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Ibrahim b. Adham

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Companion of Imam (a)
Ibrahim b. Adham
Full Name Ibrahim b. Adham b. Sulayman b. Mansur al-Balkhi
Companion of Imam al-Sajjad (a), Imam al-Baqir (a) or Imam al-Sadiq (a)
Teknonym Abu Ishaq
Religious Affiliation Twelver Shi'a
Lineage Banu Tamim
Birth 80 or 100/699 or 718
Place of Birth Balkh
Demise 160/776-7
Burial Place Tyre, Syria
Professors Farwa b. Mujahid al-Lakhmi
Students Shaqiq al-Balkhi, Sufyan al-Thawri

Ibrāhīm b. Adham (Arabic: إبراهيم بن أدْهَم) was one of the great mystics of the second/eight century. His name is not mentioned in the early Shiite rijal sources, but some scholars have counted him as a Shiite Sufi figure and a companion of Imam al-Sajjad (a), Imam al-Baqir (a) or Imam al-Sadiq (a).

He was born to a rich family, but when he grew up, he suddenly adopted an ascetic life. Afterwards, Ibrahim travelled to Mecca, and there he met such Sufi figures as Sufyan al-Thawri and al-Fudayl b. al-Ayad. Then, he travelled to Damascus and settled there until the end of his life.

Adhamiyya, Naqshbandiyya, and Chishtiyya Sufi orders trace their chains of initiation (silsila) back to Infallible Imams (a) through Ibrahim b. Adham.

His most significant master was Farwa b. Mujahid al-Lakhmi, and his most famous student was Shaqiq al-Balkhi. His mystical life and path and his miracles have been abundantly retold in literary works.


Ibrahim b. Adham b. Sulayman b. Mansur al-Balkhi was one of the mystics of the second/eight century and a leading figure of the school of asceticism. He is also known as al-'Ijli, and his teknonym was Abu Ishaq.

Ibrahim was born in eighty or hundred/699 or 718 in an Iranian family or an Arab family from the Banu Tamim tribe in Balkh, a city in the Greater Khurasan, though according to some reports, he was born in Mecca when his parents were going to hajj.

His family was one of the noble families of Balkh, but he suddenly left his luxurious life and became an ascetic and spiritual wayfarer.

His biography, conduct, and teachings are reported in different sources, especially in mystical works. Some believe that he learned the Greater Name of God and met Prophet Khidr (a).

Adopting Asceticism

There are different reports about why he became an ascetic, such as hearing a heavenly voice when he had gone hunting, hearing a deer speaking to him, the trembling of the roof of his palace and seeing a person who was searching for his camel on the roof, seeing a worker who was enjoying his life despite having almost nothing, and seeing a man who entered Ibrahim's palace without his permission thinking that it was a roadside inn.

Ibrahim is said to have mentioned the following reasons as what made him become an ascetic: loneliness in the grave, lacking enough provision in the lengthy journey of the hereafter, and lacking a justifiable excuse before God Almighty. Ibrahim believed that the requirements for asceticism and righteousness were closing the door of blessings and opening the door of afflictions, closing the door of pride and opening the door of humbleness, closing the door of comfort and opening the door of difficulty, closing the door of sleep and opening the door of staying awake, closing the door of richness and opening the door of poverty, and closing the door of false hope and opening the door of death.

Some scholars maintain that Ibrahim's asceticism does not accord with the Islamic concept of asceticism and is criticized and prohibited by the Prophet (s). This unauthorized type of asceticism is especially seen in Ibrahim's idea that ascetics should not marry or have children and that they should seclude themselves from people.

Migration from Balkh to Mecca and Damascus

After repenting, Ibrahim travelled to Nishapur and resided in a cave in mount al-Bathra'. Afterwards, he travelled to Mecca, where he met such mystics as Sufyan al-Thawri, Fudayl b. al-'Ayyad, and Yusuf al-Ghasuli. Then, he travelled to Damascus, where he had a great impact on the promotion of asceticism and mysticism.


Ibrahim b. Adham passed away in 160/776-7 in al-Jazira area. He was buried in Tyre near the seashore or in Sophene in the Roman territories. It seems that he died a natural death, but some believe that he died in a battle with the Romans.

Religious Affiliation

Ibrahim is regarded by Sunni scholars as a traditionist. They have praised him in their rijal works and counted him among the companions of Abu Hanifa and Sufyan al-Thawri. It is reported that Abu Hanifa would call him "sayyiduna" (Our Master) and al-Junayd would use the title "mafatih al-ulum" (The Keys of Sciences) for him, a title which continued to be used for him in mystical poetry. Some scholars maintain that his name is not found in the early Shiite rijal sources, but some others consider him a Sufi Shiite figure like Kumayl b. Ziyad, Bishr b. al-Harith, and Bayazid al-Bastami.

Relationship with the Infallibles

Ibrahim b. Adham was a contemporary of Imam al-Sajjad (a), Imam al-Baqir (a), and Imam al-Sadiq (a). Some sources report that he was able to meet Imam al-Sajjad (a) and became one of his companions and also report the story of his meeting with the Imam (a) and the advice of the Imam (a) to him. However, the authenticity of these reports seems to be debatable considering the date of Ibrahim's birth and the date of the Imam's (a) demise.

Some believe that Ibrahim met Imam al-Baqir (a) and even became one of his disciples. Some hadiths have also been transmitted by him from the Imam (a). Some others maintain that Ibrahim was a disciple of Imam al-Sadiq (a) and, according to some sources, his servant. He is reported to have accompanied Imam al-Sadiq (a) in his travel from Kufa to Medina.

His Place in Sufism

Ibrahim b. Adham was in the first generation of Sufis beside figures such as al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110/728). Malik b. Dinar (d. 123/741), Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya (d. 135/753-3), Abu Hashim al-Kufi (d. 150/767), Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161/777-8), Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 194/809-10), and Ma'ruf al-Karkhi (d. 200/815-16).

Ibrahim b. Adham (and the school of Balkh in general) were under the influence of the school of Basra with its significant characteristics such as extreme asceticism, worship, fear, and poverty. Ibrahim had a great impact on Sufism in Damascus after he settled there. His importance lies in the development of asceticism, self-discipline, and Sufi thought. In this regard, he was greatly influenced by figures such as al-Hasan al-Basri and Sufyan al-Thawri.

Adhamiyya Sufi Order

There are four Sufi orders that trace their chains of initiation (silsila) back to four infallible Imams (a), including Adhamiyya and Naqshbandiyya orders, which trace their chains to Imam al-Sajjad (a) through Ibrahim b. Adham. Some scholars hold that Ibrahim b. Adham is in Chishtiyya's chain of initiation, which goes back to Imam Ali (a) through Fudayl b. Ayyad, Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd, and Kumayl b. Ziyad. Some others maintain that Chishtiyya, Adhamiyya, and Husayniyya orders are linked to Imam al-Baqir (a) through Ibrahim b. Adham.

The Impact of Buddhism

Since the story of Ibrahim b. Adham is very similar to that of Buddha and the city of Balkh, Ibrahim's hometown, is near India, some scholars suggest that it is likely that the stories of Ibrahim's life were made based on the stories of Buddha. This, of course, does not mean that Sufi stories and teachings are all imported and inauthentic.

Masters and Students

One of the most important masters of Ibrahim b. Adham was a person named Farwa b. Mujahid al-Lakhmi. Ibrahim also quoted hadiths from Imam al-Baqir (a), his own father, Muhammad b. Ziyad al-Jamhi, Abu Ishaq, Malik b. Dinar, and Sulayman b. Mihran al-A'mash, among others.

His most famous student is Shaqiq al-Balkhi, who was agreat Sufi figure and a student of Imam al-Kazim (a). Other than him, Abu Ishaq Fazari, Damra b. Rabi'a, Muhammad b. Himyar, and Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Firyabi are counted among his students.

In Literary Sources

Ibrahim's lifestyle, conduct, and instructions have been retold in literary works, especially in mystical poetry. Ibrahim's biography, the story of his repentance and adoption of asceticism, the reason behind his migration, his meeting with Khidr (a) and with his own son, and his supplications are among the themes one can find in literary sources.