Sayyidina al-Shaykh al-‘Arif bi-Llah Abū-Hāmid Muhammad al-Arabī bin Muhammad al-Sā’ih al-Sharqī al-Umarī was born in the ancient city of Meknes, Morocco, in 1229 (1814), to a family who were direct descendants of Sayyidinā Umar al-Fārūq ibn al-Khattāb, may Allah be pleased with him.
He was a renowned nineteenth-century Moroccan scholar of Hadīth, Maliki Fiqh, Tasawwuf and Arabic poetry. His teachers included men like al-Faqih al-Muhaddith Sidi Abd-al-Qādir al-Kawhan, al-‘Allāmah Muhammad al-Hādi Bādu, Shaykh al-Sharīf Walīd al-Irāqi and other savants. He also exchanged Ijāzahs with many famous North African scholars.
Moreover, al-Wali al-Sālih, Sīdī al-Arabī bin al-Sā’ih was one of the greatest Tijāni Saints of his time. He took the Tijāni Tarīqah from accomplished spiritual masters such as Sīdī Abd-al-Wahhāb al-Ahmar and Mawlay Muhammad bin Abu’n-Nasr al-Alawi of Fez, and the Qutb Sīdī Ali al-Tamāsīni of Algeria, all of whom were venerated Muqaddams of the Muhammadan Saint Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijāni (R.A.).
Renowned as a friend of Allāh, countless seekers approached him to take the Way. Among these were men who later on became great spiritual masters themselves.
Sīdi al-Arabi also established a beautiful Tijāni Zāwiyah in Rabat that became a well-known center of Islamic knowledge and spirituality and remains so till today. It is also from these few Zāwiyahs which have preserved the traditional Moroccan Fāsi style of reciting the blessed Qasīdat al-Burdah.
His greatest service to the Tarīqah was authoring the masterpiece called Bughyat al-Mustafīd which became one of the major source-books of Tijāni Sufism. The work was a detailed commentary on the Sufi Poem called Munyat al-Murīd, written by the Mauritanian Tijāni master, Shaykh Ahmad Tijāni bin Sīdī Bāba al-Alawi al-Shinqītī.
Due to his mastery of the sciences of Sharī’ah and Haqīqah, as well as deep understanding of the Tijani Path, Sīdī al-Arabi’s works became essential reference works for later Tijānis.
Sīdī al-Arabī also mastered the works of al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyi’ddīn Ibn-Arabi and quotes from them extensively in his own works.
The Bughyat al-Mustafīd is a brilliant exposition of Tasawwuf and has gone through numerous prints, the best one being the 2002 edition by the Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah of Beirut. The poem Munyat al-Murīd can be read on this site: www.nafahat7.net
Here are two quotes from the celebrated Bughyah. Explaining the Wirds (litanies) that disciples of the Sufi Orders recite after gaining permission from their Shaykhs, he writes:
“The reality of the Awrād is that they are contracts and commitments that Allāh has taken from His servants through the Shaykhs. Therefore, he who has honored the Shaykhs and stayed true to his contract and fulfilled his commitments will gain the goodness of both Worlds. Allāh most High says: ‘O Ye who Believe! Fulfill your contracts’ (Surat al-Maidah: 1). And He has said: ‘Among the believers are men who have been true to the contract they made with Allah’ (Surat al-Ahzab : 23). And he who makes little of the Shaykhs, and neglects the contracts and commitments (he made), then that will be the cause of his zaygh (deviation from the Straight Path) and the puncturing of his boat (i.e. his destruction). Allāh most High says: ‘It is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you should say what you do not do’ (Surat al-Saff : 3).
Explaining the Maqām (spiritual rank) of Khātam al-Wilāyah al-Muhammadiyyah (Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood), which Tijanis attribute to Shaykh Sīdi Ahmad al-Tijāni, he writes:
The meaning of his (Shaykh Sīdi Ahmad al-Tijāni) being the Khātam (Seal) of the rank of al-Wilāyah al-Muhammadiyyah (Muhammadan Sainthood) is that none will appear in that rank in the (complete) way that he appeared, therefore, he is the Seal of the complete manifestation of that rank, and not (the seal of) the rank itself.
Quite a few scholars authored separate works on Sīdi’s al-Arabi’s life and intellectual and spiritual achievements, such as the Moroccan historian Shaykh al-Faqīh Muhammad al-Hajūjī who authored al-Azhār al-Atirat al-Rawā’ih fī al-Ta’rīf bī Mawlāna al-‘Arabī bin al-Sā’ih, and the contemporary Moroccan Tijāni research scholar Dr. al-Sharīf Muhammad al-Rādi Gannoun al-Hasanī al-Idrīsī who authored al-Misk al-Fa’ih bi-Dhikr ba’d Manāqib Sīdī al-‘Arabī bin al-Sā’ih, and Shaykh al-Arabī bin Abd-Allāh al-Wazzānī. One of the foremost representatives of Sidi al-‘Arabi b. Sa’ih’s legacy in contemporary Morocco is the distinguished Professor Abdelaziz Benabdallah, who has also authored a comprehensive work concerning Ibn Sa’ih and the Bughyat al-Mustafid, which has been entitled, Le Soufisme Afro-Maghrebin aux XIXè et XXè Siècles (available online at www.abdelaziz-benabdallah.org/oeuvre_soufisme.htm). The biography of Ibn Sa’ih can also be found in Al-A’lām by al-Zarakli, Al-Ightibāt bi-Tarājim A’lām al-Rabāt by al-Bojandār, and A’lām al-Fikr al-Mu’āsir bi’l-Udwatayn by Abd-Allāh al-Jarrāri.
His trusted friend, the saintly scholar and poet, Sīdi Muhammd Balamīnu al-Rabāti wrote about him:
I traveled the lands of the East and the West (in vain)
To find the likeness of the Imam al-‘Arabi bin al-Sā’ih
The Star of Guidance, the Pole of (spiritual) height, Our Teacher
The succor of every inanimate and animate object
Sīdī al-‘Arabī bin al-Sā’ih passed away in 1309 (1892) in Rabāt, where he used to live, and where his blessed Tomb and Zāwiyah remain. May Allah sanctify his Secret. Amīn.