Dhul-Nun al-Misri (RA) was an Egyptian Sufi saint. He was considered the Patron Saint of the Physicians in the early Islamic era of Egypt, and is credited with having specialized the concept of Gnosis in Islam. He was born in 796 in Akhmim, Sohag Governorate. His full name is Dhul-Nun Abu Faid Thawban ibn Ibrahim أبوالفيض ثوبان بن إبراهيم.
Dhul-Nun, literately “Of the Nun”, is a name that is also given to the Prophet Jonah in Islamic folklore, as “nun” in ancient Arabic meant “big fish”/”whale”, as it did in Aramaic where it also means “fish”
His nickname al-Misri means ‘the Egyptian’, a name apparently given to him by his fellows who were not themselves of Coptic descent as he was, or during his travels outside of Egypt.
Dhul-Nun al-Misri is considered among the most prominent saints of early Sufism and holds a position in the Sufi chronicles as high as Junayd Baghdadi (d. 910) and Bayazid Bastami(d. 874). He studied under various teachers and travelled extensively in Arabia and Syria. The Muslim scholar and Sufi Sahl al-Tustari was one of Dhul-Nun al-Misri’s students. In 829 he was arrested on a charge of heresy and sent to prison in Baghdad, but after examination he was released on the caliph’s orders to return to Cairo, where he died in 859; his tombstone has been preserved.
A legendary alchemist and thaumaturge, he is supposed to have known the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. His sayings and poems, which are extremely dense and rich in mystical imagery, emphasize knowledge or gnosis (marifah) more than fear (makhafah) or love (mahabbah), the other two major paths of spiritual realization in Sufism. None of his written works have survived, but a vast collection of poems, sayings, and aphorisms attributed to him continues to live on in oral tradition.
He left this world in 859 and is lied to rest in Cairo Necropolis (Qarafa, el-Arafa),