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Gideon Weigert

SHAYKH MUSTAPHA KAMAL AL DIN AL BAKRI –


A SUFI REFORMER IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY EGYPT

Gideon Weigert came to academia after a career in journalism, in the course of which he was in charge of Arab
affairs at the Jerusalem Post and a columnist in Arabic newspapers. He received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and is now associated with the Department of History at Ben Gurion University of the
Negev. His publications include fifteen books, pocket books, pamphlets and surveys on the problems of the
Arabs in Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. His latest book, My Life with the Palestinians,
an updated Hebrew version of his earlier English publication by the same title, was published in January 2001
by Haifa University Press.

The eighteenth century witnessed Muhammad al Dimardash, d. 1525). teacher who earned his living by
the widespread development of Both were Khalwati shuyukh (pl. of copying textbooks. It is most likely
Islamic renewal and reform trends. shaykh) of Persian origin, and parts that al Hifni was already acquaint-
The religious-political movements of their liturgies were in Persian ed with the Khalwatiya, since he
that emerged included, among and Turkish. This explains why had spent time in the zawiya of
others, the Wahabiya in Arabia, their followings mainly comprised Shahin al Khalwati, who came
the Padri in Sumatra and the members of the higher classes of from Persia in the second half of
Jihads in North and West Africa. the same origin, including soldiers the fifteenth century to become one
Sufi turuq (fraternities) took an and officers of the Turkish garrison of the first shuyukh of the order in
active part in many of these move- in Cairo, and why these orders Egypt. Sources report that the two
ments. One of these was the held little appeal for ordinary men immediately formed a spirit-
Khalwatiya, which had originated Egyptians. There is no evidence ual bond (irtibat qalbi), and al Bakri
in the fourteenth century in Persia. that they had any significant num- accepted al Hifni’s oath of alle-
In the eighteenth century this ber of adherents outside Cairo.1 giance (Ahd).2
order underwent a revival initiat- Matters changed, however, with Although authorized by al Bakri
ed by Mustafa Kamal al Din al the arrival in Cairo from Jerusalem to initiate novices and teach the
Bakri (1688–1748). of Mustafa al Bakri in 1718. Khalwati dhikr (the Sufi ritual of
Branches of the Khalwatiya had Al Bakri was already famous physical movements), al Hifni did
been established in Cairo as early when he arrived in Cairo, and he not succeed in doing so for the next
as the first half of the sixteenth was welcomed by a large crowd of sixteen years, during which he
century. Two influential ones were local ulama (Muslim scholars). It seemed more concerned with
the Ghulshaniya (named after was on that occasion that al Bakri teaching in various Cairo mosques.
Ibrahim al Ghulshani, d. 1534) and first met Muhammad Salim al He was considered a popular
the Dimardashiya (named after Hifni, who was then a poor young teacher, and hundreds attended

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BULLETIN

his courses. In 1736, however, al shuyukh occupied this position. No shaykh to perform the Haj and
Hifni visited al Bakri in Jerusalem. wonder that the historian al Jabarti build his own zawiya (prayer niche;
For four intensive months, he was described the Khalwatiya as “the later: Sufi hostel-mosque) in Cairo.
gradually initiated into the differ- best Sufi order” (khayr al turuq).6 The same sultan later sent the
ent stages the murid (disciple) must But the influence of these Khalwati ulama of Egypt copies of
undergo in order to reach perfec- shuyukh extended much further his reformative instructions to the
tion (kamal). He was also taught than Cairo’s Al Azhar. They not qadis of his country, inviting their
the seven secret names (al asma al only taught their students from all comments on the documents.8
saba). Al Bakri invested him with over the Muslim world the Islamic There had been direct connec-
the special Sufi dress (hirqa) and sciences. They also inculcated tions between Maghribi scholars
with “the crown of mystical them with Sufism and initated and reformed Khalwati shuyukh in
knowledge” (taj al jrfan) and pro- them into their tariqa. Thus, these Cairo even before the period of
claimed him his chief khalifa graduates returned to their native Sidi Muhammad and his son. The
(successor).3 Upon his return to countries not only as freshly baked first link was made by Abd al
Cairo, al Hifni propagated the ulama but also as carriers of a dual Rahman al Azhari (d. 1793), who,
Khalwatiya with such intensity message: to spread Islam among as a student at Al Azhar, was initi-
that he succeeded in admitting their people and to propagate their ated into the Khalwatiya by al
thousands to the order. For the masters’ Sufi tariqa – the Hifni.9 Upon his return to Algeria
first time since the arrival in Cairo Khalwatiya of Al Bakri’s school. in 1769, he began disseminating
of Shaykh Shahin al Khalwati, the A good example of al Bakri’s the Khalwatiya there and quickly
order was headed by an Egyptian influence is to be found in gained a large following, particu-
native. Morocco. The country was ruled in larly in his native region of
The Khalwatiya spread like this period by two reformist-orien- Kabiliya. The order later became
wildfire under al Hifni, within a tated sultans: Sidi Muhammad b. known as the Rahmaniya.
few years winning adherents Abd Allah (1757–1790) and his son It was al Azhari who, in 1773,
among the common people in Mawlay Sulayman (1792–1822). initiated Sidi Ahmad al Tijani (d.
Cairo, in the provicial towns and in Both had been strongly influenced 1815) into the Khalwatiya. Al
thousands of villages along the by reformed Khalwati shuyukh in Tijani visited Cairo in 1773 on his
Nile valley, and becoming the Egypt. The link was formed way to perform the Haj. On his
leading order in Egypt. It was al through the leading ulama of Fez, way home from Mecca he was re-
Hifni who completed the process who passed through Cairo on their initiated into the Khalwatiya by
of reform and revival that al Bakri way to Mecca to make the Haj. Mahmud al Kurdi and was given
had begun, by bringing the Some of them studied for varying an ijaza (license) to propagate the
Khalwatiya into full identification periods in the college of Al Azhar order in his native country. For
with the sharia (the canon law of with such Khalwati shuyukh as eight years after his return to the
Islam), so that the order became Salim al Hifni (d. 1768), Ahmad al Maghrib, al Tijani initiated disci-
the Muslim orthodoxy in Egypt.4 Dardir (d. 1786) and Mahmud al ples into the Khalwatiya.10 Then, in
Time and again al Hifni recalled al Kurdi (d. 1780).7 Upon their return 1782, he declared himself the head
Bakri’s guidance in this respect, to the Maghrib they carried with of a new tariqa, though the
according to which Sufism without them Khalwati ideas of reform and Tijaniya, as it became known,
the sharia was atheism (Al Haqiqa revival. Through these ulama, the retained many basic elements of its
bedun sharia – zindaka).5 The sultans became acquainted with mother order, the Khalwatiya. One
successful fusion between the the Cairo shuyukh, with some of of these was the requirement of
Khalwatiya and the sharia was whom they maintained a vivid exclusive adherence to the tariqa.
symbolized by the 1757 appoint- exchange of ideas. Sidi Muham- This unique feature had already
ment of al Hifni to the highest post mad, for instance, corresponded been advocated by al Bakri in the
in the religious hierarchy of Egypt: with Ahmad al Dardir and sought Khalwatiya sixty years earlier.
Shaykh Mashaykh al Azhar (Rector of his advice on various religious Al Hifni considered himself a
Al Azhar). For seventy years after issues. In 1784 he sent al Dardir a disciple of al Bakri, to whom he
him (1767–1838), nine Khalwati generous grant, which enabled the attributed all his accomplishments.

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He often remarked that all his hundred works. He also intro- (c) The order demanded that
knowledge came from his shaykh. duced a series of reforms into the very close ties be maintained
According to al Jabarti, himself a litanies and practices of the order. between the murid (disciple) and
student of al Hifni, it was al Bakri Al Bakri’s reforms rested on the his shaykh (al rabta al qalbiya). The
who erected the pillars of the foundations of the Qarabashi latter supervised his pupils’
reformed Khalwatiya (ashada arkan branch of the Khalwatiya, which conduct at all times (Muraqaba).
hadhihi al tariqa).11 Who, then, was spread in the seventeenth century
al Bakri, and what were the from Thrace (Tur Aish) into Syria, Among the requirements of the
reforms that he introduced into the first to Aleppo and later to order are:
Khalwatiya which enabled his Damascus. Al Bakri inherited the (a) Participation in communal
khalifa, al Hifni, to lead it to become elements of the order from his dhikr exercises and weekly
the most important Sufi order in shaykh, al Halabi, including the fol- evening guidance sessions
Egypt? lowing classic, unique features:14 (hadra).
(b) Assistance in the communal
Mustafa ibn Kamal al Din al Bakri (a) Its leaders were simulta- readings of the wird al Sattar, the
was born in Damascus in 1688. In neously ulama and Sufi shuyukh most important litany of the
his youth he was admitted into (ilm and amal); that is, they were Khalwatiya, composed by Yahia
several Sufi orders. His shaykh in knowledgeable both in Islamic al Shirwani (1464), one of the
the Khalwatiya was Abd al Latif al sciences and in Sufi practices. earliest shuyukh of the order.
Halabi, a disciple of the founder of (b) The Khalwati shaykh was (c) In addition to requiring long
the Qarabashiya branch, Shaykh known for his deep religious periods of retreat (khalwa), the
Ali al Qarabashi (d. 1685). A year zeal and strong conviction of the order demands the observence
before his death in 1708, al Halabi righteousness of his path of silence (samt) and vigil (sahar)
appointed al Bakri, then 21, as his (tariqa), as well as for his charis- and participation in communal
sole successor and authorized him ma and dominating personality. prayer vigils (wird al Sahar).
to initiate new adherents into his
order. From that time onward, al Scholars such as F. de Jong, a fore-
Bakri made many journeys most author on Sufi turuq in Egypt,
throughout the Ottoman Empire in have cast doubt on the revivalism
order to disseminate the introduced by al Bakri,15 but our
Khalwatiya. He visited Istanbul sources clearly document his
twice and Iraq once, made the Haj reforms. Shaykh Hassan al
to Mecca four times and visited Husseini, the Hanafi Mufti of
Egypt three times before finally Jerusalem, who was a major disci-
settling down in Cairo in 1748, a ple of al Bakri, refers to his master
year before his death.12 as a “mujadid (reformer) to his con-
In 1710, at the age of 23, al Bakri temporaries and compatriots.”16
made his first pilgrimage to the Contrary to previously estab-
holy places in Jerusalem, where he lished practices in Sufi orders, al
stayed for four months, recruiting Bakri’s major aim was to consoli-
new adherents to the Khalwatiya date and centralize the order’s
and spreading the order through- practices and to introduce reforms
out the Holy Land, as he recounted that reflected complete identifica-
in his travel diary.13 Later, for some tion with Muslim orthodoxy. Thus,
forty years, he made Jerusalem the although he himself had been initi-
main center of his activities, his ated into several turuq in his youth,
influence radiating from there to he forbade his followers to belong
the neighboring countries. His to orders other than the Khalwatiya.
activities revolved around a zawiya. The great zawiya of the Khalwatiya Since simultaneous adherence to
In Jerusalem he wrote over two order in Baka al Gharbiya. several orders had previously been

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BULLETIN

common, this was surely no minor too, al Bakri carefully avoided had advocated the type of
innovation in the world of me- contravening sharia rulings that Sufism taught in the tenth
dieval Islamic Sufism, and it was prohibited the demonstrative century by al Junei’d ibn
therefore not easily implemented. aspects of this cult, such as kiss- Muhammed (d. Baghdad 910), a
Al Bakri had long arguments over ing the tombstone, lighting can- major disciple of al Harith al
this issue with two of his major dles next to it and other Muhasibi (d. 857), leader of the
disciples in Egypt, al Hifni and idolatrous-looking practices. “Baghdad school” of Sufism. Al
Mahmud al Kurdi (d. 1780), both Thus, al Bakri regularly visited Bakri not only strongly urged
his own khulafa, Al Hifni eventual- tombs during his time in his followers to follow in the
ly gave up his allegiance to the Jerusalem, but he avoided footsteps of al Junei’d and his
Shadhiliya order, while al Kurdi tombs of saints, restricting him- moderate “path of sobriety,
was given permission to retain self scrupulously to those of seeking to reconcile the sharia
certain elements of Shaykh al prophets and patriarchs. He was with Sufi truth (Haqiqa),”19 but
Qusayri’s awrad (supplementary always careful not to address he also showed increased inter-
prayer texts specific to each order). prayers to the tomb dweller but est in al Ghazali. Excerpts from
Al Bakri also abolished the wild rather to ask Allah alone to have al Ghazali’s Ihya were inter-
displays of ecstasy that had for- mercy on the soul of the depart- spersed in some of the awrad
merly characterized dhikr perfor- ed. that he composed, and he wrote
mances in the Khalwatiya. Other (d) Voll and Levtzion have cited a commentary on a poem attrib-
aspects of his reforms included the the return to moderate Sufism uted to al Ghazali.20
following: as advocated by al Ghazali and
the rejection of the extremism The sources are extremely vague
(a) Al Bakri introduced changes espoused, for example, by Ibn al regarding the origins of al Bakri’s
in the text of the wird al Sattar. Arabi as a distinctive aspect of reforms. However, they mention
He instructed his followers eighteenth-century renewal and several cases in which al Bakri
never to recite the wird in pri- reform.18 Already in the seven- sought the guidance of the spiritu-
vate, but only in a congregation teenth century, the Khalwatiya al head of his order, Shaykh
and under the guidance of a Hassan ibn Ali al Qarabashi,
shaykh. The reason for this before instituting reforms. For
reform, as al Bakri himself example, before he introduced
explained, was to enhance the changes into the traditional text of
supervision of the shaykh over the wird al sahar litany, he sent a
his disciples. Al Bakri was copy of the planned text to the
extremely conscious of main- shaykh at Erdine and asked for his
taining the balance between approval. In order to overcome
popular Sufism and strict adher- opposition to some of his reforms,
ence to the sharia. al Bakri was careful to assure his
(b) Al Bakri favored the loud disciples that they derived from
dhikr (al jahri or lisani) over the the basic principles of the
inward or quiet dhikr (al khafi or Khalwatiya and to emphasize that
al qalbi). Although his own writ- all his reforms were based on the
ings testify that participants Damascus Khalwati tariqa
sometimes fainted during dhikr (Khalwatiyat al Sham).21 Thus, in reg-
performances over which he ulating the mode of the dhikr excer-
presided in Jerusalem, there is cises, al Bakri based himself on a
no evidence that he ever permit- religious verdict (fatwa) of another
ted singing and music to accom- of his Damascus teachers, Abd al
pany these performances.17 Shaykh Alif Ibn Husni al-Din al-Qasimi, Ghani al Nabulsi (d. 1143), a well-
(c) Visits to tombs were always a shaykh of the Khalwati zawiya in Baka al known Naqshabandi shaykh and
feature of popular Sufism. Here, Gharbiya. author of several travel journals

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the israeli academic center in cairo ¯È‰˜· Èχ¯˘È‰ ÈÓ„˜‡‰ ÊίӉ

(rahlat), who had approved the 1. G. Weigert, ‘The Khalwatiya in Egypt 15. F. de Jong. “Mustafa Kamal al Din al
in the Eighteenth Century,’ Bulletin of Bakri (1688–1749): Revival and Reform
introduction of loud dhikr into Sufi the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, No. 9 of the Khalwatiyya Tradition?” in N.
practices. (1994), pp. 17–20. Levtzion and J.O. Voll (eds.), Eighteenth
It was these reforms of al Bakri, 2. Jabarti (al) Abd al-Rahman, Aja’eb el Century Renewal and Reform in Islam,
as disseminated by al Hifni, that Athar fi’l tarajim wa’l Akhbar, Cairo 1297 Syracuse, N.Y., 1987, pp. 117–132.
H., I, p. 289. 16. Hussayni (al) Hassan, Tarajim ahl al
brought the reformed Khalwatiya 3. Ibid., pp. 295–302. Quds fi’l qarn al Thani ashr, Amman
in Egypt to its peak in the eigh- 4. Weigert, “The Khalwatiya” 1985, p. 158.
teenth century. Al Bakri’s complete (above, note 1). 17. Baytar (al) Abd al Razaq, Khaliyat al
identification with the sharia was 5. Bakri (al) Mustapha Kamal al Din, Beshr fi Tarikh al qarn al Thalith ashr,
Majmu’ Awrad, Cairo 1324 H., p. 150. Damascus 1383, p. 98.
doubtless the decisive factor in 6. Jabarti (above, note 2), I, p. 166. 18. Muhammad Hussein Makhlouf, Awrad
enabling the Khalwati shuyukh to 7. For more on this topic see N. Levtzion al Sadah al Khalwatiya, Cairo 1308 H., p.
dominate the highest position in and G. Weigert, ‘Religious Reform in 34.
the Eighteenth Century,’ Jerusalem 29. R.A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the
Egypt’s Muslim hierarchy for close
Studies in Arabic and Islam, 19 (volume Arabs, Cambridge 1941, p. 392.
to a hundred years. In numerous honoring P. Shinar), Jerusalem 1995, pp. 20. Al Bakri, Majmu’ (above, note 5), p. 156.
sermons to his disciples, al Bakri 173–197. 21. Ibid., pp. 175 and 187.
emphasized that “his way” was 8. Jabarti (above, note 2), II, p. 148. 22. Afif Ibn Husni al Din al Qasmi, Adwa
9. Levtzion and Weigert, “Religious ala al Tariqa al Khalwatiya, Baka al
the way of the sharia, declaring that
Reform” (above, note 7). Gharbiya, Israel, 1997.
“whoever does not understand 10. On al Tijani see D.S. Margoliouth,
this is simply short of mind” (qusur Encyclopedia of Islam (shorter edition),
fi aqlihi). For him, Sufism and s.v. Tijaniya, p. 594.
11. G. Weigert, The Khalwatiya in Egypt in
orthodoxy were inseparable (huma the Eighteenth Century: A Nucleus for
multaziman). Islamic Revival, Ph.D. Dissertation, The
In conclusion, we should note Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1989
that the Khalwatiya as reformed (in Hebrew, English summary). For a
reconstruction of the line of Khalwati
by al Bakri is one of the few Sufi shuyukh al Azhar in the eighteenth cen-
orders to have survived the tury see pp. 140–142.
upheavals of modernity and anti- 12. Muradi (al) Muhammad Khalil, Silk al
Sufi trends in the Arab world. Durrar fi a’yan al Qarn al thani ashr,
Cairo 1291–1301 H., IV, p. 161.
Moreover, it has witnessed a come- 13. Al Bakri, Al Khamra al Hissiya fi al Rihla
back in Jordan, in Israeli Arab vil- al Qudsiya (The intoxication of the
lages and in the Palestinian West senses during a journey to Holy
Bank, where scores of zawaya have Jerusalem), ms, Damascus 1122 H. A
copy of the manuscript of this diary
opened. A major zawiya linked was discovered by the Jerusalem
with the Rahmaniya branch of the researcher Fahmi al Ansari in the
Khalwatiya was established in famous al Khalidi family library in the
Baka al Gharbiya, in the Israeli Old City of Jerusalem.
14. Muradi, Silk al Durrar (above, note 12),
“Little Triangle” area, followed in loc. cit.; Jabarti (above, note 2), I, pp.
1989 by the opening of a Higher 294–295; al Bakri, Majmu’ (above, note
College of Sharia Studies, offering 5), p. 147.
courses in Islamic studies and
Sufism and preparing hundreds of
male and female students for the
teaching profession. 22

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