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HistoryThe Chishtiyya
Winged Heart

Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami ("the Syrian") (d. 941 C.E.) brought Sufism to the town of Chisht, some 95 miles east of Herat in present-day Afghanistan. Before returning to the Levant, Shami initiated, trained, and deputized the son of the local Amir, Khwaja Abu Ahmad Abdal (d. 966). Under the leadership of Khwaja Abu Ahmad’s descendants, the Chishtiyya flourished as a regional mystical order specializing in sama’, ritual music and dance.

Early in the 13th century, Khwaja Mu‘in al-Din Hasan Sanjari (d. 1236) and his disciples introduced a branch of the Chishtiyya in the Indian Subcontinent. Khwaja Mu‘in al-Din’s ethos was: "Generosity like a river, affection like the sun, humility like the earth." Remembered as Gharib-nawaz, "the Helper of the Poor," his legacy is such that today hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, of all castes and creeds, flock to his tomb in Ajmer for the annual ‘urs festival.

Khwaja Mu‘in al-Din's successor, Khwaja Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki (d. 1235), expired after a mystical couplet sent him into a swoon of ecstasy. He was succeeded by Khwaja Farid al-Din Mas‘ud (d. 1265), whose elegant verses grace the pages of the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. Khwaja Farid al-Din’s successor, Khwaja Nizam al-Din Awliya’(d. 1325)—remembered as Mahbub-i Ilahi, "Beloved of God"—presided over an era of florescence, when the Chishti message spread throughout the Subcontinent. The death of his successor, Khwaja Nasir al-Din Mahmud (d. 1356), who was buried with the sacred relics of office, closed a glorious chapter.

The initiatic tree of the Chishtiyya sprouted many branches and shoots. The lineage of Khwaja Nizam al-Din (the Nizamiyya) was paralleled by the lineage of Khwaja ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ali Sabir (the Sabiriyya). Our lineage is traced to Khwaja Nasir al-Din through his nephew Shaykh Kamal al-Din ‘Allama (d. 1355), whose descendants established a mystical institution in Gujarat that continues to this day. Among these descendants was Shaykh Muhammad Chishti (d. 1630), who attained the cosmic initiations of Qutb (Axis) and Mahbub (Beloved) at the dawn of the second hijri millennium.

In Medina, Shaykh Muhammad’s grandson Shaykh Yahya Madani (d. 1689) deputized Shah Kalim Allah (d. 1729), who came from the family of architects that designed the Taj Mahal. Shah Kalim Allah later composed the meditation manual Kashkul-i Kalimi, which documents the technical repertory of the Chishtiyya, a sophisticated combination of Arabic ritual formulae, Central Asian subtle physiology theory, and hathayogic body techniques.

Shah Kalim Allah established a school in Delhi that flourished under the leadership of the descendants of his successor Shah Nizam al-Din (d. 1730), until it was displaced in the aftermath of the ill-fated Revolt of 1857, when the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar—a disciple of Shah Nizam al-Din’s great grandson Kale Miyan—was exiled to Rangoon.

Just before the Revolt, a premonition prompted Kale Miyan’s successor Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Jili Kalimi to take his family to Hyderabad. There he deputized Sayyid Abu Hashim Madani, who became the Murshid (teacher) of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s own memories of his Murshid, beginning with the first encounter, are recorded in his Confessions:

After a time of suspense the Pir-o-Murshid entered, bringing with him a very great sense of light. As all those present greeted him, bowing down in their humility, it seemed to me all at once that I had seen him before, but where I could not recall. At last, after gazing at him earnestly, I remembered that his was the face which so persistently haunted me during my silence. The proof of this was manifested as soon as his eyes fell on me.

He turned to his host, saying, "O Mawlana, tell me who this young man may be? He appeals intensely to my spirit."

Mawlana Khayr al-Mubin answered, "Your holiness, this young man is a genius in music, and he desires greatly to submit himself to your inspiring guidance."

Then the Master smiled and granted the request, initiating me into Sufism there and then.

Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani belonged to a distinguished family of Medina, and was a direct descendant of the Holy Prophet. My joy in him was so great that it found its expression in poetry and music. I had at last found my pearl among men, my guide, my treasure, and beacon of hope. I composed a song and sang it to him and this, I feel certain, has brought me all my success and will aid me in my future life. And thus was my song:

Thou art my salvation and freedom is mine,
I am not, I melt as a pearl in sweet wine!
My heart, soul, and self, yea, all these are thine;
O Lord I have no more to offer!

I drink of the nectar of truth the divine,
As Moses thy word, as Yusuf they shine
who walk in thy ways; and Christ is thy sign:
Thou raisest to life everlasting!

Thou art as Muhammad to them that repine,
My spirit is purged as the gold from a mine!
I only know that my heart beats with thine,
And joys in boundless freedom!

My Murshid greatly appreciated this outburst of love on my part and exclaimed in deep emotion, "Be thou blessed with Divine Light and illuminate the beloved ones of Allah!"

From this time a spiritual attachment between myself and my Murshid was firmly established, and as it grew more and more it opened up in me the ways of light through my attachment to that Inner Radiance, which can never be gained through discussion or argument, reading, writing, nor mystical exercises.

I visited him at the expense of all my affairs whenever I felt his call, receiving rays of his ecstasy with bent head, and listening to all he said without doubt or fear. Thus the firm faith and confidence I brought to bear upon my meditations prepared me to absorb the Light of the World Unseen.

I studied the Koran, Hadith, and the literature of the Persian mystics. I cultivated my inner senses, and underwent periods of clairvoyance, clairaudience, intuition, inspiration, impressions, dreams, and visions. I also made experiments in communicating with the living and the dead. I delved into the occult and psychic sides of mysticism, as well as realizing the benefits of piety, morality, and bhakti (or devotion). The more I progressed in their pursuit, the more unlearned I seemed, as there was always more and more to understand and acquire. Of all that I comprehended and experienced I valued most that Divine Wisdom which alone is the essence of all that is best and attainable, and which leads us on from the Finite World unto Infinitudes of Bliss.

After receiving instruction in the five different grades of Sufism, the physical, intellectual, mental, moral, and spiritual, I went through a course of training in the four schools: the Chishtiyya, Naqshibandiyya, Qadiriyya, and Suhrwardiyya. I still recall this period, under the guidance of so great and merciful a Murshid, as the most beautiful time of my life. In him I saw every rare quality, while his unassuming nature and his fine modesty could hardly be equaled even among the highest mystics of the world. He combined within himself the intense spell of ecstasy and constant flow of inspiration with the very soul of spiritual independence. Although I had found most wonderful attributes among the mystics I had met, some in greater and some in lesser degrees, I had never until then beheld the balance of all that was good and desirable in one man.

His death was as saintly as his mortal life had been. Six months before his end he predicted its coming and wound up all his worldly affairs in order to be freed for his future journey. "Death is a chain which unites friend with friend unto the Beyond."

He apologized not only to his relatives, friends, and mureeds, but even to his servants, lest there might be aught that he had done to their displeasure and hurt. Ere the soul departed from his body, he bade farewell to all his people with loving words. And then, sitting upright and unwavering, he continued zikr, and lost in his contemplation of Allah, he, by his own accord, freed his soul from the imprisonment of this mortal frame forever.

I can never forget the words he spoke, while he placed his hands upon my head in blessing, "Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonize the East and the West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end art thou gifted by Allah, the most Merciful and Compassionate."
Note: The quotation is from Regina Miriam Bloch, The Confessions of Inayat Khan (London: The Sufi Publishing Company Ltd., 1915), pp. 38-42, with minor adjustments. For more on Hazrat Inayat Khan's Chishti heritage, see Pirzade Zia Inayat Khan, "The "Silsila-i Sufian": From Khwaja Mu‘in al-Din Chishti to Sayyid Abu Hashim Madani," in A Pearl in Wine: Essays in the Life, Music and Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan (New Lebanon: Omega Publications, 2001), pp. 267-322.