At the turn of the 7th century,while the rest of European cities were still dark at night, congested and ridden with plague, ignorance and paganism, Muslim Cordova,Damascus, Servile and Baghdad were brightly illuminated,business were booming and centers of enlightenment and learning were sprouting everywhere.That was the era of Islamic Rennaissance. The later day European renaissance that started in Florence was just a carbon copy of the earlier Islamic one with a different rubber stamp.
As common pathway with history of man though,starting from the Omayyid Caliphate, with excessive affluence and unbridled power,came decadence, moral and economic curruption. With this backdrop, emerged Islamic mysticism as a science, an antidote to spiritual malaise prevalent at that time,or sufism as is now popularly known, or tasawwuf:" looking inward to discover deeper meaning in man 's relationship with his Maker beyond the rudiments of prayer, alms giving, fasting and dzikir " which did not seem to be able to move 'mountains' and hearts. Hassan al-Basri must have been one of the earliest examining this 'inward path'. We have names like al Junayd, Rumi, Ibn Arabi, Jilani, Hallaj,al Ghazali[towards the later part of his life, a late bloomer] to name just a few....
To the uninitiated, when sufism is mentioned, it automatically conjures special 'individuals' who are gifted to 'walk on water', be in two places at one time, and have great healing power.
They are beyond that and it is through the scholarly writings and translations of orientalists such as Arberry,Maussignon, Rabia Terri Harris, Annamarie, T.J Winters,Martin Ling, Muhtar Holland et al, that the'English speaking' Muslim and non-Muslim world at large began to get a better appreciation and undertanding of all these special 'walli-allah' beyond the 'realm of superhuman abilities' and myths. Some of these erudite scholars, by the Grace of Allah,'lost' their 'scholarly objectivity' and finally , alhamdullillah, succumbed to the raw beauty and justice of Islam.
We present day Muslims, mostly given the faith on a silver plate via heritage,oftentimes are mostly guilty, as the Pharoah's followers of old, of wanting to see wooden staff turning into snakes and only 'magic'.Leaving the sciences,the painful search for truth, scholarship and to put bluntly, plain hard, cerebral,grey mater stuff-thinking and more thinking, to the 'kaffirs' to toil.In so doing we missed the 'essence of the message' and thus the 'boat'.Now Muslims from all across the globe are just like 'ants' waiting for 'crumbs' to fall from the King's table.[ ...and sadly,presently, King Obama is very limited in what he could do]. The 'magic' and sublimity of Islam is in comprehending the Message and putting it into practice.
We, as an ummah, finally even failed to understand the 'Book' given to us, let alone understand the ramifications and meanings of the the other 'book' beyond: our world surrounding us.
Let us just take a very short peep at what al Jilani has to say about life, from an except of his primer,'Futuh al-Ghaib',[Revelation of the Unseen], as beautifully translated by Muhtar Holland:
You see this world in the hands of those who keep it going, with its ornaments and vanities, its deceptions and snares, and its lethal poisons. Its surface is so smooth to the touch, while the inside is rapacious, quick to bring ruin and death to those who touch it and fall under its delusion, forgetting its evil motives, its fickleness and its breach of promise. When you see all this, you must behave like someone who sees a man in the act of defecating, with his private part exposed and causing an unpleasant odour.
Just as you would avert your gaze from his nakedness, and hold your nose against the stinking smell, so must you behave towards the world: When you see it, look away from its charms and hold your nose against the stench and lechery and lust. Thus you may escape the world's corrupting influence, yet still receive your allotted share of worldly goods-yours to enjoy! As Allah[Exalted is He]said to His chosen Prophet[Allah bless him and give him peace]:
"Strain not your eyes towards that which We have given for some pairs among them to enjoy--the flower of this world's life, that We may thereby put them to the test. Your Lord's provision is better and more lasting." [ 20:131]
Al-Jilani's other works:
The Secret of Secrets[Sirr-al-Asrar]
The Sublime Revelations[Al Fath al-Rabbani]
The Utterances of Shaikk' Abd Al Qadir al-Jilani[Malfuzat]