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May 23, 2004 9:27 am


The Baraka of Shaykh Abdul-Qadir



On my first trip to Baghdad in June 2003 after an absence of twenty-three years, my colleagues and I went to visit the shrine complex of Shaykh Abdul-Qadir Al-Gaylani in the Bab Al-Shaykh district. Born in the eleventh century, Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Gaylani was from Gilan in what is now northwest Iran. He then traveled to Baghdad, then ruled by the Abbasids, to sit at the feet of the most learned professors in the Empire, only to achieve almost instant renown himself as an ascetic, a holy man and a sufi (Islamic mystic). His shrine eventually became so famous that it gave its name to an entire quarter, which went under the appellation of Bab al-Shaykh (the Gate of the Shaykh). The Islamic spiritual movement that it gave rise to was called the Qadiriyya, which quickly became the most famous mystic brotherhood in Baghdad. And finally, it is worth noting that the area around the mosque complex became inviolate space, so that several centuries after his death, the shaykh’s shrine and the buildings that surrounded it, were considered off-limits to government intervention, even against rebels and insurrectionists. All the latter had to do was to hole up in the mosque or better yet, the house of the Naqib Al-Ashraf (the head of the Gaylani family, and the leader of the Qadiriyya order) in order to escape the government’s wrath.

The shrine of shaykh Abdul-Qadir was routinely called on by Baghdadis of all social classes because of the belief that a visit to the tomb of the eleventh-century Sunni shaykh granted supplicants special grace. One of my colleagues, Keith Watenpaugh, later told us that he thought that our trip to Baghdad went well precisely because we had first thought to seek the shaykh’s baraka (divine blessing) for our project. In fact, on the morning that we were there, we had ample occasion to note the shaykh’s wondrous miracles. While accompanying us across the large expanse of the mosque, from the chief Superintendent’s office to the library, the head librarian, Mr. Nuri Al-Mufti, pointed out a stream of rushing water at our feet, that we were forced to dip in and out of at various intervals. “You see,” he said, eyes twinkling, “this stream of water has not stopped gushing since the Americans entered the city. It’s a sign”. It was on the tip of my tongue to observe that the flowing water may have been as a result of broken underground pipes (the mosque complex had been undergoing renovation), but I hesitated. Perhaps this was indeed an omen or a portent of changed times, which only the initiated could decipher. But it was only after the librarian proceeded to tell us about the trying times that had afflicted the shrine after the American occupation of Baghdad that I began to give the notion further credence.

After the Americans entered Baghdad, there were days of rampages, looting and burning of libraries, universities, research centers and archival storehouses. Very few institutions escaped serious damage to their holdings. But the Qadiri shrine remained out of harm's way, thanks in part to the fierce resistance of its defenders against attacks on the mosque and its magnificent library. Only in part, of course. The other part must have been due to the continuing power of the shaykh’s baraka, which stopped dead in their tracks all those that would dare disturb the sanctity of the shaykh’s realm.

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