The mystic Yunus Ibn Yusuf Ibn Musaed was born around 1132 into the Mukharik family, of the tribe of Shaiban (بنو شيبان). The subdivisions of this tribe occupied an area called the Jazira, a region covering what is now eastern Syria and upper Mesopotamia. He would later found an order of dervishes that came to be called, according to his biographer Ibn Khallikan, the Yunusiya.
Although he was “a man of great sanctity,” we know little of his early life and education. His followers claimed that he never studied under any superior. He was considered a majdhub (مجذوب), which in Arabic means attracted or possessed. In other words, he was a man instinctively drawn to things divine, and did not require someone else to show him the way. Ibn Khallikan relates the following anecdote about Ibn Musaed, and it is the kind of story we find with mystics in other religious traditions. There is this precognition, this ability to access knowledge normally hidden, that all mystics possess.
One day the shaykh Ibn Musaed was traveling with several companions. He and his party stopped at a place called Ain Al-Bawar, which is located between Sinjar and Aana (northern Iraq). We are told that the Bawar salt is also taken from this place. The men pitched their camp, but all were apprehensive, because the area was know to be infested with bandits. Few were able to sleep that night except shaykh Ibn Musaed. He deposited his bedding on the ground, made sensible precautions for his security, and then drifted off into sleep. His companions marveled at his calmness and steady nerves. They asked him how he was able to manage such tranquility, when everyone around him was tormented by distress. He said:
By God! I should not have slept had not Ismail, the son of Abraham, come to me and undertaken to lock the door. [IV.599]
What he meant by this allegorical response was that his faith gave him confidence in his security. He was able to let go of his anxieties, because he knew that he had done all he could do. The rest was in the hands of a higher power. When I first heard this anecdote, I was reminded of a somewhat unrelated story by H.G. Wells called The Purple Pileus. The story recounts a bizarre incident in the life of a troubled shopkeeper who endures marital badgering and the disrespect of his peers. He finds himself languishing in middle age, saddled with a business in torpor and a condescending wife. One day, he can no longer contain his frustration. His wife, without consulting him, invites over several annoying friends. An argument ensues, and the shopkeeper storms out to go for a walk and cool off.
So our harried shopman walks and walks, eventually coming to a place where he notices a profusion of fungi with a purple cap (the word pileus is the cap of a mushroom or toadstool) growing on the side of the road. Some fantastic impulse prompts him to pick one of the fungi, and look it over; he then nibbles on it, then downs it whole. It was an act of inexplicable desperation, or some final stroke of morbid actualization. And yet the fungus somehow empowers him. It causes a strange personality change. He returns home and tears up the place, sending a clear message to the world. He downs five bottles of stout, seizes the unwanted guest by the collar, and rolls him around a bit, causing a generalized mayhem.
His wife is both shocked and fascinated. And yet this turns out to be a life-changing experience for the shopkeeper. Over the next year, his business rebounds. His finances blossom. His marital relations are repaired. He has a newfound spring in his step, his clothing is a cut better, and passers-by can see the difference. He as been reborn. Perhaps this amusing tale is Wells’s way of reminding us that a man can find solace in the unlikeliest things. Ibn Musaed had his faith in the spirit of Ismail, and our shopkeeper had his purple pileus! But enough of these matters, as Cicero might say: verum haec quidem hactenus.
We will close our little jaunt here with one final anecdote told about the shaykh. A friend was once with Ibn Musaed in his village, which was Al-Kunaiya in the province of Dara. The friend told Ibn Musaed that he would be traveling to Nasibin (Nusaybin in what is now southern Turkey). When the shaykh heard this, he told his friend, “When you are there, buy a burial shroud for Um Musaed.” Um Musaed was the mother of his child, and at the time she seemed to be in good health. The friend was alarmed by this request, and asked the shaykh why such a purchase would be necessary. Ibn Musaed’s only reply was, “There can be no harm in doing so.”
The friend did as he was asked. When he returned to the village some time later, he found that Um Musaed had died of natural causes, as Ibn Musaed had foreseen. He himself expired at the age of about ninety years. His biographer says that his tomb was well-known, and frequently visited.
Read more in the seminal Thirty-Seven: