"Bāyazīd (or Abū Yazīd), born at Bistām in Khurāsān (eastern Iran), was the first major “ecstatic” Muslim Sūfī mystic known to us. In the words of A.J. Arberry, Bistāmī was “a mystical genius of the first order … a man of profound spirituality, who through long austerity and meditation reached a state of compelling awareness of the merging of his human individuality into the Individuality of God.… To him is attributed the introduction of [divine] ‘intoxication’ [sukr] into Sūfī doctrine, and in this respect he is contrasted with the ‘sober’ school of Baghdad [s ah w, sobriety], headed by the great al-Junayd (d. 910).” (Arberry [Tr.], Muslim Saints & Mystics: Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliyā’ [“Memorial of the Saints”] by Farīd al-Dīn ‘At tār, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966, p. 4).
Annemarie Schimmel notes: “Bāyezīd hoped for a complete extinction [fanā] of the traces of self… the negative way is his; but he was also the first to describe the mystical experience in terms of the [positive] image of the mi‘rāj, the heaven- ly journey of the Prophet.” (See Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina, 1975, pp. 46-51.)
Bāyazīd was one of three brothers, each of whom became “a renunciate and servant of God.” Their grandfather, a Zoroastrian, had converted to Islām. Bāyazīd’s own youthful piety may have been influenced by this. He entered a Hanafī school of legal study, the most liberal approach to the Muslim sharī‘a. Yet he was strict in observing both voluntary and obligatory religious forms of worship. His career as a promulgator of Hanafi law was transcended when a student turned him toward Sūfism. He began to practice a regimen of terrible self-denial and to visit many dervishes and saints to learn from them the Sūfī way. We read that “Imām Ja‘far Sādiq and Imām Musa Kazīm were among his Shaikhs.” Bāyazīd spent long sojourns as an itinerant wanderer, “meeting 360 Sūfīs,” and later embraced solitude and the contemplative life. During one 12-year period he engaged in various austerities and spiritual practices in almost complete isolation. Later, he allowed himself periods of teaching disciples back at Bistām.
In some places so many people became his disciples that he committed uncouth acts to drive them away, such as once eating bread during the daytime fasting period in the holy month of Ramadān. Another story of Bāyazīd recounted by ‘At*tār tells that in an Arabian town he visited en route to Medina, a large throng wanted discipleship under him. Though Bāyazīd left town, the crowd still followed him. Looking back, he asked his inner Divine Guide, “Who are those men?” “They wish to keep you company,” came the answer. “Lord God!” he cried, “I beg of Thee, veil not Thy creatures from Thee through me!” Then, wishing to expel love of him from their hearts and remove the “obstacle” of himself from their spiritual path, after performing the dawn prayer he looked at them and said, “Verily, I am God; there is no god but I; serve Me.” “The man has become mad and committed blasphemy!” they cried. And they left him.
In Sūfism, such deliberate “sins” by a saint became known as Malāmat, so Bāyazīd is viewed as founder of the informal Silsila (lineage) of the Malamatiya, also called Tayfuriya Order of Sūfīs.
When he wasn’t preferring solitude with Allāh, but allowing a circle of disciples near him, Bāyazīd urged them to put their affairs in God’s hands and to accept sincerely the pure doctrine of Tauhīd, the Oneness or Nonduality of God, along with five essentials: keep all obligations enjoined by the Qur’ān and Sunna, always speak truth, keep the heart free from hatred, avoid forbidden food, and shun religious innovations. Muslim scholars and mystics say that Bāyazīd was the first or one of the first Sūfīs to spread the ideal of fanā, annihilation or extinction in God (a word likely derived from the old Buddhist term nirvān a, well known in Central Asia), to insure that the Tauhīd view was authentically lived, not just thought about or talked about.
Despite a frequently expressed humility and self-restraint found in the sayings and stories of Bāyazīd Bistāmī preserved by Sūfī tradition, early on he came to symbolize for the Sūfism one of two main trends, namely, the eastern, Khurāsān, Persian-speaking “(God-)intoxicated” and more-or-less antinomian variety, contrasted with the western, Arabic-speaking, Baghdad brand of more “orthodox” Sūfism represented by that sober sage, al-Junayd, of the next generation. Bistāmī’s ecstatic Sūfism did heavily influence the later Persian-speaking Sūfī mystic love poets like Sanā’ī, ‘At*tār, Rūmī, Hāfez*, et al., as well as the “mad” Malāmatī and Qalandarī dervīshes.
His lovely tomb-shrine is located in Bistām, Iran. No less a spiritual authority than Baghdad’s sober Sūfī al-Junayd allegedly declared: “As the Archangel Gabriel is superior among all angels, in the same way Bāyazīd is the superior Sūfī among all.” Abū Nasr as-Sarrāj, a century after Bāyazīd’s passing, wrote of the saintly mystic as “a man famous for austerity, worship, know- ledge and understanding,” and reported, “the learned of our regions take blessings (yatabarrak- ūna) at the tomb of Bāyazīd (God grant him compassion) down to the present day.” Sarrāj further said that earlier shaykhs used “to pay visit to him (yazūrūnahu) and take blessings from his devotions (du‘āyahu). They considered him one of the most exalted of worshippers and renouncers and people of wisdom (ma‘rifa) in Allāh. They recall that he surpassed the people of his age in conscientiousness and striving (ijtihād) and the uninterrupted remembrance of Allāh Most High.” (Quoted in Sells, Early Islamic Mysticism, p. 228) ."
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