Sufism in Indo Pak Subcontinent
Sufism in Indo Pak Subcontinent

Sufism in Indo Pak Subcontinent


This postulation is devoted to Allah, my Creator and my Master, and envoy, Mohammed (May Allah favor and give him), who showed us the motivation behind life. My country Pakistan, the hottest womb; Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad; my second wonderful home; My awesome guardians, who never quit giving of themselves in incalculable ways, My dearest friend, who drives me through the valley of dimness with the light of trust and support, My cherished siblings and sisters; especially my dearest sibling, who remains by me when things look disheartening, My beloved Parents: whom I can’t compel myself to quit loving. All the general population in my life who touch my heart, I commit to this research.


Even before the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) in the 600s, Arab traders were in contact with India. Merchants would regularly sail to the west coast of India to trade goods such as spices, gold, and African goods. Naturally, when the Arabs began to convert to Islam, they carried their new religion to the shores of India. The first mosque of India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, was built in 629 (during the life of Prophet Muhammad) in Kerala, by the first Muslim from India, Cheraman Perumal Bhaskara Ravi Varma. Through continued trade between Arab Muslims and Indians, Islam continued to spread in coastal Indian cities and towns, both through immigration and conversion.


In the words of Muhammed Iqbal, the philosopher-poet of India-Pakistan, Islam is like a balloon. When it is squeezed in one direction, it bulges out in another. Within a hundred years after Genghis Khan, Islam conquered the conquerors. The Mongols who had destroyed Bukhara and Baghdad themselves became the standard bearers of the new faith. The westward thrust of Islam carried it into Europe. To the east, it put down new roots in India and Indonesia. The center of gravity of the Islamic world shifted from Cairo and Damascus to Lahore and Kuala Lumpur.

After the conquest of Sindh by Muhammed bin Qasim in 711, the borders between the Baghdad Caliphate and India were relatively stable for 500 years. Islam made limited inroads into the subcontinent along the coast of Malabar in southern India and in southern Pakistan. Political Islam had reached equilibrium and was preoccupied as much with internal debates as with external threats. For almost 200 years, Fatimid chieftains controlled Multan and Sindh. Propagation of the faith took second place to the global struggle between the Sunnis and the Fatimids and later between the Muslims and the Crusaders. This situation changed towards the end of the 12th century with the dissolution of the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo (1171), the defeat of the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin (1186) and the conquest of Delhi by Muhammed Ghori (1192).

The Islamic penetration of the subcontinent accelerated in the 13th century. Several reasons may be cited for this change. First, the establishment of the Delhi sultanate enabled Muslim scholars and traders to travel freely throughout India under the protection of the political authorities. Second, India was a beneficiary of the Mongol invasions (1219-1261) that devastated Central Asia and Persia. Many noted scholars fled the Mongols into the security of Hindustan. Third and perhaps the most important element, was the establishment of Sufi orders throughout the vast subcontinent. Indeed, Islam spread in India and Pakistan not by the force of conquest or the elaborate arguments of mullahs and kadis but through the work of the great Sufi shaykhs. In this respect, Muslim India is different from the Arab countries where Islam was introduced during the classical period (665-1258) through the work of the muhaddithin and the mujahideen.

The process by which faith enters the hearts of believers has a profound impact on the way religion is felt and followed by them. In the Arab experience, the solidification of Islamic life took place during the imperial days of the Baghdad Caliphate and was tilted heavily in favor of the exoteric aspects of religion. By contrast, the Indo-Pakistanis, Indonesians, and Africans were exposed more to the esoteric and spiritual dimension of Islam.

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The Sufi shaykhs of the 13th century were not missionaries. They were not merchants of faith peddling their religion. They were men drunk with the love of God, giving of themselves for no gain but the prospect of divine pleasure, serving humanity irrespective of creed or nationality, and sharing their spiritual bounty with whoever would partake of it. Proselytizing was not their goal; it was a byproduct of their selfless service. The Sufi way strove to mend human behavior and to open up human vistas to the sublime peace that comes from proximity to God. Their “miracles” were the transformations of human hearts. The Muslims needed this spirituality as much as did the Hindus and the Buddhists. When a Muslim experienced a spiritual rebirth through a Sufi, it was called an awakening. When a non-Muslim was similarly transformed, it was called a conversion.

India, whose social structure was fossilized by the caste system, was ready to accept a universal religion like Islam. In a predominantly Hindu society, the position of a person was determined at birth. The Brahmans reserved for themselves the exclusive privilege to recite the mantras and propitiate the gods. The warrior Rajput class whose princely privileges were also guaranteed by birth backed the status quo. The vyasyas tilled the toil and paid the taxes. At the bottom of the social ladder were the shudras or the untouchables. To quote a well-known Indian writer V.T. Rajshekar: “These untouchables were denied the use of public wells and were condemned to drink any filthy water they could find. Their children were not admitted to schools attended by the caste Hindu children. Though they worshiped the gods of Hindus and observed the same festivals, the Hindu temples were closed to them. Barbers and washer men refused to render them service. Caste Hindus, who fondly threw sugar to ants and reared dogs and other pets and welcomed persons of other religions to their houses, refused to give a drop of water to the untouchables or to show them one iota of sympathy. These untouchable Hindus were treated by the caste Hindus as sub-human, less than men, worse than beasts . . .” In this social matrix, the message of Islam with its emphasis on the brotherhood of man and the transcendence of God found a ready reception.

But the most important reason for the success of the Sufis lay in the spiritual bent of the Indian mind. Every culture produces an archetype that personifies the ethos of that culture. For instance, in contemporary America, it is the businessman who personifies the ethos of the American culture. During the industrial revolution in Europe it was the empiricist and the inventor. During the Dark Ages in Europe it was the monk. In medieval Japan it was the Samurai. In the Muslim Middle East it was the traditionalist. In India, it was the sadhu and the rishi. Gautama Buddha personified this archetype; so did Shankara Acharya and Tulsi Das. These men of faith enjoyed and continue to enjoy an honor and respect that is the envy of kings and emperors. As Islam entered the subcontinent, it adapted its mode to fit the spiritual paradigm. The Sufi could intuitively and immediately relate to the Indian psyche in a manner that the learned doctors of law could not. Thus, it was the great Sufis who not only succeeded in introducing millions of Indians to Islam but also contributed to the evolution of a unique Hindustani language, culture, poetry and music which amalgamated the ancient inheritance of India with the vibrancy of Islam.

In the subcontinent, by far the most outstanding among the great Sufi shaykhs was Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Indeed, he is generally accepted as the fountainhead of Islamic spiritual movements in India and Pakistan. The Khwaja was born in Sajistan in Central Asia in the year 1139. Orphaned at the young age of twelve, he traveled to Samarqand and received his early education in that great center of learning. He was a Hafiz e Qur’an at age fifteen and had mastered the Arabic, Farsi and Turkic languages. He then traveled to Nishapur where he became a disciple of Khwaja Uthman Chisti. After receiving his training in the methodology of the Chishti Order for seven years, Khwaja Moeenuddin was inducted into that Order. From Nishapur, he traveled to Baghdad where he met the towering personages of the age including Shaykh Abdul Qader Jeelani, Shaykh Ziauddin Suhrawardi, Khwaja Awhaduddin Kirmani and Khwaja Abu Saeed Tabrizi. In Isfahan, he met Khwaja Qutbuddin, who became his disciple and later his successor in Delhi. From Isfahan, Khwaja Moeenuddin traveled to Ghazna, Lahore and Multan where he mastered Sanskrit and Hindi so that he could communicate with the local people.

It was about this time that Muhammed Ghori defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan at the Battle of Tarain (1192) and added Delhi and Ajmer to the Ghorid Sultanate. Khwaja Moeenuddin moved from Multan to Delhi and then to Ajmer, which had been the capital of the Chauhan dynasty. This town in the Rajasthan desert became the fountainhead of a Sufi movement that touched every corner of India and Pakistan. Thousands embraced Islam through his efforts. Millions did so through the efforts of his disciples. Three of his disciples themselves became towering personages of renown and occupy an important place in the hierarchy of the great Sufis. These were Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki (after whom the Qutub Minar of Delhi is named), Shaykh Hameeduddin Naguri and Baba Fareed Ganj of Lahore. Only once did the Khwaja of Ajmer return to Delhi. Sultan Shamsuddin Altumish was the Sultan of Delhi. When the Khwaja approached the capital, the Sultan presented himself in person with enormous presents of gold, silver and jewels. The presents were politely declined. This pattern of solicitation on the part of the ruling monarchs and a rebuff by the great Sufis was to be repeated countless times in Muslim history. The vision of the Sufis was fixed on a far higher goal than the gold of the world. They scorned the world; so, the world chased after them. Theirs was the kingdom of heaven, eternal, transcendent, unscathed and untouched by the rise and fall of dynasties. It was this selflessness that made them the beloved of the masses, something the rulers wanted but could not attain.

Khwaja Moeenuddin was a poet of renown. Over 10,000 couplets in Farsi are ascribed to him. He was a prolific writer, but most of his writings have been lost. He died in 1236, adored, venerated and extolled. If there is one person to whom belongs the credit for introducing Islam to India and Pakistan and of building the largest Islamic community in the world today, it was Khwaja Moeenuddin Chisti of Ajmer.

The Sufis were eminently successful not just because they recited the dhikr, chanted devotional songs and practiced charity, but because they established effective institutions to do their work in their own lifetime and to continue it after they departed. At the center of the Sufi approach is the belief that only a learned and pious teacher can impart true knowledge to a discipline. The structure of a Sufic order is pyramidal. At the apex of the pyramid is the Qutub (the pole) or the Wali (master, protector), Khalifa (representative) or Sajjadah Nishin (one who resides in the sanctuary). For instance, the Qutub of the Qadariya School is Shaykh Abdul Qader Jeelani of Baghdad.

The methodology, method, process and approach of a Sufic order is called the tareeqa. Initiation into a Sufi order is voluntary. Upon initiation, a person becomes a murid. The word murid derives from the Arabic word iradah, meaning desire or will. A murid is one who desires and craves for proximity to God and is inclined towards Divine Love. In this journey, he is guided by a Shaykh. The murid’s progression in the ranks of the tareeqa takes him (her) through the following stages: Mubtadi (student); Mutadarrij (practitioner, one who is making progress); Shaykh (teacher) and finally the Qutub (the pillar or pole). The exact terms may vary between the tareeqas. Obedience to the teacher and an extraordinary degree of discipline is required of the murid. There is no conflict between the various Sufi orders. A person may belong to several orders at the same time, although attachment to a single teacher is preferred.

The progress of a murid is measured in darajat (degrees) or maqamat (stages) tawbah (repentance), zuhd (avoidance of impure actions), faqr (humility, renunciation of worldly goods), sabr (patience), tawakkul (reliance on God alone for one’s needs) and rada (earning Divine pleasure). Thus, a Sufi order establishes an organizational structure, provides a methodology for instruction, measures progress of the initiates and takes them step-by-step towards certainty of knowledge (ilm al yaqin).

The principal place where adherents of a Sufi order meet is called a zawiyah. Secondary places of meeting for dhikr and study are referred to as halqah (circle). Zawiyahs and halqahs grew up throughout the Muslim world. The Sufi orders and their organizations provided continuity through their silsilah (spiritual connectivity relating a Sufi through his teachers to the Prophet). Ascension to the highest position in the organization was by appointment of the Qutub, who, as he approached the end of his life, would nominate and confirm his heir. Syed Mohammed Ghouse of Sindh introduced the silsilah of Abdul Qader Jeelani into India and Pakistan in the 15th century (1482). Although the Qadariya silsilah had less of an impact on Indian soil than the Chishtiya order, the name of Abdul Qader Jeelani is revered throughout the subcontinent. He is commonly referred to as Peeran-e-pir Dastagir or Ghouse-ul-Azam Dastagir. One of the most famous shaykhs of the Qadariya silsilah was Miyan Pir who passed away in Lahore in 1635. Miyan Pir was a teacher to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan. Dara Shikoh, a scholar of repute who was well versed in several languages, wrote a biography of Miyan Pir, who is widely credited with introducing Islam to the rural areas of Punjab and Kashmir.

From Ajmer the Chishtiya order spread to Delhi, Punjab, Bengal and the Deccan. Khwaja Moeenuddin Chisti trained and dispatched to the far-flung corners of the subcontinent men who stand out as spiritual giants in the region. These include Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki (Delhi, d. 1236), Baba Farid of Punjab (Pak Patan, d. 1265), Nizamuddin Awliya (Delhi, d. 1325) who was a disciple of Baba Farid, Hazrat Maqdum, another disciple of Baba Farid (Rourki, Bihar, d. 1291), Nasiruddin Muhammed, commonly referred to as Chirag-e-Dehli (a disciple of Nizamuddin Awliya, Delhi, d. 1356) and Hazrat Gaysu Daraz (a disciple of Chirage-e-Dehli, Gulbarga, d.1422). Together, these men transformed a continent, molded it in an Islamic crucible, lit the candle of faith in the hearts of millions and laid the spiritual foundation for one of the richest and most powerful dynasties the world has ever known, namely the great Moghuls of India.

The history of the Chishtiya order is so intricately woven into the politics of the Delhi court that no survey of Indian history is complete without an acknowledgment of the profound impact made by the Chishtiya order. The first Moghul emperor Babur was himself a Sufi mystic. Emperor Akbar was a murid of Shaykh Salim Chishti (Fatehpur Sikri, d. 1572). He made annual pilgrimages on foot to the tomb of Shaykh Salim as well as to the tomb of Khwaja Moeenuddin of Ajmer. Emperors Jehangir, Shah Jehan and his son Dara Shikoh were ardent believers in these shaykhs. Since the methods and processes of the Sufis have changed little over the last thousand years, the Chishtiya order, together with its sister Qadariya and Suhrwardi orders, provide a cultural link between modern Islam with the Middle Ages. Their history helps us understand the condition of the Muslims in the world today.

Khwaja Khutbuddin Bakhtiar Khaki was the designee of Khwaja Moeenuddin for the Delhi region. Born in Turkistan, he was educated in Baghdad where he met Khwaja Moeenuddin and became his murid. When Khwaja Moeenuddin migrated to Ajmer, Bakhtiar Khaki followed him and was sent to Delhi as the Chishtiya representative. Delhi was the seat of political power and a cauldron of political intrigue. Sultan Altumish offered the post of the Kadi of Delhi to Shaykh Bakhtiar but the Shaykh declined, preferring the independence of the spiritual pursuit to the constraint of official power. The sultan was an avid supporter of tasawwuf. Sufi practices received official protection and common acceptance. Shaykh Bakhtiar himself was a well-known khawwal (reciter of mystic poetry) and often led qawwali gatherings (called sama’a by the Sufis). Thousands in the Delhi area accepted Islam through the radiance of this great mystic. Shaykh Bakhtiar passed away in 1236 and the mantle of the Chishtiya order passed on to Baba Fareed Ganj Shakr.

The emergence of tasawwuf as a powerful force in the Indian milieu did not go unchallenged by competing ideas. In the 14th century, the courts of Delhi witnessed a tug-of-war between the Sufis, the reformers, the kadis, the philosophers and the ruling elite. The geopolitics of the times presents a colorful backdrop for the war of ideas in the Delhi courts.

By the middle of the 14th century, trade routes between Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and China, which had been cut by the Mongol invasions, had been restored. With the conversion of Ghazan the Great (1295), Persia was back in the fold of Islam. This removed the impediment to travel by land from India to west Asia and from there to Africa and Spain. A resilient Islam welded together a world order wherein people and ideas traveled freely from one continent to another.

There emerged three centers of political power in the Muslim world. The first was the rich Mali Kingdom in Africa, which attained its zenith under Mansa Musa (d. 1332). The second was the Mamluke Empire embracing Egypt and Syria. The third, and by far the most powerful, was the Sultanate of Delhi. (Yuan China was a global power but we will refer to it only in the context of diplomatic relations between Delhi and Beijing). The Khiljis (1296-1316) conquered all of India and Pakistan, from Peshawar to Malabar, an area covering more than a million and half square miles. The Tughlaqs (1316-1451), who followed the Khiljis, inherited this vast empire. We shall focus on the court of Muhammed bin Tughlaq (d. 1351), primarily because we know a great deal about his court through the writings of Ibn Batuta. So rich was the Delhi Sultanate that Ibn Batuta, who was a kadi in Delhi from 1335-1341, records that whenever the Emperor passed through the streets of Delhi, the courtiers following him threw coins of gold and silver in the streets for the amah (common folk) to pick up. It was in this magnificent Delhi court that the final resolution of the tug-of-war between the Sufis, the anti-Sufis, the philosophers, the doctors of law and the ruling elite took place. It is a fascinating story because the outcome of the events in the 14th century directly affected the course of further historical developments down to our own times.

The Mongol devastations resulted in a substantial migration of men of learning from Central Asia and Persia into India. The influx of the Sufis provided the spiritual momentum for the spread of Islam in India and Pakistan. However, the migration was not confined to dervishes and Sufis. A large number of ulema and kadis also fled and sought employment in Hindustan. Others migrated further east to the Indonesian islands.

The Delhi sultans, eager to show that they were defenders of the faith, made every effort to employ these scholars. They also sent out emissaries to the far-flung corners of the Islamic world to hire renowned kadis, ulema and philosophers for official service in the Indian empire. The simultaneous presence of the Sufis who pursued the intuitive and spiritual approach to Islam and the kadis who sought strict adherence to the rules of Fiqh provided the first element of tension in the Delhi courts. The doctors of law sought to influence the empire in the direction of strict adherence to the Shariah. They found some Sufi practices, such as sama’a (a forerunner of modern day qawwali) objectionable and sought to influence the Delhi court to declare a ban on them.

A second element of tension was introduced by the reform movements of the era. In the 13th century, as it is today, there were reformers who saw in tasawwuf the possibility of social stagnation. One of the best-known reformers of the age was Ibn Taymiyah of Damascus (d. 1326). Ibn Taymiyah was one of the last of the scholars of the classical age of Islam and he saw in the other-worldliness of tasawwuf the seeds of social decadence. Through his writings and his speeches, he sought to energize a defeated community, which was reeling from the Mongol onslaught. His model was the activist model of the early Companions of the Prophet. As a young man, he aroused the Mamlukes to take a stand against the Mongols. Ibn Taymiya’s ideas traveled to Delhi where they were pitted against the powerful Sufi movement of the Chishtiya Order.

A third element of tension was the presence of the Mu’tazilites (philosophers). The Mu’tazilites emerged in the eighth century as a result of the impact of Greek ideas on Islam. They won the patronage of the Abbasids and their dogma became the court dogma at the court of Harun al Rashid. Taking advantage of official patronage, the Mu’tazilites overextended themselves, applied the philosophical approach to the Qur’an, incurred the wrath of the conservative ulema and were finally dethroned from power towards the beginning of the 9th century. But philosophy was by no means dead among the Muslims. The Islamic intellectual world rediscovered the empirical method within its own ethos and became the originators of the scientific method. The Islamic world continued to produce a galaxy of philosopher-scientists right up to the time of the Mongol invasions. Among the more renowned were Al Khwarizmi (d. 863), Al Farabi (d. 950), Abu Ali Sina (d. 1037), Omar Khayyam (d. 1132) and Al Tusi (d. 1274). The great philosopher of the Maghrib, Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) wrote his commentaries on Aristotle in the 12th century. During the 13th and 14th centuries, some of the philosopher-scholars migrated to India and found a receptive environment in the Delhi courts. Amongst the more notable of the philosophers in Delhi was Shaykh Ilmuddin. The philosophers, too, were pitted against the popular Sufi movement of the Chishtiya Order.

It was under the Tughlaq emperors that the Sufi movement ran headlong into the combined opposition of the ulema, the philosophers and the monarchs. The kadis and the ulema sought a ban on sama’a, declaring it to be against the injunctions of the Shariah. To sort out these controversies, Gayasuddin Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi, convened a conference of the leading ulema, kadis and philosophers in Delhi at his court in 1320. Nizamuddin Awliya was also invited. What started as a conference turned into a court martial of the Chishtiya Sufis. Kadi Jalaluddin, chief kadi of Delhi and Shaykh Zadajam argued against sama’a. Nizamuddin Awliya defended the practice, basing his arguments on certain Hadith. The opposition argued that the supporting Hadith were weak. The discussion became heated, so the Sultan turned to Shaykh Ilmuddin, who was a philosopher (Mu’tazilite) and had traveled extensively through Persia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Shaykh Ilmuddin answered that sama’a was halal for those who listened to it with their hearts and was haram for those who heard it with their nafs. Nonetheless, he too sided with Kadi Jalaluddin and asked the Emperor to forbid sama’a. The Emperor deliberated and, not to be drawn into a religious controversy, gave a split decision permitting sama’a gatherings for the Chishtiya Order but forbidding it to the followers of the Qalandariya and Haidari Orders. (The Qalandariya and Haidari orders had not yet made major inroads into India at that time so the Emperor had nothing to lose in taking a position against the practices of these two orders).

Gayasuddin Tughlaq died in 1325. The tug-of-war between the Sufis, the kadis and the philosophers, continued in the court of Muhammed bin Tughlaq (d. 1351). One of the most capable monarchs of the age, Muhammed bin Tughlaq is an enigma to students of history. He was a scholar, a hafiz-e-Qur’an, well versed in Fiqh and was punctual in his prayers, fasting and zakat. Like the first four caliphs, he treated the non-Muslims with dignity and ensured that taxation was fair to all of his subjects. Yet, he was impetuous, intolerant of dissent and punished, with a vengeance, those who stood in his way. He was the first monarch who realized that ruling the vast subcontinent from far-away Delhi was hopeless and sought to establish his capital near the center of gravity of Hindustan, namely at Daulatabad, located about a hundred miles inland from the modern city of Bombay. When the entrenched bureaucrats, comfortable in their luxurious villas in the capital, dragged their feet, he forced them to move. Then, as fate would have it, the monsoons failed for five consecutive years and India was hit with a terrible famine. Daulatabad was without water. Tughlaq had the entire court trek back to Delhi, causing untold misery for everyone.

It was during the Tughlaq period and the preceding Khilji period that Islam was introduced into the Deccan and the Dakhni language, the parent of modern Urdu, was born. Borrowing an idea from Kublai Khan of China (d. 1294), Tughlaq introduced leather currency. This was a far-sighted move designed to further trade, which was constrained by the availability of gold and silver. But the wily Indians, Muslims and Hindus alike, frustrated this move by creating counterfeit currency. Tughlaq had to withdraw the currency at an enormous cost to the treasury. However, it is his interactions with the ulema, kadis, philosophers and Sufis of the age that concern us here because these interactions determined the shape of Islam for centuries to come.

Returning to the powerful Chishtiya movement, Shaykh Baba Fareed Ganj succeeded Khwaja Qutbuddin in 1235. His forefathers had migrated from Kabul during the Mongol devastations. As directed by Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Baba Fareed migrated to western Punjab. If there was one person who may be given credit for the introduction of Islam into Punjab (and hence into today’s Pakistan), it was Baba Fareed. Impressed with his piety, sincerity and dedication, thousands, including some of the powerful Rajput clans, accepted Islam. Baba Fareed was a doctor of Fiqh and was a noted poet in Arabic and Farsi. Both the Sabiriya and Nizamiya branches of the Chishti Order within the subcontinent originated from him. He trained and sent teachers to the far corners of India and Pakistan. Notable among them were Shaykh Jamal of Hanswi, Imamul Haq of Sialkot, Mawzum Alauddin Sabir of Sahranpur, Shaykh Muntaqaddin of Deccan and most importantly, Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi. Baba Fareed was the author of Israr ul Awliya (secrets of the sages), which contains encyclopedic information about Sufi thought and practices.

The mantle of leadership of the Chishtiya Order passed on to Nizamuddin Awliya in 1257. No other Sufi master achieved the acceptance of the Indian masses and the Sultans of Delhi, as did Nizamuddin Awliya. Indeed, his was the zenith of the Sufi movement in Hindustan. He was a scholar of Hadith, a fountain of spirituality, a powerful debater and a dedicated teacher. It is related that at any given time, over 3,000 students and two hundred qawwals attended his zawiyah at the outskirts of Delhi. Chief among his students were Shaykh Hishamuddin of Multan, Shaykh Burhanuddin Gareeb of Deccan, Shaykh Yaqub Patni of Gujrat, Sirajuddin Uthmani and Bu Ali Qalandar of Panipat. The great poet Emir Khusro was a murid of Nizamuddin Awliya.

The relationship between the Chishtiya Order and the Delhi Sultanate had been cordial until that time. The Sultans, aware of the hold that the Sufis had over the masses, sought to cultivate the blessings of the Sufi masters. The advent of the Khilji dynasty (1296-1316) saw the armies of the Delhi Sultans conquer the entire subcontinent, all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula. The architect of these conquests, the mighty Alauddin Khilji, was of a secular bent. But he was aware of the power of the Sufis and sought cordial relations with them. It was Alauddin who sent word to Nizamuddin Awliya expressing his desire to meet the Master. The message elicited the famous riposte from the Shaykh: “My hut has two doors. If the Emperor enters it through one door, I go out the other”. After Alauddin, there was a brief period of turbulence in Delhi, followed by the establishment of the Tughlaq dynasty (1316-1351).

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Nizamuddin Awliya passed away in 1325 and designated Maqdum Nasiruddin Mahmud (commonly known as Chirag-e-Dehli, the light of Delhi) as his successor. It was the same year that Muhammed bin Tughlaq ascended the throne of Hindustan. To break the hold of the Sufis and to keep them busy with superfluous work, Muhammed bin Tughlaq forced them into his service. Chirag-e-Dehli was asked to assist the king with royal robes, a ceremony that signified obedience and submission to the crown. When the Master refused, he was thrown into jail. Others were forced out of the capital. For instance, Shaykh Shamsuddin Yahya was forced to retire to Kashmir. Shaykh Shahabuddin was told to serve the king. When the learned Shaykh refused, his beard was pulled out, a fatwa was passed against him by Kadi Kamaluddin of Delhi and he was finally killed. Delhi was depleted of the Sufi masters, except for those who could not leave because of age or official constraint.

Muhammed bin Tughlaq had spent his youth in the company of philosophers and he was a Mu’tazilite by training. He was particularly influenced by Shaykh Ilmuddin, the renowned philosopher of the times, who lived in Delhi. Shaykh Ilmuddin had traveled through Syria and had met Ibn Taymiyah of Damascus (d. 1326) and had absorbed his reformist and counter-Sufi thoughts. Tughlaq, in his Mu’tazilite thinking, was similar to Harun al Rashid, but he lacked the sagacity and statesmanship of Harun. Just as the successors of Harun punished those who opposed the Mu’tazilite doctrines, so did Muhammed bin Tughlaq.

It is an irony of Islamic history that those who should have been the most liberal in their tolerance of dissident thought, namely the philosophers, turned out to be the most intolerant. Twice they had the opportunity to influence history-once during the early years of the Abbasids (circa 800) and the second time during the powerful Tughlaq dynasty of India (circa 1330). Both times they failed miserably and embarked on a tyrannical suppression of those who disagreed with them. Islamic history, in turn, rejected them. Their role was relegated to the periphery of the Islamic body politic, to the detriment of both philosophy and the Muslim ummah. Muhammed bin Tughlaq died in 1335, classified a maverick sultan by history.

The Sufis survived and prospered because theirs was the kingdom of God, untouched by the vagaries of time. They sang of the love of God and people resonated to their tune. They gave of themselves for the love of humankind and fought for what was right, often laying down their lives in the struggle. The ulema and kadis were defeated, because they were employees of the kings and could be fired from their jobs at will. Despite their independence, they were construed to be an arm of the ruling classes. The philosophers lost because of their tyrannical approach. They were bogged down in endless argumentation and they over-extended their approach to the Qur’an, a subject that was clearly beyond the scope of their methodology. The Islam that survived was a Sufic Islam, inward-looking, spiritual, amalgamating within its folds the cultures of the lands where it flourished. It was different in color and character from classical Islam (up to the destruction of Baghdad in 1258), which was empirical, vibrant, extrovert. It was this Sufic Islam that was destined to shape the history of Muslim peoples after the 13th century.


IN the Subcontinent, the Sufis made untiring, selfless and incessant struggle for the spread of Islam. They devoted their lives and gave up their homes to champion the cause of Islam in a miraculous way. Neither did they resort to arms nor to swords for this. It was their affection, sympathy, fraternity and unlimited philanthropist actions that won the hearts of people. The spread of Islam stems from the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim in the Subcontinent, but roots of Sufism can be traced to the time when the first Sufi, Muhammad Alfi, came to the Subcontinent.

However, with the passage of time, many Sufis made their way here following the invasions of Muslim conquerors. They came from Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula in order to establish an Islamic society. Sufism took shape and became an institution in the 12th and 13th century. The two great pioneers in this filed were Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani and Hazrat Shahabuddin Suharawardy. Four branches of Sufism, namely Qadriya, Chishtiya, Suharawardya and Naqshahbandya were introduced in the Subcontinent by Syed Bandqi Mohammad Ghosh, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Shaikh Bahawaldin Lakariya and Khwaja Mohammad Baqi Billah respectively. There is an established myth that the Sufis followed the Muslim warriors. But now it is clear that Shah Abdul Rehman had settled in Ajmer before Khwaja Moinuddin. Shaikh Ismail Bukhari came to the Subcontinent before Mahmud Ghaznavi. The Ismail missionary Adbullah landed near Cambay in AD1067 and worked in Gujarat when the country was governed by Sindhraj Jai Singh. He and his Jain teacher, Huma Charya, are said to have converted to Islam when there was no Muslim invasion recorded at the time. During Ghazanavid rule, there was massive influx of important spiritual leaders like Hazrat Shaikh Ismail and Hazrat Ali Bin Osman Hujweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Bux. The latter was among the leading Sufi philosophers of the day. He did immense missionary work in his individual capacity and set an outstanding example for future generations. Many scholars are of the view that the general conversion to Islam in the Subcontinent started on a sizable scale from the 13th century, after the Ghurid rule. This period coincides with the arrival of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and the Suharawardy Sufis. This period also witnessed the expansion of Muslim power across the Sutlaj into northern India. In addition to Punjab, Sindh also claims the distinction of being the centre of Indian Sufism. According to Hassan Nizami, Suharawardy Sufis were the first to arrive in India and made their headquarters in Sindh. This order achieved much success under the leadership of Hazrat Bahwaldin Zakriya in Multan. The famous Qadriya order entered India through Sindh in AD1482. Syed Bandagi Mohammad Ghouse, one of the descendants of the founder (Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, 1078-1116) took up residence in Sindh at Uch (now in Bahawalpur) and died in AD1517. Sakhi Sultan (Mangopir), Hazart Abdullah Shah of Karachi, Hazrat Shah Inayat of Jhok Sharif, Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal Sarmast and Qalandar Lal Shahbaz were saints of high stature in Sindh who converted many Hindus. In Bengal, saints and servants accompanied the administrators and warriors, and established their own darghas and khanqahs. Shah Jalal of Sylhet, Makhdumul-mulk Sharfuddin and Shaikh Nur Qutb may be particularly mentioned. Shah Jalal did much for the spread of Islam in Bengal, while Shaikh Akhi Sirajuddin propagated Islam in Gaur and Pandua. Other notable figures of the 13th century Sufi movement in Indo-Pak were the four friends known as ‘Chaharyar’ — Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar of Pakpattan (1174-1266); Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari, ulma of Uch Bahawalpur (1196- 1296); Hazrat Bahawaldin Zakariya of Multan (1170-1267); and Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalendar of Sehwan (1177-1274). It is said that 17 leading tribes of the Punjab accepted Islam at the hands of the Sufis. Fortunately, the list of Sufis does not end here. Their exact number is beyond the capacity of this article, so only a few noteworthy Sufis can be mentioned. Mohammad Ghose, Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore, Hazrat Syed Yakub Zanjani of Lahore, Ruknuddin Rukne Alam of Multan, who was grandson of Hazarat Bahauddin Lakariya whose family migrated from Sindh. Syed Ahmed Saqi Sarwar of D.G. Khan, Pir Jalaluddin Qutb-al-Aqtab, who died at Uch in AD1923 converted Mazaris and several other Baloch tribes to Islam, Hazarat Khardari Baba Mulla Taher of Ziarat (the visit to his tomb led to the place becoming known as Ziarat) Pir Hinqlaj of coastal Makran, Pir Baba of Swat, and Kake Sahib of Nowshero played important roles in the spread of Islam. The Sufis were well-read, widely travelled and spiritual leaders of the masses. They succeeded in their mission because they had both the strength of character and the courage of conviction, and were selfless and devoted to their cause. Their movement made inroads in the Subcontinent and it grew powerful and successful for a number of reasons. Firstly, before they started preaching, they set noble and brilliant example through their behaviour and conduct. Secondly, Islam was preached by them in a simple, pragmatic and flexible way, contrary to the ulemas who laid much emphasis on the rigidity of rules. Thirdly, they highlighted Allah’s positive and merciful attributes to ignite a love of God in people’s hearts. The Sufis disliked formalities and ceremonial acts, preferring to lead simple lives, and their lofty and admirable principles became guidelines for the people. They were against suppressions and social evils, condemning the use of force to gain power. Then their khanqahs were always open for everyone, and those with money had to donate generously to the needy. People flocked from time to time to the Sufis for solace and comfort. The Sufis were triumphant because of their noble deeds and the marvellous examples they set. They never imposed their beliefs on non-Muslims. The khanqas provided protection to wanderers, institutions for those who wanted to quench their thirst for knowledge, food to the needy and love to all. People rallied round the ideology of Sufism which was simple to digest, practicable to exercise. The Sufis converted a civilisation into a better one, which is beyond the imagination of ordinary people. The small pockets of Muslim society in towns and villages after the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim changed into large cities and provinces. Above all, it was the sheer straggle of the Sufis which paved the way for the future Islamic state in the Subcontinent. Had the Sufis shunned their practice of Islamic teachings in the 13th and 14th century, it would have been difficult to implant a Muslim civilisation in the country where a well-organized Hindu community had lived for centuries.


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