"Allah is the qibla of intention; intention is the qibla of the heart; the heart is the qibla of the body; the body is the qibla of the limbs; and the limbs are the qibla of dunya." - saying of Shaykh Sahl al-Tustari
Asked "What is food?" Tustari replied: "Food is contemplation of the Living One: al-Hayy."
Sahl al-Tustari was one of the great servant of God, a profoundly deep mystic and aref-billah, knower of God (gnostic). He was born in the southwestern Iran and lived between 818 - 896 AD. His full name was Abu Muhammed Sahl ibn 'Abd Allah. He founded the Salimiyah Muslim theological school, which was named after his disciple Muhammad ibn Salim. He is well remembered for his Sufi commentary of the Quran known as Tafsir al-Tustari.
From an early age he led an ascetic life with frequent fasting and study of the Qur'an and Hadith, the oral traditions, of the Prophet Muhammad. He practised repentance (tawbah) and, above all, constant remembrance of God (dhikr). This eventually culminated in a direct and intimate rapport with God and was considered a special friend and one of the spiritual elect. Tustari was under the direction of the great Sufi master Dhul-Nun al-Misri for a time and later he became martyr Mansur Al-Hallaj's early teachers.
He spent his early years with his uncle Muhammad ibn al-Sawwar, who was a very pious and refined soul and Dhu al-Nun al-Misri, one of the greatest Sufis elder, whom he met during pilgrimage.
It is related that when he was three years old he would wake up at night to watch his uncle Muhammad ibn al-Sawwar pray. During that period his uncle, the wise man gave Sahl a practice of Remembrance, which in Sufism is called Wird. Some formula to practice on a regular basis as an inner working, to polish the heart and refine the soul towards higher awareness of the Divine. Wird is a set of invocations assigned to the murid by his shaikh or deputy as a liturgy of communion. Wird can be a set portion of the Qur'an, or any other specific act of worship, which the worshipper commits himself to recite or perform, either at a particular time or occasion on a regular basis. The basis of Wird goes back to the instruction of the Prophet, upon him be peace who said, "Allah loves those action of His servants which are done consistently / regularly, even if they be small in portion."
The wird that Sahl was given by his uncle is said to left such an impression on this young man that it transformed him into a Master of knowers and an elect Saint of God.
Sidi Sahl would wake up in the middle of the night only to see his devout uncle engrossed in his prayers. Sahl narrates:
My uncle once told me: `Remember Allah Who created you.'
I said: `How should I remember Him?'
He replied: `Say in your heart, whenever you are alone at night, three times, without moving your tongue:
Allah is with me; Allah is looking at me; Allah is watching me.'
This became his lifelong devotion. He memorized the Qur'an by the age of seven. He had profound love for the tradition of the Prophet. He used to practice perpetual fasting and prayed all night. He reached a point where he broke his fast only once every twenty-five nights on one dirham's worth of barley bread for twenty years.
Hence his saying: "Hunger is Allah's secret on His earth. He does not confide it to one who divulges it."
These three statements or rather three seeds of deeper contemplation and meditation on God is used by Muslim Mystics and believers alike.
The terms in original Arabic pronunciation are:
(Allah is with me)
(Allah's glance is upon me)
(Allah is witnessing me)
In another narration it is said that when he used to find his uncle deeply absorbed in prayer and contemplation whenever Sahl would awake from his sleep at the deep watches of night, he would ask his uncle if he could be like him. To this his uncle, Muhammad ibn al-Sawwar replied, "You are still young, suffice that every night you remember Allah in your heart by repeating these words 3 times without moving your tongue (the words mentioned above). When you are strengthened by it, increase it to 7 times. This will be benificial for you for if you know 'Allah is witnessing you, Allah is looking at you and Allah is with you', surely you will not do anything that would displease Him."
Shaykh Sahl increased his zikr from 3 to 7 to 11 and more until he started to taste the sweetness of it. And there is a wisdom of increasing the wird slowly over months or years because often they come with special state of the heart and soul which could be difficult for a novice to withstand. Sufis say, "Enlightenment must come slowly, otherwise it would overwhelm one's self." Thus its recommended to start a wird in small number, specially if they are powerful and then slowly increase it over years. But most important point of wird is to maintain its consistency or establishing its regularly in one's practice.
Sahl grew up to be, as al-Dhahabi described, "the master of knowers (Shaykh al-`ârifîn), the ascetic sufi (al-Suufî al-zâhid) who has a firm foothold in the path." Another great saint commented about him that: "He had no peer in his time for correctness of transaction and superlative Godwariness, and he was a person of karamat (manifesting supernatural miracles by the permission of Allah)."
The above mentioned 3 formula of meditation is very powerful. The Sufis of Indian Sub-continent also use these three formula, but the wordings could be slightly different, even though the goal of attaining Divine Awareness remains the same. They are:
"Allahu Hazir" : Allah is Ever Present / Allah is the Presence
"Allahu Nazir" : Allah is Ever Seeing / Divine Glance is upon me
"Allahu Ma'i" : Allah is Ever with me / Allah is the Inseparable Togetherness.
May Allah grant the immense benefits embedded within these statements of truth, may Allah open the door of rewards through His Boundless generosity and strengthen our faith and ennoble our consciousness of Him. Ameen.
* Life of Sahl Al-Tustari by by GF Haddad with some of Sahl Al-Tustari's sayings
* Creed of the early sufi Sahl al-Tustari
* You may download the entire Tafsir al-Tustari as PDF here.
# Recommended Youtube Resources:
* Muraqaba Dua of Sahl al-Tustari - Shaykh Yahya Rhodus
* Discourse on the Wird as-Sahl by Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi