The Shaikh's Life in Baghdad
Through the mists of legend surrounding the life of Shaikh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, it is possible to discern the outlines of the following biographical sketch:
In A.H. 488, at the age of eighteen, he left his native province to become a student in the great capital city of Baghdad, the hub of political, commercial and cultural activity, and the center of religious learning in the world of Islaam. After studying traditional sciences under such teachers as the prominent Hanbalii jurist [faqiih], Abuu Sa'd 'Alii al-Mukharrimii, he encountered a more spiritually oriented instructor in the saintly person of Abu'l-Khair Hammaad ad-Dabbaas.
Then, instead of embarking on his own professorial career, he abandoned the city and spent twenty-five years as a wanderer in the desert regions of 'Iraaq. He was over fifty years old by the time he returned to Baghdad, in A.H. 521/1127 C.E., and began to preach in public. His hearers were profoundly affected by the style and content of his lectures, and his reputation grew and spread through all sections of society. He moved into the school [madrasa] belonging to his old teacher al-Mukharrimii, but the premises eventually proved inadequate.
In A.H. 528, pious donations were applied to the construction of a residence and guesthouse [ribaat], capable of housing the Shaikh and his large family, as well as providing accommodation for his pupils and space for those who came from far and wide to attend his regular sessions [majaalis].
He lived to a ripe old age, and continued his work until his very last breath, as we know from the accounts of his final moments recorded in the Addendum to Revelations of the Unseen.
In the words of Shaikh Muzaffer Ozak Efendi: "The venerable 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani passed on to the Realm of Divine Beauty in A.H. 561/1166 C.E., and his blessed mausoleum in Baghdad is still a place of pious visitation. He is noted for his extraordinary spiritual experiences and exploits, as well as his memorable sayings and wise teachings. It is rightly said of him that 'he was born in love, grew in perfection, and met his Lord in the perfection of love.' May the All-Glorious Lord bring us in contact with his lofty spiritual influence!"
The Shaikh's Names and Titles
A rich store of information about the author of these discourses and Sufficient Provision for Seekers of the Path of Truth is conveniently available, to those familiar with the religious and spiritual tradition of Islaam, in his names, his surnames, and the many titles conferred upon him by his devoted followers. It is not unusual for these to take up several lines in an Arabic manuscript, but let us start with the short form of the author's name as it appears on the cover and title page of these books.
A term applied throughout the Islamic world to respected persons of recognized seniority in learning, experience and wisdom. Its basic meaning in Arabic is "an elder; a man over fifty years of age. (The spellings Sheikh and Shaykh may also be encountered in English language publications.)
'Abd al-Qadir -
This is the author's personal name, meaning "Servant [or Slave] of the All-Powerful." (The form 'Abdul Qaadir, which the reader may come across elsewhere, is simply an alternative transliteration of the Arabic spelling.) It has always been a common practice, in the Muslim community, to give a male child a name in which 'Abd is prefixed to one of the Names of Allaah.
A surname ending in -ii will often indicate the bearer's place of birth. Shaikh 'Abd al-Qaadir was born in the Iranian district of Giilaan, south of the Caspian Sea, in A.H. 470/1077-8 C.E. (In some texts, the Persian spelling Giilaanii is used instead of the arabicized form al-Jiilaanii. The abbreviated form al-Jiilii, which may also be encountered, should not be confused with the surname of the venerable 'Abd al-Karim al-Jiilii, author of the celebrated work al-Insaan al-Kaamil, who came from Jiil in the district of Baghdaad.)
Let us now consider a slightly longer version of the Shaikh's name, as it occurs near the beginning of Al-Fath ar-Rabbaanii [The Sublime Revelation]: Sayyidunaa 'sh-Shaikh Muhyi'd-Diin Abuu Muhammad 'Abd al-Qaadir (Radiya'llaahu 'anh).
Sayyidunaa 'sh-Shaikh -
"Our Master, the Shaikh." A writer who regards himself as a Qaadirii, a devoted follower of Shaikh 'Abd al-Qaadir, will generally refer to the latter as Sayyidunaa [our Master], or Sayyidii [my Master].
"Reviver of the Religion." It is widely acknowledged by historians, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, that Shaikh 'Abd al-Qaadir displayed great courage in reaffirming the traditional teachings of Islaam, in an era when sectarianism was rife, and when materialistic and rationalistic tendencies were predominant in all sections of society. In matters of Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] and theology [kalaam], he adhered quite strictly to the highly "orthodox" school of Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Abu Muhammad -
"Father of Muhammad." In the Arabic system of nomenclature, a man's surnames usually include the name of his first-born son, with the prefix Abuu [Father of–].
Radiya'llaahu 'anh -
"May Allaah be well pleased with him!" This benediction is the one customarily pronounced–and spelled out–in writing after mentioning the name of a Companion of the Prophet (Allaah bless him and give him peace). The preference for this particular invocation is yet another mark of the extraordinary status held by Shaikh 'Abd al-Qaadir in the eyes of his devoted followers.
Finally, we must note some important elements contained within this even longer version: al-Ghawth al-A'zam Sultaan al-Awliyaa' Sayyidunaa 'sh-Shaikh Muhyi'd-Diin 'Abd al-Qaadir al-Jiilaanii al-Hasanii al-Husainii (Radiya'llaahu 'anh).
Al-Ghawth al-A'zam -
"The Supreme Helper" (or, "The Mightiest Succor"). Ghawth is an Arabic word meaning: (1) A cry for aid or succor.
(2) Aid, help, succor; deliverance from adversity.
(3) The chief of the Saints, who is empowered by Allaah to bring succor to suffering humanity, in response to His creatures' cry for help in times of extreme adversity.
Sultaan al-Awliyaa' -
"The Sultan of the Saints." This reinforces the preceding title, emphasizing the supremacy of the Ghawth above all other orders of sanctity.
al-Hasanii al-Husainii -
"The descendant of both al-Hasan and al-Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet (Allaah bless him and give him peace)." To quote the Turkish author, Shaikh Muzaffer Ozak Efendi (may Allaah bestow His mercy upon him): "The lineage of Shaikh 'Abd al-Qaadir is known as the Chain of Gold, since both his parents were descendants of the Messenger (Allaah bless him and give him peace). His noble father, 'Abdullaah, traced his descent by way of Imaam Hasan, while his revered mother, Umm al-Khair, traced hers through Imaam Husain."
As for the many other surnames, titles and honorific appellations that have been conferred upon Shaikh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, it may suffice at this point to mention al-Baaz al-Ashhab [The Gray Falcon].