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Here you’ll find a number of short reviews of books dealing with Chishti Sufis. Each review starts with the title of a specific book. At the end of the reviews there is a bibliography.



Recently Laxmi Dhaul has joined the Chishtiyya group. She is the author of “The Sufi Saint of Ajmer” (Thea Enterprises; 2001) and some other book dedicated to Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya.

I’ve read the first mentioned book some years ago. It so happened that Ismail returned from the USA. We made an appointment to meet one another halfway between our homes and that happened to be in Amsterdam. We made a walk and had a talk. During our walk we entered one of the excellent bookshops of Amsterdam, called Au Bout du Monde. And there – at the end of the world – Ismail picked up a book with a very attractive book jacket depicting a photo of visitors to the dargah of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (“Patron of the Poor”), the title by which Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti is known. These visitors carry a beautiful embroidered covering for the shrine of the Sufi saint of Ajmer, which they later on wish to present. You see the visitors surrounding this covering and holding part of it and thus many participate in this simple devotional ritual.

Laxmi Dhaul’s book is a devotional book and this is enhanced by the many inspiring photographs. When I open her book at random you can see on page 82 women silently sitting in meditation, while on the page next to it attention has been given to love of God or divine love. Dhaul writes: “Divine love is conceived, by the Sufi, as all embracing and the highest stage t be attained. By transgressing various stages, such as longing, fellowship and love, will the Sufi pass directly into the true knowledge of the divine mysteries (marifa)”.

The subjects of Laxmi Dhaul’s book are among others the arrival of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in India, his early life, Ajmer and its history, the shrine in Ajmer, ceremonies, rituals and the annual ‘urs, Sufi silsilas, samaa’ and qawwali, principle tenets of Chishti Sufism, all in all filling almost a hundred pages on a large format. What can be learned from these pages? Perhaps it is best to end with a quote of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (p.59): “The more one learns about the ‘essence of things’ the more one wonders”.



What makes the teachings of the Sufis so inspiring? It is because you realize that they come from personal experiences. In “The Meditations…” you’ll read what Khwaja Gharib Nawaz said on different occasions. It is a subjective study, based on his published and unpublished books, his discourses and his letters. Some of these teachings, which have been published by Sharib Press in Southampton, are easy to understand, some are very deep. The meditations of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz give an authoritative perspective to his insight into things that really matter.

The translator, Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib, has lived and breathed the ambience of the ‘Khwaja of Ajmer’ for many years, overlooking the Sufi’s tomb from his study window.

The book jacket shows an illustration by Jamil. You see Khwaja Usman Haruni who is being followed by Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, who is carrying all the luggage of his murshid on his head.

According to Khwaja Gharib Nawaz these 13 things are necessary for a dervish;

Search for God.
Search for a spiritual guide and teacher.
To eat less.
To sleep less.

As now it is the month of fasting, let us see what Khwaja Gharib Nawaz has said about fasting: “The real fast is to have no spiritual and mundane desires, which means and implies to have no desire for paradise, wealth or worldly position and power. To think about other than Allah and to desire paradise are things which break the fast”.

He also says: “The people who keep the fast abstain from eating and drinking. But it is not the real fast. It is an unreal fast in fact. In such a fast things other than Allah are not renounced. The idea of the self continues to dominate. Such a fast is useful in so far as that a person may realize the pangs of hunger and thirst of other people and may extend help and sympathy to the sufferers”.

And as this was written in Ramadan, let us abstain from more words.



I often think back of the days in which a Chishti pir told tales about the early Chishtis who settled in India. They became so familiar to me, that their teachings became a living light to me. Muneera Haeri is of Scottish origin. This is something of course she could not help. The subject matter of her first book was something she was in control of, as she became the author of “The Chishtis – A living Light”. She recounts the life and teachings of six early Sufis of the Chishti order by giving each one a separate chapter.

The introduction however starts with the meeting of an American representative of the Chishti order. He is a Hakim - someone with knowledge of traditional medicine - who saw her advanced state of pregnancy and gave her some advice on childbirth. This first connection with the Chishtis was by means of healing. Two years later she meets another lover of the Chishtis, a homeopathic physician from Delhi who had opened a clinic for the poor near the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya.

Later on Muneera Haeri is inspired to write about the healers of the heart like Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti and the 5 Chishtis succeeding him. By adding a chapter about Soofi Saheb, the living light of the Chishtis is carried across space and time to the South Africa of a hundred years ago. The book ends with some short remarks about Sufism today.

It is said that for many decades Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti lived the life of a wandering dervish. He stayed at lonely places and when people saw him, many considered him to be an insignificant drifter. The final words of the epilogue, however, are:

The lamps you put off
By considering them useless and insignificant
These are the lamps
Which will spread the light.



Amir Khusraw has been my introduction to the Chishtis of India. It so happened that during my first visit to India I stayed in a house at a walking distance of the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya and his murid Amir Khusraw. My host took me to their dargahs and explained something of the text sung by the qawwals in Urdu. She also acquainted me with the fact that the two Chishtis had been so close that they would have liked to be buried in the same grave if that would be allowed by Islam. As that was not the case the habit was first to visit the grave of the disciple and then go to the shrine of his murshid.

Hazrat Amir Khusraw was probably born in Delhi. According to Sunil Sharma, the author of “Amir Khusraw – The Poet of Sultans and Sufis” he wrote this about it:

Delhi is the twin of pure paradise,
A prototype of the heavenly throne
On an earthly scroll.

Hazrat Amir Khusraw (1253-1325) was a courtier, poet, writer, musician and Chishti Sufi. Hazrat Amir Khusraw had an irresistible personality. He became the most beloved disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya. When the two met the unseen lovers’ hearts became joined. The two strangers came together:

‘Eshq aamad-o shod chu khunam andar rag-o pust
Taa kard maraa tahi-o por kard ze dust
Ajzaa’-ye-wojudam hamagi dust gereft
Naamist maraa bar man baqi hama ust.

Love came and spread like blood in my veins and the skin of me,
It filled me with the Friend and completely emptied me.
The Friend has taken over all parts of my existence,
Only my name remains, as all is He.

He dedicated himself with a sincere devotion to his murshid. One day he placed a poem praising Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya before his murshid, who then asked: “What do you desire?“ He then asked for the sweetness of language. The command came forth: “Bring that bowl of sugar from under the cot and sprinkle it over your head and eat some of it.” Hazrat Amir Khusraw did so and consequently the sweetness of his words captured the world from east to west. His poetry became so well known that even the greatest of Sufi poets, Hafez of Shiraz, did not mind to earn some money by copying one of the manuscripts of Hazrat Amir Khusraw.

One of his most beautiful poems can be found at he opening of his “Divan”:

The cloud rains and I am separated from the Friend.
How can my heart be separated from the Friend on such a day?
The cloud, the rain, I - and the Friend taken away.
I am alone, crying, the cloud is alone and the Friend is alone.
Greenery, newly-sprouted, joyful air, a green garden.
The nightingale, disgraced, remains separated from the rosegarden.
O, what are You doing to me,
With the root of every hair
Of Your tresses, bound together?
I am enchained by being tied up, and all of a sudden, alone…

This is how it sounds in Persian:

Abr mibaarad-o man mishavam yaar jodaa
Chun konam del bechonin ruz ze deldaar jodaa
Abr-o baran-o man-o yaar setaada budaa’
Man jodaa keria konaan, abr jodaa, yaar jodaa
Sabza naw-khiz-o havaa khorram-o bostaan-e sarsabz
Bolbol-e-ruye-siyah maanda ze golzaar jodaa
Ay maraa dar tahe har mui ze zolfat-e bandi
Che koni band ze bandam hama yakbaar jodaa.

Hazrat Amir Khusraw was away from Delhi when his murshid passed away. When he returned from that trip he approached the grave of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya with torn clothes, weeping eyes and blood racing to his heart. Then he said: “O Muslims! Who am I to grieve for such a king, rather let me grieve for myself for after the ‘King of Shaykhs’ I will not have long to live”. After that he only lived for six months, then passed away. He was buried near the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya, may God shower their blessings on murshid and murid!


Hazrat Mohammad Khadim Hasan has written a booklet with the above title, which has been translated from Urdu into English. The author starts by dealing with all kinds purity, i.e. of the body, of thoughts, of the heart and of the soul. He writes about the refinement of the ego and the purification of the heart. In this respect some practices have been described.

When writing about recollection he sees it as the first step to contemplation. “The first form of contemplation, according to him, is imagination, then contemplation takes place in the mind, then in the heart and finally when the soul becomes the abode of contemplation, all veils will be lifted and the Truth will be revealed’.

In “The Path of Tasawwuf” Hazrat Nawab Sahib describes some essentials of the Sufi way. He ends by quoting Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti: “Not until one obtains Murshid’s instructions will one reach one’s destination”.

An on-line copy of “The Path of Tasawwuf” can be found at:



Mir Valiuddin is the author of “Contemplative Disciplines in Sufism”. I liked the following detail: You can see a photo on the dust cover of the book and the text accompanying it says that it “is an extremely rare photograph of this most shy and unassuming man’.

In the pages of this book an attempt has been made to enunciate the contemplative disciplines in Sufism as practised by the great Sufis and eminent Shaykhs. A description in four stages has been given:

Purification of the self. This means cleansing the sensual self from its blameable, animal propensities and embellishing it with laudable and angelic attributes.
Cleansing of the heart. This means the erasing from the heart its love for the ephemeral world and its worry over grieves and sorrow, and establishing in their place an ardent love for God alone.

Emptying the innermost consciousness from all thoughts that would divert attention from the remembrance of God.

Illumination of the spirit. This means filling the spirit with the effulgence of God and the fervour of His love.

The practices of several of the great Sufi orders in regard to the above stages have been mentioned. Mir Valiuddin states that the Chishtis give the advice to practice loud remembrance of God. It increases the heat of the heart and in turn generates love for God. According to him it is by love alone that the salik, the traveller on the Sufi path, attains all the high stages thereof. It is by love alone that immutability after perishability, life after life’s loss and eternal existence after extinction are obtained.


And Other Sufi Tales

When I was in India I’ve seen a curious but very pleasant healing method in action. It consisted of the reading of the “Tale of the Four Dervishes” at the bed of the patient. Scholars deny that Hazrat Amir Khusraw has been the author, but whatever may be the truth, it can be said that these tales are of excellent quality.

Amina Shah has retold these tales. This is what she writes in her introduction:

“When the great 13th Century Sufi teacher Nizamuddin Awliya was ill, his disciple Amir Khusraw – the eminent Persian poet – recited to him this Sufi allegory. To mark this event, Nizamuddin on his recovery, placed this benediction upon the book:

‘Who hears this story will, by the divine power, be in health’.

“Mir Amman of Delhi translated the work a century and a half ago into Urdu, and ever since it has been regarded as a classic of that language, under the title of ‘Bagh o Bahar’ (Garden and Spring), a chronogram which, when decoded by the Abjad System, produces the date of its completion: Year 1217 of the Hijra Era”.

“It is widely believed that the recitation of the story will restore to health the ailing, and that the allegorical dimensions of the adventures of the Dervishes contained in it are part of a teaching-system which prepares the mind of the Seeker-after-Truth for spiritual enlightenment”.



The Chishti order is the oldest of the major Sufi orders still in existence. Carl W. Ernst and Bruce B. Lawrence in their “Sufi Martyrs of Love” pay attention to the founders of the Chishti order, Chishti practices and the seminal texts of the Chishtis. Strange to say, but the appendix is one of the highlights of the book. It contains a partial translation of the ‘Akhbar al-Akhyar’ as written by Shaykh ‘Abdal-Haqq Muhaddith of Delhi, which recounts the life of several great Sufis from the twelfth to the late sixteenth century. The Shaykh accents the pivotal role of the Chishtis. It starts with the description of the life and teachings of Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti. The Shaykh relates where Khwaja Sahib came from and that he settled in Ajmer. The collection of sayings of the Khwaja of Ajmer may or may not be authentic, but it has had a pervasive tone for the entire Chishti discipline: “Always maintain loyal to the inner travel. Do not cease to search for the ocean of knowledge and love, which is the domain of Allah!”

In other chapters attention has been given to subjects like: what is a Sufi order, major Chishti shrines, and colonial and modern day Chishtis.

As for the political attitude of the Chishtis it is to stay away from rulers:

Be a dervish and sit in solitude;
Do not ask for food from anyone.
Know that contentment is a kingdom,
A mansion full of pearls and jewels.

Do not yourself go near the Sultan;
Know that he Sultan is such a one
That when you long for the Sultan,
There will be fear and danger for you.

The central spiritual practice of the Chishtis is the audition of music in order to evoke the divine presence. To its adherents, what was distinctive about the Chishti order was its religious practice. Sayyid Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (d. 1425) has given this summary:

“The style of life (of the Chishti masters) is to build a house in a city or town and call the people away from vanity towards God. They always turn away from the world and those who seek it. Their distinctive sign is he practice of spiritual discipline and ascetic striving. They aim at poverty and denial, and they keep company with the poor and beggars, giving them food. They are masters of listening to music (sama’) and they love the people of music. They celebrate the death anniversaries of their masters, and they greatly prefer the poor to the rich. They themselves wash the hands of the stranger and themselves provide fire and food to the poor. They never give the rich man a place higher than the poor man, and their feasts are bountiful. Through their internal concern for the heart, the disciple turns away from the love of the world and they soon make the disciple repent”.

Let us return to the appendix and look at part of the biography of Shaykh Nur Qotb-e ‘Alam. He has said: “The Shaykhs of old had set 99 stages for the completion of the spiritual quest. The Shaykhs of our silsila have fixed on 15 stages, of which this faqir has selected 3:

Taking account before God demands an account from you.
Whoever thinks that he has been righteous for even a day has deceived himself.
The true worship of the faqir is to repel thoughts of other than God.

Whoever acts according to these three principles – God willing – he will complete the work of the traveller”.



The Chishti shaykh Ziyauddin Nakhshabi (d. 1350) wrote the “Tales of a Parrot”. The Chishtis have at times made use of teaching in the shape of tales. The translation from Persian into English by Muhammad A. Simsar has beautifully been published, as 48 full-page miniatures have been added to the 52 tales. As for the tales the well-known construction of a tale within a tale has been used. Although the stories go back a long time and have an Indian origin, shaykh Nakhshabi has introduced his own Sufi ideas in them. A parrot is the storyteller. Let us not dwell on the overall structure (some would however say that the structure is the message) and simply tell one tale out of the tales as told by the parrot. At a certain moment in one of the tales a bloodletter appears. During Nakhshabi’s time bloodletting was a common healing practice. The usual method was by cupping. After washing and drying the skin, a heated glass cup with a rounded edge was firmly pressed against the skin. As the air inside the glass cooled a partial vacuum was formed thus drawing the blood to the skin under the cup. Another method was by venesection, which consisted of drawing blood from a vein in the arm. A physician performed this method. The cupping was done by a man called a bloodletter, usually a barber who practised both professions in a public bath. In the near future you’ll read everything you always wanted to know about the tale of:

The Bloodletter’s Emulation of the Merchant

It is said that in one of the distant cities of Khwarazm there was a merchant of much wealth and property whose name was ‘Abd al-Malik. He was always trying to find ways to make more money, so he frequented the gatherings of the learned men as well as those of the poor.

One day he thought: “I have been engaged in many kinds of business in different parts of the world, but now I am going to follow the Qur’anic precept”:

He who does a good deed shall be rewarded tenfold.

Having decided upon this, he proceeded to carry out his decision. Whatever wealth he possessed he distributed for charity. Whatever riches he had he gave as alms to the poor. He did not even had enough money left for his breakfast.

That night in a dream he saw a monk. He asked him: “Who are you?”

The monk replied, “I am the spirit of your good fortune. Since you have given all your wealth for charity and all your money to the poor, you must not be left to starve. Tomorrow morning I will reappear in this form before you. At that time you must hit me on the head with a cudgel and I will fall down and turn into gold. Whenever you cut off a part of me that part will grow back again and whatever limb you remove another will immediately grow in its place”.

O, Nakhshabi, relinquish whatever wealth you possess.
How long will you charity and benevolence disdain?
For the sake of God donate to someone a pure gold coin
And a thousand will later be your well deserved gain.

The next day when the night-travelling monk – the moon – was entering the temple in the west, and when the great, devout wayfarer – the sun – was spreading the carpet of light in the sky, and at the moment when the bloodletter was trimming the beard and the moustache of ‘Abd al-Malik, the monk appeared.

‘Abd al-Malik arose and hit him on the head several times with a cane. The monk immediately fell down and turned into gold. ‘Abd al-Malik gave a few silver coins to the bloodletter and warned him not to divulge the secret.

The bloodletter surmised that if anyone struck a monk on the head, that monk would turn into gold. He went home and made preparations for a feast inviting several monks to be his guests. After the dinner was over, he fetched a heavy stick and hit the monks on their heads with such force that their scalps were cut and blood began to flow like a stream. When the monks started to scream and wail with pain, a large crowd gathered. They bound the bloodletter securely and took him along with the monks to the magistrate of the city.

The magistrate asked: “Why did you beat up those poor people and crack their heads open?”

The bloodletter replied: “I was in the house of ‘Abd al-Malik when a monk came to see him. He beat him on the head several times with a cane and the monk immediately turned into gold. I thought that anyone who hit a monk on the head could cause him to turn into gold. With this temptation I invited the monks to be my guests and struck a few blows on their heads. Not only their condition failed to change, but the whole affair ended in a great fiasco”.

The magistrate summoned ‘Abd al-Malik and asked him: “what is this bloodletter claiming?”

‘Abd al-Malik answered: “This man lives on my street. For several days his senses have been affected and his mind has become deranged. He wanders around all day like a madman and talks nonsense. Otherwise why would a sane person act in such a manner or an intelligent man utter such words? He needs care, proper treatment, medicine and potions. He must be taken to a doctor. He must be sent to a capable physician. It is a pity that such a bloodletter should be wasted and it is regretful that his skill should be lost”.

The words of ‘Abd al-Malik met with the approval of the magistrate. He made excuses to the monks and ordered that the bloodletter be released.

O Nakhshabi, conduct your true self with integrity.
When will you ever forsake thought of worldly possession!
Fools will imitate unsuitable actions of others.
To maintain self-esteem, you should always use discretion.



“Khuldabad… the name conjures up a sunny day in early November, one of those days when everything seems to be in perfect order…” - thus Annemarie Schimmel starts the introduction to the book of Carl Ernst about the Chishtis in the South of India. She continues: “In the early afternoon the qawwals had arrived, and we were transported into the world of mystical delight, carried back through the centuries to the days when the music-loving Burhanuddin Gharib lived here and expressed his love of God in mystical dance”. Carl Ernst has produced a historical and a somewhat dry, scholarly study about Deccani Sufism. His empathy for shaykh Burhanuddin Gharib is however also rather clear, for as St Augustine has held: “Res tantum cognoscitur quantum diligitur”, which means as we all know “One can only understand something to the extent that one loves it”.

Here is a teaching of shaykh Burhanuddin Gharib about the music of the Sufis, which he liked so very much. He discerns four types:

Lawful samaa’, in which the listener is totally longing for God and is not at all longing for the created.
Permitted samaa’, in which the listener is mostly longing for God and only a little for the created.
Disapproved samaa’, in which there is much longing for the created and a little for God.
Forbidden samaa’, in which there is no longing for God and all is for the created.

“But the listener should know the difference between doing the lawful, the forbidden, the permitted and the disapproved. And this is a secret between God and the listener”.

So although cast in a legal form, the shaykh’s analysis of the listener’s motivation puts the burden of responsibility on the individual’s conscience, for - as Carl Ernst states - “the object of one’s love is by its nature secret from the law”.



A man from Lahore came to shaykh Hasan Muhammad Chishti and said: “In this time there is no one worthy of listening to Sufi music”. He replied: “If that was the case, the world would be destroyed”. The man said: In past days there were men like shaykh Baba Farid, shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya and shaykh Nasiruddin. Now there is no one like them”. The Chishti shaykh replied: “In their time men said the very same thing”. This anecdote doesn’t come from “The Life and Times…” as written by Khaliq Ahmad Nizami. Everything else you wanted to know about Baba Farid and were afraid to ask, has been mentioned in the scholarly and inspiring study of Khaliq Ahmad Nizami.

A qawwal once sang some poetry when visiting Nizamuddin Awliya at a time when Nizamuddin Awliya had not yet been initiated into the Sufi path and had not yet found a shaykh. The singer first described the inner qualities of shaykh Bahauddin Zakariya of Multan. His words had no effect at all on the young listener, but when he paid attention in his songs to Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Awliya, felt a great love entering his heart although he had never met Baba Farid. This psychological accident has been described by a poet in the following couplet:
Hadies-e hosn-e u naagaah firo khaandand dar gusham
Dar aamad ‘eshq o yakbare be-bord ‘aql az man o husham.

Suddenly the description of his beauty
came to the ears of mine,
Love entered and at once
took away the reason and understanding of mine.

The words of the qawwal in some way or other evoked the loving presence of Baba Farid. The following anecdote however, makes it clear that Baba Farid was no soft fool:
A poorly dressed dervish came to Baba Farid who gave him something and permitted him to depart. The dervish remained standing and asked the shaykh to give him the comb, which he had taken out from its cover and placed on the prayer-carpet. As the comb was not worth anything and had been long used by the shaykh, he did not reply to the request. The dervish began to shout loudly: “If the shaykh gives me this comb, he will receive plenty of blessings.” “Be off”, Baba Farid replied, “and do not disturb me any more. I throw you and your blessings into the river.”

Baba Farid liked the ‘needle’ (unity) and disliked the ‘pair of scissors’ (bringing about separation. He advised his disciples to recite this couplet in their intimate conversations with God:

Az hazrat-e-to se chiz mikhaham
Vaqt-e khosh o aab-e dida o raahat-e del

From Your presence I ask for three things:
A happy time, tears and repose of the heart.

Baba Farid was a friend of God and it is only natural that we wish to be a friend of a friend of God.



“The year is 1981, and in the computer lab of a large university a group of graduate students and their professor are hard at work on the departmental mainframe, graphically modeling an imaginary two-dimensional world. The project is going well, extraordinarily well, when one student suddenly notices that the world they are building on-screen is… inhabited!”

So begins A.K. Dewdney’s tale of discovery and communication with the two-dimensional civilization of Arde. Since its original publication in 1984 The Planiverse has developed a kind of cult readership, following in the footsteps of Edward Abbot’s nineteenth-century classic Flatland. As a kind of mental puzzle or brainteaser, it challenges and delights, inviting readers to imagine just how a two-dimensional world might actually work. But the book is also a Sufi fable, written by a member of the Chishti order, serving as a cautionary tale about the difficulties of communication from one totally alien world to another, and suggesting that it is not only Yendred and his fellow 2-D Ardeans who cannot imagine dimensions beyond those they see.



Several years ago we’ve visited a Sufi place in Budapest, Hungary. While we were sitting near the shrine of shaykh Gul Baba - a very pleasant and peaceful place surrounded by a well-kept rose garden – suddenly some members of a Sufi order entered and took out their musical instruments and started to sing the beautiful “Elahis” of Yunus Emre. They explained later on to us that they visited the children’s hospital in Budapest in order to bring about healing by means of a musical therapy developed by their shaykh.

Audition to music also takes a very important place among the Chishtis. The music is a means to concentrate on the divine Beloved. A side-effect may be healing. The Chishtis also pay attention to other kinds of healing. Prayers, special zikrs, the reading of “The Tale of the Four Dervishes” and so on are among the Chishti methods of healing. When a Chishti shaykh is being approached for help his visitors also may ask him questions about health issues as the Sufis work with the whole person.

Shaykh Hakim Moinuddin Chishti is the American author of “The Book of Sufi Healing”. He has spent some time in Afghanistan in the company of local Sufis and healers before meeting his murshid in Ajmer, India. He writes that central to the doctrine of Sufi healing are the connections between health, the heart, wholeness and holiness. The Sufis have a holistic view in this respect and they work with the physical as well as the subtle aspects of a person. Among the many topics treated are dietary recommendations of the Prophet, food and health, the preparation of herbal formulas, healing with essential oils, illnesses that may arise at the various stages of the soul’s evolution, fasting, prayers and talismans.

I remember sitting in the company of a Chishti pir in Ajmer, when an English artist entered. This Englishman told from the start that he was not interested in Sufism. He however was received with Eastern hospitality and left a few days later. He was given a talisman and to my surprise he was quite willing to accept it. It was tied around the upper part of his arm and he received he instruction never to take it off. He then went to the North of India to make a trek through the mountains. In the midst of nature he took a bath in a natural pond and removed his talisman, which he carefully deposited on a flat rock. After taking his bath to his dismay he found out that the talisman had disappeared. He then travelled all the way back to the Chishti pir in Ajmer and when they met he asked to be initiated into his Sufi order.



“God is beautiful and he loves beauty!” Beauty is certainly one of the aspects of “The Culture of the Sufis”. You only have to turn to the chapter as written by Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib dealing with the poetry of the Sufis. Abu Sa’id Abi’l-Khair wrote this quatrain about outer and inner beauty:

God, in Whose hand is the whole universe wide,
Has given you two good things side by side;
One is beauty of character to be friendly with others,
And the second is beauty of the face, so that others in friendship with you abide.

The book contains 15 chapters dealing with subjects like the origin of Sufism, initiation in the Sufi order, rituals and practices, the moral and ethical culture of the Sufis, their states and stations as well as their doctrines, women and Sufism, supernatural powers and the recollection of death. The Chishti point of view dominates, although there is also attention to the testament of Muhyiddin ibn al-‘Arabi and the one of the “Rose of Baghdad”, shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani.

The value of the book have been enhanced by the extensive bibliography and the select discography, while the 9 illustrations make “The Culture of the Sufis” a beautiful book. Love for the divine beauty can make you dance as Khwaja ‘Uthman Haruni tells us:

I do not know why, at last, to have a longing look, I dance!
But I feel proud of the fondness that before the Friend, I dance!

You strike the musical instruments and lo! Every time, I dance!
In whatever way You cause me to dance, I abide o Friend, I dance!

Come, o Beloved! See the solemn spectacle that in the crowd of the intrepid and daring,
With a hundred probabilities of ignominy and disgrace, in the heart of the market, I dance!

Blessed is the state of drunkenness that I trample underfoot a hundred pieties!
How fine and excellent the abstinence that with the robe and the turban, I dance!

I am ‘Uthman Haruni and a friend of shaykh Mansur,
The people rebuke and ridicule me and on the gallows, I dance!



Maqbool Elahi has given the complete set of couplets of Baba Farid as written in the Punjabi language together with their English translations. These poems form part of the Holy Granth of the Sikhs. Here are some examples:

Life is wife and Death her husband.
Husband takes his wife away
After ‘yes’ to his proposal.
How can she hold back the day?


It is a mystery deep and baffling
Worldly life - a hidden fire!
Allah hath done me a favour
Else I too would’ve burnt entire.

Passing by a field of water-melons, Baba Farid picked up the skin of a water-melon and was contemplating on the beauty of its colour, design and texture when the owner of the field started giving him a beating, taking him for a thief:

Farid! The door of dervishes
is so hard to enter
Fain would I have walked it past
With worldly masses
But for a bundle of pretence
Where o where to dump it.


Dervishes I have tested well
And found their faith skin deep
I haven’t met a single one
Who knows the ways so steep.

Punjabi - the language of the land of the five (panj) streams (ab)) lends itself so sweetly to mystical thoughts, so here in English is a fifth and final poem:

Says Farid! My playmates!
When God will send His call
This swan will humbly walk to Him
And in the dust will fall.



What the sun of Tabriz was to the Mawlana of Rum, that or more could be found in the relationship between shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya and his favourite disciple Amir Khusraw. Whatever the truth may be the poetry of ‘Parrot of India’ – the nickname of Amir Khusraw - has left a lasting impression on the Chishti order.

Ami Khusraw was well acquainted with the works of many famous poets. In a passage of the preface to the “Ghurrat al-Kamaal” (The Prime of Perfection) he remarks according to John Seyller, the author of the “Pearls…”: “I examined most of the forms of poetry that could be produced through imagination and studied constantly the works of the great masters. From these I culled what was sweet and thus acquired a real taste for the pleasures of poetry. My eyes and intellect brightened when I saw the writings of Anwari and Sana’i, and whenever I beheld a poem bright as gold-water I chased it like a running stream. Every diwan I came across, I not only studied but imitated in my compositions”.

Later on his choice of a model to emulate could not have been better, for Nizami’s “Khamsa” (Quintet) is widely regarded as the apogee of Persian literature. Amir Khusraw’s own “Quintet” has been discussed by John Seyyller. Next to that attention has been given to the life of Amir Khusraw, the context of Mughal painting, and the painting cycles in Islamic manuscript illustration. There is a commentary on the miniatures incorporated in the “Khamsa” of Amir Khusraw. The many full-colour Persian miniatures make this a book worthwhile to be mentioned in this series of Chishti books.



Amir Hasan Sijzi has had an excellent idea. He has recorded the conversations of shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya. The resulting book is a fundamental plank in the Sufism of the Chishtis. The translation from Persian gives a clear picture of what is taking place in a Chishti circle. The shaykh is talking and gets inspired to change the subject, he recites some poetry, then he tells a tale, and – when a visitor enters – again the atmosphere changes and that what is taking place is adapted to the people present.

One day shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya told this story: “In Lahore there was a scholar renowned for his eloquence. One day he came to the qazi of Lahore and said: ‘I desire to go on pilgrimage to the Ka’ba. Give me permission that I may go’. The qazi replied: ‘Why do you want to go? At present your discourses and counsels are benefiting many people’.

The scholar refrained from going. After another year had lapsed, he again approached the qazi and again sought permission to go to Mecca. Again the qazi ordered him to stay, and again he convinced that scholar to remain in Lahore.

The third year came and the scholar approached the Qazi once more: ‘I am overcome with desire to visit the Ka’ba. Please give me permission that I may go’. ‘O master,’ replied the qazi, ‘if you are overcome with the desire to visit the Ka’ba, what need do you have to ask permission of me or to seek my consultation? You should simply go’.

Then upon the blessed lips of the master came these words: ‘In love there is no need of consultation’.”



P.M. Currie makes it clear that several teachings and events attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti are probably incorrectly attributed. The scholars studying classical Chishti Sufism have a different point of view than the ordinary people who visit the shrine of the Khwaja of Ajmer in all their devotion. There are also Sufis like Hazrat Khadim Hasan, whose “Mo’in ul-Arwah” has been read by me, and who states that some of the teachings attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti are authentic while others are later additions. I also like the attitude of Peter Lamborn Wilson when he mentions the “Diwan” attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti. He writes (I’m quoting him by heart) that if these poems are wrongly attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti, then at least it can be said that they have been written by someone with quite some spiritual development.

Currie deals with the quest for the historical Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti, the legendary one, the history of his shrine, the visit to Ajmer, the Khuddam, i.e. the descendants of those who arrived together with Khwaja Sahib in Ajmer, the head of the Chishti order, and the administration of the dargah.
As for legends, they at times have their own place in Sufism. Shaykh Dho’l-Nun of Egypt once explained how he returned to God (tawba). He was in the desert and there he saw that a lame bird was getting its sustenance in a miraculous way. A golden plate descended from heaven and on it was the daily food for the bird. This strange event has been explained by shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi in a symbolic way. He related it to an experience of the soul.

It is said about Fariduddin ‘Attar that he one day paid little attention to a dervish who visited his store. The dervish then asked him: “How will you die?” Fariduddin ‘Attar answered him in a careless way that he would die just like the dervish. The dervish then dropped dead at that very moment and this made a big impression on Fariduddin ‘Attar. It doesn’t matter much if this event actually took place, as it is a teaching story among the Sufis explaining something of the station of tawba, the return to God.

It is of course only proper to find out the truth regarding the authenticity of the teachings of Khwaja Sahib. The Sufis however have an extra tool, i.e., their intuitive unveiling (kashf), which is not for sale in universities for orientalists. Currie at times also makes serious mistakes as an orientalist out of a certain carelessness. It is clear that he has remained an outsider. The door to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti has remained closed to him.



Bruce B. Lawrence in his “Notes…” not only pays attention to “the spiritual kings of India” - the Chishti Sufis - but also discusses some shaykhs of the Suhrawardi, Firdawsi, and Maghrebi Sufi orders. Lawrence presents several poems in the original Persian language. What you see below is my transcription and my translation of at first a poem of Mas’ud-e-Bakk:

Gar az khodiye khwish berun aa’i to
Dar pardaye tawhid darun aa’i to
Var az ravesh-e chun o cheraa bargozari
Az khod shode bi cheraa o chun aa’i to

If outside your own self you would go,
Into the veil of unity you would go.
And if you would go beyond the why and when,
Leaving yourself, into the without why and when you would go.

Amir Hasan writes about shaykh Qotboddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s ecstasy when he heard the two final lines of a poem of shaykh Ahmad-e-Jam:

Jaan bar in yek bayt daade-ast aan bozorg
Aari in kawhar ze kaani digar-ast
Koshtegaan-e khanjar-e taslim raa
Har zamaan az ghayb jaani-ye digar-ast.

On this verse that great being gave up his soul
This jewel truly came from a special mine:
Those slain by the sword of submission
Get all the time another life from the unseen.


Shaykh Hamidoddin Nagawri writes this:

Kaarist waraai ‘elm raw aanraa baash
Dar bande gohar mabaash raw kaan raa baash
Del hast maqaame gaah begozaar o biaa
Jaan manzele aakherast raw jaan raa baash.

There is a work beyond knowledge, realise that, go!
Do not work to get jewels, be the mine, go!
The heart is a temporary abode, leave it and come!
The soul is the final abode, realise that, go!




"The Sufi Saints of the Indian Subcontinent" deals with the life and teachings of 126 important Sufis from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They come from the Chishti, Qadiri, Suhrawardi, Naqshbandi and other Sufi orders.

In case you like to expand your knowledge of Sufism why not read something, which describes those who were the living embodiment of Sufism? Dr. Sharib (1914-1996), who was the head of the Gudri Shahi order of the Sufis, has been able to present the view of an insider to the Sufis of the Indian Subcontinent.



Some of the Sufis are a lover of God, but Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya was a beloved of God. His concern for the weak and the destitute endeared him to the people who found spiritual solace in his company. He found it difficult to eat, because some people in Delhi had gone to sleep without their meals. Inspired by the tradition of the Prophet he was called Mahbub-e-Elahi, the beloved of God:

All God’s creatures are His family.
And he is the most beloved of God
Who does most good to His creatures.

The shaykh was a teacher par excellence. He did not believe in spinning fine ideas, but expressed in his life the accumulated wisdom of the Sufi path. His life and the teachings have been described in an inspiring way by Khaliq Ahmad Nizami. After depicting his early life, the meeting with shaykh Baba Farid has been described. The shaykh welcomed him thus:

The fire of your separation has burnt many hearts.
The storm of desire to meet you has ravaged many lives.

The old shaykh noticed the nervousness of the potential disciple and said: “Every newcomer is nervous”. After having been accepted as a murid the way of purification had to be travelled before the way of illumination could be entered. Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya in due course even became the head of the Chishti order.

Why are we still talking about him? It is because he demonstrated in his life two types of devotion to God, i.e. intransitive and transitive devotion. In the first type of devotion the benefit, which accrues is confined to the devotee alone. It consists of prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, recitation of the zikr, etc. The transitive type of devotion brings advantage and comfort to others. It is performed by spending money on others, showing affection to the people, etc. The reward of transitive devotion is limitless.

The following quatrain is by Nizamuddin Awliya himself:

Ayam be sar-e-kuye to puyan puyan
Rukhsar be ab-e-dide shuyan shuyan
Bichare rah-e wasl-e to juyan juyan
Jan mideham o nam-e to guyan guyan

I came to the end of Your street, running, running.
Tears came down my cheek, washing, washing.
Union with You, I am helplessly seeking, seeking.
My soul I surrender while Your name I am reciting, reciting.



Khaliq Ahmad Nizami has written three separate studies about Hazrat Baba Farid, his successor Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya and his successor shaykh Nasiruddin, the ‘lamp of Delhi’.

Each Chishti shaykh adapted the outward shape of his teachings to the people, the time and the circumstances. Shaykh Nasiruddin told his disciples clearly and firmly that the entire structure of spiritual discipline was based on the proper training of the heart. The qibla (focus-point) of the heart is God. The heart is the amir (ruler) of the body. When it turns away from its focus-point, the body also moves away from its focus-point. The anwar (divine lights) first descend on the soul and then they are transmitted to the body, which is subordinate to the heart. When the heart is moved, the body is also moved. Hal (spiritual state) is the result of the purity of action. Hal is transitory and is not permanent. If it becomes so it becomes a maqam (station).

Shaykh Nasiruddin was so courageous not to appoint anyone as the head of the Chishti order. When he received a list of possible candidates he remarked that these people were unable to carry their own burden, let alone the burden of others.

When becoming the head of the Chishtiyya order himself, Khwaja Nasiruddin had received several articles of mystic regalia from his shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya. The ‘lamp of Delhi’ had instructed his disciples to bury him with those objects. “Accordingly, the khirqah (patched frock) was placed on his breast, the staff (‘asaa) was laid by his side, the rosary (tasbih) was wound around his forefinger, the wooden bowl (“the use of the wooden bowl was considered effective in reducing diet”) was placed under his head and the wooden sandals of his master were put by his side”.

With his passing away the light of Delhi was extinguished. When such a thing happens, however, a new candle always gets lit.



Several years ago I’ve met Mirza Wahiduddin Begg, the author of “The Big Five…” in the company of our murshid in Ajmer. These big five consists of the 5 Chishti shaykhs who came after Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti. The successor of the Khwaja of Ajmer was Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Delhi. The next in the line was Khwaja Baba Farid of Pak Pattan, who was succeeded by Khwaja Nizamuddin Awliya, while Khwaja ‘Ali Ahmad Sabir was a caliph of Khwaja Baba Farid. Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh of Delhi succeeded Khwaja Nizamuddin Awliya.

The book with its many typically Indian illustrations ends with the mentioning of some provincial Chishti centres established in other parts of India. Mirza Wahiduddin Begg also makes clear that what comes up, also must come down. Hereditary succession, instead of the appointing of a true spiritual successor, was the main cause for the decline of the Chishti order. But what comes down may also come up, as the spirit blows where it wills



This booklet of Yogindar Sikand deals with some of the major Chishti Sufis of India. From the thirteenth century onwards, numerous Sufi orders established themselves in India. Today, several thousands of Sufi shrines or dargahs, big and small, are scattered all over South Asia, attracting vast numbers of devotees, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. Although the Chishti Sufis are Muslims their message of simplicity and universal love had an appeal that transcended barriers of religion and community. They consistently refused to establish any links with the political elite and by leading a life of voluntary poverty they readily identified themselves with the poor. All major Chishti centres maintain free community kitchens or ‘langars’ that attract large number of poor people, travellers and wandering faqirs.

The booklet of Yogindar Sikand provides a general overview of the history and teachings of nine principal Chishti shaykhs. At a time when the politics of religious hatred are playing such havoc the message of love and service of the Chishti Sufis continues to have an abiding relevance.



Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi of course pays lots of attention to the Chishtis in the about a thousand pages of his “A History of Sufism in India”. The first volume outlines the history of Sufism before it was firmly established in India and then continues to discuss the principal trends in Sufi development in that country from the thirteenth to the beginning of the sixteenth century. It also deals with the interaction of the medieval Hindu traditions and Sufism. The second volume starts with a brief discussion of the mystical philosophy of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, which played a pivotal role in the development of Sufi thought and practices in India. The two volumes deal with all the major Sufi orders in India and also with some of the smaller ones. So this book offers lots of reading stuff for the hungry.



A text in Arabic together with its English translation is prominently displayed on the book jacket of this study, which has been written by Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib. It tells this about Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti:

He was a beloved of God.
He died in the love of God.

Besides the story of the life of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, as Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti is popularly known, the book contains short notes about his contemporaries and disciples in the field of Sufism. Next to that attention has been paid to his teachings and sayings. Let us take one about the service of God:

“Khwaja Gharib Nawaz says that once Hazrat Malik Dinar was asked about the service of God. He replied that if the one who takes to the service of the Friend ultimately gets united with the Friend”.



I once was taken to the bookshop of Mir Sahib in Karachi. It was an extremely small bookshop of about one meter large, one meter wide and one meter deep, but with a good collection of books and of course Mir Sahib himself, who was an very enthusiastic lover of books. After showing my pile of books, which I wanted to buy he advised me to add one more book to this pile. It was the above-mentioned title as written by Dr. Mohammad Wahid Mirza. He saw my hesitation and then added that the price of the book was only ten rupees. To me it is incredible that I still kept on hesitating, as now it is a book I like very much. He then put the book on top of the pile, charged ten rupees and thus provided me with lots of reading pleasure after returning back home:

Baaz aai o beneshin saa’ati aakhar che kam khwahad shodan
Gar shaad gardaani dami yaaraan gham farsuda raa.

O Love! Return and sit by me
Awhile, - why, where’s the harm?
If for one moment some sad heart
By your bright presence may warm?


A dervish is a friend of God and a friend of a friend is a friend, so why not be a friend of a dervish?




Begg, W.D.; The Big Five in Indian Sufism; n.d.

Chishti, Shaykh Hakim Moinuddin: The Book of Sufi Healing; inner Traditions International; 1985.

Currie, P.M.: The Shrine and Cult of Mu’in al-din Chishti of Ajmer; Oxford University Press; 1989.

Dewdney, A.K.: The Planiverse – Computer Contact with a two-dimensional world; Copernicus Books; 2001.

Dhaul, Laxmi: The Sufi Saint of Ajmer; Thea Enterprises; 2001.

Elahi, Maqbool: The Couplets of Baba Farid; Majlis Shah Hussain; 1967.

Ernst, Carl W.: Eternal Garden – Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center; State University of New York Press; 1992.

Ernst, Carl W. and Bruce B. Lawrence: Sufi Martyrs of Love - The Chishti order in South Asia and Beyond; Palgrave Macmillan; 2002.

Haeri, Muneera: The Chishtis – A Living Light; Oxford University Press; 2001.

Lawrence, Bruce B.: Notes from a Distant Flute – Sufi Literature in Pre-Mughal India; Imperial Iranian Academy; 1978.

Mirza, Dr. Mohammad Wahid: The Life and Works of Amir Khusraw; Panjab University Press; 1962.

Nizami, Khaliq Ahmad: The Life and Times of Shaikh Farid-ud-din Ganj-iShakar; Idarah-i Adabiyat-Delli; 1998.

-: The Life and Times of Shaikh Nizam—u’d-din Auliya; Idarah-i Adabiyat-Delli; 1991.

-: The Life and Times of Shaikh Nasiruddin Chiragh-iDehli; Idarah-i Adabiyat-Delli; 1991.

Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas: A History of Sufism in India; Munshiram Manoharlal; 2 vol.; 1978-1983.

Seyller, John: Pearls of he Parrot of India – The Walters Art Museum Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi; The Walters Art Museum; 2001.

Shah, Amina: The Tale of the Four Dervishes And Other Sufi Tales; Harper & Row; 1981.

Sharib, Zahurul Hassan: The Meditations of Khawaja Muin Uddin Hasan Chishti; Sharib Press; 1994.

-: The Culture of the Sufis; Sharib Press; 1999.

-: Khawaja Gharib Nawaz; Sh. Muhammad Ashraf; 1975.

-: The Sufi Saints of The Indian Subcontinent; Munishiram Manoharlal; 2006.

Shahi, Hazrat Mohammed Khadim Hasan Shah Zuberi Moini Gudri (Nawab Gudri Shah Baba): The Path of Tasawwuf; East-West Publications Fonds B.V.; 1978.

Sharma, Sunil: Amir Khusraw – The Poet of Sultans and Sufis; Oneworld; 2005.

Sijzi, Amir Hasan: Nizam Ad-Din Awliya – Morals for the Heart; Paulist Press; 1992.

Sikand, Yogindar: The Chishti Sufi Saints of India; Private Circulation; 2001.

Simsar, Muhammed A.: The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Tuti Nama / Tales of a Parrot; The Cleveland Museum of Art; 1978.

Valiuddin, Mir Dr.: Contemplative Disciplines in Sufism; East-West Publications Fonds B.V.; 1980.


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