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Abu al-Qasim ibn Muhammad al Junayd

Abu al-Qasim ibn Muhammad al Junayd

Abu al-Qasim ibn Muhammad al-Junayd (ca. 830-910) was one of the great early mystics, or Sufis, of Islam. He laid the groundwork for "sober" mysticism in contrast to that of "God-intoxicated" Sufis like al-Hallaj.

Al-Junayd lived and died in Baghdad, although his family had come originally from western Persia. He studied law and the Traditions of the prophet Mohammed, after having learned the Koran by heart. Later he studied mysticism under the guidance of his uncle, a famous Sufi. It is clear that al-Junayd's sound training in the orthodox Moslem sciences greatly influenced his mystical career and restrained him from the antinomian excesses which many other Sufis indulged in and which gave Sufism a bad name among the more orthodox.

After a period of training with his uncle, al-Junayd began to attract disciples and initiated many into his understanding of the path to mystical experience of God. He was always prudent in his teaching, however, and maintained that mystic knowledge was not intended for the average person. Late in his life there came a period of general persecution of Sufis in Baghdad, but he managed to avoid serious trouble with the authorities by maintaining that he was merely a jurist, for which he had a sound reputation.

While it is well established by scholars that the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus was studied by later Moslem mystics, there is also evidence that al-Junayd may have been exposed to Neoplatonic ideas, despite the fact that such works as Porphyry's so-called Theology of Aristotle had been translated into Arabic only a generation earlier. There is no evidence that al-Junayd had actually read Plotinus or his pupil Porphyry—simply a rather striking parallelism in thought. This parallelism exists in the doctrines concerning the soul and mystical experiences. With regard to the idea of God, however, al-Junayd is as orthodox a Moslem as could be conceived: God is the Creator, active, omnipresent, nearer to man than his own neck vein. This contrasts sharply with the remote, inactive "One" of Plotinus.

Other analogous ideas in Plotinus and al-Junayd are the notions that mystical experiences are for an elect few, that to follow the path to such experiences requires a skilled guide, and that the aftereffects of mystical experiences are beneficial and sublimely sober. Such ideas, kept within bound by the basic sobriety of al-Junayd and by his firm grounding in the Moslem disciplines of Koran study and Tradition, led his much more ecstatic pupil al-Hallaj to utter provocative statements about his own mystical experiences, which eventually led to al-Hallaj's execution for blasphemy, one of the rare instances in Islam of such a punishment.

Further Reading

A work on al-Junayd is Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of al-Junayd (1962). □

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