Junayd, al-

views updated


JUNAYD, AL- (d. ah 298/910 ce), whose full name is Abūʾl-Qāsim ibn Muammad al-Junayd, was a major representative of the Baghdad school of Sufism who is associated with its "sober" and socially responsible trend. He came from a family of Iranian merchants. Al-Junayd's father traded in glassware, and he himself earned his livelihood as a dealer in silk. Under the influence of his paternal uncle Sarī al-Saqaī, who is often viewed as one of the doyens of Baghdad Sufism, al-Junayd embraced its mystical ideals and ascetic ethos and eventually succeeded him as leader of the Baghdad school of mysticism. He received a solid juridical and theological training under the guidance of such famous Shāfiʿī scholars as Abū Thawr (d. 855 ce) and Ibn Kullāb (d. c. 855) and was qualified to issue legal opinions on various juridical issues. However, most of his teachers were associated with ūfī circles. He cultivated the friendship of a famous Baghdad scholar and ascetic al-ārith al-Muāsibī (d. 857) with whom he had long discussions of questions related to mystical experience and pious life. The influence of al-Muāsibī's mystical psychology and introspection on his young associate is abundantly attested in al-Junayd's epistles and logia.

The later ūfī tradition portrays al-Junayd as the principal exponent of the "sober" type of mysticism, which was routinely juxtaposed with the "excesses" of its "intoxicated" counterpart represented by Abū Yazīd al-Bisāmī (d. 848 or 875), al-Shiblī (d. 945), al-Nūrī (d. 907), and al-allāj (d. 922). Al-Junayd's public sermons were not confined to his fellow mystics; they attracted many high-ranking state officials and respectable theologians as well, who showed a great respect for the Sūfī master. Modern western scholars share in this esteem. Thus, Arthur Arberry in Sufism (1969) described al-Junayd as "the most original and penetrating intellect among the Sufis of his time," who "took within his ranging vision the whole landscape of mystical speculation stretching below him, and with an artist's eye brought it to comprehension and unity upon a single canvas."

The ūfī tradition also depicts al-Junayd as an eloquent exponent of "the science of God's uniqueness" (ʿilm al-tawīd), who was also proficient in the knowledge of the mystical states (awāl) experienced by the mystical seeker. This statement is not entirely accurate: similar classifications of the awāl were developed by some of his younger and older contemporaries. Al-Junayd's written legacy includes a number of "epistles" (rasāʾil) to his contemporaries and short treatises on mystical themes. The latter are simply commentaries on select Qurʾanic passages. The profoundly subtle and abstruse language of al-Junayd's mystical discourses may have been a deliberate strategy aimed at rendering his ideas impenetrable to exoterically minded scholars and thus eluding their criticisms. Al-Junayd's deliberately obscure style was imitated and elaborated by al-allāj, who, however, was much more outspoken in describing his mystical experiences than his older, and more cautious, contemporary.

Al-Junayd's discourses reiterate the theme, first clearly reasoned by him, that because all things have their origin in God, they must finally return, after their dispersion (tafriqa ), to reside in him again (jamʿ ). This dynamic of ecstatic rapture and subsequent return is captured in the mystical experience of passing away (fanāʾ ) followed by the state of subsistence in God (baqāʾ ). In the process of fanāʾ the human self is completely shattered by an encounter with the Divine Reality, which leads it to a mystic union with the divine. In describing this experience, al-Junayd writes:

For at that time thou wilt be addressed, thyself addressing; questioned concerning thy tidings, thyself questioning; with abundant flow of precious wisdom, and interchange of visions; with constant increase of faith, and uninterrupted favors.

In accounting for his mystical experience he says:

This that I say comes from the continuance of calamity and the consequence of misery, from a heart that is stirred from its foundations, and is tormented with its ceaseless conflagrations, by itself within itself: admitting no perception, no speech, no sense, no feeling, no repose, no effort, no familiar image; but constant in the calamity of its ceaseless torment, unimaginable, indescribable, unlimited, unbearable in its fierce onslaughts. (Translated by Arberry, 1969)

In meditating on the Qurʾanic image of the preeternal covenant between God and disembodied humanity (Qurʾān 7: 172), al-Junayd describes the entire course of history as people's quest to realize that covenant and return to the primeval state in which they were before they were. By endowing people with a separate, individual existence, God deliberately plunged them into the corporeal world of trial and affliction, where their bodily passions and appetites cause them to forget about their preeternal acknowledgment of God's absolute sovereignty. Through arduous, ascetic self-discipline and intense meditation, mystics strive to obliterate the last trace of the selfish impulses emanating from their imperfect bodies. If successful, they are reintegrated into the realm of the Divine Presence. They then return to this world by experiencing "survival" or "subsistence" in God (baqāʾ ), which gives them a new, pure life in, and through, God. Yet, even in the blissful state of baqāʾ, the mystic remains separated and veiled from God. To accentuate the painful nature of this separation, al-Junayd employed the imagery of the lover yearning for the Divine Beloved and taking an intense joy in observing his reflections in the beauty in his handiwork. This agonizing vacillation between union and separation became the keynote of al-Junayd's entire legacy. Eschewing the extravagances of language that on the lips of the "intoxicated" mystics Abū Yazīd al-Bisāmī and al-allāj alarmed and alienated the orthodox, al-Junayd by his clear perception and absolute self-control laid the foundations on which most of the later ūfī systems were built.

On the political and social plane, al-Junayd demonstrated a political conformism and docility that saved him from the persecutions against "heretics" that were common in this tumultuous age. Time and again, al-Junayd explicitly advised his disciples against challenging the temporary and religious authorities of the age. He viewed political and social activism as a sign of spiritual and intellectual immaturity and an attempt to rebel against the divine will. His cautious attitude came to the fore in his disavowal of the overpowering drunkenness of ecstasy that permeated the sayings of his contemporary Abū Yazīd al-Bisāmī. Al-Junayd's glosses on Abū Yazīd's ecstatic utterances (shaaāt ) clearly show his preference for the state of sobriety over mystical intoxication. His discourses were firmly rooted in the Qurʾanic notions of God's uniqueness and absolute transcendence, and he was careful not to present the relationships between man and God as a union of two essences (ittiād). Rather, he never tired of stressing the purely experiential nature of this phenomenon.

Al-Junayd's age was rich in charismatic and mystical talent. Among his associates and disciples we find such consequential figures in ūfī tradition as Abū Saʿīd al-Kharrāz (d. 899), Abū amza al-Khurāsānī (d. between 903 and 911), ʿAmr bin ʿUthmān al-Makkī (d. 903 or 909), Abūʾ1 -usayn al-Nūrī (d. 295/907), Ruwaym bin Amad (d. 915) Abū Bakr al-Shiblī (d. 334/946), Abū Muammad al-Jurayri (d. 924), Abū ʿAlī al-Rudhbārī (d. 322/934), and Jaʿfar al-Khuldī (d. 348/959), to name but a few. Upon al-Junayd's death his disciple al-Jurayri replaced him as head of the Baghdad ūfī school. Al-Junayd's life and work exemplify what Western scholars often call "the golden (or classical) age of Sufism."


Ansari, Muhammad. "The Doctrine of One Actor: Junayd's View of Tawhid." Islamic Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1983): 83102.

Arberry, Arthur. Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam. London, 1968.

Ess, Josef van. Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra. Berlin and New York, 1997, vol. 4, pp. 278288 and index under "Ğunaid."

el-Kader, Ali Abdel. The Life Personality and Writings of al-Junaid. London, 1962.

Knysh, Alexander. Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. Leiden, 2000. See pp. 5256.

Singh, Darshan. "Attitudes of al-Junayd and al-Hallaj Towards the Sunna and Ahwal and Maqamat." Islamic Culture 58, no. 3 (1984): 217226.

āā, Zuhayr. Al-Imām al-Junayd, Damascus, 1994.

Alexander Knysh (2005)