Islamic Studies `Abd al-Qadir al Jilani (Gilani)
Jonathan Allen, Ahmet T. Karamustafa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0100


ʿAbd al-Qadir al-Jilani (b. 470/1077, d. 561/1166), also known as Gilani, is one of the more enigmatic figures in the history of Islam, as well as one of the most chronologically and geographically ubiquituous. In brief, while originally a native of the Persian-speaking region of Gilan, his preaching and teaching career was spent in Baghdad, where he became an extremely popular preacher and, by some accounts, an important and powerful master of the Sufi path. After his death he would soon become known as a powerful saint, with an eponymous tariqa—the Qadiriyya—coalescing around his memory. Within a century of his death he was being venerated as a wonderworker par excellence, and indeed as the cosmic qutb of his time. From Baghdad his cultus would become truly global, from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa to the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. As a result, locating him in the usual conceptual schemes of Islamic history is ultimately impossible: he does not entirely “fit” in the category of Sufism, of “popular” piety, of the culture of the ulama, or within the station of sainthood; nor is his person or history easily confined to one chronological period or geographic region. Rather, the Hanbali preacher of Baghdad-cum-saint of saints exists within and across these categories and constraints, both as a historical figure and, perhaps yet more significantly, a figure possessed of inestimable sanctity and universally powerful intercession. Who exactly he was as a historical person remains open to debate. His significance as a figure of memory and veneration in succeeding centuries, however, is absolutely certain. Works of a strictly scholarly nature on ʿAbd al-Qdir and his historical legacy are few and far between, and monograph-length scholarly works devoted to either ʿAbd al-Qadir or the Qadiriyya are all but nonexistent. As a result, this bibliography includes a sizeable proportion of primary source texts both in Arabic and in translation, though it is still very selective in scope. We have also included some Western-language material that is not of a strictly scholarly nature, but these still have value, particularly as testimony to the ongoing importance of ʿAbd al-Qadir in contemporary Islam. Works dealing with the Qadiriyya are also rather sparse in number, particularly given the brotherhood’s diversity and geographical spread; we have included material that treats the brotherhood directly and as a subsidiary component of broader studies.

General Overviews

As noted in the Introduction, scholarly works on ʿAbd al-Qadir and his eponymous tariqa are sparse. The encyclopedia entries Braune 1960 and Lawrence 1982 are the most easily accessible, both providing a very basic overview of ʿAbd al-Qadir and his historical legacy. Gürer 2008 offers a short, while still book-length, example of a relatively traditional history and appreciation of ʿAbd al-Qadir. Finally, while now quite dated, Trimingham 1971 provides the most comprehensive general introduction to the Qadiriyya tariqa, while Margoliouth 1978 includes some additional information but is otherwise limited in scope and quality.

  • Braune, W. “ʿAbd al-Ḳādir al-Ḏjīlānī.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 1. 2d ed. Edited by H. A. R. Gibb, J. H. Kramers, E. Lévi-Provençal, and J. Schacht, 69–70. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960.

    A useful, if cursory, treatment of ʿAbd al-Qadir, his life, his works, and his later image as developed in hagiography. Beyond a discussion of the initial development of hagiographic works, however, Braune devotes little discussion to ʿAbd al-Qadir’s great popularity as saint and intercessor. Available online.

  • Gürer, Dilaver. Abd al-Qadir Jilani. Translated by Hanife Öz. Istanbul: İnsan, 2008.

    A brief devotional-style treatment of ʿAbd al-Qadir’s life drawing upon elements of medieval hagiography but with a modernist reshaping. Gürer’s interest is, as in other modern devotional biographies, much more on the moral and spiritual teachings of ʿAbd al-Qadir than his reputed spiritual abilities or intercessory powers.

  • Lawrence, Bruce. “ʿAbd-Al-Qāder Jīlānī.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 1. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater, 132–133. New York: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 1982.

    A brief overview of ʿAbd al-Qadir’s life, works, and historical legacy, including the rise and flourishing of the Qadiriyya order. Particular focus on Persian-speaking regions and the Indian subcontinent. Available online.

  • Margoliouth, D. S. “Ḳādiriyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 4. 2d ed. Edited by E. van Donzel, B. Lewis, and Ch. Pellat, 380–383. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1978.

    A rather problematic and dated entry, in which Maroliouth provides fairly basic information about the order and its development, geographical spread, and rituals. All of the information is rather cursory, and Margoliouth devotes most of his attention to the North African manifestations of the Qadiriyya and the cultus of ʿAbd al-Qadir. Available online.

  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

    Still one of the primary scholarly treatments of Sufi orders. Trimingham covers the Qadiriyya in several sections, dealing with the origin of the order and its eventual wide dissemination and subsequent decentralized and dispersed development. Useful for Trimingham’s integration of the Qadiriyya into a larger analysis of the development and flourishing of Sufi orders in general.

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