Shaykh Abul-Hassan Ash-Shadhili
Shaykh Abu’l-Hassan ash-Shadhili was born in the north of Morocco in 1175 into a family of peasant labourers. For his education he went to the Qarawiyyin University in Fes, where he met some scholars who introduced him to the sciences of Islamic Law. He also traveled to many countries. In Iraq he met a great Sufi called Wasiti who told him to return to his country where he could find Moulay Abdas-Salam ibn Mashish, the great Moroccan spiritual master. He did so, and became the close follower of this spiritual master who initiated him in the way of remembrance of Allah and enlightenment. When he met Moulay Abdas-Salam after ritually washing himself, he said, ‘O Allah, I have been washed of my knowledge and action so that I do not possess knowledge or action except what comes to me from this Shaykh.’
Shaykha Abu’l-Hassan ash-Shadhili travelled from Morocco to Spain and finally settled down in Alexandria. Later on in life, when asked who his spiritual master was, he used to reply, ‘I used to be the close follower of Moulay Abdas-Salam ibn Mashish, but I am no more the close follower of any human master.’ Shaykh Abu’l-Abbas al-Mursi (d. 1288), who succeeded Shaykh ash-Shadhili as the next spiritual master of the Order, was asked about the knowledge of his spiritual master and replied, ‘He gave me forty sciences. He was an ocean without a shore.’
Shaykh ash-Shadhili had hundreds of close followers in both Alexandria and Cairo, not only from among the common people but also from among the ruling classes. He taught his close followers to lead a life of contemplation and remembrance of Allah while performing the normal everyday activities of the world. He disliked initiating any would-be follower unless that person already had a profession. His admonition to his close followers was to apply the teachings of Islam in their own lives in the world and to transform their existence.
Shaykh Abu’l-Hassan Ash-Shadhili died in the south of Egypt near the Red Sea while he was on his way to the pilgrimage in Mecca in 1258. His shrine, which appears to be nowhere, in the middle of the desert, stands to the present day and is highly venerated. Near his tomb are two wells, one containing bitter water, the other containing sweet water. He was an interspace between two seas, the sea of the outer law and the sea of the inner reality. The Shadhili Order derives its name form him. He said:
"O Allah, you have sentenced the people to abasement until they become mighty, and You have sentenced them to loss until they find. The one who has no abasement becomes the one who has no might, and the one who has no loss becomes the one who has no finding. The one who lays claim to finding without abasement is deluded. The one who lays claim to finding without loss is a liar."