The Sufi Path from Fear to Love

This article is about Hasan al Basri, who lived from 642 to 728 of the common era, and Rabia Basri (about 715-801 CE), both of whom in their different ways exemplified qualities associated with the Sufi tradition of Islamic mysticism.

Their expressions and teachings were bound up with the circumstances in which Hasan al Basri and Rabia Basri lived, the tumultuous period after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Scholars and historians have noted how, in the eighth and ninth centuries of the common era, Islam assumed the role of government in the lands it had overtaken, and that at this time the law schools of Islam were codified.

And scholars have also found writings dating from the same period which emphasise the need to avoid becoming entirely absorbed in worldly affairs, to assiduously maintain personal purity, and to strive for the most complete and direct knowledge possible of the oneness and unity of Truth, or God. It is within this development that the first expressions are found of what has come to be known as Sufism or Islamic mysticism.

For thirty years after the death of Muhammad in 632, the new faith community was led in succession by four close companions of the Prophet, who have ever since been known as the Rashidun, the rightly guided caliphs. That honorific was not extended to the following Caliphs, the founders of the Umayyad dynasty, who made their capital in Damascus. A decisive change came when the first Umayyad Caliph broke with convention and nominated his own son as successor, thus turning the Caliphate into a dynasty. As administrators, the achievements of the early Umayyads were considerable; political unity was established and by 750 CE the conquests had extended to Spain in the West and the Indus in the East.

As noted, it is during this period that historians and scholars have found writings expressing an urgent need to remember the essential teaching of the Qu’ran and to remain faithful to the ideals exemplified by Muhammed and the first Muslims. One of the exponents of such views, whose writings have come down to us, is Hasan al Basri, (Hasan from Basra, in what is now south-east Iraq). He was highly respected as a jurist and authority on the Qur’an, but it is as an ascetic that he is most remembered.

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This article is from the Winter 2018 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.