Hazrat Khwaja Syed Nizamuddin Auliya, ‘Mahbub I Ilahi’ (Beloved of God) RA, of Delhi, and the Chishti-Nizami Sufi Order
A writer once said that, ‘’In every age there are the Wise Ones, the Great Sages and Saints, who shine like beacons of light in the darkness around them’’. This description fits the life of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (RA) exactly. He was undoubtedly one of these saints and beacons of light , a source of wisdom for all of medieval India and for the rest of the world, too, thereafter. One of the great luminaries of the Chishti Sufi Order, he was also the founder of the branch of that order that is today known as the Chishti-Nizami. His predecessors were Khwaja Fariduddin Ganjshakar, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtyar Kaki and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Ajmeri. In that reverse sequence, they constitute the initial spiritual chain or ‘silsila’ of the Chishti order in the Indian subcontinent.
Hazrat- His Holiness- was born as Syed Muhammad Nizamuddin, in a Muslim Syed Bukhari family, in direct descent from the the Most Exalted, the Most Blessed Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) in the year 1238 AD/CE, in the town of Badayun, in India. When he was still very young, his father passed away and his devout mother, herself a lady of considerable spiritual attainment, decided to take the child to the city of Delhi, to continue his education both spiritual and temporal. Some details of his biography are mentioned in the later, famous work the ‘Ayn I Akbari’ written in the 16th century by Abul Fazl, a vizier and advisor of the enlightened Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great; and also in various other accounts by his disciples (murids) and other scholars. It is noted in all these accounts, that even as a young man, his ‘light’ like qualities seemed to shine about his person and he was a person of great integrity and honesty, devoted to Islam and to his quest for the Truth.
Several incidents occurred , during the youth of Syed Nizamuddin, that convinced him that these were signs from the Divine, parts of his quest for Truth, and that he would find his true and sublime spiritual master and mentor, in the figure of Hazrat ‘Baba’ Fariduddin Ganjshakar (RA) , based at Pakpattan (then called Ajodhan) in the Punjab region. He thus set off there and found his master, who was awaiting him, and who welcomed him with much love and affection and accepted him at once into his training. After a few months training, Baba Fariduddin advised Nizamuddin to return to Delhi, and continue his regular theological studies there and to keep visiting him from time to time; and meanwhile, both the mentor and the disciple retained a strong spiritual bond, or link, and it is said that many ‘special teachings’ were thus communicated to Syed Nizamuddin sahib by Baba Farid sahib, via this distant mode of contact. A strong flow of ‘’Baraka’’ (Divine Blessing) linked them at all times.
In due course of time, carrying on both his worldy and inner/spiritual education, Syed Nizamuddin attained a great degree of wisdom, both inner and outer and was soon recognized by many people in Delhi and elsewhere as a person of unique qualities. No one could fail to be moved by his presence and grace and his personal generosity, compassion for the poor and needy and for all people and creatures, of all creeds and beliefs. He himself is said to have remarked ‘’If you do not have the courage and generosity of the Lion, then you have nothing to do with the Tariqa [path of Sufism]’’ _ and he amply evinced these qualities in himself. His persona so developed, that, during one visit to his beloved Shaykh/Murshid Baba Farid, at Pakpattan, he was formally invested by him as one of his main ‘Khalifas’ (spiritual successors/representatives) ; and on returning to Delhi, he soon found out that his master had passed away.
This process- the passing away of the master Baba Farid and Hazrat Nizamuddin’s investiture as ‘khalifa’ (successor) bore significant results and repercussions. Till the time of Baba Farid, the Chishti Sufi Order in India (i.e. today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was one entity, but now it evolved into two separate but closely linked schools, or branches i.e. The Chishtiyya-Nizamiyya, headed by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (RA) at Delhi, and the Chishtiyya-Sabriya, led by Hazrat Khwaja Alauddin Sabir Kalyarvi, at Kalyar, India. The essential teachings of both branches remained the same, but the teaching methodologies evolved separately, as per the guidance of both these teachers. And with this step, we mark that Hazrat Nizamuddin came into his own, truly and fully, as a ‘Waliullah’ one of the great saints and friends of God/Allah.
There are many spiritual events and miracles linked to this latter phase of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s life and to go into all of them would be to diverge from our main theme. Indeed, Hazrat sahib himself strongly discouraged his ‘murids’ (followers/disciples) from showing or displaying these to the general public, which might be misled by such things. However, we can briefly mention one or two here. The first, and a very important one, was the establishment itself, of Hazrat’s entourage at Ghiyaspur, a small village on the outskirts of main Delhi city itself. At that time, Delhi was the seat of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate (prior to the Mughal empire) and though the main city itself was well-patrolled, its environs were in a rather lawless condition, with many bandits and robbers, and it was a dark environment, where people/travelers and even big caravans coming with goods to Delhi, could get lost or be looted. Hazrat Nizamuddin probably realized this state of affairs and , intuitively , felt the need and desire to shift out of Delhi city proper, and establish his base close by . Thus, it is said that though the spiritual advice of his mentor, he moved to a small village Ghiyaspur, which is now known as the ‘Nizamuddin’ area of greater Delhi. The moment he shifted there, the banditry and the darkness and evil started to recede, and indeed, all the travelers and caravans that used to travel towards Delhi by night claimed thet they used to see a strong bright light, almost like a beam or ray of sunlight , guiding them; and that this light used to be emitted or emerge from the location of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s residence. Thus, Delhi and its environs became truly ‘enlightened’ in more ways than one. Hazrat had his ‘Khanqah’ (Sufi abode/lodge) here, a place where people from all walks of life were fed and cared for, where he imparted spiritual education to others and nearby he had his own quarters. Before long, the Khanqah became a place thronged with all kinds of people, rich and poor alike. A center or ‘Markaz I Tajalliyat’ (a place where enlightenment and divine marvels were common) . Another example is his complete faith and trust in Allah, the Creator and Divine Provider of all Sustenance (Tawakul) . He was legendary for his generosity, humnitarianism and wit. According to one online Sufi source, ‘’At the ‘langar’ (mess hall) of his residence, his Khanqah, excellent food was served each day to all visitors. His compassion was reflected in the Khanqah rules, which preserved the dignity of all those who ate there. Dervishes were advised ‘First eat, then talk’; they were not allowed to ask if a visitor was fasting or needed food; they were even instructed to eat two meals, one after the other, if needed for the guests sake. Such rules made it impossible to discern who was hungry, in need, or who took food just for the ‘Baraka’ or blessings. ‘’ Many people were amazed by this perpetual feast, day and night, and some were even suspicious, where was Khwaja Nizamuddin getting all this food and money from? The fact was, due to the Master’s presence and his blessings and prayers and his complete and utter trust in God/Allah, the food came from all directions, from unknown sources- and it is by the Divine Grace, still coming and shall keep on coming till the Final Day of Judgment , to feed anyone who requires the saint’s help.
This vital dimension-of altruism, and humanitarian love and compassion for the needy, is part of the larger spiritual values and ideals that Hazrat inculcated into his dervishes/followers and it is always even today, one of the centerpieces of the Chishti-Nizami principles of practise. While there are many such enumerated by Hazrat in his lectures and notes to his followers, the following are the Key Practices , as enumerated in the ‘’Fuwaid al Fuad’’ (discourses) of Hazrat, as given in the translation by Dr Zia ul Hasan Faruqi (1998 ed) : -
- Emphasis on renunciation and having complete trust in God.
- The unity of mankind and shunning distinctions based on social, economic and religious status.
- Helping the needy, feeding the hungry and being sympathetic to the oppressed.
- Strong disapproval of mixing with sultans, princes, nobles, the rich and famous & etc.
- Exhortation in making close contact with the poor and the downtrodden
- Adopting an uncompromising attitude towards all forms of political and social oppression.
- A bold stance in favour of ‘Sema’ (mystical music) and ‘Qawwali’ (devotional songs) which some people considered un-Islamic; but Hazrat differentiated between ‘divine’ music, used for a certain responsible purpose, with certain distinct effects; and random ‘secular’ music, which could easily be abused .
Point Number Four above, had a very forceful impact indeed, in Hazrat’s own day and age . At a time when many people, even Sufis , depended on the royal or courtly favor, to get benefits, Hazrat Nizamuddin very clearly rebuffed the kings, nobles, courtiers and all, and did not go to them or seek their favors- many of them , indeed, came to him, at his humble chambers, at the Khanqah, but they were never treated with any special favor and were just treated normally like anyone else. In the words of NM Sangarani, ‘His [Hazrat’s] vision of the world was marked by a strongly evolved sense of secularity, democracy and kindness’. His strong rejection of the rich courts and palaces of kings and nobles, resulted, in the view of scholars like Anne-Marie Schimmel , ‘’In a paradigm shift’’ (Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 1975)- quoting the 14th c historian Barani, she goes on to say that ‘’…his influence on the Muslims of Delhi was such that [it changed] their outlook towards worldly matters. People began to be inclined towards mysticism and prayers and remaining aloof from the world.’’ Indeed, we may say that not only Muslims, but all the people of Delhi, and many from all over India, regardless of religious creeds, adopted these special teachings.
We have seen how many people were attracted to the beliefs and teachings of the noble Shaykh and saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya ‘Mahbub I Ilahi’ (RA)—such was his rank and degree of sanctity that , unlike most saints, he was not classified as a ‘lover of God/Allah’ but, indeed, as a’loved one’; rare indeed, by any standards. These teachings, while uplifiting many people, all over the world ever since the times, of Hazrat himself, also resulted in producing many notable ‘khalifas’ (successors/representatives) of Hazrat, who carried on his sublime work even after his passing away in April 1325 AD/CE (17/18th Rabi us Sani 725 Hijri) – almost all of these attained saintly status themselves, later on: Hazrat Nasir ud din Chiragh Dehlvi, Hazrat Aakhi I Siraj Aina I Hind, Hazrat Burhanuddin Gharib, Hazrat Jalaludin Bhandari, Hazrat Syed Mahmood Kashkinakar and so on.
Last but not least, we cannot forget that most loving devotee of Hazrat Nizamuddin, i.e. Hazrat Amir Khusro, the ‘Tooti I Hind’ (Parrot of Hind/India) who immortalized his saintly mentor and teacher in his verse and music. A true genius of the age, he gained many blessings from the Master and remains even now, unseparated from his presence, buried near the ‘Dargah Sharif’ (resting place /saintly abode) of Hazrat Nizamuddin, within the same compound. Yet, more on that score, later Insha Allah.
It is a proverbial saying in the Punjab that ‘’A good person’s life touches many lives and enlivens them’’. In the case of Hazrat Nizamudin Auliya (RA), of Delhi, we can say that the very excellence of his life and being, touched and transformed not only individual lives, but also whole generations, across the eons, and the process still goes on. Even today, the fragrance of his dear beloved presence wafts to us all, at the Dargah sharif shrine and at his ‘Chilla’’ (hermitage/seclusion cell) nearby. And the whole world goes there, even today, day and night, to be blessed.
By Sufi Omer Tarin Nizami (special arrangement © Dargah Sharif Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi, India, 2016)