Moulay Abd an-Nur al-Amrani (b. 685/1286)
The sharif Moulay Abu Mohammed Abd an-Nur al-Amrani al-Idrissi al-Hassani al-Fasi (b. 685/1286), author of Kitab at-Taqyid fi tarjamat ahwal al-Shaykh Abi l-Hassan Ali bin ‘Abd Allah al-shahir bi l-Shadhili (The Record of the Biography and Spiritual States of Abul Hassan Shadhili), is cited in many of the biographies dealing with the Sufis and ulama of Fez. He was influential in introducing the teachings of Sufism and particularly those of the Shadhili order within the circles of the jurists (fuqaha) of fourteenth century Merinid Fez. We are fortunate to have the accounts of two people who knew him personally, his students Sidi Yahya ibn Ahmed as-Sarraj al-Fasi (d. 803/1388) and Ibn al-Sakkak (d. 818/1403). These accounts by those who knew him portray Moulay Al-Amrani as a central figure within both the circles of the scholars and those of the aspirants to the path of Sufism. It is of note that both as-Sarraj and Ibn al-Sakkak were also closely associated with Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi (d. 792/1377) as friends and disciples. Sidi Yahya as-Sarraj writes of al-Amrani,
He was our venerated mentor (Shaykhuna), a man of the lineage of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him. He was a judge and a teacher, a distinguished scholar and one who gave the Friday sermon. He had an integral knowledge of fiqh, and among the foremost of the people of sound judgement [in civil affairs] (ahl al-shura). His pen was more eloquent than his tongue. He bore a commitment to the path of Sufism (tariqat alqawm), and a love of those affiliated to it. He was easily moved to tears and had a great love for people committed to a life of piety.
Ibn al-Sakkak is the first Moroccan author to mention by name the Tariqa Shadhiliya in Morocco, he was also the first to ascribe the appellation of Shadhili to Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi (d. 792/1377). His book Kitab al-Uslub min-al-kalam ‘ala la hawla wa-la quwwata illa billah (known as Kitab al-Asalib), is an exposition of the essential principle, as Ibn al-Sakkak perceived it, of Islamic spirituality: the abandonment of all claims to strength or personal capability (atabarri min al-hawl wa al-quwwa). In the sixth and last of his Asalib he affirms the centrality of this principle to the teachings of Tariqa Shadhiliya. In this chapter he cites the works and saying of venerable masters of the Shadhili path, among them we find Sidi Abd an-Nur al-Amrani mentioned,
Among the last to compose [a work] on the excellence of the master [Sidi Abul Hassan Shadhili] and who collected a portion of his teachings on the divine realities (haqaiq) was the discerning scholar (al-Alim al-muhaqqaq) Sidi Abd an-Nur al-Amrani—leader of the aspirants on the path (ra’is al-fuqara’), foremost among the people of legal judgement (muqaddam arbab al-futya), established in the way of [Imam] Malik… Let anyone who wishes to ascertain something of the lofty station of this spiritual pole (Qutb) [Abul Hassan]… study the book compiled by that discerning scholar [Moulay al-Amrani].
Moulay al-Amrani’s erudition went beyond the domain of fiqh. His interests in Sufism would bring him in 745/1330, at the age of sixty, to travel to Tunis to seek out the disciples of Abul Hassan Shadhili. There he met with his master Sidi Abul Abbas Ahmed al-Muradi (known as al-Jami), leader of the Tunisian branch of Shadhiliya, who had frequented a number of direct disciples Abul Hassan Shadhili. From al-Jami he collected the stories, sayings and ahzab (litanies) of the Tariqa and brought them back to Fez in his work Kitab at-Taqyid, a classical manaqib (narratives of exemplary acts) that are attributed to Imam Shadhili on the basis of tawatur (oral accounts) transitions.
Kitab at-Taqyid begins in the traditional manner with a short preamble in which the author cites his name, gives praise to God and asks for blessing upon the Prophet. He then sets down the reason for writing the book: his intention to narrate the accounts of the spiritual states of Abul Hassan Shadhili that he had gathered during his sojourn in Tunis from those who had known the disciples of Abul Hassan himself. The major narrator of these accounts is Sidi Abul Abbas Ahmad al-Jami who, although he had not been a direct disciple of Shadhili, had frequented the early disciples. Al-Ajami narrates from Sidi Abu Abdellah Mohammed ibn Sultan al-Masquri (d. 700/1285) and his bigger brother Sidi Madi ibn Sultan (d. 718/1303), a long-lived companion of Abul Hassan who was the main informant for Ibn Sabbagh. Other disciples of Abul Hassan mentioned in the narratives are Sidi Abu Mohammed Abdellah al-Habibi, his first disciple in Tunis, and Abu Abdellah al-Qazdiri. The majority of the narratives are however from Mohammed ibn Sultan. Moulay al-Amrani affirms his source, in the style of the faqih, stating that, “When I ascribe a narration directly to Abul Hassan, without mention of a chain (sanad), it is as I have heard it from Abul Abbas who has narrated it to me from Sidi Mohammed ibn Sultan.
In his introduction Moulay al-Amrani provides a precious insight into the process of collecting the narratives and his commitment to transmitting the accounts he was receiving in as accurate a manner as possible. This passage also shows that the disciples in Tunis had written records of the early teachings of Abul Hassan. Moulay al-Amrani writes,
He [Abul Abbas] would dictate to me during numerous sessions (majalis) those reports which were pertinent to the topics we were discussing. Then God inspired me to write it down. So he would dictate to me after each discourse. Such it was that at times I would reread his recitation to him after having written it down, verifying it [with him]. Praise to God.
As stated earlier, Kitab at-Taqyid's manaqib of Imam Shadhili is an orderly arrangement of narrative traditions collected by Moulay al-Amrani in Tunis in 745/1345. These traditions include the miracles, visions, intimate discourses with God and teachings of Abul Hassan Shadhili. These narrative traditions, from a variety of perspectives, impart authenticity to the nascent Shadhili order of Tunis and testify to the stature of the founder of the order within the hierarchy of Islamic spirituality. They emphasize, on the one hand, the divine favours bestowed upon Imam Shadhili in the form of visions of the Prophet and intimate discourse with God, while affirming the order’s spiritual and intellectual continuity with the themes of traditional Sufism.
Chapter one deals with the origins of the Shadhili order from the initial indecision of Abul Hassan as an aspirant of the path to his meeting with Shaykh Abdessalam Ibn Mashish. Chapter Two treats the arrival of Abul Hassan in Tunis. Two themes are central to this chapter: the visions, intimate discourses, and miracles of the Shaykh and the affirmation and definition of his role as a spiritual master and as the Axis of the time (Qutb). The greater part of these visions are of the Prophet, who orders him down from Mount Zaghwan to take up his role as a teacher among the people, and who provides him, through intimate discourse, with the counsel and insights that illuminate his teachings with prophetic light. In all, this chapter includes twenty narratives treating visions of angels, the Divine Throne, the mysterious Sidna al-Khadir, other prophets, and the Companions, such as Sidna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq and Sidna Omar.
Chapter Three is the longest chapter in the Manaqib. It entails an eclectic array of topics ranging from advice and counsel for initiates and the nature of the path and journeying (suluk) itself, to short aphorisms. Many of the narratives are representative of the speculative discourse that has always marked the Shadhiliya tradition. Discourses on the nature of knowledge (ma‘rifa) and sainthood, complimented with Quranic exegeses and hadith commentary, have always been important elements of the teachings of Shaykh Abul Hassan. Much of the discourse is a marked by a propensity to categorize and classify in accordance with traditional Islamic legal thought, to which Shaykh Abul Hassan, as a figure well established in the erudition of his times, was no stranger.
This chapter systematically treats the nature of knowledge from the belief in the oneness of God of the commonality, to al-ma‘rifa al-‘udhma in which the attributes of the “knower” attains equality with those of his “known.” The longest discourse in the Manaqib appears in this chapter and elucidates the inherent relationship between the spiritual states of the aspirants and the four degrees of knowledge of God (ma‘rifa) they have attained Knowledge of the commonality (al-‘awamm), Knowledge of the elect (al-khawass), Knowledge of the elect among the elect (khawass al-khawass), Supreme knowledge (al- ma‘rifa al-‘udhma).
Complimentary to the systematic treatment of the greater part of narratives in this chapter are the many aphorisms (hikam) that accent the themes or topics of the narratives in a more direct and intuitive manner. Regarding experiential knowledge he said, “Knowledge derived from evidence (dalil) and logical proof (burhan) is the knowledge of the blind. Knowledge of the prophets and siddiqun is the knowledge of witnessing (shuhud) and true vision (‘iyan). God Most Exalted has said: The heart did not give the lie to what it saw. Do you then cast doubt on what it saw?” [Surat an-Najm, 11]. He also related concerning the knowledge of the inner secret (al-sirr), “One who does not see everything from his inner secret (sirr) as a delusion (sarab), deception and confusion are their dwelling place.”
He said of the certainty of the veracious believer, “The certainty of the veracious believer would only increase were all those who dwelled on the earth to belie him; and were they to affirm him in the truth he would only become more soundly established.” He also said, “I lost all hope of benefiting myself (nafsi) by my own means, how can I not lose hope of receiving benefit from others? I anticipate God’s benefits for others, shall I not anticipate it for myself?”. He also said, “If others call out to Him from the carpet (bisat) of obedience, [you should] call out to Him from the carpet of disobedience.”
Central to this systematic treatment of knowledge, its degrees and states, was how the various degrees of knowledge resonated within the scheme of the journey to God itself. The heart of this chapter is thus a systematic discussion of the nature of the journey to God and the typologies of the journeyers, whether devotees (‘ibad), ascetics (zuhhad), scholars, veracious ones (siddiqin), or friends of God (awliya’). These discussions contextualize and portray the spiritual journey as a multi-faceted hierarchy of varying paths and journeyers that intrinsically mirror to the multi-faceted nature of divine reality itself. To conclude this over view of Chapter Three a narration worth cited as it does not appear in the other works on the teaching of Shadhili. In this narrative Shaykh al-Shadhili discusses the four universes and the reciprocal manner in which they resonate within manifestation. Shaykh Abul Hassan said:
“The universes are four in number: solid bodies (ajsam kathifa), the universe of subtle bodies (ajsam latifa), the universe of translucent spirits (arwah shafifa), and the universe of mysterious secrets (asrar ghariba). When the solid bodies are isolated unto themselves they form the inanimate world, solid and subtle bodies when brought together with translucent spirits result in human beings, and when these three with the mysterious secrets are mingled they become a prophet or a siddiq. If it is a prophet he is given command of the community (al-umma) and if he is a friend of God (al-wali) he is given command over spiritual secrets (al-asrar).”
Chapter Four contains extracts of three letters written by Shaykh al-Shadhili to his disciples. The two longest letters, one to Sidi Abu Yahya al-Mahjub al-Habib and the other to Letter to Sidi Abul Hassan Ali Ibn Makhlouf, appear in Durrat al-asrar and have appeared in translation. The second letter treats al-wilaya (sainthood) and the attributes of the awliya’, “If you see them from the point of view of human beings you see human attributes; if you see them from the point of view of the Truth (al-Haqq) you see the attributes of God and his magnificence.” These three letters treat in a more discursive manner the general the themes dealt with in Chapter Three.
Chapter Five is the final chapter of the Manaqib. At the beginning of the chapter Moulay al-Amrani informs that he intends to narrate the litanies, invocations and supplications of Shaykh Abul Hassan as dictated to him by Abul Abbas al-Jami. It appears, however, that this chapter was not completed for it consists of but one short litany. The litany Moulay al-Amrani cites entitled the Hizb al-Kabir, however, is problematic. Ibn Sabbagh cites the same hizb as a short preamble to the Hizb al-Kabir . This preamble is also known as the Hizb al-Ayat. In his book of al-Madrasa al-Shadhiliya al-haditha, Abdehalim Mahmud has clarified this apparent case of “mistaken identity” by noting that this hizb may have been recited as a preamble by Abul Hassan Shadhili when time permitted, otherwise the recitation of the Hizb al-Kabir began from verse 111 from Surat al-Tawba. Moulay al-Amrani must have been aware of this, for despite the abbreviated form of the Hizb in the Manaqib we know that he was considered a key figure in the chain of transmission of the complete Hizb al-Kabir within the Shadhili circles of Fez. Several works of the early Shadhiliya of Fez make mention of Moulay al-Amrani as a transmitter of the Hizb al-Kabir. Sidi Mohammad al-Arabi ibn Yusuf al-Fasi (d. 1052/1637) mentions the existence of three chains of transmission of the Hizb in Fez: those of Moulay al-Amrani, Ibn Sabbagh and that of Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi (d. 792/1377), which he relates was the most prevalent in Fez.
A cursory overview of the Manaqib of Moulay al-Amrani and subsequent references to it from traditional Moroccan sources lead to the following conclusions regarding the text and the manner in which it has augmented our knowledge of the Shadhiliya Order, (1) The text provides 34 previously unpublished narratives and one letter of Abul Hassan Shadhili, (2) The similarities between this text with that of Ibn Sabbagh, composed independently some 25 years earlier, indicate the existence of an integral written tradition of the Tunisian branch of the Shadhiliya, (3) The specific chain of transmission of the Manaqib allows us to identify a portion of the citations of Ibn Sabbagh as belonging to the Tunisian branch of the order. Ibn Sabbagh, after the biographical citations of the first chapter does not usually ascribe his citations to specific narrators, and, (4) There are references in later works to Moulay al-Amrani and the Manaqib that confirm an early link between Fez and the Tunisian branch of the Shadhiliya.