Ibn ‘Abbad: Be Grateful!

A man said to Sahl ibn ‘Abd Allah, ” A thief has broken into my house and stolen my belongings!” Sahl replied, “Be grateful to God.  For if the thief had broken into your heart—I mean Satan—and plundered your acknowledgement of the Divine Unity, what would you do then?”

A certain spiritual master was walking along a street when a tub of ashes was dumped on his head.  He fell prostrate in gratitude to God Most High.  Someone made a comment about that to him, so he said, “I was expecting the Fire to be poured out on me.  What a grace that it turned out to be only ashes!”

A person’s external behaviour in relation to poverty and injury should consist in perfect patience, asking God to relieve the injury, having recourse to the external requirements of the law and to medical treatment, and flight from the source of injury and peril.  If one’s intimate knowledge is so advanced that he can dispense with recourse to these remedies under certain circumstances, that is acceptable as well.  It is said that the tongues of beginners are forever yelling for help, while the tongues of the spiritually advanced are silent.

excerpt from Letter 6
Letters on the Sufi Path
Ibn ‘Abbad of Ronda*
Translated by John Renard, S.J.

*Ibn ‘Abbad (1332-1390) was born in Ronda, a town in southern Spain, near the western border of the Emirate of Granada.  Because of on-going turmoil, especially warfare in the Iberian peninsula between Muslims and Christians, he moved to Fez when he was 15, and spent the rest of his life in Morocco.  He was a highly accomplished student of Islamic law, but he also took the Sufi path, and became an important source of spiritual help and teaching.  It is said that in his old age, he would attract a train of small children when he walked from his home to the mosque, and that he helped the people as well as he could in a time of instability.  In 1933, the Roman Catholic priest and Islamic scholar Miguel Asin Palacios published a study of Ibn ‘Abbad in which he called him ‘a Spanish-Muslim forerunner of John of the Cross.’  (Asin Palacios found many points where Muslim and Christian thought touch, including in aspects of Dante’s Divine Comedy.)

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