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Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part – 19



By Anna Suvrova

As long as Bibi Zulaikha was alive, Nizamuddin persistently strove for the career of a Muslim judge. Doubt was cast on the correctness of the chosen path by his neighbour, the above-mentioned Najibuddin Mutawakkil. Having completed yet another stage of education Nizamuddin called on him and requested him to read the Surat al-Fatiha so that he could obtain the post of qad. Najibuddin kept silent, and when the young man three times repeated his request, replied: ‘Do not become a judge. Become something else!’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 111). It is doubtful whether at that moment Nizamuddin could appreciate the sagacity of Shaikh Farid’s brother, but later he used to recall this phrase as one that decided his fate. After a few years’ life in the capital, weakened by hunger and distressing anxieties, Bibi Zulaikha passed away.

Not wishing her son to be a witness to her agonies, she sent him away to the neigh-bours, telling him that she entrusted him to God’s care. Later the Shaikh used to say that, had his mother bequeathed him a house full of jewels and gold, this would not have afforded him such a peace of mind and satisfaction as her last words on her death-bed. He buried her at a distance of one mile from Qutub Minar, in the hamlet of Uchchin, and till his extreme old age, as long as he could move about, he used to visit the place to pray at her grave. Probably, his passionate affection for his mother predetermined that deferential admiration with which Nizamuddin Auliya always spoke of women, something one rarely comes across in the religious literature of Muslims.

His mother’s death probably became the most dramatic event in the Shaikh’s external life; he continued to recall it even in his declining years. Quite often conversing with the disciples on spiritual subjects, in his mind he reverted to his loss. Thus, once explaining to his murds how it becomes one to conduct oneself on the death-bed he told them: ‘The sign of sincerity of faith is this, that the dying person at the moment of death becomes yellow, his forehead dotted with sweat. My mother at the time of her death expired with these very signs of good fortune on her face’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 132).

Another time Nizamuddin, telling his disciples about a certain Ahmad, his friend of the days spent in Badaun, suddenly digressed from the subject and recollected how he had met this very friend in Delhi and told him about Bibi Zulaikha’s death. ‘The master - may God remember him with favour - when he came to this point of the story’, writes Amir Hasan, ‘also began to cry. So convulsed was he with tears that I could not make out what he was trying to say’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 135).

This episode from Faw’id al-fu’ad pertains to the year 1310, when the Shaikh was close upon seventy. In other words, he mourned over his mother even half a century after her death. Left alone (by this time his sister was already married), Nizamuddin began to suffer from something close to depression, which changed the state of his mind and heart; that, which till recently seemed to him to be the summit of desires, lost all its meaning. Without baggage and provisions for the journey he set off to Ajodhan, where his new, real life began at Shaikh Farid’s feet. Of course, at first he was disturbed by the thought that having gone through the initiation into the fraternity and having become a dervish, he would have to give up all that which he loved so much - books, manuscripts and intellectual pursuits.

However, Shaikh Farid put an end to his doubts: ‘I never asked anyone to abandon formal education, although I myself did it, when I met a true preceptor. Knowledge is also necessary for a dervish. So do continue with spiritual discipline as well as with studies till one prevails over the other’ (Amir Khurd 1978: 113). As we already know, Nizamuddin, as was his wont, chose the ‘golden mean’ -having devoted himself to spiritual service, he never gave up his favourite science, ‘ilm al-Hadith.

In 1265, when Shaikh Farid passed away, Nizamuddin was just twenty-three years old - a tender age even by the yardstick of the quickly maturing people of the medieval age. Why the ascetic of Ajodhan chose as his successor an inexperienced young man, a mother’s darling, and not a mystic with considerable length of service and a mature father of a family, such as Badruddin Ishaq or Jamaluddin Hansawi, can partly be judged by the Khilfat-nama given by the preceptor to his favourite. Shaikh Farid’s Khilfat-nama gave the new head of the fraternity vast authority and real power. Side by side with the enumeration of various merits of Muhammad bin Ahmad Nizamuddin it contains the phrases:

While teaching him I found him capable, talented, and well-behaved and goodmannered ...Ni .am-u’d-dın is really my successor and deputy in things worldly and religious, and obedience to him is obedience to me. May God be kind to them who show respect and honour to Ni .am-u’d-dn, whom I honour and for whom I have great regard? If anyone does not respect him, may God disgrace him? All these words are from faqır Mas‘d. (Nizami 1955: 98-9)

Having become the head of the order, Nizamuddin actively set about the task of its expansion, sending his deputies and missionaries to all the towns and villages. If Shaikh Farid in the course of his entire life appointed only seven Khalıfas, then his successor had seven hundred of them! Several hundred Chishtiyya Khanqahs were established all over South Asia during those sixty years or so when Nizamuddin Auliya was leading the order. Long before the time when Muhammad bin Tughlaq decided to transfer the capital to strategically important Deogir, Nizamuddin, conscious of the role of the Deccan in the process of the consolidation of Islam in the subcontinent, sent his disciple Khwaja ‘Azizuddin there. Later an entire Chishti ‘landing force’ was disembarked in the Deccan. It is clear from the treatises, letters and commentaries of Muhammad Gesudaraz (he was a disciple of Nizamuddin’s deputy, Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli) that the fraternity’s teaching found a broad response in all the Sultanates and principalities of the Deccan.

Within a few decades the positions of Chishtis had become secure in Malwa, Gujarat, Kashmir and even in Kerala, which was not under the jurisdiction of the Delhi Sultanate. In Bengal the Chishtis managed to numerically challenge the Suhrawardis, who had been predominant in this region since the times of Jalaluddin Tabrizi, and to turn the towns of Bengal Lakhnauti and Pandua into important centres of the fraternity. In Sindh and Punjab the preaching of the Chishtis did not make any substantial progress - historically, right from the beginning these regions have formed a part of the wal yat of Suhrawardis and Qadiris.

 Nevertheless the heads of the competing orders rendered Nizamuddin his due in full measure: thus, the title of Sulţan al-Mashaikh (Sovereign of Spiritual Masters), by which he became known everywhere, was for the first time used with respect to him by the shaikh of the Suhrawardis, Ruknuddin Abul Fath (Baha’uddin Zakariya Multani’s grandson). It is worth noting here that, at the time of Nizamuddin’s burial, it was he, and not somebody from amongst the Chishtis, who led the funeral prayer. The Shaikh constantly reverted in his discourse to the most debatable topic in Sufi literature, the question of miracles. He divided miracles into four categories manat, istidrj, Mujiza and Karamat.

Manat are supernatural deeds, performed by the possessed (majnn in a state of trance or temporary insanity) and istidraj are false miracles, or rather, tricks of sorcerers and magicians, based not on faith, but on deception. Mu‘jizat are linked to the prophets, since they have been given perfect knowledge, and Karamat are distinctive to saints (Amir Hasan 1992: 160).

Belief in Karamat, however, did not prevent him from having a partly rationalistic attitude towards this phenomenon: ‘Every action which the intellect can decipher -that is one thing, but every action which is impossible for the intellect to unravel - that is a miracle’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 86).

At the same time the performance of karmat is fraught with the revelation of the Divine secret, which, as has already been mentioned more than once, rests on Auliya and up to a point hides their wilyat from the mortals. Remembering the saints highly respected by him (Junaid, ‘Abdul Quadir Jilani, Khwaja Mu‘inuddin Sijzi, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Shaikh Farid, etc.), Nizamuddin used to add the phrase: ‘May God sanctify his lofty secret!’ ‘Secret’ in this context denotes a mystic’s special relationship with God, known only to these two, which in the final analysis makes up the essence of sainthood.

(Apparently, that is why it is so difficult for a third party to form an opinion about its basis!) Presence of secret between a mystic and God distinguishes wilyat from spiritual obligation and the limits of a saint’s spiritual jurisdiction, or - walyat. The saint possesses both walayat and wilayat at the same time ... Everything such as this which takes place between the Shaikh and other peoples is called walayat. But that which takes place between the Shaikh and God is called wilayat. That is a special kind of love, and when the Shaikh leaves the world, he takes his wilayat with him. His walayat, on the other hand, he can confer on someone else, whomever he wishes, and if he does not confer it, then it is suitable for God Almighty to confer that walayat on someone. But the wilayat is the Shaykh’s constant companion; he bears it with him (wherever he goes). (Amir Hasan 1992: 95)

If a mystic, out of vanity or rashness, of his own free will makes public his secret testament with God - and this transpires, when he, mostly in an ‘intoxicated’ state, or sukr, performs miracles - his mission comes to an end and it is no longer appropriate for him to remain in this world. ‘Disclosing divine secrets and performing miracles (karamat) are actually a hindrance in the Path. For true devotees the real task is to be firm in the pursuit of love’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 117). It is another matter if God himself slightly opens the veil of sainthood of his walı¯ and grants him a miracle, so as to manifest through it some aspects of Divine providence. In that case the saint plays only the role of a passive medium, and commits no sin.

Of course, the Shaikh saw his mission not in performance of Karamat, and reliable hagiographers do not even ascribe them to him. He was not a miracle-monger of ordinary sort. He never flew in the air or walked on water with dry and motionless feet. His greatness was the greatness of a loving heart; his miracles were the miracles of a deeply sympathetic soul. He could read a man’s inner heart by a glance at his face and spoke the words that brought consolation to a tortured heart. (Habib 1937: 34)

Indeed, Amir Hasan cites not a few examples of how the Shaikh consoled his visitors, telling them simple stories about the saints of bygone ages, friends and acquaintances of his youth or, it would seem, quite abstract parables; in this he continued the traditions of Indo Persian didactic literature. The moralizing purport of the story did not contain anything supernatural, but accentuated many times in the charismatic aura of the narrator’s personality, it had a manifest psychotherapeutic effect on the hearer.

Generally speaking, the Shaikh’s discourses from Faw’id al-fu’d bear resemblance to certain methods of modern psychiatry, in particular to the ‘psychotherapy of shared emotional experience’, which is used for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and catastrophes. Skilfully establishing an associative relationship between the cause of the ‘patient’s’ suffering and the content of the discourse which followed, the Shaikh brings influence to bear upon the depressed psyche of the interlocutor indirectly and purely emotionally - he holds his hand, cries together with him, recollects something from his own experience, jokes, recites verses, but avoids point-blank touching upon the subject unpleasant to the man. He chooses no less a considerate approach towards sinners and disciples at fault, not disheartening them by his undoubted superiority.

Apparently, that is why the Shaikh’s discourses always had a positive result. This happened, in particular, with Amir Hasan Sijzi, whose salary was withheld over a period of several months while he was in service in the Sultan’s army. Not having any other sources of income, he felt extremely depressed, but felt shy of telling the Shaikh about his anxieties, considering them to be too material. But it was not surprising that Nizamuddin was a saint, capable of reading others’ thoughts and, besides, the institution of gathering information in Sufi khnqahs was always well organized.

When on 19 September 1310 Amir Hasan Sijzi presented himself in Ghiyathpur so that, as usual, he could ‘obtain the benefit of kissing the feet’ of the Shaikh, the latter without asking any questions told him the parable about a Brahman. Formerly this Brahman was wealthy, but then the chief magistrate of the city confiscated all of his property, and he fell into absolute destitution. Once an acquaintance came across him and enquired of him how he was getting on. The Brahman replied that he was absolutely happy. ‘How can you be happy, since they have seized everything that you possess?’ wondered the acquaintance. ‘With me  still is my sacred thread (zunnar)’, exclaimed the Brahman.

On hearing this story, I felt an inner contentment. I realized that the master had told the story to calm the heart of this helpless creature. He added, ‘You should never experience distress on account of the interruption of your salary or the nonattainment of worldly goods. If the whole world passes you by, don’t fret; you must maintain love of God at all times.’ Praise be to God that I was able to grasp the context for this moral instruction that the master gave me! (Amir Hasan 1992: 145)

As we see, the Shaikh at first narrates a parable, relevant to Amir Hasan Sijzi’s problem, and only subsequently, when he had somewhat calmed down, gives him direct didactic directions. However, not knowing the on-verbal context of this episode, i.e. not hearing the Shaikh’s voice, not seeing his facial expressions, not feeling the atmosphere of this bygone majlis, it is difficult to explain why this simple story had so powerful an impact on such an elderly and experienced person as Amir Hasan Sijzi. Outwardly, the Shaikh, as befitted a saint, produced an impression of a serene person. Once Khwaja ‘Azizuddin repeated some idle talk to him: people say that the Shaikh has nothing to worry about, because whatever others obtain with great effort comes to him by itself. To this the Shaikh replied:

I am more unfortunate than any other mortal. A number of people come to me, narrating about their sufferings and anxieties. All this depresses my heart and soul. What kind of a heart is it, which listens to the trials and tribulations of Muslim brethren and remains indifferent? The dervishes, who have retired (from the world) to hills or forests, are free of such anxieties. (Hamid Qualandar 1959: 105)

Indeed, constantly having to deal with human misfortune, Nizamuddin at times felt extremely depressed. Since the aching nerve of compassion never calmed down in his heart, he continued to subject himself to privations and restrictions even during the years when his kh nqah was flourishing (as it was in the reign of ‘Ala’uddin Khalji) and was able to feed the whole neighbourhood. He explained his refusal to eat and the sleepless nights by pointing out that so many starving people slept in nooks and corners of mosques or completely in the open that the mere thought of these poor creatures made him lose appetite and sleep.

Feeding of the hungry was given paramount importance and, indeed, ritual significance by the Shaikh. The Shaikh used to say: ‘Dervish hood consists of this: every visitor should first be greeted with “Peace!” (salaam), then he should be served food, and then and only then should one engage in storytelling and conversation’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 169). He considered one dirham, spent for special purpose, i.e. on food for the poor, more valuable than twenty Dirhams, given as alms (Sadaqua), prescribed by Shariat. For that matter, even the great mystics of Europe thought similarly: Meister Eckhart himself considered that giving a tureen of soup to a beggar was more important than sharing the apostle Paul’s ecstasy (Ruh 1985: 154).

In accordance with these tasks langar in the Shaikh’s cloister was organized on a large scale: in the communal refectory food was cooked for several thousand people at a time. The Shaikh’s favourite servant Iqbal (commonly known as Lalla) was in charge of the kitchen, and Burhanuddin Gharib looked after the distribution of food. Shaikh Nizamuddin’s langar has survived to this day: in the Delhi dargah, in an enclosed territory of fifty square metres, food is cooked in four cauldrons, which, if one has to judge by their appearance, have not been scrubbed since the times of the Delhi Sultanate.

Since the laws of the Khanqah forbade the storing of supplies for any length of time, and because provisions piled up in abundance, the Shaikh ordered that all the granaries should be emptied every week, and that the remainder of grain and lentil should be distributed among the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. In the reign of ‘Ala’uddin Khalji, who had adopted a policy of economy of Waqf expenditure and had established control over philanthropic institutions, the

Sultan’s informers quite often used to visit the Khanqah unannounced to keep a watch on how much food was cooked and how it was distributed. When the Shaikh came to know of it, he ordered the menu of the communal meal to be made purposely more varied and helpings to be enlarged. Complaisant in other worldly matters, he was unflinching when the matter concerned his right to feed ‘God’s people’. ‘In every religion satisfying (other’s) hunger is considered to be a pious deed’, the Shaikh used to assert. The Sultan, apparently, did not want to get entangled with him once again and inspections came to an end.

In comparison with Baba Farid’s cloister the Khanqah in Ghiyathpur could boast of some comfort: here, each dervish occupied a separate Hujra, and there was no shortage of household servants. Nizamuddin’s habits, with all their simplicity, also differed from his murshid’s way of life in a certain aristocratic mode. Like the Prophet, he was fond of perfumes and aromas, and in his cell incense was kept burning all the time. And, of course, it is impossible to imagine him nibbling a wooden bun. Recollecting how unpretentious Baba Farid was, the Shaikh used to mention in passing that he had to brush his teeth with a twig - for that matter even in our times people in Indian villages brush their teeth with twigs from the Neem tree. Nizamuddin, most probably, had some more modern tool at his disposal for this purpose.

Jamat Khana was built with the usual unbaked bricks, but its roof rested upon stone columns - evidence of a certain architectural over-indulgence. The private chambers of the Shaikh himself were on the roof, enclosed with a parapet. Cells were located along the perimeter of the main building and the riwaq, where visitors used to eat and sleep, extended along the inner courtyard. In the centre of the courtyard a huge banyan tree grew; under its branches dervishes used to protect themselves from the heat. Opposite the entrance gates were the door-keeper’s premises (darbanı), where people unwilling to parade their sojourn in the Khanqah awaited reception. In the cloister there was also their own water storage facility and a number of the store rooms.

Since Nizamuddin was not a native of Delhi, he was for a long time compelled to share accommodations with some of his disciples and devotees. Soon after his mother’s death he moved to the vacant house of ‘Imadulmulk, Amir Kherson’s maternal grandfather. In this three-storey private residence - hawelı was a virtual hostel of Sufis - apart from wandering dervishes, the large family of Syed Mahmud Kirmani, with whom Nizamuddin never parted in future, had taken up residence.

After a few years ‘Imadulmulk’s sons returned to the capital from their respective iqţa ‘and drove away the lodgers. From then on the Shaikh frequently moved from place to place, and father and son Kirmani followed him with bundles of books. For a while he lived in Bansal, not far from Delhi, and in 1286 seriously thought of moving to Patiali, to Amir Khusro. The change of lodgings continued until a devotee of the Shaikh, the courtier Shamsuddin Sharabdar (the supplier of drinks to the Sultan’s court) invited him to take up residence in his estate in Ghiyathpur, at the very bank of the Jamna, where Nizamuddin settled down once and for all.

Anna Suvorova is the Head of the Department of Asian Literature at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), Professor of Indo-Islamic culture at the Institute of Oriental and classical cultures (Russian State University for the Humanities), member of the International faculty in National College of Arts (Pakistan), fellow of Academic Advisory Board, Centre for Study of Gender and Culture (Pakistan), fellow of Royal Asiatic Society (UK).

Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia:


Muslim Saints of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries --- Part 1

Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries - Part 2

Muslim Saints of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part - 3

Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part – 4

Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part – 5

Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part – 6

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