The Book of Aphorisms

This book is one of the more widely distributed works of Ibn 'Ata'illah and serves as an ethical guide to those seeking God. It is a collection of short spiritual sayings each containing profound meaning driven from the Qur'an and Sunnah, and deals with issues related to tawhid, ethics and day-to-day conduct.
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  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 166
  • Publisher: Islamic Book Trust 
  • ISBN: 9789675062612

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Iskandari was a great Sufi master and jurisprudence scholar who was born into a distinguished family of religious scholars in Alexandria in 13th century (7 AH) when Egypt was ruled by Mamluks. He started his education as a disciple of Abu al-Hasan al-Abyari, a famous Maliki jurist, and studied under some of the best and most illustrious teachers of Alexandria at the time. He was well versed in all disciplines of traditional Islamic knowledge and became a distinguished Maliki scholar. Ibn `Ata'illah was initially not drawn to Sufism in spite of his father's attachment to the great Sufi Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, the founder of the Shadhili Sufi order. After a stint as a teacher and preacher in Alexandria, he moved to Cairo where he taught jurisprudence, Hadith and Tasawwuf at al-Azhar Mosque and Mansuriyyah madrasah as well as privately to his disciples. A large number of Islamic scholars of the time including the Shafi'l jurists Taqi al-Din al-Subki and Imam al-Qarafi were his disciples.

It was his meeting with Abu al-'Abbas al-Mursi, the second shaykh of Shadhli Sufi order, that precipitated a major shift in his life. Recalling his first conversation with al-Mursi, he later said that the Shaykh had advised him how to deal with the four states in a man's life: blessings, trials, obedience, and disobedience. When he complained of some anxieties gnawing at him, the Shaykh advised him: "If you are blessed, what Allah requires of you is thankfulness. If you are tried, what Allah requires of you is patience. If you are obedient, what Allah requires of you is your contemplating His blessings upon you. If you are disobedient, then what Allah requires of you is your asking for forgiveness." After his first conversation with al-Mursi, Ibn 'Ata'illah felt that his worries and grief were like a garment that had been taken off.

Then he became a devoted disciple of al-Mursi. His association with the Shaykh for twelve years saw his development as a great Sufi master capable of guiding and teaching others. Besides, a scholar of great erudition and undoubted originality, Ibn `Ata'illah became an authority on both the Sufi path and Islamic Law.

He became widely respected and honoured in Cairo among all sections of people including the high echelons of the ruling dynasty. His advice and suggestion were held in high regard by the Mamluk Sultans. He was also influential in the Mamluk court, and used to counsel Sultan a1-Mansur on religious matters.

He wrote the first systematic treatise on dhikr titled The Key to Salvation: A Sufi Manual of Invocation (Miftah al-Falah). This was followed by his magnum opus, Kitab al-Hikam (The Book of Aphorism) and numerous others aimed at guiding people on the right path to spiritual salvation.