Taṣawwuf and its impact on Indian Society: An Appraisal of Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’Download

 Showkat Ahmad Dar


The question of the legitimacy of what has come to be known among Muslims as Sufism (Taṣawwuf /Mysticism) is often passionately debated among its proponents and opponents. Unlike its opponents, the proponents argue that an examination of Taṣawwuf and its objectives makes plainly evident that it is no way an innovation rather is completely consistent with the Islamic teachings. Appealing to the human nature, this aspect of Islam has played a very important role in changing the civilizations of the world including that of Indian subcontinent.
Sufism in India was whole-heartedly accepted. The famous and reputed Silsilās of Sufism (chains of mysticism)—Chistiya, Qadriya, Naqshbandiya and Suhrawardiya—had influenced the Indian culture, literature, society and religion, in brief, every aspect of life in their respective periods. The Sufis by their excellent character and fascinating morals and virtues swayed the Indian masses helping them to enter into the abode of Islam. The spiritual discourses of these Sufis brought revolution in the Indian society.
Examining the place of Taṣawwuf in Islam and its impact on Indian Society with special reference to Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’ (1238-1352), one of the great and famous saint -scholars of Chistiya order who influenced the Indian culture to a great extent. The aim of the paper is also to revisit the personality and teachings of this saint- scholar in order to build peaceful and happy social living.

According to the Muslims’ popular belief this world has been staged for a test for human beings (al-Quran, 67:2; 76:2). On the basis of Quranic verse(al-Quran, 2:29) the Creator has created all that on the Earth for humanity. This has been also substantiated by a prophetic tradition that narrates: ( فان الدنيا خلقت لكم وانتم خلقتم للاخرة ) meaning “Indeed the world has been created for you and you are created for Akhirah” (Ghazali, 3: 204).

Keeping this world view in mind scholars have concluded that every human being in this transitory world is obliged by certain activities—firstly, she/he has to exploit this universe and the things created in it for two benefit of humanity appropriately and secondly, while using this material world into his/her service, she/he has to keep the commandments of Allah in mind and should not do anything erroneous which would be the cause of Allah’s displeasure and wrath. To put the humanity on the right track, Allah has sent His chosen men with guidance and clear proof. Whoso follows the guidance will have neither the fear nor any grief (al-Quran, 2:38). So be in consonance with the guidance of Allah and with the intention of performing the duties—in relation to Allah  as well as His creature—according to the will of Allah in this material world, two types of sciences of knowledge developed—onedealing with the exoteric deeds and other with esoteric. The science of knowledge which deals with the exoteric aspect (āhir) came to be known as fiqh or the knowledge of rules (‘ilm al-aḥkām). Similarly, the science of knowledge which takes into account the esoteric aspect (bāṭin)—those acts and deeds which cannot be tackled with the science of fiqh—came to be known among Muslims as ūfism (Taṣawwuf/Mysticism) or the Knowledge of Mysteries(‘ilm al-asrār) (Ansari, 2004).These two aspects of knowledge are closely related to each other rather are complementary to each other like that of body and soul.
Taṣawwuf‘Ilm al-asrār
The term Taṣawwuf is a debatable concept. Some argue it is new invention (bid‘ah), thus avoidable while others claim it is the heart of Islam. It is considered an essential part of Sharī‘ah that deals with inner deeds of an individual which is meant for purification of one’s soul and behaviour to attain the pleasure of Allah (Masīh̟ullah, 17).It is the name given to the spirit, meaning, ecstasy and excellence of Dīn and thus is called as the ‘spirit’ or ‘heart’ of Islam (rūh̟ al-Islam or q̟alb al-Islam). It aims at to purify a man from within—from asad (malice/jealousy), ḥub-e-duniya (love for mortal world), ḥub-e-jah (love for fame), bukhl (miserliness), ḥirs(greed), riyā’ (hypocrisy/pretence/show),‘ujub(pride) and Ghuroor (haughtiness) etc. and inculcate in him the virtues like ‘Tawbah’(repentance),‘Ṣabr’ (patience),‘Shukr’ (gratitude, thankfulness), ‘Khawf’  (Fear) ‘Rija’ (hope) ‘Zuhd’(renunciation), tawḥīd(unity of God), tawakkal (contentment/ full  surrender and trust in Allah),‘Ikhlās’ (Sincerity), ‘Ṣidq’ (Truthfullness), ‘Ḥayā’(Reserve/shyness), ‘Zikr’ (remembrance), Khushu’ (fearfulness, humility), ‘Istiqāmat’ (uprightness) seeking and observing  ‘Taqwa’  (awe  of  Allah) etc. consequently he becomes nominee of the Basharat, “qad aflah̟a man zakāhā” (success is really attained by him who purifies it) (al-Quran, 91: 09).Since Taṣawwufis  a way of  life  to  achieve  perfection  in  manners,   to  cultivate  and culture  the  mind  and  heart  with  purity  of  thought  and  good behaviour  through possession  of  all  virtues  and  negation  of  all vices  by  a  process  of  self  annihilation,  self-realization,  self-sacrifice  and  surrender  of  will  before  the  Supreme  Will  of Almighty  Allah, Hazrat Shah Muhammad Masīh̟ullah, a Khalīfah (rightly-guided disciple) of Hazrat Mawlana ‘Ashraf ‘Ali Thanavi, is of the opinion that it is necessary for everyone to become a Sufi without which a Muslim does not deserve to call himself a perfect Muslim (Masīh̟ullah, 21).
Dr. Israr Ahmad (1932-2010), the founder of Tanẓīm-e Islāmī, has also discussed the reality of the term in his booklet titled, The Reality of Taṣawwuf in which he discussed the origin of Taṣawwuf and its objectives in the light of Qur’ānic and prophetic methodologies(Ahmad, 2010, 56) He summarized the subject of Taṣawwuf and its goals as follows:
•     Salvation from ignorance and attainment of gnosis (Ma‘ārfah);

  • Refinement and purification of the self (Tazkiyah Al Nafs);

•     Cleansing of the spiritual heart (Tas̟fiyah Al Q̟alb) and the enlightenment of the soul (Tajaliyah Al Rūh̟);
•     Sincerity and devotion to the Creator (Ik̟hlās) and detachment from material and worldly concerns (Zuh’d); and
•     Commitment to the service of all the creatures of God. (Ibid., 2-3)
Keeping these aims and objectives in view, which are also the aims and goal of Islam, the S̟ūfīs claim to have inherited their doctrines direct from the teachings of the holy Prophet. The method employed for attaining proximity to Allah and avoiding worldliness through perfection of morals was identical with the Tazkiyah (purification) and ih̟sān (sincere worship) in the Qur’ānic and Ḥadīth  terminology.  It was, in fact, one of the four objectives of the prophethood of Muhammad as explained in this verse of the Qur’ān (which means): “He is the One who raised amidst the unlettered people a messenger from among themselves who recites to them His verses, and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the wisdom, although they were in an open error before” (al-Quran, 62: 02)
The task  of maintaining a judicious balance  between  the rituals  and  the  spirit  of  religion, safeguarding the  revelatory fountain to which the faithful returned again and again to refresh his spiritual vision was performed by the successors (companions of the holy Prophet and the right-guided ‘ulama. They took care to protect and develop not only the external frame of theological discipline of the Muslim society but also helped in promoting the spiritualhealth of its members which linked them with the intuitive consciousness of Prophet Muhammad Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā followed the same path. He not only promoted the spiritual health of Muslims but also showed his eagerness to widen the sphere of Islam by preaching the teachings of Islam among the non-Muslim community of India.
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā was one of famous S̟ūfī-saints of the Chishti order in India. His real name was Muhammad, the name given to him by his father Khwājah Ahmad Ibn ‘Ali. The title ‘Nizam al-Millah wa al-Din’ was given to him by his spiritual mentor, Khwaja Farid al-Din Ganj Shakar and since then he began to known as Khwaja Nizam al-Din (Abdul Gani, 1989, vol. 22, 351).  His forefathers were the descendants from a family of Sayyids who had migrated from Arabia to Central Asia. His grandfather Khwājah ‘Ali and maternal grandfather Khwājah‘ Arab, who were also cousins, had come down to Lahore and thence to Badayun (Nadwi, 1997, vol. 2,166). Khwājah Niẓām al-Dīn , born in 636 AH (19th October,1238 C.E) (Khan,  123; Cf. Nadvi,166), enjoys the popular titles of Sult̟ān al-Mashā’ikh (distinguished leader of the sufi saints of time in India) and Mahbōb-e-Elāhī (beloved of God) was the fourth successor (Khalīfa) of Ḥaḍrat Khwājah Mu‘īn al-Dīn Ḥasan Chishtī , the founder of the illustrious order of Chishti saints in this country. He was specially selected by his Pīr-o-murshid, ḤaḍratKhwājah Farīd al-Din Ganjshakar for this onerous responsibility because of his unique merits as a learned scholar, an able and diligent administrator and a perfect spiritual master on the recommendations of a “bashārat” (revelation) from the  Prophet (Khan, op. cit., 121).
Sayyid ‘Abul Ḥasan ‘Alī  Nadwi writes that it were the gifts and talents of KhwājahNiẓāmal-Dīn which were perhaps expressed most concisely as well as meaningfully by his spiritual guide  Khwājah  Farīd al-Dīn Ganjshakar  while conferring  his Viceregency upon him.  He had said:  “God has bestowed upon you the gifts of knowledge, intellect and His, love; and anyone combining these qualities is best suited to discharge the responsibilities of a vicegerent” (Nadvi, op. cit., 202).
The Legacy of Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’(R.A)        
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā was well versed in Qur’ān, Ḥadīth and other related sciences of the time. He was fortunate enough to study from the well known and learned scholars of the time (Nadvi, op. cit.,167-70). He learnt his early education from Maulana Allaudin Asooli of Badayun. Being very intelligent and brilliant, he obtained in a short time the “Dastar-e-Fazilat”.He studied H̟adith from Sheikh  Kamāl ud din  Zāhid (d. 684 A.H.), a noted Traditionist (Muh̟adith) of his time andFiqh or Jurisprudence and Mashāriq  al-Anwār, from Allama Burhān al-Dīnal-Marginiani, the author of world famous Hidāyah (Ibid., 169-70).Besides, learning the Qur’ān, H̟adith and Fiq̟’h,he also studied the famous books of S̟ūfism viz, Awārif al-Ma‘ārif, Risālah-i-Qushayriyah ,Kitāb al-Lum‘a, Kashf al-Mahjūb etc. Thus it is clear that KhwājahNiẓām al-Dīn was the learned scholar of both the aspects, esoteric as well as exoteric.This was the essence of his character which enabled him to carve out a pride of place not only amongst the saints and ṣūfīs of his own time, but also enabled him to become a loved and respected personality in the annals of Islam. The essence of his personality which enabled him to  gain  immortal  fame  was also his wholehearted  devotion  and  the  love  of  Allah and His messenger, Prophet Muhammad .
As a preacher of Islam
In the Subcontinent, the S̟ūfīs 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.From the very first day the S̟ūfī sheikhs of Chishtiyya order entered India they remained itinerant preachers of Islam.  The accessions to Islam through K̟hwājahNiz̟ām ud Din Auliya’ were quite numerous.A  large  number  of people  were attracted and  inspired  by  the  spiritual  power  and  divinely  endowed popularity enjoyed  by the K̟hwājah Niz̟ām ud Din.He, like his predecessor Chishti sheikhs, also won the confidence of the masses because of his pious and frugal living, simple and straightforward religious and social precepts, love of suffering humanity, selfless service  and disregard  of the barriers of caste and creed  and  high and low which had been for centuries the blight of an oppressive caste-ridden social order in  the  Country.
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’was a zealous preacher of Islam but he also held the view that mere preaching was not enough to win over anyone from his ancestral religion, particularly when it was doubly guarded by caste taboos and age-old social customs. In his opinion it was necessary that one should be afforded the opportunity of intimate acquaintanceship and fellowship for a considerable period for winning him over to a new faith (Nadvi, op. cit., 70).The moral excellence and godliness and the spirit of humanity and fraternity exhibited by him must have inspired the population around him and his khānqāh, as a revelation from on High. To the credulous minds looking forward to performance of miracles as a proof of spiritual power, the developed spirituality and miraculous deeds of the mystics must have certainly been a source of attraction and opened their way for entering the new faith. All these causes explain the conversion of large numbers around the monasteries of Pandwah in Bengal and those in Ahmadabad and Gulbargahin the south. Hazrat Shah Kalīm ullah, an eminent Chishti preceptorof the eleventh century was ever vigilant, as his letters to hisspiritual vicegerent Sheikh Nizam ud-din of Aurangabad show,about the missionary work of his disciples. In a letter to Sheikh Niz̟ām uddin his spiritual mentor asked him to “try to widen the sphere of Islam by winning over people to it” (Chasti and Kalimi, 1983,60), In another letter Shah Kalīm ullah exhorted him to continue his endeavour “to spread the word of Allah(s̟ubh̟āna wata‘ālā) and to shed the light of truth  from east to west” (Ibid.,62) Khālid Ahmad Niz̟āmi writes that efforts made by Sheikh Niz̟ām ud-din  brought a large number of non-Muslims within the fold of Islam. Although a few of them did not declare their conversion for the fear of their relatives, they had embraced the faith in all sincerity (Nizami, 303).

Impact on Indian Society
The selfless service, discipleship of Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’, played a very important role in reforming the Indian society. His effect  of the  discipleship was so  generously  extended  to  all,  the  nobles  and  the commoners,  the  officials  and  the  traders,  on  the social and moral life of the people. A vast multitude had pledged devotion to this spiritual guide. Countless people repented from their sins and turned from evil, took to prayers and devotional exercises, expelled worldly desires, covetousness and greed from their hearts and inculcated a deep religious yearning for the fellowship of Allah. The example set by Khawājah through his spirit of humanity, virtuous living and upright behaviour charged the atmosphere with a genuine religious spirit which helped the people to become truthful and genuinely religious. The piety and righteousness of this God-moved soul attracted divine blessings; natural calamities like famines and pestilence ceased to visit the land. All these blessings, to which every man in the days of Khawājah would bear witness, became a means for the ascendancy of Islam. The rules of the Shaffāh as well as the doctrine of the mystics gained popularity among the people. How blessed were the days when Shaykh-ul-IslamKhawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’(R.A)had opened wide the gates of spiritual preceptorship; encouraged the sinners to repent for their sins; and  allowed all, the  rich  and  the  poor,  the  king  and  the  slave,  the learned and the illiterate to  cleanse  their  souls through his spiritual guidance. Everyone who pledged allegiance to theShaykh considered himself spiritually attached to him and gave up many of his vices. If anybody ever committed a sin, the Shaykh allowed himto offer penitence and renew his bay‘at. Thus, all those who took the pledge to walk along the pathway of purity were saved from many vices and were gradually led, through emulation of the Shaykh, to prayers and litanies. Every man and woman, whethertender in years or bent with age, regularly offered obligatory prayers and vied with each other in the performance of voluntary devotions. From the city to Ghiyathpur, people had made arrangements for the wayfarers to take rest and offer their prayers. Machinations of the devil were eschewed bythe people who took more interest in ascertaining the number of rakāts performed on different occasions  and the chapters of theQur’ān recited in them by their spiritual mentors. Numerous people had enthusiastically taken to memorise the Qur’ān. A favourite pastime of the Shaykh’sdisciples was to instruct each other in the ways of mystic thought and practice and to relatethe stories of those whohad taken to a life of propinquity with God.They never talked of the earthly desires norlonged for power and pelf. Many among the attendants and servants, chiefs and grandees of the King who had been united in the bonds of spiritual paternity with the Sheikh, performed voluntary prayers and kept supererogatory fasts.  There was not a city block or ward in which people did not hold regular gatherings for the remembrance of God, devotional practices or auditions. A number of the Sheikh’s disciples recited the entire Qur’an during the Tarāwīh and kept vigil in the mosques during Ramadhān or even on Friday nights or on the occasion of other festivals. Many of them spent two-thirds of their nights in the nocturnal prayers of tahajjud all round the year and some even performed the Morning Prayer with the ablution they had had for the orison of ‘ishā’. People had begun to equate heinous sins with apostasy. No Muslim dared to charge interest or indulge in hoarding.The traders had  given  up  the  habit of bargaining, short-weighing and adulteration. Most of the people sought mystical treatises from the book­sellers. It has been rightly argued that God had made Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyāa pure-hearted soul like Shaykh Junayd al-Baghdadi and Shaykh Ba-Yazīd Bistāmi of the bygone ages” (Barani, 1983, 46, 341)
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā no less impressed the non-Muslims who came in contact with him. He allowed them to take up s̟ūfī practices, start dhikr and fikr and finally embrace Islam in the end. He, however, preached Islam actively and won over large sections of non-Muslims to Islam. What induced them to embrace Islam was, besides the life and practices of the Shaykh, the Islamic belief that God is one and that all men are children of one father and mother, equal to each other.
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’and Politics
The inhabitants of India came into contact with Islam since late 7th century but Indian hearts were moved by the great Ṣūfī orders that came and flourished in India at different times. They were prominent in the Indian subcontinent, though they differed in their attitudes towards the rulers and the politics of their time. Almost all saintsof the Chishti order refrained from visiting the king of Mongols. However, the S̟ūfī saints did extend moral support to the Sultan in the construction of public works. K̟hwājah Qutb al Din Bakhtiyar (d. 1235 C.E.) was offered the post of Shaykh al-Islam in the court of Sultan Shams al Din Iltutmish (r. 1211-1236) in Delhi, but he refused to accept it. Shaykh Farid al-Din Ganjshakar (1175-1265) warned his disciples against consorting the kings and princes. Similar was the case of K̟hwājahNiz̟ām ud Din. He declined the offer of a grant (idras) and government service (shughl) made by Sultan ‘Ala al Din Khalji(r. 1296-1316). He lived through the times of several sultans but did not pay count to anyone. When he was consistently refused to go to the court, sultan Jalaluddin Khalji sought an interview with him, who politely declined the invitation. “My house has two doors”,remarked the Shaykh. “If the Sultan enters by one, I will make my exit by the other.”But when the Sultan planned a surprise visit to the Shaykh’s, Amir Khusrau, the latter’s celebrated disciple, reported this to the Saint, who left to visit the tomb of his spiritual mentor, Baba Farid(R.A.) at Ajodhyan, to avoid meeting the Sultan (Nizami, 1991, 105).The policy of maintaining difference and distance from the world of monarchy was not always easy to follow and it required extraordinary moral courage to resist the threats of the intrusive ways of the rulers. Admittedly, there were other levels where a constant exchange of symbols and material took place between the khānqāh and the imperial court.
Khawājah Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā’ played a very important role in spreading the message of Islam in India. He not only preached Islam in non-Muslims but various Muslims got inspirations from him and began to live a life of a good and true Muslim. His piety and devotion (’ibādah) to Allah, his remembrance (dhikr), contemplation (fikr), his fear and love for Allah, and his simple living and renunciation (Zuhd) impressed the then masses who used to throng around him to seek the blessing from the Allah. Many of the courtiers,princes and officials became his disciples along with the peasants and laymen of the country. He exercised a magnetic effect on both the communities and they thronged around him and benefit themselves from the teachings of Qur’ān and Hadith. He spread the message of peace and love and thus he united the people among themselves and with Allah.Today both the communities are present but the traits like this saint scholar are missing. It is important to revisit the personality and teachings of this saint scholar for the establishment of peace and happiness in the society.

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Showkat Ahmad Dar, Ph.D. has been working as a researcher in the Department of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh
Email ID: ashiqsir786@gmail.com