Ubaydullah al-Ahrar, qaddasa-l-Lahu sirrah
May Allah Sanctify His Soul
“As soon as I remember You — my secret, my heart,
And my spirit starts to disturb me during Your remembrance.
Until an observer from You used to call to me,
‘Beware, beware — of remembrance beware.’
Do you not see the Real? His proofs appeared.
The meaning of totality joined Your meaning.
The rememberers when remembering him
Are more forgetful than the ones who forget to remember Him.
The Prophet (s) said, ‘The one who knows Allah,
His tongue is paralyzed.'”
He was the Pole of the Circle of the Knowers of God, an Ocean of Knowledge which would never be exhausted, even though all of creation were to drink from it to quench their spiritual thirst. He was a King who owned the pure light of the Unique Essence and released it from its captivity in the Hidden to spread it among all Knowers. He unveiled the hidden side of the moons of the Attributes of the Lord from the cradle until his perfected state. He was given authority as a youth and set to work to receive the Secret of Secrets and to unveil the Veils. He never looked at a worldly desire. He progressed until he reached the highest states of sainthood, where knowledge of the Essence of the Unseen is bestowed and the secret of Absolute Nihility becomes revealed. Then he travelled on from Absolute Nihility to Absolute Light. Allah revived this Order through him during his time and He supported him with His Favor. He made him a golden link in this Golden Chain, and He made him one of the most elevated inheritors of the Prophet (s).
Shaykh Ubaydullah (q) tried his best to wash from the hearts of people the dirt and darkness that had covered them. He became a sun to light the way of the seekers to the state of Certainty and the Hidden Treasure of Spiritual Knowledge.
He was born in the village of Shash in the year 806 H., in the month of Ramadan. It was related that before he was born his father began to exhibit a tremendous state of renunciation, which made him leave all worldly actions and enter seclusion during which he nearly gave up sleep and food, disconnected himself from people, and took to practice the spiritual way of the tariqat. While in this spiritual state, his wife became pregnant with Ubaydullah. That is one reason for the latter’s high station; his spiritual training began while in his mother’s womb. When his mother became pregnant, his father’s unusual spiritual state ended and he returned to his normal life.
Before Ubaydullah was born, the following incident took place in which his great station was foretold. Shaykh Muhammad as-Sirbili said, “When Shaykh Nizamuddin al-Khamush as-Samarqandi was sitting in my father’s house, meditating, he suddenly screamed in a tremendous voice. This made everyone afraid. He said, ‘I saw a vision of an enormous man coming to me from the east, and I could see nothing in the world except for him. That person is named Ubaydullah and he is going to be the greatest Shaykh of his time. Allah is going to make the whole world subject to him, and I hope I will be among his followers.'”
The Beginning of His State and The State of His Beginning
The signs of happiness were visible on him in his childhood. The Light of Guidance appeared in his face. One of his relatives said, “He did not accept the breast of his mother for nursing until she was clean of any post-partum bleeding and discharge.” He used to say,
“I still recall what I heard when I was one year of age. From the age of three years, I was in the Presence of God. When I studied the Qur’an with my teacher my heart was in God’s Presence. I used to think that all people were like that.”
“One day during the winter, I went out while it was raining and my feet and shoes sank into the mud. It was very cold. I tried to pull my feet out of the mud. I realized that my heart was in big danger, because for that moment I had forgotten to remember Allah. I immediately began to ask for forgiveness.”
He was raised in the home of his uncle, Ibrahim ash-Shashi, who was the greatest scholar of his time. He taught him very well and when he had completed his training, his uncle sent him from Tashkent to Samarqand.
He said to his uncle, “Whenever I go to study I feel sick.” He replied, “O my son, I know the state you are now in. So I am not going to force you to do anything. Do as you like. You are free.”
“One day while in that state, I went to visit the grave of Shaykh Abi Bakr al-Kaffal. I took a nap and I had a vision. I saw cIsa (s) in the vision. I rushed to bow down and kiss his feet. He raised my head and said, ‘O my son, don’t become sad, I am taking the responsibility of raising you and educating you.’ That vision ended. I related the vision to many people. One of them was an expert in the interpretation of spiritual states. He explained it this way: ‘You are going to be very high in the science of medicine.’ I didn’t like his explanation. I told him, ‘I know better what the vision represents: Jesus, Peace and Blessings of God be upon him, in spiritual knowledge, represents the state of the Living Ones. Anyone who reaches that state among the saints will be given the title of cIsawi, which means Living One. Allah mentioned in the Holy Qur’an a verse describing them, bal ahya’un cinda rabbihim yurzaqun (“Truly, they are alive with their Lord, receiving sustenance“) [3:169]. Since he promised to raise me in that line, it means that I am going to reach the state of the Living Hearted.’ It was not much longer before I received that state from cIsa (s) in my heart.”
“I saw the Prophet, Muhammad (s), in a grand vision. He was accompanied by a very large crowd, standing at the foot of a mountain. He looked at me and he said, ‘Ya Ubaydullah, lift up this mountain and take it up to that other mountain.’ I knew that no one can carry a mountain, but it was a direct order from the Prophet (s). I lifted that mountain and I carried it to the place he asked me. Then the Prophet (s) looked at me and said, ‘I knew that this power was in you. I wanted people to know about it and to see the power you are carrying.’ From this I knew that I would be the means of guiding a great many people to this Way.”
“One night I saw Shah Naqshband (q) come to me and work on my internal state. When he went, I followed him. He stopped and looked at me. He said, ‘May Allah bless you my son. You are going to have a very high position.'”
“I followed the Qutb (Spiritual Pole) Nizamuddin al-Khamush in Samarqand. Then I went to Bukhara, when I was 22 years of age, where I met the great Knower, Shaykh Sirajuddin al-Birmisi. He lived four miles from Bukhara. When I visited him he looked at me intensely and he wanted me to stay with him. But my heart was telling me to travel to Bukhara. I only stayed with him briefly. He used to work in the day making clay pots and at night he used to sit in his prayer room, on the floor. After finishing his ‘Isha prayer, he would sit until Fajr. I never saw him sleep during the day or the night. I stayed with him seven days, and never did I see him sleep. He was one of the most advanced in both external and internal knowledge.”
“Then I moved to Bukhara, where I kept company with Shaykh amiduddin ash-Shashi and with Shaykh Alauddin al-Ghujdawani. They were among the followers of Shah Naqshband, Alauddin al-Attar and Yacqub al-Charkhi. Shaykh Alauddin al-Ghujdawani would sometimes disappear completely while lecturing, and then he would reappear. He had an excellent way of speaking. He never stopped making dhikr and struggling with his self. I met him when he was 90 years of age and I used to frequent his company. One day I went for a walk to the grave of Shah Naqshband. When I came back I saw Shaykh Alauddin al-Ghujdawani coming halfway to meet me. He said, ‘I think it is better that you stay with us tonight.’ We prayedcIsha, he offered me dinner, and then he said to me, ‘O my son, let us keep this night alive.’ He sat cross-legged and I sat behind him. He was in perfect meditation and dhikr and he never moved right or left. I know through my spiritual knowledge, that a person in that state must be in complete Presence and Vision of the Divine. I was surprised that at his age of 90 years, he did not feel tired. I myself, by midnight, began to feel exhausted. So I began to make litle sounds, hoping he would give me permission to stop. He ignored me. Then I stood up to attract his attention, but he still ignored me. Then I felt shy and I went back to my place and sat again. At that time I experienced a vision in which he was pouring into my heart the secret of the Knowledge of Firmness and Constancy (at-tamkin). From that time on, I felt that whatever difficulty came my way, I would be able to carry it without any disturbance. I realized that this Order is based completely on the support of the murid by the Shaykh. He taught me a lesson that one must struggle to keep firm and constant in the dhikr, because whatever you acquire easily, without difficulty, will not stay with you. Whatever you earn by the sweat of your brow, however, will stay with you.”
“One time I went to visit Shaykh Sayyid Qassim at-Tabrizi in Herat. There I followed an ascetic way of life leaving everything of the world. When he ate he would give me the remains, and I would eat them without saying anything. One day he looked at me and said, ‘You are going to be very rich. I am predicting this for you.’ At that time I had nothing. When I returned to my country, I was a farmer. I had one acre of land on which I kept some cows. In a very short time his prediction came true and my land increased until I had many farms and herds of cattle. All this wealth didn’t affect my heart. I dedicated it all for the sake of Allah.”
The Superiority of Service
His benevolence in private and public marked his way. He said,
“One time I went to the school of Qutb ad-Din as-Sadr in Samar. I found there four people with very high fevers. I began to serve them, cleaning their clothes and feeding them, until I too became infected with the same fever. This didn’t stop me from serving them. The fever in me increased and increased until I felt that I was going to die. I made an oath to myself, ‘Let me die, but let these four people be served.’ I continued to serve them. The next day I found myself completely cured, while they were still sick.”
“To help and serve people, in the understanding of this Way, is better than Dhikr and meditation. Some people think that to do the superogatory Sunnas is better than serving and helping those in need. It is our view, however, that to take care of people and to help them and to show them love is better than anything else.”
In this regard, Shah Naqshband (q) used to say, “We love to serve, not to be served. When we serve, Allah is happy with us, and this brings more attraction to the Divine Presence and Allah opens that state more for us. However, to be served, brings pride and weakness to the heart and causes us to recede from the Divine Presence.”
Sheikh Ubaydullah (q) said,
“I didn’t take this tariqat from books, but I pursued this tariqat by service to people.”
“Everyone enters through a different door; I entered this Spiritual Order through the door of service.”
He was extremely strict in keeping the adab (right conduct) of both external and internal behavior, in his seclusion and among the people. Abu Sacad al-Awbahi said, “I accompanied him 35 years and was with him continuously. In all that time I never saw him remove the skin or the seeds of fruit from his mouth, so as not to open his mouth with food inside. When he was sleepy he would never yawn. I never saw him spit. I never saw him do something which would disgust people. I never even saw him sitting cross-legged. He sat only on his knees in perfect good conduct.”
From His Miraculous Speech about the Glorious Qur’an
“I will tell you a secret from among the many secrets of Alhamdulillahi Rabbi-l-calameen (‘Praise is to Allah, Lord of the Worlds’) [1:2]. The perfect Praise is to Allah from Allah. The perfection of praise is when the servant praising Him knows that he is nothing. The servant must know that he is completely empty, no body or form exists for him, no name and no action belongs to him, but he is happy because Allah, Almighty and Exalted, made His Attributes to appear in him.”
“What is the meaning of Allah’s saying in the Qur’an, wa qaleelan min cibadi ash-shakur (‘And few of My servants are thankful’) [34:13]? The servant who is truly ‘thankful’ is the one who can see the Grantor of favors to human beings.”
“What is the meaning of the verse, f’acrid can man tawalla can dhikrina (‘And leave the one who turns away from Our Remembrance‘) [53:29]? It indicates that for the one who is in deep contemplation of Our Divine Presence, and has reached the state of seeing nothing except Us, there is no need for acts of remembrance. If he is in the state of complete vision, do not order him to recite dhikr as it might cause a coldness in his heart. While he is totally preoccupied with his state of vision, anything else is a distraction and might interrupt the state.
“Muhyiddan Ibn cArabi said, regarding this matter: ‘By Dhikrullah, the Remembrance of God, sins increase, and visions and hearts will be veiled. To leave the Dhikr is a better state because the sun never sets.’ What he means here is that when the Knower is in the Divine Presence and in the state of Absolute Vision of the Oneness of God, at that time everything is annihilated in God. For him dhikr would be a distraction. The Knower exists in His Existence and appears in His Appearance. He is in a state of Annihilation in the Divine Presence, whereas in Dhikrullah he would be in a state of absence, in need of reminding himself that God is there.”
“What is the meaning of the verse, kunu maca-s-sadiqeen (‘Be with the trustworthy ones’) [9:119]? This means to keep both their physical and their spiritual company. The seeker may sit in the physical company of the People of Truth, watch them, listen to them and Allah will enlighten his heart and will teach him to be like them. To keep the spiritual company of the People of Truth the seeker must direct his heart toward their spiritual heart. The seeker must keep their company always in his heart until they reflect all their secrets and all their stations on him. He must not turn his face to anything in this world except to the master who will take him to the Presence of Allah.
“Love and follow Lovers. Then you will be like them and their love will reflect on you.”
They asked him about the dhikr with LA ILAHA ILLALLAH. He said,
“Some of the Masters say, LA ILAHA ILLALLAH is the dhikr of the Common People and ALLAH is the dhikr of the Preferred People (al-Khawas), and HUWA is the dhikr of the Preferred of the Preferred. But to me LA ILAHA ILLALLAH is the dhikr of the Preferred of the Preferred, because it has no ending. Just as Allah is the Creator in every moment, so in every moment knowledge increases for the Knower. For the Knower, his previous state is as nothing once he enters a new, higher state. The Knower negates one state as he discards it and affirms a new state as he enters it. This is the manifestation of LA ILAHA ILLALLAH in the servant of God.”
“What is meant by the verse Ya ayyuha-l-ladheena amanu, aminu (‘O you who believe, Believe!’) [4:136] is, ‘O Believers, you are safe.’ You are safe because you have connected your heart with Allah Almighty and Exalted, and anyone who connects his heart with Allah is guaranteed safety.”
About the verse, limani-l-Mulku-l-yawm, lillahi-l-Wahidi-l-Qahhar (‘to whom belongs the Kingdom on this day? To God, the One, the Irresistible‘) [40:16], he said:
“This verse has had many explanations, but the key is to understand that the kingdom referred to is the Heart of the Seeker. If Allah looks at the heart of the seeker with the light of His Vision then He erases the existence of everything except Allah in his heart. That is what caused Bayazid to say subhanee ma acdhama sha’nee (‘Glory to Me for my Greatness!’) and Hallaj,ana-l-haqq (‘I am God’). In that state the heart is speaking, the heart from which Allah has erased everything but Himself.”
“What is the meaning of the verse kullu yawmin Huwa fi sha’n (‘Every day (moment) He manifests Himself in yet another wondrous way’) [55:29]? This ayat relates to two aspects of Subsistence after Annihiltion.
“First, the seeker, after he realizes the Truth through his heart and is firmly established in his vision of the Unique Essence of Allah Almighty and Exalted, returns from the station of Self-Effacement to the station of Complete Presence. His senses become the place of appearances of Allah’s Names and Actions. He finds in himself traces of both the Heavenly Attributes and the Worldly Attributes. He is now able to distinguish between the two different levels of attributes, and is able to obtain a benefit from every Attribute and Knowledge.
“The second meaning of the ayat is that the spiritual traveller finds in himself, in every moment and in every minuscule particle of time, a Trace of the Unique Essence of Allah, which cannot be found outside the State of Annihilation in the Vision of the One. From one fractional moment to another, he will visualize the Parts of the States of the Unique Divine Essence, and understand the ‘connectedness’ of everything in the Divine Unity. This connectedness varies in its colors and effects on the person, because it will thus be distinguished according to the time in which it appeared. This state is a very rare state and few saints attain it. Those few in each century who reach it are in a state of great honor, and they observe the meaning of the verse, kullu yawmin Huwa fi sha’n.”
“What is the meaning of the hadith, ‘Close all doors which face my mosque except the door of Abu Bakr?’ Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (r) existed in a state of perfect love toward the Prophet (s). All doors to the Prophet (s) are closed except the door of love, as represented by the open door of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. The way of the Masters of the Naqshbandi Order is connected through Abu Bakr As-Siddiq to the Prophet (s). Love for the Master brings the seeker to the door of Abu Bakr which leads him to the love of the Prophet, and from the love of the Prophet to love of Allah Almighty and Exalted.”
The Meaning of Siddiq
“If a Truthful Saint (Siddiq) progressing in the Way of Allah, is heedless for one moment, he loses in that one moment more than the attainment of a thousand years. Our Order is a Way in which all states are multiplied quickly in every moment. One second may be multiplied to the value of a thousand years.”
“There was a group of my followers who were reported to the khalif as hypocrites. He was advised, if you kill them you will be rewarded, because people will be saved from their misguidance. When they were brought in front of the khalif, he ordered them to be killed. The executioner approached to kill the first one. His companion called out and said, ‘Leave him and kill me first.’ When the executioner approached the second, a third one called him and said, ‘Kill me first.’ This was repeated for all four of them.
“The executioner was very surprised. He asked, ‘What group do you belong to? It is as if you like to die.’ They said, ‘We are the group that prefers others to ourselves. We have reached a state in which for every action we perform, our rewards are doubled and we are increased in spiritual knowledge. Each of us tries his best to do good for someone else, even if only for a brief moment, in order to be raised higher and higher in the eyes of Allah.’ The executioner began to shake and could not take their lives. He went to the Khalif and explained their state. The Khalif immediately had them released and said, ‘If these are hypocrites, then there are no more People of Truth (Siddiq) left on the earth.'”
The Conduct of Shaykh and Murid
He said, “Sufism requires you to carry everyone’s burdens and not to put yours on anyone.”
One great Shaykh wrote to him and said, “If you would like to educate any of your murids, please send me one and I will teach him.” He replied, “I don’t have any murids, but if you need a Shaykh, I have many.”
“The best time of the day is one hour after the cAsr prayer. At that time the murid must make progress in his worship. One of the best forms of worship at this time is to sit and evaluate the deeds of the day. If the seeker finds what he has done to be good, he must praise Allah. If he finds anything wrong he must ask forgiveness.”
“One of the best deeds is to follow a perfect Shaykh. To follow him and to keep his company will enable the seeker to reach the Divine Presence of Allah, ‘Azza wa Jall.”
“Keeping the company of people of different mentalities causes the people to fall into differences.”
“One time Bayazid al-Bistami (r) was sitting in association and he found disagreement within the group. He said, ‘Look carefully among yourselves. Is there anyone who is not from us?’ They looked and did not find anyone. He said, ‘Look again for there is someone who is not from us.’ They looked again and found the walking stick of someone not from the group. He said, ‘Throw that away quickly, because it is reflecting its owner, and that reflection is causing disagreement.'”
“One day a Sufi came to the association of the scholar, Mawlana Zainuddin at-Tibabi. The sufi was asked, ‘Who do you love more, your Shaykh or Imam Abu Hanifa?’ He answered, ‘For a long time, I was following the Way of Imam Abu Hanifa very carefully. Yet for all those years the bad manners that were in my heart would not leave me. After I had followed my Shaykh for only a few days, all my bad manners were taken away. So how could I love the Imam better than my Shaykh even though I give Imam Abu Hanifa full respect?'”
“The Shaykh must appear in the presence of his murids dressed in the best clothes and beautiful and neat. It is through their rabitah (heart’s connection) that the murids connect with the Shaykh. If he is dirty or unkempt, it will be difficult for the murids to maintain the quality of their rabitah. For that reason the Prophet (s) ordered his followers to comb their hair and wear their best clothes during worship.”
“Allah gave me great power to influence anyone I like. Even if I send a letter to King Khata, who proclaimed that he was God, he would come crawling barefoot to me. I have never used that power, however, because in this tariqat the will must follow the Will of Allah, Almighty and Exalted.”
One of Ubaydullah’s (q) followers said, “We were sitting in his presence and he asked for ink, paper and a pen. He wrote many names. Then he wrote one name on another piece of paper, and that name was Abu Sacid. He took that paper and put it in his turban. We asked him, “Who is the man whose name you put in your turban? He said, ‘That is the man all of the people of Tashkent, Samarqand and Bukhara are going to follow.’ After one month we heard that the King Abu Sacid was coming to take over Samarqand. No one had ever heard of him before that.”
It is related, “One time King Abu Sacid had a dream in which he saw the great Imam Ahmad al-Yasawi, one of the khalifs of Yusuf al-Hamadani (q), asking Ubaydullah al-Ahrar (q) to read al-Fatiha with the intention that Allah give support to Abu Sa’id. In the dream Abu Sacid asked, ‘Who is that Shaykh,’ and was told, ‘Ubaydullah al-Ahrar.’ When he awoke, he still had the image of the Shaykh in his mind. He called his advisor in Tashkent and asked him, ‘Is there anyone by the name of Ubaydullah?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Then the Sultan went to Tashkent to meet him and he found him in the village of Farqa.
“The Shaykh came out to meet him and the Sultan recognized him rightaway. Immediately his heart was attracted. He dismounted and ran to the Shaykh, kissing his hands and feet. He asked the Shaykh to read al-Fatiha for him. The Shaykh said, ‘O my son, when we need something we read Fatiha once and that is enough. We already did that as you saw in your dream.’ The king was astonished that the Shaykh knew the content of his dream. He then asked permission to move to Samarqand and the Shaykh said, ‘If your intention is to support the sharica of the Prophet (s) then I am with you and Allah will support you.’ The king said, ‘This is my intention.’ The Shaykh said, ‘When you see the enemy coming against you, be patient and don’t attack immediately. Wait until you see the crows coming from behind you, then attack.’ When this came to pass and the two armies were facing each other, Abu Sacid waited while the larger army of Abdullah Mirza was attacking. The generals urged Abu Sacid to attack. He said, ‘No. Not until we see the blackbirds coming, as my Shaykh foretold. Then we will attack.’ When he saw the crows coming, he ordered the army to attack. The horse of Abdullah Mirza became stuck in the mud, and he was captured and imprisoned. Then Abu Sacid was able to take all the territories.
“He then called Ubaydullah al-Ahrar (q) to move to Tashkent from Samarqand. Ubaydullah accepted and moved there with all his followers. He became the advisor to the king. After some years Sultan Abu Sacid received the news that Mirza Babar, nephew of Abdullah Mirza, was moving towards Khorasan with 100,000 warriors in order to avenge his uncle and take back his kingdom. Sultan Abu Sacid went to Ubaydullah and told him about this, saying, ‘We don’t have enough soldiers.’ Ahrar said, ‘Don’t worry.’ When Mirza Babar arrived in Samarqand, Sultan Abu Sacid consulted his advisors. They advised him to retreat to Turkestan. He prepared to return to Turkestan. The Shaykh came to him, and said, ‘How is it that you are disobeying my orders? I told you not to fear. By myself I am enough for all the 100,000 soldiers.’
The next day plague attacked the army of Sultan Mirza Babar, causing them to die by the thousands. Sultan Mirza Babar made a peace treaty with Abu Sacid. Then Mirza Babar left Samarqand in defeat with the remains of his army.”
Shaykh Ubaydullah (q) died after cIsha prayer on Saturday, 12th of Rab’i ul-Awwal, 895 H./1489 CE, in the city of Kaman Kashan, in Samarqand. He left behind many books including Anas as-Salikin fit-Tasawwuf, and al-cUrwatu-l-wuthqa li Arbaba-l-ictiqad. He established a big school and mosque which are still in use today.
His son Muhammad Yahya and many of the people present at his death saw a light so brilliant shine from his eyes that it made the candles appear dim. All of Samarqand, including the sultan, were shaken and grief-stricken at his passing. Sultan Ahmad came with all his army to the funeral. The Sultan carried his coffin to its final resting place in this lower world.
He passed his secret to Shaykh Muhammad az-Zahid al-Qadi as-Samarqandi (q).