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Muslim Saints Of South Asia: The Eleventh To Fifteenth Centuries Part – 22


By Anna Suvrova


Beginning with Nizamuddin Awliya the Chishtis started observing celibacy, although at the same time they did not forbid members of the order to marry. It seems that Nizamuddin did not suffer from celibacy, but then Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli constantly had to drink lemon juice and chew some herbs in order to suppress the calls of the flesh. In the instances when Chishtis married they did not attach much importance to family life, regarding it as an ordinary (and burdensome) fulfilment of duty.

This way of thinking is exemplified in the families of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Shaikh Farid. Suhrawardi mystics, on the contrary, were excellent family men: thus it is known that Baha’uddin Zakariya spent enormous resources on the education of his sons, doted upon his elder grandson Ruknuddin, and thought highly of his daughter-in-law Bibi Pakdaman. Nuruddin Mubarak Ghaznavi hired teachers not only for his sons, but also for his daughters, which is something unprecedented in Indian medieval society.

Even illicit sexual relations occurred among the Suhrawardis: Jalaluddin Tabrizi lived with a Turkish slave boy whom he had bought for 1500 dınars and was accused (although falsely) of unseemly relations with a female slave. Once even Qadi Hamiduddin Nagori fell a prey to amorous passion (judging from Faw’id al-fu’d, he was beaten black-and-blue by his rival, although the gender of the object of passion was not clarified).

Differences in the rules of transmission of baraka are also bound up with different attitudes towards family life. Amongst Chishtis right up to the fifteenth century khalafas were appointed by the shaikh himself (very seldom were they chosen by the fraternity). Amongst them, as we have seen, there were practically no direct relatives.

Mu‘inuddin Sijzi had sons, but he chose Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki as his spiritual successor. The latter, in his turn, preferred Shaikh Farid to his own offspring, and Shaikh Farid gave preference to Nizamuddin Awliya. On the contrary, Shihabuddin Abu Hafs was succeeded by his own son ‘Imaduddin Muhammad, who placed himself at the head of his ribaţ (cloister) in Baghdad. Thus, from the very beginning, the post of sajjadanishn amongst Suhrawardis became hereditary, and baraka was transmitted from father to son. Baha’uddin Zakariya, having seven sons and wanting to ensure a secure future for them, bequeathed the post of head of the fraternity to the eldest, and appointed others as khal¯fas in various cities of Punjab and Sind.

Generally speaking, the Multani silsila of Suhrawardis and its related chain of succession Surkh-Bukhari of Ucch (with Miran Shahi, Makhdumi and Jalali orders as its branches) were always in the hands of two families - the family of Baha’uddin Zakariya himself and that of his disciple, Jalaluddin Surkhposh Bukhari. As already has been mentioned more than once, the Chishtis soon gave up their proselytizing activity, considering that neither sword nor sermon, but only personal example of virtue was capable of con-verting followers of other religions to Islam. A tolerant and friendly attitude towards the non-Muslim population became a major policy orientation of this fraternity.

The way to Suhrawardiyya khanqah in Multan was barred to non-Muslims and philanthropy of the order did not extend to them. At the same time there is convincing hagiographic evidence about the missionary activity of Jalaluddin Tabrizi, that he converted Bengalis into Islam by force; in particular, with the assistance of the soldiers of Iltutmish he pulled down a Hindu temple in Devatalla (later named Tabrizabad in honour of the saint) and erected a khanqah at its place.

Much has been already said about the attitude of Chishtis towards poverty. faqr was one of the fundamental principles of their teaching. Suhrawardis were guided by the dictums of their eponym, who considered that neither faqr nor zuhd were an indispensable condition of the life of a dervish, although they brought him closer to fana. What is more, Abu Hafs ‘Umar taught that rigid hostility to wealth is an indication of spiritual debility, fear of dependence on money and material wealth, whereas a true Sufi is not afraid of anything and does not differentiate between wealth and poverty. Baha’uddin Zakariya cited the same arguments in his debate with Hamiduddin Suwali Nagori.

Nevertheless, ‘indifference’ to wealth made Baha’uddin Zakariya one of the most well-to-do people of his time: he bequeathed to the eldest of his sons, Sadruddin, property alone worth 700 tanka, a huge amount for those times. Wealth, it is true, did not bring any benefit to the saint’s descendants. After his death another of his sons was kidnapped by robbers and was rescued on payment of a huge ransom.

This exceptional case of medieval kidnapping indirectly proved the superiority of the Chishti concept of handling money, according to which one should get rid of it immediately and should never amass it. It is doubtful whether it would have occurred even to a most inveterate scoundrel to kidnap one of the numerous children of indigent Shaikh Farid.


However, Baha’uddin Zakariya’s fortune (and, for that matter, even his generosity) is most strikingly characterized by the episode in Faw’id al-fu’a¯d in which the governor of Multan appealed to him for assistance in the form of food supply, since no stocks of grain were left in the city. The Shaikh gave instructions to issue grains from his granaries, and in the middle of the grain a carafe full of silver coins was found. The honest-minded governor declared: ‘The Shaykh has provided us with grain, not this silver. It must be returned to him’. ‘Tell them,’ said the saint to whom the find was brought, ‘that Zakariya knew about this. I intentionally gave you this silver along with the grain. If you give something to somebody, you should give it with a flourish’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 330-1).

It can be said that possession of property, which was rejected by the Chishtis, was programmatic for the Suhrawardis. Shaikh Ruknuddin (Baha’uddin Zakaria’s grandson), who had been the head of the fraternity for a long time, considered that spiritual preceptors should possess three treasures:

Firstly, they should have wealth (mal), in order to satisfy the believers’ requirements. If a dervish lacks money, how can he gratify a qalandar, when he asks for sherbet? These people will insult him, for which they will be punished on the day of the Last Judgement. Secondly, preceptors should possess knowledge (‘ilm) in order to carry on learned discourses with the ‘ulema. Thirdly, they should be endowed with mystic state (hal) in order to produce an impression on dervishes. (Hamid Qalandar 1959: 74-5)

Shaikh Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli, who narrated this Suhrawardi ‘programme’ to Hamid Qalandar, adds on his own, that for Chishtis wealth is of no use, whereas ‘ilm and hal are indeed indispensable.The Chishtis were averse to government service (shughl) and regarded only the income from unasked offerings (futuh) and from the cultivation of waste plots of land (ihya) as ‘just’. They did not have an aversion even to beggary (let us recollect the zanbıl, with which Shaikh Farid’s disciples used to go about the neighbourhood). They considered peasant’s work and small-scale trade as the best occu-pation for laymen, provided prices fixed were ‘fair’ and the merchant was content with minimum profit. They supported ‘Ala’uddin Khalji’s strict economic policy that had introduced fixed prices and had suppressed the black market, and considered that even tax collectors should show clemency to taxpayers. Suhrawardis who had repudiated beggary lived on awqaf, i.e. generous grants of land on the part of the government and rich donations of commercial and vocational corporations. The social and ethical value of productive labour and encouragement of personal enrichment were important aspects of their preaching, which attracted the ‘bazaar elite’ to the ranks of the fraternity.

Finally, the Chishtis used to proclaim non-collaboration with the powers that were often in opposition to the state, did not pay visits to Sultans and did not invite them to their cloisters. Of course, being absolutely faithful to this principle was not possible, and from time to time the Chishtis had to interfere in the political situation, as was done by Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dihli in order to enthrone Firoz Shah Tughluq.

On the contrary, the Suhrawardis regarded guidance of the ‘pillars of state’ as a part of their mission. The shaikhs of this fraternity regularly visited the palaces of earthly sovereigns, gave them advice and fulfilled missions on their behalf, which, as we have seen, was the custom since the times of Abu Hafs ‘Umar. As J. S. Trimingham states: ‘Contrary to the Chishti shaikhs ... Baha’ ad-din pursued a worldly policy, associating freely with princes, accepting honours and wealth, and building up a large fortune. He and his associates also followed a rigid orthodox line, pandering to the ‘ulam and rejecting sama ‘’ (Trimingham 1971: 65-6).

Baha’uddin Zakariya was on friendly terms with Iltutmish (his grandson continued this tradition, having become an adviser to Khalji and Tughluq Sultans) and intrigued successfully in his favour against the ruler of Punjab Nasiruddin Qubacha.

Sometimes an intervention of Suhrawardis in politics turned out to be a boon for the people: when during yet another invasion of Punjab by Mongols in 1247 the fortress of Multan was captured, Baha’uddin Zakariya successfully carried out peace negotiations with the Mongol military leader Suli Nuyin, as a result of which the conquerors were content with laying tribute and left Multan.

It is tempting to conceive the differences between the traditions of the Chishtiyya and Suhrawardiyya orders as the opposition of democratism and elitism, tolerance and rigorism, which is exactly what some authors have occasionally done. However, such an oversimplifying contraposition is far-fetched and unfair. Comprehending the exalted mysticism of the Chishtis and the spiritual intensity of their practice and adhering to the extraordinarily stringent requirements which they placed upon the novices and initiates would have been far more difficult than perfecting oneself methodically and gradually in the ţarqa of the Suhrawardiyya. It is another matter that Chishtis did not insist on anything from the laymen and followers of other religions, except observance of fundamental ethical norms, but it does not mean that they were similarly indulgent even to the fraternity.

The Suhrawardis appear to have espoused conservatism and selectivity, since they had nothing to do with followers of other religions and did not countenance syncretism, but they initiated Muslims into their fraternity without any particular restrictions, irrespective of whether a neophyte had a calling for mysticism and possessed the capability to make progress on the Path. In the final analysis such a pragmatic approach was beneficial both to the fraternity, the number of whose members increased swiftly, and to the society, where an atmosphere of ‘new piety’ gained prevalence.

In any case the leading position of Chishtis and Suhrawardis in South Asia was determined not so much by attractiveness of doctrine or practice, as by the fact that from the very beginning their fraternities were headed by brilliant, charismatic leaders. Other major ‘maternal’ fraternities having their branches in the subcontinent (Kubrawiyya, Qadiriyya, Shattariyya) were not so lucky with their leaders, and their influence was considerably more modest. Such a placement of forces in the camp of South Asian Sufism survived till the second half of the sixteenth century, when the so-called ‘Naqshbandiyya reaction’ came to the fore.

However great may be the merits of other disciples of Abu Hafs, credit for the formation and growth of the Suhrawardiyya fraternity in South Asia goes in the first place to Baha’uddin Zakariya and his successors, and several generations of saints from Multan and Ucch. In spite of the fact that some have ascribed four quite questionable merits (dust, heat, beggars and graveyards) to Multan, it was and continues to be a big, flourishing city, a centre of cotton-growing and weaving, the Islamic history of which can be traced back to Muhammad bin Qasim in AD 711. This young Arab military leader was successful in subjugating Multan not long before his tragic death11 and in annexing it to the domains of Omayyad Caliph.

In the year 1005 after several centuries of rule by the Hindu Rajas, Multan became a part of the Ghaznavid empire and subsequently passed into the hands of the Governors of Ghorids, of whom the most well known was the already mentioned Nasiruddin Qubacha. After Mu‘izzuddin Ghori’s death he proclaimed himself to be an independent ruler and was in control of a vast territory extending from Multan to Thatta. It was during his rule that the Suhrawardis took root in Punjab.

The founder of the Indian branch of the fraternity Baha’uddin Zakariya was a native Punjabi going back several generations - his ancestors had come to Multan with Muhammad bin Qasim’s expedition. He was born in the mountain village of Kot Karor and, like many other awliya, lost his father early. However, in contrast to the great shaikhs of the Chishtiyya order, whose childhood was spent in poverty, Baha’uddin Zakariya belonged to a well-to-do family, which made it possible for him in his youth to travel a lot in Khurasan, perform Hajj to Mecca and to visit Jerusalem. He got his religious education beyond the borders of the subcontinent - at first in Bukhara and subsequently in Baghdad, where Abu Hafs ‘Umar initiated him into the Suhrawardiyya fraternity and admitted him amongst his murds.

Baha’uddin Zakariya was always the best pupil: the teachers in Bukhara nicknamed him Farishta (angel) for his gentle nature and obedience. Probably these qualities stood him in good stead in Abu Hafs’ ribţ, where, according to Fawid al-fu’ad, he stayed only for seventeen days, after which he got khil fat-nama from the shaikh. Other disciples, who had been waiting for this event for years, grumbled:

‘We have spent so many years in the saint’s presence and yet we had no such favors conferred on us.’ Their murmurings reached the ears of Shaykh Shihab ad-din. He made this reply to them: ‘You brought wet wood. How can wet wood catch fire? But Zakariya brought dry wood. With one puff he went up in flames!’(Amir Hasan 1992: 129-30)

From Baghdad Baha’uddin Zakariya returned to Multan, which was assigned to him as wala¯yat by his preceptor. Jalaluddin Tabrizi, who was nominated to work in Bengal, accompanied him. The ‘ulam and Sufis of Multan did not show any particular enthusiasm on the occasion of the new competitor’s arrival and made it clear by sending him a jug, full to the brim with milk, as a complimentary gift. In the allegorical language of Islamic etiquette it signified that the city was overcrowded with mystics and scholars, and there was no room in it for Baha’uddin. The Shaikh’s reciprocal gesture was no less expressive: he sent the jug back after putting a rose in it. It implied that the young Sufi was laying claim to a position as exceptional as the place of a rose in milk. Besides, as is generally known, milk will not run over the edge of the vessel because of the rose floating on its surface.

However, this was not the end of Baha’uddin Zakariya’s conflicts with his colleagues. Initially he used to go for prayers to the madrasa of the chief Qadi of Multan, Qutbuddin Kashani, who was sceptically disposed towards Sufism. Once Baha’uddin finished prayer earlier than the prescribed time, and when asked about the reason, he replied: ‘If someone learns through intuition (nr-i baţin) that the prayer leader has made an error, it is appropriate for him to arise before the end of the prayer.’ Qutbuddin Kashani, who was the Imm, i.e. the leader during this particular prayer, was indignant at the selfconceit of the young Sufi, and exclaimed: ‘Every intuition which is not in accord with the dictates of the Law that is a heinous sin!’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 343-4).

After the incident Qadi Qutbuddin forbade Baha’uddin Zakariya from showing himself in his madrasa in future. For that matter, there was no need of it, since soon after a khnqah, with a mosque attached to it, was erected for the Shaikh on Iltutmish’s order. It is difficult to imagine Baba Farid or Nizamuddin Awliya in such a situation, indicative of a lack of humility, which warned most of all against manifestation of arrogance towards the brethren or religious authorities. A feeling of their own superiority, even arrogance, in everything concerning faith was in general peculiar to Suhrawardis.

Thus, Jalaluddin Tabrizi once visited the governor of Badaun,Qadi Kamaluddin Ja‘fri, and having come to know that he was performing namaz, expressed doubt as to his ability to pray. The offended governor, to whom the saint’s arrogant remark had been conveyed, came to him insisting on an explanation. Jalaluddin Tabrizi’s reply was:

Alas, the prayer of scholars (‘ulama) is one thing, and the prayer of God’s beggars (fuqara) is another thing ... In their prayer the scholars face the Ka‘ba and then pray. If they cannot see the Ka‘ba, they pray in the direction of the Ka‘ba, and if they are in a place where even the direction of the Ka‘ba is not known, they select the most likely direction that would orient them to the Ka‘ba. The prayer orientation (qibla) of the scholars is not other than these three possi-bilities, whereas the beggars of God never offer prayer unless they see the Throne of God. (Amir Hasan 1992: 345)

Although Baha’uddin Zakariya was a model of pious respectability and Jalaluddin Tabrizi became famous for a certain amount of eccentricity (suffice it to say that on the way from Baghdad to Lahore the former was constantly praying and meditating, while the latter was seeing sights and visiting acquaintances), cordial relations between them continued for a long time. The most dramatic test of their friendship was the maz.har, which was presided over by Baha’uddin Zakariya, and in which Jalaluddin Tabrizi figured as the accused, charged with an illicit sexual relationship with a bondmaid.

Hagiographic sources unanimously consider the accusation to have been trumped up on instructions from the well-known persecutor of Sufis, Najmuddin Sughra. This shaikh ul-Islam, who left behind him a bad legacy in Sufi literature, bribed the slave dancing-girl (i.e. a doubly lowly person) to commit perjury, and she slandered the saint before the Sultan.

Since this was not the first scandal in which Jalaluddin Tabrizi turned out to be implicated, 12 the Sultan saw to it that a mazhar was convened, at which all the religious authorities of Delhi, including Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Qadi Hamiduddin Nagori, were present. That the lawsuit against the saint was an extraordinary phenom-enon is indirectly testified by the fact that history has retained even the name of the plaintiff and the perjurer - Gawhar. No one knows what turn the case might have taken but for Baha’uddin Zakariya, who quite ingeniously saved his fellow-mate of the Baghdad ribţ from disgrace. As soon as the accused entered the hall, the chairman rushed towards him in order to pick up the shoes taken off by him.

Sultan Iltutmish reasonably observed that such a demonstration of respect for the defendant made the maz. har meaningless. Baha’uddin Zakariya replied to this that Jalaluddin had served their common spiritual preceptor for seven long years,13 and he himself for only seventeen days, and that is why it became him, Baha’uddin, to use the dust from under the feet of his senior colleague as surma (collyrium) for eyes. This incident transformed the atmosphere of the trial from the very beginning, and even Gawhar, called for interrogation, was so shaken by the constellation of ‘ulam and awliyawho had gathered together, that she confessed to slander.

The result of the miscarried intrigue against Jalaluddin was Najmuddin Sughra’s dismissal from the post of shaikh ul-Islam and it was Baha’uddin Zakariya who replaced him. As mentioned earlier shaikh ul-Islm was not a permanent position like șadr as-șudur. The Sultans of Delhi conferred this title on religious dignitaries as an honour and recipients obtained both stipends and land. They were not obliged to be in constant attendance at court and offered only occasional advice to the rulers. Some shaikh ul-Islam, like Najmuddin Sughra or Nuruddin Muhammad Ghaznawi, took a very active part in politics and administration. To Shaikh Baha’uddin it only meant additional finance to his khnqah. He was not known to have been closely involved in political matters except for recommending his favourites to the Sultan.

After the scandalous mazhar apologies were tendered to Jalaluddin Tabrizi, however he did not wish to remain in the capital where he had been subjected to such a humiliation. Of what had happened to him he spoke expressively: ‘When I came into this city I was pure gold. Now I have turned to silver. What will I become next (if I remain here)?’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 212). Not desirous of becoming cheap copper, Jalaluddin set off to convert the Bengali pagans, and Iltutmish, apparently to compensate for the moral damage, equipped him for the journey with a detachment of the Sultan’s army.

Notwithstanding the temporal qualities of a diplomat and politician, Baha’uddin Zakariya was undoubtedly endowed with the vocation of a mystic and the talent of a spiritual preceptor, which was admitted even by his opponents. Faw’id al-Fu’ad ascribes to him the ability to recite the entire Qur’an in one cycle of prayer: ‘Shaykh Baha ad-din Zakariya then stepped forward. In one cycle of prayer he recited the entire Qur’an plus four additional sections; then in the second cycle he recited the Surat al-Ikhlas (Q. 112) and finished his prayer’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 86).

In addition, the Shaikh had the rare gift, called nafs-i-gıra, which is the ability to fully control the spiritual state and consciousness of his murds and to bend them to his will. Following the precepts of the founder of the Suhrawardiyya order, Baha’uddin Zakariya considered that a salik, travelling on the mystic Path, should not change his leader in the course of the entire spiritual journey: ‘You should not tarry at every door and entrance’, he used to say, ‘Hold onto one door and hold onto it firmly’ (Amir Hasan 1992: 112).

Apparently, that is why many of his murıds lived in the cloister in Multan for decades, as, for example, the poet Fakhruddin Ibrahim ‘Iraqi, 14 who spent twenty-five long years in the saint’s magnetic field. One could come across similar ‘old-timers’ even in Chishti jamat-khanas (let us recall, for example, Badruddin Ishaq and the Kirmani family), but on the whole the period of novicehood and the process of granting of khilafatnama amongst them was considerably shorter.

The South Asian Suhrawardis in general somehow very reluctantly parted with their baraka: Baha’uddin Zakariya and Jalaluddin Surkhposh Bukhari nominated khalı¯fas in the main from amongst their own sons, and Jalaluddin Tabrizi and Qadi Hamiduddin Nagori restricted the number of disciples considerably.

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

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