Biography of Shaykh Abu al Hasan Ash-Shadhdhuli

The Shaykh and Master Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli , whose full name was `Ali ibn `Abdullah ibn `Abdu ‘l-Jabbar, was born in the year 593 A.H./1196 C.E., in the mountain village of Ghumara in the Rif area of the northern Atlas mountains of the Maghrib. He was a descended from the Fatimid-Hasanid line from his father’s side and from the Fatimid-Husaynid line from his mother’s side.

The Berber tribe to which he belonged had virtually separated itself from the rest of the Maghrib by refusing to accept the Religion of Islam, which was otherwise universally followed in this region.
Sidi Abu Madyan had tried to teach and guide this tribe to the Truth, but they had preferred to live in their state of spiritual ignorance, relying mostly upon witchcraft, magic and idols for their form of worship.
There is little recorded about the very early life of `Ali ibn `Abdu ‘l-Jabbar , but it is assumed that whilst he was still very young he would have been taught the basic rites of the Religion because he and his family were of the shurafa, that is, people who are related in the body to the Prophet Muhammad , prayers and peace be upon him. These are people who are untouched by the desire for worldly power and office or for material gains. Therefore, it could be expected that he would have studied, first of all, at the famous madrasa of Qurrawiyyin in Fez (Fas) which had been founded by the great grandson of Sayyidina al-Hasan , the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad , prayers and peace be upon him.

His first Shaykh and Master was Sidi `Abdullah ibn Harazim , a follower of Sidi Abu Madyan , may Allah have mercy on them both, through whose guidance he entered the Path of Allah, the Way of Tasawwuf. It was also through him that he was later moved to find the Qutb of his time.

It is known that in the year 615 A.H., at the age of twenty-five, he travelled to the East and notably to al-`Iraq, searching for the Master who possessed the complete knowledge of the Path of the Truth of Allah, Praised and Exalted is He. There he was led to the Shaykh Abu al-Fath al-Wasiti who was the inheritor of the holy and a renown Shaykh and waliy of Allah, Sidi Ahmad ar-Rifa’i , may Allah be pleased with him, who had founded and guided one of the first and largest tariq in the Way of Allah in the southern marshes of `Iraq. Here `Ali `Abdu ‘l-Jabbar remained for a short time, until it became clear to the heart of the Shaykh Abu al-Fath that this follower could only be satisfied by the deepest Spring of the Knowledge (al-ma`rifa). Therefore he said to him, “You have come here seeking for the Pole (Qutb) of Islam, but you have left him in the Maghrib.”

In this way the murid `Ali ibn `Abdu ‘l-Jabbar returned to his own country, until he was led to his true Master, Sidi `Abdu ‘s-Salam ibn Mashish on the mountain of Jabal `Alam in the Habt region of the Maghrib.
Remaining with his master for a while, Hazrat Abu’l Hasan then departed for Shadhila, in Tunisia, on orders from his teacher; and from there he received the name of al-Shadhili. He entered a new retreat in a cave on top of Jabal Zaghwan close to Shadhila accompanied by his first companion Hazrat Abu Yahya Abdellah ibn Samala al-Habibi . After intense spiritual exercises in the Jabal Zaghwan region, he was ordered in a vision to teach Sufism.
Accordingly, he set up his first institution (zawiyah) in Tunis in the year 625/1228, just when the new governor, Abu Zakariyya’, also arrived. During his early years in Tunis, Hazrat Abu’l Hasan first taught forty students who were known as the forty friends (al-awliya al-arba’un). His new tariqah was a stunning success, drawing masses of people from all walks of life, including the sultan’s family.

Tunis in those days was a big city and a centre of commerce and trade as well as a gathering place for those seeking both religious and secular learning. Many people who were already following the religion of Islam were seeking something purer, more complete, and at the same time, simpler than what was being taught in the institutions of religious learning. They were also looking for a message which would speak to the hearts of city-dwellers whose everyday life and occupations were an important matter for them. Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli’s Teachings gave these people exactly what everybody was looking for.

Shortly before Shaykh Abu’l Hasan started on his last pilgrimage to Mecca, the city of Baghdad fell to the conquering Mongols, thus ending the long reign of the Abbasids there and ushering in a new epoch in the history of Islam. The Shaykh was accompanied by a mass of his disciples; but he fell ill in the eastern desert of Egypt, in a place called Humaithara, and there he died in the year 656/ 1258.
Shortly before he passed away, in 656/ 1258, Shaykh Abu’l Hasan designated Hazrat Abu’l Abbas al-Mursi as his successor in the order. After Shaykh Abu’l Hasan’s death, Hazrat Abu’l Abbas al-Mursi moved into the great tower that the founder of the Shadhiliyyah had used as residence, mosque, and zawiyah, and remained there until his death ( 686/ 1288) some thirty years later, seldom moving out to travel in Egypt.

Source: Suhbah Booklet 2013