The ninth century Islamic mystic al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi was a copious author, writing in Arabic, who lived in Central Asia. Reputedly exiled for his heretical tendencies, his version of saintship (wilaya) has since been recovered by modern scholars. His output is considered significant for the period now known as pre-Sufi mysticism.

Location of Tirmidh, home of Hakim al-Tirmidhi

A prolific early writer, on Islamic mysticism, was Abu Abdulla Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Tirmidhi (died circa 910), called al-Hakim (the Sage). Descriptions have varied. For instance, Tirmidhi (Tirmizi) was "the first sufi to have some acquaintance with the metaphysical and cosmological teachings of the Greeks." (1) The extent of this familiarity has been in question.  Certainly, his writings are extant in a quantity exceeding that of other early writers associated with Sufism. The Islamic milieu, not the Greek heritage, emerges as the determining factor. Further, classification of his category is made difficult by the fact that Tirmidhi did not employ the word sufi.

Early Sufism is now identified with the compilatory manuals commencing in the late tenth century. The preceding period was of a different complexion. Islamic mystics did not then identify themselves by the conglomerate label of sufi which subsequently became popular.

The famous Sufi manuals include much hagiography. These works assisted the new profile of tasawwuf or Sufism as a pious activity converging with developing religious orthodoxy. The popular and clerical assimilation of mysticism created such innovations as silsila (chain, lineage) deriving from the prophet Muhammad. The subsequently emerging Sufi Orders were endorsed by venerable silsila pedigrees that were open to criticism. The earliest preserved silsila dates to the tenth century CE. "Such spiritual lineages took some time to develop, and the different stages of this development are difficult to document" (Karamustafa 2007:116).

The transition has shock factors not always suspected. According to Professor Sara Sviri, the word sufi, for many early mystics in Islam, was a pejorative term (Sviri 2020). These discreet exemplars disliked the woollen garment (or holy robe) worn by ascetics who became known as Sufis. Resort to ascetic garb was regarded by critics in terms of showmanship (shuhra). Tirmidhi, Muhasibi, the malamatis of Nishapur, along with others, were not Sufis. These forerunners formulated a struggle between nafs (lower self, personality) and qalb (heart).

Later redactors, who, in line with by now established paradigms and favourite narratives, rewrote, fashioned, sorted out and selected memories, events and concepts pertaining to former personalities. (Sviri 2020, introduction)

The redactors created a tapering retrospect compatible with orthodoxy. This presentation of "early Sufism" is deceptive, because of "built-in distortions and bias" (ibid). The adaptation to later preferences was pronounced. "Comparing earlier materials with the cumulative compilatory corpus reveals deliberate attempts at aligning the early with the contemporary" (ibid). This process of hindsight is significant for historians. "We can see in it a deliberate wish to iron out what became obsolete or distasteful to later perceptions" (ibid).

The Sufi attitude to Hallaj (d.922) is a basic instance of the altered perspective. Clusters of early pre-Sufi mystics were hagiologised according to conventions preferred by eleventh and twelfth century writers and canonists such as Qushayri and Hujwiri. Tirmidhi was one of the constricted profiles. The well known Sufi compilations retained a fair number of early exegetes in the record, while eschewing other elements such as the Andalusian mysticism of Ibn Masarra (d.931) and the Ismaili-associated Rasail of the Ikhwan as-Safa (Brethren of Purity).

The name of Hakim Tirmidhi reflects his birthplace of Tirmidh (Persian form: Tirmiz). This town in Central Asia, located on the northern bank of the Amu Darya (Oxus) river, north-east of Balkh, was in the province of Khurasan (Persian form: Khorasan), part of a region also known as Transoxiana. At the time of the Islamic conquest, Tirmidh was a Buddhist centre, thought to have featured monasteries harbouring hundreds of monks. This flourishing town became a major Islamic trading post for goods coming from the north to Khurasan.

While something definite is known of Hakim Tirmidhi's life, that nevertheless amounts to a fragmentary picture. His autobiography was "devoted almost entirely to an account of the dreams of his wife and some of his friends concerning himself." (2)  This unusual component has been described in terms of his "theosophical" tendency, as distinct from his orthodox religious upbringing.

Tirmidhi was apparently born during the decade between 820 and 830 AD. His father was a scholar of hadith (traditions of the prophet) and a jurist; his early education appears to have been very orthodox. Tirmidhi was reared as a scholar of hadith and fiqh (law), more specifically, the Hanafi school of law dominant in eastern territories of Islam. "The range of Tirmidhi's education did not include the non-Islamic sciences, such as Greek natural science and philosophy." (3)   His subsequent reference to learning the use of the astrolabe, implying a knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, is given different interpretations. "There is no trace of influence from 'natural science' in his writings." (4)  However, his general pursuit of knowledge gained him the name of al-hakim (the sage). He renounced his use of the astrolabe after being told to do so in a dream to which he attached significance.

Meanwhile, at the age of 28, he undertook the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. En route he visited Basra, a major centre of Islamic traditionist learning in Iraq. Tirmidhi gained a "repentance" experience in Mecca. Upon his return home, he learned the Quran by heart, also beginning to fast and pray intensively. He searched for an adviser, though unsuccessfully. Then he heard of the ahl al-marifa, the "people of gnosis." He obtained a book by Al-Antaki which gave information concerning riyadat al-nafs, meaning discipline of the self (nafs). The reference has been thought to mean Ahmad ibn Asim al-Antaki, a follower of the Iraqi Sufi Harith al-Muhasibi (d.857). The book might even have been one composed by Muhasibi himself. (5)

As a consequence, Tirmidhi applied himself to a strict programme of psychological discipline. Withdrawing into seclusion (khalwa) at his home, he commenced a habit of wandering amongst the ruins and tombs in the deserted locales near Tirmidh. He apparently gained some acquaintances with similar interests. Further, his concern with humiliating the nafs led to some practices designed to lower his social prestige:

I tried means such as riding a donkey in the marketplace and walking barefot in rags and lowly clothing, and carrying things that slaves and the poor would carry. And this was difficult for me. (6)

These details afford a parallel to the varied malamati developments at Nishapur, which Tirmidhi later resisted. In his autobiography, Tirmidhi goes on to indicate that his efforts were not successful. What really did have the desired effect was a defamation aimed at him by other religious scholars (ulama). The implication is that his earlier attempts at abnegation were contrived; in contrast, the unexpected defamation really did exert a deflating effect upon his ego self.

The defamation accused him of heresy, of corrupting the people and claiming to be a prophet. "They attributed beliefs to me which had never even occurred in my mind." (7) Tirmidhi was summoned to Balkh, where he was reprimanded in the presence of the ruler, being forbidden to discourse on love (hubb). The events are fragmentarily recorded. One commentator concluded: "The mystery of his life and activities has so far eluded all attempts at elucidation." (8)  However, some progress has since been made.

Professor Bernd Radtke informs: "He [Tirmidhi] certainly never claimed to be a prophet; eventually, however, he did claim for himself an extremely high spiritual rank, that of the Seal of Friendship with God." (9) Much of Tirmidhi's autobiography moves into a recital of dreams, apparently his way of negotiating biases of the ulama.

Centuries later, the Islamic historian and traditionist Al-Dhahabi wrote in his Tazkhirat al-Huffaz that Tirmidhi was exiled from Tirmidh as a heretic, having asserted that the (living) Sufi saints are preferable to the (long-dead) prophets. This report has since been viewed as flawed. The exile is said to have occurred because Tirmidhi had written two heretical books, namely Khatm al-Awliya (Seal of the Saints) and Kitab al-Ilal (Book of Reasons). He fled to Balkh, where he was well received, being a member of the Hanafite law school predominating in that city. Dhahabi adds that the subject later moved to Nishapur in 898, living to be an octogenarian. (10)  Tirmidhi was apparently given safe haven in Balkh by the Hanafites, though at the cost of having to keep silent (in public) about his teachings.

At some point, either in Balkh or Tirmidh, he disputed with his former opponents amongst the ulama, emerging as the victor. Tirmidhi relates this episode in his autobiography, adding that the number of his students increased. He makes no reference to his own teacher, or teachers, in marifa (gnosis). Tirmidhi did not use the word sufi, which was not favoured in eastern regions of Islam at that time.

Apart from his conflict with the defamatory ulama, Hakim Tirmidhi is also of interest for his criticism of other pre-Sufi figures, especially the malamati tradition associated with Nishapur. Tirmidhi was in correspondence with two leading malamati exponents of his time, namely Abu Uthman al-Hiri (d.910) of Nishapur and the latter's acquaintance Muhammad ibn al-Fadl al-Balkhi (d.932). In his sole extant letter to Hiri, Tirmidhi discusses a basic malamati theme: concentration upon the defects of the personality self (nafs), which the malamatis subjected to constant blame (malama). Tirmidhi rejects this emphasis on the grounds that malama leads to an involvement with the defects. Instead he advocates a focus upon the complex "knowledge of God" (al-ilm billah), deemed a superior aid to mortifying the nafs and revitalising the "heart" (qalb). The first of his two extant letters to Mhd ibn al-Fadl al-Balkhi begins with a similar discussion. (11) However, Tirmidhi himself emphasised the deviancy of the nafs. This early theme of pre-Sufi psychology, realistic to an unusual degree, is difficult to dismiss.

Muhammad ibn al-Fadl al-Balkhi was a disciple of Ahmad ibn Khadruya al-Balkhi (who married Fatima, the daughter of a Balkh ruler). The Balkh tradition of proto-Sufism (or pre-Sufism) is still obscure. Mhd ibn al-Fadl was reputedly banished from the Hanafite citadel (i.e., his native Balkh) at some uncertain date. (12)  He moved well to the north, settling himself permanently in Samarkand (the ancient Marakanda), a Central Asian city associated with the era of tolerant Samanid rule. (13) 

A tenth century Sufi annalist, Kalabadhi of Bukhara, reported the statement of Mhd ibn al-Fadl al-Balkhi: "There are certain ones among the believers who are more excellent than the angels." Kalabadhi interpreted this as a reference to the prophets (14)  rather than the saints, the latter being a feasible alternative. There was a strong bias in legalist circles against the emerging Sufi teaching on wilaya (saintship), now so strongly associated with Hakim Tirmidhi.

The most famous of Tirmidhi's prolific works is Khatm al-Awliya (Seal of the Saints), also known as Sirat al-Awliya (Road of the Saints). (15) This treatise was a source of inspiration for the much later mystic Ibn al-Arabi, now more famous. Sirat has a polemical flavour, evidently being composed in a sense of competition with other proto-Sufi (or pre-Sufi) teachings in that part of the world. Tirmidhi was tactful, however; he only mentions one of his rivals by name, meaning Yahya ibn Muadh al-Razi (d.872), who was apparently then deceased. A major disputed theme was the "friends of God," i.e., the saints (awliya). Some other mystics maintained that the wali (saint) always concealed his spiritual state. Tirmidhi was in disagreement.

A favoured emphasis of Tirmidhi is that the saint (wali) should not shun an active life in the world. Moreover, the saint becomes recognisable via certain external characteristics. Tirmidhi criticises an opposing view, expressed by rivals in terms of: "Nor does he [the wali] speak to anyone, and he considers himself to be the most wicked of all people; indeed, he despises himself." (16)

Tirmidhi describes that view as one of stupidity. "He [the misguided] sees the deceptions of his carnal soul [nafs] and, on the basis of what he sees in himself, falsely concludes to himself that the situation of the Friend of God can never be in order unless he flees mankind and seeks refuge in the deserts remaining hidden and unknown, and is content with a meagre sustenance." (17) Tirmidhi appears to be countering the ascetics rather than the urban malamati practitioners. The idea that discipline of the nafs can become counterproductive is easily abused.

According to Tirmidhi, genuine saints understand the future. He ascribes supernormal powers to them. He is careful to point out that even a saint may prematurely believe that he has reached the end of the inner path, only to discover that the desires of the distorting nafs are still alive in him. The basic struggle depicted is that between the nafs (personality), aql (intellect), and qalb (heart). That actually means aql and qalb versus nafs. The nafs has accomplices in gross appetite or passions (hawa) and reason (dhihn), a faculty which is here limited to sense perceptions. In contrast, qalb can be aided by intellect, which is a form of more developed cognition than reason. In Tirmidhi's version of psychology, the intellect can gain alliance with gnosis (marifa), a form of knowledge aiding the victory of qalb. The process of self-recollection occurs in the "heart," being assisted by due discrimination of the intellect. Aql is here aligned with the head, and nafs with the abdomen. Aql and nafs struggle in the breast (sadr), the elusive marifa being associated with the heart. (18)

The saintship theme of Hakim Tirmidhi should be distinguished from later popularisations of the dervish orders. A famous and influential defender of Tirmidhi transpired to be Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi (d.1240), who urged that the questions and explanations supplied by Tirmidhi, in Sirat al-Awliya, were designed to expose the pretenders to gnosis. In contrast, the Syrian jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) rejected Tirmidhi's treatise and detested the memory of Ibn al-Arabi. Ibn Taymiyya accused Ibn al-Arabi of unbelief (kufr) in preferring the saintship (wilaya) theme to the orthodox version of religion and prophecy. Ibn Taymiyya was a vengeful critic of Sufis, representing a fundamentalist viewpoint.

To some extent, Hakim Tirmidhi remained elusive to popular Sufism. "It was not Tirmidhi's theosophical 'system' as a whole that exercised an influence, his system being too complicated and subtle." (19) The saintship theme became widely adopted, developing via the "hierarchy of saints" doctrine that became a standard feature of Sufism.

Tirmidhi's formative version refers to three stages of knowledge, namely external knowledge (al-ilm al-zahir), interior knowledge (al-ilm al-batin), and the knowledge of God (al-ilm billah). Only the first stage is generally understood, meaning the knowledge gained by scholars of religious law (traditionists and jurists). Further, his doctrine about the "Seal of Friendship with God," implying a high spiritual rank, only forms a small part of the treatise Sirat al-Awliya, being section 138 of 162 sections in the Radtke translation. This privileged status is distinct from prophethood. Tirmidhi affirmed that the true successors of Muhammad were not the Caliphs or hereditary descendants, but forty chosen saints, the awliya Allah.

The many works of Tirmidhi range over hadith, theology, and mysticism. (20)  He has been called "the psychologist of Sufism." (21)  However, he was not the only one of his era. Tirmidhi never uses the word sufi in his writings. He was not regarded as a Sufi by all exegetes of the Baghdad tradition. "The famous Baghdad compiler of Sufi writings, Jafar al-Khuldi, remarked that Tirmidhi did not belong to the sufiyya." (22)  Khuldi was a disciple of the celebrated Junayd (d.910); his Hikayat al-Awliya became well known in Baghdad circles. Khuldi died about fifty years after Tirmidhi; his book is extant only in quotations. (23) Khuldi was himself the teacher of Abu Nasr al-Sarraj, who failed to mention Tirmidhi in his Kitab al-Luma. Tirmidhi was recovered from obscurity by Sulami and Hujwiri, two early annalists of Sufism, though with some shortcomings in evidence.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d.1111) made "almost certain use" of a Tirmidhi work in the section on self-deception in his Ihya al-Ulum. (24)  This is one indication that the psychological ballast in Ghazzali was an inheritance from earlier authors (including Muhasibi) to an appreciable extent.

The social context is relevant. Professor Ahmet T. Karamustafa informs:

Tirmidhi seems to have been from a socially prominent and respectable family; indeed, he was a wealthy man and owned a large piece of real estate in Tirmidh. In this connection, it is noteworthy that he stood firmly against the doctrine of prohibition of earning a living (tahrim al-makasib), which was avidly propagated by the most prevalent renunciatory movement in Iran at the time, the Karramiyya. (25)

Tirmidhi's "characteristic, imaginative style" (26)  frequently posed questions to the reader, evading the dogmatic form of assertion customarily found in religious and mystical works. Some of his treatises were composed in the form of answers to questions put to him by students or other enquirers. In addition to the mysticism that is evident, (27) Tirmidhi also valued discursive thought or intellect (aql). He was not a logician in the Aristotelian sense. An erudite modern attempt to pinpoint the "Neoplatonism" in his approach considered him nearer to the Ikhwan as-Safa than to Al-Farabi.  (28)  A passage in his autobiography indicates that, via use of the astrolabe, Tirmidhi gave some attention to the natural sciences, a feature which does not otherwise surface in his writings. "He made use of a general range of Gnostic and Neoplatonic ideas which he did not acquire through the study of specialised source books but which formed part of the diffuse common intellectual heritage of his time." (29)

Hakim Tirmidhi has a significance in terms of the development of Islamic thought. "He is the first and, up until the time of Ibn al-Arabi, the only mystic author whose writings present a broad synthesis of mystic experience, anthropology, cosmology and Islamic theology.... Tirmidhi's system of thought is representative of an old Islamic theosophy which had not yet consciously assimilated elements from the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophic tradition." (30)

The same scholar has conferred the title of "theosophist" upon Tirmidhi. The Arabic word hikmah (employed by Tirmidhi) has been translated in terms of "theosophy." However, there are disagreements about usage of this term in subsequent centuries. The word hikmah can be translated as "wisdom" (and also "philosophy"), and is related to hakim (wise man, sage). Very briefly, Professor Radtke has discussed hikmah in relation to both Tirmidhi and the later figure of ishraqi Suhrawardi (d.1191), while stressing the differences. (31)  One may deduce that Tirmidhi was an unusual Islamic mystic, while Suhrawardi was a Muslim Neoplatonist philosopher with some Sufi associations.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

April 2010 (modified May 2020)



(1)    S. H. Nasr, "Sufism," in The Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 4 (Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 460. Cf. L. Massignon, Recueil de textes inedits concernant l'histoire de la mystique en pays d'Islam (Paris 1929), p. 33, who describes Tirmidhi in terms of a "theoricien erudit minutieux et prolixe," while adding the phrase "certaines infiltrations de philosophie hellenistique," a factor which Massignon viewed with reserve.

(2)     N. L. Heer, "Some Biographical and Bibliographical Notes on Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi" (121-134) in J. Kritzeck and R. Bayly Winder, eds., The World of Islam: Studies in Honour of P. K. Hitti (London: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 121-2. On the autobiography of Tirmidhi, see B. Radtke, Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi: Ein Islamischer Theosoph des 3./9. Jahrhunderts (Freiburg: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1980), pp. 1-11. For an English translation, see B. Radtke and J. O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996), pp. 15-36. The title of that distinctive work is here given as Bad' sha'n Abi Abd Allah Muhammad al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi.

(3)     Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism, p. 15.

(4)     Ibid., p. 30, adding that "his thought remains throughout mythological" (ibid., p. 31), citing Radtke, "Theologen und Mystiker in Khurasan und Transoxanien," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (1986) 136: 536-569, pp. 558ff. In his autobiography, Tirmidhi says that he learned to compute the meridian and calculate the signs of the zodiac. That is indication of a degree of polymathy, though not equivalent to the influence of Greek philosophy. Professor Radtke has strongly argued for the Islamic identity of Tirmidhi as distinct from any Neoplatonist or Peripatetic complexion.

(5)     Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 2, suggesting "this was probably one of Muhasibi's works, perhaps even his famous Ri'aya." The reference is to the Kitab ar-Ri'aya of Harith al-Muhasibi, an Arab Sufi of Iraq whose "chief claim to fame will always be his originality as a moralist and psychologist." This quote comes from A.H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd (London: Luzac, 1976), p. 20. Muhasibi was in personal contact with Sari as-Saqati and the young Junayd at Baghdad. See also M. Smith, An Early Mystic of Baghdad (London, 1935); J. Van Ess, Die Gedankenwelt des Harit al-Muhasibi (Bonn, 1961). While familiar with Mutazili theology, Muhasibi contributed an early technical vocabulary to Iraqi Sufism. His teaching might be described as a form of intensive self-observation, expressed in pietistic terms, being quite distinct from routine ascetic practices.

(6)      Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 21. The elusive objective here was tadhlil al-nafs, meaning humiliation of the self.

(7)      Ibid., p. 20. Tirmidhi also says of his opponents: "I had imagined the majority of them were sick because of the ugly talk they had spread about me" (ibid:23).

(8)      M. I. Al-Geyoushi, "Al-Hakim Al-Tirmidhi: His Works and Thoughts," Islamic Quarterly (1970) 14: 159-201, p. 173.  The factor of elucidation subsequently improved in, e.g., B. Radtke, "Tirmidiana Minora," Oriens (1994) 34: 242-98.

(9)      Radtke, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 21.

(10)    N. L. Heer, art. cit., p. 124; Heer, "Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi's Kitab al-Ilal " (2006), available at faculty.washington Professor Heer explains that the Kitab al-Ilal was composed for the purpose of demonstrating how the "commandments and prohibitions" of God have reasons (ilal) which can be known by men. "Al-Tirmidhi begins his book by refuting the position of those who deny that these reasons or ilal exist and who maintain that God's commandments and prohibitions are merely a means by which God tries or tests mankind" (ibid.). Tirmidhi also maintained that the esoteric knowledge, to which he gave priority, included the knowledge (ilm) of the ilal or reasons. Heer adds that hikmah (wisdom) is another word for the esoteric knowledge (al-ilm al-batin) here claimed. "Al-Tirmidhi is very explicit in stating that it [esoteric knowledge] is not attained through reasoning or the arguments of the theologians but rather by a process of self-discipline (riyadat al-nafs), that is, the training and control of the carnal self (al-nafs al-ammarah bi-al-su')" (ibid.). In relation to the report by Al-Dhahabi, Professor Radtke has corrected the orthodox misconception about saints and prophets, the former being regarded as lower in rank than the latter by Tirmidhi: "It is known that later authors, such as Al-Dhahabi, maintained that al-Tirmidhi placed the friends of God [saints] in rank above the prophets - and this assertion was repeated, at least for some time, in Western literature." See B. Radtke, "The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism" (483-496) in L. Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1993), p. 492. Radtke has also expressed scepticism of the detail that Tirmidhi settled at Nishapur, viewing this as "highly improbable" (The Concept of Sainthood, p. 1).

(11)    Heer,"Some Biographical and Bibliographical Notes", pp. 125ff.; M. I. Al-Geyoushi, art. cit., pp. 173-4; idem, "The Influence of Al-Tirmidhi on Sufi Thought," Islamic Quarterly (1978) 20:104-115, pp. 104-6; B. Radtke, Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi:Ein Islamischer Theosoph des 3./9. Jahrunderts (1980) pp. 117ff. The work by Radtke is a detailed study of Tirmidhi's life and thought. See also S. Sviri, "Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati Movement in Early Sufism" (583-613) in L. Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi (1993), pp. 609ff. See also Sviri, Perspectives on Early Islamic Mysticism: The World of al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi and his Contemporaries (London: Routledge, 2020).  See also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 48ff., observing that the malamatis "maintained a healthy suspicion against all claims of of personal spiritual achievement and miracle-mongering by mystics; all talk of high spiritual states and miraculous feats reeked of the deceptions wrought by the lower self" (ibid:49). Professor Karamustafa refers to the malamatis as furthering "a mystical tradition of piety" and "an ideal mode of religiosity for artisanal and merchant classes."

(12)     R. A. Nicholson, trans., The Kashf al-Mahjub (London: Luzac, new edn 1936), pp. 119ff, 140-1. Hujwiri says of Ahmad ibn Khadruya: "He adopted the path of blame (malamat) and wore a soldier's dress; his wife, Fatima, daughter of the Amir of Balkh, was renowned as a Sufi" (ibid:119). Hujwiri says of Hakim Tirmidhi: "I hold him in great veneration" (ibid:141). However, very little factual information is here given other than that Tirmidhi was "the author of many excellent books" (ibid.)

(13)     "In 900, the Samanid rulers of Transoxania defeated the Saffarids" (I. M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 131). Thirty years before, the Saffarid regime had besieged Balkh, an event associated with the persecution of Tirmidhi (Radtke, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 20).

(14)     A. J. Arberry, trans., The Doctrine of the Sufis: Kitab al-Ta'arruf li-madhab ahl al-tasawwuf (Cambridge University Press, 1935), p. 53.

(15)    The earlier title is now associated with the Arabic text supplied in O. Yahya, ed., Kitab Khatm al-Awliya (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 1965). The subsequent title is represented in the new critical edition of Tirmidhi in B. Radtke, Drei Schriften des Theosophen von Tirmid I: Die arabischen Texte (Beirut and Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992), which has a substantial introduction in German to the Arabic text section. See also Radtke, Drei Schriften II: Ubersetzung und Kommentar (1996). There is an English translation of Sirat al-Awliya in Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism (1996). Professor Radtke queried the accuracy of the earlier version "based on only two manuscripts, one of which is extremely bad." See B. Radtke,"The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism" (483-496) in L. Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi (1993), p. 485. Radtke used two further manuscripts in his edition, concluding that Sirat al-Awliya was the original title of Tirmidhi's work.

(16)     Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 127.

(17)     Ibid. Some accusations of Tirmidhi against his rivals are grave. "He describes their exploitation of the young, widows and the gullible, and denounces these would-be spiritual guides as being hypocrites and actively seeking leadership" (ibid:11).

(18)     See the version in M. I. Al-Geyoushi, "Al-Tirmidhi's Theory of Saints and Sainthood," Islamic Quarterly (1971): 17-61, esp. pp. 25,19. See also Geyoushi, "Al-Tirmidhi's Conception of the Struggle between Qalb and Nafs," Islamic Quarterly (1974) 18: 3-14. See also B. Radtke, "Hakim Termedi," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. See further note 19 below.

(19)     Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 8. See also Radtke, "A Forerunner of Ibn al-Arabi: Hakim Tirmidhi on Sainthood," Journal of the Ibn Arabi Society (1989) 8: 42-49, mentioning that Ibn al-Arabi wrote two commentaries on the Sirat al-Awliya, the longest forming part of the second volume of the celebrated Futuhat al-Makkiyya. The main theme of Radtke refers to complexities involved in the Arabic terms wali Allah and wali haqq Allah, likewise the struggle between nafs and qalb. Also mentioned are the "forty chosen men, the awliya Allah, through whom God communicates with men after the death of the Prophet." Elsewhere, the same scholar observes: "Ibn al-Arabi's commentary [on Sirat al-Awliya] does not explain anything of al-Tirmidhi's text but only provides a tool for Ibn al-Arabi to develop and explain his own system of thinking" ("The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism," 1993, p. 487).

(20)      About eighty titles are listed under the name of Tirmidhi, some of these being, e.g., repetitions passing under different titles, while others are considered erroneous attributions. "None the less a considerable number of genuine works still remains" (The Concept of Sainthood , p. 3). For another list of Tirmidhi works, see O. Yahya, "L'Oeuvre de Tirmidi (Essai bibliographique)" (411-480) in Melanges Louis Massignon Vol. 3 (Damascus: Institut Francais de Damas, 1957). Cf. Heer, "Some Biographical and Bibliographical Notes," listing sixty-six Tirmidhi works. See also N. Heer and K. L. Honerkamp, trans., Three Early Sufi Texts (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2003), which includes the Tirmidhi treatise Bayan al-Farq. Attribution has been questioned by Radtke, who places this text in a category of works defined as"incorrectly attributed to Tirmidhi, at least in their present form" (The Concept of Sainthood, p. 5).

(21)       A. J. Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1950), p. 61, referring to "the lost work" Khatm al-Wilaya (i.e., Khatm al-Awliya), subsequently discovered in Istanbul. The version of Arberry was very much a preliminary notice.

(22)      Radtke and O'Kane, op. cit., p. 5. For more background on the period of the ninth and tenth centuries, see B. Radtke, Materialien Zur Alten Islamischen Frommigkeit (Leiden: Brill, 2008), comprising Arabic texts by several of the less well known authors who composed in the idiom of Islamic mystical piety.

(23)      Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, pp. xii-xiii.

(24)      Heer, "Some Biographical and Bibliographical Notes on Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi" (1959), p. 127.

(25)      A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 47, who also refers to Tirmidhi as representing "the cultural type hakim," meaning one who combined several branches of learning such as jurisprudence, kalam (theology), hadith, and spiritual knowledge. To those who prefer the malamati mode of abnegation, it is perhaps a drawback that "Tirmidhi claimed the key role in the hierarchy of the friends," meaning saints (ibid., pp. 46-7). See also note 11 above.

(26)      This was the description applied by A. J. Arberry in "Notes on a Tirmidhi Manuscript," Revista degli Studi Orientali (Rome 1940), 18: 315-27. This article contains an edition and trans. of Tirmidhi's Masail al-Tabir, an attributed work which typically consists of answers to questions (masail) addressed to the author.

(27)      An element of ambiguity attaches to the "kabbalistic" jafr techniques of batini literature, discussed in relation to Tirmidhi. See P. Nwyia, "Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi et le La Ilaha illa Allahu," Melanges de L'Universite Saint-Joseph (Beirut 1975-6) 49: 743-765, for reference to this question and a version of two short Tirmidhi texts.

(28)      Y. Marquet, Al-Hakim at-Tirmidi et le neoplatonisme de son temps (Universite de Dakar, Travaux et Documents no. 2, 1976), pp. 127ff. Marquet is also concerned to compare Tirmidhi with Dhu'l Nun al-Misri, a major figure involved in the theory of Neoplatonist influence within Sufi ranks.

(29)      Radtke and O'Kane, The Concept of Sainthood, p. 6. According to Radtke, the Sirat al-Awliya appears to be a personal creation, though "one may posit the question as to whether he [Tirmidhi] perhaps made use of already existing systems, maybe deriving from a local East Iranian tradition" ("The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism," 1993, p. 495).

(30)      The Concept of Sainthood, pp. 6-7, earlier commenting: "It would be going too far to make al-Tirmidhi's book a relative of al-Farabi's Perfect State or to derive its structure from a source in late Antiquity; as is characteristic of Classical Sufism in general, al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi is still outside the tradition of Classical philosophy - as Louis Massignon already in 1922 demonstrated in his Essai" (Radtke, "The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism," p. 486).

(31)     See B. Radtke, "Theosophie (Hikma) und Philosophie (Falsafa): Ein Beitrag zur Frage der hikmat al-masriq al-israq," Asiatische Studien (1988) 42: 156-174.