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Sufism East and West


Mystical Islam and Cross-Cultural Exchange
in the Modern World

Edited by

Jamal Malik
Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

LEIDEN | BOSTON

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Contents
Contents vii

Contents

Acknowledgements ix
List of Figures x
Notes on Transliteration xI
Notes on Contributors xii xvi

Introduction 1
 Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

Part 1
Construction and Reorientation of Sufism in the Modern World

1 The Dabistan and Orientalist Views of Sufism 33


 Carl W. Ernst

2 Definitions of Sufism as a Meeting Place of Eastern and Western “Creative


Imaginations” 53
 Alexander Knysh

3 Sufi Amnesia in Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s Tahdhib al-Akhlaq 76


   Jamal Malik

4 Discussing the Sufism of the Early Modern Period: A New


Historiographical Outlook on the Tariqa Muhammadiyya 104
 Rachida Chih

Part 2
Interactions between Sufism and Western Culture

5 Sufism and the Gurdjieff Movement: Multiple Itineraries of


Interaction  129
 Mark Sedgwick

6 Beyond West Meets East: Space and Simultaneity in Post-Millennial


Western Sufi Autobiographical Writings 149
 Marcia Hermansen

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viii Contents

7 Sufism in the Modern West: A Taxonomy of Typologies and the Category


of “Dynamic Integrejectionism” 180
 Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

Part 3
Sufism and the Representation of Islam

8 Between Two or Three Worlds: Reversion to Islam, Beur Culture and


Western Sufism in the Tariqa Budshishiyya 211
 Marta Dominguez Diaz

9 Between Religiosity, Cultural Heritage and Politics: Sufi-Oriented


Interests in Contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina 233
 Catharina Raudvere

10 Transmitting and Transforming Traditions: Salman Ahmad and Sufi


Rock 259
 Ali S. Asani

Afterword 273
 Bruce B. Lawrence

Index 285

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104 Chih

Chapter 4

Discussing the Sufism of the Early Modern Period:


A New Historiographical Outlook on the Tariqa
Muhammadiyya
 Rachida Chih

I had begun by enquiring into Sufism and Sufi orders in contemporary Egypt,
focussing on one particular case, that of the Khalwatiyya Sufi order. Lengthy
work in the field enabled me to collect a whole class of literature that is not
found in libraries: hagiographies of local saints, Sufi handbooks, writings in-
tended for a closed circle of disciples, collections of prayers, and qasa⁠ʾid used
in Sufi meetings. I undertook ethnographic research in Cairo and in Upper
Egypt to study the implantation and influence of the Khalwatiyya, to observe
life inside this Sufi order, to understand the nature of the relationship between
disciples and their masters, and, ultimately, in order to analyse the religious
authority of the masters, but also their social activities and their links with
political power. The results of this research were presented in my doctoral the-
sis and then published in French; and an article summing up this work ap-
peared in English under the title “What is a Sufi order? Revisiting the Concept
through the Case-Study of the Khalwatiyya in Contemporary Egypt.”1
During the 1990s, when I was preparing my doctoral thesis, modernist ideas
that had first been elaborated in the 1960s dominated in this field: it was held
that the societies we studied would become increasingly secular, with a small-
er place given to religion—or at least to its traditional structures, such as the
Sufi orders, which would inevitably face a continual and irreversible decline.2
The historic and ethnographic approach that I had adopted for my own re-
search produced completely different results. Far from being in decline, the

1 Rachida Chih, Le soufisme au quotidien, confréries d’Égypte au XX e siècle (Paris: Sindbad/Actes-


sud, 2000); idem, “What is a Sufi Order? Revisiting the Concept through the Case-Study of the
Khalwatiyya in Contemporary Egypt,” in Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam, ed. Martin van
Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007).
2 Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Clifford Geertz,
Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1968); Michael Gilsenan, “Some Factors in the Decline of the Sufi Orders in
Modern Egypt,” The Muslim World 57, no. 1 (1967), doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.1967.tb01235.x; John
Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 105

Sufi order I studied in fact demonstrated an extraordinary vitality along with a


strong capacity for adaptation, while still preserving its religious traditions.
Contrary to the theses then current, which situated the beginning of the de-
cline of Sufism and of Sufi orders at the end of the nineteenth and beginning
of the twentieth century, in the face of Muslim reformism and of nationalism,
it is precisely during the second half of the nineteenth century that the Khal-
watiyya began to expand in Egypt. The roots of this expansion reached far back
into the eighteenth century. And this is how I ended up working on the early
modern period and inevitably coming into contact with the concept of the
Muhammadan Path (Tariqa Muhammadiyya) and the intense and sometimes
heated debates that surrounded it.
The Muhammadan Path provides one of the central planks of the thesis of
Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) on Sufi revival in pre-modern Islam. Rahman’s thesis
speaks of an eighteenth-century movement for the puritanical reform of an
Islam that is described as having broken with medieval Sufism and with the
dominance both of the pantheistic mysticism of the Andalusian Sufi Ibn ʿArabi
(d. 1240) and of the cult of saints, in order to reaffirm a scrupulous attachment
to the shariʿa and the moral example of the Prophet.3 With this thesis on neo-
Sufism, which appeared in his book Islam, the Pakistani thinker provoked pas-
sionate arguments in the West, in particular among German academics.4 The
main argument of Rahman’s critics was that he didn’t have sufficient knowl-
edge of the Sufi writings that he presented as being reformist: those of Ahmad
Sirhindi (d. 1624) and Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762) from India, and of the Maghreb’s
Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815), Ahmad Ibn Idris (d. 1837) and his disciples, Muham-
mad al-Sanusi (d. 1859) and Muhammad al-Mirghani (d. 1853). For example,
based on a close examination of the writings produced by the Moroccan Sufi
Ahmad Ibn Idris, Sean O’Fahey and Bernd Radtke presented a more complex
picture, demonstrating substantial continuity with the medieval period; in this

3 Fazlur Rahman, Islam (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966); idem, Islam (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1979), 206.
4 Basing his work in part on theories postulating reformism in the Muslim religion of the eigh-
teenth century, Reinhard Schulze developed the idea of an Islamic Aufklärung sustained by
economic and social transformations; this notion was strongly criticised by Rudolph Peters
and Bernd Radtke in Die Welt des Islams. Reinhard Schulze, “Das islamische achtzehnte
Jahrhundert. Versuch einer historiographischen Kritik,” Die Welt des Islams 30, no. 1 (1990), doi.
org/10.2307/1571049; idem, “Was ist die Islamische Aufklärung?,” Die Welt des Islams 36, no. 3
(1996); Rudolph Peters, “Reinhard Schulze’s Quest for an Islamic Enlightenment,” Die Welt des
Islams 30, no. 1 (1990), doi.org/10.2307/1571050; Bernd Radtke, “Sufism in the 18th Century: An
Attempt at a Provisional Appraisal,” Die Welt des Islams 36, no. 3 (1996); idem, “Erleuchtung
und Aufklärung. Islamische Mystik und europäischer Rationalismus,” Die Welt des Islams 34,
no. 1 (1994), doi.org/ 10.2307/1570857.

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106 Chih

reading, traditional Sufism continued to play a major role well into the begin-
ning of the twentieth century.5
This critique of the theses postulating a Sufi reformism in the eighteenth
century provoked a complete re-evaluation of Islam and Sufism during the
pre-modern period, but most particularly during the seventeenth and eigh-
teenth centuries. Many important Sufi figures who had been presented as re-
formers were re-examined in the light of their own writings: among them were
the Indians Ahmad Sirhindi and ʿAbd al-Haqq al-Dihlawi (d. 1642) and the Syr-
ians ʿAbd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1731) and Mustafa al-Bakri (d. 1749).6 Work
on Ahmad Ibn Idris and Muhammad al-Sanusi was undertaken by a group of
researchers at the University of Bergen. 7 They confirmed that in matters of
doctrine the beginning of the modern period did not coincide with a rupture
either with medieval Sufism or with Ibn ʿArabi; on the contrary, the above-
mentioned scholars were diffusing his ideas. Finally, recent studies of so-called
“reformist” Sufi orders have put an end to the ideological and a-historic claims
that had long been made about them: for example the Naqshbandiyya be-
tween the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries was far from being a uniform
and organised order, rather it was an ensemble of spiritual traditions transmit-
ted by independent Sufi masters.8

5 Rex Sean O’Fahey and Bernd Radtke, “Neo-Sufism Reconsidered,” Der Islam 70, no. 1 (1993),
doi.org/10.1515/islm.1993.70.1.52; Bernd Radtke, “Between Projection and Suppression: Some
Considerations Concerning the Study of Sufism,” in Shīʿa Islam, Sects and Sufism: Historical
Dimensions, Religious Practice and Methodological Considerations, ed. Frederick De Jong
(Utrecht: M.Th. Houtsma Stichting, 1992).
6 Johan G.J. ter Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet: Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī (1564–1624) as
Mystic (Leiden: Het Oosters Instituut, 1992); Scott Kugle, “ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq Dihlawī, An Accidental
Revivalist: Knowledge and Power in the Passage from Delhi to Makka,” Journal of Islamic
Studies 19, no. 2 (2008), doi.org/10.1093/jis/etn002; Ralf Elger, Muṣṭafā al-Bakrī: zur
Selbstdarstellung eines syrischen Gelehrten, Sufis und Dichters des 18. Jahrhunderts (Schenefeld:
EB-Verlag, 2004); Barbara Rosenow von Schlegell, Sufism in the Ottoman Arab World: Shaykh
ʿAbd al-Ganī al-Nābulusī (d. 1143 /1731) (PhD diss., University of California, 1997); Samuela
Pagani, Il Rinnovamento Mistico dell’Islam: Un Commento di ʿAbd al-Ganī al-Nābulusī a Ahmad
Sirhindī (Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, Dissertationes III, 2003).
7 Rex Sean O’Fahey, Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition (Evanston, IL:
Northwestern University Press, 1990); Bernd Radtke, John O’Kane, Knut S. Vikor, and Rex Sean
O’Fahey, The Exoteric Aḥmad Ibn Idrīs: A Sufi’s Critique of the Madhāhib and the Wahhābīs
(Leiden: Brill, 1999); Knut S. Vikør, Sufi and Scholar on the Desert Edge: Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Al-
Sanūsī and his Brotherhood (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995).
8 Dina Le Gall, A Culture of Sufism: Naqhsbandīs in the Ottoman World, 1450–1700 (Albany: SUNY
Press, 2004); Alexandre Papas, “Refonder plutôt que réformer: la Naqshbandiyya non mujad-
didî dans le monde turc (XVI e-XVIII e siècle),” in Le soufisme à l’époque ottomane/Sufism in the
Ottoman Era, ed. Rachida Chih and Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen (Cairo: Institut français
d’archéologie orientale, 2010).

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 107

The debate is not extinguished, however, because a strictly philological ap-


proach has its limits in the quest to understand the historical evolution of Su-
fism: the writings of the masters must also be put back into the historical
context of their production. Yet Sufism and the Sufi orders are often analysed
from two different angles—their texts, and the study of the doctrinal founda-
tions for the mystical path, are material for the specialists in Islamic texts, the
Islamicists, whereas anthropologists and historians study the social and politi-
cal dimensions of Sufism. At times the first group accuses the second of not
knowing the doctrinal texts and thus of constructing historiographical and an-
thropological models without having read the necessary works. Meanwhile,
the latter group reproaches the Islamicists for not taking into account the his-
torical context of socio-political changes and reverses, with neglecting to in-
scribe religious doctrines within history, and with themselves creating models
of masters and saintly figures who are outside of historical analysis. Yet we can
see that in all religions the figures of saints appear at particular historic mo-
ments and respond to particular expectations or needs;9 the evolution of the
Sufi orders is also subject to socio-political events and upsets. If the sources do
show an increased visibility of the veneration for and attachment to the Proph-
et from the end of the fifteenth century, then, and contrary to the theory ad-
opted by Rahman, this is nonetheless not a uniform trend. For example, for the
Turk Muhammad Birgivi (d. 1573) the aim is to have a spirituality based on the
moral life of the Prophet, which must be taken as the example for every aspect
of existence, whereas for numerous Sufi scholars, impregnated with the ideas
of Ibn ʿArabi, this veneration signifies instead a direct attachment to the Proph-
et as a mode of access to sainthood. The Tariqa Muhammadiyya should, for
each different author, be analysed in the light of its historical context.
This context is better-known today thanks to the progress made in the study
of the political and economic history of the great Muslim empires, which has
opened up new perspectives on research into the history of Sufism. During the
pre-modern period the Muslim empires were not in continuous decline, as had
been advanced by the colonialist theses taken up by orientalist literature:10 on
the contrary, we now know that they went through phases of great prosperity
thanks to the development of international commerce, bringing economic

9 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1982); Alphonse Dupront, Du sacré: Croisades et pèlerinages.
Images et langages (Paris: Gallimard, 1987).
10 Cemal Kafadar, “The Question of Ottoman Decline,” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic
Review 4, no. 1–2 (1997–1998); André Raymond, “Il n’y a pas de décadence ottomane,”
L’Histoire 190 (1995).

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108 Chih

growth from 1600 to at least the middle of the eighteenth century.11 Nor was
there an intellectual decadence within the empires at this time: Arab cities
such as Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo benefited from renewed prosperity under
the Ottomans to become crossroads of commercial and intellectual exchange.12
In Egypt, the Ottomans carried on the religious policies of the Mamluks and
attributed numerous waqfs to the University of al-Azhar, confirming its inter-
national status and allowing it to continue to attract students from abroad as
well as a growing number of Egyptians from the countryside.13 The reception
of foreigners in Medina, and their lengthy stays there, were possible because of
the increase in Ottoman religious endowments for the Holy Places, of which
the Sultan presented himself as the servant. This increase in endowments
brought a corresponding increase in the number of pilgrims, but also in the
number of students (the mujawirun) who chose to do their religious training in
the Holy Cities. During the sixteenth century, and even more during the seven-
teenth century, Medina, the Prophet’s resting-place, predominated over Mecca
as the most important intellectual centre: according to the historian Suraiya
Faroqhi, in 1579–1580 the Ottoman authorities estimated that 8,000 people re-
ceived state subsidies to live as mujawir in Medina; in 1641 there were 23,000
people with the title of mujawir (not including their families) receiving official
support.14
It was in Medina that Sufi traditions from North Africa, Egypt, Central Asia
and India came into contact and interacted with each other, probably for the
first time. This resulted in a renewed dissemination among Sufi scholars of the
ideas of Ibn ʿArabi, which had previously been regarded with caution in most
Arab-speaking countries. Ahmad al-Qushshashi (d. 1661) was a central figure in
the scholarly milieu of Medina; he was the author of a famous Sufi handbook
Al-Simt al-Majid fi Sha⁠ʾn al-Bayʿa, wa al-Dhikr wa Talqinihi, wa Salasil Ahl

11 Stephen Frederic Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Francis Robinson, “Ottomans–Safavids–Mu-
ghals: Shared Knowledge and Connective Systems,” Journal of Islamic Studies 8, no. 2
(1997); Nelly Hanna, and Raouf Abbas, eds., Society and Economy in Egypt and the Eastern
Mediterranean 1600–1900: Essays in Honor of André Raymond (Cairo: AUC Press, 2005).
12 André Raymond, Grandes villes arabes à l’époque ottomane (Paris: Sindbad, 1985); idem,
The Great Arab Cities in the 16th–18th Centuries: An Introduction (New York: New York Uni-
versity Press, 1984).
13 Rachida Chih, “Autorité religieuse et rôle public d’un ouléma d’al-Azhar au XVIII e siècle:
Vie et carrière du cheikh Ahmad al-Dardîr (1715–1786),” in L’autorité religieuse et ses limites
en terres d’islam: Approches historiques et anthropologiques, ed. Nathalie Clayer, Alexandre
Papas and Benoît Fliche (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
14 Suraiya Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans (London: I.B. Tauris,
1996), 85.

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 109

al-Tawhid (“The Glorious Pearl Necklace on the Pact of Allegiance, Dhikr and
its Transmission, and the Initiatic Chains of the People of Unicity”).15 Although
Simt al-Majid deals mainly with the practices of the path, a large part of it is
devoted to a lengthy enumeration of the many chains of transmission (salasil)
of its author; this means that in places the literary genre of the text is similar to
a treatise on khirqa.16 It should be noted that Ahmad al-Qushshashi composed
his book from 1658 to 1659, towards the end of his life and shortly before his
death in 1661. The enumeration of his chains of transmission thus takes on a
character that is at once spiritual and autobiographical. I propose to examine
the multiple spiritual affiliations of al-Qushshashi to cast a new light on this
often-cited but ultimately little-known Sufi, overshadowed as he is by the tow-
ering figure of his disciple Ibrahim al-Kurani (d. 1690), and on his claim to be
the follower of the path of Muhammad and the seal of Muhammadan saint-
hood (khatim al-walaya al-khassa al-muhammadiyya), in order to contribute
to a new understanding of the Tariqa Muhammadiyya in the pre-modern pe-
riod.

The Sufi Shaykhs and the Chains of Initiatic Investiture (khirqa) of


Qushshashi

Before looking into the long lists of silsilas of al-Qushshashi and exploring the
significance of all these affiliations, I shall briefly present the intellectual and
spiritual environment in which he was immersed in Medina (his hometown),
and the masters who initiated him. The cosmopolitan scholarly community of
Medina in the seventeenth century is now better known thanks to the studies
by Levtzion and Voll, Azra, Knysh, Nafi, Copty, El-Rouayheb, and Pagani. 17 They

15 Ahmad Al-Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid fi Sha⁠ʾn al-Bayʿa, wa al-Dhikr wa Talqinihi, wa


Salasil Ahl al-Tawhid (Hyderabad: Da⁠ʾirat al-Maʿarif al-Nizamiyya, 1909).
16 On this type of literature, see Denis Gril, “De la khirqa à la ṭarīqa: continuité et évolution
dans l’identification et la classification des voies,” in Le soufisme à l’époque ottomane.
17 Nehemia Levtzion and John O. Voll, eds., Eighteenth Century Renewal and Reform in Islam
(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987); Azyumardi Azra, The Origins of Islamic
Reformism in Southeast Asia: Networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern ʿUlamāʾ in
the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Crows Nest, Australia and Honolulu, HI: Allen
and Unwin, and University of Hawaii Press, 2004); Alexander Knysh, “Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī
(d. 1101/1690), an Apologist for waḥdat al-wujūd,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 5, no.
1 (1995); Basheer M. Nafi, “Taṣawwuf and Reform in Pre-Modern Islamic Culture: In Search
of Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī,” Die Welt des Islams 42, no. 3 (2002); Atallah S. Copty, “The Naqsh-
bandiyya and Its Offshoot: the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya in the Ḥaramayn in the
11th/17th Century,” Die Welt des Islams 43, no. 3 (2003); Khaled El-Rouayheb, “Opening the

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110 Chih

all attest to the penetration into this community of the ideas of Ibn ʿArabi,
which was due to the influence of an Indian master of Iranian origin, Sibghat
Allah ibn Ruh Allah al-Husayni al-Barwaji (d. 1606), from the city of Bharuch in
Gujarat. As the spiritual heir of the Indian masters Wajih al-Din al-Gujarati (d.
1589–1590) and Muhammad Ghawth (d. 1563) (the latter is qualified by William
C. Chittick as the most influential master of the school of Ibn ʿArabi in the
Subcontinent during the sixteenth century), Sibghat Allah is responsible for
spreading the teaching of al-Gujarati and Ghawth in Medina. 18 He was sur-
rounded by Arab-speaking disciples from Yemen, Palestine and Egypt and, at
the request of his Egyptian disciple Ahmad al-Shinnawi (d. 1619), translated
Muhammad Ghawth’s Al-Jawahir al-Khamsa (“The Five Jewels”) from Persian
into Arabic; this Sufi handbook is often quoted in Qushshashi’s Simt al-Majid.
The Jawahir refers to the metaphysics of Ibn ʿArabi, although it is arguably a
lesser well-known work by Muhammad Ghawth, Khalid-i Makhazin (“The
Eternal Repositories”) that is said to offer the freshest and most original contri-
bution to Ibn ʿArabi’s school of thought.19 As for Wajih al-Din al-Gujarati, disci-
ple of Muhammad Ghawth and master of Sibghat Allah, he became an
apologist and propagator for Akbarian spirituality by writing malfuzat (collec-
tions of sayings) on the doctrine of the unity of being (wahdat al-wujud); he is
also the author of a short Arabic summary of Ibn ʿArabi’s metaphysics and his
typology of the saints, al-Haqiqat al-Muhammadiyya (“The Muhammadan
Reality”).20 This Indian tradition would be perpetuated in Medina through
Qushshashi, who received it from two of Sibghat Allah’s disciples: the above-
mentioned Egyptian Ahmad al-Shinnawi (d. 1619) and Asʿad al-Balkhi (d. 1636–
1637), an Indian of Central Asian origin and the author of annotations on

Gate of Verification: The Forgotten Arab-Islamic Florescence of the 17th Century,” Interna-
tional Journal of Middle East Studies 38, no. 2 (May 2006); idem, Islamic Intellectual History
in the Seventeenth Century:
 Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Pagani, Il Rinnovamento‬.
18 Muhammad Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athar fi Aʿyan al-Qarn al-Hadi ʿAshar, vol. II (Beirut,
Dar Sadir, 1966), 243–44; Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India, vol. II (Del-
hi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1983), 329–30; William C. Chittick, “Notes on Ibn
al-ʿArabī’s Influence in the Subcontinent,” The Muslim World 82, no. 3–4 (1992): 228. See
also Iqbal Sabir, “Impact of Ibn ʿArabî’s Mystical Thought on the Sufis of India during the
Sixteenth Century,” in Sufis and Sufism: Some Reflections, ed. Neeru Misra (New Delhi:
Manohar Publishers, 2004).
19 Chittick, “Notes on Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Influence in the Subcontinent,” 228.
20 Rizvi, History of Sufism in India, vol. II, 11–13; Chittick, “Notes on Ibn al-ʿArabî’s Influence
in the Subcontinent,” 228.

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 111

Qunawi’s (d. 1274) commentary on the Fusus al-Hikam (“The Bezels of Wis-
dom”) by Ibn ʿArabi.21
What we know about al-Qushshashi’s life has come down to us from his
close disciple, Ibrahim al-Kurani, who devoted a long entry to al-Qushshashi in
his Al-Amam li Iqaz al-Himam; Mustafa al-Hamawi (d. 1712), one of Kurani’s
disciples, drew on this text (while also adding personal information) for his
biographical dictionary, Fawa⁠ʾid al-Irtihal wa Nata⁠ʾij al-Safar fi Akhbar Ahl al-
Qarn al-Hadi ʿAshar (“The Advantages of Setting out on, and the Results of, the
Voyage towards Knowledge about the Lives of Men in the Eleventh Century of
the Hijra”) and Muhibbi (d. 1699) was also inspired by Kurani’s text for his Khu-
lasat al-Athar.22 All of these entries on al-Qushshashi assign particular impor-
tance, as it is the convention in this kind of literature, to his quest for knowledge
(ʿilm), listing the prestigious masters that Qushshashi had known and the dis-
ciples that he had guided.
Safi al-Din Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Nabi Yunis al-Ansari al-Daja-
ni, known as al-Qushshashi, was born in Medina in 1583; his family came from
Dajana near Jerusalem. His father, who had himself become a Maliki through a
scholar from Tlemcen, taught him the rudiments of jurisprudence (fiqh) ac-
cording to the Maliki school before taking him to Yemen in 1602–1603. There
the young man studied with his father’s masters.23 After travelling in Yemen for
a long time, Qushshashi went to Mecca, staying there for a time before settling
definitively in Medina where he met his future master, Ahmad al-Shinnawi.
Al-Shinnawi came from a celebrated lineage of Sufis in Egypt; he was the
great-grandson of Muhammad al-Shinnawi who was the master of Shaʿrani (d.
1565), and his father was ʿAli al-Shinnawi who would in turn be initiated by
Shaʿrani.24 We know the role played by Shaʿrani in making the teachings of Ibn

21 Ahmad Al-Shinnawi, Tajalliyyat al-Basa⁠ʾir: Hashiya ʿala Kitab al-Jawahir li al-Gawth al-
Hindi (n.p., n.d.); Ismaʿil Pacha al-Baghdadi, Hadiyyat al-ʿArifin fi Asma⁠ʾ al-Muʾallifin wa
Athar al-Musannifin (Istanbul: Wikalat al-Maʿarif, 1951), 154–55; Carl Brockelmann, Ge-
schichte der arabischen Literatur, second edition (Leiden: Brill, 1937–1942), Supplement-
band II, 534; on Asʿad al-Balkhi, cf. Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athar, vol. I, 402.
22 Ibrahim Al-Kurani, Al-Amam li Iqaz al-Himam (Hyderabad: Da⁠ʾirat al-Maʿarif al-Nizami-
yya, 1910), 125–27; Mustafa Al-Hamawi, Fawa⁠ʾid al-Irtihal wa Nata⁠ʾij al-Safar fi Akhbar Ahl
al-Qarn al-Hadi ʿAshar (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, ms tarikh 1093), 320–33; Al-
Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athar, vol. I, 343–46. The entry on Muhibbi figures in the frontis-
piece of the 1909 edition of the Simt al-Majid.


23 On the list of Qushshashi’s masters in Yemen and Mecca cf. Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-
Athar, vol. I, 345.
24 Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athar, vol. I, 243; Khayr al-Din Al-Zirikli, Al-Aʿlam: Qamus Tara-
jim li Ashhar al-Rijal wa al-Nisa⁠ʾ min al-ʿArab wa al-Mustaʿrabin wa al-Mustashriqin, vol. I,
fifth edition (Beirut: Dar al-ʿIlm li al-Malayin, 1980), 181.

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112 Chih

ʿArabi accessible to a larger number of reader through his numerous books in-
cluding the Al-Yawaqit wa al-Jawahir (“The Book of Rubies and Jewels”). Al-
Shinnawi converted al-Qushshashi to the Shafiʿi school of law, taught him the
science of the hadith, initiated him into Muhammad Ghawth’s Al-Jawahir al-
Khamsa, and transmitted his many khirqas to him. Al-Qushshashi became first
his son-in-law and then his spiritual successor (khalifa).
Al-Shinnawi transmitted all of his Central Asian and Indian initiatic investi-
tures to al-Qushshashi which he had himself received from Sibghat Allah:
these are the Shattariyya, Chishtiyya, Suhrawardiyya, Madariyya, Khalwatiyya,
Hamadaniyya, Naqshbandiyya and Firdawsiyya (a branch derived from the
Kubrawiyya).25 Qushshashi then added the Tayfuriyya to the list (this Sufi path
was also known as the Shahmadariyya or the Siddiqiyya in reference to Abu
Bakr al-Siddiq). These Sufi chains of spirituality with their countless ramifica-
tions and derivations are not presented in a linear way, but rather in the form
of genealogies (sanad shajarat khilafat al-mashaikh). What follows is an indic-
ative list.
The spiritual lineage (sanad) of the masters of the Shattariyya passes
through its eponymous founder, ʿAbd Allah al-Shattar (d. 1485) and goes back
to Yazid al-ʿIshqi, and then to Muhammad al-Maghribi, who was instructed by
the spiritual reality (ruhaniyya) of Abu Yazid al-Bistami, who had himself been
guided by the ruhaniyya of the sixth Shiite imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq: this lineage
goes back through the genealogy of the imams as far as ʿAli and then to the
Prophet. The codification and organisation of this path, which was important
in India and South-East Asia, were attributed to Muhammad Ghawth. The spir-
itual lineage of the Chishtiyya
 can be traced back to Nizam al-Din al-Dihlawi
(d. 1325) and to his forebears who propagated the path in India: Farid al-Din
Shakar (d. 1265), Qutb al-Din al-Dihlawi (d. 1236) and Muʿin al-Din Chishti (d.
1236). The spiritual lineage of the masters of the Firdawsiyya and of the Ku-
brawiyya was transmitted by Sayf al-Din Bakharzi, a disciple of Najm al-Din
Kubra (d. 1220), to his own disciple Badr al-Din al-Samarqandi—this disciple
then established a branch in India, derived from the Kubrawiyya and known as
the Firdawsiyya.
The spiritual lineage of the masters of the Suhrawardiyya goes
back to Baha al-Din Zakariya al-Multani (d. 1262), one of the disciples of Shi-
hab al-Din ʿUmar al-Suhrawardi (d. 1234), who brought the path to India. Al-
Qushshashi cites a second Suhrawardi chain of investiture with the Sufi robes
(al-libas al-muraqqaʿ).26 The spiritual lineage of the masters of the Qadiriyya is

25 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 67–69.


26 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 70–72.

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 113

transmitted by the descendants of the great saint of Baghdad, ʿAbd al-Qadir


al-Jilani (d. 1166). Al-Qushshashi then cites in the order of his spiritual lineage
the masters of the Tayfuriyya, the Uwaysiyya, the Khalwatiyya (going back
through Muhammad al-Khalwati to Najm al-Din Kubra), of the Hamadaniyya
by the disciples of Mir Sayyid ʿAli al-Hamadani (d. 1385) and of the Naqsh-
bandiyya, which goes back to ʿUbayd Allah Ahrar (d. 1490), Yaʿqub al-Charkhi
(d. 1447) and Baha al-Din Naqshband (d. 1389).27 Qushshashi mentions an at-
tachment to Uways al-Qarani through the path of Ibn ʿArabi, transmitted by
Suhrawardi, Zakariya al-Ansari (d. 1520) and Shaʿrani. He follows this by citing
his khirqa Akbariyya through an Egyptian path that goes back to Shaʿrani and
then to Suyuti (d. 1505).28
Thus Shinnawi transmitted to Qushshashi his Egyptian khirqa, traceable
through Shaʿrani back to the great saint Ahmad al-Badawi (d. 1276) through
two paths: the first lineage is via Ahmad al-Shinnawi – ʿAli al-Shinnawi – ʿAbd
al-Wahhab al-Shaʿrani – Shaykh ʿUmar – Shaykh Salih – Ahmad ibn Ibrahim
ibn Bahadir – ʿAli al-Bilbaysi – Shaykh ʿAbd al-ʿAl – Sayyidi Ahmad al-Badawi;
the second silsila passes through Shinnawi’s grandfather and via the ties of a
familial and spiritual genealogy back to Ahmad al-Badawi, the master of the
first shaykh Shinnawi.29 Qushshashi also lists an Egyptian Shadhiliyya khirqa,
reconstituting the silsila of Ibn Mashish, master of Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (d.
1258), from the work by the Shadhili Ibn Mughayzil entitled Al-Kawakib al-Za-
hira (“The Bright Stars”).30 In addition, he speaks of a Suhrawardiyya khirqa,
via Shaʿrani and Zakariya al-Ansari.31
Qushshashi also mentions his sanad batini, the internal, esoteric chain
transmitted by the great saints of the intermediary world (awliya⁠ʾ al-barzakh)
whose presence affects the world; among them are Abu Yazid al-Bistami, ʿAbd
al-Qadir al-Jilani, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi and others. This silsila goes back
to Muhammad Ghawth, who described his meetings with the great saints who
dressed him in their khirqa. Qushshashi said that he was the inheritor of this

27 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 74–78.


28 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 105.
29 Ahmad al-Shinnawi brought together his silsilas in his work, Bayʿat al-Itlaq wa Talqin al-
Dhikr wa al-Musafaha; cf. Al-Baghdadi, Hadiyyat al-ʿArifin, vol. I, 155. On the companions
of Badawi, cf. Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, “Les Compagnons de la Terrasse: un groupe de
soufis ruraux dans l’Égypte mamelouke,” in Saints orientaux, ed. Denise Aigle (Paris: De
Boccard, 1995).
30 Abu al-Fadl Ibn Mughayzil, Al-Kawakib al-Zahira fi Ijtimaʿ al-Awliya⁠ʾ Yaqazatan bi-Sayyid
al-Dunya wa al-Akhira (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2013).
31 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 104.

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114 Chih

baraka in the earthly world and in the world beyond, and thus placed himself
in the initiatic hierarchy of the saints who uphold the world.32

The Meaning of Qushshashi’s Numerous Spiritual Affiliations

Qushshashi defines the khirqa, the initiatory investiture in the tradition of Ibn
ʿArabi, for whom it is primarily “the vestment of piety” (libas al-taqwa), in ref-
erence to the Quranic verse: “Children of Adam! We have sent down on you a
garment to cover your shameful parts, and feathers; and the garment of god-
fearing—that is better; that is one of God’s signs; happily they will remember” 
(Quran 7:26, trans. A. Arberry).33 By virtue of its Quranic foundation, Qush-
shashi attributes a legal and scriptural character to such an investiture, in con-
trast to his detractors such as Sakhawi (d. 1497) who thinks this practice
represents an innovation.34 The khirqa, as an investiture, intervenes only once
the novice has cleansed himself of his imperfections and then put on this vest-
ment of piety, that is to say of the noble prophetic virtues (makarim al-akhlaq).
Naturally, this khirqa can only be acquired through companionship (suhba)
and by spiritual training (adab). It may happen that the master helps the disci-
ple to perfect himself by transmitting to him his own (the master’s) state, that
is, by putting the master’s vestment on to the novice. Although some khirqas
were transmitted directly from master to disciple, most were rooted in the
transmission of a spiritual influence that went back to the Prophet and was
traceable by many paths (khirqat al-tabarruk).35
Although the various Sufi orders had gained a large number of followers by
the mid-seventeenth century, multiple affiliations continued to be the norm
among Sufi scholars. The khirqa did not signify attachment to one master or to
a particular Sufi order but rather the reception of one or of several spiritual
traditions that had formerly been received by the master himself, influences
that he transmitted to his disciple once the disciple was sufficiently accom-
plished, or to another master.36 The numerous affiliations of Qushshashi were
brought together in a single document, included in the Simt al-Majid so they

32 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 80.


33 Ibn ʿArabi, Le livre de la filiation spirituelle, trans. Claude Addas in ʿAyn al-Hayât, Quaderno
di Studi della Tarîqa Naqshbandiyya 5 (1999): 45–64; Jean-Louis Michon, “Khirḳa,” The En-
cyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, vol. V (1986): 17–18, dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_is-
lam_SIM_4293.
34 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 109.
35 Qushshashi, Al-Simt al-Majid, 95.
36 Gril, “De la khirqa à la ṭariqa.”

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 115

could be transmitted in the form of an ijaza (licence). In this connection he


mentions two books as having supported the transmission of all his chains:
one by his master al-Shinnawi, Bayʿat al-Itlaq wa Talqin al-Dhikr wa al-Musafa-
ha (“The Unbounded Pact, the Transmission of Dhikr, and the Shaking/Inter-
twining of the Hands”) and Muhammad Ghawth’s Al-Jawahir al-Khamsa,
which contains the record of fourteen chains of transmission taken from two
other texts, Al-Darajat (“The Degrees”) and Al-Ittisal bi al-Ghawth (“The Link
with the Supreme Pole”). Denis Gril, who has studied a certain number of khir-
qa treatises (collection of chains of spiritual transmission), tells us that “this
literature is related in part to that of the muʿjam al-shuyukh [biographical dic-
tionary of scholars], fahrasa [catalogues of masters and their works], thabt
[lists of masters with the works studied under their direction] in which an au-
thor enumerates his masters and the licences (ijaza) that have been granted
him, as in any other Islamic science.”37 The cumulative effect of these affilia-
tions transmitted in the form of an ijaza was to allow the master to consolidate
his authority. They also served as an instrument of verification, and as proof of
the authenticity of the countless initiatic chains, in the manner of the trans-
mitters of the hadith; Qushshashi reconstituted the sanad of great Sufis on the
basis of various texts and treatises on the khirqa from the Mamluk period, thus
revealing his deep knowledge of chains of initiation.
Of course, these treatises on khirqa were composed by scholars for other
scholars. Murtada al-Zabidi (d. 1791) was an expert at this kind of writing, and
many of his Sufi contemporaries entrusted him with the task of organising and
writing down their affiliations. Very soon after his arrival in Cairo, he wrote one
of his first nomenclatures for the shaykh of Al-Azhar mosque, Muhammad al-
Hifni (d. 1767). It is entitled Luqat al-La⁠ʾali min al-Jawhar al-Ghali (“The Gather-
ing of Pearls Among the Precious Jewel”) and is a list of the Egyptian master’s
spiritual lineages accompanied by the text of the ijaza that Muhammad al-
Hifni had given him.38 During his stay in Cairo, the Yemenite ʿAbd al-Rahman
al-ʿAydarus (d. 1778), Zabidi’s master, could not cope with the increasing
number of people coming to ask him for his mystical affiliations that went
back as far as India and Central Asia: he asked Zabidi to compose an organised
list in a treatise, Al-Nafha al-Qudsiyya bi-Wasitat al-Bidʿa al-ʿAydarusiyya (“The
Sacred Breath as Passed on through Al-ʿAydarus”), that was transmitted by Al-
ʿAydarus to the numerous ulama who were seeking it as an ijaza.39

37 Ibid., 71.
38 Stefan Reichmuth, The World of Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, (1732–91): Life, Networks and Writings
(Oxford: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2009), 48.
39 Reichmuth, The World of Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, 48.

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116 Chih

But these multiple affiliations also show that even if Qushshashi was initi-
ated directly or by the transmission of a spiritual influence into more than
twenty Sufi paths, he did not consider himself to belong to any one path in
particular, although he has been presented by historians either as a propagator
of the Shattariyya—especially towards Indonesia, through his Indonesian stu-
dents—or as a representative of the Naqshbandiyya.40 The only source of au-
thority explicitly and openly claimed by Qushshashi was Ibn ʿArabi, who was
not himself a shaykh of any tariqa.

The Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood

Qushshashi’s knowledge of the Akbarian oeuvre is evident in the Simt, which


contains many references to the writings of Ibn ʿArabi. However, his relation-
ship to Ibn ʿArabi was not purely intellectual since he received the khirqa Ak-
bariyya: this passed through Shaʿrani, Zakariya al-Ansari and Suyuti, and
Qushshashi was one of its principal transmitters.41 The investiture consists not
only in the transmission of Ibn ʿArabi’s spiritual influence, but also in following
the path of Ibn ʿArabi and becoming a propagator of his doctrine. Qushshashi
was among the Sufis of his period who helped increase the influence of the
Andalusian master; in fact, Muhibbi’s biography of Qushshashi calls him “an
apologist for the doctrine of the unity of being” (min al-qa⁠ʾilin bi-wahdat al-
wujud). In Qushshashi’s case the appropriation of the heritage of Ibn ʿArabi
went farther, since, if Muhibbi is to be believed, Qushshashi claimed for him-
self the title of “seal of the saints,” as his heritage in the order of the sainthood
of the seal of the prophets, Muhammad. He wrote: “Muhammadan sainthood
is a divine degree (martaba ilahiyya) to which all beings may aspire to accede
and this function shall be assured until the end of time […]. We have achieved
this (haqqaqna bi-dhalika haqqan),” and then added that he had five masters
who attained this degree.42 Having said this, he departed from the Akbarian

40 For Azyumardi Azra, Qushshashi is primarily known as one of the masters of the Shat-
tariyya who contributed to the introduction of this path into Indonesia, where it was also
known as the Qushshashiyya; Azra, The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia, 17,
85. For Dina Le Gall, even if the Shattariyya seems central in the lineage of Qushshashi,
the Naqshbandiyya is far from being a secondary or symbolic affiliation; Le Gall, A Culture
of Sufism, 100. For Samuela Pagani too, the Naqshbandiyya appears to have played a cen-
tral role in the milieu of Qushshashi; see Pagani, Il rinnovamento.
41 On the khirqa Akbariyya, cf. Claude Addas, Ibn ʿArabī ou la quête du soufre rouge (Paris:
Gallimard, 1989), 374–77.
42 Muhibbi found this information written in Qushshashi’s hand in the margins of the Shaqq
al-Jayb fi Maʿrifat Rijal al-Ghayb by Ahmad Shaykhan al-Baʿalawi, next to a passage by the

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 117

position by affirming that each period had its own “seal of Muhammadan
sainthood,” whereas for Ibn ʿArabi there was only one seal, he himself. This is,
indeed, not the first time that a disciple of Ibn ʿArabi claimed this title while
still venerating Al-Shaykh al-Akbar—we can cite in Egypt the examples of Mu-
hammad Wafa (d. 1363) and ʿAbd al-Wahhab al-Shaʿrani (d. 1565).43 In the case
of Qushshashi, we know that he was considered to be a carrier of the seal of
Muhammadan sainthood by his own disciples, as indicated in the manuscript
copy of the Simt al-Majid in the Library of the India Office. The author of this
copy was a disciple of Qushshashi who said he was initiated during his pilgrim-
age to Mecca; among the numerous titles with which he preceded Qushshashi’s
name were those of “The master of the spiritual masters of Islam, the master of
the path, the reviver of the traces of Supreme Reality and the Seal of Muham-
madan sainthood” (ustadh mashaikh al-Islam, shaykh al-tariqa wa muhyi ru-
sum al-haqiqa wa khatim al-walaya al-khassa al-Muhammadiyya).
Qushshashi, his masters before him and his disciples after him were all initi-
ated into several Sufi paths, but they presented themselves as the direct heirs
of the Prophet Muhammad: Muhammadan saints according to Akbarian hagi-
ology. The only Sufi path that they claimed for themselves was that of Muham-
mad, which brought together all the other paths, excluding none of them.
Al-ʿUjaymi (d. 1702), the disciple of Qushshashi, gave a definition of the Mu-
hammadan Path inspired by the Moroccan Sufi Al-ʿAyyashi (d. 1679), who was
part of the same scholarly milieu in the Holy City:

As for the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, the one that takes its name from Mu-
hammad, may grace and peace be upon him, the master of masters, Abu
Salim Al-ʿAyyashi, may God have mercy on him, has declared on this sub-
ject that this Sufi path is unique, in that it claims descent from the Proph-
et, although all the paths go back to him and benefit from his assistance.
This path consists, for he who follows it, of approaching the Prophet by
assiduous recitation of the prayer on the Prophet (tasliya) until this
prayer invades his consciousness to the point at which when he hears the
Prophet’s name pronounced he begins to tremble, his heart is dominated

shaykh announcing that there was only one single seal of the walaya khassa (that is, of
Muhammadan sainthood) and that this seal was Ibn ʿArabi; see Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-
Athar, vol. I, 345.
43 Richard McGregor, “Conceptions of the Ultimate Saint in Mamluk Egypt,” in Le développe-
ment du soufisme en Égypte à l’époque mamelouke/The Development of Sufism in Mamluk
Egypt, ed. Richard McGregor and Adam Sabra (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie ori-
entale, 2006), 177–88; Michel Chodkiewicz, Le Sceau des saints: Prophétie et sainteté dans
la doctrine d’Ibn ʿArabî (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), 171.

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118 Chih

by his contemplation and the Prophet appears to him in the eyes of his
interior vision (basira), while he is asleep (manaman) or when he is
wakeful (yaqazatan). He can then ask of the Prophet whatever he likes.44

So we can see that claiming the Prophet’s heritage through the Muhammadan
Path has important doctrinal consequences: it confers a superior knowledge of
the law and of religion, since it emanates from the Prophet, of whom the Sufi
can ask direct questions. Not only do Egyptian Sufi ulama, such as Suyuti, Za-
kariya al-Ansari and Shaʿrani assign a legal validity to inspiration and to mysti-
cal intuition—they go farther by assigning to their inspiration an origin in
prophetic revelation, thus being assured of quasi-infallibility.45 Al-Qushshashi
cites the Mizan al-Kubra (“The Supreme Scale”), in which, according to a meta-
physical principal found among the ideas of Ibn ʿArabi, Shaʿrani affirms that
any divergences in matters of legal interpretation are only the diverse manifes-
tations of a single transcendent truth. Still following Ibn ʿArabi, he underlines
the superiority of the mystical inspiration of the Sufi (over the human reason-
ing of jurists): the Sufi in a waking vision receives knowledge of the legal stat-
utes directly from the Prophet.46 In seventeenth/eighteenth century Morocco,
the Sufi ʿAbd al-ʿAziz al-Dabbagh (d. 1720) spoke of the omniscience and infal-
libility (maʿsum) of the believer who has held fast both in his external behav-
iour (suri) and in his internal life (maʿnawi) to the Prophetic example, which
would place such a believer above theologians and jurists for knowledge of
God and in matters of interpretation of the law through fath, or spiritual open-
ness.47 Nabulusi (d. 1731) would later synthesise these relationships between
fiqh and tasawwuf in his great polemical commentary on the Tariqa Muham-

44 Muhammad Al-Sanusi, “Al-Salsabil al-Maʿin fi al-Tara⁠ʾiq al-Arbaʿin,” in Al-Majmuʿa al-


Mukhtara, ed. Muhammad ʿAbduh Ibn Ghalbun (Manchester: n.p., 1990), 7; idem, Al-
Masa⁠ʾil al-ʿAshar al-Musama Bughyat al-Maqasid fi Khulasat al-Marasid (Cairo: Matbaʿat
al-Maʿahid, 1935); Murtada Al-Zabidi, “ʿIqd al-Jawhar al-Thamin fi al-Dhikr wa Turuq al-Il-
bas wa al-Talqin,” in El-Murtazâ al-Zabîdî ve ʿİkd al-Cavhar al-Samîn’i, ed. Abid Yaşar
Koçak (Istanbul: Istanbul Üniversitesi, 1986), 129; Radtke, “Between Projection and Sup-
pression,” 74–75.
45 Jalal al-Din Al-Suyuti, Al-Hawi li al-Fatawi, vol. I (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr li al-Tibaʿa wa al-
Nashr, 2004), 342; cf. Éric Geoffroy, Le soufisme en Égypte et en Syrie sous les derniers Mam-
elouks et les premiers Ottomans: Orientations spirituelles et enjeux culturels (Damascus:
Institut français d’études arabes de Damas, 1995), 479.
46 Samuela Pagani, “The Meaning of the Ikhtilāf Al-madhāhib In ʿAbd Al-Wahhāb Al-
Shaʿrānī’s Al-Mīzān Al-kubrā,” Islamic Law and Society XI, no. 2 (2004).
47 Bernd Radtke, “Ibrīziana: Themes and Sources of a Seminal Sufi Work,” Sudanic Africa 7
(1996).

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 119

madiyya by Muhammad Birgivi (d. 1573), as studied by Samuela Pagani.48 The


Moroccan Ahmad Ibn Idris also asserted the superiority of the mystic’s inspira-
tion over the human reasoning of the jurists; and he went even further and
called into question the schools of jurisprudence (madhahib). In his Risalat
al-Radd ʿala Ahl al-Ra⁠ʾy (“Response to the Supporters of Judicial Opinion”), Ibn
Idris questioned the position of the madhhab, arguing that the four founding
imams who endowed these schools had no more authority than any average
Muslim, and indeed had never pretended to have such authority. Because of
this, Ibn Idris was opposed to the importance accumulated by the madhhab in
the wake of historic developments, arguing that the basis for legal judgement
must remain the Quran and the Sunna—as long as such judgements were
made on the basis of direct inspiration for a believer who had conformed to
the Prophetic model, rather than through the intervention of reason.49 The
social and political consequences of the claims by these Sufi scholars to the
Prophet’s legacy are important in the context of the expansion of Sufism and
its implantation in society.

Conclusion: The Inheritors of the Role of the Prophet on Earth

In the domain of religious history the historian is always in search of periods


during which a particular doctrine is expressed, exteriorised, and propagated,
and also of the socio-political or even the economic factors affecting this ex-
pansion. The expression Tariqa Muhammadiyya is already found in the Arab
world during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,50 but it progressively in-
creased in importance from the sixteenth century along with a new expansion
of Sufism. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, the Mughal, Ottoman,
and Safavid Empires were formed and reached their apogee, and the same is
probably true of Sufism itself. Either from personal conviction, from a desire
for legitimacy, or in order to embed Sunni Islam in the conquered regions, the

48 Samuela Pagani, “Défendre le soufisme par des temps difficiles: ʿAbd al-Ghanî al-Nâbu-
lusî, polémiste anti-puritain,” in Le soufisme à l’époque ottomane.
49 Radtke et al., The Exoteric Aḥmad ibn Idrīs.
50 Éric Geoffroy came across it in a treatise by a disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, Ahmad ʿImad al-
Din al-Wasiti (d. 1311), Al-Suluk wa al-Sayr ila Allah; Éric Geoffroy, “Le traité de soufisme
d’un disciple d’Ibn Taymiyya: Aḥmad ʿImād al-dīn al-Wāsiṭī (m. 711/1311),” Studia Islamica
82 (1995), doi.org/10.2307/1595582. Ahmad ʿImad al-Wasiti is not the only author studied
by Éric Geoffroy who used the expression Tariqa Muhammadiyya; it also appears in the
writings of other masters of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries such as Ibn May-
mun al-Fasi (d. 1511) and Shaykh ʿAlwan (d. 1530); Geoffroy, Le soufisme en Syrie et en
Égypte, 270, note 3.

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120 Chih

Muslim sovereigns established relationships with Sufis. Sufis accompanied and


followed conquering armies, acting as protectors and spiritual counsellors as
much for soldiers as for sultans. Thus we see the Naqshbandiyya, whose links
with the Mughal dynasty precede its very founding, following Babur (r. 1526–
1530) and his successors from Central Asia to northern India, and then into the
Deccan.51 Likewise, the spiritual master of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r.
1444–1446; 1451–1481) was the khalwati shaykh Aq Shams al-Din (Akshemsed-
din; 1390–1459). In Iran, the development of Sufism brought about the birth of
the Safavid dynasty from the Safawiyya, a Sunni Sufi order that later converted
to Shiite Islam. In return, Sufis benefited from the patronage of their power-
ful protectors. This patronage was initially expressed through the construction
of sacred architecture in newly conquered territories: mosques, mausoleums,
or tekkes (tekke, Turkish: Sufi lodge). Thus the early modern period brought a
new social and political context that permitted the dissemination to a larger
public of notions of sainthood and of the invisible government of the saints,
notions that had been elaborated by the masters of the past and systematised
by Ibn ʿArabi, whose influence was spreading in an unprecedented way, as evi-
denced by the number of writings from this period that refer to him and to his
oeuvre. These notions refer to the occult hierarchy of saints who preside over
the destiny of the world, within a subtle cosmology as well as in societal and
institutional terms.
In the context of an increasing circulation or mobility both of goods and of
people, a slow intellectual evolution took place in the Arab provinces of the
Ottoman Empire; this was related to encounters between the mystical tradi-
tions from Iran and Central Asia (often passing via India) and the Egyptian
traditions descending from Zakariya al-Ansari and Shaʿrani. This contact
brought about a new and original school of thought, a scholarly Sufism strong-
ly impregnated with the ideas of Ibn ʿArabi. We must underline the major role
played in the diffusion of this school of thought by the city of Medina—such
an important role that some researchers have spoken of a “Medinese school.”52
The famous Muhammadan Path, the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, was not a conse-
quence of neo-Sufism since, far from representing a rejection of Ibn ‘Arabi, it
emanated in fact from the milieus of Sufis that were deeply impregnated with
his ideas. Among them were some who, like the al-Shaykh al-Akbar, claimed
for themselves the degree of the seal of Muhammadan sainthood, their inheri-
tance in the order of the sainthood of the seal of the prophets. For these

51 Nile Green, Indian Sufism since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books and Empires in the
Muslim Deccan (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
52 Pagani, Il rinnovamento, 34–47. 

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Discussing The Sufism Of The Early Modern Period 121

masters, the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, far from being a rejection of union with
God, represented on the contrary its ideal modality by means of a return to the
source of all light, cosmic as much as metaphysical, since the Prophet was con-
sidered to be the primordial light (nur Muhammadi) and the first manifesta-
tion of the divine light giving birth to creation. Qushshashi was a representative
and propagator of this school, which with the expansion of Sufism would pro-
vide the dominant religious ideology of Sufi scholars in the Ottoman world—a
domination made more complete by its correspondence to the ideology of the
Ottoman Sultans.
The role of renovator that these Sufis claimed for themselves had nothing to
do with the reformism of the nineteenth century, but rather it sprang from the
notion, traditional to Islam and linked to its history, of the tajdid, a complex
concept that reposes on the famous tradition recorded by Abu Dawud in his
Sunan: “Every hundred years, Allah will send to this community the one who
will revive the religion.” This hadith was interpreted in different ways by Mus-
lim scholars of the medieval period.53 In Sunnite Sufism, these interpretations
cannot be reduced to a reformism calling for a restoration of the Islam of the
Prophet’s time and the purging of post-prophetic innovations (bidʿa), as twen-
tieth century fundamentalists would analyse them. Rather they interpreted
this hadith by linking the tajdid to the doctrine of sainthood (walaya) and to
the messianic figure of the renovator who may be identified with the qutb, the
supreme pole and chief of the hierarchy of the saints. If this theme, of the taj-
did, returned in force in the modern age, it was because the Prophet became
the initiator of numerous Sufis: among the founders or re-founders of Sufi
paths between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries Sirhindi, Shah Wali Al-
lah, Mustafa al-Bakri, Tijani, and Samman all laid claim to a status equivalent,
in terms of sainthood, to that of the Prophet and his community. It was in this
sense that they presented themselves as renovators (mujaddid) of his religion,
with all the social and political functions implied by this role.

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