Pablo Beneito and Stephen Hirtenstein

Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume XXXIV, 2003.

Go to the Translation of The Prayer of Blessing
Part 2 of the article

The Prayer of Blessing
[upon the Light of Muhammad]
by ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī

Pablo Beneito and Stephen Hirtenstein

Part 1 – Introduction

It is not often that a genuine masterpiece of spiritual writing comes to light after many years of disregard and neglect, but in the field of Ibn ʿArabī studies this is a rather more common occurrence as more material is slowly uncovered and made available to Western readers. Mahdawī’s remarkable Prayer on the Prophet is certainly a case in point, this being the first time that it has been published even in Arabic, let alone a Western language, and we are delighted to at last be able to offer both a critical edition and translation here. Not only is the author an evident spiritual master who deserves to be better appreciated; he is also someone who had a crucial impact upon Ibn ʿArabī during his formative years, and of whom the latter speaks with the utmost affection and respect.

It is through the autobiographical accounts in Ibn ʿArabī’s Futūḥāt Makkīya, Rūḥ al-quds and other works, that many leading spiritual masters of the time are chiefly remembered, and none more so than one who had been part of the celebrated Abū Madyan’s circle, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī of Tunis. This shaykh Ibn ʿArabī clearly held in the very highest regard, since he not only made a special journey to stay with him for some six months in 590/1194, at the prompting of one of his Andalusian masters, al-Rundī,[1] but also spent a second, longer period with him on his final departure from the Maghrib. He went on to dedicate two major works to Mahdawī: the first, the Risālat Rūḥ al-quds, in many ways summarises Ibn ʿArabī’s Western training, and the second, the beginning of his monumental Futūḥāt, started out as a letter from Mecca to his “beloved friend” (al-walī al-ḥabīb).

ʿABD AL-ʿAZĪZ AL-MAHDAWĪ (c.1150–1221)

Mahdawī represents one of the major influences upon Ibn ʿArabī during the latter’s time in the Maghrib, but his subtle influence has also permeated the environs of Tunis, with his tomb still an important place of pilgrimage to this day.[2] According to the later hagiographers, such as Ibn Qunfudh writing in the seventh/fourteenth century, he is depicted as one of the most important and influential disciples of Abū Madyan, a “leader of people of excellence” (imām al-fuḍalā'), a “sea of lights and a treasure-trove of mysteries” (baḥr al-anwār wa-maʿdin al-asrār). This epithet brings to mind the physical situation in which Mahdawī lived: a light-house on a hill-top close by the Mediterranean Sea.

Apart from the writings of Ibn ʿArabī, who provides the only extant first-hand accounts,[3] we know very little about Mahdawī. Born some years before Ibn ʿArabī, perhaps around 1150, he came originally, as his name indicates, from the Tunisian town of Mahdia, which used to be one of the most formidable fortresses on the Mediterranean. Early in his life he is reported to have undertaken a 40-day retreat in Monastir, some miles down the coast from Tunis. This kind of rigorous spiritual practice apparently led the imam of the Mahdia mosque to remark: “If ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz dies, no-one should pray for him, as he will have killed himself.” On hearing of that, Mahdawī retorted: “It is he who will die [first] and ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz will pray for him”, and this was what happened. After this retreat, he appears to have been unable to eat, and when asked if he was alright, he replied: “I am alive, with a life after which there is no death evermore.”[4] He then seems to have been drawn into Abū Madyan’s circle. It is recorded that he met Abū Madyan in Tunis in the year 570/1175, when the latter was heading for Mecca. He subsequently spent time with Abū Madyan and his group of disciples in Bejaia, undergoing a thorough training from “the shaykh of shaykhs”, who referred to him as a “lion of souls”. As Vincent Cornell has pointed out, Abū Madyan’s way emphasised the disciplines of fasting (especially the 40-day fast modelled on the austerities of Moses in the desert and the retreats of Muhammad in the cave of Hira), seclusion and meditation, as well as being a full participant in social life, whose detachment from the world enabled the person to act with integrity and generosity of spirit both towards himself and towards others.[5] According to Ibn ʿArabī, Mahdawī himself became a model of remarkable self-discipline:

One of our companions told us regarding our shaykh, the master of the spiritual community, Abū Madyan Ibn Shuʿayb b. usayn, who resided at Bejaia, that he had said: “When I am hungry, I recite the Quran and then I am satisfied, and when I am thirsty, I pray blessings upon Muhammad, may God bless him and give him peace, and my thirst is quenched.” Now another of our companions told me that the gnostic shaykh, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī, acted in the same manner, but I have forgotten the details. What I do know, however, is that he had given up eating bread for more than ten years. I myself stayed with him for eight months, night and day, and I never saw him touch bread at all. When he ate, he took little, and yet he was large and in the best of health. I never saw anyone more tough and hardy than him, and with regard to God he showed a soul of steel.[6]

This austerity, and in particular the 40-day fast which Mahdawī accomplished early in his life, may help to explain the cryptic title mentioned by Ibn ʿArabī in the following passage from the Futūḥāt:

I heard one of the shaykhs saying: “As long as he has his mortal nature (basharīya), speech belongs to him from behind a veil, but when he departs from his mortal nature, the veil will be lifted.” This Shaykh was ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Abū Bakr al-Mahdawī, known as Ibn al-Karra. I heard this from him in his house in Tunis. He was correct in that and he erred.[7]

Literally “the son of return”, the unusual epithet, Ibn al-Karra,[8] would appear to refer to Mahdawī’s “return” to life after which there is no death, his being resurrected alive. The root k-r-r also has meanings of a period of time and totality, and thus may specifically refer to the fact that this “return” to real life took place as a consequence of the 40-day retreat.

Mahdawī established himself in the area known today as La Marsa (Marsā ʿAydūn, or Marsā Laqīt as Ibn ʿArabī refers to it), a coastal village close to the Bay of Tunis and a few miles outside the city. Here there seems to have been a group of Madyanite companions: these included Abū ʿAlī al-Nafṭī, who is described as one of the four Pillars (awtād),[9] and an older man called Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh Ibn Khamīs al-Kinānī, known as al-Jarrāḥ.[10] Like others of Abū Madyan’s circle who set up local centres of spiritual practice in different parts of North Africa, Mahdawī surrounded himself with a group of students and disciples at the Carthage light-house or beacon station that used to stand on top of the hill at Sidi Bou Said.[11] One of the group members was Ibn ʿArabī’s paternal cousin.

This hill would become a beacon of light in more ways than one, as it had a particular association with the archetype of direct Divine inspiration, Khiḍr. As Ibn ʿArabī writes in the Futūḥāt,

Physical places produce an effect upon subtle hearts, and if the heart is found in any particular place, it will be the most general experience. So its experience in Mecca is most exalted and complete. Just as there is a hierarchy amongst spiritual dwelling-places (manāzil rūḥānīya), there is also a hierarchy among physical dwelling-places ... the experience of our hearts is more abundant in some places than in others.[12]

In this context Ibn ʿArabī goes on to mention an interesting anecdote:

He (Mahdawī), may God be pleased with him, used to leave his retreat in the houses of the protected light-house, which lay on the coast east of Tunis, and go off to the hermitage (rābiṭa) which lay amongst the tombs just opposite the light-house gate, and was a place ascribed to Khiḍr. I asked him about it and he told me: “I find my heart there more readily than in the light-house”, and I too found the same as what the shaykh had said. That is because of one who has lived or is living there, be it due to the state of a blessed angel or a truthful jinn or due to the spiritual energy of a person who used to live there. This is like the house of Abū Yazīd which was called the “house of the just (bayt al-abrār)” or the zāwiya of Junayd in Shawnīzīya, or the cave of Ibn Adham in Tiʿn or all the places of the righteous (ṣāliḥīn) who have passed away from this life – traces of them remain in the places they have been in, by which subtle hearts are affected.[13]

Aside from the close relationship with Ibn ʿArabī, Mahdawī acted as a kind of Madyanite link between West and East, maintaining contact with Yūsuf al-Kūmī in Andalusia and ʿAbd al-Razzāq in Alexandria.[14] In addition, Mahdawī is said to have had beautiful handwriting and written excellent poetry, but none seems to have survived except the following verses:

O Shuʿayb, the friend of God and secret of His servants, Abū Madyan, enricher of mankind in H/his glory;

O garden of refuge and sign of [salvific] guidance, and publisher of the knowledge of God by His command;

You are present and not present, absent and not absent; and how you are in everyone, added to their “tower” (ṭūr),

For your light shows the way unerring to the Light of God, and who among humanity can extinguish His Light?[15]

The only major work that is attributed to him is this remarkable prayer on the Prophet, al-Ṣalāt al-mubāraka, which shows him to have been a true spiritual master.

He died in the year 621/1224, and was buried next to his own master, Kinānī, in what was to become a very well-known cemetery of shaykhs and place of pilgrimage. It lies in the middle of the bay of La Marsa, a mere stone’s throw from the sea.

The Prayer upon the Prophet

The tradition of calling down blessings upon Muhammad (taṣliya), which is such a characteristic of Islamic devotion, dates back to the time of the Prophet, and is mentioned as a divine order in the Quranic verse: “Indeed God and His angels call down blessings upon the prophet. O you who have faith, call down blessings upon him, and greet him with peace” (Q. 33. 56). As many Quranic commentators have pointed out, the divine/angelic prayer upon the Prophet is an already existing reality, in which those who have faith are invited to participate. It was usually considered to be a general obligation conditional on belief, not restricted to a specific time. Any ritual prayer performed without blessing the Prophet was taken to be incomplete.

To pray blessing and peace upon the Prophet was also to invoke God’s blessing upon oneself. The often-quoted tradition “whoso calls down one blessing upon me, God shall call down on him ten blessings” is corroborated in a Divine Saying (ḥadīth qudsī), reported by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAwf:

I entered the mosque and I saw the Messenger of God leaving. I followed him, walking after him without him noticing me. Shortly afterwards he went into a palm-grove, turned towards the qibla and prostrated. His prostration lasted such a long time that from behind I began to wonder if God had caused him to die. So I approached him and bent down to look at his face. He raised his head and said, “What is the matter, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān?”

“O Messenger of God,” I replied, “when you made such a long prostration, I feared that God, may He be glorified and magnified, had taken your soul, and so I came to look.”

The Prophet declared, “When you saw me enter the palm-grove I met Gabriel, upon him peace, who said to me,

‘I bring you good news. Indeed God, may He be exalted, says to you: “He who greets you with peace, him shall I greet with peace. He who blesses you, him shall I bless.”’”[16]

There are several traditions that state the requirement to pray upon the Prophet as a formal part of any supplication, without which the prayer was taken to be “suspended between heaven and earth”, as ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb put it. When Muhammad himself heard someone making a supplication in his prayer without the blessing upon the Prophet, he explained to the man and those present that “when one of you prays, he should begin with praise of God, then pray upon the Prophet, and then make whatever supplication he wishes.”[17]

The form of the blessing was also instituted by the Prophet himself: “Say: O God, bless Muhammad and his family as You blessed the family of Abraham, and grant blessing to Muham­mad and his family as You granted blessing to the family of Abraham. You are Praiseworthy, Glorious.”[18]

Forms of blessing IN WESTERN ISLAM

Over time the forms of this blessing upon the Prophet became an ever more complex tapestry woven around one short basic phrase, seeking greater intensity of devotion, greater inclusive­ness, greater duration. Many of these devotional recitations became famous. As Annemarie Schimmel puts it,

It seems that the poets of Morocco, or rather of the entire Spanish–North African area, were specially fertile in producing poetic eulogies and prayers for the Prophet. Some of these soon became classics in their own right, among them the blessing formulas invented by Ibn Mashīsh and somewhat later Jazūlī’s Dalā'il al-khairāt; these poets excelled in elated, worshipful poems and show some special features of naʿtīya poetry [poems honouring the virtues of the Prophet].[19]

Three of these great eulogies to the Prophet stand out in terms of their power and popularity. The earliest, al-Ṣalāt al-mashīshīya, is ascribed to the somewhat mysterious figure of ʿAbd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh (d.625/1227). Little is known of his life, although he acted as a crucial link between Abū Madyan and Shādhilī. An exact contemporary of Mahdawī, he seems to have followed a very similar career: he also went on pilgrimage to the East in search of knowledge, and settled for a while in Medina. On his way back, he followed the teachings of Abū Madyan in Bejaia, and thereafter established himself in a hermitage (zāwiya) at Jabal al-ʿAlam, near Tetouan (Morocco). It seems to have been only from the fifteenth century, through the flourishing of the Shādhilī movement in Morocco, that his name became better known in a wider area and he came to be recognised as the Pole of the Western lands of Islam. His prayer on the Prophet became widely spread through the medium of the Shādhilīya, amongst whom it is often recited. It has been published many times and translated into several languages. It is a very fine example of mature Sufi praise on the Muhammadian Reality.[20]

The later but even more celebrated Dalā'il al-khayrāt wa-shawāriq al-anwār fī dhikr al-ṣalāt ʿalā’l-Nabī al-mukhtār (The Signs of Goodness and the Rays of Light in the remembrance of the blessing upon the chosen Prophet) was composed by Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Sulaymān al-Jazūlī (d.870/1465).[21] It seems that he wrote the Dalā'il in Fez, after having been initiated into the Shādhilīya order. The prayer was so much revered that his disciples are reported to have recited it constantly, night and day, and there apparently remains even today a brotherhood in Morocco dedicated to its recitation. Today it is widely known and recited throughout the Islamic world, from Morocco to Malaysia.

The third prayer of blessing worthy of mention is al-Burda (the Mantle of the Prophet) of Sharafuddīn Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥam­mad b. Saʿīd al-Buṣayrī (or Buṣīrī, d.694/1295 and buried opposite Qūnawī’s tomb in Konya). Buṣayrī, an Egyptian of Berber origin, was also closely associated with the Shādhilīya order, being instructed by Abū’l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad al-Mursī (d.1287), the disciple of Shādhilī and master of Ibn ʿAṭā' Allāh of Alexandria. It is reported that Buṣayrī received the order to compose this eulogy from the Prophet himself in a dream.

These three examples show how closely the tradition of prayers upon the Prophet is associated with the Maghribi Sufi tradition, especially within the Shādhilīya order. It is from this same background, steeped in the teachings of Abū Madyan, that the long-ignored Prayer of blessing by Mahdawī comes. The ma­jor­ity of scholars accept that the most important initiator of Sufism in the Islamic west was Abū Madyan, since from him would derive, through Ibn Mashīsh and Shādhilī, the vast movement of the Shādhilīya and of course its derivations such as the Jazūlīya, the Zarrūqīya or the Wafā'īya in Egypt.[22] However, the Madyanite tree also gave rise to other branches, such as al-Mahdawī, and also indirectly to Ibn ʿArabī.[23] An interesting example of this commonality of inheritance is the use, with identical vowelling, of the enigmatic words adumma ḥamma in both Mahdawī’s and Shādhilī’s prayers.[24]

MahdawĪ’s Prayer of blessing

The Ṣalāt al-mubāraka of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī is an exceptional blending of heart-felt devotion and spiritual understanding, love and knowledge. It forms not only a devotional prayer of great power and beauty, but also a series of expositions that draw the listener or reader into a vast universe of contemplation. Each blessing becomes an invitation to contemplate the all-embracing Reality in a particular mode. In this respect, it bears a striking similarity to the work of Ibn ʿArabī himself, especially in its wide-ranging and comprehensive treatment of the Reality of Muhammad as the Reality of Man,[25] its cosmological and metaphysical approach to the theme of the divine human form, and its use of the language of symbolic allusion. One startling expression in the fourteenth blessing is identical to that found at the beginning of the famous “Theophany of Perfection” (no: 81) in Ibn ʿArabī’s K. al-Tajalliyāt: “I am the centre of the circle and its circumference; I am the compound of its elements and its simple principle.”

It is perhaps no coincidence, given that Mahdawī lived his life in the rooms of the great Carthage light-house, that this Prayer of blessing should focus so much on the Light of Muhammad. The identification of the Prophet with light begins primarily with his great light-prayer:

O God, place light in my heart and light in my soul, light upon my tongue, light in my eyes and light in my ears; place light at my right, light at my left, light behind me and light before me, light above me and light beneath me. Place light in my nerves and light in my flesh, light in my blood, light in my hair and light in my skin. Give me light, increase my light, make me light![26]

The idea of Muhammad as the light of the world is drawn from Quranic imagery (Q. 33. 46), where he is described as “a shining lamp” (sirājun munīr). According to Sahl al-Tustarī (d.896), “the light of the prophets is from his, Muhammad’s light, and the light of the heavenly kingdom (malakūt) is from his light, and the light of this world and of the world to come is from his light.”[27] Both these aspects of the Light of Muham­mad, microcosmic and macrocosmic, have a prominent place in the Ṣalāt al-mubāraka.

Mahdawī’s prayer is structured according to 24 repetitions of “O God” (allāhumma), corresponding to 24 different aspects of the Reality of Muhammad, including the continued transmission of his message through the four caliphs and the community. This number, with its obvious overtones of the 24 hours of the day, appears to be deliberate and significant, implying that the whole prayer conforms to the constant divine/angelic prayer upon the Prophet. The blessings occur within three distinct modes: Quranic quotation or allusion to Hadith, epithets of the Prophet in the form of his names or descriptions, and metaphysical expositions of the Reality of Muhammad, both microcosmic and macrocosmic. The strong emphasis in the first two blessings on Mercy (raḥma) in all its forms indicates the overall tone of the prayer. In addition, within the prayer there appear to be close correspondences between the theme or manner of each blessing and the particular number it occupies in the sequence.

The Two Halves of Prayer

There is a well-known ḥadīth qudsī (Divine Saying) which refers to the sharing of the prayer (ṣalāt) between God and the one who prays: “I have divided the Prayer into two halves between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have that for which he asks.”[28] This notion of a prayer with two halves is central to the understanding of the Fātiḥa, where the glorification of God in the first three verses is complemented by the servant’s request in the last three. In a different way, this bipartite division also finds expression in the 24 parts of the Prayer of blessing.

The first 12 prayers form a distinct unity, emphasising the interior Reality of Muhammad, whereas the second 12 reflect the more outward aspects of qualities and descriptions, and in particular the imagery of light within the bodily niche. The first 12 can be taken as corresponding to the 12 hours of night, or the world of the Unseen, where the origins of things are to be found. This interior dimension is expressed in the esoteric tradition in terms of the letters of the alphabet, since letters are the constituent elements of words and hence the basis of expressing meanings. All the prayers which make use of letter symbolism are to be found in the first group of 12:

(4), which opens with an exposition of the enigmatic letters found at the beginning of the Sura Maryam;

(6), (8) and (9), which depict the letters of the names Muḥam­mad, Aḥmad and Abū’l-Qāsim, respectively;

(10), which charts the ontological progression of Being in degrees through letters;

(12), which uses two groups of 14 separate letters, including repetitions, thus 28 in total, all drawn from Quranic Suras and names. Twelve different letters are used in total, which are in order of appearance: alif, lām, mīm, ḥā', dāl, qāf, ṭā', sīn, hā', wāw, yā', nūn. We also find 12 sets in each group if we do not count the repetition of ḥā'–mīm (first group) and wāw–dāl (second group). This may perhaps suggest that there is some kind of intended connection or symbolical transition from the 24 (12  2) hours of the day to the 28 (14  2) lunar mansions.

Apart from this use of letter symbolism, is there any deeper structure to the first set of prayers? Is the order in which the blessings are presented significant in any way? When we consider the prayers in terms of number symbolism,[29] we can again see certain correspondences throughout:

1  qāf (=1), referring to the pen (qalam), whose vertical form corresponds to the alif (the first letter of the alphabet, whose numerical value is 1).

2  ' (= 2), referring to the Prophet as mercy (raḥma) to the worlds and to the Lord (rabb), both terms that begin with the letter rā'.

3  jīm (= 3), referring to the integral union (jamʿ), and to three terms of unity brought together in the affirmation of union (jamʿ jamʿ aḥadīya).

4  the key term Path (ṣ-r-ā-ṭ), mentioned twice, is composed of four letters.

5  the term essence (ʿayn) is mentioned five times, and is used in reference to five realms or presences: Being, Unseen, Creation, Uniting Power and Realisation; and to five Divine Names that correspond to them: Knowledge, Generosity, Will, Power and Compassion.

6  referring to the numerical value of the letters of the name Muhammad (4 + 8 + 4 + 4 + 4 = 24 = 2 + 4 = 6) and to the value of the letter wāw (= 6), symbol of the Perfect Human Being, thus Muhammad.

7  referring to the Seven Repeated, usually associated with the seven verses of the Fātiḥa, and to the value of the term al-thānī [the doubling: 1 + 3 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 1 = 16 = 1 + 6 = 7], which is used as key term in this blessing.

8  referring to the value of the letters of the name Aḥmad (1 + 8 + 4 + 4 = 17 = 1 + 7 = 8).

9  referring to the nine letters of the name Abū’l-Qāsim[30] and also to the value of the term Abū (father: 1 + 2 + 6 = 9), alluding to Muhammad as the spiritual father of humankind.

10  referring to the cumulation of the three ontological degrees of Being: Generosity (jūd, 3 + 6 + 4 = 13 = 4), Being (wujūd, 6 + 3 + 6 + 4 = 19 = 10 = 1, i.e. the Unity of Being) and existence (mawjūd, 4 + 6 + 3 + 6 + 4 = 23 = 5): 4 + 1 + 5 = 10 .

11  just as the number 11 is a repeating of 1, so there is a repetition or doubling alluded to in the following five terms used in the prayer: imām (alif–mīm + alif–mīm), qawsayn (the two arcs), yadan (the two hands), muṣallī (known as the second in a one-to-one relation), aḥadīya jamʿ (1–1).

12  referring to the 12 different letters used (in total) in the two groups of 14 letters.[31]

Despite the clarity of these connections, whose ordered precision drawn from the same numerical system makes them unlikely to be accidental, they have not been rendered explicit. Rather, they were left, perhaps more properly, as a possible mode of contemplation. If we bring attention to them here, it is because number and letter symbolism, viewed as an important mode of contemplation within the esoteric tradition, escapes most modern readers and would inevitably be lost in translation.

The second half of the prayer, on the other hand, can be seen to correspond to the 12 hours of the daytime. It opens with blessings on the character of the Prophet and his various epithets (13–18), and then proceeds to a detailed contemplation of the Light of Muhammad (19–22). The prayer closes with two requests (23–24), covering the four successors and the whole community of those who follow the Prophet.

Manuscript sources

We have used two manuscripts for the translation and edition of the text: Aḥmadīya Tunis 3832, fols. 212b–214a, and Berlin 427 (Petermann II.65), fols.122a–124a. These appear to be the only extant copies of the text.[32] Neither of them includes the explicit numbering which we have put in for clarity in our translation and the edition.

The Tunis manuscript (T), which contains 33 lines per page, provides the title (fol. 212b) we are using for our edition and translation. As the copy is complete and very correct, it has been chosen as the base manuscript for the Arabic edition. It is written in a difficult but clear Maghribi style, with occasional and useful vocalisations. The expression Allāhumma at the beginning of each prayer is written somewhat larger than the rest of the text, helping the reader find the starting point of each part and suggesting the copy itself has been made for recitation.

It is interesting to note that the copyist calls the author of the Prayer Sīdī ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī, which is identical to the name given in a hemistich of the poem that serves as an epitaph on his tomb (see below).

In the same volume, there is the complete text (fols. 73a–116a) of Ibn ʿArabī’s Rūḥ al-quds (RG 630) dated 28 Dhū’l-Ḥijja 1242 [23 July 1827] (fol. 116a) by the copyist, presented as “a letter (murāsala) from the Shaykh al-Akbar … to his friend Sīdī ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī…”.

The Berlin copy (B) is part of a manuscript compilation called K. Jawhar al-ghawāṣṣ wa-tuḥfat ahl al-ikhtiṣāṣ, a collection of writings by various scholars of Quranic exegesis and ḥadīth.[33] The original compiler is named as Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Dimashqī Ibn ʿArrāq, who died in 933/1526. Ibn ʿArrāq was one of the main followers of the celebrated malāmī shaykh, ʿAlī b. Maymūn al-Fāsī (d.917/1511), who did much to revive Ibn ʿArabī’s teachings in Damascus in the early sixteenth century, prior to the arrival of the Ottomans. It is reported that when Sultan Selim took Damascus in 1516, he visited Ibn ʿArrāq to ask his authorisation to conquer Egypt.[34] Ibn ʿArrāq himself, who was known as a Shādhilī shaykh, had frequented most of the great Sufi masters of the East at his time, and had received the khirqa akbarīya at the hands of a descendant of Abū Bakr al-Mawṣilī (d.797/1394), who traced his lineage to Qaḍīb al-Bān and ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī. Ibn ʿArrāq is known as the founder of the Khawāṭirīya, whose teachings particularly emphasised the necessity for a disciple to confide his thoughts to the shaykh without editing them in any way, as only a true spiritual master could analyse them properly. It is possible that Ibn ʿArrāq came to know of Mahdawī and this blessing-Prayer from his own shaykh, Ibn Maymūn, who had migrated to Damascus from the Maghrib.[35]


The following unpublished poem – 14 verses in meter ramal rhyming in -ī – can be found on the tomb of Mahdawī in La Marsa, written after the construction of the dome-shaped building that now shelters it.

[Here lies] Sīdī ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī, who had the station of the Pole, that most eminent rank,

uniter of the two sciences, son of Abū Bakr al-Ḥāwī, the noble Qurashite,

His excellence more radiant even than the sun at full noon – both al-Bājī [i] and al-Ḥātimī [ii] have testified to that!

He guarantees true happiness to whoever visits him, for he said that “no-one who visits my tomb can be unhappy”.

What virtue, o companion! Such a virtue that it is passed on by everyone, whether they understand or not,

through what they themselves have seen. Thus one who was astray is guided, becoming obedient after having been disobedient.

So seize this time to visit him and rejoice in it. Seek the help that is extended to you by a munificent hand!

For him ask God’s [blessing]; for him ask Mercy every morning and evening,

[a Mercy] that includes al-Kawwāsh, [iii] who built his tomb for mankind after a powerful realisation;

and likewise al-Jarrāḥ [iv] whose tomb this [also] is, and for whoever is close by, alive or dead,

especially al-Bājī, who bore witness [at his funeral] to his faith in God the High,

and in what Aḥmad, the chosen one, of an ancient lineage, brought from Him.

May peace and blessings embrace him and his relations, and all the saints,

and the one whose name declares his date, Sīdī ʿAbdal-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī. [v]

Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume XXXIV, 2003.

Go to the Translation of The Prayer of Blessing
Part 2 of the article


[1] See R. W. J. Austin, Sufis of Andalusia (partial trans. of Ibn ʿArabī’s Rūḥ al-quds and al-Durrat al-fākhira [Sherborne, Glos., 1971]), p. 118, where al-Rundī, whom Ibn ʿArabī considered one of the seven Substitutes (abdāl), tells the young man through an intermediary that the idea of the Tunis visit would come to him at the very same moment as his greetings were conveyed to him, and that he should “proceed thence in peace”.

[2] See pp.18–19 for a translation of the epitaph on his tombstone.

[3] The key sources in Ibn ʿArabī’s works for the first (ah 590) and second visits (ah 597–98) are the prologues to Mashāhid al-asrār, the R. Rūḥ al-quds, and the Futūḥāt. For translations and analysis of the major passages, see G. Elmore’s comprehensive study of the available sources on Mahdawī’s life, “Shaykh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī, Ibn al-ʿArabī’s mentor”, Journal of African and Oriental Studies, 121.4 (2001), pp. 593–613.

[4] See Ibn Qunfudh’s Uns al-faqīr, edited by M. al-Fāsī and A. Fauré (Rabat, 1965), pp. 97–100, and al-Fārisīya (Tunis, 1968), p. 146. Ibn Qunfudh’s account was written down in the late seventh/fourteenth century, and may have come from oral sources that he met when visiting the cemetery in La Marsa.

[5] See V. Cornell, Realm of the Saint (Austin, Texas, 1998), pp. 134ff.

[6] Quoted in Ibn ʿArabī’s al-Kawkab al-durrī fī manāqib Dhū’l-Nūn al-Miṣrī, translated as La vie merveilleuse de Dhū’l-Nūn l’Égyptien by R. Deladrière (Paris, 1988), p. 86. This eight-month stay took place in 597–98/1201–02, as Ibn ʿArabī was preparing to leave the Maghrib for the last time. See S. Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercifier (Oxford, 1999), pp. 87–90 and 144–6 for details.

[7] Fut. II. 601, translated by W. C. Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God (Albany, NY, 1998), p. 108. Chittick reads the name as Ibn al-Karih, “son of the ugly”, which seems less plausible. The passage is a clear example of the genuine appreciation Ibn ʿArabī had for Mahdawī’s knowledge and comprehension, as well as his own ability to provide an even more penetrating insight.

[8] According to the Lisān al-ʿarab, al-karra means both “a time” (marra) and “the resurrection and recreation of a thing after annihilation”. It is in this sense a “return” (rujūʿ) to creation.

[9] According to the testimony of Kūmī, quoted by Ibn Qunfudh. Abū ʿAlī died in 610/1213.

[10] Austin, Sufis of Andalusia, p. 141. Kinānī was an elderly man when Ibn ʿArabī met him on his first visit to Tunis, and is spoken of with great affection as one of his masters.

[11] The old name of this village was Jabal al-Manāra (Light-house Hill). The light-house was one of a whole series stretching along the coast as far as Egypt, lookout posts against invasion or attack from the Christian north. The village takes its modern name from Abū Saʿīd Khalaf b. Abū Yaḥyā al-Tamīmī al-Bājī (551/1156 to 628/1230), whose tomb and zāwiya can be found in its centre; born in Bāja al-Qadīma, a village situated on the outskirts of Tunis, he became a disciple of Abū Madyan, and had a close relationship with Mahdawī. It was he who washed Mahdawī’s body when he died, and said the funeral-prayer over him and laid him in his grave. He later became one of Shādhilī’s teachers in Tunis.

[12] Fut. I. 98–9.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See La Risāla de Ṣafī al-Dīn Ibn Abī l-Manṣūr Ibn Ẓāfir, edited and translated by D. Gril (Cairo, 1986), p. 168.

[15] Ibn Qunfudh, Uns, 98–9 (translated by G. Elmore in “Shaykh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī”), who also describes him as “illiterate” (ummī). This epithet almost certainly refers not to his inability to read and write but to his interior condition, as someone able to receive inspiration directly without the interference of the analytical mind.

[16] This is the full text of the thirty-eighth hadith cited in Ibn ʿArabī’s collection entitled Mishkāt al-anwār (to be published as Divine Sayings, trans. S. Hirtenstein and M. Notcutt, Oxford, forthcoming).

[17] Reported by Faḍala ibn ʿUbayd. See Muhammad, Messenger of Allah, Ash-Shifa of Qadi ʿIyad, by Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ ibn Mūsā al-Yaḥsubī, trans. A. Bewley (Granada, 1991), pp. 250–63. Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ (d.544/1149), a judge in Ceuta and Granada, composed this comprehensive book on the greatness of the Prophet, which became “perhaps the most frequently used and commented-upon handbook in which the Prophet’s life, his qualities and his miracles are described in every detail” (A. Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger: the Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety [Chapel Hill, NC, 1985], p. 33).

[18] As reported by ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṯālib. There are several slight variations on the blessing, depending upon the transmitter.

[19] Schimmel, And Muhammad, p. 188.

[20] A version of it (Arabic text plus Spanish translation by P. Beneito and English by C. Twinch) may be found on the CD entitled Dhikr y samāʿ, rendered by the group Cofradía al-Shushtarí, directed by Omar Metioui (Pneuma, PN: 30, Madrid, 1999).

[21] His mausoleum is still a place of pilgrimage in Marrakesh, where he is known as one of the seven saintly patrons of the town. See Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edn, for further details.

[22] See É. Dermenghem, Le culte des saints dans l’Islam maghrébin (Paris, 1954), p. 72.

[23] Indirectly, since they never met in the flesh, although Ibn ʿArabī consistently refers to Abū Madyan as “our shaykh” and accords him enormous admiration and respect. Many of his Andalusian masters such as Kūmī and Mawrūrī were disciples of Abū Madyan. For a good overview of their relationship, see C. Addas, “Abu Madyan and Ibn ʿArabī”, in Muhyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī: a Commemorative Volume, ed. S. Hirtenstein and M. Tiernan (Shaftesbury, 1993), pp. 163–80.

[24] See n. 43 in the prayer. This correspondence shows the very close similarity in treatment of letter symbolism between Mahdawī and the later Shādhilī (d.1258).

[25] We may note the use of what is normally considered to be typically akbarian terminology: raḥamūt (1), maẓāhir wujūdīya (5), surādiq (9), takhalluq, taʿalluq and taḥaqquq (13 and 14). This particularly demonstrates the extent to which both Mahdawī and Ibn ʿArabī partook in a common Maghribi Sufi background, centred upon the figure of Abū Madyan, who is reputed to have formulated the last three interrelated expressions (see n. 49 of the translation).

[26] Quoted in C. Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London, 1960), p. 212.

[27] See Schimmel, And Muhammad, chapter 7 (pp. 123–43), which is devoted to the Light of Muhammad and the mystical tradition.

[28] See the thirty-first ḥadīth cited in Ibn ʿArabī’s Mishkāt al-anwār.

[29] That is to say, using the abjad numerical system according to the Oriental minor system (which reduces all numbers to units). For details, see our book The Seven Days of the Heart (Oxford, 2000), Appen. C, pp. 161–2.

[30] Only eight are mentioned in the text as we have it, indicating either a lapsus calami in both manuscripts or possibly considering the third and last alif as implicit as in the writing of the Names al-Raḥmān or Allāh.

[31] This collection of letters in the twelfth blessing forms a kind of counterpoint to the gathering of the Prophet’s community in the twenty-fourth prayer.

[32] It is not mentioned in the collections of prayers on the Prophet compiled by Yūsuf ibn Ismāʿīl al-Nabhānī (d.1932), nor is there any manuscript attributed to Mahdawī in the great libraries whose catalogues we have consulted, including the Suleymaniye in Istanbul.

[33] It contains works by Abū’l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī (d.597/1200) [fols. 1b–20a]; Ibn Labān (d.749/1348) [résumé of his Radd maʿānī al-āyāt al-mutashābihāt (fols. 20a–50a)]; ʿUmar b. ʿAlī al-Sirāj al-Anṣārī (c.1401) [Naḥw al-qulūb (fols. 50a–121b)]; ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Mahdawī’s prayer [fols. 122a–124a]; Abū’l-Ṯāhir Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Silafī (d.576/1180) [collection of hadiths (fols. 124b–130b)]; Abū’l ʿAbbās al-Būnī (d.622/1225) [fols. 131a–135a] and some other minor additions [fols. 135b–138a]. It is interesting to note that the catalogue speaks of a Shi’ite connection to ʿAlī in two different places (see pp. 163 and 326) without any foundation. We believe that this curious invention must have come from a misreading of the expression li-ʿAlī (in praise of or dedicated to ʿAlī), instead of laʿallī in the initial phrase of the copy: “so that I may (laʿallī) walk under his guidance…”.

[34] Ibn Ayyūb, Rawḍ, quoted in É. Geoffroy, Le soufisme en Égypte et en Syrie (Damascus, 1995), p. 77.

[35] See Geoffroy, ibid., for further details on Ibn Maymūn and Ibn ʿArrāq.

[i.] Abū Saʿīd al-Bājī – see n. 11.

[ii] Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī, known as al-Ṯā'ī al-Ḥātimī al-Andalusī.

[iii]. It would be interesting to know more about this person, who built the tomb and may have written this epitaph, and when he lived. However, so far we have found no further details.

[iv.] Ibn Khamīs al-Kinānī al-Jarrāḥ – see n. 10.

[v] According to the Western system, the numerical value of al-Mahdawī’s name is as follows: Sīdī = 300 + 10 + 4 + 10 = 324; ʿAbd = 70 + 2­ + 4 = 76; al-ʿAzīz = 1 + 30 + 70+ 7 + 10 + 7 = 125; al-Mahdawī = 1 + 30 + 40 + 5­­ ­+ 4­ + 6 + 10 = 96. The total of 621 is the Hijra date of Mahdawī’s death (1224).