Imam al-Shafi’i and Sufis

‘Imam al-Shafi`i (Allah have mercy on him) and the Sufis’

– Quote from Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s Madarij al-Salikin (‘Stations of the Wayfarers)

Imam al-Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751/1350-1) quotes Imam al-Shafi`i (d. 204/820) in Madarij al-Salikin[1] as saying:

قال الشافعي رضي الله عنه صحبت الصوفية فما انتفعت منهم إلا بكلمتين سمعتهم يقولون الوقت سيف فإن قطعته وإلا قطعك ونفسك إن لم تشغلها بالحق وإلا شغلتك بالباطل

“al-Shafi`i said (Allah be pleased with him): ‘I accompanied the Sufis and I benefited two matters from them. I heard them say: time is a sword; if you do not cut it, then it will cut you to pieces’ and ‘if you do not preoccupy yourself with the Truth then you will be preoccupied with falsehood’…”[2]


‘Time is a sword’ (al-waqtu sayfun): a metaphor for how dangerous time is or how it has the potential to be destructive and even fatal for one who is heedless of the need to spend it wisely – especially in the service of Allah, worship (`ibada) and da`wa. Time must be taken advantage of otherwise upon its expiration, it will be too late to do so. The equation of time with a ‘sword’ and its ability to ‘cut to pieces’ is an intensive description for denoting seriousness. Time as a sword also denotes combative opposition, i.e. a fierce struggle in a duel with one’s enemy that has to be swift and fast. This is consonant with the overall theme of struggle and combat with Shaytan, the lower self and worldliness within the Sufi program of spiritual living.[3]

‘If you do not preoccupy yourself with the Truth…’: a lesson in utilising time correctly and for the correct purposes. Time spent in servicing, learning and adopting the Truth is to be busied and preoccupied with what is right and beneficial for both this world and the Hereafter. To do otherwise is to be busied and preoccupied with what opposes the Truth – falsehood.

The two remarks made by al-Shafi`i have a thematic link in that if one understands the danger of time as a unrelenting and wielding sword then one’s concern will be to be preoccupied with the Truth and little else.


And Allah knows best.



[1] A masterpiece of Islamic spiritual literature being a commentary on Imam al-Harawi al-Ansari’s (d. 481/1088) Manazil al-Sa’irin (‘Those who Traverse the Spiritual Way’). In this work, Ibn Qayyim incorporates the historical and accumulated wisdom of Islamic spiritual figures for encouragement of moral and pious behaviour. Not only that, he delineates a path that merges his conviction in the textual realism and political activism of his own shaykh Imam Ibn Taymiyya with Sufi abstract spiritual precepts. Indeed, his engagement with Sufism intensified later in life and this is reflected in the Madarij al-Salikin where he stands at the peak of his own historical life and assesses it through the prism of reflective religious experience. Cf. L. Holtzman, “Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah” in Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, ed. by Allen, Lowry et al, vol.1, pp.202-223.

[2] See Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin, vol.3, p.128.

[3] Cf. È. Geoffrey and R. Gaetani, Introduction to Sufism, pp.11-16.


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