither the work of his self nor do they originate from him. When he knows this, he will be free, in all his states, of his own power and might. Then by the [light of] success [in striving], he will be protected from the evils of his self. One who achieves no success [in striving] will not gain any benefit from knowledge of is self or of his Lord. For this reason, the sheikhs have said, "One who has no secret will be insistent [on following his desires]." Abu 'Uthman declared, "As long as one finds anything good in his self, he will never be able to see its faults. Only one who accuses his self at all times will be able to see its faults."

56. Abu Hafs observed, "There is no faster way to ruin than that of one who does not know his faults, for surely disobedience to God is the path to unbelief." Abu Sulayman said, "I know there is no good to be found in a deed my self performs as long as I expect to be rewarded for it."

57. As-Sari commented, "Beware of the neighbors of the rich, the Qur'an reciters who frequent the marketplace, and the scholars attached to worldly rulers."

58. Dhu'n-Nun al-Misri stated, "Corruption enters men in six ways: (1) They have weak intention in performing deeds oriented to the hereafter. (2) Their bodies are held hostage by their lusts. (3) They remain full of hope for worldly gain in spite of the nearness of death. (4) They prefer to please created beings over pleasing the Creator. (5) They follow their own desires, without so much as a backward glance at the Sunna of their Prophet [may God's blessings and peace be upon him]. (6) They defend their failings by invoking a few slips of the early Muslims, while burying their many virtues."


  1. Why do you think al-Qushayri has started his entire work with a chapter on "repentance"? Do you see a difference between the use of the word "repentance" in everyday speech and the way in which al-Qushayri uses it?
  2. What is the point of paragraph 7?
  3. What does al-Qushayri mean in para 9 by "an order, an arrangement and divisions"?
  4. From 24-28 Qushayri states some internal conditions of great people and how their external expression of repentance is apparently contradictory. Can you make sense of all of them? Which ones can you NOT makes sense of?
  5. I read 30-34 as a discussion of a single them and then 35 and 36 as a conclusion to it. Can you find this or a similar unifying theme to join together what seems like a set of varied and unconnected comments?
  6. Why do you think Qushayri has put the as this section on striving as the second section in his treatise, right after "repentance"?
  7. What do you make of 41?
  8. Study para 45 carefully and try to unpack the metaphor here. What in simple, unpoetic words is the reality of "striving" that Qushayri is telling of?
  9. Do you see how 46 is the statement of a meta-principle, 47 is a statement of one principle that comes under the meta-principle, while 48 is a an example that explicates the principle in 48 and 49? Explain the meta-principle, the principle and how the example in 48 explicates the principle.
  10. The incident in 50 expresses a concern that is akin to the concern in 48 and 49 but is slightly different. Explain.
  11. Can you see how 51-56 tie in to the theme of this section?
  12. Para 57 and 58 seem to be speaking of "performing acts" (along with para 54 and perhaps quote from Abu Ali Rudhbari in 52) while the entire section seems to be a discussion of the way of the elect, which is to focus more on purifying spritual states than on "performing acts." If you can see how para 57 and 58 tie in to the theme of this section please explain.