Sheikh Thawbaan Ibn Ibrahim
a.k.a Zan-noon also known as
Abul-Faydh or Abu-Abdullah was one of the Sufi Sages of 3rd century
of Islam around 800 (CE).
In the beginning of his life
he was a slave but later on
freed. He has been renowned amongst the Sufis as a pious, righteous,
and a literary figure. He also was an expert in Alchemy and medical
He was the student of the
luminary Malek Bin Anas, the
founder of the Maleki Mazhab of Islam and his name is mentioned in the
the guiding book of Maleki followers.
He is the founder of Sufism in
Egypt and one the first
preachers of the principles of Sufism in that country.
His origins are from a vast
region called Nobeh (Nubia?).
Nubeh is a region between Egypt and Ethiopia. (I believe Nub
means gold since what we understand today, as the
Nubians were the African gold miners under the rule of the Pharaohs)
About the Nickname Zan-noon
People said once Zan-noon was
on a ship sailing with number
of great wealthy people and a pearl was lost. He was accused of theft
humiliated and bothered a lot. Finally he raised his head to the skies
prayed, “Allah you are witness for me (my innocence)” when suddenly
put their heads out of the water with a pearl in their mouths. Zan-noon
the pearls and gave it back to the accusers. Therefore his nickname is
from Koran [21:87]:
And remember Zan-noon, when he
departed in wrath: He
imagined that We had no power over him! But he cried through the depths
(fish belly), "There is no god but thou: glory to thee: I was indeed
In Arabic Noon means fish and
Zan-noon means the possessor
or owner of the fish.
(Source: Rayhaanatol Adab)
His Sufi Methodology
His words were all about
Tawhid (Oneness) and
closeness to the Divine without the hope for recompense & reward) and
believed that secrets of Mahab-bat (Divine
should not be divulged to the public indiscriminately.
In meditation, solitude and
Ibaadat (worship) was
unsurpassed. Once he was found kneeling by a wall for very long period
and he was asked why? And responded, “In Moshaahedat (Divine
would like to be slave-like".
His Sufi Literary Innovation
He is acclaimed to be the
first to take Sufism into Egypt.
And all the entrances of phraseology of worldly love (beloved, love and
yearning etc.) into Sufism are attributed to him. He made a glossary of
terminologies, which was spread around the Islamic world rapidly, and
speaking poets immediately employed these literary innovations with
The concept was not to allow
the general public to
understand the inner meanings of the poems e.g. wine, beloved except
(Source: Mulla Sadra, Henry
Most of the Egyptians
considered him a disbeliever and many
were bewildered at his actions. While he was alive most people hated
denied him. After he died people uncovered what he was all about (a
believer) and this was due to his extreme secrecy about his
(Source: Tazkertol Awlia)
Zan-noon traveled to Makkah
and Syria and taught Sufism.
Once his words spread around he was convicted of heresy & lunacy
enchained & jailed in Baghdad. However later on the Kalif ordered
release and he went back to Egypt.
Ishaaq Ibn Ibrahim Sarakhsi
mentioned about the manner of
his arrest, “In Makkah, Zan-noon was chained & dragged to jail
around him overwhelmed with tears and I heard him saying, “These are
bestowals and blessings of my Lord and all It does is wonderful, pure
and then versed the following:
For You, within my heart a sanctuary
sufferance on Your path but ease
this whim that gets me killed
from that which I have just nil
Dara O. Shayda