The Life and Times of Shaikh Nizam-U’D-Din Auliya

Item Code: NAG644
Author: Khaliq Ahmad Nizami
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: Urdu Text with English Translation
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9780195677010
Pages: 254
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 380 gm
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Book Description

                                                     About the Book

One of the-most charismatic personalities of South Asia, Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya was leader of the premier Chishtiyya order in Delhi from 1244-1325. A scholar and a mystic, he left a lasting impression on the life and thought, not only of his contemporaries, but also of subsequent generations. Renowned historian K A. Nizami provides here an account of the saint’s legacy and spiritual quest that displays documentary history at its best.

Nizami brings alive the story of the saint’s life, from his birth into an immigrant Muslim family; his childhood as a fatherless boy; his growing up years in Delhi; to his work spread over sixty years. Arguably the most popular saint of the Delhi Sultanate, the Shaikh’s role in the history of South Asia was of immense significance. Revolutionary in his approach to religious activity, he was convinced that the service of man was the essence of religion. Without entering into direct conflict with the state he influenced the tone of imperial rule through his lay disciples who were also courtiers. Nizami examines here the relationship between the saint as the spiritual master and the sultan as political ruler of the Delhi Sultanate.

Based on an extensive critical study of the contemporary literature, both political and mystical, this volume explores the saint’s life and teachings from different perspectives and shows how court and hospice contrasted in their attitudes towards him.

                                               About the Author

Khaliq Ahmad Nizami (1925-97) was Professor of History at Aligarh Muslim University. He was a prolific scholar who wrote more than fifty books in English and Urdu.


It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of either the subject or the author of this work. Both stand as landmarks for the experience as well as the study of Islam in the Asian sub-continent.Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya is a thirteenth/fourteenth century Delhi saint who epitomizes the intense spiritual engagement of Muslims with the mystery and awe of the Unseen, and also its ethical consequence. Professor K. A. Nizami is the foremost scholar of premodern Indian Sufism, widely published and frequently cited in both English- and Urdu-Ianguage estimates of the major saints, the orders, and the contexts of the Delhi Sultanate and its successor, the Mughal Empire.

No saint stands higher than Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya in ac- counts of the Sufi impact on the first millennium of Muslim presence in South Asia. He is identified with the Chishtiyya, the premier Sufi order of India. He is himself the successor of the major saint of the Punjab, Shaikh Farid-u’d-din Ganj-i-Shakar, and the master of the last of the first cycle of Chishti saints in Delhi, ShaikhNasir-u’d-din Chiragh-i Dehli. What remains astonishing after the passage of centuries is the singularity of Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-din Auliya. He stands among, but he also stand apart from, his predecessors and successors in the Chishti order. In a tradition where humility and deference to one’s ancestors and superiors is commonplace, it is doubly hard both to see how different ShaikhNizarn-u’d-din Auliya is and at the same time to relate him to the larger group-Sufis in general, Chishtis in particular-of which he is considered to be an exemplar.

The task of understanding Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya is made more difficult by the nature of source materials available about his life and times. The genuine is mixed with the spurious, the authentic with the inauthentic, the loftiest with the most banal. One of Professor Nizami’s own teachers, Professor Muhammad Habib, has set the standard for weighing different kinds of historical evidence for all Chishti spiritual giants, including Shaikh Nizam-ud-din Auliya. The best accounts are the early accounts. The best of the earliest accounts record the saint’s own words (malfuzat), supplemented by biographical compilation (tazkirat) made either soon after the saint’s lifetime or later by scrupulous scholars. All other evidence has to be invoked warily or else rejected outright. Pious error is no substitute for scholarly integrity.

K. A. Nizami has performed the task of making Shaikh Nizam- u’d-din Auliya come to life, despite the intervening centuries and the challenge of sifting and weighing disparate material. ‘Reconstructing the life of a medieval mystic’, he notes, ‘is, by no means, an easy job because fact and fiction, chaff and grain, the genuine and the spurious get so mixed up in hagiological accounts that only a firm application of the principles of critique can help draw an authentic sketch.’

The merit of the present book is that Nizami follows his own admonition. He applies fairly and firmly the principles of criticism (usul-i-asnad) laid down by medieval scholars. In seventeen chapters he evokes the life of the major Chishti saint of Delhi: his birth into an immigrant Muslim family; his life as a fatherless child; his zest for knowledge that carried him, his mother, and sister to Delhi; his devotion to Shaikh Farid-u’d-din Ganj-i-Shakar; his work for sixty years (1265-1325) as the leader of the Chishti order in Delhi; and finally his influence on subsequent generations of Muslims, and non- Muslims-all are portrayed here with scrupulous attention to what is knowable and laudable, while rejecting, or calling into question, what is imputed but improbable and often regrettable.

Nizami’s own account first appeared more than a decade ago, and it built on the landmark monograph of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din’s master that he himself had written thirty-six years earlier, Life and Times of Shaikh Farid-u’d-din Ganj-i-Shakar (1955). Both monographs measure up to the rigorous standards of modern as well as medieval scholarship. A recent book that attempted to assess the economic and social impact of Sufism on fourteenth-century South Asia (Riazul Islam, Sufism in South Asia (2002)) noted that, along with Habib’s classic essay on source material stands Nizami’snote, ‘Evaluation of Source Material’, which appeared as an appendix to his classic study, Some Aspects of Religion and Politics in India during the Thirteenth Century (1961/ 2002). And to this list must be added the compilation of Nizami’s historical studies, volume one of which is On Sources and Source Material (1995). The latter includes a pioneering essay on a little- known collection ofShaikh Nizam-u’d-din’s discourses, Durar-i- Nizami (first published in 1983).

It is attention to Nizarni’s use of Durar-i-Nizami that displays how scrupulous his forensic intelligence is and at the same time how broad his imaginative recapitulation of the life and mood, the teaching and legacy of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya. Nizami is intent to site the saint at very different angles. On the one hand, he wants to show how court and hospice contrasted in the attitudes they had to the saint, so that the view of the historian Zia-u’d-din Barani, while sympathetic to the saint, makes a more pragmatic estimate of his legacy than does the poet Amir Hasan or ‘Ali Jandarin their respective malfuzat of the saint. In other words, there is no single profile of the saint even from authentic sources, so that one must weigh between them in order to have a full appreciation of the saint. ‘The life story of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya’, he observes, ‘provides an alternative vision to the political intrigues of the period, just as the pomp and panoply of the court, the din and clatter of arms on the battlefield (as recorded by Barani), contrast with the meditative saint, now laughing, now crying, ever at prayer with the One, happiest in discourse with the poor (as recorded by Amir Hasan and also by Ali jandar).’

Even though the account of ‘Ali Jandar confirms the testimony and recollection of Amir Hasan, they do not represent the same views of their saintly subject. Like other followers of Shaikh Nizam-ud-din, they saw the saint very differently according to their own interests, talents, and dispositions. ‘The Durar-i-Nizami’, notes Nizami, ‘throws valuable light on the life, thought, and personality of Shaikh Nizam- u’d-din. It reflects his profound interest in the Hadith literature. ‘Ali Jandar has presented the moral and religious teaching of the Shaikh in a very succinct manner. No doubt theFawa’id-u’l-Fu’ad reflects greater understanding of the depth of the Shaikh’s thought and combines brevity of expression with perspicacity of ideas, but as the arrangement is not thematic, it is only after a study of the entire text that a picture of the Shaikh’s moral and spiritual teaching on any particular aspect can be formed. A reader of the Durar has before him systematized information on a number of vital topics connected with religious life.’

Consistent with this observation, Nizami uses data from ‘Ali Shah Jandar to amplify both Fawa’id-u’l-Fu’ad and Siyar-u’l-Auliya, even though Amir Khurd, author of the latter, had incorporated most of Durar-i-Nizami into his own work. Nizami’s Life and Times provides an account of the Shaikh that displays documentary history at its best and something more.

The something more is his own empathetic engagement with the Shaikh, with his spiritual quest, and with his legacy for all Muslims. It is a familiar trope in biblical scholarship to speak of the second naivete. The second naivete can occur only after one has applied the most critical standards to ascertain the likely core of historical evidence about a period, a person, or a movement. After the labour of making clear what did happen and what can be verified as likely to have happened, one still must ask: so what? What is it that makes this period or this person or this movement so important beyond a particular time or a specific region?

For Nizami that question opens up what he distills in the seventeenth and final chapter of his remarkable study of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din. The saint was more than a scholar or a mystic. ‘He was one of the most charismatic personalities of South Asia ... [who] represented in his person the highest traditions of religion and morality.’ Confirming that judgement requires examination of the one aspect of the Shaikh’s life that has been the most controversial: the relationship between the saint as spiritual master and the sultan as political ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. For Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din it was his deference to Sultan ‘Ala-u’d-din Khalji (the most prominent of the Delhi rulers during his lifetime) that allowed him the space to project his spiritual force within the confines of his own hospice. He never had direct contact with the Sultan but, through his lay disciples who were also courtiers, including the historian Barani and the poet Amir Khusrau, he did influence the tone of imperial rule.

Nizami captures the competing authorities and also the contradiction for the saint when he observes that ‘the Sultan had muzzled freedom of action; the Shaikh concentrated on building independent and self-reliant personalities, capable of thinking and acting independent of the Sultan. He did not enter into conflict with the state but, on his part, never allowed the state to fetter his soul.’

Subsequent generations of Indian Muslims have tried to live the tension etched by Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din’s life and legacy. At no time more than the present, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, is it crucial to rethink how politics and religion can ever be fully separate. They each make claims on the total allegiance of citizens, whether in South Asia or North America or Western Europe or East Asia, and yet the larger message of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din is, in Nizami’s words, that the state must never be allowed to fetter the soul. Nizami has marked his own life by the study of the lives of saints, and in his singular study of the most prominent saint of the Delhi Sultanate, he has provided a book which is at once timeless and timely. It deserves the widest possible readership and appreciation within and beyond South Asia.


Few saints in the long and chequered history of medieval India had such impact on the life and thought of their contemporaries as Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-din Auliya (1244-1325). For more than half a century, his khanqah in Delhi was a rendezvous for people drawn from different backgrounds-villagers and townsfolk, men and women, scholars and illiterates, rich and poor. The Shaikh had taken upon himself the stupendous task, of showing people the way to God and inspiring them with that faith and confidence in Him which sustained them in their life struggles. Toynbee thought that ‘the practical test of a religion, always and everywhere, is its success or failure in helping human souls to respond to the challenges of suffering and sin.’ By that measure, Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya’srole in the religious history of South Asia was of immense significance. For him ‘bringing happiness to the human heart’ was the essence of religion. Amir Khusrau, one of his many famous students, and one who realized the measure of his achievement in reorienting religious attitudes in that period, called him ‘healer of the heart (tabib-i-dil), His life story, in fact, forms a fascinating chapter in the history of the philanthropic effort of man to reduce the woe and worry of his fellow human beings. Ibn Battuta has referred to a trust which was created in Damascus to bring solace to broken hearts.” Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-din Auliya’s own life became a trust of this type.

This work is based on an extensive critical study of the contem-porary literature-both political and mystical. A select bibliography of the works used appears in Appendix X. The Qiwam-u’l-’Aqa’idof Jamal Qiwarn-u’d-din, written in the Deccan in 755/1354 during the reign of the Bahmanid ruler ‘Ala-u’d-din Bahman Shah, barely twenty-nine years after the death of the Shaikh, has been used for the first time to reconstruct the life of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya. In addition to other mystic works, Nafa’is-u’l-Anfas, Ahsan-u’l-Aqtoal, Shama’il-u’l-Atqiya, and Shaioamil-u’l-fumal darShama’il-Kumal were also much referred to in the preparation of this study.


How many scholars and learned men have flourished in the past,’ Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya once told his audience, ‘but nobody [now] knows who they were and where they lived. What really survives is [the memory of] living happily with people. This is real spiritual living (hayat-i ma’nawi).’ The Shaikh’s own life illustrates the significance of this remark.

Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya’s memory is enshrined in the hearts of men and his message of human love, goodwill, and tolerance echoes down the corridors of time. His life in Delhi was a continuous struggle to fulfil what he considered to be the divine purpose of creation: to show man the way to God and to make him realize the value of purposeful living devoted to the service of fellow human beings. He gave a revolutionary dimension to religious activity by identifying it with the service of man. He told his disciples that looking after the needy and the destitute was of greater value than formal performance of religious rites. A contemporary saint once remarked that while God has given one power to mystics in general, He had bestowed two upon him: to pray to God and to bear the burden of caring for the people. Both God and man thus formed the basis of his dynamic social value-system. His religious consciousness derived its sustenance from both. ‘The fountain of all the nobler morality,’ writes J. S. Blackie ‘is moral inspiration from within; and the feeder of this fountain is God.

Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya quoted with approval the saying of Shaikh Abu Sa’id Abu’l-Khair that, though there were as many ways leading to God as particles of sand, none was more effective and efficacious for attaining gnosis than bringing happiness to the human heart. Whoever aspired to reach God had to seek His benevolence through service of His creatures. This became the elan ofShaikh Nizarn-u’d-din Auliya’s life. Innumerable people brought their tales of affliction and misery to him and he prayed to God for them with his own heart aching in pain. He not only helped his visitors to tide over their difficulties but created in them the self-confidence and self- discipline that gives dignity to human life and strengthens moral fibre. He believed that sincere faith in God and respect for moral values acted as a bulwark against the onslaught of material and mundane forces. A society which ignored moral and ethical ideals stood on quicksand.

Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya’s family originally hailed from Bukhara. They were forced to leave their homeland under the pressure of Mongol invasions. Chingiz Khan reduced Bukhara, a flourishing city on the Zarafshan, to rubble: ‘More than thirty thousand men were executed and the remainder were, with the exception of the very old people amongst them, reduced to slavery, without any distinction of rank whatever; and thus the inhabitants of Bukhara, lately so celebrated for their learning, their love of art, and their general refinement, were brought down to a dead level of misery and degradation and scattered to all quarters. But a few escaped the general ruin.’ Among the few who escaped were the father and grandfather of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya. Ibn Athirinforms us that it was a terrible day. ‘Nothing was to be heard but the sobs and lamentations of husbands, wives and children who were being parted for ever.’

Torn from their ancestral land and family ties, Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-dins ancestors fled to India and eventually settled in Badaon-a quiet place where people who disdained political struggle and did not want to involve themselves in government service preferred to live away from the hectic life of the capital. This refugee family, which had enjoyed such status and position in Bukhara, was now reduced to penury. The trauma served to deepen the sources of their faith in God, nurturing an attitude of resignation and contentment. After the early death of his father, Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-din was brought up by his mother, a lady of fervent piety and unshakeable faith. She did all that she could to help her son acquire the best possible education that Badaon could provide. In an age when pious and dedicated teachers looked upon imparting education as a sacred duty without expecting or accepting any remuneration, Shaikh Nizarn-u’d-din Auliya applied himself with single-minded devotion to the acquisition of knowledge. Often, when he returned from school tired and exhausted, his widowed mother would say: ‘We are the guests of God today.’ This meant that there was nothing in the house to eat. After a time, Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din persuaded his mother to accompany him to Delhi, where he could complete his education at the feet of eminent scholars of the capital. The early years of his stay in Delhi were extremely exacting and difficult. A maund of melons could be had in Delhi for two jitals but season after season passed away without his having tasted a single slice. Attracted by the spiritual reputation of Shaikh Farid-u’d-din Ganj-i-Shakar (1175-1265), he decided to go to Ajodhan (now known as Pakpatran) and joined his discipline. TheShaikh, then about ninety years old, received his young visitor with warmth and affection, discerning in him signs of future greatness. He seemed to possess the requisite spiritual insight and flair to carry forward the work of the order (silsilah). After a brief period of training the Shaikh entrusted his spiritual heritage to the young man and appointed him as his chief successor (khalifah). In the beginning Nizarn-u’d-din had to face the most severe hardships on account of lack of shelter and food. Later the circumstances of his life began to change. His khanqah (hospice) in .Ghiyaspur, which was several miles away from the capital, began to attract visitors and disciples in large numbers. Enormous futuh (unsolicited gifts) flowed into it as steadily as the Jumna flowed near his door. From early morning till late into the night food was served to the visitors who thronged the nearby roads like excited crowds proceeding to some fair. The Shaikh himself fasted all through the day and when sahri (a meal taken a little before dawn when the fast begins) was served to him, he found morsels sticking in his throat because some people in Delhi had gone to sleep without their meals. His concern for the weak and the destitute endeared him to people who found spiritual solace in his company. Inspired by the tradition of the Prophet.

(All God’s creatures are His family; and he is most beloved of God who does most good to his creatures.)

They called him Mahbub-i-Ilabi (Beloved of God).

The Shaikh was a teacher par excellence. He did not believe in elaborating subtle ideas but expressed in his life the accumulated wisdom of the mystic’s way. There was such sincerity and compassion in his words that whoever saw him received an inspiration to do something noble in life. Even centuries later, a distinguished scholar of Delhi, Shah ‘Abd-u’l-Aziz (d. 1823), used to say that the impact of the Shaikh’s personality was so profound (hat as soon as a visitor stepped into Ghiyaspur his condition began to change.

The Shaikh was a sincere advocate of non-violence and rejected revenge and retribution as laws of the jungle. He advised his followers to be good even to their enemies. Some verses of Shaikh AbuSa’id Abu’l-Khair, which he recited often, embody the motto of his life:

He who is not my friend-may God be his friend,

And he who bears ill against me, may his joys increase

He who pues thorns in my way on account of enmity,

May every flower that blossoms in the garden of his life,

Be without thorns.

Born during the reign of Sultan ‘Ala-u’d-din Mas’ud (1242-1246), he died just after the accession of Muhammad bin Tughluq in 1325. Thirteen rulers came to the throne of Delhi during this period. The Shaikh never visited the court and never accepted any stipends, idrar (allowances), or villages from the rulers of his time. The transient glamour of political power never allured him. During his student days he had once considered seeking appointment as qazi, but this was a passing feeling and it never occurred to him again. His aspirations were higher and nobler. His ancestors had left Bukhara when the entire socio-political fabric of Iran and Central Asia was torn up by the Mongols; he worked in Delhi when the nascent Sultanate of Delhi was growing with new hope and confidence. The need to sustain and refurbish moral and spiritual values ‘was as urgent in such times as in times of loss and adversity. He could say in the words of Iqbal:

(My poverty [stricken life]) is superior to the

[imperial] ways of Alexander;

Mine is [the job of] ‘building man’, he is

Simply [involved in] making the mirror.)

For years Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya himself remained rooted to the soil of Delhi but sent several hundred of his senior disciples (khalifahs) to different parts of the country to take his message of love and hope to suffering humanity and work for a better social order in which the material ego in man is subjugated to higher and nobler ideals. That is a brief outline of Shaikh Nizam-u’d-dinAuliya’s life, told in some detail in the following pages.




Foreword by bruce b. Lawrence









Birth and Family



Life in Badaon:, Struggle of an Orphan



Early Struggle in Delhi: Academic Laurels amid Poverty



At the Feet of Shaikh Farid Ganj-i-Shakar



At the Head of the Chishti Order in India



Khanqah Life



Rourine and Schedule



Last Illness and Death



Moral and Spiritual Teachings



Attitude Towards the Sultans and the State



Relations with Non-Muslims



The Man



The Scholar



The Mystic



His Family



His Khalifahs









Name and Titles



The Khutbah



Letters of the Shaikh



Khilafat Namah Granted to Shaikh Nizarn-U’d-Din Auliya byShaikh Farid-U’d-Din Mas’ud Ganj-I-Shakar



Certificate granted to shaikh nizam-u’d-din auliya by maulanakarnal-u’d-din zahid



Khilafot namah granted by shaikh nizarn-u’d-din auliya to maulanashams-u’d-din yahya



The apocryphal malfuz literature



Contemporary rulers



The shaikh’s tomb and the buildings around it



Select bibliography





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