(The following is a post by Muhannad Salhi, Arab World Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.)
While famed for its splendid illuminated illustrations of Islamic holy sites including Mecca, Medina, the Ka’bah and the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), the uniqueness and significance of Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli’s “Dalā‘il al-Khayrāt wa-Shawāriq al-Anwār fī Dhikr al-Ṣalāt ‘alà al-Nabī al-Mukhtār” (Waymarks of Benefits and the Brilliant Burst of Lights in the Remembrance of Blessings upon the Chosen Prophet) in the Islamic tradition extend far beyond the magnificent artwork that lay within its pages. “Dalā‘il al-Khayrāt” is perhaps the most famous compilation of litanies (or awrād) and prayers focusing primarily on the Prophet Muhammad.
This belief in the ability to derive personal benefit and blessings by praying to God and asking Him to confer His blessings upon the Prophet of Islam is certainly not something that Jazuli had invented or even pioneered. Firmly rooted in the Islamic tradition, it can be traced back to the Qur’an itself, where this practice is promoted. In Surat al-Ahzab (chapter 33), verse 56, for example, it states:
Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [Allah to grant him] peace.
As early as the 9th century, and with the precedent already set in the Muslim holy book, many scholars such as Isma‘il ibn Ishaq al-Jahdami (815 or 816 – 895 or 896), a judge of the Maliki school of religious law in Sunni Islam, recognized this as “favorable” tradition worthy of developing and elucidating. Jazuli’s work with its unique beauty, style, and structure, allowed it to become the most famous work of the genre.
A fascinating man in his own right, Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli’s (died in 1465) life was clouded with mystery, with very limited historical records available and very few of his writings survived. Jazuli was born and raised in Sus, in modern day Morocco, where he went on to study at the famous Saffarin School in Fez. Upon completing his studies, he returned to northern Morocco, where he reputedly charged himself with a crime he did not commit in order to settle a tribal dispute. He then moved to Tangier, and travelled east, where it is believed he spent the next forty years living between Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Finally, he returned to Fez where he wrote his famous “Dala’il al-Khayrat.” It was in Fez that he is said to have been initiated into the Shadiliyah Order—a Sufi mystical order—and that he withdrew into a khalwa (or spiritual retreat) that would last no less than fourteen years. When he emerged from his retreat, Jazuli left to go live in Safi, where he soon began to acquire so many proselytes that he became a threat to the governor of the town, who felt compelled to first expel him and later to poison him.
The story of the book, “Dala’il al-Khayrat” is equally fascinating. Steeped in legend, the story goes that one day, upon awakening from his sleep to do his morning prayers , Jazuli was unable to find any clean water to perform his ablutions. Whereupon a young girl appeared before him and asked him what he was searching for. Recognizing his predicament, the girl then spat into a well which suddenly overflowed with the purest, sweetest water. Stunned, Jazuli insisted that the girl tell him how she had achieved such a high spiritual station whereby she could perform such miracles. To this she replied that it was by simply “making constant prayer for God to bless the best of creation by the number of breaths and heartbeats.” It was after this incident that Jazuli resolved to write a book collecting litanies of prayers expressly for that purpose.
The copy, whose images are displayed here, is a work produced in the late 18th century by Hafiz Muhammad ibn Hafiz Ibrahim al-Mawlawi, imam of the Muradiye Camii mosque in Edirne, Turkey, in the late 18th century. The digital version of this manuscript may be viewed via the Library’s online catalog.