Sayyid Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was born in the first half of Rajab in the Muslim year of 512 A.H. (1119 A.D.) on a Thursday. His birthplace was in the town of Ummu Abeyde in the township of Beta in the province of Basra, Iraq. He passed to the other side on Thursday, Jumada al-Awwal 22, 578 A.H. (1183 A.D.), in the town of Wasit, in Basra, Iraq.
His father was Sayyid Ali Abu’l Hasan. His mother was Fatima ul-Anseri bint Yahya Nijjeri. His Shaykh was Aleyyul Wasiti. His maternal uncle, who helped raise him, was Shaykh Mansur Rabbani.
Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was related to our holy Prophet (SWS) from both his father’s and mother’s sides by blood. His paternal lineage was Sayyid Ahmed er Rufai, Ibni Sayyid Ali, Ibni Sayyid Yahya, Ibni Sayyid Sabit, Ibni Sayyid Hazim, Ibni Sayyid Ali, Ibni Sayyid Ebilmekerim Rufael Hasanulmekki, Ibni Elseyyit Mehdi, Ibni Esseyyit Mehmet Ebi Kasim, Ibni Esseyyit Elhasan, Ibni Esseyyit Elhuseyin, Ibni Esseyyit Ahmet, Ibni Esseyyit Musa ul-Sani, Ibni Esseyyit Imam Ibrahimulmurtaza, Ibni Imam Musa-ulkazim, Imam Jaferi Sadik, Ibni Imam Muhammad Bakir, Ibni Imam Zeynelabidin, Ibni Imam Elsehit Huseyin, Ibni Emirulmuminin Aliyelmurtaza.
Before Ahmed ar Rifai’s birth, his maternal uncle, a famous Shaykh, Mansur Rabbani, had seen our holy Prophet Hz. Muhammad (SWS) and was told that his sister would have a male child who would be famous and be known by the name “Rifa’i.” When the child reached the proper age for Sufism, he should be sent to Shaykh Aleyyul Vasiti (RA) for education and training.
Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai’s (RA) father passed away when his son was 7 years old. Sayyid Ali died in 519 A.H.; he is buried in Baghdad. So Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rufai’s (RA) maternal uncle started taking care of the little boy. After a while he was sent to Shaykh Vasiti in accordance with his uncle’s vision. Shaykh Mansur (RA) has said that as long as Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) stayed with him, he saw many miracles come through the boy and that many blessings came through him for everyone. Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) showed ability and wisdom beyond his age when he began his education under Shaykh Vasiti. He acquired a high maqam by explaining the book of the Shafi school called “Tanbih.”
Miracles of Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA)
Many miracles occurred through Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA). One of the most widely known is the one that give him the name “Ebul alemeyin” (the Father of Two Banners). In the year 555 A.H., when he was 43 years old, Hz. Rifa’i went on hajj. He didn’t wear the usual traveling clothes of sayyids (the relatives of the Prophet, saws, could be recognized by their clothes). There is a certain section of the Prophet’s (SWS) tomb in Medina that only blood relatives of the Prophet (SWS) may enter. The guard at the door would not allow him in, as he wanted to know the proof that Ahmed ar Rifai was related to the Prophet (SWS).Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was sad and yelled towards our Prophet’s (SWS) tomb, “As-salaamu alaykum, ya Jeddi (Peace be on you, my ancestor).”
Our Prophet (saws) answered, saying “Walaykum salaam, ya waladi (And peace be on you, my son).” Prophet Muhammad’s (SWS) hand came out of the tomb and Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) kissed the Prophet’s (SWS) hand. When people saw this miracle, they went into a state of wajd (ecstasy) and began stabbing themselves with their swords and knives. When the ecstasy passed, there were people lying all over the floor covered with blood, so Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) returned them to their normal health. After that, Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was famous for possessing this gift.
Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) is known as one of the four major tariqat pirs (“Aktab-i erbaa,” a qutb of the time, not just of a local area). Another major qutb was Abdul Qadir al Geylani. One day somebody asked Hz. Abdul Qadir Geylani (RA) (who was Ahmed ar Rifai’s cousin) “Ya Hazret, what is love?” Hz. Abdul Qadir Geylani (RA) told the person to go ask this question to Sayyid Ahmed ar Rifai (RA). After sending Hz. Geylani’s salaams to Hz. Rifa’i, he asked, “What is love?” When Ahmed ar Rifai heard this question, he stood up, saying, “Love is fire, love is fire.” He began whirling until he passed into the unseen and disappeared. When the person saw this, he was disturbed because he didn’t understand what was happening. At that moment, the spiritual presence of Abdul Qadir al Geylani appeared and told him to look for the spot where his brother Ahmed ar Rifai had vanished, and to pour rosewater on that spot. The person did this and within a couple of moments, Sayyid Ahmed ar Rifai appeared, whirling in the exact same place. When the man went back to Baghdad, he visited Hz. Abdul Qadir Geylani (RA), who asked him, “Did you see love? My brother Sayyid Rifa’i has reached stations that many walis have not been able to reach.” Sayyid Ahmed ar Rifai (RA) also deeply loved and respected Hz. Abdul Qadir al Geylani (RA) and told his students that whoever visited Baghdad without visiting Hz. Abdul Qadir al Geylani’s (RA) tomb would not be welcome by Allah or by them.
Ebu Musa el-Haddadi said that in the town of Haddahiye there was a woman whose children were always stillborn. This lady said, if I have a child, I will give this child in the service of Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA). A few years later she had a daughter who was hunchbacked and lame. Because of this, the other children in the village always made fun of her. One day, Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was visiting this town and all the people went to the road to see him. The little girl threw herself at Rifai’s feet and cried out, “You are my mother’s Shaykh; please heal me from these problems!” and wept. When Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) saw her situation he cried as well, and praying over her, he placed his hands on her back and head. The girl’s back and leg were both healed. This is why Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) is called Beynennas (Ebu’l Arca), the Father of the Lame.
One Friday, Hz. Rifa’i (RA) was sleeping and woke to find that it was time for prayer. However, there was a cat asleep on his robe. He asked his wife for some scissors, cut off the part of his robe where the cat lay, stood up and went to prayers. When he returned, the cat had awakened and left, so he asked his wife for thread to sew the robe back together. When he saw his wife’s displeasure at what he had done to his robe, he said “Do not worry, nothing but goodness happened and I did not suffer because of this; this was a good thing.”
Once, Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) spent forty days caring for a dog with leprosy in the wilderness. When he returned and was asked why he had spent so much time caring for an unclean beast, he replied, “When I die and meet my Maker, what would I have said if He asked me why I hadn’t helped one of His creatures?”
Hazret Syed Ahmed Kabeer Rafai’s nephew Abul Fazal Abdur Rehman bin Ali Rifai recalls that one day as he was attending a sermon of his uncle he saw a man descend from the sky and told Sheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) that he was hungry for the last twenty days and expressed his desire to eat and drink according to his preferences. Hazret enquired about his wish. That man looked at the sky and saw five wild ducks flying and said that he wanted to eat one of those ducks along with wheat bread and a jug of cold water.
After a hearty meal the guest left andSheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) the bones of the duck in his hand and with his right hand commanded the bones & muscles to join together. The moment he said: Bismillah (In the name of Allah), then the wild duck resurrected and flew back towards the sky. (Qalaid al Jawahir p. 291).
According to an account of Hadrat Ahmed Shatnufi (May Allah be pleased with him) one daySheikh Ahmed ar-Rifai (RA) was sitting on the banks of river Dajla with his disciples & friends. He expressed his desire to eat fried fish. Before he could complete his sentence many kinds of fish jumped on the river bank.