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Zu al-Nun al-Misri

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Zu al-Nun al-Misri

Dhu'l-Nun al-Misri (Arabic: ذو النون المصري‎; born in 796 in Akhmim, Sohag Governorate; died 859) was an Egyptian Sufi saint. He was considered the Patron Saint of the Physicians in the early Islamic era of Egypt, and is credited with having specialized the concept of Gnosis in Islam. His full name is Dhul-Nun Abu Faid Thawban ibn Ibrahim أبوالفيض ثوبان بن إبراهيم.

Dhu'l-Nun, literately "Lord of the Nun", is a name that is also given to the Prophet Jonah in Islamic folklore, as "nun" in ancient Arabic meant "big fish"/"whale", as it did in Aramaic where it also means "fish" (See also Nun (Bible) and Nun (letter)).

His nickname al-Misri means 'the Egyptian', a name apparently given to him by his fellows who were not themselves of Coptic descent as he was, or during his travels outside of Egypt.


Life

Dhul-Nun al-Misri is considered among the most prominent saints of early Sufism and holds a position in the Sufi chronicles as high as Junayd Baghdadi (d. 910) and Bayazid Bastami (d. 874). He studied under various teachers and travelled extensively in Arabia and Syria. The Muslim scholar and Sufi Sahl al-Tustari was one of Dhul-Nun al-Misri's students.[1] In 829 he was arrested on a charge of heresy and sent to prison in Baghdad, but after examination he was released on the caliph's orders to return to Cairo, where he died in 859; his tombstone has been preserved.[2]

Dhul-Nun's name came about in relation to an incident on a sea voyage. He was falsely accused of stealing a jewel from a merchant. He cried out "O Creator, Thou knowest best", whereupon a large number of fish raised their heads above the waves, each bearing a jewel in its mouth.[3]

A legendary alchemist and thaumaturge, he is supposed to have known the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. His sayings and poems, which are extremely dense and rich in mystical imagery, emphasize knowledge or gnosis (marifah) more than fear (makhafah) or love (mahabbah), the other two major paths of spiritual realization in Sufism. None of his written works have survived, but a vast collection of poems, sayings, and aphorisms attributed to him continues to live on in oral tradition.[4]

Osho mentions him as an Egyptian Sufi mystic, one of the greatest who has ever walked on the earth.[5]

In the book catching the thread mentions one of the incidents of Dhul-nun....."A story from the life of the ninth-century Sufi, Dhû-l-Nûn, the Egyptian, illustrates this: I was wandering in the mountains when I observed a party of afflicted folk gathered together. “What befell you?” I asked. “There is a devotee living in a cell here,” they answered. “Once every year he comes out and breathes on these people and they are all healed. Then he returns to his cell, and does not emerge again until the following year.” I waited patiently until he came out. I beheld a man pale of cheek, wasted and with sunken eyes. The awe of him caused me to tremble. He looked on the multitude with compassion. Then he raised his eyes to heaven, and breathed several times over the afflicted ones. All were healed. As he was about to retire to his cell, I seized his skirt. “For the love of God,” I cried. “You have healed the outward sickness; pray heal the inward sickness.” “Dhû-l-Nûn,” he said, gazing at me, “take your hand from me. The Friend is watching from the zenith of might and majesty. If He sees you clutching at another than He, He will abandon you to that person, and that person to you, and you will perish each at the other’s hand.” So saying, he withdrew into his cell.

Notes

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