Abdullah Tustari of the ninth century was amongst the famous early Sufi
masters. Numerous miracles are attributed to Sahl, who kept them a secret.
People said he walked on water without his feet getting wet. Lions and other
wild beasts were seen visiting him and he tended to them. The Sufi’s house in
Tustar came to be called “the house of wild beasts”. He would often go into
states of ecstatic rapture that lasted for days, during which he never ate a morsel.
During these spiritual states, even in winter, his clothes were drenched in
Tustari earned the title of Shaykh ul Arifin, “master of the knowers”. He
received his spiritual training from the Egyptian Sufi master Dhu’l-Nun
al-Misri. Mansur Hallaj, the famed martyred mystic of Baghdad studied under
him. Sahl memorised the Quran at the age of seven. At a young age, he began
perpetual fasting. His food consisted of just an ounce of barley bread. Of
fasting for the sake of god, Sahl said, “Hunger is Allah’s secret on earth and
He does not confide it to one who divulges it”.
the ruler of Tustar became gravely ill, he ordered that the Sufi master be
presented before him in order. The king wished to seek Sahl’s prayers for his
well-being. Sahl told the king that prayers were effective only for those who
were penitent and insisted that those prisoners wrongly detained in jails be
released. The king acted accordingly and soon regained health. He offered the
Sufi generous amounts of money which the mystic did not accept.
defined a Sufi as “someone who is pure, filled with reflection and renounces
the human for the divine, someone for whom gold and mud have the same value,
that is to say, someone who has no desire for anything but for his Lord and
Master.” He further explained: “Allah is the Qibla (direction of Muslim prayer)
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 the
the earliest mystical commentary on the Quran, explaining the hidden secrets of
each verse. He wrote that the “hearts of the knowers have eyes, that see what
onlookers don’t see”.
Tustari died in Basra, where he was forced to seek refuge. When his body was
being carried for burial, accompanied by hundreds of disciples, a Jew came
running out on the streets to enquire about the commotion. He shrieked saying
that he could see angels descending from heaven stroking the bier with their
wings. Sahl was a true friend of God who lived just for His sake alone.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author
of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.