The fifth century of Hijrah was the most critical period in the history of the Muslim world. Outwardly it was the period of great glory for the Arabs and Muslims in general! They held political sway over a major portion of the world known to man in those days: their rule extended from China in the Far East to Morocco in the West and from their seat of power in Spain they were wielding the fortunes of Europe. The interior of Indian had also begun to unfold itself hospitably to Muslims whence the banner of Islam had to be carried further east, in the East Indies.
Amidst such high climate was born a child who was to heal the ailing body of the Ummah with his spiritual power of an unsurpassed magnitude. It was none other than the Holy person of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him. He was born to noble and pious parents who had just enough means to lead a hand-to-mouth life. The father, Abu Saleh, died before the Sheikh had attained adulthood. Son of a widow living in a remote village in the district of Jilan, the Sheikh began to have visions, even the bullocks at the plough seemed to talk to him about his mission which was not to cultivate the land but to cultivate the souls. Impressed by what was suggested to him by the whispering winds, by the murmuring brooks and what swelled from within himself as an inner urge, he got permission from his mother to travel to Baghdad for the acquisition of education. Baghdad was famous for its colleges and universities in the world of that period.
In Baghdad at the age of eighteen, Sheikh devoted himself to the studies of Tasir, Hadis, Fiqh and Arabic language and literature. He was so busy with his studies that he could spare no time for his livelihood. The forty gold coins he had brought with him were soon over on account of his generous disposition and he had to go starving. It is painful to imagine a promising youth suffering the pangs of hunger in a city like Baghdad where in all delicacies of the world abound. But Sheikh would not beg anything of a Mortal, he had flung himself entirely on the will of God and was undergoing a period of hard trainng.
In 503 of the Hijrah, the Sheikh completed his academic education and became a fully-fledged scholar of religion. He even surpassed other scholars of religion of his time in the depth of his knowledge, but, a mere theoretical knowledge would not satisfy him, he wanted to put his knowledge to test and learn the truths of religion through his personal experience. Few of us realise the need of putting the religious concepts to test and knowing the truth through personal experience. It is essential at least for the scholar of religion, not for the layman. A Prophet like Ibrahim, peace be upon him, prayed to God: "Lord! Show me how do You bring back the dead to life." The Lord replied "Do you not believe in it?" Then Ibrahim replied "Yes I believe, but for the satisfaction of my heart." Then the Lord showed him how he brings back the dead to life. It was a miracle given to a great Prophet, and miracle of lesser importance are given to those who seek the truth sincerely and devotedly, as the Holy Quran says: "Those who strive in Our cause We shall surely show them the path leading to Us."
From 503 to 321 of the Hijrah, the Sheikh lived the rigid life of an ascetic. He would pray during the night and fast during the day and lived in solitude in constant meditation. Tired of the loathsome surrounding of Baghdad the Sheikh began to live in the ancient ruins in the old city. The person of God is the centre of religion and the essence of the religious teachings is the love of God, trust in Him and submission to His will. The Sheikh was so absorbed in the love of God that often he would go into a state of trance, a state in which he would lose even the consciousness of his own person.
Once, on a state of great love and trust, the Sheikh vowed that he would not take any food or drink unless it was placed in his mouth. The vow was not known to anybody except God, but one day a saintly person came to the Sheikh and fed him with his own hand. The vow was fulfilled. The Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, has said: "There are many person with dishevelled hair and shabby clothes who takes a vow in the name of God and God fulfils it." Thus did the Sheikh continue to live until he achieved his aim and was thoroughly enlightened by the Grace of God. It was time that he appeared in the public and guided mankind along the right path.
In 521 of the Hijrah when the Sheikh felt that he should now begin with his mission of healing the sick souls, he found that necessary provision was existing. One of the men who knew the secret of the Sheikh offered a building to be used by him as a seminary and the Sheikh accepted the offer. He taught his students the Holy Quran, the traditions of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, the Islamic Law and Arabic language and literature. The students of such teacher proved in later stages of life as leaders of great spiritual calibre and busied themselves in reforming and uplifting the society to the best of their capacity.
Apart from teaching and writing Fatwa the Sheikh also undertook the mission of reforming the public by delivering sermons. He made it a habit of delivering three sermons a week in different localities of Baghdad. The first lecture was attended by two or three listeners; the number of the listeners continued to grow with surprising rapidity until it reached the figure of seventy thousand or more. He spoke the same Arabic language as others spoke, he also had the shortcoming of being an 'Ajami whose mother tongue was not Arabic — if it were a short-coming, yet his lectures proved more effective and more moving and enlightening than those of any other leader and speaker of his time. The reason is that the Sheikh did not only quote from the books, as did others, he spoke out of faith, out of conviction and out of his personal experience. The sermons of the Sheikh had a great effect on his audience: they wailed and wept and repented on their sinful ways and returned with a determination of reforming themselves. Hundreds of Jews and Christians embraced Islam. Thousands of sinners repented and reformed themselves. Baghdad, which formerly seemed to be a doomed city now began to assume a different look — it was in fact a spiritual renaissance.
The spiritual power which the Sheikh wielded and the respect and regard which he commanded among the public made the government officers and even the Caliph fear him. They had to foresake their sinful, unlawful and unconstitutional ways lest the Sheikh should criticise them in public. It went a long way towards the restoration of law, and order and justice, while the property and honour of the common masses were secured.
Once the Caliph appointed a person as the chief Justice of Baghdad. This person was a notorious tyrant and was unfit for the post. When the announcement was made, people were greatly disturbed as they felt themselves insecure in the hands of the tyrant, but they were afraid to protest for fear of the wrath of the Caliph. The Sheikh then came forward and directed a volley of strong protest in his sermons against the appointment of such a tyrant to such a noble post. The protest had its effect and it was not long before the Caliph issued orders for the dismissal of the tyrant. Once the Caliph presented to the Sheikh several bags full of gold coins and requested him to accept them as a present. The Sheikh was angry to see such impudence, he cast an angry look at the Caliph and reproached him for extracting the very life blood of his subjects in the form of the gold coins. As the Caliph looked at the bags he felt as if blood were dripping from them. The vision had such a strong effect on him that he fainted away.
The Sheikh continued to deliver his sermons and teach in his seminary for a period of forty years. His hard work ended only when he breathed his last in 561 of the Hijrah. But before he passed away to his final abode he had filled the world of Islam with a fresh religious zeal and rid it of its various ailments of the religious, moral, spiritual and political nature. His numerous books and the sermons he had delivered are still available for readers and serve as a source of spiritual enlightenment.