Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani and His al-Minan al-Kubra

Abd al-Wahhab Ibn Ahmad al-Sha’rani was born in the year 898/899 A.H. (1492-1493 A.D) in a village north of Cairo, Egypt. [1] His father passed away when he was a young child, yet he began his pursuit of knowledge at an early age. By the time he reached eight years of age, he had already memorized the Qur’an, under the supervision of his brother, as well as many traditional primers including Matn al-Ghayah wal-Taqrib in fiqh (jurisprudence), and al-Ajurumiyyah in Arabic grammar. In the year 911 A.H., he moved to Cairo, where he would blossom in his pursuit of knowledge. In just a few years, he had committed many texts to memory, across all the sacred disciplines. Some of these texts were hundreds or even thousands of pages long. Impressively, al-Sha’rani also studied all four schools of Islamic law, a feat which would place him among the rare few who are able to claim this rank of knowledge. Later, he would author a famous text, al-Mizan al-Kubra, in which he demonstrated his mastery of the four schools of law via a comparative analysis of the differences between them. Alongside this, al-Sha’rani was known for his immense piety: as a young child, onlookers would witness him completing cover-to-cover readings of the Qur’an in al-Azhar Mosque near the minbar on a daily basis. 

Al-Sha’rani lived in a period of flourishing scholarship. He studied under many luminaries of Islamic intellectual history, including Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyyah al-Ansari, Shibab al-Din al-Ramli, Abul Hassan al-Ashmuni, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, and more. Along with excelling in the intellectual disciplines, al-Sha’rani became widely renowned for his asceticism. He stated that his fame reached such a point that he could not even risk leaving his home to visit a friend, as people would immediately gather around him in the streets. Al-Sha’rani attempted to evade the attention of the masses by covering his face entirely when he set foot into the public, but this did not work for long.

Upon reaching the highest levels of mastery in the Islamic disciplines, al-Sha’rani sought a Sufi shaykh. He decided to move forward with al-Shaykh Ali al-Khawas, who after a brief exchange, commanded al-Sha’rani to sell all of his many books and donate the proceeds to the poor. Al-Sha’rani sold all of his books, but held on to a single copy which held sentimental value to him. On his way to al-Khawas’s residence, al-Sha’rani thought to himself, “Is this book really worth risking my journey to Allah?” He immediately turned around and sold the book. After informing al-Khawas of having completed this task, al-Sha’rani was commanded to retreat into seclusion for an entire year with the strict stipulation of avoiding any gatherings of Islamic knowledge. This was stressful for al-Sha’rani, as his life revolved around such knowledge, but nonetheless he did as he was told. It was only then that al-Khawas took him as a close companion and intimately guided his spiritual journey. His companionship with al-Shaykh Ali al-Khawas bore spiritual fruits only a few days after his initiation into the spiritual journey to Allah, and al-Sha’rani would ultimately inherit his teacher’s authority in the path. 

Naturally, his success in all realms of Islamic scholarship baffled envious onlookers, and Al-Sha’rani gained many enemies. They began spreading lies about him, attributing heretical beliefs to his teachings, and even went as far as fraudulently adding grave errors into his circulating books to tarnish his reputation. Despite these efforts, al-Sha’rani became one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Islam. Many of his works are preserved, including Lata’if al-Minan wal-Akhlaq, also known as al-Minan al-Kubra. [2]

Al-Minan al-Kubra is a fascinating text that can almost be placed in a genre of its own. Not only is the book bursting with beneficial advice and specific examples of the manifestations of various virtues, but it is also a glimpse into al-Sha’rani’s own life. From the beginning he speaks of his own lineage, and throughout the text he mentions countless occurrences in his own life and the lives of his teachers, companions, and students. 

None doubt the attribution of this work to al-Sha’rani, but some have fabricated a rumor that the book is “unreliable.” The reason behind this accusation is that al-Sha’rani lists Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti as one of his teachers, despite al-Suyuti having passed away soon after the young al-Sha’rani moved to Cairo, where al-Suyuti resided. There are a few ways to reconcile such claims. It may be the case that al-Sha’rani, in all his brilliance, was eligible to sit in on the classes of al-Suyuti at his young age. It is also possible that the date of al-Sha’rani’s travel to Cairo (or perhaps even the birth/death dates of al-Sha’rani and/or al-Suyuti) may have been inaccurately reported by a few years. The final way to reconcile this information is to assume that al-Sha’rani was exaggerating or lying about his own credentials — and he is without a doubt far above such an accusation. In fact, al-Sha’rani mentions that one of the reasons he writes al-Minan al-Kubra is to suffice the reader from being confused by erroneous reports about al-Sha’rani’s own life. To make such a slanderous assumption would be to accuse al-Sha’rani of blatant deception — a tradition which seems to find a mouthpiece among ignorant commentators from the time of al-Sha’rani until today. 

Below, I have translated a few pages from his foreword (khutbah al-kitab) of Al-Minan al-Kubra, which itself presents us with numerous lessons.


I praise Allah, Lord of All Realms of Existence, and I invoke blessings and peace upon our Master Muhammad, and upon all the Prophets and Messengers, along with their families and companions altogether.

This is a compilation of blessings and virtues that Allah honored me with during the initial stages of my blossoming love for the path of these purified people, may Allah be pleased with them all. Several factors led me to compose this text, and they are as follows.

First: So that my companions may imitate me in incorporating these virtues into their character and thank Allah for this blessing. Indeed, I have been colored with these virtues for a number of years, yet my companions were unaware. I would often command them to incorporate such virtues, but they would not listen. One day, a group of them approached me and said, “these virtues upon which you enjoin us, we have not seen anyone express such character in our times such that we may follow his footsteps.” I then sought direction from Allah and decided to reveal the reality of my virtues in response to their allegation. I said to them, “read the virtues that I have mentioned in this book, and for every virtue that you see manifest upon me, take me as your example! You will no longer have any excuse to avoid expressing such character.” Were it not for this situation, perhaps keeping my state hidden would have been better — as I will further discuss in the introduction (muqaddimah). This book is, in its entirety, an expression of my gratitude to Allah, for he has imbued me with such character after I was utterly devoid of it. Such is the one whom Allah saved from drowning. He will be sure to save anyone that he sees drowning henceforth.

Second: My goal with this book is to perpetuate my gratitude to Allah after my death, as long as this book survives. Gratitude of the tongue ceases with the death of the worshiper, but the gratitude to Allah expressed in a book will remain long after. It serves as a surrogate in gratitude for the author, as if the author never died. 

Third: To inform my contemporaries of my rank in knowledge and action, so that they may imitate me in memorizing the books of Shari’ah and in exhibiting those virtues which were apportioned to me. Indeed, the path of the virtuous is extracted from the Qur’an and Sunnah in a manner as laborious as mining gold and jewels. The one traveling this path thus requires a standard of Divine revelation every single step of the way. 

Fourth: To relieve any of my companions of cumbersome research if they wish to mention any of my virtues and take them as an example — and to prevent erroneous additions or exclusions, as it often occurs among those who compile such information regarding the righteous scholars. Even in one’s sincere effort to recount such information by way of a trusted narrator, it will never reach the level of what a truthful individual discloses about himself. Ultimately, anything one mentions about someone via another person will be short of complete certainty. As mentioned in the hadith, “one should say ‘I believe him to be such-and-such’, or ‘I am of the inclination that he is such-and-such,’ and none may sanctify anyone before Allah.” [3] In other words, Allah is most knowledgeable of who is truly righteous. 

Shaykh Muhy al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi used to say, “there is no rank higher than the one who sincerely purifies himself except for the one whom Allah has purified, in general or in specific matters. This is indicated by Allah’s statements [4], “You have proved the finest nation of faith ever brought forth to mankind” [3:110], and regarding Prophet Yahya, upon him be peace, “And we gave him judgment whilst yet a child; and tender lovingness from Our very Self, and purity; And dutiful and kind to his parents, nor ever was he a defiant oppressor” [19:12-14], along with the statement of ‘Isa, upon him be peace, “And made me a font of blessings wherever I be, And bid me to perform the prayer, and pay the due alms, as long as I remain alive; And made me dutifully kind to my mother, and not made me a wretched oppressor; And safe at peace was I, the day I was born, the day I shall die, and the day I am raised alive” [19:31-33]. 

Some of the scholars have said that the salutations of peace and purity declared by Allah upon Yahya are of greater rank than the salutations of peace and purity declared by Isa upon himself — despite the fact that he, peace and blessings upon him, is Divinely protected from stating anything about himself that does not truly reflect reality. And indeed, the salutation of peace declared by Isa upon himself is of greater rank than that uttered by the disciples.”

Fifth: To follow the footsteps of the righteous predecessors, Allah be pleased with them. I have been preceded by many who have mentioned their virtues in their biographical works in an effort to inform others of the blessings of Allah, and to express their states so that the people may benefit from them in knowledge and the path of purification. From among them are: al-Shaykh al-Imam al-Faqih al-Muhaddith Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi, one of the prolific memorizers of Hadith, as well as al-Shaykh al-Imam al-‘Alim al-‘Allamah al-‘Imad al-Katib al-Isfahani, al-Shaykh al-Imam al-Muqri al-Faqih Yaqut al-Hamawi, al-Shaykh al-Imam al-‘Alim al-‘Allamah Lisan al-Din Ibn al-Khatib, al-Shaykh al-‘Arif Billah Abu Abd-Allah al-Qurashi[…]

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti has stated in his book al-Tahadduth bi-Ni’matillah, “I have mentioned my virtues in the spirit of following the righteous predecessors, to inform the people of my accomplishments in the pursuit of knowledge so that they may benefit, and to share what Allah has conferred upon me from blessings. I have not written this to boast to the coming generations, nor am I seeking material gain, status, or the awe of people. God forbid that I ever seek this! How worthless is this world and the pursuit of material gain — for it only results in losing religion, becoming accursed, and ultimately expelled from the company of Allah. My hair has grayed and my golden days have passed. My departure is near.”

Likewise, I state: I do not intend, by what I mention in this book, to boast. Allah forbid that I present to Him a text embodying what I would deserve in being cursed and expelled from His presence. My intention is what has been mentioned, and I pray that Allah allows this upright intention to persist until I die. This is not a feat beyond Allah. 

Be warned, my brother, lest you hasten to denounce these people whose footsteps I am following, and lest you denounce me. Beware, lest you say, “it is improper for a person to mention his virtues in a book.” This is utter ignorance and malicious assumption of the scholars and the knowers of Allah that we have mentioned. Rather, it is incumbent upon you to have a good opinion of these people and to believe that they have only mentioned these virtues so that their companions may follow their lead. This is what is befitting of the scholars, as we will discuss further in the introduction, in sha Allah.

Know, my brother, that what has emboldened me to mention my virtues in this book, despite my knowledge of the transience of things, is my good opinion of Allah: that He will not take back what He has gifted me — as is the way of the generous. And surely, Allah is the Most Generous. Furthermore, Divine openings are not taken away. Rather, spiritual states are taken — they transition from one state to another. They are like a garment that is occasionally worn and removed. Divine openings, on the other hand, are like essences. They are not so easily replaced by something or the other. Everything I will mention in this book falls under the category of Divine openings, not spiritual states. If the Elect of Allah did not know that Allah, the Ever-Generous, would not take back what He has gifted them from Divine openings and virtues, they would have never compiled them in books nor divulged them in gatherings, as their words and actions would be in direct contradiction with their claims.

Let it be known, my brother, that the lifelong repetition of a virtue is not a prerequisite for its mention. It is sufficient for one to have benefited from such a virtue or embodied it even for one moment in his life. “And were you to count the blessings of Allah, you could not even number them” [14:34]. Thus, whoever embodies a virtue even for a moment, becomes from among the people of this virtue. If he mentions that, “Allah has given me such-and-such virtue,” he has spoken the truth. 

I have heard my master Ali al-Khawas state, “Remember your virtues as much as you can, as this will increase your gratitude to Allah. Beware of excessively dwelling upon your deficiencies, for your gratitude will thereby decrease. Any benefit you derive from turning your attention towards your faults, you will lose it by virtue of your blindness to the virtues which Allah has bestowed upon you.”

[Ali al-Khawas] used to also say, “Being aware of your virtues is the default. As for your deficiencies, it is only required of a person to reflect upon them solely to avoid becoming awestruck by his own self.”

[Ali al-Khawas] used to also say, “Beware of keeping the company of high-ranking leaders and scholars, lest you belittle what Allah has blessed you with after you see what they have been blessed with.”

This is supported by the Messenger of Allah’s ‪ﷺ‬ statement to ‘A’ishah, “Beware of keeping the company of wealthy people.”

[Ali al-Khawas] used to also say, “From the most perfected virtues is to be perpetually fearful of Allah, and to have a lack of surety that one will not be expelled from the presence of Allah at any moment. My master ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani, Allah have mercy upon him, used to say, “When I saw Allah in my sleep, He gave me 40 oaths and covenants that He will not forsake me. Despite this, I am still fearful of being forsaken due to my knowledge of the severity of His abandonment and that He does as He Wills.”

I have seen the Messenger of Allah ‪ﷺ‬, and he has informed me that Allah has forgiven all of my sins. Despite this, I am still fearful of becoming humiliated and debased. This will be discussed further towards the end of the book, in sha Allah. 

I have also included within this text numerous virtues of our master and role model al-Shaykh Ibrahim al-Matbuli, as well as those of his student, the knower of Allah, my master Ali al-Khawas, and my righteous companion al-Shaykh Afdal al-Din al-Ahmadi, may Allah be pleased with them all. I have specifically chosen these three luminaries because it has been widely reported from their companions that they have all taken their methodologies of purification directly from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, in wake state and verbally, in conformity with the conditions of the people of this path. Thus, between myself and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, by way of my master Ibrahim al-Matbuli, are only two men. By way of the other aforementioned men, there is only one man between us. This will be further discussed in the introduction, in sha Allah. The bottom line is that the virtues of these men are Muhammadan.”


Works Cited:

[1] Al-Maliji, Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman. Manaqib al-Qutb al-Rabbani Sayyidi ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani. Al-Dar al-Judiyyah, Cairo, Egypt. 2005. 
[2] Al-Sha’rani, Abu al-Mawahib ‘Abd al-Wahhab. Lata’if al-Minan wa-l Akhlaq. Dar al-Taqwa, Damascus, Syria. 2019.
[3] https://sunnah.com/bukhari:6162
[4] Translation of Qur’anic verses is taken from The Qur’an Beheld, by Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

Photo by Omar Elsharawy on Unsplash

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

Wassim Hassan is currently a medical student as well as a student of traditional Islamic disciplines. He has focused his traditional training on the study of Kalam. His general interests include Islam, Western Philosophy, Bioethics, Translation Studies, the Arabic Language, and science.

2 thoughts on “Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani and His al-Minan al-Kubra

  1. Very nice, subhanAllah, I am tempted to read the whole book now. I would like it very much if more articles were made about these kinds of exemplary and saintly figures from our Ummah throughout history, they’re inspirational.

  2. Thank you; May Allah reward you. These were some of my favourite parts:

    1. “Gratitude of the tongue ceases with the death of the worshiper, but the gratitude to Allah expressed in a book will remain long after. It serves as a surrogate in gratitude for the author, as if the author never died.”

    I pray that Allah grants us the privilege to leave a similar legacy behind.

    2. “Know, my brother, that what has emboldened me to mention my virtues in this book, despite my knowledge of the transience of things, is my good opinion of Allah: that He will not take back what He has gifted me — as is the way of the generous. And surely, Allah is the Most Generous.”

    3. “Being aware of your virtues is the default. As for your deficiencies, it is only required of a person to reflect upon them solely to avoid becoming awestruck by his own self.”

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