“God and his angels bless the Prophet.O believers bless him and pray him peace as well”— Qur’an 33:56
The eminent scholar and mystic of fifteenth century Egypt, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, tells the story of an early mystic:
One night I fulfilled a number of blessings on the Prophet and I fell asleep.
I was dwelling in a room, and lo, the Prophet came to me through the door, and the whole room was lit up. Then he moved towards me and said: “Give me the mouth that has blessed me so often that I may kiss it.” And my modesty would not let him kiss my mouth; so I turned away my face, and he kissed my cheek. Then I woke trembling from sleep and my wife who was by my side awoke, and lo, the house was fragrant with his scent, and the scent of musk from his kiss remained on my cheek about eight days. My wife noticed the scent every day.
This story beautifully illustrates the centrality of the Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and give him peace) to Islamic piety. For hundreds of years Muslims have meditated on and lucidly expressed their deep love for the Chosen Prophet (God bless him and give him peace); they have collected and compiled every available account concerning him, produced immense commentaries detailing his every feature, from the length of his hair and the color of his complexion, to the way he walked, slept, and laughed, and have composed lyrical poetry giving voice to their immense longing for him.
The Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said, “The person nearest to me is the one who asks for blessings upon me the most.” Throughout history Muslims have sought continual presence with the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace), manifesting their love for him by adhering to God’s command: “bless him and pray for peace upon him” (The Qur’an, Sura al-Ahzab).
Who was al-Jazuli? Why was Dala’il al-Khayrat so popular? How have Muslims interacted with and experienced the text, both as a performative act and as a physical object? By exploring these questions, it is hoped that the reader may gain a fuller understanding and greater appreciation of this extraordinary text, its author, and its inspiration.
The Context and Formation of Dala’il al-Khayrat: The Life of Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Jazuli
At the dawn of the fifteenth century, the Marinid dynasty had ruled Morocco for over one hundred and fifty years. The early Marinid period was marked by military campaigns and vigorous architectural activity. They built a variety of structures: new urban centers, zawiyas, fortresses, and mosques. However, their most marvelous architectural contributions were madrasas: four at Fez and one at Salé. In the oldest of these madrasas, Madrasat al-Saffarin in Fez, young Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Jazuli received instruction in the religious sciences.
By the mid-fifteenth century, Moroccan society was in chaos. Corruption and immorality were rampant in both the cities and the countryside. Port cities along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts fell to the crusading Portuguese. Due to internal strife and foreign military pressure, the Marinid state began to fragment. Morocco was in need of religious reform and reorientation. It was precisely at this trying time that al-Jazuli introduced his remarkable work Dala’il al- Khayrat.
Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Bakr b. Sulayman al-Jazuli al-Samlali was born to a sharif [a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad] family in the southern Moroccan village of Tankarat in the early fifteenth century. He belonged to the Simlala, an important subtribe of the Sanhaja Berbers that lived on the Sus River plain between the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains. Little detail is known about his life. However, his biographer, Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Fasi (d.), mentions in his work Mumti’ al-Asma’ a number of anecdotes and pithy expressions, giving a glimpse into the religious world of early modern Morocco.
As a young scholar al-Jazuli left his homeland of Jazula because inter-tribal conflicts made serious study impossible. He traveled to Fez and enrolled at Madrasat al-Saffarin, where his room is still shown to visitors. In Fez he memorized works of usul al-fiqh and Maliki law, such as Ibn al-Hajib’s Mukhtasr al-Far’i and Sahnun’s Al-Mudawwana al-Kubra. He also met the famous jurist and mystic Sheikh Ahmad Zarruq. As a youth he became known for his piety. Al-Fasi relates a stunning example of al-Jazuli’s detachment from worldly concerns:
While he was attending the madrasa, he secluded himself in a house and no one else would enter. This news reached his father who thought the youth’s persistence in barring others from entering was because he was hiding wealth, so he set out to visit his son. He requested permission to enter his son’s house and was given leave. When he entered he saw written all over the walls: “Death, Death, Death ...” He understood what his son was up to. He reproached himself, saying, “Look where he is and look where we are!” Then he left his son and returned home.
Several accounts detail al-Jazuli’s inspiration in writing Dala’il al-Khayrat. According to al-Fasi, he collected Dala’il al-Khayrat from books in the Qarwiyyin library in Fez after witnessing a woman perform miracles (kharq al-’ada). When he inquired as to how she had attained this ability, she replied, “By sending blessings on the Prophet, may God bless him and give him peace.” Thenceforth al- Jazuli devoted himself to sending blessings on the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace).Al-Manfaluti, Maliki mufti of nineteenth-century Medina, provides a different account in his work Manaqib Sidi al-Shaykh al-Jazuli:
The reason for al-Jazuli’s writing Dala’il al-Khayrat … was that one day he was late for his prayers, even though it was his custom to seek the approval of God the Exalted by not delaying a prayer beyond the earliest possible time for its performance. When he arose to make his ablutions, however, he was unable to find anything with which to take water out of the well. This preoccupied him greatly and he was very annoyed. While he was in this state a young girl caught sight of him from a high place and said, “Who are you, uncle?” The sheikh then told her about himself, hoping that she would give him a bucket and thus ease his cares and worries. Instead the girl exclaimed, “You are the one whom people praise greatly, yet you are unable to take water from a well in order to purify yourself !”
So al-Jazuli resolved at that moment to write a book about the excellence of prayers on behalf of the Chosen Prophet and to include in it many transmitted texts from the mine of prophecy and from those who have drowned in the sea of the effusion of God’s abundant generosity. All of this (which was due to what he perceived in this great miracle) would not have been possible had it not been for this girl, who was devoted to reciting prayers on the Adornment of the Last Day (zayn al-qiyama).
Al-Jazuli took the Shadhili tariqa from Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad Amghar al-Saghir (d.) of Ribat Tit-n- Fitr. After taking part in the resistance to the Portuguese at Tangier in , he went into seclusion (khalwa). Some historians claim that he worshiped in isolation for fourteen years; while others maintain that he traveled east for sometime, reciting Dala’il al-Khayrat twice each morning to the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) in Medina.Upon his reemergence in , al-Jazuli established a zawiya at the Atlantic port city of Asafi.
Al-Jazuli was “frequent in reciting litanies (awrad), observant of God most High in all his states, not exceeding the boundaries God established, and exerting himself in following the Book of God and the example of his Messenger (God bless him and give him peace).” He founded the Shadhiliyya Jazuliyya order, with Dala’il al-Khayrat at its core, and over ,disciples received spiritual training (tarbiya) at his hands.
Later writers describe the nature of al-Jazuli’s relationship with the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace): there mixed, in his person, “the two loves”—the love one feels for the Prophet due to religion, and the love one feels for one’s kinsfolk (mahabba al-diniyya wa al-tiniyya).Al-Jazuli died in while prostrating during the morning prayer, the victim of poisoning. He was later buried at Riyadh al-’Arus in Marrakesh. Known in the local dialect as “Sidi Ben Sliman,” he is one of the seven patron saints of Marrakesh. He left Dala’il al-Khayrat as a testament to his immense love and longing for the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace):
O God, I believed in Muhammad but did not see him; do not deprive me in the Gardens of his vision. Bestow his company upon me and cause me to die in his religion. Let me drink from his pool a quenching, pleasant, delightful drink after which we shall never thirst again. You are powerful over everything. O God, convey to the soul of Muhammad my greetings and peace. O God, as I believed in Muhammad but did not see him, do not deprive me in the Gardens of his vision.
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