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Jili, Abd al-Karim

Category: Mystic

Abd al-Karim al-Jili, or Abdul Karim Jili, was a Muslim sufi saint, poet and mystic who was born in 1366 AD.

Al-Jili  is well known by Muslims and Islamic scholars the world over, primarily for the Al-Insan Al-Kamil. His devotion to the Andalusian mystic Muyi Al-Din Ibn ‘Arabi, his spiritual and philosophical master, two hundred years his senior, and insistence to refer to him in nearly everything he wrote, is one reason why his own original contribution to spiritual understanding has been lost to many, and been overshadowed by others.  He is nevertheless considered by some to be

“the most original thinker and the most remarkable and independent mystical writer … in the ‘school’ of Ibn Arabi” (Knysh 1999).

Al-Jili is credited with having authored about 30 pieces of work, most of them still remaining in manuscript format, only a handful of them having already been published.  The references provides a list.  He was the foremost systematizer and one of the greatest exponents of the work of Ibn El-Arabi. Universal Man is an explanation of Ibn Arabi’s teachings on the structure of reality and human perfection. Since it was written, it has been held up as one of the masterpieces of Sufi literature.

Hadie Shafdie's '26000 Pages' echoes the physical act of ecstatic recitation

Abd Al-Karim Qu_b Al-Din Ibn Ibrahim Al-Jili or Jilani was born in present day Iraq in the year 767/1365. Burckardt and Ignaz Goldziher, link the name Jili to the Baghdad district of Jil. The term Al-Jilani:

“Is an expression of a form of Sufism in impeccable conformity with the consensual foundations of the tradition that might explore the tradition’s agreed norms with eminently abnormal intensity, but it may never violate them in the name of esoterism”

He was a disciple of Sheikh Sharaf Al-Din Isma’il Ibn Ibrahim Al-Jabarti (d. 806/1403-4), from Zabid, Yemen, from the order of the Qadiriyya.  Al-Jabarti had been a follower of the doctrines of Ibn ‘Arabi and a disciple of Abu Bakr Muhammad Al-aqqaq, himself a member of the Qadiriyya.

Al-Jili has been associated also with other Persian masters of Sufi Gnosticism such as  ‘Najm al-Din Razi, Suhrawardi, Rumi, Shabistari, and Hafiz. But by his own admission he was particularly inspired by the mystical and philosophical teachings of Ibn ‘Arabi, whose Futuhat became the subject of one of his works.

Rachid Koraichi who is from an Algerian Sufi family, an entry
for the V&A Jameel Prize

Well travelled, he visited Kushi in India possibly in 789/1387.  There are unsubstantiated claims that Al-Jili may be the one who brought the Qadiriyyah order to India. At any rate, we know from his writings that he had a number of followers and must have exercised therefore some role as a spiritual master – a greatly revered spiritual master

Ibn Al-Ahdal as reported by Knysh
A reliable and honest scholar told me … that he had accompanied him [i.e., al-Jili] in one of his travels, during which he heard him praising profusely Ibn ‘Arabi’s books and teachings. This person also heard him overtly ascribing lordship (rububiyya) to every human being, bird, or tree which he happened to see on his way.

He also travelled to the Yemen - Sana'a, and Zabid, where he studied and taught for some time under the auspices of the reigning Rasulid who protected him and other Sufi masters from the hostilities of those opposed to his controversial doctrines. We know for instance that the Yemeni author Ibn Al-Ahdal accused the Rasulid sovereigns of promoting the growth of heretics, among whom he specifically mentioned Al-Jili.

The V&A Jameel prize 2009 'Dividing Lines' - Camille Zakharia

In 803/1400-1 he travelled to Cairo then to Gaza in Palestine and to Yemen again in 805/1402-3. There he gathered Al-Jabarti’s disciples, founded a school and finished Al-Insan al-kamil. He was then in Mecca and Medina in 812/1409, and finally back to Yemen, where he died.  The date of his death is disputed. According to Sa‘id ‘Abd Al-Fatta, he died in the year 832/1428, but for Zaydan the most accurate dating is probably 826/1422, mentioned by a contemporary of Al-Jili opposed to the Sufi movement, Badr Al-Din Al-Ahdal.

ABD AL-KARIM AL-JILI: Tawid, Transcendence and Immanence – Dr Nicholas Lo Polito [University of Birmingham]
Like a door opening on an enchanted world of coded meanings and interpretations of Qur’anic spirituality, we are aided by Al-Jili into making the acquaintance of a specific historical age and geographical area.  At a time when the star of Ottoman imperialism had already dawned and the last vestigial expressions of declining sultanates had drawn to an end in Persia and parts of Iraq, the Islamised Mongol state of the Il-Khans and Tamerlane later was home to an intriguingly parallel civilisation to that of Italian Renaissance.  Here artistic and philosophic expressions of excellence were still valued and encouraged and it was here that Al-Jili lived………………….




List of Al-Jili’s works derived from a list by Zaydan:

  • Janna al-ma‘arif wa ghaya al-murid wa al-‘arif: his earliest known composition, originally written in Persian.
  • Al-Kahf wa al-raqim: - The text, a complete translation and annotations have been provided as observations on the site.  The translation is by Dr Nicholas Lo Polito and is based on two manuscripts, one preserved at the London India Office, and the second one at the Library of the University of Cambridge dated 1040/1631. The text has been checked against two editions kept also in Cambridge, dated 1336/1917 and 1340/1921.  “Words in square brackets [ ] are my own additions intended to clarify the English meaning of a sentence or of an expression”.
  • Al-Mana_ir al-ilahiyya: a short book containing the description of 101 mystical states and is a detailed description of Al-Jili’s mystical experiences in 101 steps along his Sufi journey. For each step, the author also describes the “afflictions” (afa) that one meets. Once the affliction is overcome, one moves on to the next step. Thus it is a record of his spiritual path.
  • Ghunya arbab al-sama‘ wa ka_hf al-qina‘ ‘an wujuh al-istima‘: completed in Cairo after 803/1400 it deals with Sufi morals and with rhetoric. To be found as an autograph manuscript held in the Dar Al-Kutub Al-Mi_riyya library in Cairo (360/Sufism).
  • Al-Kamalat al-ilahiyya wa al-_ifat al-mu_ammadiyya: written in Zabid, Yemen, in 805/1402-3, this book deals with the identification of the divine essence within ‘unicity of being’.
    Insan ‘ayn al-jud wa wujud ‘ayn al-insan al-mawjud: this work is lost.
  • Al-Qamus (or Al-Namus) al-a‘_am wa al-namus (or al-qamus) al-aqdam fi ma‘rifa qadr al-nabi: this works consists of more than 40 volumes, mostly lost. Those that remain are in manuscript form, spread across several libraries, and are often listed as independent books.  For example,
  • Lawami‘ al-barq: has a description in verse of the divine mystical presences personally experienced by him.   Among these he mentions the peace that came to him; the mystical Light he saw; a sense of awe; his instructions on the hidden nature of things; episodes of loss of consciousness; divine discipline imparted to him through the experience of physical afflictions; enhanced feelings of compassion; and so on
  • Qab qawsayn wa multaqa al-namusayn: this volume is a devotional work 
  • Lisan al-qadr bi nasim al-sa_ar: is a symbolic work
  • Sirr al-nur al-mutamakkin: a Turkish translation also exists.
  • Shams aharat li badr

According to ‘Abd Al-Fatta_ (1997) manuscripts are to be found in Cairo for Lawami‘ al-barq, Qab qawsayn and Sirr al-nur al-mutamakkin, and one in Alexandria for Lisan al-qadr. However, he does not provide further details of their exact location.

    Al-Sifar al-qarib natija al-safar al-gharib: a short treatise on the ethics of Sufi journeying and on the ‘spiritual realities of the human soul searching for God’. Al-Jili explains that he came across this text – so difficult to comprehend as it employs much symbolic language - and decided to render it more accessible to the faithful Sufis.  The journey it refers to is not geographical but spiritual.
  • Kashf al-sutur: another lost short treatise
  • Shar_ al-Futu_at al-Makkiyya: again a commentary - and a rather brief one on one of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Al-Futu_at al-makkiyya.  This work is to be found in a manuscript kept in the library Dar Al-Kutub Al-ahiriyya, in Damascus (9118), in a copy kept in Alexandria’s Baladiyya library (6301D/Sufism) and in another copy at the A_madi Institute in Tanta, Egypt (32, _732) wrongly attributed to an “anonymous” author.
  • Kashf al-ghayat fi shar_ al-tajalliyyat: a commentary on Ibn ‘Arabi’s Altajalliyyat al-ilahiyya. Chodkiewicz (n.d.b) maintains that this work is not by Al-Jili.
  • Risala al-saba_at: another lost piece of work
    Al-Isfar ‘an risala al-anwar: a commentary to Ibn Arabi’s Risala al-anwar fi ma yumna a_ib al-khalwah min al-asrar or Al-Isfar ‘an nata’ij al-asfar, a written companion to Sufis undergoing a spiritual retreat, preserved in an undated manuscript at the German National Library in Leipzig (BVB-AK).
  • Al-Nadirat al-‘ayniyya fi al-badirat al-ghaybiyya: is a long poem (540 lines) - one of the longest Sufi poems ever written.  ‘By the author’s own admission it is rather incomprehensible to the non-initiated reader’.  It is symbolic and centred on the theme of love, even today it is recited in their communal sessions by Sufis in Egypt.
  •  Al-Qa_ida al--wa_ida: possibly a commentary on an early Sufi poem, kept in Baghdad in manuscript form.
  • Musamara al-_abib wa musayara al-_a_ib: on the ethics of friendship.
  •  Qu_b al-‘aja’ib wa falak al-ghara’ib: lost.
  • Al-Khi_am al-zakhir wa al-kanz al-fakhir: a Qur’anic commentary
  • Ummahat al-ma‘arif: a booklet only discovered in the 80s in the library of Al-Azhar (964/Sufi).
  • Arba‘un maw_anan or Arbain mawa_in: a text on the Sufi ways.
  • Manzil al-manazil fi sirr al-taqarrubat bi al-fawa’id al-nawafil: a text on Sufi ethics, preserved in a manuscripts kept in Hidarabat, India (No. 196).
  •  Al-Durra al-wa_ida: a poem in 59 verses all rhyming in ‘ayn, mentioned in Al-Insan al-kamil.
  • Al-Mamlaka al-rabbaniyya al-muda‘a fi al-nasha’ al-insaniyya.
  • Al-Marqum fi sirr al-taw_id al-majhul wa al-ma‘alum: a study on numbers and on the oneness of God.
  • Al-Kanz al-maktum al-_awi ‘ala sirr al-taw_id al-majhul wa al-ma‘alum.
  • Al-wujud al-mu_laq al-ma‘ruf bi al-wa_id al-a_ad.
    Ba_r al-_uduth wa al-_adath wa al-qidam wa mujid al-wujud wa al-‘adam.
  • Kitab al-ghayat fi ma‘rifa ma‘ani al-ayat wa al-a_adithal-mutashabihat: it deals with the theme of divine Essence, and according to ‘Abd Al-Fatta_ (1997) one copy of it is to be found in Berlin.
  • ‘Aqida al-akabir al-muqtabasa min al-a_zab wa al-_alawat.
  • ‘Uyun al-_aqa’iq fi kull ma ya_mil min ‘ilm al-_ara’iq: a book on magic.
  •  Haqiqa al-yaqin wa zalafat al-tamkin: composed by Al-Jili in 815/1412, a manuscript of this work is found in Alexandria (Sufism / 3893) and another in Baghdad (6491)
  • Haqiqa al-_aqa’iq allati hya li al-_aqq min wajh wa min wajh li al-khala’iq: a mystical study of the letters of the Arabic alphabet and the divine names, where, to the letters of some of the divine names, he applies numerical values and astrological meanings.
  •  Maratib al-wujud wa _aqiqa kull mawjud: a late composition. The levels and layers in much more detail
  •  Al-Insan al-kamil: by far the best known among Al-Jili’s works: 63 chapters available in several translations, including one in Urdu by Fa_l-i-Miran. Most of his doctrine, philosophical insights, and mystical teaching is contained there. “They have gained him the reputation he enjoys among Sufi connoisseurs, along with the condemnation of mainstream Islamic scholarship over the centuries”. Its fundamental tenet is summarised in the metaphor of the Perfect Human Being, which gives the title to the book


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