Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam 9781463233709

This collection of papers by various scholars discusses a wide range of practices and beliefs relating to saints in Isla

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Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam

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Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam

Analecta Isisiana: Ottoman and Turkish Studies

A co-publication with The Isis Press, Istanbul, the series consists of collections of thematic essays focused on specific themes of Ottoman and Turkish studies. These scholarly volumes address important issues throughout Turkish history, offering in a single volume the accumulated insights of a single author over a career of research on the subject.

Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam

Editor Grace Martin Smith Associate Editor Carl W. Ernst

The Isis Press, Istanbul

0OrgiaS \iVZ$$ 2011

Gorgias Press IXC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA Copyright© 2011 by The Isis Press, Istanbul Originally published in 1993 All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of The Isis Press, Istanbul. 2011 v

ISBN 978-1-61143-819-2

Reprinted from the 1993 Istanbul edition.

Printed in the United States of America


Figures Preface ami Acknowledgements, by Grace Martin Smith Note on Transliteration Introduction, by Carl W. Ernst, with contributions by Suraiya Faroqhi, Bradford G. Martin, Grace Martin Smith, and Bonnie Wade


Part of Saints

One and Saintly



Graves, Shrines and Power in a Highland Sumatran Society, by John R. Bowen The Iconography of the Dragon in the Cult of the Saints of Islam, by Abbas Daneshvari The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq as a Means of Mystical Transmission, by Jean During An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage, by Carl W. Ernst The Modern Businessman and the Pakistani Saint: The Interpénétration of Worlds, by Katherine P. Ewing ' Umar Ibn al-Farid, A Saint of Matnluk and Ottoman Egypt, by Th. Emil Homerin Music, Saints, and Ritual: Soma' and the Alevis of Turkey, by Irene Markoff Sama ' in the Royal Court of Saints: The Chishtiyya of South Asia, by Régula Burckhardt Qureshi Reflections on the Interaction of Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr, by Earle Waugh

1 15 27 43 69 85 95 Ill 129

VI Part Two Saints and the Political Order The Man with Two Tombs: Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman, Founder of the Algerian Rahmaniyya, ca. 1715-1798, by Julia A. ClancySmith The Political Lives of Afghan Saints: The Case of the Kabul Hazrats, by David B.Edwards Sainthood as a Means of Self-Defense in Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Anatolia, by Suraiya N. Faroqhi Dervish and Sultan: An Analysis of the Otman Baba Vilayetnamesi, by Halil Inalcik Shaykh Uways bin Muhammad al-Barawi, a Traditional Somali Sufi, by Bradford G. Martin Kalenderi Dervishes and Ottoman Administration from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, by A. Ya§ar Ocak Glossary and Index of Terms Index of Subjects Index of Names and Places Contributors

147 171 193 209 225 239 257 267 271 280


FIGURES 1. Dragons in the Spandrels of the Shrine of Turbat-i Sheikh Jam, restored under Shah 'Abbas I. After Hillenbrand between 24-25 2. Dragon on the Wall of Imamzada 'Abbas near Amul. Persia, 19th century. Alter Hillenbrand 3. Confronting and Entwined Dragons from the Amir Saltuk Mausoleum at Erzerum. Turkey, late 12th century. After OttoDorn 4. Safavid Copper Kashkul with Dragon Heads. Persia, 17th century. After Pope " 5. Dragons on the Pishtaq of the Mosque of Anau. Timurid, 1446. After Pugachenkova 6. Confronting and Entwined Dragons with Fish from the Obakoy Madrasa, Alanya. Turkey, 13tli century. After Oney 7. Tombstone with Confronting Dragons and a Sun Disk, Karahisar Museum. Turkey, 13th century. After Otto-Dorn 8. Confronting Dragons Flanking the Head of a Ruler represented on the Base of an Inkwell. Persia, 12th or 13th century. After Baer .... 9. Dragons on a Gold Signet. Persia, Timurid, 15th century. After Dimand " 10. Confronting Dragons on a Candlestick. Persia, Timurid, 15th century. After Pope 11. A Dragon and a Simurgh Flanking a Cartouche that reads, "I commit myself to God." Turkey, 15th century. After Rosenzweig.. 12. Chishtiyya: Major Saints 125 13. Farsi Ghazal by Nasiruddin (final verse) 126 14. Farsi Ghazal by Amir Khusrau (first and final verse) 126 15. Hindi Rang by Amir Khusrau: Celebrating Discipleship with Nizamuddi 126 16. Farsi Ghazal by Ahmad Jam, Set to Masnavi Tune: Inspired Qutbuddin's Death in Ecslasy (final verse) 127 17. Hindi Basant Song: Khusrau Sings to End Nizamuddin's Seclusion (excerpt) 127 18. Prominent members of the Hazrat family of Kabul 173

PREFACE Saints and sainthood are and have been of great significance in the Islamic w orld and Islam. Saints functioned within the society as teachers, healers and mediators, and in politics as military commanders and diplomatic agents. Their tombs, found everywhere, are shrines, foci of pilgrimages, and centers of worship, curative ritual, and festivals. Saints are an essential characteristic of Islamic society. Saints have not, however, been studied to a degree commensurate with their importance. Indeed, they have generally been neglected by both Muslim and Western scholars. Some Muslim scholars consider saints and sainthood as less than fully acceptable in Islam. Western scholars, aware of the theoretical problems connected with sainthood, and familiar, usually, with saint-veneration in only a single country or locality, have tended to view it as a phenomenon of only local and limited significance. The International Conference on Saints and Sainthood in Islam at Berkeley was organized to discuss practices and beliefs concerning saints among Muslim peoples, to investigate the interesting tension between Islamic theory and practice regarding sainthood, and to help overcome scholarly parochialism in their study. The conference, which took place in April, 1987, was designed to attract scholars from all over the world, to encourage studies of many different parts of the Islamic world, and to involve investigations in a wide variety of disciplines. Participants came from Canada, France, Norway, md Turkey, from a number of universities in tlie United States, and even from Australia. They presented materials on Afghanistan, Africa, Iran, Kurdistan, South and South East Asia and Turkey, investigating among other things ritual practices in saint veneration, the policai and social roles of saints and the music, art and architecture of saint veneration. The conferees presented their papers with enthusiasm and style. More important, they enjoyed and were stimulated by one another's work. We publish their papers here in hopes of bringing this enjoyment and stimulation to a wider audience. Grace Martin Smith

X ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First and foremost I should like to acknowledge the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the main patron of the conference and of the publication of its papers. The staff of the Endowment and especially Crale Hopkins gave unstintingly of advice and assistance. The University of California at Berkeley served as the host of the conference; the Dean of the College of Letters and Science, the History Department, and the Department of Near Eastern Studies in particular contributed towards its expenses as well as towards the cost of editing the papers. Among the many people who helped realized the project were Daniel Foxvog, the conference's administrative assistant, without whose heroic efforts the conference probably could not have taken place. Ruth Cooper patiently and promptly typed the necessary material ; Mercy W o n g generously donated assistance during the conference. Vasil Diyamandoglu provided technical skills with unshakable dependability. The copy editors, Marina Preussner and Gerry Butash, did wonders in bringing order to materials in many languages and transliteration systems. Carl W. Ernst, in addition to his other contributions to the project, generously and helpfully undertook the vexing task of preparing the manuscripts for publication ; we were most fortunate to have the benefit of his services. Professors William M. Brinner and John Masson Smith, Jr. graciously served as faculty sponsors of the project. W e thank them all for their indispensable assistance in the successful accomplishment of a difficult job. Finally, I should like to thank Gunthcr Bartli for many valuable suggestions, which he always gave so generously, like a true saint, and also George R. Martin, who, like Hizr, was always there when needed.

N o t e on


Transliteration of Arabic, Persian, Ottoman, and Modern Turkish follows in general the system of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, with some exceptions for loanwords and where established transcriptions in Western languages already exist. Terms are italicized with diacritics only at the first use in the text, but names and terms are given diacritics throughout the notes and backmatter for the convenience of specialists. For other languages (Hindi, Urdu, Indonesian, Kurdish, etc.). transliterations accepted in those fields are used according to the recommendations of the contributors.

INTRODUCTION by Carl W. Ernst with contributions by Grace Martin Smith, Bradford G. Martin, Suraiya Faroqhi, and Bonnie Wade

Humanity has always felt the need for mediators between the everyday world and the transcendent world of divinity. Certain men and women, both while living and (perhaps especially) when dead, have been seen as having special qualifications to serve as mediators between the two worlds. It is through them (hat worship is often directed. Since saints are also products of their own societies, they appear in many forms, belonging to and reflecting the societies from which they come, displaying different attitudes and relationships. But the power and consequently the popularity of a saint may vary depending on changing social conditions. Moreover, from time to time and for a number of reasons, strong opposition to the saints and the concept of sainthood has arisen, (n short, saints have histories, often complex and many-sided. This volume is concerned with the manifestations of Islamic sainthood, which have taken form in the religious practices and political structures of Muslim societies from medieval times to the present. Sainthood in itself is a subject that resists analysis, since according to many accounts it is the result of the self-effacement of the individual in the divine qualities. For us it is easier to approach (lie subject through its effects, miraculous or ordinary, which are primarily recorded in ritual, song, narrative, and history. Nonetheless, sainthood, as Michel Chodkiewicz has observed, "remains masked by its manifestations and its signs."1 Although the intimate experiences of sainthood may be beyond our access, the general concept of humans who are close to God has had an extraordinary role in the history of Islam. The purpose of this collection of essays is to elucidate some of the ways in which saints have influenced the religious and social life of Islam.

'Michel Chodkiewicz, Le Sceau des saints: Prophétie et sainteté dans la doctrine d'ibn (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), p. 55.



Carl W. Emst

SAINTS IN ISLAM: SUFISM AND SHI'ISM 'Hie concept of sainthood in Islamic history may be considered one of the fundamental religious categories that has guided the development and structure of Islamic society. Some brief and general remarks about the nature of Islamic sainthood are, therefore, in order. What is a saint in the context of Islam? To examine the concept of sainthood in Islam one may begin with a well-known passage from the Qur'an: "The friends of God ( a w l i y d ' alláh) have no fear, neither do they sorrow" (10.62). The Arabic term wall (plural awliyá') commonly means a friend, a client, or one who is protected by a kin-relationship. 2 It is a name applied to God in the Qur'an, where he is referred to as "the Friend of the faithful" (3.68), and frequently the Muslim is called upon to realize that God is the only real Friend and Helper. Thus those who may be regarded as the friends of God would be people with a very special status. To apply the term "saint" to the Islamic wali raises the question of how legitimate it is to use a term of Christian origin in a Muslim context. Theoretical terminology must necessarily be taken from words in common usage, which are then defined with respect to the class of phenomena that need to be discussed. With proper qualification, the term "saint" can serve as such a technical term. Some may object that Islam has no equivalent of the Catholic process of canonization, a quasi-legal procedure that only leads to the identification of a saint after many specific criteria are held to be fulfilled. Since canonization can only be performed post mortem, the saints are defined in Christian terms as the souls of the blessed dead that are in heaven. In Islam, while there is a comparable focus on the saintly dead, we are here also faced with "saints" who are very much alive, who deal directly with the problems of social and political life. Peter Brown has described several important characteristics of saints in Latin Christianity, much of which can also be seen, mutatis mutandis, in Islam. According to Brown, saints enjoy the special protection of God, they replace angels as the intermediaries between God and humanity, and their relationship with God reduplicates the patronage network of society, raising the possibility of their intervention with God to obtain favor for the believer 3 From the viewpoint of the history of religion, all these features are found in the position of Muslim awliya'. So, leaving aside the juridical aspect of canonization, the term "saint" can be usefully applied to holy persons in Islam. 4 2

For the juridical and political meanings of wali, see Hermann Landolt, "Walayah," Encyclopedia of Religion 15:316-319. 3 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. l')82), pp. 56-64. 4

For recent comparative studies of sainthood, see John Stratton Hawley, ed.. Saints and Virtues, Comparative Studies in Religion and Society, no. 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond, ed., Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).



The two principal areas of Islamic thought in which sainthood has been elaborated are Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, and Shi'ism. The Sufi movement, which coalesced in the ninth century C.E., was a mystical trend based on intensive interiorization of Islamic ritual and personal devotion to God and the Prophet. Sufism seems to have originated first in Iraq and then became established in northern Iran, especially Khurasan.5 By the tenth century, Sufism was a well-established movement with a large literature. The handbooks and biographical treatises produced at this time linked Sufism with noted ascetics from the earliest periods of Islam, so that the public presentation of Sufism emphasized that it was a rigorous form of practical discipline and knowledge comparable to the principle Islamic religious sciences. Classical Sufi writers insisted that sainthood (waláya) was the essential principle of Sufism. 6 The handbook of Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 1072) gives us a fairly typical summation of the Sufi doctrine of sainthood.7 AlQushayri defined the wali in two ways: first, in a passive sense, as one of the pious for whom God takes responsibility (yva huwa yatawalla al-sálihin, Qur. 7.196); secondly, in an intensification of the active meaning, as one who takes responsibility for devotion to God and obedience to him, whose devotion to him is uninterrupted Cala al-tawáli). Both of these descriptions are appropriate, in alQushayri's view. These definitions of sainthood stress a mutual and close relationship between God and the human soul, expressed on the divine side by protection and responsibility and on the human side by worship and obedience. From this fundamental relationship of intimacy, al-Qushayri derives other conclusions regarding the experiences and impact of the saints in Sufism. He goes on to say that, just as the prophet is immaculate (ma 'süm), so the saint is protected from sin (mahfiz). Various early authorities are quoted on the nature of Sufi sainthood. Bistami (d. 875) spoke of saints as the brides of God, known to i other. Saints may not be aware of their own status, and most people will be unable to recognize one. Abu 'Ali al-Juzjani (d. ca. 964) described the saint by using the language of mystical annihilation (faná') of the ego and subsistence (bagá') in God, saying, "The saint is the one who is annihilated in his state, but subsisting in the witnessing of the Real; God takes responsibility for his governing, and die lights of authority (tawwala) come upon him continually (tawálat). He has no information about himself, nor reliance on any other than God." This mystical experience could nonetheless have a subtle and beneficial

1987); Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond, ed„ Sainthood: Religions

Its Manifestations



(Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1988).

Jacqueline Chabbi, "Remarques sur le développement historique des mouvements ascétiques et mystiques au Khurasan, l i r / I X e siècle-IV7X e siècle," Studia Islamica 46 (1977), pp. 5-72. 6 Landolt, 7

"Walàyah," 15:321-322.

Abu al-Qàsim *Abd al-Karïm al-Qushayri, al-Risâla al-Qushayriyya, ed. ' A b d al-Halim Mahmùd and


ibn al-Sharif, 2 vols, continuously paginated (Cairo: Dàr al-Kutub al-Haditha

II. 520-525.



Carl W. Ernst

effect on others. Yahya ibn Mu'adh (d. 872) said, "The saint is the perfume of God on earth. The sincere ones scent him, and his fragrance reaches their hearts, so that by it they are roused to longing for their lord, and they increase in devotion according to the diversity of their character." Traditions going back to hadith reports from Muhammad affirm that there is a special class of servants of God, usually numbered as 356, upon whom the maintenance of the world rests, though they remain unknown to the world. These include the "substitutes (abdal)," the "rescuer (ghawth)," and the supreme figure of the hierarchy, the "axis" of the world (qutb). Although the most comprehensive formulation of this hierarchy was given by Ibn " Arabi, the basic idea is archaic. The spiritual hierarchy was an invisible parallel to the external political order. After the death of 'Ali, the Islamic empire lost its spiritual substance and fell into the hands of a worldly dynasty. The saints came to be regarded by many as the real rulers of the world. Nonetheless, there was a certain reticence among Sufi authors when it came to clarifying the nature of sainthood. This reticence was especially evident with respect to the relation of sainthood to the overarching authority of the Prophet Muhammad. Most Sufi spokesmen came down clearly in affirmation of the supreme position of the prophets over that of the saints. Typical of this opinion was Sulami (d. 1021), who said, "The end of the saints is the beginning of the prophets"; this clearly placed the Sufi saint beneath the prophet, for whom the saint was a devoted follower. 8 The same understanding is articulated by other early Sufis such as al-Sairaj (d. 988). 9 This distinction between prophetic and saintly authority was also articulated as theological doctrine. The early Ilanafi creed known as the Fiqh Akbar II (which Wensinck dated to the early tenth century) recognized but distinguished between the wonders (mu jizat) of the Prophets and the miracles (karamat) of the saints. 10 Apart from this dogmatic construction, however, there was always a certain tension between the fixed traditional position of the prophet and the ongoing divine inspiration that was always available in sainthood. 1 1 As a parallel to the final authority of Muhammad as "seal of the prophets" arose the tantalizing phenomenon of the "seal of the saints," a status first outlined by ai-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (ninth century) and claimed in a special sense by Ibn al-'Arabi (d. 1240). 12 8

al-Qushayri. II, 522.

wer) the participants in the ritual seek. In the Ahl-i Haqq tradition, the sacred melodies must not be modified, for singing them in set form revives the state of saintly personalities who have left traces in the music and in the world. Songs ¡May the primary expressive role in the Ahl-i Haqq jam', and their musical modes manifest the spiritual hierarchy which is so significant in the cult of the saints. The spiritual hierarchy appears as an important musical theme in both Sufi and Shi'i contexts. Qureshi and During explain the progression of types of music or mode from the beginning to the end of a ceremony, constructing literally an "effective form" that explicates the spiritual hierarchy, although the senses of spiritual hierarchy are quite different in the two cultures they study. Sufis and Shi'is also share a common devotion to figures such as the Sufi martyr Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 922), whose death on the gallows is invoked by initiatic practices using the ddr-i Mansur ("gallows of Mansur"). Another link with Hallaj is the 'ayn-i jam', a musical ritual common to Bektashis and Ahl-i

18 R u m j , Masnavi, IV, 731-738, 42-43, trans. William C. Chmick, The Sufi Path of Love (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985), p. 325.


Carl W. Ernst

Haqq, which derives its name from a technical term used by Hallaj to indicate the highest mystical experience, "essential union." Music (and dance, too) is also essential to the mystical repertoire of the Alevi movement, a Shi'i group in Turkey. Irene Markoff argues that this music was, until recently, drawn from the folk traditions of the area and was characterized by a richness of regional stylistic diversity, even though the musicians were constrained to choose their repertoire from set regional melody types. When Alevi musicians in the cities began to receive conservatory training, however, a remarkable popularization of the Alevi mystical repertoire took place, and entirely new musical compositions came into use. Earle Waugh used many interviews to study the interaction of saint and singer in Egyptian Sufi ceremonies, or dhikr. Waugh explains that the song of the singer (munshid) is considered to convey the knowledge of the sheikhs, with whom he must have an especially close relationship. In fact, the singer is thought of as if he were a relative of the sheikh, as well as of the friends of God, the saints. The singer works for a long time, often many years, with the saint and pleads to him for help in singing well enough to help his audience, the participants in the dhikr. In each of these four contrasting contexts, there are two common musical factors. One is that performance of the music requires specialists. The Ahl-i Haqq rely on adepts expert in knowing, interpreting and transmitting the music, and also on a chorus of singers Among the Alevis, the musicians are accorded the status of one of the twelve assistants who are named in the ceremonies according to their particular ritual service function. In North India the situation of the musicians is entirely different: they are service professionals, attached to every established sheikh, but entirely outside the spiritual hierarchy. The munshidin of Cairo likewise serve at the pleasure of their sheikhs and strive to transmit the teachings of their order, through songs that may even be communicated by deceased saints. The other factor common to these four traditions is the use of musical instruments to accompany song. For the Ahl-i Haqq and the Alevis in particular, the religious symbolism attached to the musical instruments reflects the groups' complex symbolic system. Veneration of the saints, then, includes a multitude of symbolic acts of recognition of the mediating power that the saints possess. Whether in healing rituals in Sumatra, dreams in Pakistan, pictures of dragons, tombs across the Islamic world, or the songs that praise the saints, the same recognition of saindy power has led to formal acknowledgement of the impact of the saints on Islamic religious life.



SAINTS AND THE POLITICAL ORDER The impact of saints on the political order has been noticed by many observers. The North African historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) remarked that nomadic groups, though ordinarily fractious and undisciplined, can be extraordinarily powerful when mobilized behind the authority of a saint. 19 In addition, most Sufi saints, but not all, have been associated with the brotherhoods or orders that began to proliferate in Islamic countries around the twelfth century. These orders assumed a considerable social and political importance as Sufis, along with the scholars of Islamic religious sciences (the 'ulamá'), formed the twin supports of the new political order that emerged from the wreckage of the caliphate. This overt social extension of Sufism contrasted with the relatively private and less structured character of Sufism in its earlier phase. As Marshall Hodgson observed regarding the growth of medieval Sufi orders, "a tradition of intensive interiorization re-exteriorized its results and was finally able to provide an important basis for social order." 20 Social scientists and historians have only begun to appraise the enormous amount of material relating to the social and political role of the Sufi orders and the saints. 21 Abstract typologies of the historical phases of the Sufi orders, such as the threestage model of J. S. Trimingham, or John Voll's analysis of "Neo-Sufism," have provided heuristic categories for investigation. 22 In practice, however, such typologies inevitably need to be modified according to the dictates of each particular situation. The researches in this volume make important gains in understanding the political aspects of Islamic sainthood in two historical domains out of the many that could have been chosen: the Ottoman empire, typifying the late medieval period of the "gunpowder empires," and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century encounter between Islamic countries and European colonialism. In the study of the Ottoman empire, Anatolia and Rumelia stand out l>ecause of their relatively late Islamization, which took place in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries in Anatolia, and from the fourteenth century onward in Rumelia. Due to this circumstance, it is not surprising that many of the early saints were seen as missionaries. Their task was a double one: on the one hand, ihere were local Christian populations to be contended with. On the other hand, " i b n Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967; reprint ed.. 1989), p. 120. ^ M a r s h a l l G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. II, The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 218. 21 F o r a recent collective survey, see tes Ordres mystiques dans l'Islam: Cheminements et situation actuelle, ed. A. Popovic and G. Veinstein (Paris: Éditions de l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1985). 22 J . Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); John Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modem World (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1982).


Carl W. Ernst

many of the nomadic tribes entering Anatolia during the Seljuk period were but superficially Islamized and could only gradually be persuaded to give up certain of their shamanistic practices. Moreover some of the Mongol tribes entering Anatolia during the period of Mongol overlordship from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-fourteenth century were still fully pagan and demanded yet different strategies of the missionary attempting to convince them of the superiority of the Muslim faith. In the collections of mostly fifteenth-century legends which reflect the viewpoint of the successors to these early missionaries, the different strategies developed under these circumstances have been recounted in some detail.23 From the text of the Vilayet-name ("The Book of Holiness") which contains legends associated with the popular thirteenth-century dervish saint Haci Bekta§, we can deduce that the principal strategy attributed to this saint was to convince his prospective flock of his superior power. Thus Haci Bekta§ of Sulucakaraoyuk near Kir§ehir rides a stone wall and makes it move, to oppose a rival saint, Mahmud Hayran of nearby Ak§ehir who rides a lion. 24 Or else Haci Bekta§ sends a dragon that devours the unbelievers, who after several attempts to convert them, still persist in their unbelief. 25 Occasionally this power may be used to reward people who show mercy toward the saint; thus Haci Bekta§ blesses a Christian woman from a Cappadocian village who shares her bread with him although she herself is very poor. In this case, it is not even necessary for the woman and her fellow villagers to convert; showing devotion to the saint is considered quite enough reason to take part in his blessings. 26 But for the most part, these early saints are portrayed as emphasizing the primary importance of fear as a path leading to God. As Halil Inalcik's study of the fifteenth-century saint Otman Baba demonstrates, this patron saint of the heterodox nomads that had recently immigrated into Rumelia was also a fearsome saint. Thus the saint

Scholars differ regarding the role of saints as missionaries for Islam, and indeed on the role of religion in state formation. Rudi Lindner has made the point that the ghazi image of the early Ottomans as holy warriors for Islam, which Wittek took literally, was created retrospectively by official historians, the ulema who worked in the bureaucracy. Cf. Rudi Paul Lindner, Nomads and Ottomans in Medieval Anatolia, Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, vol. 144 (Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1983), pp. 1-9, 34-36. Using a Protestant model of missions, Thomas Arnold accepted the picture of Sufis as peaceful missionaries in order to counteract the inaccurate image of Islam being spread by the sword; see T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (London, 1896; 3rd ed., London, 1930; reprint ed., Lahore: Shirkat-i-Qualam, n.d.). In an> case, it may be observed that stories about conversion say as much about the people who are telling the story as about those who are its subjects. Cf. the methodologically astute observations of P. Hardy, "Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey of the Literature," in Conversion to Islam, ed. Nehemia Levtzion (Now York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1979), pp. 68-99. 24 Manakib-i Haci Bektdj-i Veil, Vilayet-name, ed. Abdulbaki Golpinarh (Istanbul, 1958), p. 49. 25 Vilayet-name, p. 13. 26 Vildyet-name, p. 23.



of Anatolia and Rumelia stands before his flock as endowed with mysterious powers, which remain all the more fear-inspiring as the connection of the powers of the saint with the realm of God and the Prophet is rarely made very clear to the reader of his legend. At the same time it seems that the dervish saint, to be fully convincing, must occasionally exercise his powers against the secular rulers of the time. In this context, the Vilayet-name of Haci flekta§ is again very instructive: 27 The Governor, Nureddin Hoca (whose figure probably combines reminiscences of the munificent Mongol governor of Kirsehir, Nureddin Caca, with the title of a religious teacher and representative of Islamic law [hoca]), implicitly reproaches Haci Bekta§ for his lack of concern with the outward forms of Islamic worship, and possibly conventional morality as well. 28 When the pious hoca suggests a common prayer, and thereby presumably attempts to test the orthodox views of the saint, the water for (lie ablution is turned to blood. This is probably more than a simple device for making the ablution illegal in the sight of both Nureddin Hoca and Haci Bekta§; the blood also alludes to the inherently violent and oppressive character of all political domination. As a second step, Haci Eekta§ responds to Nureddin's challenge with a complicated prophecy: Nureddin Hoca will be deposed, thrown in prison, saved from blindness only by a remedy indicated to him by the saint, and ultimately die far from his native land, which the legend assumes to be Kirsehir. Of course the prophecy comes true; what is important in our context, is that the saint can predict and therefore possibly even cause the fall from power of what must have been the politically dominating figure in the region. At the same time, Nureddin Caca-Hoca is saved from the ultimate misfortune of blindness by the intervention of the saint, who thereby makes it possible for the governor to continue his political career in another region. This solution would indicate that the author(s) of the Vilayet-ndme had to contend with two basic ambiguities. On the one hand political authority is both violent and unjust and yet is unavoidable; therefore the saint must humble the carriers of political authority but ensure their continued functioning. On the other hand, orthodox religious practice is tinged with violence in such a way that even :hose acts which are usually complacently accepted as meritorious, and even required, become illegitimate. But the author(s) of the Vildyet-name probably found it impossible to even imagine a world in which the political involvement of representatives of orthodox religion did not exist, and the final remark in this episode, namely that the body of Nureddin Caca-Hoca was brought back to be 27 Vilayet-name, pp. 28-31. TO On the historical Nureddin Caca, a Mongol governor of the Kjr;ehir region compare Ahmet Temir, Kirfehir l-rturi CacaogluNural-dm'in 1272 Tarihli Arapfa Mogolca Vakfiyesi, TiitkTatihi Kurum Yaymlarmdan VII, 34 (Ankara, 1959), pp. 8-13, 297-301.


Carl W. Ernst

buried in his native Kirçehir, quite possibly bears witness to this ultimate acceptance. According to Halil tnalcik's study of the legend of Otman Baba, the saint rises to the double challenge posed by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (ruled 1444-46 and 1451-81) and the religious establishment. When Otman Baba successfully predicts the failure of the sultan's Belgrade campaign, the sultan recognizes the saint as the veritable ruler and himself as the latter's humble and filial servant. On the other hand, the ulema of Istanbul are Otman Baba's unrelenting enemies, who after several unsuccessful attempts to have him and his dervishes executed, finally force the Baba to leave the city. Otman Baba may claim to have convinced the ruler of his mission, but in the case of the religious establishment, Otman Baba's defeat is obvious. The ambiguities of religion and political power remain unresolved. Ahmet Yaçar Ocuk shows that the Kalenderi dervishes confronted problems similar to those of Otman Baba. It would seem that Mehmed the Conqueror also attempted to settle these potential rebels in his new capital, where they were accorded a recognized place in the life of the city but could at the same time be kept under supervision. To the ambiguity of heterodox dervishes vis-à-vis the secular ruler there is a corresponding ambiguity of Sultan Mehmed toward the dervishes. From this point of view as from many others, Mehmed II occupies an intermediate position. On the one hand, the founder of the "classical" Ottoman political system did away with many of die methods of rule that had been employed by his predecessors. But at the same time he continued the wary, but not totally negative, attitude of most early Ottoman rulers with respect to the many heterodox dervishes active in Anatolia and Rumclia. The Ottoman-Safavid wars of the sixteenth century were to change all this, and the heyday of Anatolian sainthood was followed by an age of usually anonymous martyrs. After the Ottoman persecution of heretic Kizilba§ dervishes was gradually toned down from the 1590's onward, most survivors found a haven in the expanded and consolidated Bektashi order of dervishes. 29 Suraiya Faroqhi's study shows that in the seventeenth century, Sufi centers (zaviyes) were socially active but politically and religiously quiescent in both the Anatolian and the Rumelian countryside. Yet under the surface of undramatic and routine functioning, the zaviyes continued to play a significant part in local politics. As a channel through which the grievances of ordinary subjects could be passed on to the central administration, the zaviyes remained important. The stakes in the competition between saintly and political power changed drastically with the advent of European colonialism in Islamic lands. The 2Q

*Fuat Köprülü, Türk Halk Edebnati


(Istanbul, 1935), article "Abdal," p. 33.



decapitation of existing monarchies often left only the independent Sufi brotherhoods intact as socio-political structures. Thus it is not surprising that Sufi saints and their followers often led anti-colonial resistance. Even the orders that did not take an activist stance against European powers were perceived as potential threats to be neutralized by inducement or intimidation. Three historical studies deal with Sufi brotherhoods in terms of their tribal connections and their colonial contexts, focusing on Algeria and Somalia in the nineteenth century and Afghanistan in the twentieth. Julia Clancy-Smith explores the life and legacy of the founder of the Rahmaniyya brotherhood, Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Gushtuli or Qushtuli (c. 1715-1800), a Berber saint who was educated in Cairo. Known for his intellectual gifts and his reforming ideas, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman may well have been sent back to his native region to combat what Clancy-Smith has called the "well-publicized irreligion of the [Turkish] deylical regime" at Algiers. An attempt to resolve the tension between die regime and the saint occurred after the saint's death, when the reigning Dey, Hasan, sent a number of Ralimani adherents to bring Sidi 'Abd ai-Rahman's body to Algiers to be buried there, as he had planned to be interred himself alongside Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman. In some hardly comprehensible way, the dead sheikh acquired a second corpse of himself, which was revealed as the "true body" some time after the raid on the Juijura zawiya by the body snatchers from Algiers. After this miraculous episode, the fame of Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman as "the man with two tombs" spread in popular circles as never before, and pilgrims who wished to acquire the baraka of the Sheikh by visiting his grave had a choice, being able to go either to Algiers or to the Jutjura zawiya. Yet the rural background of his adherents and the Berber origin of the saint certainly enhanced and enlarged the importance of this order, making the French invaders of the era after 1830 see the Rahmaniyya, which Louis Rinn called a "true national church," as a group of their most ardent and bitter enemies. The brotherhood maintained its hostility to them without interruption over the greater part of the nineteenth century. The paper by Bradford G. Martin focusses on a Qadiri mystic of Somalia, Sheikh Uways bin Muhammad al-Barawi, as an instance of rivalry between Sufi brotherhoods and tribes in a semi-colonial context. Uways's proselytizing for the Qadiri order went along quite successfully in Somalia, in Zanzibar, and in other parts of East Africa in the late eighteen-eighties and nineties. By the later nineties, however, Uways began to meet opposition from a new and radically different group of Somali Sufis. This was the Salihiyya order, named after Muhammad Salih al-Rashidi (d. 1919), who only organized his order in 1887. Its leader in Somalia was the energetic Muhammad 'Abd Allah Hasan, the (wrongly named) "Mad Mulla." The Somali Qadiriyya was linked with certain Somali tribal elements, and it espoused well-worn theological attitudes, such as prayer for the intercession of saints (tawassul) and visits to tombs (ziyarat al-qubur).


Carl W. Ernst

Uways and his adherents made the error of openly opposing and ridiculing the Salihiyya, drawing attention to their apparent "Wahhabi" views, their doctrinal rigidity, and even the way in which they cut their hair. These exchanges soon degenerated into polemics and intergroup skirmishes, culminating with a Salihi raid in the spring of 1909, in which Uways was assassinated by members of the other tariqa. Among other accusations made by the Salihiyya against Uways and the Qadiris was their alleged closeness or friendly relations with the Italian occupiers of that part of Somalia, but this allegation apparently has no truth to it. Here disputes about the very nature of saintly power, conducted along the lines of tribal alliances, were partly masked by charges of collaboration. David Edwards' study, "The Political Lives of Afghan Saints," presents a convincing portrait of the role of a powerful Naqshbandi Sufi family in the politics of Afghanistan during the twentieth century, and illustrates how tribalism functions as the dominant mode for both politics and religion. The Kabul Hazrats, who initially came to prominence in Afghanistan as a result of their role in resisting the British, also helped frustrate the Westernizing reforms of King Amanullah in the 1920's. They subsequently played a decisive role in the government of successive kings of Afghanistan. With the valuable resource of personal interviews with leading members of the Kabul Hazrat lineage, Edwards charts the consolidation and decline of saintly authority in relation to the Afghan monarchy, and its surprising reconstitution after the Soviet invasion in the current resistance against the Marxist regime. The re-emergence of saintly power in the unusual garb of a modern political party is another testimony to the resilience of sainthood in modern times.

CONCLUSIONS The development of sainthood in Islam must be traced in the Sufi tradition as well as in Shi "ism. Sufism began as an intensive interiorization of Islamic religious practice, and its practitioners mapped out extensive areas of the human psyche in its interaction with the divine; the concept of those who attain closeness to God and are protected by him emerged as the basis for the concept of sainthood. Initiatic authority its developed in Shi'ism also furnished a model for "the friends of God," as they were revered in Alevi, Ahl-i Haqq, and Kalenderi circles. The remarkable penetration of sainthood into many diverse Islamic societies is evident from the studies in this volume. In South and Southeast Asia, Iran, and in the Arab, African, and Turkish regions, saints have acted as the embodiments of Islamic religious tradition for each time and place. The special status of saints was marked by the elaboration of numerous ritual practices to honor "the very special dead," particularly with regard to saints' tombs and the music that is performed for the saints. And in the political arena, the extraordinary command that saints have exerted over their followers has led to



conflict with rival sources of authority, whether they be sultans, other Sufi orders, or invading foreign powers. The notion of human closeness to God that is implicit in the Islamic concept of sainthood has been one of the most powerful and all-embracing phenomena in the history of Islam. Yet the subject of sainthood is not exhausted by the study of its effects in medieval or modern society. 30 There is a constant dialectic between the internal and external aspects of sainthood. Sainthood remains masked by its manifestations. It may be suggested that the common thread in these analyses of Islamic sainthood is the expression of power, with the saints as mediators of that power between God and humanity. Beyond this generality, each situation needs to be further analysed in terms of its historical context and the genre of its mode of expression. This is the case with the tombs of Gayo saints, the dragon images explicated by Persian poetry, the dream-appearances of Sufi sheikhs, and the temporal and physical localization of sainthood in pilgrimage to tombs. Music, in particular, affords a method of emotional directness for expressing and establishing contact with saintly power. The folk-based music of the Alevis and the Ahl-i Haqq, with all its Shi'i associations, necessarily contrasts with the musical traditions of the Indian Chishtis and the munshidin of Cairo, which are linked to specific sheikhs and Sufi orders. Yet the basic principle of making contact with saintly power remains the same. In the political realm, the expressions that we have of saintly power are mostly ex post facto narratives, which justify existing social orders or attack unjust orders through their own historiographies. The tensions between saintly power and the Ottoman imperium iire reflected in the narratives concerning Otman Baba, rural zaviyes, and the Kalendaris. The even more complex tensions around the Algerian Rahmaniyya, the Somalian Qadiriyya, and the Afghan Naqshbandiyya are shown in the encounters of these Sufi orders with colonial powers and the swirling chaos of modern politics. These are only a few of the many portraits that could be drawn of the religious and political impact of the saints on Islamic life. The diversity of sources and approaches found in this volume is an indication of the extraordinary :omplexity of the subject of Islamic sainthood. As it turned out in discussion of these articles at the conference, there was general agreement that we could not meaningfully use simplistic Western sociological concepts of "high" and "low" culture, despite their apparent congruence with the typical Sufi distinction between the existential "elite (.khass)" and the "common ('amm),"31 A gap separates modern theories of in

For an objection to the exclusively political and "external" approach to the study of saints and zaviyes, compare Vincent Cornell, "The Logic of Analogy and the Role of the Sufi Shaykh in Post-Merinid Morocco," International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (1983), pp. 67-93. 31 See Louis Massignon's tantalizing theory of a "real elite" as "improving corrupted social and political situations with their sense of compassion for the universal," in "The Notion of a 'Real Elite' in Sociology and in History," in The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology, ed.


Carl W. Ernst

sainthood from the phenomenon itself; our psychological, socio-political, anthropological, literary, and historical analyses do not necessarily coincide with the perspectives of the Sufis themselves, nor should this be surprising. Yet in recognizing the autonomy of modern scholarship, it is also essential that we pay careful attention to the ways in which representatives of the saintly tradition conceptualize their participation in it. The strength of this collection of papers lies precisely in their reliance on authoritative primary sources, whether found in texts, performances, or in lust-person interviews. It is on the basis of this sort of direct encounter that we can best begin to understand the variety of manifestations of Islamic sainthood.

Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kiiigawa (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1959), pp. 108-114.

Part One Veneration of the Saints


li-TTRODUCTION In this essay I describe the personal mediation of spiritual power in Gayo society, highland Sumatra, Indonesia. The Gayo interpret such power in an Islamic context, as attributes of aulia (Arabic auliyä', pi. of wall, "saint") or kramat (from Arabic pi. of karäma, "miracle"). 1 But they construct it in a cjlturally particular way, as a dialogue between powerful persons and powerful places in an agricultural setting. The Gayo theory of power rests on a distinction between outer and inner attributes of being, with inner attributes the more powerful. Villagers draw on this principle to map relative degrees of spiritual power onto a practical topography of rice fields, hunting grounds, and grave sites. Finally, Gayo have elaborated on the superiority of inner power so as to encompass and delimit the exercise of secular power. Gayo Understandings

of Aulia

Most of the 200,000 Gayo-speaking people of Indonesia live in the h ighland central region of the province of Aceh, in northern Sumatra. My work has centered in the five-village community of Isak, situated in a narrow river valley about thirty kilometers south of the main Gayo town of Takfcngen.2 Each village contains forty to sixty households and two to tliree hundred people. The term wali refers to a close relationship of care or responsibility, either between persons (a g uardian or benefactor) or between God and those beings close to him. The latter relationship is usually rendered as "friends of God," and has its locus classicus in the Qur'an: "Surely God's friends [auliya' Allah] — no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. / Those who believe, and are godfearing — for them is good tidings in the present life and in the world to come. / There is no changing the words of God; that is the mighty triumph" (A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 10:63-65). Although in Arabic auliya' is the plural of wall, in Gayo the two forms refer to different concepts. Gayo use wali primarily to refer to the status of legal guardian, although it can also convey a sense of spiritual legitimacy, as in the phrase kramat wali: "power due to a good spirit tather than a malicious one." Aulia is used to refer to powerful spirits. "Fieldwork in the Gayo homeland took place during twentv-nine months between 1978 and •985. I use the past tense to refer to events that occurred either before or during my fieldwork, i.nd the present tense to refer to ideas or practices which continue to characterize Gayo culture.


John R. Bo wen

The Gayo have been Muslims since at least the seventeenth century. They understand all living things as possessing two forms or aspects: the outer form (lahir, from Arabic zahit), and the inner form (batin, from Arabic batin). Mobilizing spiritual power involves employing skills and knowledge (ilmu, Arabic 'ilm) to reach batin reality through a mediating object or person in the lahir world. The ilmu required for some purposes, such as exorcising a malicious spirit (jinn), is available to anyone who is capable of the necessary degree of spiritual concentration (maripet, from Arabic ma'rifat, "knowledge"). One can bring about many changes in the world with such freely available ilmu: healing the sick, attracting the attention of a member of the opposite sex, or helping a woman to deliver a baby with ease. In all such activities, incense, a particular variety of citrus, and physical movements help to carry power and messages between the inner and outer worlds. 3 Other activities require the active mediation of power by spirits. Isak villagers speak of spirits as aulia, kramat, or jinn Islam. "Aulia," in both singular and plural Gayo grammatical forms, refers to spiritual beings. The quality of spiritualness such beings possess is thought of as physical lightness, as a maximum of inner qualities and a minimum of outer ones. Objects also can be high in inner qualities and thus helpful for the person who wishes to attain the condition of aulia. If people wish to become nearer to God, they will eat only puffed rice, and if they are persistent they will be able to fly through the air with great speed. Isak residents reported how several now deceased residents of the community had performed their Friday ritual prayers first at Mecca, and then immediately afterwards in Isak (I refrained from mentioning the problem of time zones). These people were described as aulia. The last person to be referred to as aulia was Ilyas Leub6, who led the Gayo division in the Acehnese secessionist movement in the 1950s, returned to armed struggle in the 1970s as part of the much smaller Free Aceh movement, and was killed, along with others in his band, in the early 1980s. After L e u W s final disappearance into the hills, Isak and Takfengen people began to recount his ability to disappear just when he was about to be captured, and then to appear in a far-removed place. Leube carried out his struggle in the name of Islam, and his powers were said to result from the intensity of his religious commitment (I.cubii means religious teacher in Acehnese). I have heard of no other living person ever described as aulia While Gayo agreed that aulia has to do with inner qualities, they offered two different characterizations of aulia beings. Most Isak villagers emphasized

3 John R. Bowen, "Islamic Transformations: From Sufi Poetry to Gayo Ritual," in Indonesian Religions in Transition, ed. S. Rodgers and R. Kipp (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987), pp. 113-135.

Graves, Shrines and Power


the availability of aulia as mediators of power for practical needs. Some villagers, reflecting a more orthoprax orientation within local Islam (and also, to a certain extent, the influence of reformist Islam), depicted aulia as a separate, exemplary community of worshipping beings. I will discuss each in turn. Aulia as Exemplary Community. The view of aulia as members of an exemplary community of good Muslims calls to mind the notion of saint as exemplar common to Islamic and Christian traditions.4 The following description of an aulia community came in the course of a broader discussion of Islamic jinn (spirits), and contains both a religious and a political message. The speaker was a religious official in Isak, aid thus represented a more orthoprax position within the community. T h e r e are good and bad jinn [he said]. T h e Islamic jinn are people w h o have been taken away because they are very pious. They do not die, but b e c o m e aulia, which is to say I s l a m i c j i n n . T h e y have a village at B u r G e g a r a n g [several kilometers into the forest], and their m o s q u e is at Kala M p a n . T h e y have bodies just as w e do, but w e cannot see t h e m unless they take us there t h e m s e l v e s . T e u n g k u Ubit was taken to their m o s q u e once by o n e of t h e m and saw it, even prayed there. But he died a natural death and did not b e c o m e o n e of them. T h e y speak Acehnese there, even if they did not k n o w it b e f o r e h a n d and even if they were Gayo. It isn't hard to learn it. People say that Sapi'i [a man w h o lived in Kramil village], w h o m the local police tried to kill during the Gestapu massacres [in late 1965 after a C o m m u n i s t c o u p attempt] b e c a m e an Islamic jinn. They could not kill him. He was a good man. T h e y are good; they worship and cultivate rice j u s t like us, but don't talk much. They could not be bad [another villager had said to m e that they were]; they are even mentioned in the final part of the salat prayer, w h e r e you say "salihin" [Arabic salih, "pious"].

In characterizing aulia as a parallel community of humans, distinguished only by their spiritual nature and by their exemplary Islamic behavior, the speaker moved freely amcng die terms aulia, jinn, and salihin. I heard the terms used interchangeably frequently; they refer to a spiritual quality, not to a pantheon or typology of beings. The aulia were represented as human in form ;md habit, but superior in quality. They grow rice, live in a village, pray in a mosque, and, by contrast to chatty Isak villagers, they "don't talk much." When (hey do speak, they use Acehnese, llie precolonial language of religious education for the Gayo. 5 Aulia exemplified how Gayo ought to be, but they did so 1 For example, Michael Gilsenan, Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt: An Essay in the Sociology of Jieligion (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973); Peter Brown, "The Saint as Exemplar in Late \ntiquity," Representations, 1. no. 2 (1983), 1-25. '"lie nearest sources of higher Islamic education in the pre-colonial and colonial periods were Acehnese religious schools, and some older men still have books of religious sayings in


John R. Bowen

anonymously, in contrast to the individualized exemplars who form the Christian set of saints or, closer to home, the Javanese wali. 6 In a more somber vein, the aulia included among their number one or more people who were killed by the state as suspected members of or sympathizers with the Indonesian Communist Party. Four Isak residents were killed in the massacres of late 1965. Direct accusations against those who took part in the massacres were dangerous to make even twenty years later; in any case, Gayo generally have accepted the ideology of the massacres, na'id al-Din Varavini, Marzuban-nama (622/1223), cd. M. Rushan (2 vols.; Tehran: Intisharat-i Bunyad-i Farhang-i Iran, 1978), p, 96-97.


N , izami, Sharaf-nama, ed. V. Dastgardi (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1936), p. 244. Attar, lldkt-ndma, p. 264-265. Asadi Tusi, Garshasp-nama, p. 475-476. (jurgani, Vis va Ramin, p. 117, 34 Olto-Dorn, "Figural Stone Reliefs," p. 131, considers the dragons that flank the luminaries anc, the rulers as threatening gestures, a function that she derives from their role in the eclipses of the sun and moon. 31


Abbas Daneshvari Don't e x p e c t the world to be g o o d to y o u The snake is o n l y [made] kind by the p o w e r of magic. 3 -*

And wc read in Miftah al-najat (522/1128) that "The world is like a snake, poisonous and vicious. Hut lie who knows the magic of handling it benefits from it." 3 6 And who knows this magic better than the prophets, saints and the enlightened! For this particular meaning of the dragon is rooted in the story of Moses' rod turned magically into a dragon to destroy the dragons transformed from die rods of the Pharaoh's magicians. 3 7 Thus by virtue of wizardry the dragon is transformed into a godly rather than a satanic one The poet Rashid Vatvat (d. 573/1183) acknowledges that only a divine miracle can turn a rod into a dragon and thus his dragon is imbued with divine attributes. 38 In Rumi's (d. 672/1273) Masnavi the dragon of Moses' rod is the epiphany of justice and g o o d . 3 9 In fact, in the hands of the righteous and the just the dragon is metamorphosed into the ultimate symbol of good. Jami writes: His l a n c e has magic,U qualities like M o s e s ' rod For in the battle it appears to the e n e m y as a d r a g o n . 4 ^

For the mystic this reversal in the meaning of the dragon is accomplished on every imaginable plane The awful dragon of death is for the Sufi a symbol of freedom from this world and its attachments. It is freedom from need, and contentment; the dragon of greed is thus for the enlightened the dragon of freedom and detachmcnt This point comes across very clearly in the story of "Buluqya va 'Affan" when the two friends in search of Solomon's signet conic across the dragon guarding it. As they leap back in fright there comes a voice from the Court of God: ''If lliou woulds't have the kingdom of Solomon practice contentment for that is (lie eternal kingdom that overshadows even the disc of the sun." 41 We know of c o u w that it is the dragon that overshadows the disc of the sun and it is therefore the dragon that symbolizes contentment. The notion of dragon as death, and theieiore detachment and contentment, leads to one of the strongest bonds between the Sufi and the dragon. This point is best brought across in a story about \hu Harnza Khurasani, as narrated by the mystic alHujwiri (d. 469/1076): It is w e l l k n o w n thai o n e day he f e l l into a pit. After three days had p a s s e d a party o f travelers approached. A b u H a m z a said to h i m s e l f : "I will call o u t to


Asjadi Marvazi, Dhän, ed. 1 Nhabäb (Tehran: Tahiiri, 1955), p. 31. Ahmad Jam Zhinda I'd, ed.



38 3

Fäzil (Tehran: lMishärat-i Bunyád-i Faihang-t Irán, 1968). p. 150.

12:107; 26:32.

R a s h i d Vatvat, Diván, p. 35 i

®Rümi. Masnavi,

ed. and trans K. A. Nicholson (3 vols.: London: Luzac & Co., 1977), 1, 145.


J ä m i , Divan, p. 18.


"Auár, Haiti -noma, p. 265.

The Iconography of the Dragon


them." Then he said: "No; it is not good that I seek aid from anyone except God, and I shall be complaining of God if I tell them that my God has cast me into a pit and implore them to rescue me." When they came up and saw an open pit in the middle of the road, they said: "For the sake of obtaining divine recompense (thawdb) w e must cover this pit lest anyone should fall into it." Abu Hamza said: "I became deeply agitated and abandoned hope of life. After they blocked the mouth of the pit and departed, I prayed to God and resigned myself to die, and hoped no more of mankind. When night fell I heard a movement at the top of the pit. I looked attentively. The mouth of the pit was open, and I saw a huge animal like a dragon, which let down its tail. I knew that God had sent it and that I should be saved this way. I took hold of its tail and it dragged me out. A heavenly voice cried to me, 'this is an excellent escape of thine O Abu Hamza! W e have saved thee from, death by means of a death.'" 4 2

It is obvious that the pit symbolizes this life, and that the dragon, which is now a friend and an ally of the saint, is the means of freedom from it. In another example, 'Attar narrates that when Caliph al-Mansur decided to kill Imam Sadiq a dragon saved the imam by threatening the Caliph's life. 43 We know of many other stories about the close friendship between saints and dragons. A dragon is supposed to have walked into a mosque and prostrated itself before 'Ali ibn Abi Talib 4 4 and the great mystic Sheikh Abi Sa'id had kept company with many dragons during his retreats. Through his fellow traveling sheikhs he would always send his regards to these dragons. 45 Likewise we learn in Tarikh-i Yazd about a number of Sufis who kept company with snakes. These snakes would disappear when their privacy was interrupted 4 6 Al-Hujwiri relating the high degree of asceticism attained by 'Abd Allah ibn Mubarak alMarvazi, writes: "He repented and devoted himself to study, and entered upon a life of asceticism in which he attained such a high degree that once his mother found him asleep in the garden, where a great snake was driving the gnats away from him with a spray of basil which it held in its mouth." 4 7 It is now obvious that the dragon that guards the earthly treasures is readily transformed by the Sufi into the dragon that guards the divine and heavenly treasures. As 'Attar writes, "You are a treasury of spirituality and where


' A l i ibn 'Uthmän al-Hujwiri (d. 469/1076), The Kashf al-Mahjüb, ed. and trans. R. A. Nicholson (London: Luzac & Co., 1970), p. 96. 43 Fand al-Din 'Attär, Tadhkirat al-Auliyä', ed. M. Isti'lämi (Tehran: Zavär, 1967), p. 21. ^Pasä'i, AOtdahä dar asätir Iran, p. 234. 45 ^bi Sa'id ibn Abi Tähiribn Abi Sa'id Mihaiu. Asrär al-tauhulfi maqiiimil Sheikh AbiSa"id, ed Z Safa' (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1965). p. 220-201. 46

I a ' f a r ibn Muhammad ibn Hasan Ja'fari, Tarikh-i Yazd (732/1333), ed. I. Afshar (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1966), pp. 86, 118. 47

Al-Hujwiri, The Kashf al-Mahjüb, p. 96


Abbas Daneshvari

your treasure is, there is a dragon." 4 8 To put it differently, when the treasure is poverty and contentment, then the dragon is a sign of spirituality and of an enlightened state of being.. Last and perhaps most significant is the astrocosmological role of the dragon in the cult of the saints. Dragons are the devourers of light. For the Sufi, being devoured by a dragon (death) is an acknowledgement of being (a treasury of) light, and as dragons are the guardians and givers of light then the dragon is also a sign of everlasting life in the light that is God. An excellent example of this concept is made in a mid-sixteenth century Turkish drawing, attributed to Shahkulu, in which a cartouche or a signet bearing the inscription "And I commit myself to God" is flanked by a simurgh and a dragon (fig. 11). It is obvious that the cartouche is an allusion to the sun and to saintly ideals, as the pious inscription easily confirms. Here, then, as the simurgh (the western dragon) and the dragon flank the signet they symbolize light, and by inference the luminosity of its maker. Since the two dragons symbolize light, then what is contained between them, be it a political figure or a religious person or even a concept, is also light. In other words, to be devoured by the dragon is proof of being a luminous body, and since this luminous body is reborn from the dragon, it is a sign of its everlastingness. To summarize, the reader can readily gather that even as the dragon represents greed, earthly attachment and earthly treasures, it can in the case of the saint and the prophet, by virtue of wizardry and holy magic, represent detachment from the material world and contentment. Moreover, the symbolism of dragon as darkness and death, as frightening as it is for the common man, is a welcome state of being for the Sufi and stands for the mystic's ultimate redemption and release from the life that so many saints call the pit. The dragon is thus the protector of the saint. Above all, the dragon's luminary symbolism is doubleedged. On the one hand, as the devourer of light it acknowledges that the saint is light, and on the other hand as the giver of light it allows for life everlasting into light. Now we can easily identify the presence of dragons on saintly objects, shrines, mosques, and tombs. The two dragon heads on a seventeenth-century Safavid begging bowl (kashkul) of the Sufi Darvish Amir 'Abbasi (fig. 4), the dragon painted on the wall of the nineteenth-century tomb at Amul d i g . 2), and the knotted dragons of the ihirteenth-century Amir Saltuk tomb tower at Erzerum (fig. 3) are identifying signs of the saintly man by virtue of their meanings as contentment and detachment from need. The dragons stand for poverty and ultimately separation from this world. Most of all, they refer to the light symbolism of the saint and his saintly life. The general significance of the 48 Farid al-Din •Altar, Divan, o: S Naiisi (Tehran: Sana'i, 1960), p. 23.

The Iconography of the Dragon

Fig. 1 - Dragons in the spandrels of the Shrine of Turbat-i Sheikh Jam, restored under Shall 'Abbas I. After Hillenbrand.

Fig. 2 - Dragon on the wail of Imamzade 'Abbas near Amul Persia, 19th century. After Hillenbrand.



Abbas Daneslivari

Fig. 5 - Dragons on the pistitaq of the mosque of Anau. Timurid, 1446. After Pugachenkova.

The Iconography of the Dragon


Pig. 6 - Confronting and entwined dragons with fish from the Obakoy Madrassa, Alanya. Turkey, 13tli century. After Oney.

Fig. 7 - Tombstone with confronting dragons and a sun disk, Karahisar Museum. Turkey, 13th century. After Otto-Dorn.

Fig. 3 - Confronting and entwined dragons from the Amir Saltuk Mausoleum at Erzurum. Turkey, late 12th century. After Otto-Dorn.

Fig. 10 - Confronting dragons on a candlestick. Persia, Timurid, 15th ccntury. After Pope.


Abbas Daneshvari

Fig. 11 - A dragon and a simurgh flanking a cartouche that reads: "I commit myself to God." Turkey, 15tli century. After Rozenzeig.

The Iconography of the Dragon


dragon on these objects, as well as those found on tombstones and in shrines, is to indicate the sphere of the heavens. The strategic placement of dragons on arch spandrels of such mosques as Anau from the fourteenth-century (fig. 5), or the Kiosk Mosque of Sultan Han near Kayseri (1232-1236)49 are clear references to the ideals of poverty, contentment, and the kingdom of heaven that are embodied in Ihe Islamic mosque. An interesting example of entwined dragons with fish is found at the Obakoy madrasa in Alanya (fig. 6). Here the combination of dragon and fish points to the saintly iconography of the motif. In the language of the Sufi the fish is a symbol of the soul residing in the paradisiacal fountain (kawthar). In Rumi's poetry, if you leave serpenthood, you shall reside forever as a fish in kawthar. 50 Furthermore, in the eyes of the Sufi and the devout, the dragon of contentment deifies and apotheosizes the believer to swim everlastingly in God's paradisiacal fountain.

49 K u r t Erdmann, Das Anatolische Karavansaray XII. 50

S.;himmel, The Triumphal Sun, p. 112.

(2 vols.; Berlin: Verlas Gebr. Mann, 1961) I pi


There are many similarities between mysticism and music. In the East the m jsician, like the saint, is the owner of the quasi-supernatural power to stir the emotions without any "natural" causes. His power is not far from the performance of miracles or at least healing. Ethos in traditional music leads to ethic; it is a science which is transmitted in an initiatic way, like that of the Sufi sheikhs. Like them, the music master delivers to his initiated disciples an official authorization (ijaza) to transmit his teachings in his name. The validity of a mjsic master leads back to a chain of transmission similar to that of Sufi isnad and silsila. Very often this chain (gharana in Indian music) is restricted to one family of hereditary masters (called khalifa) which keeps the secrets of the art through the centuries. In some cases, the students are attached to their master and his school by a kind of initiation. This, too, is similar to Sufi organisation and hereditary sainthood. Thus, in oriental traditions the great music masters retain a highly revered authority (often posthumous) which is not less than diat of Sufi sheikhs. Many aspects of the relationship between disciple and music master, as well as the method of teaching and the ethic and behaviour of musicians, parallel those of the Sufis. It is mostly in the ritual of the samd' that the affinities between these two domains appear obvious. First, the sama' is most often attached to the cult of a particular saint: it is his baraka and his intercession that is demanded. Beyond the polemic on the legality of music, this point was one of the main arguments of the detractors of the sama', like Ibn Taymiyya: 1 by turning towards an iniercessor and guide other than die Prophet, the Sufis fell under the accusation of associationism (shirk) and infidelity (kufr). This problem is particularly crucial as far as sama' is concerncd, since this ritual is at the center of the miraculous phenomena and ecstatic states that appear to the adepts as the concrete prxrf of the intervention of the interceding saint; this is suggested in the term hadra (presence) which sometimes designates that kind of ritual. In the face of

^fcn Taymiyya, Kitab al-sama' wa 'l-raqs, in Majmu'al al-rasa'il (2 vols., Cairo, 1905), p. 284.


Jean During

these "proofs," Ibn Taymiyya lias recourse to the ultimate argument: the ecstatic states are merely cases of demoniac possession. 2 Sama', however, with zikr and music, remains one of the essential pillars of mystical experience and the cult of the saints. We shall develop this double aspect in a specific tradition in which sacred music holds an outstanding place and role: that of the Ahl-i Haqq mystics of Iranian Kurdistan who constitute a ta'ifa rather than a Sufi order. Our research relies on close contacts with several groups and clans (khanadans) established in Tehran and abroad, and in the district of Saline. The Ahl-i Haqq often consider themselves to be on the margin of Islam, or even outside it, but some of them claim to be a mystical branch of Twelver Shi'ism. Whatever the definition they (or the orientalists) give themselves, it is a form of marginal Shi'ism, and primarily a mystical trend deeply marked by Islamic gnosis ('irfan). If one objects saying that this group is not representative enough of Islamic culture, we would argue that neither is the concept of sainthood itself specifically Islamic: it is rooted in former traditions, the traces of which have been more deeply preserved by the Kurdish Ahl-i Haqq.

THE PLACE OF MUSIC IN TOE AHL-I HAQQ WAY The Ahl-i Haqq preserve the memory of their saints (or rather the members of the cosmic hierarchy, particularly the Seven, Haftan) by means of sacred texts ( d a f t a r , kalam) written in various Kurdish dialects (and also in Turkish). These texts in verses are recited or chanted by heart by some adepts specialised in knowing, interpreting and transmitting them without alteration: they are the kalamkhwdn or reciters. By extension, this term designates also the singers who chant these texts and often accompany themselves with (or are accompanied by) the lute (tanbur) during gatherings or sessions called jam (jam') in which a zikr is performed. These gatherings, occurring generally once a week, are made up of mainly two phases of zikr: psalmody of the kalam sustained by the tanbur, and rythmic singing of the kalam or other texts in which the choir alternates the invariable repetition of a formula (sarband) with the cantilation of the kalam by a kalamkhwan on the same melody. Several sarbands and melodies can be linked together; they are often marked by regular clapping of the hands, and sometimes the frame drum or d a f f . This second part generally reaches its peak with an acceleration of the tempo corresponding to the increasing enthusiasm of the participants 5

~Ibid„ p. 291: see J. Michoi. "I.'lslam et le monde: al-Ghazâli et Ibn T a y m i y y a à propos de la musique." Études d'Anthropologie Philosophique III: L'Homme et la Culture (Louvain, 1988), pp. 246-267. 3 About this ritual and its muMC, cf, Jean During, Musique et mystique dans les traditions de l'Iran (Paris: IFRI - Peeters, 1989 >

The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


On the whole this ritual does not display remarkable distinctiveness when compared with the zikr gatherings of other dervish groups or brotherhoods.4 It is quite similar to the zikr of the Kurdish Qadiris, and especially the Khaksar who share many things with the Ahl-i Haqq. But an important difference is that the Ahl-i Haqq never use the technical form of the zikr with rhythmic and specific breathing. The dervishes limit themselves to the singing of the melodies and the sarbands of the traditional repertory which share very few elements with the classical zikr formulas of the Sufis. One of them might utter to himself a brief formula (most often haqq or hu), but collective litany never occurs beside the traditional sarbands. But what particularly distinguishes the Ahl-i Haqq from other groups is the importance given to music and the representation and symbolic interpretations relating to it. The first specific feature of this music is its sacred and secret, highly specific and original character. It is performed exclusively in the jams (whether formal or informal), which are extremely restricted. It is never heard in public places, not even through recordings;5 it is played on the tanbur, a two-stringed lute (one string being generally double) whose function is fundamentally sacred. Ahl-i Haqq music is basically very distinct from other Kurdish or Iranian musical forms, although with time some profane elements of the Kurdish lore mingled with the ancient sacred repertory. Some kalamkhwans make the distinction by using the terms majazi (derivative), as opposed to haqiql (authentic or divine). Ahl-i Haqq melodies consist of two distinct genres: 1) the choruses (sarbands) to be sung in alternation with a choir; 2) the non-measured tunes which are chanted by a soloist or played on the instrument alone. In addition, there are some rythmic tunes which are purely instrumental, without text. The repertory of sarbands with its specific melodies is rather extensive; some of them are particular to a group or a region, some are found in other groups, often with variants. I have been able to collect from among different gioups about 200 sarbands (including the variants), but most often, the number of sarbands ordinarily used by a group does not exceed forty. Let us point out that some groups or khanadans possess a much more important or well preserved tradition than others; this is particularly the case with the Guran ethnic group (khanadan Yadagari and Shah Ibraliimi), as well as the Shah Hayasi Kurds. (By contrast, the Atesh-Begi clan, for instance, although important, has a limited musical tradition).


T h e main difference lies in Ihe other parts of the jam', fo lowing a very precise ritual.

the consecration of a ritual meal

5 This is no longer the case of the sacred music of the Alevi-Bektashis, a group close to the Ahl-i Kiiqq. The Alevi bards (Turkish apk, Arabic 'ashiq), who animate the soma' gatherings of their community, have also a wider audience as popular singers.


Jean During

T h e repertory of non-measured melodies includes modal tunes called dastgah or maqam, the number of which also differs according to the interpreters and the specific traditions of cach group. About a dozen are m o r e or less k n o w n by all tanbur players, but the totality of the repertory, preserved only among a very close group, comprises about thirty important dastgahs. W e will see now how music enables the adepts to establish links with the saints of ancient times, and how these saints h a v e transmitted something of themselves within, or through, music. The modes mentioned here belong to the common lore of the richest Ahl-i Haqq musical traditions.

T H E C O S M I C H I E R A R C H Y A N D ITS C O R R E S P O N D E N C E I N M U S I C A L STRUCTURES The Ahl-i Haqq saints belong to different categories: at the top of the hierarchy is the total manifestation of the Divine Essence in human existence (zat-bashar), that is, the theophanies (maihar allah) like Sultan Saliak (or Ishaq), the founder of the order m the fourteenth or fifteenth century, or the Imam 'Ali. Nearly on the same level are the partial manifestations of the Essence, like Shah Khushin (eleventh century) or, after him, Baba N a ' u s . There cannot be more than o n e of them on earth. Below (hem are the beings who on this earth were the hosts ( z a t - m i h m a n ) of the Essence, like Baba Jalil. T h e n c o m e s a class of a different nature which submits to the authority of the former: it consists of the p l e r o m a of the Seven ( H a f t a n ) w h o are the i n c a r n a t i o n s of the Seven Archangels. 6 Below the Seven are found many other hierarchical strata of lesser importance in the ritual and the myths 7 Let us, however, mention the Chilian (the Forty), whose existence seems only celestial; each of them has a portion of the Divine Essence, so that they are all like one single being. This myth is k n o w n in other Sufi or mystic traditions, m a i n l y Turkish B e k t a s h i s a n d Azarbayjani Kirklars, a sect related to Ahl-i Haqq and Alevis. These spirits, or souls, incarnate and reincarnate themselves from cycle to cycle (dawr) and the Ahl-i Haqq mystics expect them from one generation to the next. W h e n they recognize one, they follow and serve him. Their m e m o r y is preserved by the sacred kalams that are most often chanted during the j a m . Some of these saints have given their name to a chapter of the main book of the order, the Kalain-i Saranjatn, such as Dawr-i B a b a Jalil, Kalam-i D a w u d , Dawra-yi

^'lliese beings may also, insie.ul of assuming a human form, visit a person or dwelt in him; he will be called the host of this Archangel (for instance: Binyamin-mihman). 7

They are mainly the Seven Powers (Haftawana), a lower and more human homologue of the Seven, the Chilian, the 72 p r s , etc. For a complete discussion, see M. Mokri, trans., intro. and comm. on Nur 'Ali Shah Elahi. L'Esotcrisme Kurde (Paris: Albin Michel, 1966).

The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


Haftawana, etc.; some others constitute separate books like Kalam-i Khan Almas, Kalam-i Sheikh Amir, etc. 8 Besides these texts, some of the modal melodies (dastgah or maqam) of the mystical repertory bear the name of some of the great Ahl-i Haqq: Baba Sarhang, Shah Khushini, 'Abidini, Yadagari, etc. These names are of great importance for the adepts. Some of the names are (or were) related to parts of the kalam referring to them, parts ¡hat were sung in a specific melody which bears their names (so the kalam concerning 'Abidin was sung in the 'Abidini dastgah); other poems can be sung in the same mode and it is probable that with time the link between kalam and dastgah loses its specificity). In some cases, there exists no precise tradition concerning these personalities: thus they only survive through the tunes to which they gave their names, or in some cases through the choruses that mention them. Their implicit mention in the name of the melodies leads back to a fabulous time, to a mythical dimension where the word keeps silent (mythos, mutos = silence) and where only music can speak. As far as form is concerned, we can divide these melodies in two types: 1) regular modes, following a heptatonic classic order, always referring to the cadence fourth or fifth (so that at least one of these two intervals is perfect)-this system is almost universally used in the East; 2) the modes that can be called irregular, which proceed by accumulation of intervals (tone / half tone / tone / hdf tone), or by chromatism, without aiming at the classical cadence of fifth or fourth. (Instead, their cadence, or, transposition is often done on the minor third, a very unusual modulation). These modes or melodies contrast strongly with the usual modes of the East. They sound strained, unstable, dark, and strange. Musical analysis of these modes shows that those bearing the name of a theophany, or manifestation of the Divine Essence, like Baba Sarhang or Shah Kliushin, belong to the regular genre, whereas those which have the name of members of the hierarchic rank of the Seven (the Haftan, who are inferior to the first ones), belong to the irregular type. More striking (since no Ahl-i Haqq seems to be aware of it) is the fact that the three main theophanies who preceded Sultan Sahak have given their name respectively to three modes in which the tonic (or reference) note moves gradually one step up, while the rest of the scale remains the same. Baba Sarhang: C D E F G A Bb Shah Khushin: C D E F G A Bb Baba Na'us:

C D E F G A B b C

o "Only a few fragments of them have been published, Fer a complete bibliography until 1964 see "Ahl-i adaptation in verses has been written in the early Jayhunabàdï, Shàhnàma-i haqïqat, haqq al-haqàyiq adaptation (rejected by the adepts) has been edited by Kurdistan (Leiden, 1953).

like Dawra-i Haftawana, Chilian, Wazâwar. Hakk," Enyclopedia of Islam. A Persian twentieth century by H â j j Ni'mat Allah (Tehran: Husayni, 1363/1984). Another Wladimir Ivanow, The Truth Worshippers of


Jean During

This cannot be mere coincidence. First, the scale itself is relevant: it is from the most regular type, and is used throughout Iran; it presents a kind of serene perfection that fits a music of royal character, as is required by the celebration of the theophany. To these three modes (dastgah) can be added Tarz-i Yari (from yar, the eternal Beloved, one of the names of the personal God for the Ahl-i Haqq). It is also played on the same scale, but its tonic is not so clearly defined. Baba Jalili, too, a m be quoted, on the scale: C Db E F G Ab

The raised second provides this mode a less stable and less balanced character, perhaps due to the fact that Baba Jalil is not a pure manifestation (zatbashar) but only a being in whose soul the Essence dwells, or is host to it (zat mihman). 9 Opposed to these clear, brillant, solar modes are those corresponding to the Haftan which belong to the second type; they appear irregular, imperfect, strained, and much more pathetic. For instance, to limit ourselves to two examples: Sheikh Amiri (host of one of the Seven, lived in the eighteenth century): C D E b F Gb A b

'Abidini (one of the Seven, fifteenth century): £

D b E b Fb G b


From an aesthetic and symbolic viewpoint, these characters may be explained this way: the Seven (Hafian) are only companions of the theophany, satellites of the pole. In spite of their eminent cosmic rank, they arc still we;ik and imperfect in relation to the theophany. Their lives are spent in the expectation of the comma of the divine manifestation, and when they attract or find him, they are submitted to various trials, followed by that of separation. On the contrary, in the Ahl-i Haqq view, the mazhar allah is invested with all the divine powers (even if he does not unveil all of them); he is not a man who has received or gained these powers, but the manifestation of divine attributes in human form. These beings do not suffer separation from the Principle, they do not experience the inner wound as do the mystics; in them there is no drama, no tension, only absolute and free power. By contrast, the Seven (and mainly the Seven below, Haftawana) represent the human condition, the human level of mystical life, with its lunging and suffering, and finally its aspiration to union

On the other hand, if no mode has been given the name of Sultan or 'Ali, it may be because their Essence is everywhere and cannot be limited to a specific form; that is also why each day of the week is related to one of the S ven, while the divine manifestation owns all of it.

The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


wi th the One. Thus, the melodies of the Ilaftan or Haftawana never reach the octave, the symbolic meaning of which is the achievement of the scale and the passage to the transcendental level. When they reach the fifth, as in the initial m o v e m e n t of Kaka


C D E F Q Ab Bbb,

it is only to climb barely a few chromatic tones, without ever reaching the octave; in other cases, it is the sequence: tone / half tone / tone / half tone, leading to a lowered fourth and a fifth, that suggests the pressure of an inner progression which never finds quietude and rest on the perfect fourth or fifth. During the unfolding of the jam, these tunes are played in the beginning, ar.d are always followed by other melodies of a less tragic and gradually more exalted character. This progression follows the affective and imaginal progression of the participants: die first phase is pathetic, expressing culpability and remorse; dervishes cry and sob; gradually the mood becomes more positive and can culminate in enthusiasm and ecstasy. Progressively the Divine Essence itself, personified by 'Ali or Sultan, or only invoked under his Names (haqq, hu, Shall, Khawandagar) irradiates (tajalli) within the jam which becomes the epiphanic place of the Essence (mahall-i zuhur-i zat). Several sarbands confirm this event, for example: Sham ama Sham ama/Shahanshah 'i shahan ama The King comes. The King comes / The Shahanshah of the kings comes.

or: Sultan sar jam' hit hu /Zdtash wa jam' hit hu Sultan is at the head of the jam/ His essence is in the jam.

or: Ydr didagani Shah mayu /Palash wa didam babayu babayu Beloved friend, the King arrives / His feet on my eyes, he must come, he must come.

The outstanding point is that Ahl-i Haqq music has been elaborated in such a way that this process is reflected in its form, without the adepts being clearly aware of this organisation. In addition to these formal aspects, the symbolic dimension of music, in its relation to saints and personalities of the Order, appears in other areas of Ahl-i Haqq life.


Jean During

SYMBOLS AND IMAG1NAL DIMENSION Some Sufi or mystical orders show a particular veneration for certain instruments. The ney of the Mevlevi dervishes is an example; more sacred are the drums (daff) and the flute (shababa) of the Yezidis in front of which the adept has to prostrate himself. Among the Ahl-i Haqq, the tanbur is considered a sacred instrument that people kiss as a relic, from which emanates a beneficial vibration (Persian asar, Arabic athar). Its status, its sacralization and asar are said to have been conferred on it by Shall Khushin, the great tlieophany of the eleventh century, who promoted this instrument's exclusive use in the s a m a \ 'Hie wood and the design of the tanbur, too, evoke the saints of the order: the mulberry, from which the tanbur is made, is the tree of Binyamin (incarnation of the archangel Gabriel), and the fourteen frets (consisting of two series of seven) recall die double hierarchy of the Seven and the Heptad (Haftan and Haftawana), or the Shi'i fourteen Immaculates (chaharda ma'sum)u] In a sarband, we find the metaphor clearly expressed: "Binyamin is the string, Dawud is (lie song" (Binyamin sima, Dawud awdza). An important tradition says that When

Shah Khushin disappeared, he established a pact with his


" T h i s t a n b u r that is in y o u r h a n d d o e s not t a k e the t u n i n g a n y m o r e . W h e n y o u g a t h e r a n d t h e t a n b u r t a k e s t h e s a m e t u n i n g a g a i n , then I s h a l l m a n i f e s t m y s e l f (zahir


To lake the tuning means a tuning that could produce particular spiritual sounds and sonorities. This anecdote also expresses in another way the idea that the Divine Essence manifests Itself within the jam when the hearts are in harmony, and when music induces ecstasy by means of appropriate melodies. 11 The concept of "spiritual notes" is not to be taken in its outward meaning; rather it consists of an effect (asar) coming out of the spiritual power of die interpreter of (he jam. The myth suggests also several points: that the physical presence of the tlieophany establishes a subtle musical harmony in the core of the jam; that reciprocally the realisation of this harmony attracts die theophany; that the descending of the tlieophany may be momentary and immaterial, but also concrete. Indeed, when after a few decades the tanbur found the right tuning, the Essence appeared in the manifestation of Baba Na'us. So the unity of the believers in the jam may be able to interfere in sacred history by activating the cycles of manifestation of high spiritual personalities.

frets are arranged 111 iwo groups of seven. 11

Nur 'Ali Dahi, Athar al-luiw (Tehran: Tahuri, 1358), nos. 1730, 1881; see also the Persian text edited by W. lvanow, The Truth Worshippers of Kurdistan ( U i d e n , 1953), p. 118. (See also note 12 below).

The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


This phenomenon is illustrated by a parable of remarkable symbolic dimension. It leads back to the beginning of this century, to the group of Hajj Ni'mat Allah (d. 1920), a sheikh of outstanding spiritual charisma. He held jams in the court of his house with a few of his dervishes who played several instruments: Each time we were performing the zikr, a bright thing came, like a white hawk, rested on a young tree recently planted, and went away when the zikr ended. There was however no hawking in the region and nobody knew where it was coming from. The white hawk (or royal eagle) is nothing less than the symbol of Sultan Sahak, the divine manifestation. According to the sacred tradition, his coming had been announced in that form. The initiates formed a circle of zikr and the bird appeared. It settied on the breast of Khatun Razbar and took the form of a baby: thus was born Sultan Sahak. 12 The remarkable point here is that the myth of the tlieophany is revived in such an intense way during the zikr that its symbolic expression becomes a reality. Let us point out again that it is no mere, ordinary hawk, attracted by die zi-icr, like some animals occasionally are; nor is it a collective hallucination due to feverish imagination. No, we are here in the domain of the imaginal (mundus imaginalis, not imaginary,'alam-i misal), in which eternal realities are dressed in symbolic forms, become archetypes (mujarrad-i khiyal) which can be seen by i2 See NUT 'Ati Shah Elahi, L'Esoterisme Kurde, trans. M. Mokri (Paris, 1966), p. 47. A lyrical version of this myth is also given in Hajj Ni'mat Allah Jayhunabadi, Shahmima i haqiqat, haqq alhaqayiq (Tehran, 1363/1984), verses 6535-6575. This interaction is also expressed in the myth of the mystical hunt, where members of the Seven are going in search of the divinity who takes the form of a white eagle. A remarkable point is the changing of the tuning of the tanbur from Tarz (fifth, low pitch) to Barz (fourth, high pitch). This change of tuning is to be related to the upward movement of the tonic, evoked above. Here the instrument with its specific tuning acts as a 'mystical net" (dam) able to attract the divine manifestation (mazhar alldh). It is expressed in gurwii verses of the sacred book of the Ahl-i Haqq: l'ir Mtisi maramu: Dam-ash watarz-a Damyar-i Binydnun Dam-ash wa tarz-a Nayna tanan-ash ria waraw barz-a Shahbaz-ash gardan khwajd-yi Gudarw. Pir Musi said: His net is tuned in Tarz. Benyamin the hunter owns a net tuned in Tarz. In that place, he tightened it up toward the tuning of Barz. He captured the royal Eagle, the Master of Gudarz. (s ;e Mokri, La Chasse Mystique et le Mythe du Roi-Aigle, [Dawra-i Damyari] [Wiesbaden: O. Hiirrassowitz, 1967], verse 49).


Jean During

spiritual eyes. This is a central theme of Persian theosophy. Nur 'Ali Ilahi (1895-1974), whose influence surpassed that of his father, was familiar with these kinds of experience, and his testimony of the hawk shows clearly that it was not an ordinary bird; it was materialized enough, however, so that one could ask where it came from. In another instance, this master evokes the visit of invisible beings during his musical meditation: "During the whole cycle of my asceticism, ... between 9 to 21 years, every night 1 took die tanbur and 'they' would come and preoccupy me (rnara mashghiil mikardand)."13 Music allowed him to communicate with the other world from which inspiration came to him. In return, his music was listened to by spirits of the saints of the past, like Mawlana Jalal id-Din Rumi, with whom he thus conversed in the invisible world: Once I asked Mawlana, "Tell me what is the essence of your dance, so that at the age of eighty jears you were still jumping and leaping." He answered, "Play your tanbur and see how I dance." I said, "So do you know my tanbur?" "I always listen to il." he s a i d . ' 4

Without going so far, the jam, considered by the adepts as the place of manifestation of the Essence, also attracts many invisible beings, mainly angels or spirits of a high level it is their descending that impregnates the adepts and the place itself with their spiritual power. Sometimes the quality of the atmosphere indicates the coming of such or such a personality of the pleroma, and the words of the zikr contribute to that impression, as is shown in choruses like: Zat-i yar Dawud ha::, •an wa jam/Kluish wa hal kasi didemash HVJ chain The essence of D a w j d is in the jam / Happy is he who sees him with the eyes.

At the end of tin' jam, it often happens that several dervishes report having witnessed similar scenes and persons of the other world. The contemplation of these scenes may be accompanied by ecstatic states or not. Generally the sarhand is not chosen in order to beg for the coming of a specific personality. Rather it is the atmosphere, the prevailing tone that inclines the kalamkhwan to his choice, without previous intention; if he has good intuition, he will feel the vibration corresponding to a particular spiritual personality and will chant the corresponding kalam.


Nur 'Ali Ilàhi, Àlìidr al-haqq no. 1887. Ibid„ no. 1981.


The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


MUSIC AS A MEDIATOR BETWEEN THE SAINT AND THE FAITHFUL Many melodies and words of choruses are related to a spiritual personality. We shall see that this link is not only formal, but that it is of an esoteric nature. Among the Qadiri dervishes of Kurdistan is found the idea that the power of zikr formulas relies on some invisible beings. A khalifa explained it to us in these terms: "Each zikr possesses a master (sahib), a guardian (muvakkil), that is, an entity, an angel attached to it, similar to the invisible guardian of a saint's shrine. It is by this agent that the zikr produces its specific force." According to this dervish, when the khalifa is singing or playing, he must establish a relation with the divine Throne Carsh); then the angels listen to the drum (daff) and form a conic spiral the centre of which points up in the sky like a ziggurat. The angels d a i c e and sing along the curves of this spiral and the musicians must put themselves in harmony with their music. Then the effects of the zikr increase, become supernatural and the spiritual forces impregnate the whole place. The role of the music is to establish a harmony between the earth and the sky, allowing t h ; energies to circulate between these two planes, in order to benefit from the grace of the celestial world. Before reaching the climax in the mention of a single name (Allah, hayy, hu, or 'Ali), notes the khalifa, it is important to start by mentioning the names of the great saints or masters of the order, or even other saints (like the Imams, and that in spite of the fact that Qadiris are Sunni). In a preliminary litany are invoked the sheikhs of the Qadiri genealogy (silsila), leading back to 'Ali and Muhammad. 1 5 It is to be noticed that the evocation of beings is not only verbal: in the exceptional and sacred context of the jam, t h ; mention of any person implies reactions of two types. To mention one who is absent is to make him present and share the spiritual benefits of the meeting; on this principle the concentration (himmat) of the jam is sometimes requested in order to obtain the healing (for instance) of somebody who is absent. Again, great spiritual personalities attend the jam and set their mark on it. All these ideas are also expressed with even more precision by some Kurdish mystics of Ahl-i Haqq origin. They add that the purity of the adepts and unity of the heart (yak dil, yak rang) is necessary so that angels will form a circle above their own circle. Actually, not only angels enter the circle but also essences, spirits of saints, prophets and also some deceased persons that the adepts can "see" sometimes. When the zikr is finished, says an Ahl-i Haqq master, these high-ranking beings give something before leaving: "they are very generous, they empty their pocket leaving a spiritual effect" — something like a force — in the soul of llie participants, whatever be the state experienced by them during the jam.

• In other songs appear sometimes the names of great Sufis. One of them mentions Junayd, ShiblJ, 'Attar. Hallaj, and 'Ali. An Ahl-i Haqq tune, often chanted as an introduction, mentions the martyrs Hallaj, Zakariyya, Nasimi and Turk-i sar-burida.


Jean During

Although the nature of music and words is considered of secondary importance compared to the inner disposition of the participants, it is admitted that the specificity of the effects of each zikr and melody is due to the angel (that is, one of the Seven, Haftan). Thus the zikrs and their melodies are intimately related to particular persons, as expressed in these words: T h e sarband o f the .mcient k a l a m s has three aspects: the aspect of prayer, the o n e of d e m a n d ( h a j a i ) , and that o f j o y , e c s t a s y ( i n r u r ) , and d r u n k e n n e s s . In addition to these characteristics, it also has that of r e m e m b r a n c e (zikr), s i n c e it c e l e b r a t e s the m e m o r y o f these C o m p a n i o n s , in that spiritual state, in that very t i m e w h e r e o n e has e x p e r i e n c e d e c s t a s y and has p e r f o r m e d the prayer and the z i k r . 1 6

It is for that reason that the kalamkhwan insists that participants respect the exact formulation of the sarband: if he is invoking Sultan, they must not c h a n t ' A l i in place of him, even if — according to them — both shared the same essence. Not only would these differences prejudice the unity of the group, but they also would prevent the invoked being from manifesting himself. Other examples show that the zikr belongs to the invoked being: one must avoid changing a zikr by replacing one name with another, like praising Dawud in a zikr originally devoted to Binyamin; the reason is that the initial sarband and its original melody belongs to the latter, so that ascribing it to someone else would be an infringement of his right. This notion of right (haqq) is also found among the transmitters of the sacred repertory, as it is shown in this remark of a great Ahl-i Haqq master: "every time I play a piece of music or a melody, I pray for the one who taught it to me, and if he is dead, I pray for him to be forgiven [by God]." 17 The commentary above underlines also an important point often neglected, that is, that the sacred melodies are often a commemoration of an old time that has become a mythic time. It is not only an evocation, but a way to revive the state of certain personalities, which have left traces (asar) in the music and the word. 1 8 We can ;tssume that these zikrs were created in a moment of


N u r 'All Ilahi, Atliar al-ltaqq

no. 1584.


N u r 'Ali Ilahi, Allmr al-ha tu 110. 1950. This explains the care with which some Ahl-i H a q q groups (but not all of them) have preserved the original sarbands. In addition to this care is the extreme caution shown by some adepts in the conservation of the sacred texts. As an illustration, a kalamkhwan left his cow and plough in order to go see his sheikh (several days' walk away), because he suddenly noticed f i a t he had forgotten a few words in a verse of the kalam (ibid., no. 1683). 18 I n relation to this, we can also mention the Mevlevi s a m a ' which differs d e a r l y f r o m the common s a m a ' s that are still performed, or even from the original Mevlevi s a m a ' depicted by Aflaki, the hagiographer of Mawtana. The Mevlevi s a m a ' is less concerned with inducing ecstasy than to perform a symbolic and allegoric representation of the dance and the spiritual states of Mawlana himself. We can also mention the old and unaltered ritual of the bund sama' of the Indian Chishtis, which perpetuates an original tradition, much different f r o m the present sama's. It is

Tlie Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


inspiration and therefore are impregnated with the asar of their inventor at the same time. 19

THE SPIRITUAL EFFECT, ASAR Asar (athar), which is difficult to render in a single word, is a fundamental concept of the esoteric way. Asar suggests an effect, more precisely a trace, an impression. In the Ahl-i Haqq context, this word always refers first to the hidden asjiect of things and to the spiritual power (asar-i ma'navl) that they exert on a given subject. For instance it is a question of an effect of the breath ( a s a r - i nafas) which accounts for the invisible force naturally emanating from a person of the rank of dldadar (seer) or batindar (master of the beyond). These beings have also the power to communicate an asar to a thing or a place, a ritual or even an abstract entity like a poem or a melody. It can be said that the essential part of initiatic transmission consists of these asars: mystical vibrations, baraka, powers, etc. On a lower level, asar designates the spiritual aptitude — if we can put it that way — of a thing: a number, a colour, a moment of the day, a form or a word produces or transmits a characteristic effect, filled with a certain force. This aspect is studied and formalised in Islamic numerology and the science of letters Cilm-ijafr, simiya and hurufism). The most eminent example is the Qur'an and to a lesser degree, the poems of some mystics like Jalal al-Din Rumi, or Hafiz (who is consulted as an oracle). The concept of asar is not a broad and vague notion; the conditions attached to the asar of a tiling are extremely well-defined: to alter one single word transforms the whole effect of a text. This is one of the reasons why the kalamkhwan, as seen above, takes care that the participants repeat his own words without alterations. Likewise one must not modify the melodies. The asar of a zikr relies partly on the melody, partly on the text, partly or the combination of both. Their melodies possess a particular asar, as a combination of words possesses an asar. In the zikr, too, in each arrangement, in each melody lies a specific effect, in such a way that if we express this zikr in another m e l o d y the effect will change. It is only when we sing the zikr with its true (haqtql) melody that its proper effect will be p r o d u c e d . 2 0

only performed during the birthday of the saint. As noted by Molé, "le sama' n'est pas un moyen artificiel pour provoquer l'extase, mais un rite qui permet de réactualiser un état antérieur au temps" (La danse extatique en Islam, Les Danses Sacrées [Paris: Payot, 1963], p. 134). 19 B y a similar process, a thing or a cloth is impregnated by the asar of a person in a state of ecstasy, for instance in the rite of taking off the cloak during the ancient sama's. 20

Vur 'Ali Ilahi, Àthàr al-liaqq, no. 1584.


Jean During

Let us notice that the qualifier haqiqi (true, authentic), designating the original melody, is related to haqq. As an example of the specific effect of a zikr, one of them-evoking the passing out from this world--always involved the death of some people around the place where it was performed, to the extent that some dervishes wanted to use it against their foes. Their master did not allow them to do this; he changed the words in order to neutralize their effect. 2 1 We can say that if form itself is important, it is only to the extent that it reflects an asar, somewhat as a mirror reflects an image: to distort the mirror equals distorting the image. On the other hand, a mirror is only a mirror if it is able to refract light and images. Thus Ahl-i Haqq mystics consider that the best achievements of art or religion have no value if deprived of this asar; it means that such accomplishments must come from persons who have a communication with the beyond and who have received the gift of a spiritual asar which they are able in their turn to transmit through their own creations. According to this principle, it is out of the question to invent or compose zikrs and kalams which would pretend to the same asar that the traditional ones possess, unless the composer is himself genuinely inspired, or the possessor of a "power of the word" (asar-i. kalam) implying a recognized high spiritual rank (maqam). (This was still the case of Seyyed Baraka, in the middle of the nineteenth century). If, for instance, the melody of Sheikh Amir (which bears his name) is so appreciated, I was told by a master of tanbur, ii is "because he was hearing celestial melodies and adapted them to the tanbur, since he was an enlighted sage Carif) and had a persona] relationship with God." Of course, in mysiical anthropology, any sincere believer possesses more or less a relation widi the beyond, a relation that marks his works. Ilie difference is that among the Ahl-i Haqq, the criterion is placed very high, and no adept would dare to pretend that his compositions are equal to those of the traditional repertory, even if they are also marked by some asar. An ordinary kalamkhwan was threatened with death because he had cynically propagated verses of his own, presenting them as canonic fragments. 22 However, some sarbands composed by pious adepts are accepted and sometimes transmitted from one generation to the other. They most often are verses and tunes received in direct inspiration during the jam or outside, or perceived in a dream or in an ecstatic state. A composition arranged by an ordinary adept would have no chance to be accepted, even if it

-j i As we h a v e seen, a melody can often be adapted to several kalam, or vice-versa. It tradition established by a master, but this is not always the case. One m a y assume that consensus is established on c ertain zikrs and variants, since after all the j a m ' is an place and the extemporaneous innovations that m a y appear in it may also be marked b y 22 N u r 'AH Ilahi, Burhœi al-haqq (2nd éd.. Tehran: Tahuri, 1354/1975), p. 255.

can be a a kind of epiphanic an asar.

The Sacred Music of the Ahl-i Haqq


conforms to traditional and formal criteria of the zikrs, unless it is approved and confirmed by a batindar who confers on it a blessing and an asar.

CONCLUSION The masters of Ahl-i Haqq music are aware that the impact of music on the listener depends not only on the form and on the charisma of the composer, but also on other factors. We have seen that the instrument (tanbur) is important; likewise, the interpreter and the listeners are to be taken into consideration. Without the participation of an interpreter who himself is a transmitter or producer of a certain asar, music would lose much of its effect, or would only act as stimulus, like a signal triggering a reflex. When all the conditions converge, tie effects of music and chant reach considerable proportions, impossible to describe. One of the apparent signs of sanctity is the charisma of emotional communication; along with the gift of miracles, it constitutes a tangible manifestation of spiritual power, without which the saint does not differ from the sage, at least in the common people's view. This type of communication may be verbal (especially poetic) as well as non-verbal (rites, symbols, signs, attitudes, etc.). Ahl-i Haqq mystics in particular have understood that music is an exceptional instrument of aesthetic communication. They not only use it as such, but have refined its practice in order to make it an accurate means of symbolic and aesthetic expression able to communicate not only emotions (that is, pleading, joy, ecstasy and spiritual intoxication mentioned above) but also subtleties and mysteries. A master used to say in regard to this: "The tanbur pieces that I play are at the same time masterpieces of art, mysticism Cirfaru) and spirituality ,.." 23 Better than writing and speech, music constituted (and still can) in some orders a means of initiatic transmission of the first importance. Like the famous asar, its existential field is that of quality (kayfiyyat), taste (dhawq), essence (zat), quiddity (mahiyyat), and inner disposition {Ml). In Islamic culture all these notions define precisely the level of esotericism and the limit of language.


Nur 'Ali Ilàhi, Àthar


no. 2031.


Pilgrimage is a ritual that orients the cosmos around a holy place and provides ways for participants to integrate themselves around symbols of transcendence. In the Islamic tradition the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is of piiramount importance, but local and sectarian forms of pilgrimage are also practiced. Pilgrimage to the tombs of the Shi'i martyrs is an important feature of Shi'i piety, and across the Islamic world, from Morocco to Chinese Turkestan, the tombs of the saints are the resort of Muslims of many varying backgrounds. Reformers from Ibn Taymiyya down to the Wahhabis of Sa'udi Arabia have tended to denounce the veneration of both imams and saints as the idolatrous worship of fallible human beings. 1 In the Indian subcontinent, where pilgrimage (Arabic ziyara, Persian ziyarat) to Sufi shrines is particularly common, Protestant British civil servants and modern Muslim reformers alike have often seen in this ritual the insidious influence of Indian paganism. From the frequent denunciations of ziyarat as "/»/--worship" (worship of the master), one might suppose that it was a transparent case of the corruption of Islam by Hindu polytheism, but a closer look reveals that the case is not so simple. Hindu practices undoubtedly occur at some Muslim shrines, such as the shrine of the warrior-saint Salar Mas'ud at Bahraich. 2 The presence of Hindu practices cannot,

* Portions of the research for this paper were supported by a Fulbright Islamic Civilization Research Grant in 1986. ' C f . A. J . Wensinck, "Ziyara." Shorter


Kramers (Leiden, 1953; reprint ed., Leiden: juristic opposition to ziyarat 1323/1905), Fatäwä-i

of Islam,

ed. H. A. R. Gibb and J. M.

E. J. Brill, 1974), p. 660. A modern example of

is the collection of legal responsa by Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (d.


(Karachi: H. M. Sa'jd Company, 1985), p. 59 (impropriety of

petitioning the dead), p. 69 (condemnation of kissing tombs), p. 134 (condemnation


ati ending annual death anniversary festivals). The learned author, a scholar of the Deoband school and a member of the Säbiri Chishti order, does not deny that spiritual grace ( f a y i ) emanates from tombs, but maintains that the common people must not be permitted to have access to it because of the danger of idolatry (p. 104). His main objection to these practices is their similarity to non-Muslim religious practices. 2 i Kerrin Gräfin Schwerin, "Heiligenverehrung im indischen Islam: Die Legende des Märtyrers Salar Mas'ud Gazi," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 126 (1976), pp. 319-335. The festival of Sälär Mas'ud is celebrated according to the Hindu solar-lunar calendar, unlike the Sufi death anniversaries discussed below, which follow the Islamic lunar calendar. The

Carl W. Emst


however, explain the participation of educated Sufi masters in pilgrimage, for they found ziyarat to be an authentic expression of Islamic piety, Qur'anic in spirit and firmly based on the model of the Prophet Muhammad. 3 The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the Sufi interpretation of ziyarat, by presenting in translation a small treatise by a learned Indian Sufi of the eighteenth century that explains and justifies the practice of pilgrimage to saints' tombs according to the traditions of the Chishti Sufi order. The treatise translated here is a guide to observance of Sufi saints' 'urs (pi. a 'ras) festivals, written as a preface to the Makhzan-i a'ras ("Treasury of Death Anniversaries") in 1742-43 by Muhammad Najib Qadiri Nagawri Ajmeri, a Sufi of the Chishti order who lived in the Deccan city of Awrangabad. The main body of the book is a calendar of saints, which, like the Roman Catholic calendars, lists for each day of the year the Sufi saints whose festivals are to be celebrated then according to the Islamic lunar calendar. Like the Catholic calendars, this Muslim calendar lists saints' festivals by die death anniversary or 'urs, literally "wedding," which records die date when the saint's soul was "wedded," that is, united with God. 4 The celebration of saints' death anniversaries seems to be peculiar to the Islamic Kast, since in Mediterranean countries celebrations commonly occur on the birthday (mawlid) of the saint.5 It is not clear when the term 'urs first came into use, though it was common among the Chishtis in the early fourteenth century. 6 The later Sufi and scholar Hajji Imdad Allah (d. 1899) traced the term to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, directed at the saints as

participation of both Muslims and non-Muslims in such festivals suggests that widely differing interpretations of this c e r e m o n y coexist at the same time. I have o b s e r v e d Hindu villagers p e r f o r m i n g rituals at the t o m b of one of the Turkish Ghurid sultans (locally known as "Sultan G h a r i " ) outside Delhi, with no inkling of the historical identity of the "saint" buried there. This p r o b l e m of cross-cultural understanding calls for further investigation. For a m o d e r n example of the literary expression of Sufi attitudes t o w a r d pilgrimage, see the Persian p o e m in the classical style by the late Dr. Ishrat Hasan "Anwar." f o r m e r head of the D e p a r t m e n t of Philosophy ai Migarh M u s l i m University, addressed to K h w ä j a M u ' i n al-Din Chishti, in Masnavi-i

sariid-i m -khudi (Agra: Akbur Press. 1954), pp. 105-106.

' ' C o n v e r s e l y , the Catholic c o m m e m o r a t i o n s of martyrs' and saints' death anniversaries were called birthdays ( n a t a l i l i a ) as a sign of rebirth into eternal life (The Oxford Christian



of the

ed. F. I - Cross [2nd ed., O x f o r d : O x f o r d University Press, 1983], pp. 954-

955). 5

I g n a z Goldziher, "Veneration of Saints in Islam," Muslim Studies (Muhaminedanische Studien), ed. S. M . Stern, trans. C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern (2 vols.: London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1971) II, 284-285. ^ N i z ä m al-Din Awliyä' B a d a ' o n i (d. 725/1325), Fawä'id al-fu'äd, comp. Hasan 'Alä Sijzi, ed. M u h a m m a d Latif Malik (Lshore: Malik S i r ä j al-Din and Sons, 1386/1966), p. 209, gives the e t y m o l o g y of 'urs as "gettim: married," but also mentions another meaning, "the alighting of a caravan at night." Jurists such as the B a g h d a d i a n Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1201) criticized Sufi 'urs festivities, and the Mevlevi Sufis in Anatolia used the term 'urs in the thirteenth century: see Fritz Meier, Abu Sa'id-i Abu l-IJayr (357-440/967-1049), Wirklichkeit und Legende, Acta Iranica 11 (Leiden:

E. J. Brill. 1976). pp. 250, 261.

An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


they prepare for death: "Sleep with the sleep of a bridegroom ('arüs)"; this saying suggests that the physical death of the saint is in fact the moment of joyous reunion wilh the beloved. 7 To make a pilgrimage or ziyarat to the tomb of a saint is considered beneficial at any time, but at (lie time of the 'urs special blessings are available, since Paradise rejoices at the return of that supremely happy moment when a human soul was united with God. A comprehensive pilgrim's guide to these holy days, the lithographed edition of the Makhzan-i a ras gives the death anniversaries of hundreds of saints in well over two hundred pages. In the twelve-page introduction, the author describes the reasons for making pilgrimages to the tombs of Sufi saints, and how to perform the requisite ceremonies. It is this introduction that is translated here. The Makhzan-i a 'ras was not a novelty, but was based on an earlier calendar of saints and a number of other literary sources. Muhammad Najib explained that the calendar was an expanded critical edition of the A 'ras nämah or "Book of Death Anniversaries" completed several decades earlier by one of Muhammad Najib's fellow disciples in Sufism, Sheikh Sharaf al-Din ibn Qadi Sheikh Muhammad Nalirawali. The introduction to the calendar is, however, quite unusual as an extended monograph on pilgrimage as a Sufi practice. While the introduction to the Makhzan-i a 'ras cites by name or quotes from more than two dozen Persian and Arabic Sufi texts, it quotes most extensively from two texts, each of which makes up about one-fifth of the introduction. One of these sources is the Lata 'if-i ashrafl, the discourses of Sayyid Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (d. 1425); though initially a disciple of the Central Asian Sufi master 'Ala' alE'awla Simnani (d. 1336), he made Iiis way to India and joined the Chishti order, settling in eastern Bihar. His voluminous discourses reflect the Central Asian teachings of the Kubrawi order as well as the traditions of the Chishtis. 8 The other source is a manual on religious practices called Ädäb al-tälibin ("Rules for /».spirants"), by Muhammad Chishti Ahmadabadi (d. 1630). This treatise, which lays heavy stress on Islamic law and ritual, codifies in a few pages current Chishti practices associated with pilgrimages to Sufi tombs. 9 An additional 7

Wahid Bakhsh Sial, Maqäm-i Ganj-i Shakkar (Lahore: Sufi Foundation, 1403/1983), p. 38. I would like to record my thanks to Captain Sial for sharing with me his extremely helpful insights irto Sufi practices, o Ashraf Jahangir Simnani, Laß'if-i ashrafi, comp. Nizäm Gharib Yamani (2 vols.; Delhi: Nusrat alMatabi', 1295/1878) II, 28-30, quoted ill sections 13-17 of the text, below. On Simnani's life and works, see Bruce B. Lawrence, Notes from a Distant Flute: The Extant Literature of Pre-Mughal Indian Sufism (Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1978), pp. 53-55. 9 Vtuhammad Chishti, Ädäb al-tälibin (MS copied in Tawnsah, probably after 1790, personal collection), fols. 21b-22b (rules), 22b-24a (here later scribes have inserted a brief calendar of saints, including the 'urs of Kalim Allah Shähjahänäbädi [d. 1729]), 24a-b (concluding rules), qjoted in sections 2-5 of the text; cf. Muhammad Chishti Gujarati, Ädäb al-tälibin, ma'a rafiq altvlläb wa albäb thulatha, Urdu trans. Muhammad Bashir Husayn, ed. Muhammad Aslam Ränä (l^hore: Progressive Books, 1984), pp. 61-64, based on the Punjab University MS, which has no calendar of saints. The Persian text of Ädäb al-tälibin was published in Delhi in 1311/1893-94


Carl W. Ernst

passage from Adab al-tahbin on the rites of pilgrimage, which was not included in the Makhzan-i a 'ras, has also been translated here as Appendix A. Muhammad Najib's own version of the calendar was also a scholarly work, quoting extensively from standard works of Sufi biography and history to complement the records of shrines and oral tradition. 10 He compiled this work as an act of piety, to enable Muslims to celebrate saints' death anniversaries and perform pilgrimage to their tombs. The intended audience of the Makhzan-i a 'ras was die elite group of Sufi disciples educated in Persian and dedicated to the practices and piety of the Chishti order. References to problems of presenting food offerings during times of poverty indicate that the author had in mind the religious devotee lacking worldly resources. Yet the rich and powerful were also interested in observing the death anniversaries of the saints, to judge from the dedication of the work to a powerful noble of the time. The popularity of the calendar of saints among the ruling class is indicated by its appearance in another recension, compiled by Muhammad Sharif at the request of Tipu Sultan of Mysore (r. 1783-1799), which eliminated the scholarly apparatus (including the year of death), thus becoming a purely devotional calendar. 11 A number of other works of this type have been written in Persian, and today one can still acquire current Urdu almanacs printed in Bombay and Lahore which prominently feature the death anniversaries of Sufi saints of the Indian subcontinent. 12 by Matba'-i Mujtaba'i, and mere are a dozen copies of the MS in Pakistan alone; cf. A h m a d M u n z a w i , Fihrist-i muslitarak i nuskhah-ha-yi khatti-i fdrsi-i Pakistan, vol. Ill (Islamabad: Markaz-i Tahqiqat-i Farsi-i Iran u Pakistan, 1363/1405/1984), p. 1213, no. 2140. K. A. Nizami has summarized some of the contents of this work in his Tdrikh-i mashdyikh-i Chisht, vol. 1 (2nd ed.; Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyyat-i D;'lli. 1980), p. 446; for details of Muhammad Chishti's life, see the introduction to Adab al-talibin Urdu trans., pp. 7-15. The manuscript of Adab at lahbiti came into my hands by good fortune; 1 would like to express my thanks to Mr. Khalil al-Rahman Dawoodi of Lahore for presenting me h.s copy. 10 F o r a survey of Sufi biographical sources, see my "From Hagiography Conflicting Testimonies to a Sufi Martyr of the Delhi Sultanate," History (1985), pp. 3 0 8 - 3 2 7 . esp. p,, 309-312; see also Marcia K. Ilermansen, Interdisciplinary Approaches u. Islamic Biographical Materials," Religion 18 182.

to Martyrology: of Religions 24 "Survey Article: (1988), pp. 163-

1 ^Tdrikh-i wafdt-i buzurgdn or A'ras-i buzurgdn, cued in Hermann Ethe, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the India Offict Library (Oxford, 1903; reprint ed., London: India Office Library & Records, 1980), no. 2733, col. 1482; also called Sahifat al-a'ras, in Wladimir Ivanow, Concise Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the Collection of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Calcutta; The Asiatic Society, 1924; reprint ed.. 1985), p. 755, no. 1634. The relationship of this work with Muhammad Najib's collection is evident from its commencing with the same four names. Muhammad Sharif's treatise is apparently identical with the,4'ras-i buzurgdn attributed io one Sayyid 'A!am, edited by W. Nassau Lees and Mawlawi Kabir al-Din Ahmad and published at Calcutta in 1855, as cited by C. A. Storey, Persian Literature, A Bio-Bibliographical Survey (2 vols.; London: Lu/ai. & Co., 1927-71), I. 1054. 12 A devotional work that arranges brief biographies of saints with their death anniversaries, in

chronological order from the time of Adam, is 'Abd al-Fattah ibn Muhammad Nu'nian's Miftdh


'drifin (MS 4263/1613 Sherani. Punjab University, Lahore), an autograph written in 1096/1684-

An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


The most widespread of all Sufi orders in India is the Chishti order, established by Mu'in al-Din Chishti (d. 1236) late in the twelfth century. The early Chishtis were notable for both their avoidance of royal patronage and their fondness for music. In Muhammad Najib's treatise, the authorities cited most often are the Chishti masters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, such as Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki (d. 1235), Nizam al-Din Awliya' (d. 1325), Nasir alDira Mahmud "Chiragh-i Dihli" (d. 1356), and Muhammad al-Husayni "Gisu Daraz" (d. 1422). By the early fourteenth century, pilgrimage to tombs such as Qutb al-Din's in Delhi was an established practice among the Chishtis, though auihorities for this practice are cited from other orders as well, such as the Suhrawardis and Naqshbandis.13 The famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Battutamade such a pilgrimage to the tomb of Farid al-Din Ganj-i Shakkar (d. 1265) at Ajodhan (modern Pakpattan) around the year 1340.14 Historical literature from the Sultanate period also attests to the popularity of pilgrimage, and the visits of various sultans to major tombs are frequently mentioned. 15 Muhammad Najib's calendar of saints was a product of the renaissance of the; Chishti order in the eighteenth century, when leading Chishtis revived the traditions of their great predecessors. After Timur's destruction of the Delhi sultanate in 1398, the Chishti order had been dispersed to all parts of India. AI .hough this diaspora consolidated the order's popularity in many different regions, the new leaders did not measure up to the stature of their predecessors, and many of them accepted the patronage of kings or established hereditary

85 in Sirhmd. Examples of modern Urdu calendars of saints include Muhammad 'Abd al-Hayy Sidiiqi's Tadhkirat al-sulaha (hadaun: Matba'-i Nizami, 1330/1911-12); Kaläm al-Din Banarsi and Ibritóm '[iliadi Nadwi's lslàmiMuìmmmadi bari taqwim Bombay 1402 (Bombay: 'Ali Bhà'i Sharaf 'Ali and Company Private Limited, 1402/1981-82), pp. 18-38; and Hakim Mawlawi Muhammad Barakat 'All's Asrär-i alam jäntn 1987 (Lahore: Maktaba-i Rafiq-i Rüzgär, 1986), pp. 19-24. '•'Nizam al-Din Awliyä' told of his mother's visiting the tomhs of martyrs and saints in Bada'on (Fawä'id al-fu'ad, pp. 100), and mentioned the many tombs worth visiting in Lahore (p. 57). Siirion Digby has briefly described pilgrimages to major Chishti shrines in "Tabarrukät and Succession among the Great Chishti Shaykhs," in Delhi Through the Ages: Essays in Urban His'-ory, Culture and Society, ed. R. E. Frykenberg (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986), esp. pp. 91-96. 14

I b n Battutali, Travels in Asia and Africa

1325-1354, trans. H. A. R. Gibb, ed. E. Dcnison Ross

and Eileen Power (London, 1926; reprint ed., Karachi: Indus Publications, 1986), p. 191, where the translator understands this as a visit (ziyärat) 15

to a living person.

Sultan Firuz Shah ibn Tughluq (r. 1356-87) chronicled his own rebuilding of major Sufi shrines

in his lenglhy inscription, known as the Futühät-i Firüz Shdhi, ed. Shaikh Abdur Rashid (Aligarh: Muslim University, Department of History, 1954), pp. 14-15, translated in Sir H. M. Elliot, The Hisiory

of India as Told by Its Own Historians,

ed. John D o w s o n (8 vols.; Allahabad: Kitab

Mahal, n.d.) Ill, 384-385. The popularity of shrine festivals may judged from the fact that Firuz Shah also forbade ladies from attending them, on the grounds that evil characters also frequented these occasions (Futühät-i

Firüz Slmili, p. 9; trans. Elliot and Dowson, III, 380). Probably the

most famous example of royal veneration of a saint's tomb was Akbar's construction of his capital city, Fathpur Sikri, around the tomb of Salim Chishti late in the sixteenth century.

Carl W. Krnst


successions. The leading modern authority on the Chishtis, K. A. Nizami, has shown that this period of decline was eventually followed by a renaissance of the order in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, led by such men as Kalim Allah Shahjahanabadi (d. 1729) and his disciple Nizam al-Din Awrangabadi (d. 1729). These masters not only raised the standards of Islamic scholarship in the order but also revived the intense spiritual discipline characteristic of (lie early Chishtis. 1 6 Their strong emphasis on hadith scholarship, concerned with the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, was typical of the pan-Islamic phenomenon of that time, which John Voll has called "neo-Sufism." 1 7 Our author Muhammad Najib was clearly a part of the Chishti renaissance, as his scholarship attests, and he explicitly informs us that the basic text by Sharaf alDin Nahrawali that he expanded had been originally written at the order of their master Nizam al-Din Awrangabadi. 1 8 Moreover, the rules of pilgrimage that Muhammad Najib incorporated from Muhammad Chishti's Adah al-talibin also form part of the heritage of the Chishti renaissance; Muhammad Chishti had been the grandfather and teacher of Yahya Madani (d. 1689), the Medina-based teacher of the Chishti reformer Kalim Allah Shahjahanabadi. 19 The times during which Muhammad Najib wrote were troubled ones, when, it may be supposed, the revival of religious traditions might serve as a source of order amid political chaos. India in the eighteenth century was a shambles, in which Afghans, Marathas and Sikhs fought over the wreckage of the Mughul empire. The British and French were eyeing opportunities for their own imperial expansion in India. The Deccan was nominally an appendage of the Mughuls, but was increasingly independent under the powerful Nizam, who initially made Awrangabad his capital. Ilie first Nizam (Nizam al-Mulk Asaf Jah, d. 1748) was closely attached to the Chishtis, and even wrote a biography of Nizam al-Din Awrangabadi. 20 Both the first Nizam and his successor, Nizam alDawla Nasir Jang (d. 1164/1750), were buried next to one of the principal Chishti places of pilgrimage in die Deccan, the tomb of Burhan al-Din Gharib (d. 1338) in Khuldabad, near Awrangabad. 21 In what appears to be a dedication at

16 K . A. Nizâmï, "Cishtiyya 1:12 2:50-56; idem. Same Aspects of Religion atui Politics in India in the Thirteenth Century (2nd ed., Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli. 1978 [19631); idem, Tärlkh-i mashdyikh-i Chisht, vol. 1. pp. 290 ff.; vol. V (1985), pp. 81-181. 1 ~J John Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in-the Modern World (Boulder, C O : Westview Press.

1982), index, s . w . "neo-Suiism," "hadiths." ^ N e i t h e r M u h a m m a d Najib nor Sharaf al-Din Nahrawali appears among the list of Nizâm al-Din Awrangâhâdî's chief disciple v i f. Nizami, Tärikh, V, 178-179. ^Àdàb


N i z â m ï , Tärikh,

Urdu trans . p . 13; Nizami, Tärikh, V, 92-94. V, 173,

75-6. notes that this book is no longer extant.

Setu Madhava Rao, Eighteenth



(Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1963), p. 61.

The first N i z â m considered patronage of Sufi saints an important state duty, and stressed this point in his testament to hi> successor (ibid., pp. 62, 66-67). On Burhan al-Din G h a r i b and the

An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


the end of his introduction, Muhammad Najib mentions as a friend of the Sufis Anwar al-Din Khan Bahadur (d. 1749), a noble of the Carnatic who was allied militarily with the Nizam against the French and British. 22 Evidently Sufis like Muhammad Najib still needed the support of powerful protectors. This had also been true for his master Nizam al-Din Awrangabadi, who had to travel in the company of the royal anny. 23 Although the revival of early Chishti practices implied the refusal of financial support from secular rulers, it was evidently impossible for the Chishtis to avoid political relationships; the exact nature of these relationships still has to be examined by the study of financial records in shrines and archives. 24 The internal reorganization of the Chishti order was, in any case, combined with highly uncertain political conditions. This makes it all the more understandable that a calendar of saints, recording and memorializing the religious heroes of the past and present, should have been considered an iirportan! enterprise. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a considerable growth in the literature of Islamic hagiography and martyrology in India, as I have shown elsewhere. 25 The invocation of the spirits of the great Chishti masters at the propitious time of the 'urs, and attention to the classical pilgrimage rituals of these same masters, were equally important in the revival of tradition during a period of decadence. Many of Muhammad Najib's allusions to the rituals of pilgrimage are casual, presupposing that the reader is familiar with them already, and they touch on observances concerned not only with saints' tombs but also with the tombs of one's relatives and other ordinary persons. Nevertheless, we can summarize here the most important rituals that he mentions. 26 There is an emphasis on determining the exact hour and day of death for commemoration, though this is not indispensable. Food and drink also play an important role, and are to be offered to the spirits of the dead and then distributed on whatever scale the pilgrim can afford. Offering food to the spirits of the saints brings good fortune in this life, and pilgrims may also present petitions to the saints (section 19, be ow). The pilgrim is also urged to offer "sweets, roses, and flowers" at the

Chishtis of Khuldabad, see my Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992). nn ^Samsam-ud-Daula Shah Nawaz Khan and his son 'Abdul Hayy, The Madthir-ul-Vmara, trans. H. Beveridge, rev. Baini Prashad (reprint ed., 2 vols.; New Delhi: Janaki Prakashan, 1979), II, 1065-1066 (where he is praised for his knowledge of Sufism); Elliot and Dowson, VIII, 391 (his dealt fighting the French); Ethe, II, col. 1011, Index, s.n. "(Nawwab) Anwar-aldankhan." 23 Kizami, Tarikh, V, 157-158. 2< Vizami, Tarikh, V, 167, records Nizam al-Din Awrangabadi's regular distribution of gift« to the poor, which must have required substantial donations from lay followers. See Ernst, "From Hagiography to Martyrology," esp. pp. 322-327. 26 I i would be desirable to collect information from gazetteers, travelers' reports, and modern anthropological studies on the different practices that have arisen at the major Sufi shrines in India and Pakistan, but such an investigation is beyond the scope of the present article.

Carl W. Ernst


tomb (sec. 17), or a bit of money, and this is still expected of the visitor today. Performance of music on these anniversaries is a characteristically Chishti practice. Yet the ziyarat is not a terribly rigid ritual, as can be seen from the frequent statement that one should perform only what can be done in accordance with one's ability, especially in case of poverty. Muhammad Chishti summarized this relaxed attitude toward pilgrimage by saying that one should perform it "as much as possible without objection [being attached to it] (bi-ld haraj)."21 The ritual is possible and permissible, but not blameworthy. This ritual flexibility is bolstered by a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that one is to be judged by one's intentions. Another interesting feature is the mention of the superior nights and days of the year, according to the encyclopedic Revival of Religious Sciences of Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1111); this listing of holy days is tied in with the development of Sufi piety and stipulates the most propitious times for supererogatory prayer. Although the holy days have nothing intrinsically to do with saints' death anniversaries, their inclusion by Muhammad Najib is natural in a book that organizes the year into a scries of daily sacred remembrances. In addition, repetition of sections from the Qur'an and of various Arabic prayers forms a major part of the pilgrimage procedure. An index of the Qur'anic passages mentioned in the text is attached at the end of the translation as Appendix B, and shows at a glance which were most popular for pilgrimage to tombs. To tie all the anniversaries together, there is a Muslim equivalent for the Christian All Saints' day, on the first Thursday in the month of Rajab, when one may commemorate all the saints' festivals at once (see. 5). Muhammad Najib also included instructions for prayers of intercession on behalf of deceased sinners who are undergoing pre-resurrection torments in the grave; one may willingly give to another the rew;ird for years of prayer, as is shown by the story of Abu al-Rabi' and his 70,000 repetitions of the Islamic creed (sec. 11). While no Islamic equivalent of the Christian All Souls' day arose, celebration of the salvation of the saint is similarly distinguished from penitential remembrance of the sinner in both traditions. 28 Other pilgrimage practices described by Muhammad Najib raise interesting questions about the status of ziyarat as an Islamic ritual and the psychological dimensions associated with its external performance. Like the hay, ziyarat calls for circumambulation (sec. 12), in this case of the tomb rather than the Ka k ba. 2 9 ^ M u h a m m a d Chishti, Addt* a I-td lib in, fol. 22b, 24b. The text frequently uses the Arabic phrase

bi-ld haraj,

which normally means "there is no harm or crime in it," and so it would be expected to

h a v e an objective legal content, describing the pilgrimage rituals as harmless but not required. T h e Persian lithograph of the

harch), TO

Makhzcin oi-a'rds consistently


ftaraj a s haraj



sometimes using tlu term by itself to mean "straitness" or "difficulty," as in sec. 3.

" George Every, Christian Mythology (London: Hamlyn, 1970), p. 114. The Maliki jurist Ibn alH a j j (d. 1336) refers to a candle festival for all the saints on 15 S h a ' b a n (Fritz Meier, Abu Sa'id, p. 264). OQ . ,, * Cf. Goldziher, "Veneration " II 288. on circumambulation {tawaf).


An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


Some enthusiastic pilgrims actually found ziyarat to be superior to the hajj (sec. 12). These comparisons were evidently designed to emphasize the acceptability of ziyarat as an Islamic ritual. That some questioned the pilgrimage to saints' tombs we may suppose from the response of the learned Nasir al-Din Chiragh-i Dihli, who discovered a hadith of the Prophet in support of ziyarat (sec. 12). 3 0 Muhammad Najib accepted this canonical approval of ziyarat wholeheartedly, and concluded his treatise by describing these practices as good sunna, that is, exemplary behavior based on the Prophet's word or deed (sec. 23). Muhammad Najib frequently reminds the reader to observe proper manners (adab) and reverentially correct behavior; otherwise one risks offending the saints, who are consciously present and not averse to correcting the offender. One should especially avoid turning one's back on the saint's tomb or turning one's feet disrespectfully in that direction. The pilgrim is also instructed to perform a deep psychological self-examination while visiting tombs, for receptivity to supernatural communications is then greatly increased and one may hope for s piritual guidance by this means. One of the most interesting extended accounts in the treatise is 'Ala' alDawla Simnani's lengthy and somewhat obscure reply (sec. 13) to an extreme idealist who scorned the spirit's need for a body and so doubted the efficacy of pilgrimage to tombs. 'Ala' al-Dawla pointed out that pilgrimage to tombs increases one's spiritual concentration (tawajjuh) through contact with the earthly remains of a saint. Simnani said further that, along with the subtle body that will appear at the resurrection, the place of bodily entombment is more closely connected with the spirit than is any other material phenomenon. Citing the example of the Prophet Muhammad's tomb in Medina, he argued that while meditation on the Prophet at any time is beneficial, physically visiting the Prophet's tomb is better, since the spirit of the Prophet senses the extra effort a i d hardship of the journey and assists the pilgrim in attaining the full realization of the inner meaning of the pilgrimage. The eminent scholar 'Abd alHaqq Dihlawi (d. 1642-43) also stressed the spiritual nature of the vision sought by pilgrims (sec. 18). Muhammad Najib concedes that tliere is controversy over honoring the dead, and he argues that objections to this practice simply misunderstand its true nature. He maintains that those souls who received honors while living are still worthy of those honors after their death. This leads him to consider those honors that were controversial in Islamic law, such as prostration before the master. It is common for pilgrims to express their love and respect for the saints by kissing and touching their eyes to the tombs. Prostration, though customary in the

^ C f . Goldziher, "Veneration," II, 335, n. 3, on hadith in favor of pilgrimage. For an early example of preferring pilgrimage to saints' tombs over the hajj, see Fritz Meier, Abu Sa'id, pp. 202-203.

Carl W. Ernst


courts of kings, is technically permissible only before God, as in ritual prayer; many jurists draw the inference that prostration before a mortal is therefore idolatrous, although some permit a distinction between the prostration of respect and the prostration of worship. The Chishti master Nizam al-Din Awliya' was uncomfortable with the practice, but permitted it since it was an established custom with his predecessors. 3 1 'Ala' al-Dawla Simnani mentioned an occasion when people bowed down before his own master, and a jurist forbade them to do so. Yet h e made it clear that this prostration is not worship ( ' i b a d a t ) of the person but spontaneous respect (ta 'lirn), which is paid to the spiritual reality that is manifest in the form of the sheikh. Supporters of ziyarat pilgrimage reject the suspicion that it is the result of Hindu influence, and they find the Wahhabi iconoclasm extreme, pointing to passages in both the Qur an (e.g., al-Kahf, 18.21) and the hadith reports which approved graves as memorials and allowed the visiting of saintly people's tombs as a pious and beneficial act. The tomb was in fact an untypical f o r m of architecture in Hindu India, where cremation was the preferred method of disposal of the dead. From a purely architectural perspective, it might be more correct to describe Sufi shrines as mosques with funerary functions, since the tombs invariably have an orientation to the direction of Mecca, and large mausolea almost always feature ¡1 qibla niche in the appropriate w a l l . ' 2 From this functional perspective, tombs of Sufi saints are developments within the Islamic tradition that do not rely on any Hindu example. Muhammad Najib's introduction to the Makhzan-i a'ras shows a learned Sufi's understanding of ziyarat pilgrimage to Sufi shrines as a religious practice comparable to the hajj pilgrimage and generally permissible according to Islamic law. Though some disputed the legitimacy of ziyarat, Sufi scholars almost unanimously accepted it as a practice founded on the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and in this view it was thoroughly Islamic in intention. The use of (lie Islamic lunar calendar and a ritual atmosphere saturated with recitation of the Q u r ' a n reinforced the Islamic character of pilgrimages to saints' tombs. The Sufis' own understanding of the encounter with a saint's spirit derived from their intense cultivation of the master-disciple relationship, which for them reached beyond the limits of life and death. The ziyarat pilgrimage is not merely a journey to a place of burial, but is literally a visit to a living saint; one of die most common Persian terms lor a saint's shrine is mazar, a place that is visited, indicating that the act of personal encounter takes priority over the structure's reliquary function. Pilgrimage to Sufi saints' shrines is, temporally, a search for

Fawd 'id al-fu 'ad, pp. 267. of the l a m e s Dickie, "Allah and Hiernity: Mosques. Madrasas and T o m b s , " in Architecture Islamic World: Its History n/id Social Meaning, ed. G e o r g e Michel] ( L o n d o n : T h a m e s and Hudson, 1978), pp. 43-44.

An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


union with God through synchronicity with the the saint's death anniversary; physically it is an approach to the divine presence over the threshold of the saint's tomb. The traditional Sufi attitude to pilgrimage, as shown in Muhammad Najib's introduction, resulted from centuries of reflection on an extremely widespread ritual. Despite the theological and legal controversies that have raged around pilgrimage to Sufi tombs, the practice is rooted in the hearts of many Muslims and remains a vital part of the Islamic tradition.

Introduction to the Treasury of Death Anniversaries (Makhzan al-a'ras)33 1. Praise be to God, Lord of Creation, and blessings and peace on the chief of messengers and seal of the prophets Muhammad the Chosen, and on his family, and all his companions. Now, this special treatise is [taken] from the collection of death anniversaries of the prophets, companions, imams of guidance, and noble sheikhs (God be pleased with them) that was assembled previously by Sheikh Sharaf al-Din ibn Qadi Sheikh Muhammad Nahrawali. Since the names of the saints who were joined to the mercy of God after the compilation of the aforesaid treatise were lacking, as well as some names of the ancients, therefore a selection was made from biographical works in the year 1155 [1741-42] by this slave of darwishes, Muhammad Najib Qadiri Nagawri Ajmeri, who is one of the intimates and disciples of the threshold of all creation and the resort and exemplar of those united with God, the revered Sheikh Nizam al-Din Chishti Awrangabadi [d. 1142/1729] (disciple of the exemplar of the saints Sheikh Kalim Allah Chishti Shahjalianabadi [d. 1142/1729], disciple of the axis of those united with God, Sheikh Muhammad Yahya Chishti al-Gujarati al-Madani [d. 1101/1689], grandson and disciple of the axis 3 4 of axes Sheikh Muhammad Chishti al-Gujarati [d. 1040/1630], God sanctify their consciences!). These works include Nafahat al-uns, Mir'at al-janan, the history of Imam Yafi'i, Rashahdt, Matliib al-talibin, Siyar al-awliya', Siyar al- 'arifin, Akhbar al-akhyar, Khizanat al-jalali, Fazd'il al-awliya', Khawariqat, Tabaqat-i nasiri, Rawiat al-


Muhammad Najjb Qadiri Nagawri, Kitab al-a'ras (Agra, 1300/1883), cited by Storey, I, 1023, no. 1357, as Makhzan-i a'ras. As my copy lacks the first page of the text (p. 2), the missing part has been supplied from MS 102 Farsiyya Akhbar, Mawlana Azad Library, Aligarh Muslim University. Other copies are listed by Ivanow. p. 754, nos. 1631 and 1632 (no. 1633, Risala-i a'ras, attaches Muhammad Najib's introduction to a different list of dates). Subject headings are my own, as are the section divisions. Material in parentheses is part of the original text, and the original pagination is also enclosed in parentheses. The words between brackets [] have been supplied to make the meaning clear. Unfortunately the lithographed edition contains many mistakes, but whe-e it has been possible to consult the original sources, the corrected readings are reflected in the translation. (qutb)" is the Sufi term for the perfect one who, like the pole star, is an immovable axis arouid which all else revolves.


Carl W. Emst

shuhada', Gulzar-i abrar, Safinat al-awliya', Mukhbir al-wasiliri, Tabaqat-i Shahjahani, and other authentic texts. He found that for some [saints], the year and date and tomb and Sufi order were in books, and the dates of others, both ancient and modern, were not to be seen in books. At the tombs of those where a death anniversary is observed at a place where pilgrimage is possible, there were some papers that were there verified by the descendant (sahib-i sajjada) and the attendants of the tomb. In the places where it was impossible to go, verification was conveyed and confirmed by disciples of the order of that saint or by residents of the place who were well-known and trustworthy men. Dates contained in the aforementioned Book of Death Anniversaries were retained without change or substitution. If something has been found to contradict that in the biographical books, it has been added, and displayed, as a means of salvation in both worlds. May God (glory be to Him who is exalted!), in respect of the holy ones who are mentioned in this noble text, keep this rebellious and poorly armored sinner in the love of this lofty company, and make [me] die in their love, and resurrect [me] in the troop of their lovers and in the sanctuary of die Prophet and his noble family. On Fixing Death


2. The axis of the saints, Sheikh M u h a m m a d Chishti (son of Sheikh Muhammad Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn Sheikh Nasir al-Din-i Thani ibn Sheikh Badr al-Din ibn Kamal al-Din, disciple and true nephew of the axis of axes, Sheikh Nasir al-Din Mahmud Chiragh-i Dihli [d. 757/1356]) has said in his writings, 3 5 "Seeker of God, my dear, my beloved! You ought to observe the death anniversaries of the saints of God Most High, for help comes to you from them. God Most High gives the capacity for this work to their descendants, from His own generosity. The author of the MajtmV al-riwaydfi6 lias said, 'If one wishes to select the [time of the saint's] feast, let him select it with awareness of the day of his death, and take care for the hour in which his spirit departed. For the spirits of the dead come every year in die days of the death anniversaries, in that place and in (hat hour. And it is fitting that one take food and drink in that hour, for that makes the spirits glad. Indeed, there is an extraordinary [spiritual] influence in this. And if one wants edibles and beverages, they [the spirits] will be glad, and wish one well and not ill.' T hus if the aspirant, in pilgrimage to that place, regardless ol conditions, regardless of where it is, regardless of anything whatever, makes an offering to the best of his a b i l i t y - a n d if that hour is not known, then if the spirit has passed on during the day, he does this during the day, and if it lias passed on during the night, he does it during the night. H i e

it The following passage occurs in Adah al-talibin, ' 6 N o t traced; the quotation

all in Arabic.

foi. 24a-b; Urdu trans,, pp. 63-64.

An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage


holy master of the secret, Gisu Daraz, 3 7 used to make a great offering to the s pirit of the axis of axes, Sheikh Nasir al-Din Mahmud Chiragh-i Dihli (God be pleased with him!) during the night of the 18th of Ramadan, (p.4) since the passing of his spirit had been on this night. But he also performed this during the day. And if it is not known with certainty whether it was by day or night, then one should perform it during the day, and also do something at night." Such was the practice of the axis of the saints. Offerings to the Spirits of the Dead?* 3. "Know, seeker of God (glory be to Him who is exalted), that the perfectly guided ones, sincere disciples, and trustworthy adherents ought to present food to the spirits of their elders, their masters, and their guides, as much as possible without objection, riius by their [the spirits'] blessing, the benefits (futuhat) and good fortune of both worlds are increased, and their [the disciples'] life and wealth grow, and they attain their desire and stand in need of nothing created; might and fortune become great, and since 'The [real] man is he w h o loves,' by their blessing, iheir final suite becomes good if God Most High wills. This having become clear by experience, there is no success, unless [for] the possessor of fortune and happiness." If [celebrating] all of the death anniversaries causes difficulty, let him only do some, and make an offering without sin to the spirits of all the prophets and saints and all the people of the heart, in the month of Rajab. Flexibility

in Observing the Death


4. Know that, if one does not perform it on the day and night of the death anniversary, but performs it on another day on account of business, it is good. "The perfection of deeds is in intentions." He [Muhammad Chishti] has also s a i d , 3 9 "One observes the death anniversaries of one's masters, as much as possible without objection, and in observing this, if one obtains the permission of the master both formally and spiritually, it is best. And if it is hard to give to anyone, let him give that which he owes to his family and children and people, a r d that which he eats [himself]; this shall be his intention. 4 0 And if the death anniversary is on a day when it is hard [to perform all customary practices], he performs it on whatever day is easy. On the day of incurring expenses for the 37

Sayyid M u h a m m a d a l - H u s a y n i "Gisu Daraz" or "long tress", d. 826/1422 in Gulbarga; cf. Lawrence, pp. 32-35. TO r h e passage quoted in sec. 3. as far as the closing quotation marks, occurs at the very end of Adah al-talibm, fol. 24b-25a: Urdu trans., pp. 64-65; the subsequent phrase concerning All Saints' Day is the addition of Muhammad Najib. 39 T h i s passage occurs in Adab a!-talibm, fols. 22a-b; Urdu trans., p. 63. 40 ,^ven if o n e can only distribute f o o d t o oneself and one's family, it shall serve the s a m e purpose as if it were distributed it to many.


Carl W. Ernst

death anniversary, he does not become extravagant, but does whatever is without extravagance." Distributing

Food Offerings at the Death


5. In the Khizanat al-jaldli41 it is written, "One of the conditions of the sincere is that, for the spirii of one to whom one wishes to offer food, he should distribute food for the diirwishes at that subtle time in which that saint has departed, for three days in succession. Whatever time he wishes is best." In die above-mentioned Book of Death Anniversaries it is written, 4 2 "Making offerings on the day and night is a complete cycle (bar-i tamam), and the day of the death anniversary and the following night and the following day is the order of making offerings on the day of the death anniversary. 4 3 And if die day is not known, nor the night, then it is performed in the [appropriate] month, but if the month is not known, it should be performed in the month of Rajab, especially on 'die night of wishes (laylat al- ragha 'ib)' or that day, the first Thursday that comes in the month of Rajab, which is called [the day of] 'the night of wishes.' 4 4 They say that in this night or day, [or on the night of the Prophet's ascension], if one performs it as much as possible for the souls of all the saints and the people of faith, what happiness is [ then ] in the breasts of all! If one is a faqir or darwish, whatever cooked food is in the house (p.5) he dedicates to their spirits and eats it. And if it is a time of poverty, let him not forget the Fatiha [Qur. 1)." 6. One of the offspring of the disciples of the axis of axes, Sheikh Muhammad Cliishti (God sanctify his conscience) writes, 4 5 "On the day of the death anniversary, or the night, one recites the Fatiha to his spirit and makes an offering of food. If one recites the Fatiha during die hour of the passing away of his spirit, it is better; otherwise [one does it] at whatever hour and whatever day is easiest without objection, him recite the Fatiha over the food and drink. If he cannot [distribute foodl, indeed let him recite the Fatiha for their spirits and

41 T h e Khizanat


is : ¿¿knui) 28 Irene Maroff, "The Role of I mpressive Culture in the Démystification of a Secret Sect of Islam: T h e Case of the Alevis of Turkey " Vie World of Music, 3 (1986), p. 48. 2Q * A small three-stringed folk luio with a triangular-shaped body (irizva) is particularly suitable for the finger techniques. 30

B i r g e , Bektashi

Order, p. 25 >

Sama' and the Alevis of Turkey


respectively) that is known as baglama diizeni (the baglama tuning) and sometimes as Alevi diizeni (the Alevi tuning) or even Veysel diizeni (in honor of the contemporary minstrel-poet a§ik Veysel). This tuning facilitates the crossing of strings and the creation of an intricate texture that features the movement of voices in parallel fourths and fifths, a distinctive feature of nomadic Turkmen lute performance practice. Another tuning, known as bozuk diizeni (la-re-sol), is used mainly in the Aegean region by Tahtaci Alevis and also by city-trained Alevi professional musicians, whose modern renditions of traditional music exhibit a more urban sound with a more homophonic texture. Although Alevi musical genres can be characterized by their richness of regional stylistic diversity, there are a number of features that bind them together and imbue them with an Alevi identity. For example, the phrase "He/she plays Hiiseyni" (HUseyni gahyor) is used to describe the nature of Alevi melodies. This simple phrase is loaded with many obvious, and some less obvious, connotations that help nurture the Alevi communal spirit. "Huseyn" implies a strong link with Shi'i Islam through the martyr figure of the imam Huseyn who is lamented in the mersiya; on another level it suggests the exclusive quality of in-group tradition, and the intimacy shared by group members upon hearing the music. A strict ethnomusicological analysis and interpretation of the term reveals that many Alevi melodies use a scale that is almost the exact counterpart of the c assical Turkish makam (musical mode) Hiiseyni that is widespread in Turkish folk music as well. 3 1 The majority of Alevis, however, use the term in its mysticiil sense alone. Meter in Alevi music spans a wide spectrum of meters found in Turkish traditional rural music, such as the duple variety as it is known in the West and the unique aksak (limping) asymmetric combinations that are found in nsighboring Balkan countries as well, such as: 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, and 10/8. 32 The 9/8 meter, however, is used for most regional versions of sema music, the division 9 = (2+2+2+3) or (2+3+2+2) more prevalent in the area of the Taurus mountains where the Tahtaci-Alevis live and where local secular folk dances, called teke zotlamasi, use the same meters. In Central and Eastern Anatolia, sema music uses 9/4 (2+2+3+2) in the first movement o i the dance, moving to 9/8 (2+3+2+2) or (2+2+2+3) in the fast movement, and sometimes leading to a third movement in triple meter that is even faster than the second in tempo, ending finally with a brief close in a slow duple meter. The broader Alevi minstrel style can always be identified by short melodic motifs that introduce and end repertoire, or are used as markers throughout a •i i v T h e Huseyni-like mode in folk music is known as Kerem and uses the following scale: ab^cdefga 32

M a r k o f f , "Musical Theory," pp. 111-117.


Irene Markoff

performance, appearing at cadences that end musical phrases. These stereotyped phrases emphasize the sixth, seventh, and eighth degrees of the Hiiseyni-like scale (known as the Kerem scale in folk music circles), and are sometimes combined with rhythmic ostinati and used throughout a performance to accompany the melody as sung by the voice. 33 In the context of the cem, Alevi musicians are free in choosing the repertoire they play and the mystical poems they will sing to the accompaniment of set regional melody types. Although each musician engages in the process of variant-formation, and degrees of artistry and craftsmanship vary in each individual interpretation, there is an unspoken understanding that personal style should never distort clear identification with regional sources. New compositions are not tolerated, and excessive innovative behavior in performance is, considered to be an exhibition of almost heretical behavior ( u y d u r m a , lit. made-up, invented). It is not surprising, however, that young urban-trained musicians wish to explore the full potential of their instruments and create something truly novel that will allow them to stand out from their peers. I'll is trend began with the generation of Alevi musicians who are now in their forties and fifties, and will no doubt continue with the younger generation of musicians who have been trained in conservatories.3"1 In returning to the subject of sema as dance in Alevi ritual ceremonies, it is fitting to once again clarify the nature of the dance with the words of Haci Bekta§ Veli, who stresses the serious and religious nature of sema in his Malakat (collection of sayings) with Lhe following thoughts: S e m a , ariflerin aleti. m u h i p l e r i n ibadeti, taliplerin m a h s u d u d u r . H a k k a ki bizim semamiz oyuueak §ey degil. llahi bir sirdir. Mecazi degildir. O k i m s e ki sema'i bir oyun sayar. O cifedir. Namazi kilinir kimse degildir. S e m a is a vehicle for those who have rejoiced in experiencing the essence of Divine Reality; it is a form of worship for the initiated, and the true objective of the seekers. In truth, our sema is not merely a dance in the secular sense. It is a d i v i n e secret. W h o s o e v e r considers sema to be a d a n c e can only be regarded with disgust. They cannot be viewed as true believers. 3 -*

The sacred nature of the Alevi sema has been stressed, its performance formerly restricted to cent ceremonies. In fact, the general seriousness with which sema is viewed by Alevis can be better understood by a discussion of matters such as criteria for selection of participants, etiquette and ethics of performance, ritualistic behavior that precedes and follows the actual choreography, the actual The use of a melodic-rhythmic ostinato is most frequent in the Tahtaci semas of southern Turkey, which are also known as metigi. and often reserved for young people. Markoff, "Musical Theory". - J Birdogan, "Semahlar," p. 47

Sama' and the Alevis of Turkey


choreography, and interaction between peroformers, audience, and the spiritual hierarchy during the performance. The gozcti, one of the twelve assistants of the dede during the ceremony, has the responsibility of choosing sema performers and monitoring their movements as they dance. Once he has made his decision, he motions to various men and women with a subtle gesture or touches them with a sacred stick known as tarik or dayak. The dede sometimes asks the congregation if the chosen few are worthy (Idyik) of the honor, if tliey have upheld the ethical principles of the faith, and if they have mastered the techniques of the dance. If everyone is in agreement (ran), the selected individuals make their way to the central area in the room in order to make the ritual niyaz (bowing, prostration to the religious leader that can include kissing him on both knees, on the chest, or the floor in front of him) to the dede. The dede gives his blessings and recites a prayer (dua) in which he asks for a blessing from Allah, Muhammad, the twelve Alid imams, and Haci Bekta§, for all the members of the community, for the zakir who performs the music, and for the women and men who will participate in the dance (semahcilar). The prayer ends with the mystical formula Gergek Erenler Demine Hu ("Hu, to those who have truly attained the mystical knowledge of God"). 3 6 Once the musicians begin to play, the dancers, who can number from one to sixteen or more, acknowledge one another with dignified and respectful bows or symbolic embraces. 37 While dancing, men and women are required to maintain a reasonable distance from one another; bodily contact is entirely out of the question. In addition, dancers must exercise caution in order not to turn their backs to the dede or the ritual hearth (ocak). Women's arms movements are more modest than (hose of the men, such that they are restricted to the area below shoulder height. The men raise their arms into the air and move them from side to side. During this time, the audience observes in silence, sometimes swaying from side to side in response to the rhythm and sensual appeal of the music. The choreographies utilize circle formation, line formation, and arrangements in which couples face one another, synchronizing their movements more closely. The actual dance figures employ walking steps for the slow movement of the dance (agirlama), with restricted arms movements, faster steps, and more animate movements in the second movement (yeldirme, yelleme), when arm movements are said to imitate birds in flight. A third movement is sometimes present (hizlanma), in which the figures become even more complex

Derleme Norlan, Order, p. 94. •' 6 Yonetken,

p. 21; Ulusoy,

Hiinkar llaa Bektaf,

pp. 281, 282; Birge,


' ^ S o m e t i m e s the women kiss the palms of the hands of the men while other times men and women bend towards one another and extend their arms in a symbolic embrace.


Irene Markoff

and intense. In Tokat, for example, the fast movement is such that the dancers are said to whirl like spinning wheels (parh gibi dOnerler).38 The entire dance suite usually ends with a decrease in tempo so that the dancers can gradually regain their composure through slow walking steps. When the music ends, they make their way to the dede and await his blessing and prayer in a kneeling position. The dede responds with a prayer that thanks the dancers for their performance and asks for the blessing of Allah, Muhammad, Ali, and Haci Bekta§. 39 Regional nomenclature for the sema includes: Kirklar Semahi (Dance of the Forty), Durnalar (Turnalar) Semahi (Dance of the Cranes), Garipler Semahi (Dance of the Strange Ones), GOnfiller Semahi (Dance of the Hearts), Dem Geldi Semahi (The Coming of Spiritual Intoxication Dance), Ya Hizir Semahi (Oh, Hizir Dance), Kirat Semahi (Dance of Instruction), and Gdzctt Semahi (Dance for the Gozcii [keeper of order in the cem]). The preparation of cranes for flight is alluded to in the movements of the Dance of the Cranes (Turnalar Semahi). The elegant crane is also a familial' image in Turkish folk poetry, which is not surprising as it is known to be an important totem for the Turkic-Mongol peoples of Central Asia. 4 0 The movements of the dance, then, can be viewed as possible links to a shamanistic legacy, in which shamans in performing miracles are transformed into birds who then take off in flight. This idea of the metamorphosis of a human into a bird is found also in the miracles of Bekta§i saints such as Ahmed Yesevi and Barak B a b a . 4 1 In addition, legend tells it that Haci Bekta§ himself travelled from Khurasan to Anatolia in the form of a dove (guvercin). The legend continues that Haci Bekta§ received the power to work miracles from the imam Ali, the socalled "king of saints," who is sometimes symbolically represented in AleviBekta§i poetry as a crane 42 Perhaps the most widespread of all Alevi semas is the Dance of the Forty (Kirklar Semahi) that deri ves from the Gathering of the forty Saints, when Muhammad shared the juice of one grape with the saints after his ascension to

^ Y ö n e t k e n , Derleme Notlart, p. 80. ^ B i r d o g a n , "Semahlar," p. 45 The dance movements of the sema have been compared to the halay genre of eastern Turkey, which has a progression from slow to fast tempos in movements that form a suite. The term agulama is used for the slow movement, yeldirme or yellenme for the fast movement, and hoplatma or an even faster movement, as is the case for the sema genre. 4 ®Speros Vryonis, Jr., The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1971). p. 26>>. 4

^ Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: '¡ hair Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 403. 42 Birge, Bektashi Order, p. 212

Sarna' and Lhe Alevis of Turkey


heaven ( m i r a c ) . 4 3 It was during this meeting that Muhammad beheld the manifestation of Divine Reality in Ali to whom he began to render true homage from then on. It was believed also that this event marked the recognition of the imam Ali's possession of the mystery of saintship (sirr-i vilayet).44 The gathering of the forty is said to represent the prototype of the central rite of the Alevis, known as the ayin-i cem or gOrgii cemi (Rite of Integration) that represents the culmination of the Alevi annual cyclc. It is a complex ritual occasion in which a variety of tasks are allotted to incumbents. The dede is the central figure who applies Alcvi religious idioms in sermons, rituals, prayer formulas, songs, legends, and conflict settlements. 45 The entire ceremony helps to reinforce social solidarity through a dramatization of the unity and integration of neighbors who are bound together by extrafamilial brotherhood (musahiplik). The dede interacts formally with his twelve assistants and the body of worshipers as he inculcates beliefs and doctrines that reinforce links with Sunni Islam, the Bekta§i order of dervishes, and Shi'i Islam as well. He also indicates appropriate moments for the singing of mystical poems and laments and the performance of sema.

At intervals, special prayers and formulas emphasize the filiation of the Alevis to the Bektap order by paying homage to saints such as Balim Sultan, Kaygusuz Abdal, Abdal Musa, and of course Haci Bekta§ himself, who is i ncluded in the complete concentric order of religious authority (for the Alevis) as represented in the formula Hak Muhammad Ali ulu Hiinkar (God, Muhammad, Ali, Haci Bekta§ [who is usually referred to as the hiinkar]) 4 6 A further indication of spiritual filiation is apparent during the service of rcpcntence igdrgti) called bag okutmak by the Bekta§i dervishes. During this service, couples linked by Active kinship (musahiplik) stand at the dar position n the central area of the house of worship (cem evi). This position is known as dar-i Mansur (the gallows of Mansur al-Hallaj). 'l"he couples stand there for a symbolic sacrifice of life for one's principles in memory of the martyr al-IIallaj. It is the figure of the imam Ali, however, which is central to the major annual ceremony and to all other cem rituals. Ali considered to be one of die greatest of saints, a great scholar and warrior whose valor and courage are crystallized in the phrase Ld Fetd Ilia Ali La Seyfe Ilia Ziilfikar ("There is no one The Kjrklar Semahi is known as the Erzincan Semah(i) in Rr/incan and Tercan, and as the Divrigi Semah(t) or Hozok Semah(i) in Sivas. The melodies for Kirklar Semahi in the areas of trzincan, Sivas, Tokat and Tunceli are almost identical, with only slight differences in the interpretations of individual regional performers. 44 Birge, Bektashi Order, p. 266. 4

% e i d a r Griinhaug, Micro-Macro Birge. Bektashi Order, p. 198.


Relations (Bergen: University of Bergen, 1974), p. 168.


Irene Markoff

more valiant than Ali, no sword like Ziilfikâr"), which is exclaimed by the dede during Alevi cems. Ali's family are also viewed as true saints, Fatima cherished as the exalted mother of the king of saints. In fact, the Alevis believe that Muhammad passed the Divine Light to Ali, and with this gift of esoteric knowledge, Ali and his descendants were given the ability to interpret the hidden meaning of the Koran. It is also believed that Ali passed this knowledge and the power to work miracles to Haci Bekta§.

CONCLUSION In retrospect, one can evaluate the secrecy and mystery surrounding Alevi religious rituals as reflecting a justified strategy devised to protect and preserve sect identity and activities. A recent study, however, has illustrated that after the establishment of the Turkish republic, Alevi expressive culture was tolerated and popularized because of Alevi minstrels, who were cultivated because they endowed the secular policy of the state with strong ideological support. 47 The minstrels' literary and musical tradition were used as tools for bolstering national identity while ensuring the support of the masses. As a result, when the cultural policies of the new republic were activated, Alevi and other musicians were invited to perform at the newly established cultural activity centers known as People's Houses (Halk Evleri), and to appear on special state radio programs as well as at festivals and concerts. 48 The recording and entertainment industries also provided ample opportunities for musicians, thus increasing the visibility of artists and potential for their wide popularity among the people. For example, Alevi minstrels and musicians such as A§ik Veysel, Asik Ali îzzet Ôzkan, and Hasan Hiiseyn were popularized through the Columbia, 47

iihan Ba§goz, "Folklore Studio.', and Nationalism in Turkey." Journal of the Folklore 9 (1972), 168.


^ T h e basic melody type for thi Kirklar Semah found in the areas of Sivas, Erzincan, Tokat, and Malatya is best known today tv- a broad Turkish audience through commercial recordings and national radio broadcasts. For example, Arif Sag's refashioning of that sema for solo baglama can be heard on the disc l$te Baglama, ($te Arif Sag on the Hakan label. With his rendition, Sag was able to capture the expressive qualities of the sung verse, and thus convey intense emotion. Sag also played a major role in exposing the same sema to popular music audiences through the album Tiirkiilerimiz that features the popular singer Selda. The arrangement was scored for two orchestras: one a popular music ensemble with strings, electrics bass and guitar, acoustic guitar, electric piano, synthesizer, and ]>ercussion; the other, a folk music ensemble led by Sag thai consisted of five baglamas, one i>owed lute, two double reed instruments, frame drums, spoons, and a double-headed barrel drum. Finally a Sivas version of the same melody type of the sema was performed during a concert at the Opera House in Ankara. A mixed chorus and instrumental ensemble composed of accomplished radio artists performed for an audience of top-ranking officials and invited guests onl>. On the subject of semas in iioneral, it should be mentioned that there are at least ten printed notations of different regional varieties of the genre in the archives of the Turkish national radio, which are used for performance Hs radio artists.

Samä' and the Alevis of Turkey


Odeon, and RCA Victor recording companies. Finally, when Alevis came to the cities of Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir during the first large wave of migration in the 1950s and onwards, 4 9 Alevi expressive culture, together with other forms of fclk culture, began to "infiltrate the formerly impenetrable veneer of urban high culture as a national Turkish culture began to take root". 5 0 In the city, Alevi performers could rely on the patronage of recording companies, nightclubs and entertainment halls, as well as on their fellow countrymen, who would employ their services at private parties and gatherings. The increased religiosity that the migrants experienced when they began the urbanization process no doubt provided greater opportunities for Alevi musical performance at both sacred and secular functions. One point to be remembered in this discussion is that at this time, the repertoire chosen by Alevi musicians in public performances was restricted to the truly mystical songs, with their themes of love and separation, nature, and universal reconciliation. Sacred repertoire, in the strictest sense, such as the mersiye and diivaz, was still forbidden outside the bounds of religious ritual. This situation, however, was not to remain constant; in the early 1960s, the baglama music and poetry of the Erzincan version of the Dance of the Forty (Ktrklar Semahi) was heard on national radio and identified as a dance melody from Eastern Anatolia. Then, in 1963, the Turkish government retreated from its extreme position of the 1920s and endorsed the organization of an annual c jltural festival in honor of Haci Bekta§, similar to that held in Konya every year s nee 1953 in honor of Celaleddin Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order of d e r v i s h e s . 5 1 Since that lime, a multitude of Alevis and Bekta^is as well as Sunnis and foreigners congregate by the thousands in the little town of Haci Bekta§. Kirsehir province, to participate in the annual celebrations. There a large arena is provided for several evenings of entertainment by radio artists, minstrels, and amateur performers, as well amateur sema performing groups. Since the Haci Bekta§ shrine is returning to its old status as a center for pilgrimage, visitors also take (he opportunity to visit the central dervish lodge (dergah) of the Bekta§i order and to view the tomb of Haci Bektas himself and other saints and holy men of the order who followed him. Another impressive event ocurred in 1979, when a statue was erected in a village close to the town of Sivas, which is believed to be the birthplace of the revolutionary lyrical poet Pir Sultan Abdal, who was hanged for his unorthodox


K e m a l Karpat. The Gecekondu: Lniversity Press. 1976), n. 162.

Rural Migration

arid Urbanization

( C a m b r i d g e : Cambridge

C •A

- Markoff, "Role of Expressive Culture," p. 50. SI

I b i d . , p. 51; Howard Reed, "The Religious Life of Turkish Moslems," in Islam and the West, ed. Richard N. Frye (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1957), pp. 108-148.


Irene Markoff

beliefs. At the ceremony commemorating this event, it was reported that thousands of onlookers performed the ritual sema with true spontaneity.52 The continued success of annual festivities in the town of Haci Bekta§ and elsewhere is a positive indication that the recent revitalization and further popularization of Alevi expressive traditions will be ensured. This was made possible by the broader minstrel tradition of mystical sung poetry of the past, and the topical mystically tinged poetry of the present that has gained popular appeal through the outstanding creative abilities of Alevi minstrels and urbantrained professional musicians both at home and abroad. 53 Even non-Alevi musicians have become inspired by the dramatic and profound, yet sensual, appeal of the repertoire, and refashioned it for ensembles that combine Turkish indigenous with Western musical instrumentation.

POSTLUDE It has been demonstrated in this paper that Alevi expressive art forms have played a significant role in strengthening Alevi communitas through their effective communicative powers. In religious ritual, the repertoire serves in rehearsing the beliefs of the sect, preserving its myths and legends, and evoking saints who legitimize their link with official Islam and add an element of prestige and status to their so-called questionable reputation. In the public domain, these same traditions are utilized as totems for recalling the greatness of a Central Asian homeland, and in their urban, professional, and revitalized forms function as unique idioms that enrich the variegated mosaic of contemporary Turkish culture.


B i r d o g a n , "Semahlar," p. 31.

T h e refined innovations and technical wizardry of contemporary Alevi b a g l a m a specialists such as Ali Ekber f.'i^ek, Arif S a j , Yavuz Top, and Musa Eroglu are acknowledged by all Turkish f o l k musicians. £ i f e k is known for his brilljant composition "Haydar," which was inspired by twentieth-century Bekta$i poetry and Alevi melodies f r o m the Malatya area of eastern Turkey. Sag and T o p are peers and can be viewed as the most impressive saz virtuosos of their time. Hroglu is recognized for his p o w e r f u l yet expressive playing and singing style, and for the r e w o r k i n g s of his native Tahtaci repertoire. All of these musicians can b e heard on Turkish records and cassettes. Sag and Top were formerly featured artists with national radio in Istanbul.


Ever sincc the establishment of Sufi institutions in the thirteenth century, the Indian subcontinent has enjoyed a continuity and vitality of its sama' tradition that has few parallels in the world of Islam. What is perhaps most conspicuous about the sama' of South Asia is its professionalization: its transmission and performance are allocated to professional specialists who stand apart both spiritually and socially from the Sufi practitioners. 1 This development is related to the particular nature of the Indie Sufi institutions, a framework within which the tradition of sama' became established and itself took on a special character. Saints occupy a central position in this form of Sufism, and sama' plays an essential role in articulating and maintaining that position. From tins dual fact arises the following question: What does music, in the form of sama', contribute to the institution of sainthood and to the actual worship of saints? Focusing on this question here does not imply a denial of the primary importance, accorded by Sufism, of sama' as a means to partake of the experiential dimension of spiritual achievement. Nor does it suggest that these two dimensions of the sama' are mutually exclusive, or even separable in any way; on the contrary, they are connected in intimate mutuality, as every Sufi knows.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND In the Indian subcontinent, Sufism and with it the practice of sama' took root during the thirteenth century within the socio-cultural framework instituted by Muslim rule, 2 and under its patronage and protection. Indeed, it came to represent and legitimize that rule, and in time, the Sufi practices and institutions came close to mirroring its social structural pattern.

^An obvious parallel exists in the Mevlevi tradition which might possibly become better understood in the light of this "living" example from India. 2

Aziz Ahmad, "The Sufi and the Sultan in Pre-Mughal Muslim India," Der Islam, 38 (1963), 142153; Richard S. Eaton, Sufis ofBijapur (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).


Regula Burckhardt Qureshi

In its essentia] features, the Indo-Muslim social structure was dominated by a centralized hierarchy of nobles and functionaries. Here, relationships traditionally followed a courtier pattern of submission in return for benefice, and formalized codes of behavior (adab) and elaborate court rituals governed these hierarchical relationships. Of the four major tariqas introduced into India between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Chishtiyya came first and spread most widely throughout India. AH four, however, became subject early on to the change from the khdnqah to what Trimingham calls the id 'ifa phase, with a shift of focus to saintly shrines (dargahs), their founder-saints and the spiritual power they represent. 3 Land endowments and elite patronage contributed to the shrines' becoming quasifeudal establishments, controlled by those recognized as the particular saint's descendants or spiritual representatives.4 This spiritual elite mediates between the Sufi devotees and the saints, whose spiritual power and nearness to God are sought by both Muslim and non-Muslim devotees in addition to the Sufi adepts. The frame of reference, formalized in detailed spiritual genealogies that are an important part of this Sufi tradition, is a hierarchy linking the devotee or disciple to his pir or sheikh, the saint Hazrat "Ali, Prophet Muhammad, and ultimately, God. Not part of the hierarchy, however, is the sama' performer — indispensable though he is to the Sufi ritual practice — for his status is but that of a service professional attached to every established dargah or sheikh. As a result of these developments, sama' shifted from the intimate group singing of disciples in the khanqah, to a ritual reflecting in microcosm the social universe of Indie Sufism, without, however, losing its fundamental meaning. Thus in South Asia, the sama' ritual is conceptualized by Sufis in two complementary ways which are contained in the two formal terms used interchangeably for the sama' occasion of performance. The first and more standard term, mahfil-i sama', embodies what might be termed the traditional Sufi charter for music articulated by early saints and divines: 5 a "gathering for listening," which serves as a context for the Sufi's encounter with the experience of mystical love through listening to mystical poetry set to music and enhanced by a powerful rhythm suggesting zikr. I shall

Spencer Trimingham, The Suji Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). ^Eaton, Sufis of


^ 'Ali ibn 'Uthnian al-Hujwiri, The Kashf al-Mahjub, The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufiism, trans. R. A. Nicholson, Gibb Memorial Scries no. 17 (1911; repr. London: Luzac, 1970); Abu Hamid alGhazali, Al-Ghaiali on Islamic Guidance, Irans, with commentary by Muhammad Abul Qasem (Mangi [Malaysia]: University Kebangsaan, 1979); and Amir Hasan 'Alä Sijzi, Fawä'id al-fu'äd (Lucknow: Nawal Kishore Press, 1884), among others. Also discussed in Sayyid Sabahuddin 'Abdurrahman, Bazm-i Süfiyya [Urdu] (2nd ed., A'zamgarh: Matba't-i Ma'ärif Dar al-Musannifin, 1971).

The Chishtiyya of South Asia


not further elaborate this concept, which is well known to all students of Sufism. The second term, darbàr-i auliyâ\ articulates the institutional framework for the Sufi's pursuit of his personal quest for mystical union: in the "royal court of iiaints," the spiritual reality of the Sufi saintly hierarchy becomes manifest through the physical presence of its assembled representatives. The best charter for this concept is the poetic vision of Indie Sufism's great poet, Amir Khusrau, where he finds himself transported in an ideal assembly of ecstatic Sufi saints, exalted by the Prophet's presence, and presided over by God himself. 6 Thus the "royal court of saints" is a formal assembly convened in the name of a saint, headed by the highest spiritual authority represented, structured in accordance with the saintly hierarchy represented, and musically attended to by the service professionals. Rules akin to courtly etiquette serve to articulate relationships within this hierarchy. Thus it is only within the boundaries of proper form (adab) thai the devotees may give free expression to their mystical emotion. Sama' in the darbar-i auliya' is seen as serving to render manifest the reality of this concept, by invoking the presence of saints and thereby articulating the legitimacy of the living sheikhs as their spiritual descendants.7 On this basis it may be hypothesized that the institutional importance of sama' in South Asia is directly and positively related to its validating function vis-à-vis saintly representatives. While this validation is spiritual in essence, it is ;ilso based, in part, on historical authentication. It is this spiritual-historic dynamic which is the special subject of this exploration, with particular reference to the fact that the sama' tradition operates as an oral tradition, and notwithstanding that sama' poetry is preserved in writing. The few printed collections of sama' poems are rarely in use or not available, and neither these collections nor the printed works of recognized sama' poets contain an adequate text repertoire even of Farsi poetry, while very few Hindi poems are in print at all 8 Both Sufis and qawwàls use such sources only as a reference or backup to their memory. It is in this sense that they identify poetry and music as two

^Tlie ghaza! is the universally known namidanam che manzil bud, a sama' favourite. 7

That such action is necessary to ensure a saint's power being recognized is acknowledged by the Sufis themselves, for a major saint like Qutbuddin (see Fig. 12) is largely lost to the Sufi present, sin:e his shrine, a prominent structure, is today devoid of spiritual or sama' activity. Conversely, a weekly sama' performance instituted at the newly erected tomb of Sufi Inayat Khan in Delhi — basically an unrecognized saint — is serving to evoke the reality of his sainthood. ^E;;amples of collections are Hakim Muhammad Idris Khan, Risdla-i sama' aur naghmdt-i sama' [UtduJ (Bareilly: Maktaba 'Ala Hazrat Saudagaran, 1973); Khwaja Hasan SanI Dihlawi Nizami. Tazkira-i Khusrawi (New Delhi: Khwaja Aulad Kitabghar, 1973); and the collected works of Amir Khusrau, Kulliyyal-i ghazaliyyal, ed. Iqbal Salahuddin (4 vols., Lahore: Packages Ltd., 1974).


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contrasting domains of knowledge, that of the written page Cilm-i safina), and that of memory ('ilm-i sina)9 In the interest of conciseness, I shall limit my focus to the Chishtiyya lineage and within it to the Nizamuddin Auliya' shrine in Delhi, along with reference, where relevant, to the other major saints of the tariqa (see Fig. 12). The first step is to show how the poetic and musical idiom itself is linked to saints; the second is to discover how this idiom is used in performance to evoke the Chishtiyya saints in their "royal courts." This will lead to an attempt at evaluating the possible grounds for the claim to authenticity and historicity inherent in both the sama' arid its saint-validating function.

THE SAMA' IDIOM The Chishti commitment and contribution to the sama' idiom of India are overwhelming; its claim to historical validity is therefore undisputed. 10 At the core of the large song repertoire are the textual and musical compositions associated with Amir Khusrau, a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya' and Sufi poet par excellence. Indeed, he is generally considered the founding father both of qawwali, the musical genre of sama' music, and of qawwali performers. 11 For the Sufis, Amir Khusrau embodies Sufi disciplesliip and love for the sheikh, and his compositions evoke the spiritual-emotional link (ta'alluq) to that sheikh, who is the saint Nizamuddin Auliya' himself.

SAMA' TEXTS Qawwali poetry is composed in three languages, each of which has connotations in relation to saints. The most venerated poetry is of course in Farsi, considered to be the original language of Sufism and the poetic idiom of the great saints and poets of the past. The language is in itself evocative of

®The sama' idiom is discussed here on the basis of orally obtained information and performances, on the assumption that it is the Sufi community's norms that are relevant to an understanding of the Sufi sama'. The fact that checking orally recorded sama' poems against printed collections has shown discrepancies and omissions in turn adds another dimension to the question of historical validity — that of the idiom itself. This question needs to be considered in its own right, in the context of an evaluation of the role of oral tradition and the literary-oral dynamic in Indie Sufism. 10 Khaiiq Ahmad Nizami, "Some Aspects of Khanqah Life in Medieval India," Studitj lslamica, 8 (1957), 51-70; and his Tdrikh-i mashayikh-i Chisht [Urdu] (Delhi: n.p., 1958). 11 Amir Khusrau is also generally credited with initiating Indo-Muslim syncretism in North Indian music, including the specific invention of several ragas.

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spirituality and saintly utterance, hence its continued use, by the Indian Sufi sheikhs, as the poetic idiom of their verses. 12 Next in stature comes poetry in Hindi, the second "classical" language of Indie Sufism. Associated with early Indianized mysticism and its strongly devotional flavor, 1 3 Hindi is a personal idiom of devotion to saints that is enriched by the simplicity and emotional directness of what is essentially a folk language. The third language, Urdu, is essentially a contemporary sama" idiom and therefore lacks any spiritual association per se. 14 Sufis identify sama' poetry across all these languages in terms of two general types: one comprises poems with a focus on spiritual links, addressing figures of the Sufi hierarchy in praise or devotion — God in the hamd, the I'rophet in the na't and the saints, including Hazrat 'Ali, in the manqabat. In the second type, the focus is on spiritual emotion, which is categorized as expressing mystical love Cishq), ecstatic states (rindana), separation ifiraq), and union (wisdl). Any type of sama' poem may become linked to a saint (nisbatl), but the three types of connection are inherent between the sama' poetry and the saints: content, authorship, and personal association. Content, the most obvious of the three, is also (he most widespread across all three languages. It takes the simple form of addressing the saint by his name. A rare but authentic and profound association (nisbat) is authorship, and the few poems that are actually composed by Chishti saints are most highly esteemed, best known among them a remarkable ghazal by Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Delhi (see Fig. 13). A secondary but very important authorship association is that of a saint's disciple, for it serves to focus the meaning of his poems on the discipleship link with the saint. This association is particularly powerful in the Farsi ghazals of Amir Khusrau, with their rich expression of mystical emotion (see Fig. 14).


The widely sung poetry of the nineteenth century sheikh Niyaz Ahmad Barelvi is an obvious example.


Direct links with the idiom and imagery of bhakti poetry are obvious and are explicitly evoked in many Hindi sama 1 poems. 14 I n addition, a f e w special songs use a f o r m of Arabic to articulate "sayings" ( q a u l ) that are attributed to Prophet M u h a m m a d and establish the principle of spiritual succession. While not directly linked to saints, these songs, through their language and content, serve as a charter f o r t i e entire spiritual hierarchy of Sufism and every saint's standing within it.


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Poems with an associational link to saints are characterized by their great diversity. First and foremost are the few poems that are associated directly with certain aspects of a saint's life and work. Few in number, they range from that of Nizamuddin bestowing his discipleship in the rang — most famous of Khusrau's Hindi sama' songs (see Fig. 15) — to that of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar-i Kaki's death in the ecstasy of spiritual union (wisal) — in a famous ghazal verse by Ahmad Jam (see Fig. 16). Also included are the special group of poems associated with the basant episode between Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrau (see. Fig. 17).15 A more secondary link, but one enjoying prominence in Sufi practice, is contained in songs associated with the ritual devotion to the saint in his shrine. Such poetry, in Hindi, is part of the local sama' repertoire of every major Chishti shrine. At Nizamuddin Auliya', such poetry is further enhanced by its association with the personal discipleship of Khusrau, attributed author of many Hindi poems (see Figs. 15 and 17).

SAMA' MUSIC: QAWWAI .1 The music of sama' consists of melodic settings for the poems and a metric framework articulated separately by a drum, normally the barrel-shaped dholak, although the classic;*! tabla is also used. The poems are sung by a group of qawwals led by one or two solo singers and supported melodically by the portable harmonium which has superseded the indigenous sârangï or sitar. Handclapping by the singers intensifies the rhythmic accentuation. Qawwali musical settings are drawn from many sources, including North Indian and Pakistani classical, folk, and popular music, as well as individual composition. But there is a standard repertoire of traditional tunes which are passed down in qawwal families and are well known to all the regular sama' participants. For the qawwals of Nizamuddin Auliya', the core of their musical repertoire is settings of songs that are specifically associated with the saint. These include songs attributed to Amir Khusrau, and songs used for special shrine rituals. Loosely called panchâyatl gone — that is, songs proper to the shrine's performing community — these melodies are nearly all set to Hindi poems and are not movable Likewise, there are special "settings" (makhsù$ bandishen) that belong to Farsi ghazals; outstanding among them is the masnavl tune, said to originate from Jalaluddin Rumi and his masnavi. This most

Khusrau, seeing his sheikh Ni/aniuddin Auliya' in desolate seclusion over the death of his nephew, did not cease to sing to him songs of spring ( b a s a n t ) and love until the sheikh responded and joined in the basant l estival.

The Chishtiyya of South Asia


venerable of Sufi melodies stands alone in its direct association to a saint of classical Persian Sufi mysticism. It is widely used as the standard setting for verses in the same metric pattern (see Fig. 16). But most important for the Nizamuddin shrine is the music of Amir IChusrau's poetry. Some of his Farsi ghazals are linked to standard rag as. and id las. of North Indian music, as well as some Persian-derived ragas and talas attributed lo Khusrau's own creation and now largely out of use in classical music. Most of Khusrau's ghazals and nearly all of his Hindi poems have characteristic song tunes that identify them to the Sufis as much as their texts do; this is particularly true for those songs associated with ritual devotion to the saint Nizamuddin (e.g., Figs. 15 and 17).

T H E PERFORMANCE DIMENSION: S A M A ' IN THE DARBAR-I AULIYA' In the performance of sama', poetry and music become fused together into song. More specifically, it is the music that renders the poetry performable by turning it into a distinct sound idiom that makes the text intelligible to its listeners, in accordance with the shared expectations of the performance occasion. What characterizes the mahfil-i sama'/darbar-i auliya' as unique among occasions of musical performance is the explicitly exclusive focus on the listener and on listening — sama' — best evidenced in die rule system that has been applied to lie listening of sama" music throughout the history of Sufism. Sufis recognize two complementary modes of expressing mystical .•motion. One is more intuitive, reflecting the listener's spiritual state which finds expression in gestures, weeping, vocalization and ultimately, the dance of ecstasy (raqs). A more formal response is the nazrana (or nazar), an offering, jsually of money, made to a spiritual superior who is generally die sheikh in charge of the gathering. The nazrana is a deferential gesture of the devotee's submission to the saint and a confirmation of his attachment to his spiritual ;>uide This response symbolizes the Sufi's link with the hierarchical chain eading to God; it also articulates his own place in the spiritual hierarchy and Jiereby validates the structural universe of the royal court of saints. The offering has a second, complementary meaning that is equally important to the validation of the darbar-i auliya'. By accepting the nazrana on behalf of the saint, his representative also activates the link between the devotee md the saint and thereby commits the saint's beneficence toward the offerer. In Joins so, he of course also reinforces his own position as a saintly representative. H i is entire interaction is made possible by the sama' music. For offerings are predicated on the presence of an appropriate message in the song being


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performed, to which the Sufi can — nay must — respond appropriately. In fact, the utterance, during a song, of a saint's name literally compels the listeners to activate their link with the saint by making a personal offering, especially if the sama' is being held at the saint's shrine, or on his 'urs. For according to the adab of Sufism, the structural dimension of mystical love is to be confirmed by outward expression wherever representatives of saints are present.16 It is here that the performer's role becomes crucial: in order for a number of devotees to make offerings on the saint's name, that verse portion will need to be extended considerably. This is achieved primarily through forms of repetition and, when necessary, by reinserting the salient text portion into new song material already presented Altogether, performers structure every song performance to suit the sama' listeners and to serve their spiritual listening needs. Performers also have a special interest in generating offerings, since this money ultimately becomes their (only) remuneration. Sheikhs, on the other hand, must guard against the cheapening of saintly names; hence they often criticize performers for initiating extensive repetition in trying to elicit the response to which such repetitions should be but an answer. In general, it is essential for the sheikhs to maintain their spiritual authority over performers. A principal means to this end is the mir-i mahfil's control on both the choice of songs and their execution in performance. Spiritual sophistication is the aim, as that in turn validates the spiritual status of die sheikh and his assembly; without it his saintly ancestry is irrelevant. In concrete terms, this means having the performers choose songs that will go beyond the "mechanistic" activation of nisbat through the repetition of a saintly name, and beyond the sentiment of devotion shared by even the totally uninitiated devotee. Thus, more subtle associative links are activated by a song dial is known to have been composed for the saint, by a song a great saint was fond of, or by a song that is known to have served in the honoring of a saint — especially if it is part of a special shrine ritual. In terms of the Sufi ideology, all these point toward a union with the saint./ami' /i l-sheikh, a stage (maqam) in the path toward the experiential state (hdl) that represents divine union (fand' fi'llah). Seen in this context, sama' elicits the activation of the Sufi's spiritual commitment. Its expression is of course not confined to the formal offering, for sama' is fundamentally individual, (tut an offering generally follows, or is part of, the expression of individual emotional arousal, and even the dance of spiritual

" ' T h i s principle is strikingly illustrated by the episode during a s a m a ' assembly when the saint N i z a m u d d i n Auliya' suddenly stood up in reverence not in response t o the song's message, but out of deep respect because he beheld outside the door a dog that resembled the animal h e had often seen near his sheikh.

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ecstasy (raqs) normally comes to its conclusion by the devotee's "meeting the sheikh" (sheikh se milna) in that way. For any upsurge of mystical emotion invariably draws the devotee to the saint, in the person of his representative. Sufis consider emotional self-expression to be the primary response or the immediate indicator of mystical arousal which provides the dynamic for the offering and indeed for the entire proceedings of sama'. The performers therefore are given the flexibility to choose and structure their songs so as to best serve these spiritual needs. But the individual's emotion must be guided towards its proper spiritual frame of reference, and for this too the performers are responsible — although of course it is ultimately the presiding sheikh who is in charge of the entire mahfil-i sama', including the performers. Thus the performers ticmselves need to be aware of the indicators of a saintly presence, since much evocation of this presence in the sama' songs is referential and is achieved by invoking the listener's association with indices of saintly presence in the sama' environment. Such indices include the place, time and participants of the sama' assembly — in fact, the very three components classical Sufism singles out for special control (zaman, makdn, ikhwan).17 Prime among the associationally potent places (makan) for performing sama' is a saint's tomb, which is the place where he is present in the final state of his union with God. Saintly presence is also inherent in a locale of the saint's life work, for example, a special hujra (cell or room) within the Nizamuddin shrine compound where the saint taught his disciples, or the Chilla Baba Farid on the banks of the Jamna where Nizamuddin Auliya's pir had once practiced forty days' seclusion (chilla). Particularly evocative for sama' are the great sama' khanas of the shrines like Gulbarga, where the saint Sayyid Muhammad Gisu Daraz listened to sama' himself, or Ajmer, where generations of sheikhs have assembled for sama' — thus suggesting a temporal continuity with the spiritual predecessors. The time (zaman) dimension is perhaps most evocative of saintly presence when the sama' takes place during an *urs, since it brings to life the very moment of the saint's final union with God—indeed, that is the occasion for Sufis anywhere to hold sama' assemblies. 18 Days commemorative of a saint's final union also include his monthly death day; in fact, for Sufi circles away from their saint's shrine, this is traditionally the auspicious day chosen to hold a monthly sama' assembly. Thus

' ^ S e e Ghazali, Al-Giiazali


on Islamic


Book II, ch. 9.

In consideration of his special position at the head of the entire saintly hierarchy, l.lazral 'All's d ; a t h anniversary is celebrated in the same way at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya' and at the other m a j o r shrines.


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in Hyderabad, even today, (lie seeker of sama' can join the mahfil of different tariqas on different days of the month, a tradition also documented for early eighteenth-century Delhi. 19 Less specific, but still associated with wisal is Thursday, the Muslim day for remembering the dead, so that Thursday evening is an auspicious choice for sama' to be observed at the major shrines like the Nizamuddin Auliya'. Friday, on the other hand, serves to identify sama' with Islamic worship. The participants' dimension (ikhwan) is the most immediate, complex and delicate of the three associational dimensions, for it can only be articulated within the sama' assembly itself. To begin with, the very presence of a spiritual hierarchy through its representatives needs to be acknowledged and rendered active as a relational, and not just a static, system of spiritual links. This is achieved first by the qaul, which is obligatory for every sama' assembly of the Chishtiyya. In it, the Prophet Muhammad designates Hazrat 'Ali as his representative, thereby establishing the principle of spiritual successorship upon which the concept of the Sufi hierarchy is founded. Major saintly lineages also add a second obligatory song that refers to their own founding saint. For Nizamuddin Auliya', this is the rang by Amir Khusrau (see Fig. 15), in which the poet rejoices over the finding of his spiritual guide in the saint and in doing so, testifies to this saint as the ideal sheikh. 2 0 In the tradition of this particular lineage, the qaul and rang are placed at the beginning of the sama' proceedings, thereby giving particular prominence to the structural, "darbar-i auliya'" dimension. 21 Outside the obligatory songs the hierarchical principle is further reinforced by the standard thematic sequence of ali the songs that follow: the address first of God, and then the Prophet and finally, the saints. While in fact a hamd is almost never heard in sama', and an initial na't is often omitted or deferred, the convention continues to be upheld as a general guide, reinforcing the principle of hierarchy that identifies and links all the saints with Hazrat 'Ali, with the Prophet Muhammad, and wilh God. Finally, major assemblies preface the sama' singing by a ritual gesture that most directly serves to reaffirm the spiritual hierarchy: the shajara, or a verbal recitation of the spiritual genealogy of the saint whose lineage representatives are holding the mahfil. Complementing the structural dimension of the saintly hierarchy is the focus on the individual spiritual personages who represent the saints, thus

" ö a r g ä h Quii Khän, Muraqqa t Dihli [Urdu], ed. and trans. Nur-ul Hasan Ansari (Delhi: Delhi University, Urdu Department, l')82). For Mu'inuddin Chishti, the parallel hymn is Khwàja-i 21



Other Chishti lineages, as well as the Qädiriyya, conclude their sama* ritual with these hymns.

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reflecting that fundamental dynamic between the structure and personality in the Sufi tradition. This is significant in the practice of sama' as the spiritual presence of a great sheikh can greatly influence the spiritual tenor and focus of the assembly. Once again, it is the performers' responsibility to give the necessary attention, through their singing, to such a person's spiritual need, but always with reference to the saintly hierarchy. In general, this means that they need to be able to infuse saintly identity into any song of mystical experience, especially one that expresses love. This is done by means of textual insertions, which range from the simple addition of a saint's name to a verse, to the insertion of a poetic excerpt into a particular verse portion that then sheds new 1' ght on its meaning (termed girah, literally "knot").

PERFORMERS AND SAINTS The performance of sama' is controlled by the performer. In the larger context of a Sufi world in which the sheikhs and the adepts themselves perform sama', this is worth noting as it circumscribes in important ways the use of the sama' repertoire. In Indie Sufism, the sama' performer is a messenger, a medium for the sama' message. By this very fact, the performer articulates the representational character of a tradition in which the authority is derived from association. Thus in his choice and execution of the idiom, the performer, based both on his previous indoctrination and on his perception of the situation, consciously aims at reflecting back and enhancing what he perceives to be the spiritual presence of the assembly. Direct or indirect control by the performers' spiritual superiors affects primarily their poetic repertoire and its use. As a matter of fact, the educative company (suhbat) of sheikhs constitutes not only an important source of sama' text repertoire but also the performers' principal source of insight into its meaning. The music of sama', on the other hand, is not overtly subject to this control. I-'or while the Sufis may recite poetry, it is inappropriate for them to sing it even when they have the ability to do so. As a result, the performers have considerably more musical than textual freedom, but they use it selectively — consciously attending to two musical performance goals that essentially contradict each other. The first goal is lo reinforce musically all the spiritual aims of sama' in f i e darbar-i auliya' principally by singing the traditional musical settings in a traditional manner and thereby evoking the spiritual authenticity and the associations links of a poem through the immediate, emotionally potent impact tiat is unique to music. For a performer with the proper pedigree of hereditary affiliation with a shrine, this is the primary goal — indeed, according to Sufis, it sliould be the only one.


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But there is also the desire for novelty and stimulation in the sama' audiences, especially those comprising the large numbers of devotees that join the Sufi sheikhs at the 'urs of important saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya'. The introduction of new tunes and variety in the presentational style is a means of enhancing a traditional sama' poem and giving its content a new color. Performers are keenly aware of this effect even on the sheikhs, who do not wish to make too much room for either musical innovation or the performers' independent initiative that occasions it. Once again, this is a contradiction that arises from the basically dual nature of Indie Sufism and ultimately derives from the social reality underlying Sufi history in the Indian subcontinent. It is made manifest in the contrast between those who attend the sama' seeking spiritual advancement and individual mystical experience, and those who attend seeking beneficence and inspiration through devotion. Sufi parlance identifies a mahfil of only the first kind of listener as "special" ( m a h f i l - i khass), as the intimate gathering of Sufi adepts. The "common," public assembly (mahfil-i 'amm), in contrast, is open to the second and untutored kind of listener. In essential terms, both types of mahfil are alike, but there is no doubt that in artistic terms, this dual focus has given rise to a remarkable textual and musical variety that is the result of centuries of enrichment of the classical Farsi sama' idiom through the Hindu devotional music and the secular musical sources. This enrichment also includes the adoption of various accompanying instruments — indeed, the Sufis generally justify their use of the latter by citing a mandate that the founder saints had to attract Hindu devotees who were steeped in a strong musical religious tradition that was rich in instruments. The result of all this is a range of expression, with a power, charm, and vitality unique in sama' music.

SAMA', SAINTS, AND SPIRITUAL AUTHENTICITY It is from a comprehensive perspective on the Chishti sama' that the question of authentication may now be posed. Primarily this means examining the role played by the songs of sama' in providing spiritual as well as historical authenticity to the saints and their representatives. Concomitantly, it also means examining the issue of authenticity of the musical material itself. Sheikhs do not concern themselves with the specific content of music, be it old, modified, or newly introduced. Their focus is on the effect made by the music on the listener rather than on the music or even on the music maker, whom they consider to be fundamentally insignificant. What is of concern to the sheikhs is the need to avoid a wrong effect of the music on the listener. This is expressed more in the negative, mainly in the form of prohibitions regarding aspects of instrumentation and performance — among them the addilion of more instruments, the use of a crooning vocal style, the wearing of conspicuous clothing, vivid gesticulations, and having pretty young boys perform.

The Chishtiyya of South Asia


Accuracy of rendition is another area of control by the Sufis, although it concerns primarily sama' texts and, very rarely, music. In fact, the musical settings are left essentially to the performer for as long as the basic structural and melodic-rhythmic character of the idiom is maintained and the text is properly underscored. Interestingly, historical authenticity per se is not considered by eitiier the Sufis or the performers to be a value in music. This is especially true for most movable sama' tunes: old as they are recognized to be, they are not held sacrosanct. Musicians say that they sing them mahabbatan, "out of affection," but they may also substitute smart modern tunes. There is, however, one limited set of sama' songs that figures as an exception: this is a special repertoire of songs performed only or primarily at sl rme rituals on very specific occasions that commemorate the saint's 'urs or a special life event. The crucial dimensions here are those of the ritual function and the special locale. Tied to the shrine's very specific locale, these songs specifically address the saint and his representatives and not a general Sufi audience. In fact, several shrines have what is literally a closed (band) sama', admitting no one except a few of the saint's representatives. 22 What these rituals have in common is that each has an exclusive repertoire of songs that is specific to its saint and his tradition, and which is marked by some musical features that express its antiquity and provide historical authenticity. At the Nizamuddin shrine, the basant (spring) ritual is an example or music that is specifically associated — not only in its Farsi and Hindi texts but also in its features of melody and rhythm 2 1 — with Amir Khusrau. Likewise, at the Gulbarga shrine, the band sama' repertoire consists of a set of special texts in Dakani 2 4 that are set to archaic melodies and sung to the accompaniment of a daff (frame drum), the only musical instrument sanctioned by hadis to accompany the singing. 25 It is for these sama' performances that the performers as well as the Sufis stress correctness in observing the tradition, for here the prime purpose is to validate the presence of the saint and his representatives by showing the authenticity and historical continuity of the songs. This gives shrine perfonners the important privilege and obligation of preserving, performing, and transmitting this special — and purely oral — repertoire, since they are its exclusive keepers. The same general rule also applies to the obligatory hymns (rang-qaul) that are ^ " T h i s tradition is perhaps most highly developed at the Gisu Daraz shrine in Gulbarga; see S, Shah Khusro Husaini, "Band Sama," Islamic Cullare, 44 (1970), 77-85. " For instance, the ràga megh usluik, now otherwise extinct, and the metric pattern doiarbi, is documented only up to the mid-19th century. 24 llusairii, "Band Sama." 2 ,

M . L. R o y c h a u d h r y , "Music in Islam," Journal (1957), 43-102.

of the Asiatic


of Bengal,


13, pt. 2


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always sung by the shrine performers. For all other sama' singing, any outside qawwals admitted by the mir-i mahfil may have a "turn" (bari) to perform. Thus it would seem that performance of these special ritual repertoires serves the specific function of articulating authenticity for the saint through his representatives, and thereby conferring authenticity on the latter as well. This conclusion is supported by two examples of sheikhs who used such repertoires creatively for just such a purpose. At the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya', where several saintly representatives were vieing for exclusive recognition, one sajjadanishin has initiated a band sama' early in the morning on the day of the saint's 'urs. Drumming was excluded, in specific reference to Nizamuddin Auliya's own reported opposition to mazamlr (musical instruments) in the performance of sama'. Another example is the special performance, held about two decades ago, of the most famous song of the basant ritual for the great Chishti sheikh Baba Zahin Shah of Karachi, at die threshold of the dargah of his own preceptor, Baba Yusuf Shah, which Baba Zahin Shah had erected. On hearing the line: "At die door of Nizamuddin years went by" (see Fig. 17), the sheikh entered a state of ecstasy that lasted for two hours while the musicians repeated the line over and over. The basant song line served to articulate the spiritual authenticity of a newly established saint in Pakistan, for its performance evoked a direct analogy of equivalence between this saint and Nizamuddin Auliya', their shrines, and their respective disciples, Baba Zahin Shah and Amir Khusrau. The use of this particular song also illustrates that the authenticating power of sama*, although historical by implication, is indeed spiritual in character. For it happens to be the one basant song that is clearly not authored by Amir Khusrau. The poetic signature (takhallus), Ashiq Rang, leaves no doubt that the poem cannot have lx:en part of the original basant ritual! What is crucial here, and wherever sama' is practiced in the Chishtiyya of South Asia, is the immediate power of the spiritual-emotional impact of the sama' songs: the power of music serving the power of saints in the darbar-i auliya'.

The Chishtiyya of South Asia


Fig. 12. Chishtiyya: Major Saints

Mu'ïnuddïn Chishtì (d. 1236 Ajmer)

Qutbuddin Bakhûyâr-i Kaki (d. 1237 Delhi)

Fariduddin Shakarganj (d. 1266 Pakpattan)

Nizämuddin Auliyä' (d. 1325 Delhi)

'Alä'uddin Säbir (d. 1291 Kalyar)

Nasîruddîn Chiràgh-i Dehli (d. 1356 Delhi)

Amir Khusrau (d. 1325 Delhi)

Sayyid Muhammad Gisü Daräz (d. 1422 Gulbarga)


Regula Burckhardt Qureshi

Fig. 13. Farsi Ghazal by N a s i r u d d i n (final verse) Dar slnà-i Nasiruddin juz dosi nami gunjad In turfa tamàshà bin daryà ba-habàb andar

Fig. 14. Farsi Ghazal by Amir (first and final verses)


Chashm-i maste 'ajabe zulf daraze 'ajabe Maiparaste 'ajabe fitna taräze ajabe

Haqq mago kalma-i kufr as( dar in ja Khusrau

Räzdäne 'ajabe sahib-i râz-i ajabe

None but the Beloved dwells in the heart of Nasiruddin Behold this marvel: the Ocean is contained in a drop

O wondrous ecstatic eyes, o wondrous long locks O wondrous wine worshipper, o wondrous mischievous beloved Reveal not the Truth; in this world blasphemy prevails, Khusrau O wondrous Source of mystery, o wondrous Knower of secrets

Fig. 15. Hindi Rang by Amir Khusrau: with N i z a m u d d i n (first three verses) Aj rang hai ai mari rang hai Mere mahbüb ke ghar rang hai Sajan miläverä more ghar Mohe pir pàyo Nijàmuddïn Auliyä Nijâmuddïn Auliyâjag ujivûrâ . . .

Maifi to aiso rang aur nahifl dekha Tora rang more man bhayo Nijamuddin



Today all is color, O mother, all is color At my Beloved's house all is color I have found my Beloved I have found my Pir, Nizâmuddin Auliya' Nizâmuddin Auliyä', the universe is full of light. . . I have never seen such color May Your color fill my soul, Nizamuddin.

The Chishtiyya of South Asia


Fig. 16. F a r s i Ghazal by Ahmad Jam, Set to Masnavi Inspired Q u t b u d d i n ' s Death in Ecstasy (final verse) Kushtagan-i khanjar-i taslim ra Hiir zamàfi az ghaib jan-i digar ast


For the martyrs of the dagger of submission The Unseen brings a new life every moment

Fig. 17. Hindi B a s a n t Song: Khusrau Nii?amuddin's Seclusion (refrain and final verse)




Sagal ban phul rahi sarsofi

All over the garden the mustard flowers are blooming

Ni jamuddin ke darwaje par Awan kah gaye Ashiq Rang

At the door of Nizamuddin That's where Ashiq Rang came as promised And years went by (waiting for Ilis Beloved)

Atjr bit gaye barson

Ssgal b;in phul rahi sarson

All over the garden the mustard flowers are blooming


Ah, Knower of Secrets, Acknowledge My Pleadings with your Face In his book Early Christian Rhetoric, Amos Wilder argues that "Any human language represents a special kind of order superimposed upon existence. Generations live in it as a habitat in which they are born and die. Outside it is nescience. The language of a people is its fate. Thus the poets or seers who purify the language of a tribe are truly world-makers and the 'unacknowledged legislators of the world.' 1,1 According to this perception, the corpus of spoken and written materials constitutes the reality within which people live, and the task of reseachers is to decipher and translate that reality into a language which allows themselves and presumably interested humans to comprehend it. In a similar vein, John Crossan suggested that there were five literary types which were employed in New Testament literature, each with a particular function: "Myth establishes world. Apologue defends world. Action investigates world. Satire attacks world. Parable subverts world." 2 As John Hoffman 3 points out, the parabolic becomes Crossan's main concern, for the parabolic is considered so powerful that it can "subvert" the world as we understand it. Thus, the parabolic would seem to challenge the myth, since by Crossan's definition, myth defines reality. 4 A good deal of scholarship in literary criticism, philosophy and religious studies over the last decade has focused on the relationship between the mythic constructions of culture and the innovations and challenges to that foundational language. The numerous issues involved in the understanding of parabolic language are confronted in a unique manner in the Islamic saints, for the mythological ^Amos N. Wilder, Earh Christum Rhetoric (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1971). p. 5. ^John D. Crossan, The Dark Interval (Miles, 111.: Argus Communications, 1975), p. 59. ^ John C. Hoffman, Law, Freedom and Story: The Role of Narrative in Therapy, Society, Faiih (Toronto, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier Canada, 1986), p. 28. ^John D. Crossan, In Parables (New York: Harper-Row Inc., 1973), p. 15.



I arle H. Waugh

structures of Islam have been so codified by the absoluteness of Allah that any sublanguage would seem to be heretical, not just challenging. What would appear to be remarkable is the existence of any discourse that modified the absoluteness of the unitive myth. In another context, I have suggested that the growth and development of this language are intimately linked to the creation of a ritual world, more specifically to the ritual world of the turuq. 5 1 have proposed that the ritual dictated the prerogatives of the sublanguage and provided the opportunity for its manifestation. In this paper I wish to deal particularly with the structural linkages internal to the saint phenomenon, that is, with the language that is used to depict the relationship with the saint from within the phenomenon itself; I wish to do this primarily by analyzing the material surrounding the munshidin, the mystical singers in the Egyptian Sufi context.

THE LANGUAGE OF LINKAGE WITH THE SAINT The following selections are drawn from interviews with a wide variety of munshidin, male and female, who sing at the maw lids and, in the case of die males, during the dhikr rituals of the turuq. The collection is not exhaustive, but is intended to alert us to some of the themes that I will develop later. Selection


Q. Who taught you the inshad (song)? A. When I stayfed] up late praying and talking to God, I found myself receiving words. God directed die words to me without me knowing. I'm not like the munshidin who write and sing what they write; I sing what I received as a gift. It is an acceptance from God, since 1 don't know how to read or write ... On nights when I feel acceptance from God, I feel I am between God's hands, just like in lailat al-qadr, I feel God is with me and He is there. Ihe people who leave everything to God receive God's help, and He directs them to whatever He wants. (Sabra) Selection B Q. What do munshidin mean when they say they are influenced by longing for the Prophet? See The Munshidin of Egypt: The.i World and Their Song (Columbia, S.C.: University of South C a r o l i n a Press, 1988), a book arising out of research in Egypt, in 1980-1 and 1984-5. I appreciate the generosity of the University of Alberta and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada in aiding with these sabbaticals. In all, some 75 tapes of music and interviews were collected in 1980-8!, and 35 in 1984-85. The munshidin ranged in age f r o m 18 to the 8 0 s and were both male and female from Upper and Lower Egypt.

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


A. When a person feels influenced by the soul of the Prophet, he says things about our Lord the Prophet. When he was an orphan, and poor, he felt the pains of the poor and the pains of the orphans, so the ayat of the Qur'an were sent down in Mecca onto the heart of the Prophet, and it [i.e., the Qur'an] could deal with the hardship that went on during that period. He talks about the qualities of the Prophet. When everyone's heart is one, those qualities are present. Sheikh al-Semmak would see the Prophet stretching out his hand for him to kiss every night. When he didn't see the hand, for one night or several nights, the sheikh thought there was something wrong with him, and [checked to see] what was missing in him. (Sheikh Zain al-Semmak) Selection


Q. Does a munshid have special qualities? A. The song (of the munshid) is considered by Sufi turuq to be a translation of the knowledge of the sheikhs. It's like the feeling as if you were on a trip and then he expressed what he saw on that trip. From that they considered the singing as a translation of the manners of the sheikh.... He should have qualities that no one else has; he should be in a close relationship with the Sheikh, he should be as a vessel through which the Sheikh can shine. He should be the most understanding about the Sheikh, his word, his time, his conception of the way of the tarlqa, because the a dab of the tariqa is like the sharl'a. The munshid should be present when he [the sheikh] is absent and absent when he is present. He has a special place among his lovers. (Sabir) Selection


Q. Tell me about your sheikh. A ... We [that is, the local sheikh] met the second day [after our first introduction], I felt as if I was created in a different way. I felt in my heart what my eyes saw when he translated to me. "Did you see [that], Ya Mahmud", he said. "Yes, I saw my uncle [the sheikh]", I said. "I saw him going up into the sky, and I saw myself going up after him. He was barefooted and not well dressed. I found myself looking like him and going up after him." Since then I have felt a new feeling. (Mahmud) Selection


Q. Where do you get your material (the songs)? A. I memorize qasd 'id about all the sheikhs and during the dhikr I bring them [i.e., the sheikhs] together in front of me [in my mind] and then when I


1 ¿trie H. Waugh

love one of them, I call upon him to save me. So I get them all together and I call on that madad [grace, blessing] to make the dhikr longer for me. I am between their hands and I need their help...just like when someone prays: when he says "Allahu Akbar" he doesn't pay any attention to what's going on around him, he just keeps on thinking about God. In the same way, when I ¡mi in a state of madad, I don't think of anything else, I just put myself in their hands. When I call on Sidi Ahmad al-Badawi, or 'Umar al-Rifa'i, etc., to pay attention to me, they are living right there with us. (Husaini) Selection Inspiration







It appears to be of critical importance that the words which the munshidin use during their performance die not perceived as sourced in human creativity. Both the context for delivering the words and some aspect of the words themselves had an element "beyond the ordinary" built in. In effect this transcendent dimension functioned directly in their singing, for it legitimized the performance, and gave it its vibrancy. Moreover, it was the transcendent dimension that was given credit for the message being accepted by and having such a dramatic effect upon the listeners In Sabra's quotation, the words themselves are directly attributed to the transcendent domain; other singers held that when they used songs derived from the texts of the sheikhs, the words took on a power and authority in the moment of performance. They felt thai these qualities were not resident in the words on the page. For all of them, however, it was the transcendent dimension that made the words come alive. The function of this transcendent dimension was also evidenced during one dhikr I attended, at which a very inexperienced munshid was singing. He scarcely knew more than a few phrases, and sang the same phrase over and over again. The dhikr progressed as usual and appeared to be normal in its accomplishments; the sheikh indicated later that the young man had just joined the group and was "in training". The critical issue was not the words, however. For the participants, it was whether the munshid could carry the dhikr along, changing tempo and adding variation to his continual repetition to weave a credible song frame against which they could carry out the ritual. This occurrence indicated to me that the message of the munshid was not contained solely in the words, for had n been, surely the dhikr, with only a phrase or two from the novice singer, would have failed. On die other hand, Sahra was one of the few munshidin who claimed an absolute transcendent source for her songs. Most singers stuck closely to what their tariqa favored as significant or used songs derived from Sufi tradition. Some believed that the sheikh had written the words and transferred the material to them (see interpretation of selection C, below) because they felt inadequate in creating

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


their own songs. Some said the sheikh had far more power (baraka), a portion of which somehow attended the songs that the sheikhs had written. Taj al-Asfiya' from the Sudan said he only sang songs that his sheikh had taught him precisely because they were the most popular within the Burhani tariqa and hence had the most power. Since Muhammad al-Burhan was himself a munshid, there was obviously a direct connection between his power and the songs he had written. When I returned in 1984 the sheikh had died, but this did not terminate the influence of his songs. The wife of Gamal al-Sinhoury, the Burhani khalif in Cairo told me that the influence of Mawlana Sheikh continued because he was sending songs to them from Paradise. During one session of dhikr, one of these songs was sung and Sheikh Gamal spent considerable time in explaining the meaning to the group. Evidently it was difficult to do so, for Sheikh Gamal gave up alter several minutes, remarking that the meaning would come through the dhikr. Neither he nor his wife would tell me how the dead sheikh communicated the songs to the tariqa. In the material gathered in this study, die saints and other powerful Islamic figures were symbolically linked to this transcendent realm. The model most often expressed was a relational one, that is, these figures were the servants of God, and their meaning in the scheme of tilings derived from that linkage. Those who used this kind of transcendent language assumed that the power so operative through the saints could only be through divine prerogative, and hence no distinction was made between the power evident in the lives of the saints and the power of God effective in the world. The justification for this view was the unitive assumption held to be inherent in the Muslim system. For example, in the special pleading of the munshid Sheikh al-Semman, Husain receives praise that is clearly transcendent in reference: Ah, my grandfather Husain, I have come to adore you pleading humbly, anxiously and persistently. My grandfather, You are [one of] the gifts It's enough for me that you glance at me it's all my world and all my life.

At other times the linkage is delivered through allusion. The language does not directly connect the saint to God, but by speaking about God and the saint in the same manner and in the same context, literary form implies commonality. This can be seen in the following selection, sung by Muhammad ' Abd Allah 'Umar of the Sudan, in which there is an internal connection between saints, Prophet, and God: It's enough that we are servants to the one who has greatness, Oh People! People of love, pray on the chosen! Never tire, never, ever tire of this. The tongues of the old ones have taught us Their presence is here;

liarle H. Waugh


They are between our eye ,. Yet they m o v e far beyond them [our eyes], C o m e follow the old ones and do away with sorrow Escape always by remembering him [i.e., participating in dhikr] Oh Allah, Oh Allah, help us, along with God's people. Gather us all with them, for from you is everyone connected. Pray and provide peace always on the one w h o is the Lord of the people of happiness, Upon Muhammad, who has apparent blessing [madad] For he is righteous and he is responsible.

The linkage moves in a serial fashion. It begins with a prayer for peace on the Prophet, followed by a reference to the presence of the saints in the dhikr. Then the great values of the tariqa are lauded to all lovers of God who seek the Prophet's protection. Finally, (]od becomes the focus of praise, ending in a denouement characterized by reference to the Prophet who has blessings to bestow and who will do so with righteousness and responsibility. Thus the language of transcendence gives insight into the spiritual world to which the singer and the members of the tariqa are joined, sketching what amounts to the lines of communication and relationship implicit among the mystical kin. Selection B: The Connectedness of Being Sheikh Zain is elaborating on one aspect of a complicated philosophical and psychological system undergirding the Sufi worldview. In this worldview, the emotional life functions as the medium by which an ontology becomes explicit and defined. The Sufis maintain that the language of the emotions, with its heavy reliance on love imagery and other metaphorical descriptors, can be understood either as a means of expressing normal concerns and psychological responses or as a grammar for a philosophy of being. They readily accept that a good writer can direct his energies to both levels at once, intentionally using rich emotive language of quite explicit transport, while sending signals to the insightful listener about the nature of existence/being. One implication of tins slate of affairs is the contextual meaning of language. Statements of one import scarcely reflect the absolute truth of the other, and reading any level literally can only be done if all parties agree to it. As we know, the Sufi theorists rejected absolute languages, relying heavily on multivalence as a critical element in all conceptions of language. Thus Ibn Arabi could argue: The believer praises the God who is his form of belief and with w h o m he has connected himself. He piaises none but himself, for his God is made by himself, and to praise the work is to praise the maker of it: Its e x c e l l e n c e or

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


perfection belongs to its maker. For this reason he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just. Beyond doubt, the worshipper of this particular God shows ignorance when he criticizes others on account of their beliefs. If he understood the saying of Junayd, " The colour of the water is the colour of the vessel containing it," he would not interfere with the beliefs of others, but would perceive God in every form and in every belief. He has opinion and not knowledge.... 6

Plato, of course would have recognized that distinction very well. But the Sufi sage was not contending that there was no absolute language, only that language formed by human intelligence was relative. He was dealing with a thorny issue at the heart of the mystical life: How can the mystic claim to be in union with God, when it is logically impossible for the human to be divine? Abu Yazid al-Bistami seemed to suggest that the human lost self in the mystical encounter,7 al-Hallaj that God had a human and a divine nature (ndsut and lahut) united in one being, so that man in mystical union became unified with God. 8 Ibn 'Arabi held that the mystic was already an attribute of God, so there could be no "union" with Him, for, as he notes in the Fusus al-Hikam, "Each being has as his God only his particular Lord; he cannot possibly have the totality."9 Ibn 'Arabi believed that the human became "angelic", that is, attains an idealized form of the celestial dimension of his being. At present he is only the terrestrial aspect of his total reality. The angelic thus is a constitutive element of divinity, and is an archetypal structure in the nature of being. Like energy, the essence of God cannot be conceived apart from the forms it takes. The archetype, however, is a continuing structure of reality, and as such is a permanent form through which the being of God is made known. 10 The use of angel as a metaphor for the inner reality in Ibn 'Arabi's bought demonstrates how radically altered the language of the mystics really became. Belief in angels is an article of faith; they have been messengers of God from the beginning of time (sura 35:1), and they represent the other world even ihough God elected to use mankind as bringers of revelation rather than angels (sura 2:30). Angels play a creditable role in the Qur'an aside from Gabriel's "ibn 'Arabi, Fusüs al-Hikam, ed. Abu al-'Ala' 'Afifi (2 vols.; Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-'Arabi, : 365/1946), I, 282, trans. R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1921, repr., 1967), p. 159. A. Samarra'i, The Theme of Ascension in Mystical Writings (Baghdad: The National Printing ¿nd Publishing Company, 1968), pp. 194-195. Massignon, La Passion d'al-Hosayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (2 vols.; Paris: Geuthner, 1922), I, pp. 520 f. According to R.A Nicholson, the terms were borrowed from Syrian Christianity, and tbe elements were united in an "incarnation" (hulül) which was associated with the Christian c octrine of incarnation by Muslims; see R. A Nicholson, The Idea of Personality in Sufism (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1923), p. 41. • Massignon, I, 90 f., and II, 85-86. )0 S e e H. Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, trans. W. Trask (New York: lantheon Books for the Bollingen Foundation. 1964), pp. 373 ff.


Karle H. Waugh

o v e r w h e l m i n g presence, 1 1 and their involvement in the early history of the Muslim community is attested in myth and legend. 1 2 Theological Sunnism was fairly clear in its attitude towards angels: they were principally beings of mission. Besides beings messengers, they acted as guardians and protectors of humans. Nevertheless, the angels are less "excellent" than humankind. 1 3 Apart from the other tasks imputed to them in the Qur'an, their formal position was rather limited. Their powers of acting as intermediary, except in Gabriei's case, were discounted. The Isma'ilis envisioned various ranks and species of angels. Some of these beings were governed by rules similar to the laws of nature, and, in that case, their duties included the movement of the stars. According to the Kalami Pir, a document of Isma'ili dogma, 70,000 angels were created out of the light of the face of 'Ali, and 'Ali himself appeared to the Prophet as an angel during the Night of Ascension. "Good human souls later become angels, but bad ones, dtws and ghuls; angels are also hndud-i din (functionaries of religion), and man possesses human as well as angelic elements in his nature." 1 4 Astrological views expressed by the Ikhwan al-Safa' related the realm of the spheres to that of die a n g e l s , 1 5 and the scholar Sh;Uirastani developed the notion of creation by the agency of angels, and accepted the doctrine of a representative angel. 16 Rumi saw angelhood as a station along the mystical pathway to ecstasy: W h e n y o u h a v e traveled f r o m m a n , you w i l l d o u b t l e s s b e c o m e an a n g e l ; A f t e r y o u are d o n e with (his earth, y o u r Pass again from angelhood:

s t a t i o n is h e a v e n .

e n t e r that o c e a n .

T h a t y o u r d r o p m a y be» < >me a s e a w h i c h is a h u n d r e d seas of O m a n . ' '

" W a l t e r Eickmann, Die Angelobte und Dämonologie des Korans (Leipzig: P. Euger. 1908), passim; and P. A. Eichlcr, Di( Dschinn, Tänfel und Engel im Koran (Leipzig; Verlag der Buchhandlung Klein. 1928). pp »1 -131. 12

M u h a m m a d ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari. al-Salnh (3 vols.: Cairo: Dàr al-Sha'b, 1967), II, 309. Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. M. Houtsma, et al., (London: E. J. Brill, 1913-38), s.v. "Malä'ika." The word mal 'ak derives from an early Semitic word meaning messenger, but the maid 'ika form is plural, and sometimes is used as angel in the Qur'an even though technically plural. It is only singular twelve times. 13

^^Kalâmi Pir, ed. and trans. W. Ivanow. (Bombay: Islamic Research Association, 1935), p. 11. 15 S e y y i d Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmvlogical Doctrine (Cambridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), pp. 86 f. ^ S u m m a r i z e d in Mohammed Mokri, "L'Ange dans l'Islam et en doctrine." in Anges, démons et êtres intermédiaires, ed. by Alliance Mondiale des Religions (Paris: Labergerie, 1969), pp. 76 f. ^ Q u o t e d by A. lqbal. Life and Work of Jalàl-ud-Dîn Ritmï (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf. 1964), p. 136.

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


But then, reminiscent of Ibn 'Arabi, Rumi sees man as composed of two elements, the form of Adam and the spirit of the angels. Among some, the form has been depreciated and rejected, leaving only those qualities associated with Gabriel: T h e form... is that of A d a m , but the reality is Gabriel: he has b e e n delivered f r o m anger and sensual passion and [vain] disputation. He has been delivered f r o m discipline and asceticism and self-mortification: you w o u l d say he was not even born of a child as Adam."*

Al-Ghazali called the highest rank of angels al-mukarrabun (saints), who possess a pure beauty and perfect radiance, and have insight into the essence of things.19 This superior class therefore is identical with the throne-bearers. The hierarchy of being is complete with a consideration of man (if we disregard the animals who form the lowest level): the most elevated class of men is the Prophetic class, which is immediately below the angels. 20 Al-Ghazali also views a tripartite structure among men, 21 and makes similar distinctions among the mystics. 22 The construction of such elaborate realms indicates a special role for beings who interact with humans. The angel becomes theophanic. The extraordinary testimony of Ibn 'Arabi introduces this elevated personage as a legitimate manifestation of the sacred: T h i s p o w e r of Active Imagination attains in m e such a d e g r e e that it has visually r e p r e s e n t e d to m e m y m y s t i c beloved in a c o r p o r a l , o b j e c t i v e , e x t r a m e n t a l f o r m , just as the A n g e l G a b r i e l appeared to the e y e s of the Prophet. A n d at first I did not feel c a p a b l e of looking toward that Form. It

'^Jaläl al-Din Rümi, Mathnawi, ed. and trans. R. A. Nicholson (6 Vols.; London: Luzac & Co. Ltd., 1925-40), IV, 355. '^Abü Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, Mishkät al-Anwar, trans, by W. H. T. Gairdner (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1924) pp. 173-174. 20

Ibid. Corneille Trumelet, Les Saints de I'lshm (Paris: Didier, 1881), p. 26, records that the Saoda people thought their local saint was Gabriel. 21 S e e Mishkät, p. 175 for references. 22 Listed as the pious, the makarrabün (saints, ascetics) and siddiqs. The last are the most elevated of all. See A. J. Wensinck. La Pensee de Ghazzali (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1940), p. 175, n. 5. for complete designation of the siddiq's works. The tripartite division brings the structure of being elucidated by Dionysius the Areopagite into play; his divisions of three sets of three were quite influential in Byzantine Christianity, as indicated by Dom Denys Rutledge, Cosmic Theology: The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Pseudo-Denys (New York: Alba House, 1964), pp. 96-97.


Earle H. Waugh spoke to me. I listened and understood. T h e s e apparitions left m e in such a state that for whole days I could take no food.

This realm of being has genuine status; it is not, at least not for Ibn ' Arabi, in any way imaginary . 2 4 While it is real for Ibn 'Arabi, it is not a world with ontological validity; that is, it is a real world, but it is composed from different stuff than the natural world. Later, the philosopher Suhrawardi would argue this realm possesses ontological status, and he posited the realm of "suspended images" between the physical world and the spiritual. 25 While he never explicitly stated the relationship among the three realms, he thought the experiential confirmation of the middle realm was justification enough for its existence, and hence established the validity of the whole "angclic" structure. The mystical singers, and especially their sheikhs showed a deep respect for Ibn ' Arabi's teachings. Even where they could not understand it, they accepted his views, as propounded by their teachers, as an accurate depiction of the truths of reality. Thus there could be no problem for the true believer in the language used by the mystics, for it was not a language subject to human norms. Ibn 'Arabi had turned language on its head, and had described reality as it appeared from the transcendent domain. The munshidin will acknowledge that die meanings they express are beyond the ken of normal discourse, but they quite clearly do not think they are speaking about something beyond the power of language to communicate. As Sheikh Yahya commented: The munshid in Sufism is called hadin al-isha'a [literally, leader of publicity]; that is, he praises the Prophet. W h e n he does that, hiyam [inspiration] occurs. He reminds tin- people of the day of reckoning during the dhikr and they cry. According tr how he feels, the hadin is supposed to bring in the sayings of the qalb [heart], so, as he sings a qasida. he describes his love, his longing for the Prophet, what religion is and his k n o w l e d g e : he speaks of valuable things.

Selection C: Mediatorship and the Saints Kenneth Burke oncc pointed out that it makes a great deal of difference whether you call life a dream, a pilgrimage, a labyrinth, or a carnival; by


I b n 'Arabi, al-Futuhit al-Makkwya (4 Vols.; Cairo: Dar al-Ma'àrif, 1876-1877) II, 809, trans, by Henri Corbin, Avicenna and ihe Visionary Recital, trans. W. Trask (New York; Pantheon Books for the Bollingen Foundation, 1960), pp. 382-383. 24 Fazlur Rahman, "Dream, Imagination and 'Alam al-Mithal", Islamic Studies. 3 iJune 1964), 175. 25

P e r Rahman, ibid.

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


extension, it makes a very significant difference if your raison d'etre is to be a poet, a warrior, a lover, or a mouthpiece for the sheikh. Sabir was most selfeffacing. He was very reluctant to say anything unless it was sanctioned by his sheikh. He sang only the songs of the tariqa, and never sang in other contexts or before other groups. As his statement indicates, his whole life was tied up with transferring the message of the sheikh or sheikhs to the other members of the group. The munshidin disclaim any special character or endowment; they have no pretensions about being holy or saintly. They may even acknowledge being poor spokespersons. Brilliant talent does not matter, since one could be a marvellous singer but a poor munshid. The fact is these performers participate in actions that make palpable those forces unseen, and perhaps for some listeners, unknown. If the munshidin communicate so little of the world beyond that the listeners are unaffected, then the singers' language and performance are seriously flawed. Their mediatorial roles are destroyed by an incontrovertible truth: the saint has not been made present through the medium of the munshidin's performance. What seems evident is that the munshidin are the pivotal characters in a scenario of inspiration, the function of which is to link the brethren to the saints in a similar manner as the saints are linked to transcendence. The saints, of course, are viewed in a hierarchical fashion. Defined according to spiritual gifts and karamát [miracles] into a religious hierarchy, the saints provide the ideal mediator between the believer and an Almighty God. They became known as "Friends of God" and were regarded by the believers as effective go-betweens with a transcendent deity. As Rumi expressed it, "The friends of God have, in addition lo these [known] heavens, seen other heavens; for they no longer esteem these heavens which seem to them too paltry. They have trascended them and left them behind." Such power has great attraction for those whose spiritual horizons cannot be compressed into conventional language. When we analyse the scenario of inspiration from the standpoint of the munshidin, however, a different protocol is discovered. It expresses itself in :erms of a dual irony: A social irony exists with the audience, because, while liey give no concrete recognition to the linkage role of the singers, yet, at the same time, they expect that the performance will deliver the spiritual presence of iJie saints to them. A psychological irony exists for the munshidin, who believe ihey are effective only when their personalities are sufficiently submerged to allow this concretizing of (lie saintly domain. The latter conception is captured by Sabir in the strange statement of being absent when the saint is present and present when he is absent. The scenario of inspiration is thus based upon a linkage-structure, the force of which is parabolic, to use Crossan's term. The ritual enterprise suspends


Earle H. Waugh

ordinary language and meaning systems, resulting in a void. The munshidin project a message out of their inner life into this void, based upon the symbols of the group and the traditions of the ritual. A crisis arises, as to whether the void will be filled and the saintly domain made present. When the language of the munshidin has been successful, the ritual moment is empowered. The crisis for the munshidin is resolved when die saints' presence is sensed through the ritual, since this validates the roles of all the participants in the ritual, including that of the singer. Thus the mediational role of the munshidin is confirmed via the scenario of inspiration. But there is no guarantee of personal permanency. Successful dhikrs imply successful munshidin, but not always. Since the munshidin serve at the whim of the local sheikh, we could say that the munshidin have no status except that bequeathed by performance and the sheikh's solicitude. Even if endowed with extensive vocal gifts, the munshid may fall out of favor with the sheikh or the latter may curb his role as a means of control. The precariousness of their position fits with many of the poetic themes of the repertoire: brokenness, longing, loss and requited love, '['lie problematics of the munshid's status gives the message an immediacy and an existential quality. Listening to the munshid sing out of a hear! of crisis evokes emotively powerful responses in the hearers; whatever psychological levels are in distress can find healing through the application of the performance. One final word on this selection; the problematic for the munshidin is the fulcrum for astonishing personal achievement. The more broken they are personally, the more they are dependent upon the saints, the more powerful will be their message. In effect, the weaker they consider themselves to be as mediators of die sheikh, die more powerful they will be. As widi die Prophet, the more human they insist they are, the more glorious their message appears to be. Mediatorship is not a structural characteristic whose relations and dynamics operate regulatively or automatically. It is very much subject to the vagaries of the spirit, the will, and the emotion. Hence, for all die permanency of its language, it can only be conceived as expressive, never as empirical. Selection D: Kinship with



N o discussion of die saints would be complete without examining die interconnections between die humble believer and the saints beyond. When Sufi adepts take the 'alid, diat is, join the tariqa, they accept the responsibilities of and are inducted into a filial network that has its concrete component in this world (i.e., the local sheikh and the organization of the brethren). Once integrated, the adepts become deeply enmeshed in a huge family, widi all diat entails in die traditions of Islam. At one level it means diey have a position: they are relatives, figuratively, of the sheikh and of the line of friends of God that reaches back to

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


the Prophet. But the word figuratively implies more for us than it should, because the Sufi senses literally a new corporate membership. In this selection, Mahmud felt "new." He is new because the personal meaning assigned to him by the brethren and his understanding of himself have been increased beyond the claims made for his earthly family, and he participates in a family that reaches to God. Ascending with the saint is an image of complicated nuance, 26 drawing on many themes of provident determination in the development of Islam, but the vision is one of induction—the saint is taking the adept into his care and under his jurisdiction. The reference to uncle, then, is a convention that is more conviction than rhetoric. Once made a member of the sheikh's family, he gives total allegiancc, and in return receives familial authority. He can make claims. The claims assume the archetypal nature of the family: a man's son has definite claims upon him sanctioned in scripture; wives have definite claims upon their husbands verified in die same sacred source; heads of families have certain duties to perform that assures them status and establish their authority. Claims can only be made from within that context. One has no authority to make a claim without those relational connections. This conception goes to the heart of Muslim social order. Thus the mystical brotherhoods have fixed upon a plastic and vigorous image when they apply the familial matrix to their religious beliefs. The primary claim that is made is intercession. Just as wasif (mediatorship, "connections") plays a role in getting ahead in the world, so intercession plays a role in promoting the spiritual welfare of the seeker. The spiritual world is enlarged to include many elements we would think somewhat secular: a baby, a promotion, help with an unruly child, a problem in relationships. In reality, the entire scope of life comes within the purview of the saint, and hence a justification for travel to his shrine can always be found. Even those who are not attending may send a little gift or support someone who is going so that a request can be left at the shrine. Shrine attendance also cuts across religious lines; it is widely believed by both Copts and Muslims that seekers attend one another's festivals to beseech the saint. So far as I know, no study has ever been carried out to determine how true this is. But Canon Bill Musk of All Saint's Cathedral in Cairo has had first hand experience with some of these individuals and has recorded interviews with them. 27 He considers the practice to be widespread. 28 'The important point is that interaction with the saint retains the same sense of commitment as if the bargain had been struck between ^ S e e my "Religious Lévitation and the Muslim Experience: A Study of Right Symbolism of Intermediary Figures and Other Images in Medieval Islam", Ph.D. dissertation, (University of Chicago, 1972). 71 • " B i l l A. Musk, "Ultimate Reality in Popular Muslim Religion in Egypt", Encounter: Documents for Muslim-Christian Understanding, no. 129 (September-October 1968), 1-9. 28 Private communication, 1985.


Earlell. Waugh

family members. It can mean a lifetime commitment. Hence, once one is "in the family" of the sheikh and sets up relationships with him through requests and pleadings, the individual is bound to the sheikh in an ongoing interaction. One would not renege on a commitment made to one's deceased father; similarly, one would not renege on a commitment to an "uncle."

Selection E: Meditation, Knowledge and the Saint "Ah, Knower of Secrets, Acknowledge my pleadings with your face," cries Muhammad al-Husaini during the mawlid al-Husain in Cairo. It is a cry for the saint to help him sing well, to sing what his audience needs, and to inspire him with insight into which way the dhikr will go. Since the munshidin do not just sing words but "minister" to a clientele who require them to give an inspirational message, their interaction with the saint takes place at several levels. There is, first of all, their relationship with the saint through their own local sheikh, w h o is constantly monitoring the measure of the singer's commitment to their transcendent source. Then there is their own experience with the saint, built up over the years through pleadings and results which become a rehearsal of the saint's achievements in the munshid's personal life. Then there are the techniques of meditation which are utilized in making effective the saint's presence at a dhikr; the most important of these, as expressed in the selection, is the bringing to consciousness and the centering on the saint that takes place in the munshid's mind. Then there are the manners and customs associated with the great Sufi saints, with which the singers, like all believers, must interact if they are to grow in spiritual insight and knowledge anions; the brethren. Then there is the spiritual discernment that comes while they are singing that is seen as the assistance or blessing of the saint. By means of this blessing, the singers can switch themes, lengthen a meditation on a theme deeply effecting the listeners, or move into a derivative meditation. Then there is the general influence of the saint held to reside in the inspired writings and teachings of the saint, with which the singer must work under the jurisdiction of his sheikh. Then there are the subtle leanings of the spirit implicit in the subconscious life and read by the adept as the influence of the saint: recurring dreams are one such element. All of these factors have a marked effect on the munshidin. Together they provide a blueprint for their mystical life, sincc they fill in their understanding of the saint and their personal relationship to him, as well as provide a perception of the world beyond and the means by which it touches the world of humans, l i t i s is a language of the transcendent realm, which only those of deep and abiding knowledge understand. The true knowers, the 'urafa , are those who comprehend that realm in and through their own experience with it. They know the other world and are comfortable with its realities because they have a familial stake in it, and because they and the saint are linked by unbreakable ties, such as have been suggested here.

Saint and Singer in Egyptian Dhikr


LANGUAGE OF THE SAINTS AND TIIE MUNSHIDIN We can now evaluate with greater precision the material associated with the saint and perhaps come to some means of integrating it into our system. ¡Drawing upon the sources, such as Ibn 'Arabi, we are able to see that this is essentially a language of spiritual communication, a secret language if you will, even though it is evident in public and constrained by public rules. To those who jse it, it provides the mechanism for elaborating a world of assistance, of relationship and network that touches down in this world at certain given points, out in the main operates in an intermediate realm between God and world. But it is also a transforming language, because its operative codes are not meant just to provide a description of the spiritual horizons of life, but to genuinely put one in i power-receiving situation. It also involves commitment, by which one assumes a range of responsibilities and claims in return for becoming a member of an alternative family structure with linkages to transcendence. And obviously it is a language with rhetoric, theme, humor, and logic, which has provided a sketchbook for certain individuals to relate concretely and firmly with transcendence. It assumes a systemic ontology that has taxed some of Islam's most brilliant minds. Like Wilder's perception of language, it is the habitat in which they are born and die. For those who use this language, it is not an alternative language to majoritarian Islam. It is a rich, parabolic language that integrates in an alternative spiritual manner the whole range of values and perceptions that are of prime religious significance to the essential core of Islam. Its linkages are regarded as multivalent and encompassing, completely submerging their experience in the reality of transcendence/God. As M. 'Abd Mlah 'Umar sang: These are our raiments and finery, They have laid their hands on our hopes For us, it is a gift that they have done so They have worn us and we are enrobed in them Who among us would know the magnitude of that wearing? Every sun, when he sees them will he eclipsed Every ful! moon before their glistening, slinks away... [For] they have known the Living One.


INTRODUCTION On the eve of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, death came to Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Gushtuli (or Qushtuli) al-Azhari in his zawiya (Sufi convent) in the Jurjura mountains of northeastern Algeria. Sheikh 'Abd al-Rahman, whose life and work were divided between the urbane, erudite and the harsh environment of the Berber Kabylia world of the Cairene 'ulama with its tribal social structure, was one of the foremost Sufi-saintly figures in modern North African history. Revered by his disciples as a saint, a Sufi, and an 'alim (scholar), Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Rahman created the nucleus of a flourishing tarlqa (Sufi order) — the Rahmaniyya. In the decades following his death, the Rahmaniyya expanded from its primary cult centers in the Kabylia to encompass all of eastern Algeria, part of the Sahara, and neighboring Tunisia. By approximately 1850, twenty years after the French invasion of Algeria, the colonial regime regarded the Rahmaniyya as among the most "dangerous" of the North African Sufi orders. This was largely because of its geographical placement along the strategic Algerian-Tunisian borders, its social recruitment among the unruly Kabyles and Saharan peoples, and its mass followings in both city and countryside. Moreover, the involvement of some Rahmaniyya leaders in various types of collective protest during the nineteenth century confirmed colonial fears of the order's inherently political mission.1

'Recent works by Algerians which deal in part with the Rahmaniyya are: Abu al-Qasim Sa'dallàh, Ta'rikh al-Jazâ'ir al-thaqàfi, 1 (Algiers: Société Nationale d'Édition et de la Diffusion, 1981), 514516; Muhammad A. Dabbuz, Nahdat al-Jazâ'ir at-hadllha wa tlutwraluhd al-mubâraka (Algiers: Imprimerie Cooperative, 1965); Ahmed Nadir, "Les Ordres religieux et la conquête française (1830-1851)," Revue Algérienne des Sciences Juridiques, Économiques, et Politiques, 9 (1972), 819-872, and his "La Fortune d'un ordre religieux algérien vers la fin du XIXe siècle," Le Mouvement Social, 89 (1974), 59-84; Mohamed Salhi, "Étude d'une confrérie religieuse algérienne: la Rahmaniya à la fin du XIXe siècle et dans la première moitié du XXe siècle," Ht. D. dissertation (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 1979); and articles by Fanny Colonna, notably, "Saints furieux et saints studieux ou, dans l'Aurés, comment la religion vient


Julia Clancy-Smith

This paper will reconstruct the prehistory of the Rahmaniyya — that is, the founder's early life — and the first decades of the tariqa's existence in late eighteenth-century Algeria. There are several reasons for choosing this particular period over the more turbulent years of the order's evolution under colonial rule. The biography of Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman illustrates many of the issues surrounding the saint and Sufi in Muslim society during an era of intense social change. Through his efforts at tajdid (reform, renewal) and those of other likeminded Sufi-scholars in the Maghrib and the Mashriq, the "purified and the popular" were recombined to produce a neo-Sufi revival. 2 Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman is representative of a generation of energetic, itinerant ulama whose activities in die eighteenth century linked more closely various parts of the Muslim world. This helped to create the conditions of critical mass which led to populist movements of reform and renewal in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Moreover, studying figures like Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman reveals that the eighteenth century was not a benighted age, as earlier presumed. By the same token, the Enlightenment of the same century was not a uniformly rational, reasoned, or irreligious era, as demonstrated by recent studies of transAtlantic fundamentalism in Europe and America. 3

aux tribus," Annales, 35 (1980), 642-662. M o s t of these deal with a later period than the one under consideration here. Other w o r k s which contain i n l . n m a t i o n on the R a h m a n i y y a and its f o u n d e r are David S. Margoliouth, "Rahmaniyya," Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st ed., [hereafter LI I] vol. Ill (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1924), pp. 1104-1105; Abu al QSsim Muhammad H a f n a w i (or al-Hifnawi) Ta'rif al-khalqfji rijâl al-salaf (2 vols.; Algiers, 191? i; and M u h a m m a d Ibn M u h a m m a d Makhluf, Shajarat al-nûr (Beirut; Dâr al-Kitab al-'Arabiyya, ¡''23). Much of the data pertaining lo the R a h m a n i y y a is still in archival f o r m in the collections of the French Ministry of War in Vinccnnes (hereafter AMG) and in the Archives du G o u v e r n e m e n t Général d e l'Algérie, Archives d ' O u u e - M e r , Aix-en-Provence (hereafter AGGA). T h e published colonial works most widely cited for the North African orders and the Rahmaniyya are: Edouard de Neveu, Les Khouans. Ordres religieur chez les Musulmans de l'Algérie (Paris: A. Guyot, 1846); C h a r l e s Brosselard, I^es Khouans De la constitution des ordres religieux musulmans (Paris: C h a l l a m e l , 1859); Louis Rinn, Marabouts et Khouan (Algiers: Jourdan, 1884); and O c t a v e Depont and Xavier Coppolatii, Les c onfréries religieuses musulmanes (Algiers; Jourdan. 1897). *"On the neo-Sufi revival, see amo::ig others, J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders of islam ( O x f o r d : C l a r e n d o n Press, 1971); ohn O. Voit, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modem World (Boulder: Westview, 1982). ind his "Hadith Scholars and Tariqahs: An Ulama G r o u p in the 18th Century Haramayn and Their impact in the Islamic World," Journal of Asian and African Studies, 15. nos. 3 - 4 (1980). 26-i-273; and B r a d f o r d G. Martin, Muslim Rrotherhoods in Nineteenth Century Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). ^ T h e articles in the collection edited by T h o m a s Naff and Roger Owen, Studies in EighteenthCentury Islamic History (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1976) were a m o n g the first to point out that the eighteenth century was not a period of unrelieved d a r k n e s s and sociocultural decay as earlier believed. For a brief description of the genesis of the eighteenthcentury movements, see Fazlur R a h m a n . Islam (New York: Anchor Books, 1968), pp. 237-260; Albert Hourani's introduction to part III of Naff and Owens. Studies, pp. 253-276, is one of the best summaries of the problems and issues of this period. See also Fazlur R a h m a n , "Revival and

The Man with Two Tombs


The Rahmaniyya's expansion from its original locus in the Algerian Juijura reveals the interpénétration between the Maghribi tradition of saint veneration and the rise of a new, ramified Sufi order. While Muslim saints and mystics share with their Christian counterparts the role of "joining heaven and earth," it should be emphasized that saint and Sufi are theoretically distinct cultural referents. The former acts as a mediator between God and man or as an arbiter between men; the latter strives for direct experience of and with the divine. In practice, popular religiosity made little distinction between the categories of saint and Sufi, which came to intersect and overlap to a great degree both theologically and sociologically. 4 Rather than belonging either to the learned tradition or to the popular, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman joined both in his work and teachings. And the matrix of the cult associated with the Berber holy man during his lifetime and after his death lay as much in Cairo as in his native Kabylia. The violent opposition which the Berber saint's preaching encountered in Algeria is significant because it sprang from both secular political authorities and entrenched religious elites. Examining that opposition reveals not only the configuration of power, faith, and religious institutions in Turkish Algeria but it minors similar tensions in other parts of the Islamic ecumene at the time. Finally, Sidi 'Abd al-Raliman's cult and the emergence of the tariqa bearing his name show the complex interplay between particularistic expressions of belief in the village and tribe and the universal dimensions of Islam as a world religion.5

THE SAINT OF THE JURJURA Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Azhari Abu Qabrayn (French: Bou Qobrain) was born sometime between 1715 and 1729 into the Ait Isma'il tribe of the Gushtula (Fr.: Guechtoula). This large confederacy was located in the western part of the Jurjura mountains in what was later called by the French the Reform in Islam." in The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P.M. Holt, A.K.S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, vol. II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 632-656. On the resurgence of fundamentalist movements in Europe and North America, see, among other works, Susan O'Brien, "A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735-1755," American Historical Review, 91, no. 4 (1986), 811832. 4

T h e quote is from Peter Brown, The Cult of Saints, Its Rise and Function in iMtin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). On saints and Sufis in North Africa, see Dale F. Eickelman, Moroccan Islam (Austin: University of Texas, 1976); Ernest Gellner, Saints of the Alia:; (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969); and the articles in Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, ed. Nikki Keddie (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972). 5

B . G. Martin examines opposition encountered by other neo-Sufi reformers in Muslim Brotherhoods. Eickelman's notion of "Islam as locally received" in Moroccan Islam is particularly useful in this regard; see also Christine Dobbin, Islamic Revivalism in a Changing Peasant Economy (London: Curzon Press, 1983).

hilia Clancy-Smith


Grande Kabylie. The Kabyha is a heavily forested and densely populated mountainous region in the Algerian Tell; its inhabitants are mainly Berbers or Arabized Berbers. Characteristically independent, enterprising, and rebellious, the populations of the Kabylia maintained their traditional political and administrative institutions under Turkish rule. On the eve of the French conquest, the region was composed of semi-autonomous village-republics estimated at about 1,400 villages. 6 In a region of endemic but "ordered" anarchy, the local saints and shurafd' (descendants of the Prophet) historically held an important place in society because of their roles as arbiters for clients in village disputes and as intermediaries between the community and the central authorities. For this they were generously remunerated by their followers, in addition to receiving tax exemptions and other prerogatives from the government. Moreover, because of their relatively advanced learning, local Kabyle saints were the sole repositories of Islamic culture in a largely preliterate society; the larger zawaya controlled by saintly lineages often had schools attached to them. Until the elaboration of the Rahmaniyya tariqa at the end of die eighteenth century, however, the local maraboutic clans were without any significant attachments to organized Sufism. 7 Relatively little is known of Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's life apart from the barest outlines of his travels; even the dates of his birth and death are a matter of dispute. 8 He was from a locally prominent family claiming desccnt from the Prophet through the Idrisi sharifs of Morocco. Thus, the clan had probably emigrated to Algeria during the great maraboutic movements of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. They may have originally come from that nearly inexhaustible saintly reservoir, the Saqiyat al-Hamra' in the Moroccan Sus. Sidi


O n the Gushtula (in Kabyle, Igouchdal or Igushdal) Confederacy, see Adolphe Hanoteau and

Aristide Letourneux, La Kabylie

el h-s coutumes

particularly I, 275-279; Eugene Daumas. Moeurs


(3 vols.; Paris: Challamel, 1872-1873),

et coutumes

de l'Algérie.

(Paris: Hachette, 1853); Roger Le Tourneau. "Kabylia," Encyclopedia


of Islam, 2nd ed. [hereafter

£72], vol. IV (Leiden: Brill. 19781 pp. 359-364. Pierre Bourdieu has done the most recent work on Kabyle society; see his The Algerians (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), pp. 1-24, and Le Sens pratique

(Paris: Minuit, J980).

^ C h a r l e s Trumelet, Les Saints de l'Islam

(Paris: Didier, 1881) contains information on Kabyle

holy men and women. A discussion of the cultural basis of saintly mediation is found in Paul R a b i n o w , Symbolic


^Both Rinn, Marabouts,

(Chicago: University of C h i c a g o Press, 1975).

p. 452. and De pont and Coppolani, Les Confréries,

p. 382, estimate Sidi

' A b d a l - R a h m à n ' s birthdate to be somewhere between 1126-1133/1714-1720. M u h a m m a d alNayyâl (or Niyàl), al-Haqiqa




(Tunis: al-Najah, 1965), p. 337,

gives his birthdate as either 1141/1728 or 1128/1715. Most sources agree that he died in 1208/1793-94, although

Antoine Giacobelti, in his IM Confrérie

des Rahmaniya

M a i s o n Carree, 1946), p. 1. and Marthe Gouvian and E d m o n d Gouvian, Kitah Marhariba,

(Algiers: Imprimerie Orientale, 1920), p. 145, give 1214/1799 and

respectively as the date of the sains's death.

(Algiers: Aayane



The Man with Two Tombs


'Abd al-Rahman's father, a scholar of some reknown, sent his son to study the Qur'an at the zawiya of his close friend, Sheikh al-Sadiq A'rab (Fr.: Warab), leader of the Ait Irathin in the Kabylia. Seeing his young student's theological bent, Sheikh Sadiq advised his father to send him to the East to complete his education. Prior to his departure for the Mashriq, Muhammad ibn 'Abd alRahman may also have spent some time studying at the Great Mosque in Algiers. 9 Leaving his village to pursue studies in other parts of the Islamic ecumene placed the aspiring Berber scholar in the Muslim tradition of travel in pursuit of knowledge. The acquisition of learning and piety would later transform him from a rustic tdlib (student) of modest social stature into a member of the Muslim elite. In 1152/1739-40, the young man left his native land to perform the hajj to Mecca. He eventually settled in Egypt where he pursued further studies at the Azhar mosque-university in Cairo, then the undisputed center of Islamic learning. According to his biographer and spiritual associate, Mustafa Bash Tarzi, Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman had gone to the Azhar with the express intent of becoming versed both in jurisprudence and in the mystical sciences. While there, he lived in the riwaq (dormitories) of the Maghribi scholars and students near the great mosque. It should be pointed out, however, that the Kabyles were not among those groups from North Africa traditionally found in large numbers in the Egyptian capital on a permanent basis. 10 Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's sojourn in the East lasted almost three decades. During that time he studied with many of the most notable religious figures in the Mashriq: Salim al-Nafrawi, Umar al-Tahlawi, Hassan al-Jadawi, and al'Amrusi. The individual who exerted the greatest influence upon him was Muhammad ibn Salim al-Hifnawi (or al-IIifni, 1100/1689-1181/1767-68), leader of the Egyptian Khalwatiyya and sheikh of the Azhar from 1758 to 1767. Because of his prodigious intellect, indicated by his nisba (epithet or honorific) "al-Azhari," Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman became one of Hifnawi's favored students and 'Viouvian and Gouvian. Kitab, p. 143: Giacobetti, Rahmaniya, pp. 3-5; and Depont and Coppolani, Confréries, pp. 382-383. Rinn, Marabouts, p. 452, is one of the few sources that says Sidi 'Abd at-Rahman studied in Algiers prior to setting out on the hajj. the milieu of the Sufi and 'âlim in Cairo in this period, see Afaf Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo" and her "The Wealth of the Ulama in Late Eighteenth-Century Cairo," in Naff and Owen, eds., Studies, pp. 205-216. Michael Gilsenan's Saint and Sufi in Modem Egypt ( O x f o r d : Clarendon Press, 1973), and Fred de Jong's Turuq and Turuq linked Institutions in Nineteenth Century Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1978), while mainly devoted to later periods, contain valuable background information. Mustafa Bash Tarzi's sharh is found in Giacobetti, Rahmaniya; on p. 37 Bash Tarzi says that Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman "went [to Cairo] in order to acquire the science of the law and spiritual truth (haqiqa)-, he frequented the al-Azhar and lived in the quarters of the Maghribis." On the Maghribis who were found in large numbers in Cairo, see André Raymond, "Tunisiens et Maghrébins au Caire au XVIIIe siècle," Cahiers de Tunisie, 26-27 (1959), 336-371.


Julia Clancy-Smith

closest associates. 1 1 Like his spiritual master, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman merged tasawwuf (Sufism) and fiqh (jurisprudence), the shari'a (the revealed, or canonical, law of Islam) and the haqlqa (mystical truth) in a manner that instilled a new spirit in the older tradition of Islamic mysticism. W e have only fragmentary information regarding Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's activities during his stay in Cairo. Nevertheless, certain things can be inferred from knowledge of Sheikh ai-Hifnawi's life, since the Algerian scholar spent a number of years with him in Egypt. Muhammad al-Hifnawi was a charismatic, reform-minded Sufi leader who, like many of his contemporaries, was in touch with currents of change throughout the Muslim world. He was also aware of the political inroads made by European powers into the Dar al-Islam. Moreover, by the middle of the eighteenth century, al-Hifnawi and other leading Sufi figures in Egypt had emerged as the principal vox populi and defenders of the masses in the face of heightened Mamluk oppression. Indeed, the political situations in Algeria and Egypt at the time were not dissimilar: both countries were ruled by foreign military oligarchies much given to feuds and brutal treatment of their nonTurkish subjects. 12 Sheikh al-Hifnawi's immense vitality as a teacher is demonstrated by the fact that a number of his disciples founded important branches of the Khalwatiyya tariqa in Arabia, East and West Africa, and in the Maghrib. Among al-Hifnawi's followers were Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Karim al-Samman, Mahmud al-Kurdi, Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Gushtuli, and Ahmad al-Dardir. With the passage of time, the Khalwatiyya offshoots established by these figures became independent of the Egyptian center, as they adapted to different cultural and political environments and to the personal inclinations of the various sheikhfounders. 13 At some point in his long association with the head of the Khalwatiyya, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman was ordered to travel to Dar Fur in the eastern Sudan to bring instruction to the ruler there. It is uncertain whether the Sudanese ruler

^1 For the history of the Khalwali; va, see the article by Fred de Jong, "Khalwatiyya" in the EI2, IV, 991-993; B. G. Martin, "A Short History of the Khalwati Order." in Keddie, ed.. Scholars, pp. 275-305; and Ernest Bannerth, ' l.a Khalwatiyya en Egypte, quelques aspects de la vie d'une confrérie," Mélanges de l'Institiii Dominicain d'Études Orientales du Caire, 8 (1964-66), 1-74; also Voll, Islam, pp. 54-55. 12 '^Martin, "A Short History," pp 299-305; for general social conditions in eighteenth-century Egypt, see the articles in the collision edited by P. M. Holt, Political and Social Change in Modern Egypt (London: Oxford '. Diversity Press, 1968), which is only one of numerous available sources. For Algeria, there is no recent satisfactory general history for the eighteenth century, although Abu al-Qäsim Sa'dallah's Ta'rikh is excellent for cultural history. '-Martin, "A Short History." and AM al-Rahmàn Jabartï, 'Ajä'ib al-äthärfi'l-tarâjim wa'1-akhhär, vol. I (Büläq. n.d.), pp. 297 ff.

The Man with Two Tombs


(Muhammad Tayrab b. Ahmad Bakr?) had requested that a representative of the order be sent to the region or whether it was al-Hifnawi who determined that Dar Fur was ripe for missionary activity, perhaps because of the persistence of nonIslamic customs there. Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's instructions from Sheikh alHifnawi were to bring the tariqa's teachings to the Bilad al-Sudan and "render service to humanity." He spent some six years in Dar Fur and may have subsequently traveled as far as India to preach; some writers mention Turkey and the Hijaz as sites of missionary activity as well. Upon his disciple's return to Egypt from his travels (date unknown), where his efforts at reform had apparently met with great success, Sheikh al-Hifnawi bade him return to the Maghrib to do the same. Prior to Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman's departure for his native country, al-Hifnawi conferred upon him the khirqa, a ritual garment signifying the attainment of spiritual perfection. It was with great reluctance that the Algerian Sufi and 'alim left his sheikh's side; he was not to see him again. 14 The fact that al-Hifnawi urged his Berber disciple to propagate Khalwatiyya doctrines in Algeria deserves more than passing comment. Algeria, unlike Dar Fur at the time, was decidedly not a frontier region of Islam. Part of western Algeria — the coastal region in the province of Oran — was still occupied by the Spanish, who abandoned their presidio only in 1792. Moreover, as mentioned above, Egypt and the Ottoman regency of al-Jaza'ir were quite similar in terms of the oppressed condition of the mass of the Arabo-Berber faithful under Turkish rule. Why Sheikh al-Hifnawi sent his spiritual intimate back to Algeria — apparently against his will — is a matter of speculation. Perhaps the well-publicized irreligión of the deylical regime there made it eminently suitable territory for neo-Sufi reforming activities.15 The dates given for Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman's arrival back in the Maghrib differ: some sources mention 1177/1763-64; others give 1183/1770.16 What is certain is that after an absence of some thirty years, the sheikh and his family returned to the Jurjura. There a school and zawiya were founded early in the 1770s. From this humble outpost in the mountains, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman

14 O n Dar Für in the period, see P. M. Holt, "Dar fur," EI2, Ii, (Leiden: Brill, 1965), pp. 121-125; al-Nayyäl, Haqiqa, p. 337, contains Sidi 'Abd al-Rahmän's instructions from al-Hifnawi regarding his missionary duties. Margoliouth, "Rahmâniyya," p. 1104, mentions India and the Sudan for his travels; other sources claim he was sent to Turkey and the Hijaz. William Haas, "The Zikr of the Rahmâniyah Order in Algeria, A Psycho-Physiological Analysis," Muslim World, 33, no. I (1943), 16-28, detects Indian influences in the practice of the dhikr. 15 F o r brief descriptions of conditions in Algeria in this period, see Jamil Abun-Nasr, A Iliitory of the Maghrib (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); and Charles-André Julien, History of North Africa (New York: Praeger, 1970).

^ C o m p a r e Rinn, Marabouts, p. 453, and Depont and Coppolani, Confréries, p. 383, with Adrien Delpech, "Un Diplôme de mok'eddem de la confrérie religieuse Rahmania," in Revue Africaine 18 (1874), 419.


Julia Clancy-Smith

taught, performed miracles, and initiated the Kabyles into the tariqa, which before long had a substantial popular following. News of his teachings and of the new ideas brought back from the Mashriq soon spread beyond the Juijura, attracting learned men from Algiers, Constantine, and Bougie to the Kabylia to hear him preach. T h e founder of the Tijaniyya order was first initiated into the Khalwatiyya way by Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman himself during Ahmad al-Tijani's journey from Fez to Mecca via northern Algeria in 1772-73. 1 7 An ijaza (diploma) conferred by Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman in 1191/1777 upon Sheikh ibn al-Qasim ibn Muhammad of the M a ' a t q a tribe to the west of the Great Kabylia indicates that the tariqa was in full expansion less than a decade after the saint's return from the East. By the 1790s, the KhahvatiyyaRahmaniyya zawiya in the Jurjura had evolved into a prestigious center of learning. Among its permanent teaching faculty were several prominent scholars w h o had been instructed by Sheikh 'Abd al-Rahman. One example is Sheikli A h m a d al-Tayyib ibn al-Salih a l - R a h m a n i whose treatise on Islamic jurisprudence, dating from 1212/1797-98, was still in use by qadl% (magistrates or judges) in the Kabylia a full ccntury later. 18 While Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman had been directed by al-Hifnawi to tcach "die pure doctrines of the Khalwatiyya" in Algeria, he did introduce s o m e modifications into what later became the Ralimaniyya order. Eventually he even put forth some important claims for both his person and his system. Yet, it seems that the Berber saint viewed his work in the Maghrib as the continuation of the eastern parent tariqa. In keeping with the spirit of the reformed Sufi orders, a sound knowledge of Qur'amc law was a requisite for a Ralimaniyya muqaddam (a Sufi representative capable of initiating followers into the order). This was the very essence of the haditli revival which made the study of fiqh a central element in sociomoral renewal. An examination of the diplomas conferred upon Rahmani notables reveals that they were indeed well versed both in the fundamentals of jurisprudence and in die esotcric doctrines of classical Sufism. Moreover, the order's founder and his disciples regarded the tariqa as an important medium for educational activities. Even in remote oases in the Sahara, Ralimaniyya centers often possessed schools and, m some places, rich libraries. Nevertheless, in a rather different social environment, (lie Rahmaniyya naturally assumed its own original configuration. Over time, it became quite distinct f r o m the urban Khalwatiyya in Egypt, which can be characterized as more of a cluster of suborders than a highly integrated or centralized institution. 19

I7 Gouvian and Gouvian, Kitah,

pp. 143-144; Hafnawi, Ta'rif,

pp. 459-460; Martin, "A Short

History," p. 303; and Delpcch, "Un Diplôme," pp. 419-420. 18

D e l p e c h , "Un Diplôme," pp. 41S-420.

' 9 R i n n , Marabouts,

and Margoliouih, 'Rahmaniyya," p. 1104. A number of ijâzas are reproduced

in Depont and Coppolam, Les Confréries, pp. 382-413; see also Delpech. "Un Diplôme." Most

The Man with Two Tombs


While the tariqa was in the process of implantation in the Berber mountains, it met with equal success in gaining adherents in the Constantine. The city of Constantine was then, as it is now, the religious and cultural center of the entire eastern province of Algeria. Sometime late in the 1770s, a member of an eminent religious family from the provincial capital, Muhammad Bash Tarzi, paid a visit to Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman at his zawiya in the Juijura after the saint's reputation had come to the attention of notables in the Constantine. Sheikh 'Abd al-Rahman chose Bash Tarzi as his muqaddam and enjoined him to proselytize in his native city to combat "the worldliness of its inhabitants." As the name indicates, the Bash Tarzis were kuloghlus (of Turkish-Arab descent) and the clan was already supplying Hanafi qadis and imams (prayer leaders) to religious establishments in Constantine by this period. Muhammad Bash Tarzi's selection as a leading Sufi official departs markedly from the pattern of elite recruitment seen elsewhere in Algeria and in Tunisia. The Bash Tarzi's affiliation with the Rahmaniyya worked to enhance the family's fortunes and social standing, in addition to greatly aiding the further extension of the tariqa. 20 Significantly, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's new order encountered little, if any, opposition in the city of Constantine, either from the Maliki and Hanafi elites there or from secular political authorities. This is particularly intriguing since the ulama of eighteenth-century Constantine counted families of ancient origins such as the Banu 'I-Faggun (or Lafgun), who had been famous as legal scholars for centuries. Perhaps because these ulama clans were so firmly embedded in the social fabric of the city and its hinterland, they did not view the emerging Rahmaniyya tariqa as a threat. At the same time, relative to other regions in Algeria, Constantine was more open to currents from outside, enjoying close ties with Tunis as well as the Mashriq. Moreover, in the earlier stage of the order's spread, the city experienced a brief heyday under Salih Bey (1771-1792) who proved to be especially solicitious of the men of religion and Islamic institutions. With Salih Bey's demise at the hands of the Dey during the last

of the information on the Saharan Rahmaniyya is still in archival f o r m and found in abundance in the 16 H series of the AGGA.

The archives of the Dar al-Bey in Tunis also contain material on the

R a h m a n i y y a in the D series, carton 97. In the oasis of Tuggurt alone (in the Algerian Sahara), the R a h m a n i y y a had s o m e eight primary schools by the middle of the nineteenth century. On differences between the Cairene parent tariqa and its offshoots, see de Jong, "Khalwatiyya," and Martin, "A Short History." e Bash Tarzi family is mentioned briefly by Sa'adallâh in his Ta'rikh, Vol. I, and by H a f n a w i in Ta'rif. As late as the 1940s, the family zawiya in Constantine was still in existence under the direction of Bash Tarzi's descendants. Giacobetti, Rahmdniya, p. 5, briefly discusses Mustafa Bash Tarzi w h o considered himself Sidi 'Abd al-Rahmân's spiritual son and wrote a gloss or commentary of the order's rules. The French title given t o this work is Présents Dominicaux: Auguste Cherbonneau refers to the Rahmaniyya manual, t o which he apparently had access (he states thai it is a 236-page manuscript) in his article "Sur le Catéchisme des Rahmaniens," Journal Asiatique (1852), 515-518.


Julia Clancy-Smith

decade of the century, Constantine entered anew into a period of turmoil which appears to have attracted ever more followers to the Rahinaniyya. 21 Unlike the welcome accorded him in the Constantine, the saint's teachings aroused considerable enmity among certain local maraboutic elites and highranking ulama in other parts of Algeria. For example, the new tariqa encountered bitter, sustained opposition from the powerful Ibn 'Ali Sharif family of the zawiya of Chellata near Akbou, whose local clients were expressly forbidden from joining the Rahinaniyya Explaining the antipathy of local saintly elites to Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman and his reform efforts is a relatively easy matter. The nascent Sufi order posed an unambiguous threat to vested interests, particularly since it drew clients away from maraboutic leaders. This eroded their prestige, sociospiritual authority, and material resources, all measured in terms of popular followings in the village or tribe. The antagonistic relations between the Ibn 'Ali Sharif clan and the Rahmaniyya endured into the nineteenth century and may explain the favorable stance adopted by this particular saintly clan towards the French from the 1840s onward. Some nineteenth-century writers claim that the hostility of non-Sufi saintly lineages in the countryside caused Sidi 'Abd alRahman to leave the Jurjura for Algiers. Yet, it is more likely that he went to the capital because of the possibilities offered for further proselytizing. Whatever the reasons for his departure from his native village, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman turned his attention elsewhere in the last decade of the eighteenth century. It does seem, however, that some of his followers had an inkling of what lay ahead in Algiers and attempted to dissuade the Berber reformer from going there. 22 The territory of the Ail Isma'il is but a two-day march from Algiers; from the city's outskirts the snow-covered crests of the Jurjura are seen in the winter. Early in the 1790s, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman began to preach the doctrines of the Khalwatiyya in the capital where his activities soon aroused the animosity of part of the ulama. He was denounced as a heretic to the religious authorities, who then chaiged him with spreading teachings contrary to the Sunna and with "> 1 On the Constantine in this pern-d, see "Kitab Tarikh Qosantina " in Revue Africaine, 57 (1913), 265-305, trans. A. Dournon; AMG, II 226, report of 1838 on religious* institutions in the city; and Adrien Berbrugger, Algérie historique, pittoresque et monumentale, vol. Ill (Paris: J. Delahaye, 1843). The two classic colonial works on the history of Constantine are by Ernest Vaysettes, Histoire de Constantino sous les beys depuis l'invasion turque jusqu'à l'occupation française (Constantine: n.p., 1869), and Ernest Mercier, Histoire de Constantine (Constantine: Marie et Biron, 1903). The most recent work has been done by André Nouschi, "Constantine à la veille de la conquête française." Cahiers de Tunisie 3, no. 11 (1955), 371-387, and his Enquête sur le niveau de vie des populations rurales constantinois de la conquête jusqu'en 1919 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, ¡'»61). 11 A *For example, Margoliouth. "Rahinaniyya," p. 1104. On the zàwiya of Chellata, see Nil-Joseph Robin, L'Insurrection de la Grande Kabylie en 1871 (Paris: Lavauzelle, 1901), pp. 544-558; Rinn, Marabouts, p. 19; and C.-A Julien, Histoire de l'Algérie contemporaine, vol. I (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, î1>64).

The Man with Two Tombs


attempting to create a schism — extremely serious accusations that could lead to death. Summoned before the majlis (religious council), he was asked to explain his "trances, revelations, dreams and apparitions." The Maliki mufti (jurisconsult), however, Sidi al-Hajj 'Ali ibn Amin, examined his case, found him innocent of the charges, and issued a fatwa (decree) asserting the orthodoxy of the saint's teachings. He was, therefore, released and allowed to continue preaching freely. Significantly, the saint established a Khalwatiyya-Rahmaniyya center not in the heart of Algiers, but rather in the adjoining suburb of al-Hamma where Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman resided during his stays in the capital. 23 Clearly, he chose this spot to temper any lingering hostility by the city's ulama and to distance himself from the central government. This tactic, however, only met with only partial success. The political center subsequently sought to appropriate to its own ends the populist movement associated with the Berber saint. Roughly six months prior to his death, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman journeyed back to his native Kabylia. The exact reasons for his departure remain unknown. Some sources claim that the saint, sensing the end was near, desired to put the affairs of the tariqa's main center in order. Others state that he left Algiers to avoid further trouble with political and religious authorities. Upon his return to the Jurjura, Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman had to resolve the critical matter of his successor. The founder-saint did not select any of his own descendants nor any of his countrymen to succeed him, but named his closest disciple and spiritual son, Sidi al-Hajj 'Ali ibn 'Isa, originally from the Sus in Morocco, to the headship of the order in 1208/1793-94 (the year most generally accepted for Sidi 'Abd alRahman's death). Sidi 'Isa, to whom Sheikh 'Abd al-Rahman bequeathed his baraka (blessings or grace), his secrets, the administration of the order's properties, and one of his daughters in marriage, directed the Jurjura zawiya for forty years without opposition from (lie ethnocentric Kabyles.24 Such was not the case after Sidi 'Isa's death in 1837, when the headship of the main zawiya housing the founder's mausoleum became the object of contention among warring spiritual factions in the Jurjura. The descendants of Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman do not appear to have been a party to these conflicts. In fact, the founder-saint's offspring never acceded to any Rahmaniyya leadership positions in the Kabylia or elsewhere. From the meager sources at our disposal, it appears that Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's kin were simply revered as local holy men in the region, quite in the older tradition of the cult of saints. 25 The gradual


R i n n , Marabouts,

pp. 453-454.


R i n n . ibid., p. 454, claims that he left Algiers out of fear of further reprisals, as do Gouvian and Gouvian, Kitab, pp. 454-457. 25 Little is known of Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman's descendants. Rinn, Marabouts, p. 474, says that among the Ait Isma'il in the Jurjura, they still enjoyed considerable prestige late in the nineteenth century, although as local saints rather than tariqa notables. The report in AGGA, 16 H

Julia Clancy-Smith


fragmentation of the Rahmaniyya into a number of semi-autonomous Sufi centers in the colonial period, caused by forces both internal and external to it, did not halt the order's expansion among different socioethnic groups in Algeria and Tunisia. It appears that the French invasion of 1830 and the imposition of colonial rule through military conquest encouraged the spread of the Rahmaniyya among ordinary people. A century after the saint-founder's death, two colonial officials, Octave Depont and Xavier Coppolani, published Les Confréries Musulmanes. While the estimates of North African Sufi membership contained in the work are subject to caution, the results of numerous on-site investigations by local authorities reveal that of all the turuq in Algeria, the Rahmaniyya commanded the largest following among both men and women. In fact, the order was invariably referred to by French writers throughout the nineteenth century as the "église nationale algérienne." 26 *











Some of the questions raised by Sidi ' Abd al-Rahman's life and work will now be examined chronologically. Of primary interest are the following issues, all of them interrelated: the interplay between the cult of the saint and the elaboration of a ramified Suli network; the relationship between wider social crises and the rise of a new saint and Sufi within the community; and struggles between political authorities and populist movements over powerful religious symbols. Several tilings should tx: noted concerning die prehistory of the movement that was associated with the founder of the Rahmaniyya order. Sidi 'Abd alRahman was an 'alim, a faqih, and a Sufi long before he "became" a saint or achieved the kind of sainthood based upon popular consensus and the emergence of a system of rituals to honor him. It was only after returning to his native land that he became the focal point of a cult of personality, perhaps even against his original intent or will. (Of course, the same tiling may have occurred while he was in Dar Fur or elsewhere, but there is no information regarding this phase of his life.) The saint had been absent from his clan and village for a considerable

1, " N o t i c e sur l'ordre religieux ik Sidi M o h a m m e d b e n 'Abd er-Rahman" (n.d.) and a letter of 1 2 S e p t e m b e r 1 8 6 2 f r o m the general of the P r o v i n c e o f A l g i e r s to the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l of A l g e r i a s u g g e s t that the o n l y r e m a i n i n g m a l e o f f s p r i n g of the f o u n d e r i n d u l g e d in rather u n s a i n t l y pursuits. Giacobetti, h o w e v e r , Rahmaniya,

p. 5, c l a i m s that he left no m a l e heirs.

" ^ D e p o n t and C o p p o l a n i , Lird and Rinn all c l a i m that a causal link e x i s t e d b e t w e e n the French o c c u p a t i o n and increased m e m b e r s h i p in the R a h m a n i y y a . Hanoteau and Letourneux, Ixt Kabylie,

II, 1 0 2 - 1 0 5 , state that ' h e inability of the local. n o n - S u f i s a i n t l y l i n e a g e s t o prevent

the French c o n q u e s t thoroughly discredited t h o s e saints in the e y e s of their v i l l a g e c l i e n t e l e s , w h i c h a l s o m a d e m e m b e r s h i p in the R a h m a n i y y a more attractive. P. J. Andre, in Contribution l'étude





( A l g i e r s : M a i s o n d e s Livres.


1 9 5 6 ) , p. 2 6 5 ,

declares that in the past the Rahuianiyya had been the "Algerian national M u s l i m Church,"

The Man with Two Tombs


period of time. There is no indication that he had made periodic short-term visits back to Algeria during the three decades in the East. Despite that long absence, he succeeded in attracting a numerous and quite diverse following, both popular and learned in composition, and in a very short period. Moreover, he did so without benefit of a preexisting family-controlled zawiya or religious center among his clansmen. Finally, he was able to reintegrate himself into the rural, tribally based society of the Kabylia so different from the erudite milieu of the Cairene ulama associated with al-Azhar and the big city environment of one of Islam's greatest cultural centers. What rendered figures like Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman such powerful social forces was precisely the fact that they could move comfortably between these two seemingly antithetical worlds, joining the literate traditions of "high" culture with those of the faithful in the countryside. In doing so, they represented what the French social historian, Maurice Agulhon, meant by "la ville au village," channels of ideas, norms, and values between the urban and the rural, points of contact and linkages between Islam as locally received and the universal faith of a world religion.27 The very rapidity with which Sidi 'Abd al-Rahman built up a large popular audience is also significant and must be considered from several perspectives: the various levels of response from "below" to his message, on the one hand, and on the other the larger context within which that response gelled and took shape — that is, the social conditions prevailing in the Kabylia and the regency of Algiers. In addressing the latter issue first, emphasis will be given to those social forces which nurtured both the cult surrounding Sidi Abd alRahman and the emergence of a ramified Sufi order. The extension of the Rahmaniyya in space and time transformed it from a local expression of saint veneration into a extra-local movement. This movement eventually involved farflung social groups and regions in institutionalized types of religiocultural relationships.

A TIME OF TROUBLES: The last decades of the eighteenth century and those immediately preceding the French conquest constitute the dark ages of Algerian history. Information ?7

' Maurice Agulhon, La Sociabilité méridionale (Aix-en-Provence: Publications des Annales de la Faculté des Lettres, 1966); see also M.-H. Froeschle-Chopard, La Religion populaire en Provence orientale au XVIlle siècle (Paris: Beauchesne, 1980). Dale Eickelman's Knowledge and Power in Morocco. The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984) aiso addresses the question of connecting sociocultural spheres — the local and the universal.


lulia Clancy-Smith

concerning the forces at work in that society is scanty; the result is less than satisfactory generalities. Indisputably the nadir of Turkish rule in the Maghrib, this period is crucial for understanding the early phases of die Rahmaniyya. The regime in Algiers was, in contrast to neighboring Tunisia, experiencing a serious erosion of power in the cities and the countryside. The crisis of authority at the top was all the more damaging since the oligarchic rule of the deys had always been short on "respectability," whether religiously based or otherwise. With the departure of the Spanish from Oran, any legitimacy deriving from the central government's claims to be a bulwark against the infidels was depleted. 28 To increasing political anarchy and disarray was added a series of interMaghribi wars, natural disasters, and reversals in the arena of international commerce and politics during the second half of the eighteenth century. From the 1780s on, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin were hit by recurrent plagues and epidemics which carried off large numbers of peoples and flocks. The loss of population combined with the eclipse of privateering — by then only moderately lucrative for the regime — provoked a further decline in the already fragile internal economic structures within Algeria. This in turn caused many urban centers to dwindle; contracting city life brought a further weakening of economic prosperity. Increased fiscal demands upon the countryside by central authorities added to the general social woes. 29 Thus, conditions in late eighteenth-century Algeria were similar in some respects to seventeenth-century Europe — an era in which "there was something anomalous about the Zeitgeist, the time was indeed out of joint." 3 0 Whether 28

L u c e t t e Valensi, le Maghreb

History 29

of the Maghrib;

.ivant ht prise d'Alger

and Julien History of North

L u c e t t e Valensi, Fellahs


African epidemics; Julien, Histoire

(Paris: Flammarion. 1969): Abun-Nasr, Africa.

(Paris: Mouton, 1977), pp. 266-296, discusses the North

de l'Algérie


1, 1-20, and VayseUes,


present an overview of the politu al situation in Algeria and the Constantine. In addition, there were a numhet of religiously-based anti-government rebellions: on the D a r q a w i revolts, see Rinn, M