The Naqshbandiyya: Orthodoxy and Activism in a Worldwide Sufi Tradition (Routledge Sufi)

  • Book Title:
 The Naqshbandiyya
  • Book Author:
Itzchak Weismann
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  • ·         List of figures viii
  • List of plates ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Preface xii
  • The core and contours of a Sufi brotherhood 1
  • Local beginnings in the oases of inner Asia (thirteenth to
  • sixteenth centuries) 14
  • Consolidation and expansion 34
  • Shari‘a and renewal in the great empires (sixteenth to
  • eighteenth centuries) 49
  • Inner rivalries and cooperation 68
  • Scholarship and organization into the modern world
  • (nineteenth century to the present) 85
  • The persistence of the older traditions 113
  • Modern transformations on the path (seventeenth to
  • twentieth centuries) 132
  • The contemporary situation 147


During the twentieth century and into the present Naqshbandi masters have developed a variety of strategies to face the challenges of modernity and postmodernity. These have normally involved collaboration with one or another of the dominant forces of the age: the nation-state and its upper classes, Islamic modernism and fundamentalism, Western culture, and globalization.

Masters of the Naqshbandiyya, the Mujaddidiyya, and especially the Khalidiyya are thus able to continue to voice their vision of Islam in the national and global public spheres. This, however, is done at the price of major modifications in their modes of operation and in their general commitment to the orthodoxy of the brotherhood. Such modifications may include turning the dhikr into a sober religious lesson or its abandonment altogether, propagating the message to Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and the substitution of the personal contact between master and disciple with the most advanced mass means of communication.

In India, Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi endeavors to face the empowerment of the Hindu majority gave birth in the late nineteenth century to two dia-metrically opposed movements. One was Nadwat al-Ulama (the Council of Religious Scholars), which strove to unite the various Islamic trends in British India and tighten connections with the Arab world.

The Council’s head and all-India Muslim leader in the second half of the twentieth century, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi, combined his role as a Naqshbandi master with close relations with fundamentalist elements in the Middle East, including the Saudi government and the Muslim Brothers society. The other movement was a Hindu Naqshbandi branch, in which the path has been transmitted among Hindu divines.

Turkey remained a major arena of Naqshbandi and Naqshbandi-inspired activity even after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, despite the ban imposed on Sufi activity by Atatürk’s secularizing regime in 1925. Naqshbandi masters were forced to go underground or into exile but during the 1970s, as state inspection was relaxed, the brotherhood re-surfaced and gained a new prominence. A powerful branch was established at that time in Istanbul by the Khalidi Zahid Kotku, head of an informal educational

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institution which appealed to religious-minded elements among the elite. Earlier in the century the modernist thinker Said Nursi, an adept of the Kurdish Khalidiyya, founded the Nurcu movement, in which reading and debating his writings replaced the guidance of Sufi masters.

Today a wide network of Nurcu schools is spread all over Turkey and among the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and immigrants to the West. This educational enterprise has been further expanded and updated by the Gülen and Sulaymançi movements.

Almost nothing is known about the Naqshbandiyya-Khalidiyya in the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq, whereas in Egypt, as we have seen, it has remained relatively marginal. In Syria, by contrast, the brotherhood has come to play a major role since the rise of the Ba‘th to power in 1964 in both the religious establishment and the Islamist resistance. Ahmad Kuftaru, Grand Mufti of Syria for more than forty years, was also the founder and head of the Khalidiyya-Kaftariyya, the largest Sufi organization in the country.

Serving faithfully President Asad throughout his life, he was rewarded with a free hand in promoting his cherished agendas of securing Islamic education in Syria and preaching a global inter-faith dialogue. On the other hand, Khalidi influence is apparent in the formation and direction of the northern branch of the Muslim brothers, the backbone of the Islamist opposition to the ‘Alawi-dominated authoritarian Ba‘th regime. Many leaders of the resistance and its major ideologue shared a Khalidi background.

In Uzbekistan, the heart of Central Asia, the Naqshbandiyya has wit-nessed a conspicuous revival since the demise of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent states. Masters of the brotherhood in Tashkent and Bukhara continue to serve the state, while those in the Feghana valley follow their tradition of resistance to its secular policies.

 In Afghanistan, Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, scion of the leading Naqshbandi family in the country, had been influenced by the Egyptian Muslim Brothers during his studies at al-Azhar in the 1950s. Following the Soviet invasion of 1979 he founded his own Islamist resistance organization, the National Liberation Front, and in 1992 he was nominated the first mujahidin’s president. In Indonesia, various Khalidi and Mujaddidi offshoots ranging from the con-servative to the modernist disseminate the path to ever new regions, often in collaboration with the upper and middle classes of the country.

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In the last few decades Naqshbandi masters and adepts are to be found at the forefront of Sufi endeavors to adapt to the global setting. This is under-standable in the case of the unorthodox or less orthodox branches of the brotherhood, such as the Hindu branch, which was carried to Britain by a Western convert and formed the basis of the Sufi Golden Center in the United States.

Of a similar mold is Subud, a syncretistic spiritual technique which likewise has been integrated into the New Age culture. Developed by an Indonesian Naqshbandi adept, it is being taught today to all interested people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in many corners of the world.

As against both, the Haqqaniyya, apparently the most visible Sufi brotherhood on the current global scene, remains deeply committed to the Naqshbandi tradition. Its founder and head, the Khalidi Cypriot Nazim al-Haqqani, holds a basically conservative ideology with eschatological overtones and is a bitter enemy of the fundamentalists. Still, he spreads his message through the most advanced media, including the Internet, and accepts non-Muslim disciples in the hope of converting them in due course to Islam.

While learned books are still occasionally produced by Naqshbandi mas-ters and followers, these are increasingly superceded by the various modern mass means of communication. The main sources for the study of the cur-rent situation of the Naqshbandiyya include popular books, pamphlets and journal articles that explore the principal tenets and rites of the brotherhood, audio and video cassettes that record the discourses of its masters, and most recently the Internet.

Internationalism and syncretism in India

Among the various Islamic reformist trends that emerged in late nineteenth-century India, particularly associated with the Naqshbandi tradition was Nadwat al-Ulama. It was founded in 1892 in the town of Kanpur U.P. by a group of religiously-minded government officials, local notables, and religious scholars, most of whom were followers of a local Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi master, Fadl al-Rahman Ganj Muradabadi (d. 1894). Their first leader was his deputy, Sayyid Muhammad ‘Ali Mongiri (d. 1927).

Alarmed by the Western challenge and particularly by Christian missionary activity in India, Mongiri had founded a cultural society and two journals in which he advocated reform of the traditional Muslim institutions of learning. The Council was unable to unite the Indian ulama under its banner, so in 1898 it established its own college in Lucknow which specialized in the teaching of Arabic language and culture.1

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After some vicissitudes, in 1914 the directorship of Nadwat al-Ulama was given to ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Hasani (d. 1923), another follower of Ganj Muradabadi and a close associate of Mongiri, who turned it into an actual family patrimony. Hasani’s ancestors had been affiliated to Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi and further back to Sirhindi. His descendents, who came to be known as the Nadwis, continued this connection to the Mujaddidiyya.

This was particularly the case with Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi (d. 1999), who during the second half of the twentieth century figured not merely as the Council’s head but as a distinguished leader of the entire Muslim community of India in the face of insurgent Hinduism. Nadwi became acquainted with Sirhindi’s Maktubat at the age of seventeen,2 and then followed the path under two Mujaddidi masters. He remained a Mujaddidi master all his life, combining it with close contacts with fundamentalist elements in the Middle East, most notably the Muslim Brothers Society of Egypt and Syria.

A remarkable articulation of the new Sufi-fundamentalist synthesis that Nadwi wished to create appeared in an article he published in the 1950s in the organ of the Syrian Muslim Brothers:

Terms and names of things that are in vogue among the people often offend truths. This offense has a long story in every profession and language, every literature and religion. It generates another thing, which raises doubts, brings about controversies, and creates factions.

 Arguments and proofs are produced and fierce verbal fighting rages around them. If we renounce these invented terms and customary names and return to the past and to words through which such truths were expressed in a simple and convenient way, to what was spoken by the first generation [of Islam] and the early ancestors (al-salaf ), the difficulty would be resolved, the situation would become easy and the people would be put on the right path.

Among these terms and common names that have spread among the people is Sufism . . . There is no trace of it in the Qur’an or the example of the Prophet, it does not appear in the words of his con-temporaries or their followers, nor in the reports on the first century. Everything like that is from among the invented deviations. Battles have raged between its followers and detractors, supporters and opponents, who created a huge literature beyond any imagination.

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