(Lit.”substitutes” sing.badal). In Sufi lore, a set of saintly persons with the death of one of them, another of equal status is replaced by the Divine Will, as upon them depends the continuation of life in this world. If none of the abdal remains, the world will be destroyed.
A term evoking much controversy, it has its basis in numerous ahadith that have been reported about the issue, but not without contention over their authenticity, some scholars believing they are all either da`aif or forged, while others assigning one or two of them either Sahih or hasan status. The Hadith “(All) abdaI will be in Syria” has been termed Sahih by Imam Zarqani. So has said Ibn Salah. But Zarqani’s commentator, Dr. Muhammad Sabbagh has pointed out that `Allama Mahmood Shakir has, in his tahqeeq of Musnad Ahmed, declared it of weak (da`if) status. Mulla `Ali Qari quotes a Hadith in words: “Abdal of this Ummah are thirty, (all of them) like Ibrahim (asws). When one of them dies, Allah replaces him with another.” He grades the Hadith as hasan, saying there are others that support it. Muhammad Tahir records most of the Ahadith about abdal and judges them as either weak or fabricated. So says Albani who discusses several Ahadith. What makes things complicated is the usage of the term by many leading scholars of Islam. Imam Ahmed, for instance, is quoted as having said that “If they (abdal) are not scholars of Hadith, then who are they?”
Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the Ahadith, many scholars of the past have, in principle, acknowledged the existence of abdal. Among them are: `ALI Ibn Abi Talib, Ibn Hanbal, Bukhari, Hasan al-Busri, Qatadah, `Ata’, Khalid ibn Mahran, Ma`ruf al-Karkhi, Yezid ibn Haroon, Bilal al-Khawwas, Imam Ghazali, Suyuti, Ibn Khaldun, Munawi. It was said about Imam Shafe`i that he was one of the abdal.
Umm Salamah reports the Prophet as having said, “There will be differences at the death of a Caliph. A man will leave Madinah – escaping – heading for Makkah. Some people from Makkah will force him (out of his hiding) while he would be unwilling. They will swear allegiance to him between the Black Stone and the Station of Ibrahim. Then an expedition will be sent against him from Sham. (Sham includes present day Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon: ed.). They will be swallowed by the earth in the desert between Makkah and Madinah. When the people witness that, the abdal of Sham and groups from Iraq will swear allegiance to him between the Black Stone and the Station of Ibrahim. Then a man from the Quraysh will get ready his kinsmen of the Kalb (tribe). They will send a (military) force against them but they (the force comprising the abdal) will overcome them. That will be the army of Kalb and woe unto one who is not a witness to the booty obtained from the Kalb (tribe). So, wealth will be distributed and the Prophet’s Sunnah (of taking booty and distributing it - by the way the Prophet distributed) will be given life. Islam then will be truly established on the earth. He will stay seven years. Then he will die and Muslims will pray over him.” Abu Da’ud added: Some reporters have used the words, “nine years” while others “seven years.”
This Hadith has been declared Hasan (just below Sahih) by some, but Sahih by others. Dr. `Abd al-Ghafoor Baluchi said that all its narrators are trustworthy. Suyuti said that more than ten versions of this Hadith have been recorded, some of which meet the conditions set by Bukhari and Muslim. Another report is as follows:
The Prophet said, “There will be thirty abdal in my Ummah. It is because of them that the earth exists. It is because of them that you are sent rains and because of them succored.”
The report is in Tabarani’s Al-Kabeer which Suyuti mentioned in one of his works to which `Azizi and Munawi added that it has a trustworthy chain of narrators.
In fact, Suyuti said that the reports about the abdal reaches Tawaatur status (that is, a universally accepted report).