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Ibrahim ibn Adham

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Ibrahim ibn Adham

Ibrahim ibn Adham
(إبراهيم بن أدهم
Born Balkh
Died c. 782
Venerated in Islam
Major shrine Sultan Ibrahim Ibn Adham Mosque, West Bank, Jerusalem

Ibrahim ibn Adham (إبراهيم بن أدهم); c. 718 – c. 782 / AH c. 100 – c. 165[1]) is one of the most prominent of the early ascetic Sufi saints.

The story of his conversion is one of the most celebrated in Sufi legend, as that of a prince renouncing his throne and choosing asceticism closely echoing the legend of Gautama Buddha.[2] Sufi tradition ascribes to Ibrahim countless acts of righteousness, and his humble lifestyle, which contrasted sharply with his early life as the king of Balkh (itself an earlier center of Buddhism). As recounted by Abu Nu'aym, Ibrahim emphasized the importance of stillness and meditation for asceticism. Rumi extensively described the legend of Ibrahim in his Masnavi. The most famous of Ibrahim's students is Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 810).


According to Muslim tradition, Ibrahim's family was from Kufa but he was born in Balkh (Modern day Afghanistan). While some writers traced his lineage back to Umar, the most famous family tree of his Sufi ancestors, most authors trace it to 'Abdullah, the brother of Ja'far al-Sadiq, and son of Muhammad al-Baqir, the grandson of Husayn ibn Ali. It is also very important to note that Ibrahim was a Sunni Hanafi Muslim.

Accounts of Ibrahim's life are recorded by medieval authors such as Ibn Asakir and Bukhari.

Ibrahim was born into the Arab community of Balkh as the king of the area in around 730 CE, but he abandoned the throne to become an ascetic. He received a warning from God, through Khidr who appeared to him twice, and, abdicated his throne to take up the ascetic life in Syria. Having migrated in around 750 CE, he chose to live the rest of his life in a semi-nomadic lifestyle, often travelling as far south as Gaza. Ibrahim abhorred begging and worked tirelessly for his livelihood, often grinding corn or tending orchards. In addition, he is also said to have engaged in military operations on the border with Byzantium, and his untimely death is supposed to have occurred on one of his naval expeditions.[3]

His earliest spiritual master was a Christian monk named Simeon.[4] Ibrahim later recounted his dialog with Simeon in his writings:
I visited him in his cell, and said to him, "Father Simeon, how long hast thou been here?" "For seventy years", he answered. "What is thy food?" I asked. "O Hanifite", he countered, "what hast caused thee to ask this?" "I wanted to know", I replied. Then he said. "Every night one chickpea." I said, "What stirs thee in thy heart so that this pea suffices thee?" He answered, "They come to me one day in every year and adorn my cell and process about it, so doing me reverence; and whenever my spirit wearies of worship, I remind it of that hour, and endure the labors of a year for the sake of an hour. Do thou, O Hanifite, endure the labor of a year for the glory of eternity."[5]

As is often with the graves of saints, numerous locations have been placed as the burial place of Ibrahim ibn Adham. Ibn Asakir stated that Ebrahim was buried on a Byzantine island,[6] while other sources state his tomb is in Tyre, in Baghdad, in the "city of the prophet Lot",[7] in the "cave of Jeremiah" in Jerusalem and, finally, in the city of Jablah (on the Syrian coast).

Historicity and literary reception

The medieval narratives of the life of Ibrahim are semi-historical. Ibrahim may have been a historical Sufi of the 8th century, whose legend was embellished in later accounts. The Persian Memorial of the Saints by Attar,[8] for example, remains one of the richest sources on Ebrahim's conversion and early life as the king of Balkh. It was through the Persian memorials that literature on Ibrahim passed into the legendary literature of India and Indonesia, where further unhistorical embellishments were added.

One of the main features of non-Arabic literature on Ibrahim is the feature of full-length biographies on the figure, as opposed to anecdotes centering around the main incidents in his life. Moreover, many of the non-Arabic accounts on Ebrahim's life preceded with a short account of the life of his father, Adham. One of the most famous of these biographies was written in Persian by Rumi, which was adapted into Arabic form. Other such biographies were written in Urdu and Malay, which laid the basis for short biographies in Javanese and Sundanese.

See also


  1. ^ Richard Nelson Frye, The Cambridge History of Iran: The Period from the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs, CUP, 1975, p. 450.
  2. ^ Muslim Saints and Mystics, Attar, trans. A.J. Arberry intro. on "Ebrahim ibn Adham"; Encyclopedia of Islam, "Ibrahim ibn Adham"
  3. ^ Abu Nu'aym, vii, 388
  4. ^ Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, F. Schoun, ind. Ibrahim ibn Adham, Suhail Academy co.
  5. ^ Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, C. Glasse, Ibrahim ibn Adham, pg. 178
  6. ^ Ibn Asakir, Tarikh kabir, Damascus, ii, 1330, 167–96
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. III, pg. 985
  8. ^ Muslim Saints and Mystics, Attar, trans. Arberry, Ebrahim ibn Adham
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