Early sufis in the Chishti order

Many people think that Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti is the founder of the Chishti order. This is not correct, so in the following article I intend to tell something about his spiritual ancestors and briefly something about their teachings.

The Chishti order of the Sufis derives its name from Chisht (pronounce: Chesht, hence Cheshti). Chisht is a small town near Herat in Afghanistan. When travelling and arriving in Herat I intended also to visit Chisht, but it was said that the road was not safe, because of dacoits, so I abandoned the idea.

The first one to call himself Chishti was Abu Ishaq Shami. As the name Shami implies he came from Syria or even from Damascus (ash-Sham). He met a Sufi who directed him to settle in Chisht and from that day on he is known as Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti. He died in 940 C.E. in Damascus and lies buried on mount Qasiyun, where later on also Ibn al-‘Arabi was buried. Looking at the date of his death we can say that the Chishtiyya order is one of the oldest, if not the oldest now still existing Sufi order.

Some of his sayings are:

1. Starvation excels all in bliss (this shows the ascetic character of classical Sufism).
2. The worldly people are impure while the dervishes are pure in their souls. These two different natures cannot therefore mingle.

The spiritual successor of the founder of the Chishtiyya order, Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti, is called shaykh Abu Ahmad Abdal Chishti. The father of the shaykh for some time tried to keep him back from the Sufi path. He of course did not succeed as his son became an eminent Sufi. It is related about the shaykh that he did not sleep for thirty years. He was absorbed in meditation. He breathed his last on the 3rd of Jamada II at the age of ninety-five in 356 A.H. (corresponding to the 16th of May 967 C.E.). He was buried at Chisht in Afghanistan.

One of his sayings is: ‘Fire does not affect the true believer in God’.

Shaykh Abu Muhammad Chishti was invested as the head of the Chishtiyya order by his father Abu Ahmad Chishti about whom we have already reported. The appointment of a son as a successor is an exception with the Chishtis, but in case of genuine spiritual capacities there is nothing against the appointment of one’s son. When succession from father to son becomes an automatic procedure, then of course Sufism degenerates.

The shaykh passed away from this world on the 4th of Rabi II at the age of seventy (lunar years) in 409 A.H. (which corresponds to the 18th of August 1018 C.E.).

His sayings:
1. Cherish music to enlighten your heart.
2. Indulgence in sama’ (audition of Sufi music) for a moment is as prolific as the penitence for hundreds of years, but the worldly people do not realise it.

Khwaja Abu Muhammad Chishti was the maternal uncle of Khwaja Abu Yusuf Chishti who became his successor. He was a descendent of the prophet Muhammad (Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him). He breathed his last on the 3rd of Rajab at the age of 84 in 459 A.H. (20th of May 1067 C.E.). He was buried in Chisht, the cradle and the grave of the early Chishtiyya.

Indulgence in sama’ (audition of Sufi music) achieves more than long enduring penitence.

The next in the silsila of the Chishtiyya is Khwaja Mawdud Chishti. He had learnt the Qur’an by heart and could recite it very melodiously at the age of seven. Afterwards he learned the other things. When he was only 26 years old his father’s life came to an end. According to the will of his father he became his successor.

He was the first to salute others and used to stand out of respect to others. He was famous for his hospitality. He was kind to his servants. He bade farewell to this world in the month of Rajab at the age of 97 in 533 A.H. (March 1139 C.E.). He was buried at Chisht like many of the early Chishtiyya.


1. The lover of sama’ (Sufi music) is a stranger to the outside world, but is a friend to God.
2. The mysteries of sama’ are inexplicable. If you reveal them you are liable to punishment.

Khwaja Mawdud Chishti visited Balkh (the place of birth of Jalaluddin Rumi) and Bukhara, a place mentioned in the famous line of Hafez :

If that Turk of Shiraz would take my heart in his hand,
I would give for his Hindu mole both Bokhara and Samarqand.

Khwaja Hajji Sharif Zindani, his successor, renounced all and everything. He led a life of strict seclusion for forty years and hated society. He used to live on the leaves of trees. Although several of the Chishtiyya stressed the value of asceticism, in general they say that seclusion and ascetic practices is for short periods of time only. You should live in the midst of society and then keep up your spiritual ideals.
Khwaja Hajji Sharif Zindani passed away from this world on the 10th of Rajab at the age of 120 in 612 A.H. (4th of November 1215 C.E.). Zindani means from Zindana. He was also buried in Zindana. I do not know where this place is situated. How about you?

The following saying is very characteristic of him:

Riches are the enemy of a dervish; they should be shunned.

The successor of Khwaja Hajji Sharif Zindani has been Khwaja Uthman Haruni. Here is a poem translated from the Persian:

I do not know why at last to have a longing look, I dance!
But I feel proud of the fondness that before the Friend, I dance!
You strike the musical instrument and see, everytime I dance!
In whatever way you cause me to dance, o Friend, I dance!
Come o Beloved! See the spectacle that in the crowd
of the intrepid and daring,
With a hundred ignominies in the heart of the market, I dance!
Blessed is recklessness that I trample underfoot
the very many acts of virtue.
Hail to piety, that with the robe and the turban I dance.
I am Uthman-e-Haruni and a friend of shaykh Mansur,
They revile and rebuke and on the gallows I dance.

Khwaja Uthman Haruni came from Harun in Iran. According to some people he was born on 526 A.H./1131-2 C.E.). There are others however who hold that he was born in 510 A.H./1116 A.D. He received the name Uthman at birth, but his nickname is Abu Nur. He was also called Abu’l Mansur.

As is the custom among the Muslims when he attained the age of four years, four months and four days his ‘Bismillah’ was performed. At this function the child recites some portion of the Qur’an and is sent to school. He became a hafiz, one who has committed the Qur’an to memory.

He met an absorbed person, a majdhub, called Chirk. This meeting proved to be the turning point in his life. He went in search of spirituality and asked Khwaja Hajji Sharif Zindani to be enrolled as his mureed. The shaykh accepted his request and with his own hand placed a four-edged cap on his head. He gave this explanation of this four-edged cap:

First is the renunciation of the world
Second is the renunciation of the world hereafter
Third is the renunciation of the desires of the self
Fourth is the renunciation of everything other than God.

Khwaja Uthman Haruni lived in the company of his shaykh for over thirty years. Thereafter he undertook long tours and travels and also performed the hajj. His close disciple Khwaja Mo’inuddin Hasan Chishti was with him for more than twenty-two years. In order to help his mureeds Khwaja Uthman Haruni gave discourses in order to guide them.

He died on the 5th of Shawwal in the year 617 A.H. (3rd of December 1220 C.E.). His tomb in Mecca nowadays no longer exists. Khadim Hasan visited it in the beginning of this century, but it is said to be destroyed thereafter. I do not know if this had to do with the anti-Sufi attitude of the Wahabi movement or if there were other reasons. Khwaja Uthman Haruni made a prophecy about his own grave stating that it would not remain in tact, but the grave of Mo’inuddin would remain until the Day of Judgment.

Once he disclosed the secret that when the Friend becomes your friend then the whole universe in fact becomes yours. But it is necessary then that you should be unmindful of everything else and be ever with the Friend and follow Him faithfully and assiduously.

At another time he showed contempt for those mendicants who ate to their hearts content and took themselves to be mendicant and wore the khirqa – the robe of the dervishes.

If you feed the hungry, God will fulfil your thousand wants and will free you from hell fire. For you a house is built in heaven.

The lover of God should be charitable like the river, generous like the sun and hospitable like the earth.

He indeed is close to God, who is ever steeped in His submission,
Who interprets every event as coming from God,
And who is content with it and who takes it as a blessing.
This is the main object of all prayers and worship.

The history of the Chishtiyya Sufi order continues with the successor of Khwaja Uthman Haruni: Khwaja Mo’inuddin Hasan Chishti. It is therefore clear that Mo’inuddin Chishti is not the founder of the Chishtiyya. He is the one who brought the order to India and there is no doubt that he is the most outstanding wali of the sub-continent of Indo-Pakistan and Bangla Desh. Maybe I’ll return to him in another article.

He belonged to the house of the prophet Muhammad (s.a.) both from the paternal side (He is Husaini) and the maternal side (He is Hasani). He is closely related to shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani.

His great grand-father, Khwaja Ahmad Husain, migrated from Usqar (Iraq) to Sanjar. His father Khwaja Ghiyasuddin Hasan was well-educated and trained. He was an accomplished man and a great Sufi of his time. His mother, Bibi Mah Nur, alias Ummul Warah, was the daughter of Dawud ibn Abdullah al-Hambali. Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti was born in Isfahan in the year 530 A.H.

Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (= Helper of the poor) as Mo’inuddin Chishti was known received his early education at home. When he was 9 years old he committed the Qur’an to memory. Subsequently he was admitted in a maktab (school) in Sanjar. He concentrated mostly on hadith and fiqh. His father passed away in 1150 C.E. Gharib Nawaz was hardly fifteen years old then.

One day in the same year when he was watering his garden a mystic named Ibrahim Qanduzi all of a sudden entered the garden. Mo’inuddin Chishti was very courteous towards him and offered him a bunch of grapes. Ibrahim Qanduzi was very pleased with his behaviour and wanted to repay him. He took out a piece of oil-cake and chewing it, gave it to the young man.

As soon as he ate it, he underwent a strange transformation. He felt disgusted with mundane affairs and was enamoured of a higher life. He had inherited from his father a grinding-stone and a garden, which constituted his source of income. He sold them and distributed the proceeds thereof among the poor.

In pursuit of knowledge he visited Khorasan first. Then he proceeded to other centres of Islamic learning like Samarqand and Bokhara. You may be reminded of the famous line of Hafez:

If that Turk of Shiraz would take my heart in his hand,
I would give for his Hindu mole both Bokhara and Samarqand

He stayed there for about five years, i.e. from 1150 up to 1155 C.E. He continued receiving his education up to the age of twenty years. He counted as his teachers two outstanding scholars of his time, namely Maulana Hissamuddin of Bokhara and Maulana Sharafuddin.

What happened afterwards to him? What happened to the Chishti Sufis who succeeded him? This can be found in the other articles in this section. It so happens that from now on the most interesting time for the Chishti Sufis starts…