He was Muhyi al-Din Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir ibn Abu Salih Musa bin Abu ‘Abdillah bin Yahya al-Zahid bin Muhammad bin Da’ud bin Musa bin ‘Abd Allah bin Musa al-Jawn bin ‘Abd Allah al-Mahd bin al-Hasan al-Muthanna bin Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with all of them.
Born in the city of Jilan in 470 H., he was one of the many men of Jilan known for their spirituality and renunciation of the world. He followed the sunnah of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ and was endowed with manifest miracles. His mother, Umm al-Khayr, Fatimah bint al-Shaykh ‘Abd Allah al-Sawma‘i al-Husayni al-Zahid, was endowed with great goodness and piety. She said that during Ramadan, when her son ‘Abd al-Qadir was still breast feeding, he won’t suckle during the day. Amazingly, she was 60 years old when she conceived him.
Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani came to Baghdad in the year 488 H. when he was 18. As he entered Baghdad, Khidr appeared before him with instructions to wait for seven years before entering. Obediently, the Shaykh settled outside Baghdad at the bank of the River Tigris. One night, after the passing of seven years, he heard a voice telling him, “O ‘Abd al-Qadir, you can enter Baghdad.” When he entered, it was a cool and wet night, indicating the goodness being bestowed upon the land by his coming.
He obtained Islamic sciences from the teachers of his time. After completing his studies of the Qur’an, he reached great knowledge of the deen of Islam. He studied with the following teachers: Abu al-Wafa’ ‘Ali ibn al-‘Uqayl al-Hanbali, Abu al-Khattab Mahfuz al-Kaluthani al-Hanbali, Abu al-Hasan Muhammad bin al-Qadi Abu Ya‘la Muhammad bin Ibn al-Husayn bin Muhammad al-Farra’ al-Hanbali, al-Qadi Abu Sa‘id, and Abu Sa‘id al-Mubarak bin ‘Ali al-Mukharrimi al-Hanbali. He also studied literature with Abu Zakariyya Yahya bin ‘Ali al-Tabrizi.
He took to wearing the blessed tattered woolen cloak which he received from al-Qadi Abu Sa’id al-Mubarak al-Makharrimi, who had a well-kept little schoolhouse at Bab al-Azaj in Baghdad. This building was placed at the disposal of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir. While he was teaching, great miracles appeared from him. Soon his teaching met with wide acceptance and the school became overcrowded with those who came to attend his majlis. Beside teaching he also gave fatwas. People from far and wide came to him with pledges of support. He was given several titles, among them: Holder of the Two Proofs and the Two Mandates; Imam of the Two Parties and the Two Paths; and Master of the Two Lamps and Two Routes. A great number of ulama, awliya, imams, and righteous men gained knowledge from him.
He was the shaykh who completely renounced the world; he possessed many miracles and spiritual stations; he was a shaykh of both scholars and the common man. He was the imam, the qutb, and the shaykh of all the shayukh of his time.
Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him, had a student called ‘Umar al-Halawi who left Baghdad for a number of years. When he returned, the Shaykh asked him where he had been. He said that he had wandered through Sham, Egypt, the Maghrib, and other non-Arabi countries where he had met 360 shaykhs of the awliya, all of whom had said that Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir was their shaykh and their perfect example to follow inorder to reach Allah, the Exalted.
Whenever he made du’a Allah accepted it. If he was angry, Allah would take revenge immediately. If he liked something, Allah would make it available to him. When he became old and feeble, he could perform a lot of nawafil. He was always making dhikr, showing outward humility, patience with his condition (in old age), and observing the times for prayer. He was thin, average in height, wide-chested, long bearded, with a light brown complexion, connected eyebrows, and a strong full voice. He possessed great charisma and great knowledge. He listened more than he talked, but when he talked people would listen and accept what he said.