Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Thursday, April 3, 2014



Arthur F. Buehler
It is not obvious how the Naqshbandi Sufi lineage of Central Asian origin, named after Baha’uddin Naqshband (d. 791/1389 Bukhara), developed an influential centre in the Indian Punjab four-hundred years later.[1] Even less clear is how an Indian form of the Naqshbandiyya, the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya quickly replaced the original Central Asian lineage. This essay explores the historical processes of this development.

Naqshbandi shaykhs came into India with the Timurid conquests in the tenth/sixteenth century. In the following century, the Indian shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1034/1624), began an new chapter in the history of the Naqshbandiyya. More than any other Naqshbandi after Baha’uddin, Sirhindi was the pivotal figure who redefined Sufism’s role in society and who elaborated Naqshbandi mystical exercises. His title, ‘the renewer of the second millennium’ (mujaddid-i alf-i thani), made him a co-founder figure for the later Naqshbandiyya and reflected the significance of his influence. He was so convincing in his stress on following the Prophetic example and on Islamic law as the basis for mystical experience that almost all Naqshbandis world-wide now call themselves Mujaddidis (hencefoth Naqshbandis).

The far-reaching impact of the Naqshbandiyya in India relates directly to their comprehensive vision of religious leadership. The Naqshbandiyya, to a greater degree than any other Indian Sufi group, attempted to influence the arenas of both politics and mystical practice at the same time. After counselling a ruler about his own individual Islamic practices, the Naqshbandis expected to guide the development of Islamic social institutions for the Indian Muslim community. It has been in such a holistic and interconnected fashion that the Naqshbandis dedicated themselves to the re-forming of the mystical and the political, the inward and the outward, and the personal and the impersonal. One effect of this reform was an. acceleration of a religious crystallisation process beginning in the eleventh/seventeenth century. This development, in addition to other currents in the Islamic community, resulted in the eventual creation of Pakistan.

Naqshbandi leadership hastened the process of integrating the authority of jurists and Sufis in the Subcontinent---precipitating a similar concentration of religious authority among Naqshbandi groups worldwide. Based upon Central Asian and Indian precedents, Naqshbandis are still prominent in the national political arenas of several Islamic countries.


Historically, the spiritual path now known as the Naqshbandiyya can be divided into three stages, each of which is distinguished by a pivotal charismatic figure who developed new spiritual practices and even redefined the identity of the Sufi group. The first stage, called ‘the way of the masters’ (tariqa-yi khw ajagan), since the time of Khwaja ‘Abdulkhaliq Ghujduvani (d. 575/1179)[2] is the ‘prehistorical’ stage originating with the Prophet Muhammad. Baha’uddin Naqshband, the founder-figure, imitates the second historical stage, when the spiritual path (tariqa) was called the Naqshbandiyya.[3] This section will discuss this second stage of the Naqshbandiyya as its teachings spread into the Indian Subcontinent along with Timurid rule. The third historical stage of the Naqshbandiyya begins with Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d.1034/1624) and includes those applying Ahmad Sirhindi’s teachings and spiritual techniques.[4] It is with Sirhindi that the movement becomes the Naqshbandyya-Mujaddidiyya or simply Mujaddidiyya. In the following two sections I will detail this third stage, when the Mujaddidiyya spread throughout India to predominate over all other Naqshbandi lineages.

Most significant in the Naqshbandiyya’s spread to India is Khwaja Nasiruddin ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar (d. 895/1490), whose lineal and spiritual descendants absolutely dominate the Indian Naqshbandiyys. Ahrar’s remarkably powerful spiritual personality attracted large numbers of influential disciples who not only went to India, but also to Turkey, Iran and Arabia. As one of the largest landowners in Transoxiana and the-de facto ruler over much of the eastern Timurid kingdom, Ahrar set the precedent for Naqshbandis to cultivate close relationship with ruling dynasties.[5] The Naqshbandi political agenda, among their other goals, was to influence political leaders to establish and enforce Islamic practices.

In Ahrar’s case, he attempted to rid Transoxiana of Turco-Mongol customs and laws contrary to Islamic practice.[6]

Things did not always go smoothly for the Naqshbanis, especially at first when Timurid rule ended in Transoxiania in 905/1500. the founder of the succeeding Shaybanid dynasty in Transociana, Muhammad Shaybani, confiscated considerable property of the Ahrar family and was implicated in the massacre of one of Ahrar’s sons, Khuwaja Yahya and two of Yahya’s three sons in 906/1500-1.[7] Fortunately for the Naqshbandis, this kind of treatment was shortlived. The Shaybanids (905/1500-1007/1598), ruling after Muhammad Shaybani, and the succeeding dynasties ruling from Samarqand continued to respect Naqshbandi shaykhs, as did the succeeding Uzbek dynasties ruling from Bukhara, e.g., the Janids (1007/1599/1785).

The Tumurid dynasty, under the aegis of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (d. 937/1530), continued to have close ties with the Naqshbandis.[8] Khwaja Ahrar’s descendants were already established in Kabul before Babur captured the city in 909-10/1504.[9] As Babur moved on to conquer portions of northern’ India in 932-33/1526, the Naqshbandis continued to find a receptive climate to spread their teaching. Ahrar’s third son, Muhammad Amin, accompanied Babur when he conquered Kabul and India.[10] Babur, in battle against the forces of the Lodhi King Sultan Ibrahim in Delhi, is said to have

[first] visualised Ahar and [soon after] a man came dressed in white on a white horse who fought fiercely. After the Gurganis [Babur’s forces] won the battle, this man was later identified as Khwajagi Ahmad and was rewarded by Mir Qadi.[11]

When Babur’s cousin, Haydar Mirza Muhammad, described the unrespectful treatment accorded to Khwaja Khawand Mahmud by the Mughal Emperor Humayun (r. 937/1530-947/1539, 962/1555-963/1556) and his entourage, he noted, ‘Khawja Nura [Khawand Mahmud].... had an hereditary claim to their veneration.’0[12] Just as his grandfather, Ahrar, had foreseen Babur’s previous victory over Samarqand, Khawand Mahmud is said to have predicted that Babur’s son, Mirza Kamran, would take the city of Qandahar.[13] Conversely, after being treated brusquely by Humayun, who was a devotee of Shaykh Bahlul, the elder brother of Shattari Muhammad Ghauth Gwaliori (d. 970/1562(, Khawand Mahmud is said to have predicted Humayun’s defeat by Sher Shah.[14] Sufi anecdotes such as these reflected and perpetuated the prevailing world view of the time that there was a causal relationship between Naqshbandi. Ahrari spiritual intercession and Timurid military success. A shaykh’s authority, in addition to genealogical factors, was thought to be based on his ability to affect mundane affairs through intercession on the supramundane plane.

The Naqshbandi-Timurid partnership involved many dimensions of cooperation of interrelationships. There were formal master• disciple ties, e.g., Khwaja Mu’inuddin Abdulhaqq (d. 956/1549.50 or 962/1554-55), the brother of Khawand Mahmud, acted as Mirza Kamiran’s spiritual mentor.[15] Bairam Khan, Akbar’s tutor, was the disciple of Iranian Naqshbandi Maulana Zaynuddin Kamankar.[16] Other Naqshbandis, particularly descendants of Ahrar, held governmental posts during Humayun’s reign, e.g., Ahrar’s great grandsons Khwaja ‘Abdulkafi and Khwaja Qasim. Sultan Khwaja Naqshbandi, a disciple of Khwaja ‘Abdushshahid, was appointed the sadr in charge of religious endowments and land grants from 985-86/1578-992/1584 during Akbar’s reign.[17] Muhammad Yahya (d. 999/1590-91 in Agra), the principal successor to his father, Abu Fayd, a grandson of Ahrar, was appointed Mir-i Hajj for the year 986/1578 by Akbar following the previous hajj which was led by a lineal descendant of Ahrar, Sultan Khwaja.[18] Timurid respect and veneration of Naqshbandis could be expected to have been reflected in a more widespread public recognition of Naqshbandis. It was a reciprocal relationship; the Timurids- acquired religious legitimacy from the Maqshbandis and the Naqshbandis secured an elevated socio-political status in their association with the Timurids.

Ahraris also intermarried within the top echelons of Timurid ruling families. Babur’s daughter was married to Nuruddin Muhammad Naqshbandi; a daughter of this marriage married Akbar’s tutor, Bairam Khan, and later became one of Akbar’s wives after her first husband’s death. Humayun’s daughter was given in marriage to Khwaja Hasan Naqshbandi by Akbar’s half brother, Mirza Muhammad Hakim (d. 993/1585), the governor of Kabul.[19] The intermarriage of Timurid families with Ahraris, combined with a hereditary discipleship and government patronage of the Ahraris,) made northern India fertile ground for the spread of the Naqshbandiyya.

In addition, Stephen Dale notes that Naqshbandi-Timurid associations continued to exist between Naqshbandis and both Turco-Mongol and Afghan nobles in the former Mughal territories of South Asia until the nineteenth century.[20] These liaisons were most numerous during Tumurid rule when Naqshbandis emigrating from Afghanistan or Central Asia were more likely to receive some kind of government patronage. In later times the descendants of Sirhindi had strong ties with Afghani notables in Afghanistan in the eighteenth century which facilitated their migration to Afghanistan after the Sikhs razed Sirhind in 1177/1764, the home and base of Sirhindi and his descendants.[21] Naqshbani Abu’l-Khayr d.1341/1923) of Delhi had many important links with top-ranking figures in the Afghani government including the king, Amanullah Khan.[22]
Not Naqshbandis in early Timurid India were Ahrar’s lineal descendants, nor did every Naqshbandi have government affiliations. Non-Ahrari Naqshbandis, like other Muslims travelling from Transoxiana, -sometimes became residents in one of the major centres on the pilgrimage route to the Hijaz: Balkh, Kabul, Lahore, Agra, or Surat. Often they would stay in the port of Surat upon completion of the pilgrimage, For example. Khwaja Jamaluddin b. Badshah Pardah Push Khwarzmi (d. 1015-16/1606-7), commonly known as Khwaja Dana in later hagiographies, became the disciple of Khwaja Muhammad Islam Juybari (d. 971/1563-64 Bukhara) in Balkh and then travelled to Thatta and Agra before his residence in Surat.[23] Some Naqshbandis, such as Khwaja ‘Ubaydullah Kabuli, a disciple of Lutfullah (d. 979/1571-72 in Samarqand), went to India is Kabul, ostensibly to seek employment. Upon ‘ Ubaydullah’s arrival in India, Akbar appointed him to :each religious sciences in he district of Turbat.

Baqi Billah (d. 1012/ 1603) is, in retrospect, the other key figure if the second stage of Naqshbani history.[24] As Ahmad Sirhindi’s spiritual mentor, Baqi Billah is the most significant Naqshbandi in India during the tenth/sixteenth century.[25] Baqi Billah was probably )(posed to the Naqshbandiyya from an early age; his grandfather ad received spiritual guidance from Khwaja Muhammad Zakariya, one of Ahrar’s grandsons, and the two families began intermarrying.[26] It is likely that Baqi ‘Billah associated with Naqshbandis in Kabul, e.g., Khwaja Ubayd Kabuli, before embarking on a trip to India in search of the perfect pir. After pending time with a Kubrawi shaykh residing in Kashmir, Baba Uali (d. 1011/1602-3), he went to Samarqand, reaching intimacy with God (wilaya) under the tutelage of Muhammad Khwajagi Amkanaki (d. 1008/1600 Bukhara).[27] After Amkanaki’s death, Baqi Billah stayed about a year in Lahore, later setting up his Sufi. hospice near Delhi in the Firuzi fort where all expenses were paid by one of Akbar’s viziers, Shaykh Farid Bukhari.[28]

During the few years Baqi Billah resided in Delhi he attracted a remarkable number of disciples before dying at the age of forty.[29] Tajuddin Sanbhali (d. 1050/1640-41 Mecca), one of Baqi Billah’s senior disciples, transferred his residence to the Hijaz after his spiritual mentor’s death. Tajuddin’s disciples spread the Naqshbandiyya in Egypt and Yemen. Khwaja Husamuddin Ahmad (d. 1043/1633 Agra), another senior disciple, maintained the Sufi hospice in Firuzabd and raised Baqi Billah’s two children after his death. Husamuddin had married Abu Fadl’s sister and had advanced to a high-ranking post (mansabdar of 1000) in Akbar’s government before renouncing government service and becoming a devout follower of Baqi Billah.

By the time Baqi Billah arrived in Delhi, Akbar, the Mughal ruler, had visited Mu’inuddin Chishti’s tomb many times, having performed his first pilgrimage on foot to the mausoleum in 972/1564. Like his father, Humayun, Akbar did not give apecial patronage to the Naqshbandiyya. Akbar visited another Chishti, Salim Chishti (d. 979/1571) whose holy intercession and prayer Akbar believed had expedited the birth of his first surviving son. Akbar’s Chishti affiliation especially aggravated the Naqshbandis. Not only were the Naqshbandis politically marginalised, but the Chishtis at court engaged in practices which the Naqshbandis considered forbidden by Islamic law, e.g., Sufi concerts (sama’). The subsequent support of Ahmad Sirhindi by influential Muslim groups after Akbar’s death is related to these political circumstances.
Observing the precedent set by Khwaja Ahrar, the Naqshbandi-Timurid partnership- in India bolstered the Islamic identity of the Timurid regime while facilitating the spread of Naqshbandi teachings among the Indian Muslim community. Continuing beyond the Mughal empire into the fourteenth/twentieth century, the Naqshbandi-Timurid alliance created its own precedents in India by developing social and religious ties between Naqshbandis and Afghans. In addition, the political role of the Naqshbandi pir as a shaykh-intimate to the ruler was established. Not only did Naqshbandi shaykhs advise and mediate Mughal administrative affairs, but were also expected to focus divine favour to the ruler’s advantage. this Central-Asian legacy was to make a lasting impression on Indian Islam


Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1034/1624) initiates the third stage of Naqshbandi history. Also called the renewer of the second millennium (mujaddid-i alf-i thani), he was the most famous of Baqi Billah’s disciples. More than any other Naqshbandi after Baha’uddin, Sirhindi is the pivotal figure who redefined Sufism’s role in society and who elaborated Naqshbandi mystical exercises. The renaming of the path from Naqshbandiyya to Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya (or simply Mujaddidiyya) reflects the significance of Sirhindi’s influence. making him a co-founder figure for the later Naqshbandiyya. With the goal of following in the footsteps of the Prophet, his ideas ran counter to conventional perspectives of the time. Sirhindi’s emphasis on defining Indian Muslims according to a strict interpretation of Sunni credal dogma was in direct conflict with Akbar’s official policy which, among other things, did not emphasise the pivotal role of Muhammad as the exemplar for Muslims, accelerating a process, that blurred distinctions between religious communities. Within a short period of time, Mujaddidi political influence and alliances contributed to the demise of universalist tendencies in Mughal government, permanently inluencing Muslim self-identity in the Subcontinent. Indian Naqshbandis continued to advise rulers until the decline of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb’s death in 1119/1707. Sirhindi’s impact was not only political; by the eighteenth century the Mujaddidis dominated all other Indian Naqshbandi lineages. He was so convincing in his stress on following the sunna and sharia (shari’ah, Islamic law) as the basis for mystical experience that almost all Naqshbandis world now call themselves Mujaddidis.

Sirhindi, whose father ‘Abdulahad was a well-known Chishti-Qadiri and religious scholar, exhibited his extraordinary spiritual aptitude by becoming a successor to Baqi Billah in less than three months. His spiritual attainments attracted a large numbers of disciples, including members of Akbar’s court. Shortly before his death, Sirhindi was imprisoned for a year by the Emperor Jahangir for his controversial claim to have reached a higher spiritual rank than Abu Bakr, the first Caliph.[30]

Successors to Sirhindi

In 1032-33/1623 Sirhindi declared his middle son, Khwaja Muhammad Ma’sum (d. 1079/1668), to be his principal successor and next qayyum.[31] Like his father who had written to the Emperor Jahangir,[32] Ma’sum wrote letters to the royal family encouraging them to promote and implement Islamic policies throughout India.[33] It is said that the prince Aurangzeb, Dara Shikoh’s younger brother, visited Khwaja Ma’ sum’s residence in Sirhind after Shah Jahan’s death in 1076/1666 and became his formal disciple there.[34] Further evidence in the maktuhat of Ma’sum and his son, Hujjatullah Naqshbandi (d. 1114/1702)[35]; indicate that Aurangzeb was a practising Naqshbandi at one time.

When the war for succession between the two princes took place, Aurangzeb is said to have looked to the Naqshbandis for support. Sufis were the specialists to mediate and focus divine Effulgence on the ruler’s behalf. Muhammad Ma’sum ordered his nephew Shaykh Sa’duddin, the son of Muhammad Sa’id, and his own son Muhammad Ashraf, both of whom were preparing to go on pilgrimage, to go immediately to Aurangzeb; the latter supposedly also had orders to stay by Aurangzeb’s side.[36] Ma’sum and his eldest son, Sibghatullah, went to Mecca. The former went to mobilise spiritual support of ulama )’ ulama’) and Sufis in the holy city to pray for Aurangzeb’s victory, while the latter was dispatched to Baghdad to appeal to the spirit of ‘Abdulqadir al-Jilani (d. 561/1166), the forunder-figure of the Qadiriyya. The intent was for ‘ Abdulqadir to abandon spiritual tawajjuh for Dara Shikoh, since the Naqshbandis considered Dara no longer worthy of being in the Qadiriyya, after he even abandoned the writing of Hanafi and Qadiri after his name.[37] The loss of ‘Abdulqadir’s assistance would have isolated Dara from the flow of divine Effulgence, rendering Dara powerless. Whether or- not the Naqshbandis actually performed this barrage of prayer and spiritual lobbying is not the issue. These actions reflect the popular assumption at the time that Shah Jahan’s succession would be decided in the heavenly sphere first; the Sufis were considered to have the most power to influence this causal plane and thereby effect changes in this world.

Post-Sirhindi Relations with Mughal Rulers

With the victory of Aurangzeb, Mughal support of a universalist approach to religion, i.e., the belief that all religions have equal, validity, came to an end. The Mujaddidi definition of Islam, stressing stricter definitions of Muslim identity, became official and predominated into the twentieth century. Sirhindi’s spiritual and physical descendants continued to advise Aurangzeb, as many Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi family members and disciples continued to find employment in the Mughal administration.[38] Although it is debatable how much unfluence the Naqshbandis actually had over Aurangzeb’s subsequent policies, Naqshbandis believed they could encourage what they considered the Islam of the ahl al-sunna wa,’l­jama’a by influencing the leaders of the community in the manner of Ahrar and his descendants. At the same time these shaykhs and their senior successors had thousands of disciples who were being taught to adhere assiduously to Islamic law (sharia) and sunna as they progressed along the Sufi path. From the Emperor’s viewpoint, political expedience dictated a religiously legitimate government supported by religious tables. The Tumurids’ retention of mediators to channel spiritual power and to wield influence in the higher spheres proved equally consequential. There were some cases where the Mughals made land grants to shrines merely on condition that the sajjadanishin pray ‘for the prosperity of the government.’[39]

From these government land grants the worldly fortunes of many Naqshbandis were enhanced. Even Mughal emperors like Humayun and Shah Jahan, who did not utilise the services and protection of the Naqshbandis, supported their own Sufis to perform these all-inportant tasks of intercession. Overall, political considerations reigned supreme in Mughal-Sufi relationships. An emperor’s survival depended on his highly sophisticated political acumen. Jahangir did not hesitate to take action against Ahmad Sirhindi soon after the second volume of Sirhindi’s Maktubat went into circulation in 1028/1619. Sirhindi’s subsequent imprisonment reflected Jahangir’s need to minimise discord in his realm. Emperor Shah Jahan immediately banished Sayyid Adam Banuri (1053-1644), an influential successor of Ahmad Sirhindi, to the Hijaz in 1052/1642-43 when the emperor’s messengers in Lahore reported ten thousand threatening Afghhans in Banuri’s entourage.[40] Likewise, Aurangzed’s proscription of Sirhindi’s Maktubat does not contradict his previous association with the Naqshbandis. Political issues required political responses and spiritual issues spiritual responses. Sufis were useful to the Mughals but were not considered invincible; when the boundaries of political acceptability were transgressed, the emperor quickly reminded the Sufis that they were still his subjects.

After Aurangzeb: Shah Waliullab and Mir Dard

The twelfth/eighteenth century begins another era in Indian Muslim history, as the Indian Mughal empire disintegrated after

Aurangzeb’s death in 1118/1707. Spiritual descendants of Ahmad Sirhindi became the most prominent Naqshbandis, overshadowing other lineages. A member of this spiritual family, Shah Waliullah Dihlawi (d. 1176/1762) continued the reform tradition of Ahmad Sirhindi and is known as the most famous Indian Muslim of the period. Shah Waliullah became known internationally on the basis of his erudite and versatile scholarship in tafsir, hadith, fiqh, and tasawwuf. His most well-known work, Hujjat Allah al-baligha, has been used in the course of study at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.[41] Through original syntheses of Islamic religious subjects, Shah Waliullah demonstrated his intellectual genius, whether formulating unpredented legal decisions on the basis of original hadith_ship or showing that the so-called shuhudi and wujudi positions did not conflict but had complementary functions in Sufism. His own talents harmonised the best of Sufi experience and scholarly attainment, making Shah Waliullah an ideal religious leader who, by reconciliation of opposing trends, endeavoured to revive Islam. While striving to eliminate practices of Indian Muslims not conforming to the Prophetic sunna, he not only followed the reform tradition of Ahmad Sirhindi, but formulated an example for nineteenth-and twentieth-century Sufis.

Shah Waliullah’s Naqshbandi contemporary, Mir Dard (d. 1199/1785), also lived in Delhi. Mir Dard’s father, Muhammad Nasir ‘ Andalib (d.1172/1759), a Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi shaykh and a Khalifa of Shah Sa’ dullah Gulshan (d. 1140/1728), was the first Indian to call his Sufi path, the Muhammadan path (tariqa Muhanarradiyya), a designation also used by the thirteenth/nineteenth-century North African Idrisiya and Sanusiyya Sufis and the Indian Ahmad Shahid (d. 1246-7/1831) of Rai Bareilly (there is no historical evidence that they influenced each other). When Mir Dard asked his father how to name this new path, he replied:

if my intention has been such, I would name the tariqa after my own name, as the others do. But all of us are children, lost in the sea of identity and drowned in one ocean. *Our name is the name of Muhammad, and our sign is the sign of Muhammad. Our love is the love of Muhammad and our claim is the claim of Muhammad. One must call this order the tariqa Muhammadiyya, the Muhammadan path. It is exactly the path of Muhammad, and we have not added anything to it. Our conduct is the conduct of the prophet, and our way the Muhammadan way.[42]

Both Mir Dard and Shah Waliullah distinguished two ways to God: the higher path of the prophethood (tariq-i nubuwat) and the lower path of intimates of God (tariq-i Wilayat). Like Shah Waliullah Mir Dard’s emphsis on’ the Prophet influenced concepts of Muslim identity in thirteenth/nineteenth-century India. The Muhammadan path also inspired Indian Muslim freedom fighters in their struggle against the Sikhs and the British during the 1820’s.

Mujaddidiyya dn Other Naqshbandi Tendencies

Shah Waliullah exemplified a uniqure genealogical confluence of all the major suborders of the Indian Naqshbandiyya.[43] Of all these eight Naqshbanid affiliations, Shah Waliullah preferred the Naqshbaniyya-Mujaddidiyya, describing it as ‘the most illustrious and pure and the least heretical tariqa.’[44] It was the reformist Sufi path, i.e., living according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law and modelling one’s actions after those of the Pronhet, that was to make Naqshbandi affiliation almost synonymous with that of the Naqshbaniyya-Mujaddidiyya worldwide. Other Naqshbandi sub-branches, e.g., those following Abu’l-’Ula’s and Baqi Billah’s teachings, listened to concerts (sama’) accompanied by dancing to produce spiritual ecstasy, an activity not considered permissible by sharia-minded Naqshbandi-Mujaddidis. Abu ‘1-’ Ula’s sub-branch uniquely combined Chishti practices of singing and sama’ with Ahrari dhikr but this sub-branch never became widespread within South Asia.[45] Even before the early part of the twelfth/eighteenth century, Baqi Billah’s non-Mujaddidi sub-branch had apparently withered away in India, subsumed by the vigorous Mujaddidis.[46] In addition, other non-Mujadidi Naqshbandi sub-braches, e.g., represented by Khwaja Khawand Mahmud (d. 1052/1642 Lahore) and by a Central Asian sub-branch of Baba Shah Muhammad Musafir (d. 1126/1714 Aurangabad), failed to attract disciples and perpetuate their teachings.[47] Within a century of Ahmad Sirhindi’s death, the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya reigned supreme among the Naqshbandis in India.

To analyse the supremacy of the Mujaddidiyya among the Naqshbandiyya it is significant that a posthumous Naqshbani-Mujaddidi hagiographical tradition did bestow a limited degree of literary immortality upon Sirhindi. After Sirhindi’s death Muhammad Hashim Kishmi Badakhshani composed Zubdat al-maqamat, soon followed by Badruddin Sirhindi’s Hadarat al-quds, finished in 1057/1647-48. Considerable anecdotal material, bolstered with exaggerated accounts of Sirhindi’s miracles and political importance, has accumulated by the time Abu’l-Fayd Ihsan began compiling Rawdat al-qayyumiyya after 1152-53/1740. The most lasting literary monument to Sirhindi, however, is a compendium of his 536 collected letters, Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani.
No other Naqshbandi group had either a hagiographical tradition or massive volumes of collected letters (maktubat) to perpetuate a literary legacy for tuture generations. In terms of lasting fame, Sirhindi’s compiled letters in the genre of maktubat in India Sufi literature compare with Amir Hasan Sijzi’s notable contribution, Fawa’id al-fu’ad in the genre of malfuzat.[48] Yet these two types of Sufi writing are very different. Although Sirhindi’s letters have been translated into Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu in addition to having been reprinted in Persian many times, to understand this correspondence requires a background in Islamic religious sciences and an advanced knowledge of Naqshbanid-Mujaddidi technical terms.[49] Unlike Fawa’id alfu ad, a written oral history comprehensible to a general audience, Sirhindi’s letters are addressed to almost two hundred disparate persons, most of whom cannot be properly identified, a situation which creates contextual difficulties in explaining contradictions between similar topics in different letters. In short, Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani is not a popular, accessible work that would influence common people’s perception of the Naqshbandiyya.

Sirhindi’s collected letters concentrate interpretive authority on the spiritual mentor. Instead of appealing to a wide audience, it has been more commonly used as a teaching manual by shaykhs commenting on various topics of Sufi practice and interpreting correct Hanafi ritual practice. For the common uneducated Muslim, Sirhindi’s Maktubat represent the continuity and teaching authority from the founder-figure, who in turn legitimises his teaching by continually citing precedents of his Naqshbandi predecessors and the Prophet. Other branches of the Indian Naqshbandiyya lacked both hagiographical and maktubat literature to perpetuate their memory. A Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi literary legacy, unmatched by Baqi Billah, Khawand Mahmud, Baba Palangposh, Abu’l’Ula, and their descendants, relegated non-Mujaddidis to the background of Indian Sufism.[50]


Naqshbandis stopped advising rulers when the actual government of northern India came under British rule. In 1217-18/1803 the British had ousted the Marathas from Delhi to be the new protectors of the titular Muslim king in Delhi; by 1265/1849 the Panjab was under British control. After the Indian rebellion of 1273/1849, no longer pretending to honour Mughal law, the British abruptly exiled the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah, to Rangoon. The Indian Muslim community, treated as a scapegoat for the 1857 uprising, was forced to endure British punishment, which especially affected high-profile Muslim institutions in Delhi. The British closed the grand mosque of Delhi for five years after the revolt; even as late as 1316-17/1899 Europeans still considered their entering the Delhi mosque with shoes on as a ‘right of conquest.’[51]

Naqshbandi activity in Delhi was similarly disrupted. Ahmad Sa’id’s Naqshbandi hospice in Chatli Qabr, housing the graves of Mirza Janjanan (d. 1195/1781) and Ghulam ‘Ali Shah (d. 1240/1824), was entrusted to a Panjabi disciple of Dost Muhammad (d. 1284/1868) when Ahmad Said (d. 1277/1860) surreptitiously emigrated with his family to the Hijaz in 1274/1858. It was not until thirty years later, when his grandson, Abu’l-Khayr (d. 1341/1924), reorganized the hospice as an institution that the Naqshbandis renewed their activity in the capital.[52] Naqshbandi political activity became a memory as conditions for Muslims in India went from bad to worse. In twelfth/eighteenth-century India, rulers generally ignored sell-intentioned Naqshbandi advice. By the later part of the thirteenth/nineteenth century, the British Government in urban centres had become hostile to any hint of potential Muslim political involvement, Naqshbandi or otherwise. This change initiated a new chapter in Indian Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi history.

The Panjab as the Naqshbandi Centre

Demographically, in the ninety-year period after the 1857 rebellion, the highest concentration of Naqshbandi centres was found in the Panjab. While certain distracts in the Panjab could be ranked among the regions with the highest concentration of Naqshbandi Sufi activity anywhere in the Islamic world in this period,[53] other districts in southwest Panjab, e.g., Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Kahn, Montgomery, and Multan, noticeably lacked Naqshbandi centres. These districts, linked together by thirty shrines, encompassed the spiritual territory of the Suhrawardiyya, the domain of the descendants of Sayyid Jalaluddin Bukhari (d. 692/1292).[54] Deceased Suhrawardi pirs were believed to manifest themselves through these strategically-locatede tombs, legitimising political and economic power of the shrine’s custodians.

In the context of rural Panjab Islam, the smaller shrines served as local symbols of access to religious power and intercession as did the larger pan-Panjab shrines of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Baba Farid in Pakpattan, and Ruknuddin in Multan. The descendants of the deceased shaykh buried at each shrine functioned as religious specialists who provided cures and a modicum of religious identity for the devotees participating in shrine activities. Typically Naqshbandis did not establish centres in rural areas where local Sufi shrines already existed, although individual Naqshbandi pirs with their circle of disciples could be found anywhere.

In British India economic considerations often reinforced the -distribution of rural shrines. Even though the British had no justification to extend governmental support to urban Sufis and ulama, they reluctantly found it politically expedient to give land assignments (jagirs) to rural Sufis. As landed gentry, the religious leaders collected the taxes for the central government. Thus, the British ended up outwardly imitating the Mughal practice of supporting religious dignitaries and shrines.[55] Naqshbandis were not ascetics isolated from the community or political affairs; to work effectively within Indian society it was difficult for Naqshbandis to be totally detached from the British colonial presence.

Among Naqshbandis, the British had given Imam ‘Ali Shah (1282/1865) 900 ghuma ‘o of land near the area of Kotal Sharif in the Panjab.[56] Jama’ at ‘Ali Shah (d. 1370/1951), arguably the most well-known Naqshbanid in the struggle for Pakistan, was inextricably associated with the rural Panjabi social structure and thus could not avoid close ties to the British administration. In 1353-54/1935, the Ittihad-i Millat elected Jama’ at ‘Ali Shah as leader of the Muslim community (amir-i millat) to agitate on behalf of the Shahidganj Mosque. In response, Maulana Habiburrahman, a member of an urban Muslim group, Majhis-i Ahrar and a politically active Deobandi religious scholar asked, ‘How can a man [Jama’ at ‘ ALi Shah] who calls the government ‘mai-bap’ (mother and father) be entrusted with leading the Muslims?’[57]

Dispersion of Naqshbandis in Rural Panjab

Sufi notables of British India took to building their hospices (khanaqahs) outside urban areas, where they could avoid confrontations with the central government and rely on rural or tribal sources of income. In the neighbouring region of Qandahar, political turbulence forced Dost Muhammad Qandahari in 1266/1850 to relocate his hospice near the village of Musa Zai, forty-one miles from Dera Ismail Khan.[58] His shaykh, Ahmad Said advised him to establish the new Sufi hospice in palace where both Panjabi and Pashto were spoken,[59] Although there were some initial difficulties with the neighbouring Pashto-Speaking tribes, the remote Khanaqah attracted disciples form Afghanistan, the Peshawar area, and the Panjab.

Muhammad ‘Uthman (d.. 1314/1896), Dost Muhammad’s successor, continued the Naqshbandi tradition at Musa Zai and in 1311/1893-94 had a new hospice built near Mianwali in the village of Khundian, Punjab, to take advantage of the relatively moderate climate there. Situated on the frontier between Pashto-and Panjab-i-speaking groups, the new, more accessible location continued to fulfil the mandate of his grandfather pir.[60] His son and successor, Sirajuddin (d. 1333/1915), spent his summers at the Khundian hospice and, through his teaching, the Naqshbandiyya spread to Hyderabad, Sind.[61] These two hospices, like those of the other prominent Naqshibandis of this period, were located in villages.[62]

Another important factor in distribution Naqshbandi shaykhs the Panjab was educational. Almost all of the prominent Panjabi shaykhs purposely sent their khalifas into rural areas to encourage nominal Muslims to adopt more Islamic practices in their daily lives. In the environs of Lahore, Muhyiuddin Qusuri (d. 1270/1854), carried on the teachings of the Naqshbandiyy. Ghulam Nabi Lilahi (d.1306/1888) set up his khanaqah in the hinterlands of Jhelam. Other disciples of Muhyuddin Qusuri went on to establish their hospices in Dera Ismail khan, Bhera, and Namak Miyani.[63] Sher Muhammad Sharqpuri (d. 1347/1928), a reformist pir of the Arain biradari,[64] attracted large numbers of disciples to his hospice in Sharqpur, located roughly forty miles from Lahore, His most renowned disciples were: Muhammad ‘ Umar Birbali (d. 1387/1967), the editor of Sher Muhammad’s malfuzat, inqilab al-haqiqat, who later became the sajjadanishin at his father’s Sufi hospice in the village of Birbal in the Sargodha district;[65] Sayyid Muhammad Ismail Kirmanwali (d. 1385/1966 Lahore), who received permission to teach disciples upon his first meeting with Sher Muhammad; and Sayyid Nurul-Hasan Bukhari Kiliyanwali (d. 1373/1953), an ex-Shi’i of the Gujranwala district.[66] Innumerable other Naqshbandis were scattered throughout the Panjab, many of whose spiritual pedigree could be traced back to a handful of shaykhs in pre-1857 Delhi.

It is not immediately obvious why the northern Panjab became the major centre of Naqshbandi activity in British India. In spite of the Naqshbandiyya’s rapid adaptation to the Indian environment after Sirhindi’s death, it has never had masss appeal in the Subcontinent. the atmosphere in a Naqshbandi hospice, reflected in the strict Islamic behaviour of the disciples, is in sharp contrast with the festive atmosphere of rural Panjabi shrine cults that demanded little from the visitor except material contribution for services rendered. Yet Naqshbandis shared a similar mediatory parading and would visit shrines themselves, e.g., those of Baha’uddin Naqshband, Mu’ inuddin Chishti, or Ahmad Sirhindi. One factor influencing Naqshbandi success in the religious environment of rural Panjab was the Naqshbandi’s ability to bridge the gap between the ulama and the Panjabi shrine cults.

The Naqshbandiyya and the Ulama Base

The ulama can be seen as religious specialists who function as jurisprudents (sing. faqih), judges (sib. mufti or (qadi), or prayer leaders (sing. imam) Historically, throughout the Islamic world, ulama have served as government officials. It has been a symbiotic relationship: the government support the religious infrastructure managed by ulama and, in turn, the ulama validate the government. In the Mughal empire the perceived Islamic nature of government, legitimised by both Suifs and ulama, underpinned Indian Muslim identity and compensated somewhat for Muslims’ perceiving themselves as a minority in India. When the Mughal state began to disintegrate in the twelfth/eighteenth century, the ulama were among the first to experience the consequences. In the aftermath of the 1857 revolt, when the British eliminated the last outward symbolic traces of the Mughal empire, the effect on the Delhi ulama was devastating.

Though many sajjadanishins kept their political influence in the localities even after the Mughal collapse, the decline of the Mughals seemed for the ‘ulama at Delhi nothing less than a catastrophe. It signalled the disappearance of the cultural exis around which the entire Indian Islamic system had developed.[67]

Many Delhi ulama dispersed to small towns throughout the Panjab. Others, leaders of reformist ulams, organised a new type of teaching institution to propagate a sharia-minded Islam, e.g., the Dar al Ulum founded at Deoband in 1283-84/1867, which recognised Sufism but rejected excesses of the shrine cult and exaggerated dependence on the pir.[68]

The Naqshbandi sharia-minded reform orientation, a central aspect of Indian Naqshbandi identity, has attracted many ulama into the ranks of the Indian Naqshbandiyya.[69] As the ulama left Delhi bereft of government support, those with a reformist agenda often affiliated with their counterparts in revivalist Sufi groups who frequently were, like themselves, educated Muslims. By the late thirteenth/nineteenth century, Naqshbandis were among the leading participants in the Sufi revival movement that emphasised the sharia and the active propagation of Islam (tabligh) within the institutional structure of the Sufi khanaqah.

Often the Deobandis gravitated toward the reformist Chishtiyya just as the Naqshbandiyya attracted many ulama of the Nadwat al-’Ulama’ in Lucknow. Many ulama in the Panjab, however, shared neither the reformist Deobandi position nor the perspective of Nadwat al-’Ulama’. These rural ulama, emphasising a mediational style stressing love of the Prophet and obedience to the pir, came to be known as Barelwis, on the basis of the erudite scholarly work of Ahmad Rida Khan Barelwi (d. 1339-40/1921) of Bareilly. Ahmad Rida, sharing an ethos more popular with the religious sensibilities of the average Panjabi Muslim than the Deobandis, formulated another perspective (mashrab) to justify the religious authority of Sufism and particularly to legitimise Sufi revivalist pirs.[70]
For Barelwi religious education, the Dar al Ulum Nu’ maniyya, was founded in 1304-4/1887 and the Dar al Ulum Hizb al-Ahnaf in 1342-43/1924, both in Lahore, Naqshbandi Barelwi pirs of the area, e.g., lama’ at ‘ Ali Shah, provided teachers in addition to supporting these schools financially.[71] As ulama became affiliated with the Naqshbandis, whether from a Deobandi reformist stance or a Barelwi Dufi revivalist perspective, other educated Muslims would be inclined to participate in these Sufi groups. The consequent legitimacy and status could only draw additional aspirants into the outer circle of the Sufi group. The long-term effect resulted in Naqshbandi. ideas influencing the Muslim elite, which in turn defined Indian notions of what proper Islam should be.


Until the political decline of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb, Naqshbandis developed close relations with the ruling Turco. Mongol elite. Numerous letters addressed to Mughal Indian rulers exhibit Naqshbandi concern for both the ruler’s performance of religious duties and for the implementation of Islamic policies in the empire. To a greater degree than other Sufi groups, the Naqshbandiyya explicitly concerned itself with correct performance of Islamic ritual according to the Hanfi school of jurisprudence and with moderlling one’s every behaviour on that of the Prophet. Like many other Muslims the Naqshbandis have assumed that a correctly ordered society, that is, one organised according to the sharia, establishes the necessary foundation for individuals to perform their ritual obligations and to live harmoniously both in this world and in the next. Naqshbandi emphasis on the importance of laws governing Muslims or on enforcing certain social norms led to political involvement. In this regard, the Naqshbandiyya are not unique among Sufis. Most Indian Sufi groups have nurtured political interests and acted with political motives at one time or another. Naqshbandis have simply done so more frequently than other Sufi groups.[72] Naqshbandi emphasis on sharia and jurisprudence (fiqh) in the mystical path has attracted many ulama to the movement, thus compounding political relationship’s profoundly deepening their level of political involvement, and ultimately influencing the nature of normative Indian Islam

As the Mughal empire declined in the twelfth/eighteenth and thirteenth/nineteenth centuries, the socio-political modus operandi of the Naqshbandiyya underwent many transitions. Shah Waliullah’s futile attempts to sway ineffectual Mughal rulers and his naive trust in Ahmad Shah Durrani, who wantonly sacked numerous cities in northern India, demonstrate that the days of counseling the ruling elite a had passed.[73] Armed struggle was equally useless as Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi (d.1246/1831), a disciple of Shah Waliullah’s son, ‘ Abdul’ aziz was killed fighting to restore Muslim rule in northern India..With the advent of British rule, Indian Naqshbandis, refrained from explicit political action until the Pakistan movement began in the 1930’s.

Without an Islamic polity to support Islamic institutions financially and to provide an identity so necessary for a minority Muslim community, Naqshbandi pirs stressed the personal nature of Muslim identity. From their rural hospices, Panjabi Naqshbandis proclaimed the essentials of correct Islamic credal dogma (‘ aqida) and of suitable individual Muslim behaviour modelled on the Prophet as prerequisites to the performance of mystical practices.[74] Religious authority became more focused on the religious leader, or shaykh, who was now expected to provide guidance in ordinary Islamic religious duties, to mediate between earthly concerns and a higher spiritual reality, and to direct mystical practices. For thousands of Indian Muslims an intimate personal relationship with a spiritual mentor established and confirmed one’s identity as a Muslim.[75] Personal adherence was essential, especially without the overarching presence of an Islamic polity.[76] Compatible with the ethos of Panjabi Islam, religious authority and communal identity were transferred from socio-political symbols to the personal and approachable figure embodied in the living perfect and perfection-bestowing Sufi shaykh. By the thirteenth/nineteenth century, this development .of a charismatic shykh was not unique either historically or geographically but there was an extraordinary concentration of internationally influential Naqshbandi shaykhs in the Panjab during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Why this ceased to be the case in the twentieth century is yet a further topic of research.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home