Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Junayd of Baghdad: The Origin of Moroccan Sufism

Junayd of Baghdad
The “Samaa Ahl Fas” Sufi music band perform during a concert in Fez 02 May 2007as part of a Sufi Music Festival. ABDELHAK SENNA/ AFP

Youssef Sharqawi

Morocco has a Sufi heritage as ancient as the Moroccan culture and identity. However, this heritage of numerous Sufi orders, such as the Tijaniyyah, the Qadiriyya, the Burhaniyya and the Sammaniyya, drew from theses and opinions of the Sunni Sufi figure, Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd. Imam Ibn Ashir describes the Moroccan Sufi constants in his text Al-Murshid al-Mu’een: “as the beliefs of al-Ash’ari, the fiqh of Malik, and the order of Junayd”, meaning, as colloquially said today: like the Maliki school of fiqh, the Ash’ari school of belief, and the school of Junayd in Sufism.

Sufism in Morocco is “a complete commitment to Islamic Sharia to reach the level of Ihsan, which is the core, soul and perfection of faith.” The people of Morocco followed Junayd for three reasons: first, it is “the consensus of scholars on the mastering of al-Junayd in the Sharia and Haqiqa”. Then, because he had “a Sufi school, the majority of scholars and people of different ranks became involved in it.” Finally, because the Sufism that Junayd calls for is “ethical and tasteful Sufism”. At the same time, he rejects Sufism based on “speaking about facts that are not comprehended by minds.”

Junayd had followed in Sufism a doctrine that did not deviate from the Sharia, the Quran and the Sunnah. His philosophy was distinguished by the same moderation on the Sharia principles. None of the Sufis who came after mentioned him but with reverence. They were influenced by him. Therefore, they took his order, praised his spiritual and cognitive virtues, and believed he was the moderate Sunni Sufi to follow.

His legal approach, characterised by following Sunnah and morality, gained acceptance and approval of his methods from Fuqaha and Sufis alike. They did not deny anything in his Tariqa. Instead, they adopted it and followed his path because of his solidity, empowerment, moderation, sightedness, and connection between the Haqiqa and the Sharia. Scholars considered him the sheikh of Sufism. Zarkali stated once in his book “Al-Alam” that Junayd’s order followed the rules of the Quran and the Sunnah. According to Zarkali, it is shielded from reprehensible beliefs, protected from exaggeration and extremism, distanced from everything that necessitates the objection of the Sharia”.

Researchers in Sufism said it had been formed in two different directions since its emergence: a direction known for the school of conduct and ethics, Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd is among its figures. And another direction, known for abstraction and speaking of truths, followed by Al-Ḥallāj and others. It was known that Junayd rejected Sufism as a form of isolation from people and fleeing to the mountains, away from the eyes and concerns of others. Instead, he participated in public life, influencing it. He has his own gathering where he teaches and gives fatwas, helping people with their religion and worldly affairs, and several scholars have learned on his hands.

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi mentions that Al-Ḥallāj, once a student of al-Junayd, asked him, but he did not answer, saying that he was dishonest. Al-Hafiz added that Junayd once told Al-Ḥallāj: “You have opened a loophole in Islam that only your chopped head can fill.” Subsequently, al-Ḥallāj separated from al-Junayd and his Tariqa.

Junayd was described as the father of Islamic Sufism. He had a unique vision through which he describes Sufism, saying: “Sufism is avoiding every worldly virtue, using every Sunni virtue, and follow Allah’s teachings and still think you did not.” His famous quote, considered as the foundation of his school, as stated in Hilyatul Awliya by Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani: “Our knowledge is based on the Quran and the Sunnah, whoever does not memorise the Quran, does not write the hadith nor study it, is not to be followed.” His phrase, which was mentioned in Taj al-Arefeen: “All roads are blocked to the beings, except for the one who follows the footsteps of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), follows his Sunnah, and adheres to his path, for all paths of goodness are open to him.”

Junayd of Baghdad
The mosque of Imam Junayd al-Baghdadi is pictured 17 September 2003 in Baghdad. THOMAS COEX/ AFP

So, Islamic Sufism for Junayd is “full adherence to Islamic Sharia to reach the state of Ihsan, which is the core, soul and perfection of faith. The one who follows the path of God Almighty cannot taste the sweetness of faith unless he performs the duties to the fullest, strives in the Sunnahs and night prayers, fasts and cries out of fear of God Almighty, avoids idle talk, gossip, inclines to remain silent, commits to the remembrance of God Almighty, thankfulness for the blessing, resistance of oneself desires, purifying his heart, mind and soul from all worldly vices.”

Because of all this, Morocco adopted Junayd’s Tariqa of Sufism, where the primary goal of Sufism is to adopt Prophet Muhammad’s ethics to ensure “completely following Sunnah in speaking, behaving and state of mind”. Therefore, “Moroccans choose the moral Sunni approach in their practice of Sufism, to which Imam al-Junayd is the symbol, instead of the other Sufi tendencies, which were known for abstraction and speaking about truths that the minds cannot comprehend.

Moroccan researcher Hassan Gallab says: “The attributions of Moroccan Sufi Tariqas all come together at al-Junayd’s Tariqa, then branch out. There is hardly any Tariqa that is not linked to his, and even in such a case, it is most likely based on another attribution linked to al-Junayd. This phenomenon is explained through the Moroccan Sufi Tariqas keenness to follow the Sunnah, as al-Junayd was known for.”

Al-Junayd believed that speaking to people must be according to their intellect and that the answer should relate to who asks, not to the question. His method in dealing with “facts” was to keep them from those who were not qualified to accept them. As it was known, the Sufi Tariqas were generally subject to scientific principles, working with Sharia rulings and following the model and example. Al-Junayd’s method of Sufism is distinguished by its moral orientation and interest in the practical and behavioural aspects, without prioritising the truths of Sufi knowledge or reverence for the so-called Sunni Karamat. Instead, it benefits the Muslim’s closeness to his Lord and what his living conditions require. Therefore, the Sufi discourse in Morocco is characterised by being “straightforward, far from complex, and dominated by the practical aspect more than abstraction and scientific theorising.

Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd passed away in Baghdad in 297 AH. In his last breaths, he began reciting the Quran. He was told, “you should stop and ease up on yourself”, he replied: “No one is more in need of that than me now. This is the time to fold my Sahifah”, as stated in the book Al-Bidayah wa’an-Nihayah.

The master of the sect, the peacock of the scholars, the crown of the knowledgeable, the sheikh of the Sufism order, and the group leader, as he was called, passed away, leaving his quotes to be cited by scholars of the predecessors. His heart is the heart of a Sufi, and his intellect is the intellect of a faqih, so most Sufis followed his example. About sixty thousand people prayed for him at his funeral, and people began to visit his grave every day for about a month or more, as mentioned in the history of Baghdad by Al-Baghdadi.


  1. Sahnoun, R., Al-Alami, T., Junayd’s Approach to Behavior and Characteristics of Sufi Practice in Morocco, Imam Al-Junaid Center for Specialized Sufi Studies and Research. Source:
  2. Al-Junaid, Abul-Qasim. Letters of Junayd – the first work that collects all the letters and sayings of Imam Junayd. Dar Iqra’a, 2005. Source:–
  3. Al-Junaid, Abul-Qasim. The Secret is in the Souls of the Sufis. Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiya, 2015. Source:


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