The Mantle of Illumination

The Chishti pir we’ve met in Ajmer at times presented a khirqa to his murids. The khirqa could take the shape of a mantle, a cap, a handkerchief, etc. This often took place when he was alone with his disciple in order not to evoke the jealousy of other disciples who were not ready to receive a khirqa. The bestowing may take place in a formal (e.g. by means of a certain rite, going together with an official document) or in an informal way (e.g. by means of giving a cap as a last minute farewell-present at an airport).

When this very Chishti pir was in Holland in August 1983 he delived a speech we have recorded. Part of it deals with the symbolic meaning of the patches on the mantle of a dervish. This is what he explained:

‘The Gudri Shai order is known after Hazrat Sa’in-ji Gudri Shah Baba, who wore a Gudri. Now a Gudri has got an implication. It is a patched frock, a very ordinary dress. It has different patches of different colours of different dimensions. And it is a symbolic dress, which is something that people do not realize!’

‘To unite different patches of different colours together means to unite humanity of different colours, different casts, different communities, different nationalities, different ideologies, different schools of thought and at the same time of different set-up. This means he was wearing a dress which symbolized the unity of mankind’.

Hazrat Nawab Gudri Shah Baba has written a book in Urdu called “Mo’in ul Arwah”, which deals with the life and the teachings attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti. It contains in the second chapter some remarks about the khirqa, the mantle of the dervishes, in a very direct language:

‘When the murid has obtained the nearness of a murshid, but has not received the khirqa and the turban, then his intentions are not right, because the aim of the intentions is to obtain the robe and the turban. When a murid obtains the worn robe of the shaykh he should wear it without washing and he should not give it to others. When the murid is away from the shaykh, he should pray, keeping the turban of the shaykh in front of him in order that he may become enlightened’.

Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya has said something very important regarding the dervish robe:

Tariqat ba-joz o khedmat-e-khalq nist
Ba tasbih o sajaada o dalaq nist

The sufi path is nothing but service to humanity.
It is not found in the rosary, the prayer carpet and the dervish robe.

Frank Zappa, when playing music in Germany, made it clear that everyone is wearing an uniform. The dervish robe may serve as an uniform and help a dervish on his way. There have been Sufis who preferred not to wear such a robe. An eminent shaykh was asked why he did not wear a patched frock (muraqqa’a). He replied:

“It is hypocrisy to wear the garb of the Sufis and not to bear the burdens which Sufism entails.”

If, by wearing this garb, you wish to make known to God that you are one of the elect, God knows that already; and if yon wish to show to the people that you belong to God, should your claim be true, you are guilty of ostentation; and should it be false, of hypocrisy. The Sufis are too great to need a special garment for this purpose.

I’ve met a man in one of the international ports who was a murshid on the Sufi path. After some time he got quite confidential with me. He told me that from the beginning of his own spiritual journey he knew that he would eventually receive a Sufi robe. He attracted many disciples, but at the end it all fell apart. Marriages broke up among his murids, other nasty things happened and his circle no longer exists.

Purity (safa) is a gift from God, whereas wool (suf) is the clothing of animals. The Sufi shaykhs enjoined their disciples to wear patched frocks, and did the same themselves, in order that they might be marked men, and that all the people might keep watch over them: thus if they committed a transgression, every tongue would rebuke them, and if they wished to sin while clad in this garment, they would be held back by shame.

This is why some Sufis use ordinary clothes. They are wearing the robe of spiritual contentment:

When you have realized the state of true spiritual poverty (faqr), you clothe yourself in the mantle of contentment (qana’a), and in so doing enlarge your compassion for others, so that you hide their fault, pray for them and show them mercy.

To patch your clothes and not acquire new ones symbolizes spiritual poverty.
Data Ganj Bakhsh therefore was very annoyed when he saw dervishes
abuse their patched frocks by holding it open to receive food therein.

Hazrat Data Sahib asked shaykh Abu ‘1-Qasim Gurgani a question: ‘What is the least thing necessary for a dervish in order that he may become worthy of poverty?’

He replied: ‘A dervish must not have less than three things: first, he must know how to sew on a patch rightly; second, he must know how to listen rightly: third, he must know how to set his foot on the ground rightly’. A number of dervishes were present with me when he said this. As soon as we came to the door each one began to apply this saying to his own case, and some ignorant fellows fastened on it with avidity. ‘This,’ they cried, ‘is poverty indeed,’ and most of them were hastening to sew patches on nicely and to set their feet on the ground correctly; and everyone of them imagined that he knew how to listen to sayings on Sufism.

Wherefore, since my heart was devoted to that Sayyid, and I was unwilling that his words should fall to the ground, I said: ‘Come, let each of us say something upon this subject’. So everyone stated his views, and when my turn came I said: “A right patch is one that is stitched for poverty, not for show; if it is stitched for poverty, it is right, even though it be stitched wrong. And a right word is one that is heard by means of an inward, spiritual state (ba-hal), not wilfully (ba-munvat), and is applied earnestly, not frivolously, and is apprehended by life, not by reason. And a right foot is one that is put on the ground with true rapture, not playfully and formally’.

Some of my remarks were reported to the Sayyid Abu ‘l-Qasim Gurgani, who said: ‘ ‘Ali has spoken well — God reward him!’ The aim of this group in wearing patched frocks is to alleviate the burden of this world and to be sincere in poverty towards God.

It is related in the genuine traditions that Jesus, son of Mary — God bless him! — was wearing a muraqqa’a when he was taken up to heaven. A certain shaykh said: ‘I dreamed that I saw him clad in a woollen patched frock, and light was shining from every patch. I said: ‘O Messiah, what are these lights on the garment?’

He answered: ‘The lights of necessary grace; for I sewed on each of those patches through necessity, and God Almighty hath turned into a light every tribulation which He inflicted on my heart’.’

A Sufi made this clear: ‘Spiritual poverty is a fabric, the warp of which is spiritual contentment (qana’a) and its weft is humility (at-tawadu’)’.

The patched frock has been described as ‘the shadow of the sanctity of the shaykh which covers the body of the murid’. This patched frock symbolizes:

1. The link between a murshid and a murid.
2. The surrender of the power of decisions (takhkim) to the murshid.
3. The surrendering of power (tafwid) and submission (taslim) to the murshid and in a deeper sense to the Prophet and to God.
4. The free mandate (tasarruf) of the murshid over the murid.
5. The stepping over the threshold of discipleship.
6. The being accepted by a murshid and by God.
7. The being fit to lead the life of a Sufi.

As you can imagine the exact obligations and responsibilities of a murid and a murshid are a subject of discussion in different times, cultures and parts of the world. The khirqa can have different shapes. It can be a mantle, but can also be less visible like a shirt or a cap or a handkerchief or a piece of cloth. You should keep this in mind when reading about the following kinds of khirqa:

a. Khirqa-i-iradat: You may receive this at your initiation in a Sufi tariqa.
b. Khirqa-i-tabarruk: Everyone (including complete outsiders to the Sufi path) who desires to receive a blessing can ask for it. There are no further obligations.
c. Khirqa-i-khilafat: This khirqa may be given to you when you are appointed as a spiritual caliph of your murshid. Now you are authorized to initiate your own disciples.
d. Khirqa-i-wilayat: This khirqa gives you the authority to guide others on the Sufi path. This khirqa is similar to the previous one and is also called khirqa-i-irshad.

During an ‘urs of Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti I’ve recently seen a dervish wearing a jeans and himself sewing patches on it. The Chishti pir we’ve met in Ajmer explained to us that Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti used to wear patched clothes and used to sew the patches himself. Some Sufis, he explained, prefer coloured clothes. Some prefer red clothes and others a black dress. Some prefer clothes of saffron colour. A dress of light colour is recommended for the awliya. There are other colours too. Blue and khaki get a preference.

The afflicted prefer a blue garment. They like a khaki dress also. For the one who has overpowered his lower self a blue garment is best. A khaki dress is best for one who is immersed in the presence of God. An azure dress is characterised by purity and is fit for anyone who has made spiritual progress.

A Sufi is often endowed with a woollen garment. A course garment is best for the one who has overpowered human nature. For a person who has covered all the stages and stations along the way to God, a black robe is a fit one. The Chishti pir in this respect referred to Hakim Sana’i who has said that the black colour should be chosen, for it does not accept any other colour.

The Chishti pir in fact stated that there be no doubt that there is no uniform prescribed for the Sufis. The Sufi may wear any type of dress and shoes; it does not matter. They may wear a Bond Street suit, but still they are Sufis as long as they accept the other requisites of the mystic way of life.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has written a separate book – i.e. the “Kitab nasab al-khirqa” – about the mantle of illumination. The Arab text and a French translation have been presented by Claude Addas, while Gerald Elmore is responsible for an English translation.
Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi makes it clear that the bestowing of a khirqa implies the perfecting of a state experienced by the murid. The imperfection may exist in he fact that the disciple is somewhat proud of experiencing this state. The shaykh helps his disciple to overcome this imperfection.

You’ll read below about the ‘receptive’ aspect of the khirqa. A Kubrawiyya shaykh reports that his murids could hear the khirqa saying the dhikr!

This is what shaykh bn al-‘Arabi has taught us: “[…] the shaykh should carefully examine the murid who aspires to be invested with the khirqa, since any spiritual state in which the disciple finds himself may be for him a deficiency. So the shaykh ‘invests’ himself in that state in order to ascertain the reality of it as it inundates him, [so that] the power of the state flowing in the garment that the shaykh happens to be wearing”.

“Then he takes off the garment while in that state and clothes him, the murid, in it, so that the flow of the spiritual ‘Wine’ might permeate him, pervading his members, and inundate him, perfecting the state for him.”

To wear the khirqa beyond reproach implies to comply to a number of guidelines. The list is like the ten commandments for someone invested with the khirqa. To fail in this respect implies that reproach is possible:

1+2. the shamefulness of falsehood should be covered (replaced) with the vestment of truthfulness and the shamefulness of treachery with the garment of trustworthiness.

3+4. Perfidy should be covered with the mantle of fidelity and hypocrisy with the mantle of sincerity.

5+6+7. Foolish morals should be covered by the mantle of noble morals and reprehensible acts by the mantle of praiseworthy acts; and every base nature with the mantle of every sublime nature.

8. The mere renouncing of belief in the secondary causes should be covered with the absolute with the absolute affirmation of the One.

9. Trust in finite entities should be covered with complete trust in God alone.

10. Thanklessness after receiving benefits should be covered with thankfulness towards the Benefactor.

These ‘ten commandments’ correspond to the indispensable aspects of the khirqa of mindfulness of God.

And why not try to adorn yourself with the vesture of other pearls, like:

a. Silence regarding what does not concern you.
b. Diligence in friendliness towards neighbours.
c. To be generous of soul.
d. Overlook the misstep of brethern/sisters.
e. Renounce anger, except over violation of sacred things of God.
f. Honour the aged.
g. Be easy-going in your speech and guide and entertain the guest.
h. Give sincere counsel for the sake of God.
i. Don’t condemn any of those addicted to carnal appetites for their lusts.
j. Take no joy in reputation even if you deserve it.
k. Do not put on a display of humility.
l. Have no desire that people should listen to your speech.
m. Be not anxious to give answer to anything displeasing said about you.
n. Be equitable in the face of the demands of your lower soul, but do not demand equity from anyone else in regard to your own right.
o. Strive against your lower soul and your passion, for truly it is your greatest enemy.
p. Depart from ignorance in the pursuit of knowledge.
q. Oppose acts of injustice.
r. Implore God and supplicate Him, night and day.
s. Aid the one who is grieving and dispel the sorrow of the sorrowful.
t. Stroke the heads of orphans, visit the sick, dispense free-will offerings of charity to the poor and love those who are good.
u. Continuously say the dhikr and contemplate on God.
v. Have your soul keep strict account of its actions, external and internal.
w. Be patient in times of trial.
x. Be of sound heart.
y. Be FOR other people and AGAINST your self, for it is when you are AGAINST it that you are really FOR it.
z. And rid yourself of falsehood.


– Ibn al-‘Arabi: “Kitab nasab al-khirqa”
translated by Claude Addas as “le Livre de la Filiation Spirituelle; Marrakech; 2000.
– Gerald Elmore: “Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Testament on the Mantle of Initiation (al-Khirqah); Journal of the MIAS vol 26; 1999.