By Sadia Dehlvi
Aug 19, 2013
Amongst my favourite early Sufis is Dhun Nun Misri of the 9th Century. Dhun Nun shaped the Sufi doctrine of Wahdat ul Wujood, the Oneness of Being, which became central to the later Sufi movement around the world.
The controversial doctrine proclaims that all things exist within God and are not separate from Him. Such mystic ideas did not go down well with the orthodox establishments.
The Quran declares that animals, plants and trees are all engaged in praising Allah. Dhun Nun heard this praise of the Lord from all forms of creation, from an ant to a mountain. Nun is the most famous Sufi of the Malamati Order, the hidden spiritualists who trod the path of affliction and blame. These Sufis behave in inappropriate ways to make sure that people abuse and shun them.
Abu’l-Faiz Thauban ibn Ibrahim came to be called Dhun Nun, Man of the Fish, following an incident aboard a ship. After a few days on the sea, a jewel of a fellow traveller went missing. All the passengers on board were searched but the jewel could not be found. Unanimously, all the men accused Dhun Nun of the theft and treated him disrespectfully. The mystic cried, “O Creator, Thou knows best”. Suddenly, hundreds of fish put their heads out of the water, each with a jewel in its mouth. Dhun Nun took one of the jewels and gave it to the merchant. Everyone aboard fell at the mystic’s feet, begging his pardon.
An Egyptian, Dhun Nun could read the mysteries of hermetic wisdom concealed in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Once, accused of heresy, he was imprisoned in Baghdad. According to legend, when his chains were untied, Dhun Nun fell and blood poured from a gash on his head. It did not touch his forehead, hair or clothes, but spilt directly on the floor and disappeared immediately. This was interpreted as divine intervention. Presented before the Caliph, Dhun Nun answered the charges against him. Moved by his eloquence, the Caliph became his disciple and allowed him to return to Cairo.
Dhun Nun defines a Sufi as one who is devoid of duplicity, whose speech is in accordance with his behaviour, and whose silence indicates his state. “Sufis are those whom God had invested with the radiance of His Love, upon whose heads He sets the crown of His joy.”
Dhun Nun died in 859 AD in Cairo where his tomb is preserved. It is said that the following words were written in green on his forehead, “This is a friend of God. He died in the love of God. This is the slain of God by the sword of God.”
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org