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3.2.1 - Who Is Abu Madyan al-Ghawth?

The Shaykh of Shaykhs, al-Qutb al-Ghawth, Abu Madyan Shuayb Ibn al-Hussein al-Ansari (514/1120-589/1193), is a famous Sufi master who was born in Andalusia in 514/1120, in Mentoujeb Castle in Cantillana north of Seville. He lived in Fez and in Bugia, and he had many followers that he was feared by Sultan Yaqoub al-Mansour. He took his education and upbringing with the great jurist Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Hirzihim (died 559/1163), a Berber Sufi master in Fez who was largely responsible for the propagation of the works of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in northwest Africa. Therefore, he is often referred to as the national figure of mysticism in Maghreb, as he was such a forerunner of Sufism in this geographical area.

He came from an obscure family and his parents were poor. As he grew up, he learned the trade of a weaver as it was a popular practice at the time. His insatiable hunger for knowledge, however, piqued his interest in the Quran and the study of religion and mysticism. He traveled to Fez to complete his education, but he left around the end of Almoravid era and the beginning of the Almohad state (see Chapter I for more details on this era).

He studied under Abu Ya’azza al-Hazmiri, Ali Hirzihim, and Abu Abdullah al-Daqqaq. The latter provided him with the khirka, the cloak passed from Master to student in the study of Sufism. During his time studying in Fez, Abu Madyan became familiar within the works of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, but he was particularly fascinated with mysticism by Ali Ibn Hirzihim. They fasted and prayed together in a continuous fashion as the ideal Sufi, practicing very strict asceticism. Abu Madyan, who came from a poor background, didn’t have a hard time distancing himself from such pleasures. Because of his strict practices, he reached the rank of Qutb and Ghawth.

Abu Madyan went to Mecca where he met the great Muslim saint, Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani, and he completed his spiritual training under him. On his return, he went to the town of Bugia where he practiced very strict asceticism and acquired an honorable reputation for his knowledge. People would come far to both listen to his public lectures and consult him on certain manners. People believed he could even perform miracles.

However, his beliefs were in opposition to the Almohads scholars of that town, and they were disturbed at his increasing reputation and wanted to get rid of him. The sheer amount of fame and influence that Abu Madyan evoked raised serious concern from the political powers of the time. Therefore, the Almohad Caliph Yaqoub al-Mansour summoned him to Marrakesh. However, he was taken ill and died before he reached his destination. His last sigh was supposedly “Allah al-Haqq.” He was buried in al-Ubbad near Tlemcen. We shall comment shortly in section

ef(abu-madyan-death about the exact date when he passed away.