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Sufi Generations

 For several centuries, Sufi masters engaged in the propagation of tariqah and the guidance of those intent on embarking the mystical path. Their infrequent gatherings, which were mainly held in mosques, consisted of elaborating the truths contained in the Qur’an as well as other hortatory discourses, which contributed to a spirit of camaraderie among them. Certain disciples were also chosen by these masters as candidates for spiritual retirement, during which they guided them through various stages of wayfaring. This period witnessed the rise of ten of these masters to the level of imam, each of whom had his own particular method and group of followers. The coming centuries saw a proliferation of Sufi schools as well as Sufi orders and khanaqahs. The accounts of the various generations of these Sufis came to be documented in the context of official genealogies (tabaqat), just as was customary in the case of traditionists, exegetes, or grammarians. By the term tabaqat was meant a group of contemporary Sufis which fell within a particular age bracket and who had sat at the feet of the same masters. The first five generations of Sufis as asserted in tabaqat works, or those of similar genre, include the following: (1) Abu Hashim Sufi, Fudayl b. `Ayyad, Ibrahim Adham, Dhu ’l-Nun Misri, Bishr Hafi, Harith Muhasibi, Bayazid Bistami, Abu Sulayman Darani, Abu Hafs Haddad, Ahmad b. Khudrawayh, Hamdun Qassar and Ma`ruf Karkhi; (2) Abu ’l-Qasim Junayd, Abu ’l-Husayn Nuri, Ruwaym Baghdadi, `Amr b. `Uthman Makki, Sahl b. `Abd Allah Tustatri, Muhammad b. `Ali Tirmidhi and Abu Sa`id Kharraz; (3) Abu Muhammad Jurayri, Abu ’l-`Abbas b. `Ata’ Adami, Abu Hamzah Baghdadi, Mamshad Dinawari, Husayn b. Mansur Hallaj and Khayr Nassaj; (4) Abu Bakr Shibli, Murta`ish Niyshaburi, Abu Bakr Katani, Abu Bakr Yazdanyar, Ibn Salim Basri and Abu Ya`qub Nahrajuri; and (5) Abu ’l-`Abbas Sayyari, Abu ’l-Qasim Nasrabadi, Abu Mansur Mu`ammar Isfahani and Abu `Ali Daqqaq. Those who were counted as the members of the sixth or latter generations include Abu ’l-`Abbas Qassab, Abu ’l-Hasan Kharaqani, Abu Sa`id Abu ’l-Khayr, Abu ’l-Qasim Qushayri, Khwajah `Abd Allah Ansari, Abu `Abd Allah Khafif, Abu Ishaq Kazaruni, Abi `Ali Farmadi and Shaykh Ahmad Zhindih Pil. From that period, or a while later, Sufi orders began to ramify and establish their own khanaqahs. These Sufi orders enjoyed a considerable degree of diversity and partook of various levels of activity and number of branches as compatible with the characters of their founders. The history of tasawwuf in the period after the sixth generation and up to the present is a de facto account of these Sufi orders. Though, during this period, there have been Sufi masters with no affiliation to any particular order, almost all masters have had some degree of association with one or another Sufi brotherhood. 

In the period which witnessed a succession of prominent Sufi masters, those who were considered as Sufi imams and leaders and who included the members of the first through the fifth generation expended great efforts in the elaboration of the school from its original ascetic tendencies and devotion to the journey towards God into a system which also embraced discussions of theological issues. One important characteristic of this development was the attempt at creating a synthesis of tariqah and shari`ah as a means of proving their compatibility. Among masters who played an influential role in the refinement of the foundations of tasawwuf and `irfan mention should be made of Bayazid Bistami (d. 234 AH), Harith Muhasibi (d. 243 AH), Muhammad b. `Ali Tirmidhi, known as Hakim, (d. 285 AH), Abu ’l-Qasim Junayd (297 AH), Abu ’l-Husayn Nuri (d. 295 AH), Abu Sa`id Kharraz (d. 286 AH) and Abu `Abd Allah Khafif (d. 331 AH). Among these Bayazid Bistami was an advocate of sukr (intoxication) who appears to have been under a state of qabd ((spiritual) contraction) towards the later years of his life. Bayazid did not confine his remarks to the level of understanding of ordinary people. Many shathiyyat (ecstatic expressions) were ascribed to him, along with extraordinary feats, some of which may be attributed to the legends woven around his character by devoted disciples. Harith Muhasibi, on the other hand, was a practitioner of sahw (sobriety), an approach which underpins his Kitab al-Ri`ayah li-huquq Allah. His notion of rida (contentment), which is considered by him as a state (hal) while deemed by others as a station (maqam), is an indication of his profound grasp of the subject of spiritual wayfaring. 

Muhammad b. `Ali Tirmidhi, known as Hakim, made great efforts in repudiating the Malamatiyyah who had appeared in Niyshabur and whose main position was one of throwing in doubt the sincerity of Sufi practice. His views on the heart (qalb) and that which was set forth by the advocates of atwar al-saba`ah (seven climes) show a great deal of originality and were the source of what was later expressed by the likes of Ghazzali and Najm al-Din Kubra. His theories on wilayah are possessed of the same degree of originality, where he considers wilayah as being superior to prophecy, a belief which gave rise to much controversy among Sufis. The points raised by him regarding the concept of wilayah were seized upon by Ibn al-`Arabi several centuries later. 

Abu ’l-Qasim Junayd, known as Shaykh al-Ta’ifah, was the head of the Sufi community in Baghdad. He was the nephew of the great Sufi master Sari Saqati, and the disciple of Harith Muhasibi. The Sufi masters of later generations considered him as the last of Sufi masters whose death was tantamount to the demise of true Sufism. Along with his commitment to the method of tariqah, through his assertions and views, Junayd attempted to create a science of tasawwuf, similar to the sciences of fiqh and theology. His few surviving treatises on the subject underline his central position in the development of tasawwuf. In his teaching – characterized by cautious sobriety and commitment to shari`ah – the highest point of spiritual wayfaring is annihilation (fana’) in the object of invocation (madhkur), in other words “the ultimate end is a return to the origin” (“al-nihayah hiya ’l-ruju` ila ’l-bidayah”). 

Abu Sa`id Kharraz, though he considered himself as a disciple of Junayd, was considered by later generations as “the master of Junayd… and superior to him” (Khwajah `Abd Allah Ansari). He showed great insight in the elaboration of mystical concepts. His handful of surviving treatises, including al-Sidq, al-Masa’il, and a number of other unpublished ones, establish him on a par with Junayd and Hakim Tirmidhi as the founders of theoretical mysticism or what was then referred to as the science of allusions (`ilm al-isharat). Kharazz’s influence remained strong in spite of the controversy brought about by Ghulam al-Khayl, a religionist Sufi, who leveled a charge of apostasy against Junayd and a number of prominent Sufis which resulted in the establishment of a caliphal tribunal to look into the matter. Kharazz, like Junayd, opted for a position of non-confrontation and withdrawal from the scene. Abu ’l-Husayn Nuri, on the other hand, decided to stand his ground and participate in the proceedings. Nuri adhered to the external requirements of shari`ah while being an advocate of sukr and was considered as among the Partisans of Pain, a description which is just as applicable to Shibli and Junayd. Shibli was of the same opinion with Ibn `Ata’ with regard to the case of Hallaj, but unlike the latter chose to maintain his silence. Abu `Abd Allah Khafif, known as Shaykh Kabir, was another prominent Sufi master of the later period who, in spite of his approval of Hallaj, chose to remain a practitioner of sobriety, as opposed to intoxication.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.472- 473

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