From Atar’s Tadhkirat, p. 247 ff
Abu Ya’qub Yusof ibn al-Hosain al-Razi travelled extensively from his native Rayy, visiting Arabia
and Egypt where he met and studied under Dho’1-Nun al-Mesri. He returned to preach in Rayy, dying there in 304 (916).
The conversion of Yusof ibn al-Hosain-e Razi
The spiritual career of Yusof ibn al-Hosain-e Razi began in the following circumstances. He was travel-ling in Arabia with a company of his fellows when he arrived in the territory of a certain tribe. When the daughter of the Prince of the Arabs caught sight of him, she fell madly in love with him, for he was possessed of great beauty. Waiting her opportunity, the girl suddenly flung herself before him. Trembling, he left her and departed to a more distant tribe.
That night he was sleeping with his head on his knees, when he dreamed he was in a place the like of
which he had never seen. One was seated on a throne there in kingly wise, surrounded by a company clad in green robes. Wishful to know who they might be, Yusof edged his way towards them. They made way for him, treating him with much respect.
“Who are you?” he enquired.
“We are angels,” they replied, “and he who is seated on the throne there is Joseph, upon whom be peace. He has come to pay a visit to Yusof ibn al-Hosain.”
Let Yusof tell the rest of the story in his own words.
Overcome with weeping, I cried, “Who am I, that God’s prophet should come to visit me?”
Thereupon Joseph, upon him be peace, descended from his throne, took me in his embrace, and seated me on the throne.
“Prophet of God,” I cried, “who am I that you should be so gracious to me?”
“In the hour,” Joseph answered, “when that lovely girl flung herself before you, and you committed yourself to God and sought His protection, God displayed you to me and the angels. God said, ‘See, Joseph! You are that Joseph who inclined after Zoleikha only to repel her. He is that Joseph who did not incline after the daughter of the King of the Arabs, and fled.’ God Himself sent me with these angels to visit you. He sends you the good tidings that you are of God’s elect.”
Then Joseph added, “In every age there is a portent. The portent in this age is Dho ‘1-Nun-e Mesri. He has been vouchsafed the Greatest Name of God. Go unto him.”
When Yusof awoke (the narrative continues) he was filled with a great ache. A powerful yearning overmastered him, and he turned his face towards Egypt, desirous to know the Great Name of God. Arriving at the mosque of Dho ‘1-Nun, he spoke the greeting and sat down. Dho ‘1-Nun returned his greeting. For a whole year Yusof sat in a remote corner of the mosque,
not daring to question Dho ‘1-Nun.
After a year Dho ‘1-Nun asked, “Whence is this young man come?”
“From Rayy,” he replied.
For another year Dho ‘1-Nun said nothing, and Yusof continued to occupy the same corner.
At the end of the second year Dho ‘1-Nun asked, “On what errand has this young man come?”
“To visit you,” he replied.
For another year Dho ‘1-Nun was silent. Then he asked, “Does he require anything?”
“I have come that you may teach me the Greatest Name,” Yusof replied.
For a further year Dho ‘1-Nun held his peace. Then he handed Yusof a wooden vessel covered over.
“Cross the River Nile,” he told him. “In a certain place there is an elder. Give this bowl to him, and remember whatever he tells you.”
Yusof took the bowl and set forth. When he had gone a part of the way, a temptation assailed him.
“What is this moving about in this bowl?”
He uncovered the bowl. A mouse jumped out and ran away. Yusof was filled with bewilderment.
“Where am I to go? Shall I go to this elder, or return to Dho ‘1-Nun?”
Finally he proceeded to the elder, carrying the empty bowl. When the elder beheld him, he smiled.
“You asked him for God’s Great Name?” he asked.
“Yes!” Yusof replied.
“Dho ‘1-Nun saw your impatience, and gave you a mouse,” the elder said. “Glory be to God! You cannot
look after a mouse. How then will you keep the Greatest Name?”
Put to shame, Yusof returned to the mosque of Dho’1-Nun.
“Yesterday I asked leave of God seven times to teach you the Greatest Name,” Dho ‘1-Nun told him. “God did not give permission, meaning that the time is not yet. Then God commanded me, ‘Make trial of him with a mouse.’ When I made trial of you, this is what happened. Now return to your own city, till the proper time comes.”
“Before I leave, give me a testament,” Yusof begged.
“I will give you three testaments,” said Dho ‘1-Nun, “one great, one middling, and one small. The great testament is this, that you forget all that you have read, and wash away all that you have written, so that the veil may be lifted.”
“This I cannot do,” said Yusof.
“The middling testament is this, that you forget me and tell my name to no man,” said Dho TNun. “To
say that my monitor declared this or my shaikh ordered that is all self-praise.”
“This too I cannot do,” said Yusof.
“The small testament is this,” said Dho ‘1-Nun, “that you counsel men and call them to God.”
“This I can do, God willing,” said Yusof.
“On condition, however,” Dho ‘1-Nun added, “that in counselling men you do not have men in sight.”
“So I will do,” Yusof promised.
Then he proceeded to Rayy. Now he came from the nobility of Rayy, and the citizens came out to welcome him. When he began his preaching, he expounded the mystic realities. The people, accustomed to exoteric doctrine, rose up in anger against him, for in that time only formal learning was current. Yusof fell into disrepute, to such an extent that no one came to his lectures.
One day he turned up to preach as usual, but seeing no one in the hall he was about to return home. At that moment an old woman called to him.
“Did you not promise Dho ‘1-Nun that in counselling men you would not have them in sight, and would speak only for God’s sake?”
Astonished at her words, Yusof began to preach.
Thereafter he continued so for fifty years, whether anyone was present or no.
Yusof ibn al-Hosain and Ebrahim-e Kbauwas
Ebrahim-e Khauwas became a disciple of Yusof ibn al-Hosain. Through the blessing of his companionship he attained to such remarkable spiritual advancement that he would travel through the desert without provision and mount. It is to him that we owe the following story.
One night (Ebrahim said) I heard a voice which said to me, “Go and say to Yusof-e Hosain, ‘You are of the rejected’.” So grievous were these words for me to hear, that if a mountain had been flung on my head that would have been easier to bear than that I should repeat what I had heard to him.
Next night I heard in even more menacing tones, “Say to him, ‘You are of the rejected’.” Rising up, I washed and begged God’s forgiveness, and sat in meditation till the third night, when the same voice came to me. “Say to him, ‘You are of the rejected’. If you do not deliver this message, you will receive such a blow that you will not rise again.”
So full of sorrow I rose up and went to the mosque, where I saw Yusof seated in the prayer-niche.
“Do you remember any verse?” he asked me when he saw me.
“I do,” I replied. I recollected a verse in Arabic which I recited to him. Delighted, he rose up and
remained on his feet for a long while, tears as if flecked with blood streaming from his eyes. Then he turned to me.
“Since first light till now,” he said, “they have been reciting the Koran before me, and not one drop came to my eyes. Now through that single verse you spoke such a state has manifested — a veritable torrent has flowed from my eyes. Men are right when they say I am a heretic. The voice of the Divine Presence speaks truly, that I am of the rejected. A man who is so affected by a verse of poetry, while the Koran makes no impression whatever upon him — he is surely rejected.”
I was bewildered by what I saw and heard. My belief in him was shaken. Afraid, I rose up and set my face towards the desert. By chance I fell in with Khezr, who addressed me.
“Yusof-e Hosain has received a blow from God. But his place is in the topmost heights of Heaven. A man must stride so far and manfully upon the path of God, that even if the hand of rejection is struck against his forehead, yet his place is in the topmost heights of Heaven. If he falls on this path from kingship, yet he will not fall from the rank of minister.”
Yusof ibn al-Hosain and the handmaiden
A certain merchant in Nishapur bought a Turkish handmaiden for a thousand dinars. He had a creditor
living in another town, and wanted to go in haste and recover his money from him.
In Nishapur there was no one in whom he trusted sufficiently to commit the girl to his keeping. So he called on Abu ‘Othman-e Hiri and explained his predicament to him. At first Abu ‘Othman refused, but the merchant implored him earnestly.
“Admit her into your harem. I will return as soon as possible.”
So finally he consented, and the merchant departed.
Involuntarily Abu ‘Othman’s glance fell upon the girl and he fell uncontrollably in love with her. Not knowing what to do, he rose up and went to consult his teacher Abu Hafs-e Haddad.
“You must go to Rayy, to consult Yusof ibn al-Hosain,” Abu Hafs told him.
Abu ‘Othman set out at once towards Iraq. When he reached Rayy he enquired where Yusof-e Hosain was
“What have you to do with that damned heretic?” they asked him. “You look a religious man yourself.
His society will be bad for you.”
They said many such things to him, so that Abu ‘Othman regretted having come there and returned to
“Did you see Yusof-e Hosain?” Abu Hafs asked him.
“No,” he replied.
“I heard that he was such and such a man,” Abu ‘Othman related what the people of Rayy had told
him. “So I did not go to him, but returned.”
“Go back and see him,” Abu Hafs urged.
Abu ‘Othman returned to Rayy and again asked for Yusof’s house. The people of Rayy told him a hundred times as much as before.
“But I have important business with him,” he explained.
So at last they indicated the way to him. When he reached Yusof’s house, he saw an old man seated there. A beardless and handsome boy was before him, laying before him a bowl and a goblet. Light streamed from his face. Abu ‘Othman entered and spoke the greeting and sat down. Shaikh Yusof began to speak, and uttered such lofty words that Abu ‘Othman was amazed.
“For God’s sake, master,” he cried, “with such words and such contemplating, what is this state that
is on you? Wine, and a beardless boy?”
“This beardless boy is my son, and very few people know that he is my son,” Yusof replied. “I am teaching him the Koran. A bowl happened to be thrown into this dustbin. I picked it out and washed it and filled it with water, so that anyone who wished for water might drink, for I had no pitcher.”
“For God’s sake,” Abu ‘Othman repeated, “why do you act so that men say of you what they say?”
“I do it for this reason,” Yusof answered, “so that no one may send a Turkish handmaiden to my house as a confidant.”
When Abu ‘Othman heard these words he fell down at the shaikh’s feet. He realized that the man had
attained a high degree.