Nobody, Son of Nobody

08 June 2012

Abu Said ibn Abi Al Khair, a 11th-century Sufi mystic, came from the Persian town of Mayhana. Studying under Abu Ali Zihir and Husain al-Sulami, he confessed that efforts to achieve spirituality with intellectual proof had failed. He spent seven years alone in the mountain deserts of Mayhana.

He established a Sufi centre for those who wished to walk the mystic path preaching, “Sufism is the subsistence of the heart without any meditation”.

Abu Said reached perfection by ridding himself of any individuality. He once visited a place where people had collected for mourning. The arrival of the visitors was announced with their respective titles of honour. When the hosts enquired of his title, the mystic replied, “Go and tell them that Nobody, the son of Nobody has arrived.”

He preached that there were as many ways to reach God as there are created beings, but the shortest path was to serve people and bring happiness to their hearts.

The mystic was once travelling with his disciples when they came across a mill. Listening to the sound of the mill, he asked the companions what the mill was saying. When they shook their heads, he said, “It is saying ‘Like the Sufi, I receive the coarse and give it back refined, I travel around myself and in myself so that I dispel what I do not need’.”

One day Abu Said was told of a person who could walk on water. He replied, “That is simple. A frog and a mosquito can walk on water too.”

He then heard of a man who could fly. He commented, “That too is simple. A fly and a raven can also fly.”

Later he heard of a person who could travel from one city to another in the wink of an eye. He said, “Satan can travel from East to West in one breath.”

Abu Said asserted that these abilities were of no value, and that a true human being is one who interacts with society but does not forget God even for a moment.

Abu Said invented the poetic form of Rubai, the quatrain, to illustrate spiritual ideas. He is the first Sufi to use poetry as a medium of instruction to his disciples.

He wrote the verse inscribed on his tomb in Mayhana:

Love flowed like blood beneath the skin, through veins
Emptied me of myself, filled me with the Beloved
Till every limb, every organ was seized and occupied
Till only my name remains, the rest is It.

I beg, nay charge Thee: Write on my gravestone
‘This was love’s bondsman,’ that’s when I am gone
Some wretch well versed in passion’s ways may sigh
And give me greetings, as he passes by.

By Sadia Dehlvi