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Chishti Order

Brief Introduction to Chishti Order

Founded by Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti, the Chishti order derives its name from the village of Chisht in Afghanistan, which is located thirty miles away from the modern city of Herat. Chisht was home to remarkable family that produced an unbroken line of five great Sufi masters. It is from this family and their systematisation of ‘tasawuuf’ that the basic principles and methodology of the Chishti order were laid down. The Chishti order is one of the oldest and most famous of the forty major orders. Indeed, classical formulations speak of four main orders; The Qadiriyyah, the Chishtiyyah, the Naqashbandiyyah and Suhrawardiyyah. Though, arising in Afghanistan and spreading into Khurasan (modern day Iran), their major sphere of influence was India, where they wielded an immeasurable effect on the native population. Their emphasis on charity, social uplifting and generosity, combined with Islam’s egalitarian nature, was one of the most important factors contributing to Muslim rule in India, which lasted over eight hundred years and oversaw some of the most brilliant and sophisticated civilisations the world has known. Following the path of the other Sufi Tariqah (orders), the Chishtiyyah order later ramified – treelike – into a number of different orders. The sub-orders tend to be named after a saint of that particular silsilah, who was instrumental in further developing the methodology or principles of the order, and who was responsible for taking it in a different direction based on the needs of the time. The division of the Chsihti order into two major sub-orders occurred with the development of the Nizami (after Khwaja Nizam Uddin Auliyah) and the Sabri (after Makhdom Alla ad Din Sabir) orders. Both were the two major disciples (Khulafah) of Baba Farid Uddin Ganj-e-Shakar.

Basic Principles

In common with all orthodox Sufi orders, the Chishti order refrain from anything that is contrary to the dictates of the Holy Quran and the practice of the Holy Prophet (SWM). Indeed, they are the foremost in their observance of the internal patterns of thought and personality and external method of conduct of the Holy Prophet (SWM).

The Chishti order adhere to the Sufi emphasis on tazkiya, which refers to the purification of the heart from all negative qualities, the subduing of one’s base desires and the pursuit of Ihsan (beauty and perfection) through adoption of the divine attributes. A defining characteristic of the order is the avoidance of the company of the rich and powerful, preferring that of the poor, to whom they show great respect and generosity. The reason for this is to avoid the tinge of corruption and worldliness that tends to accompany the materially well off, as opposed to the poor who (by necessity) practice reliance upon Allah (tawakkul). This helps them to maintain humility at all times, notwithstanding the lofty heights of spirituality they may attain.

One of the mechanisms by which the Chishtiyyah order infuses love of Allah into the heart is that of ‘Sema’, or the spiritual musical assembly. The Chishtiyyah are also characterised by their strict avoidance of the powerful and the ruling elite.

One of the major distinguishing features of the order, which continues even today, is the missionary aspect. In keeping with the sunna of Rasulallah (SWM) and his companions, the Khullafah of the Chishtiyyah are often dispatched to distant areas, often in the Islamic diaspora, where they settle and serve the spiritual needs of the people there. By becoming native to that region, rather than merely visiting for a period of time, they become beloved of the population, who can see that the Sufi master has uprooted his entire life to settle among them, sharing their hopes, fears, joys and difficulties.

Hazrat Khwaja Nizam Uddin Auliyah listed the four most important principles of the Chishtiyyah order being; * Unselfish service to mankind * Living for Allah alone and maintaining complete trust in Him * Inexhaustible generosity and forgiveness *.

The Characteristics of the Chishti Masters

A study of the Chishti masters in South-East Asia by Professor Bruce Lawrence has yielded an interesting series of eight, seemingly paradoxical, qualities that sum up the characteristics of the

Chishti masters:

  1. Born into a well-established Muslim family, he is still motivated to seek a spiritual master to improve the quality of his faith.
  2. He is well educated in the formal religious sciences, yet he is also able to intuit the deepest truths and symbolic meanings behind the written word.
  3. Initiated by a shaykh whom he acknowledges as his sole vehicle of divine grace, he still strives to attain his won level of spiritual excellence through prolonged meditation and severe fasting (Mujahadah).
  4. Living in isolation from others, he still constantly tends to the needs of his fellow men, even if only those who come to him for help.
  5. Married and father of sons, he remains celibate in temperament and disposition.
  6. Capable of performing miracles, he is careful to suppress them on most occasions.
  7. Prone to ecstasy, whether in silent solitude or abetted by music and verse in the company of other Sufis, he is still able to recall and perform his obligatory duties as a Muslim.
  8. Avoiding the company of the world, people, merchants and Kings, he lives in proximity to them and maintains contact with the masses.