Monday, April 16, 2012

Naqshbandiyyah in the 18th Century

         The Naqshbandi brotherhood is a branch of Sufi Islam which has expanded and thrived throughout much of Islamic history.  Still a prominent sect of Islam today, the roots of the Naqshbandiyyah can be directly traced more than 1,300 years into the past; nearly as old as Islam itself.  The 18th century is a relatively short part of the entire history of this order, however there are several figures and events which dramatically shaped the future of the Naqshbandiyyah and are of great historical importance not only in a religious sense, but in a political sense as well.
            The Naqshbandiyyah was founded over thirteen centuries ago.  Historically, finding well-kept records from the early years of almost any organization as old as this proves challenging, and the Naqshbandiyyah are no exception.  However, there are some things the Naqshbandiyyah kept excellent tabs on, one of them being the Golden Chain.  The Golden Chain is the lineage of Naqshbandi leadership which can be traced from the time of the prophet Muhammad to the present day, with no dispute or interruption[1].  [ZH1] The Golden Chain is essential to the existence of the Naqshbandiyyah.  It is not only a physical lineage, but a spiritual one as well[2].  The ability to trace the heritage of any Sufi order is what gives that order legitimacy[3]  Thus, it has always been a priority to keep as flawless a record as possible to eliminate reason for dispute or doubt of the lineage.  The chain begins with Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, a companion of Muhammad during his journeys in the establishment of Islam and the first Rashidun Caliph after the death of Muhammad[4].  Numerous traditions suggest that Bakr was one of Muhammad’s most favorite and trustworthy companions.[5]  The beginning of their heritage is of great importance to the Naqshbandiyyah.  Most Sufi orders trace their lineage to Ali, the first caliph.  The Naqshbandiyyah traces its heritage to one of the original companions, who is believed to have received a vast amount of knowledge and insight from Muhammad, making him a highly revered figure in Islamic belief.[6]  Because of this differentiation from other Sufi orders and the generally high opinion of Abu Bakr by most Muslims, this lineage from Abu Bakr is a huge source of Naqshbandi pride.  Because Shi’ism developed out of an allegiance to Ali and his successors, lineage from Abu Bakr has meant that the Naqshabandiyyah developed squarely in what would become Sunnism. 
            Another important difference the Naqshbandi have from the rest of Sufism is their     method of dhikr, or the Remembrance of God.  Traditionally, dhikr was spoken aloud and recited simultaneously within groups, and recited silently when alone.  Shah Naqshband changed this in the early 13th Century.  He never protested the loud dhikr, but he believed that it was more powerful when spoken silently to one’s self.  This method was adopted almost instantly, and became a distinguishing mark of the Naqshbandi order from other Sufis.[7]  Shah Naqshband is the beginning of the transformation of what the Naqshbandiyyah would become in modern times, and though suffixes have been added or removed to the order’s name over time Naqshbandi has remained the name of the order since his leadership.
            By the 18th century, The Naqshbandi order had grown exponentially, its reaches spanning from India into the Ottoman Empire.  It is difficult to gauge the extent of the influence the Naqshbandiyyah had on the Muslim world, however the nature of the Naqshbandiyyah essentially guaranteed that the movement would become political at some point.[8]  In the beginning of the 18th century, Muhammad al-Bukhari, a prominent member of the Naqshbandi order, settled in Istanbul where he later died in 1729[9].  Prior to his death, al-Bukhari had gathered a fairly large following of disciples, which established the Naqshbandiyyah in Turkey.[10]  Istanbul thereafter became the center for the Naqshbandiyyah order.  In the late 18th century important documents were translated into Ottoman Turkish, making them readily available for the general population.[11]  Though the Naqshbandiyyah had no direct political power, it was certainly in a position to exert political influence.[12]  They settled mostly in urban areas, such as Istanbul, and generally appealed to the upper class such as lawyers, doctors, or political representatives and leaders.  This made the Naqshbandi order rather popular, and patrons of the order often received advice or guidance from religious leaders within the Naqshbandiyyah.[13]  Undoubtedly, this had an effect on the political decisions made by devotees of the Naqshbandiyyah, and though it is impossible to measure the amount of influence the Naqshbandiyyah had, it certainly had a large footprint. 
Key Figures
Abu Bakr as-Siddiq – As discussed previously, Abu Bakr was one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions.  The Naqshbandiyyah trace their lineage to Abu Bakr, who is widely regarded as Muhammad’s most trustworthy companion.  He is referenced in the Qur’an, which states that the knowledge which Muhammad had received overflowed into Abu Bakr, making him a very knowledgeable and reliable source of Islamic practice.
Shah Naqshband – Muhammad Bahauddin Uwaysi al-Bukhari, or Shah Naqshband, is the imam of the Naqshbandiyyah and from where the name of the order is derived.  He pioneered the use of silent dhikr in groups, one of the most notable differences between the Naqshbandiyyah and other Sufi organizations.[14]  Shah Naqshband was an “ocean of knowledge that has no shore.”  A scholar of both the science of Islamic Divine Law and the science of Reality, he was a very rare intellectual.  Shah Naqshband was the beginning of events which would lead to the transformation of modern Naqshbandi practice.  He is believed to have met with the spirits of God’s messengers at the age of seven, and is thought to have had many unnatural talents given to him by God such as the ability to focus his vision around the universe 363 times per 24-hour period.[15]  Needless to say, Shah Naqshband is one of the most highly respected and influential figures of the Naqshbandiyyah following.
Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi – Al-Nablusi was a famous 18th century writer, scholar, and member of the Naqshbandiyyah.  He wrote several pieces on Naqshbandi belief and practice, as well as interpretation and clarification of the meanings of religious doctrine.  He was seen as an Uwaysi, meaning that he received instruction from a deceased shaykh.[16]  Al-Nablusi sparked reform directly through the revival of nearly forgotten teachings and practices, and indirectly influenced the settling of new Sufi orders by one of his students in Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia and the Arabian Peninsula.[17]

            The word “Naqshband” contains two separate ideas.  Naqsh is the word for engraving, and suggests the engraving of the name of God into the Heart.  Band translates literally to “bond,” indicating the bond between the individual and the creator.[18]  Naqshbandi ideology differs in important ways from other Sufi orders or sects of Islam, which is one of the keys to its widespread success.  For example, the Naqshbandiyyah are extremely open to the acceptance of foreigners, making them capable of crossing language and cultural barriers and incorporating people from far off lands into the order.  The Naqshbandi way is also very appealing, as its teachings are generally very universal and accommodating to cultural practices of other people.[19]  The Naqshbandiyyah tend to be peaceful, with their leadership comprised mostly of intellectuals and religious scholars.  They are extremely interested in seeking out new knowledge and are open to change with the acceptance of this new knowledge, and since they allow leaders of different sects in different locations rather than an entirely centralized leadership, there are not often internal disputes.[20]  There is an Islamic mysticism aspect rooted into the Naqshbandi culture, though it is much less present than in other Sufi orders; another distinguishing factor of the Naqshbandi.  The Naqshbandiyyah prefer following the words of the prophet as opposed to the usual Sufi belief of finding a mystical path to God.[21] 
The lack of concern the Naqshbandiyyah have with the mystical part of Islam also makes them far more susceptible to politicization than other Sufi organizations.[22]  The Naqshbandiyyah never attempted to rule as a political organization, but considering so many important figures and leaders are members of the order it is clear that Naqshbandi belief has influenced to some degree the decisions made by these followers.  With a historical background spanning 1,300 years, from just after the beginning of Islam to the present, the Naqshbandi order is one of the oldest and longest surviving religious branches in Islam today.  Though not at its height, there are believed to be over 2.5 million followers in the main branches of the brotherhood alone,[23] and its influence and presence will continue to exist through history.

Abu-Manneh, Butrus. "The Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya in the Ottoman Lands in the Early 19th Century." Die Welt Des Islams, 1982: 1-36.
—. "Transformations of the Naqshbandiyya, 17th-20th Century: Introduction." Die Welt des Islams, 2003: 303-308.
Algar, Hamid. "The Naqshbandi Order: A Preliminary Survey of Its History and Significance." Studia Islamica, 2007: 123-52.
Campo, Juan E. Encyclopedia of Islam. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.
Gall, Dina Le. A Culture of Sufism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
Kabbani, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham. Classical Islam and the Naqshbandi Sufi Tradition. Fenton, MI: Islamic Supreme Council of America, 2004.
Papas, Alexandre. Toward a New History of Sufism: The Turkish Case. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Svanberg, David Westerlund & Ingvar. Islam Outside the Arab World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Toussulis, Yannis. Sufism and the Way of Blame. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 2010.

[1] Kabbani p22 
[2] Abu-Manneh 122
[3] Abu-Manneh 128
[4] Kabbani 28
[5] Abu-Manneh 129
[6] Kabbani 28
[7] Kabbani 31
[8] Abu-Manneh 145
[9] Abu-Manneh 146
[10] Gall 22
[11] Abu-Manneh 145
[12] Campo
[13] Papas 84
[14] Kabbani 31
[15] Kabbani 199-210
[16] Toussulis 231
[17] Campo 640
[18] Kabbani 29
[19] Papas 84
[20] Kabbani 622
[21] Svanberg 133
[22] Svanberg 133
[23] Svanberg 133

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