, the Naqshbandi Way can be traced back directly to the
first of the rightly-guided caliphs, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq
, who succeeded the
Prophet in his knowledge and in his role of guiding the Muslim community,
and indirectly to the fourth rightly-guided caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib
Imam Ahmad relates in his Musnad the following Tradition with a reliable,
authentic chain of transmission: “Abu Bakr does not surpass you by virtue of
much fasting or prayer, but by virtue of a secret that took root in his
heart.” The Prophet alluded to this secret when he said, in the following
Traditions mentioned respectively by Suyuti, “Whatever
God poured into my breast, I have poured into the breast of Abu Bakr
as-Siddiq,” and by Bukhari, “God has expanded my breast to receive
what He has expanded the breast of Abu Bakr and Umar to receive.” This
knowledge is again alluded to in the following authentic Tradition related
by Tirmidhi, “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is
This knowledge is the heavenly knowledge possessed only by prophets and
their inheritors, the saints. The latter are defined thus by Ali ibn Abi
They are the fewest in number, the greatest in rank in the sight of God. By
them does God protect His creation. They are His proof on earth, until they
bequeath it to their likes, and plant it firmly in their hearts. By them
knowledge has taken the reality of things by assault so that they found easy
what those given to comfort found hard, and found intimacy in what the
ignorant found desolate. They accompanied the world with bodies whose
spirits were attached to the highest regard. They are the vice-regents of
God, the Exalted, in His land. How one yearns, how one yearns to see them!
God said in the Holy Quran referring to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq "r":
He was the second of two in the cave, and he said to his friend (Abu Bakr),
”Do not be afraid for God is with us.” (9:40)
Of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq "r", the Prophet "S" said:
If I had taken to myself a beloved friend, I would have taken Abu Bakr as my
beloved friend; but he is my brother and my companion.
The Naqshbandi School is
distinguished from other Sufi orders by virtue of its having taken its
foundations and principles from the teachings and example of
six bright stars in the firmament of the Prophet "S".
These great figures were:
Abu Bakr as-Siddiq "r",
Salman al-Farsi "as",
Jafar as-Sadiq "as",
Aba yazid Tayfur al-Bistami,
Abd al-Khaliq al-Ghujdawani and
Muhammad Bahauddin Uwaysi al-Bukhari, known as Shah Naqshband, from whose
name this Order takes its title.
Behind the word Naqshband
stand two ideas:
naqsh, which means engraving and suggests engraving the name of God in the
and band, which means “bond or rope” and indicates
the link between the individual and his Creator.
This means that the Naqshbandi follower has to practice his prayers and
obligations according to the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet "S" and
to keep the Presence and Love of God alive in his heart through a personal
experience of the connection between himself and his Lord.
Besides Abu Bakr as-Siddiq "r", one of the stars in the firmament of the
Prophet "S" was
Salman al-Farsi "as". His origin was Isfahan, Persia, and he was the one who
advised the Muslims to dig a trench in the Battle of Ahzab. After the
Muslims seized al-Madain, the capital city of Persia, he was made governor
of that city and remained there until his death.
Another star was Jafar as-Sadiq "as". Although a descendant of the Prophet
on his father’s side and of Abu Bakr "r" on his mother’s, he rejected all
positions of honor in favor of retreat and spiritual learning and
practice. He was called “the inheritor of the Prophetic Station” and the
“inheritor of the truthful station.” The oldest recorded occurrence of the
term “Sufi” was in reference to his student, Jabir ibn Hayyan, in the
middle of the second century after hijra (the migration). He was a master
in exegesis, a scholar of Traditions, and one of the greatest scholars
qualified to give legal decisions in Madinah. His commentary upon the
Quran is partially preserved in Sulami’s Haqaiq at-tafsir. Layth ibn Saad,
one of the most reliable transmitters of Traditions, witnessed Jafar’s
miraculous powers as the latter was able to ask for anything and God would
grant it to him on the spot.
Another star was Bayazid Tayfur al-Bistami, whose grandfather was a
Zoroastrian. Bayazid made a detailed study of the statutes of Islamic Law
and practiced self-denial. All his life he was assiduous in the practice
of his religious obligations. He urged his students to put their efforts
in the hands of God, and he encouraged them to accept a sincere and pure
doctrine of knowledge of the Oneness of God. This doctrine, he said,
imposes five obligations on the sincere:
Keep obligations according to the Quran and Sunnah
Always speak the truth
Keep the heart free from hatred
Avoid the forbidden food
Bayazid said that the ultimate goal of Sufis is to know God in this world,
to reach His Divine Presence, and to see Him in the hereafter. To that
effect he added, “There are special servants of God who, if God veiled
them from His vision in Paradise, would have implored Him to bring them
out of paradise as the inhabitants of the fire implore Him to escape from
Yet another star in the firmament of the Prophet "S" was Abd al-Khaliq
al-Ghujdawani, who was born in the village of Ghujdawan, near Bukhara in
present-day Uzbekistan. He studied the Quran and the Islamic sciences of
both external and internal knowledge until he reached a high station of
purity. He then traveled to Damascus, where he established a school from
which many students graduated and went on to become masters of
jurisprudence, the Traditions, and spirituality in their time, both in the
regions of Central Asia and in the Middle East.
Abd al-Khaliq continued the work of his predecessors by formulating the
dhikr (remembrance of God) passed down from the Prophet "S" according to the
Sunnah. In his letters he set down the code of conduct that the students
of the Naqshbandiyya were expected to follow.
Imam of the Naqshbandi Way: Shah Bahauddin Naqshband
In this constellation, we come finally to Muhammad Bahauddin Uwaysi
al-Bukhari, known as Shah Naqshband, the Imam of the Naqshbandi Way. He
was born in the year 717 AH/1317 CE in the village of Qasr al-Arifan, near
Bukhara. After he mastered the sciences of the Divine Law at the young age
of eighteen, he kept company with Shaykh Muhammad Baba as-Samasi, who was
an authority on the Traditions in Central Asia. After the latter’s death,
he followed Shaykh Amir Kulal, who continued and perfected his training in
the external and the internal knowledge.
The students of Shaykh Amir Kulal recited dhikr aloud when sitting
together in a group and silent dhikr when alone. Although Shah Naqshband
never criticized nor objected to the loud dhikr, he preferred the silent
dhikr. Concerning this he says, “There are two methods of dhikr.
One is silent and one is loud. I chose the silent one because it is
stronger and therefore more preferable.” The silent dhikr thus became the
distinguishing feature of the Naqshbandi among other Sufi orders.
Shah Naqshband performed the prescribed pilgrimage three times, after
which he resided in Merv and Bukhara. Towards the end of his life, he went
back to settle in his native city of Qasr al-Arifan. His teachings became
quoted everywhere, and his name was on every tongue. Visitors from far and
wide came to see him and to seek his advice. They received teaching in his
school and mosque, a complex which once accommodated more than 5,000
This school is the largest Islamic center of learning in Central
Asia and still exists in our day. It was recently renovated and reopened
after surviving seventy years of Communist rule.
Shah Naqshband’s teachings changed the hearts of seekers from darkness to
light. He continued to teach his students the knowledge of the Oneness of
God in which his predecessors had specialized, emphasizing the realization
of the state of excellence for his followers according to the Tradition of
the Prophet "S", “Excellence is to worship God as if you see Him.” When Shah
Naqshband died, he was buried in his garden as he requested. The
succeeding kings of Bukhara took care of his school and mosque, expanding
them and increasing their religious endowments.
Later shaykhs of the Naqshbandi Way wrote many biographies of Shah
Naqshband. Among them are Masud al-Bukhari and Sharif al-Jarjani who
composed the Awrad Bahauddin, which narrates his life’s works, including
his legal decisions. Shaykh Muhammad Parsa, who died in Madinah in 822
AH/1419 CE, wrote Risala Qudsiyya, in which he talks of Shah Naqshband’s
life, his virtues, and his teachings.
Shah Naqshband’s literary legacy included many books. Among them are:
Awrad an-Naqshbandiyyah, Tanbih al-ghafilin, Maslak al-anwar, and
Hadiyyatu as-salikin wa tuhfat at-talibin. He left numerous noble
expressions praising the Prophet "S" and he gave many legal rulings. One of
his opinions was that all the different acts and kinds of worship, whether
obligatory or voluntary, were permitted for the seeker in order to reach
Reality. Prayer, fasting, paying the poor-due, striving, and self-denial
were emphasized as ways to reach God Almighty.
Shah Naqshband built his school on the renewal of the teachings of Islam. He
insisted on the necessity of keeping the Quran and the teachings of the
Sunnah. When they asked him, “What are the requirements of one who follows
your way?” he said, “To follow the Sunnah of the Prophet "S".” He continued
saying: “Our way is a rare one. It keeps the unbreakable bond. It asks
nothing else of its followers but to take hold of the pure Sunnah of the
Prophet "S" and follow the way of the Companions of the Prophet "S" in their
efforts for God.”
Before speaking about the principles and transmission of the Naqshbandi
Order, let us provide a brief explanation of tasawwuf (Sufism).
Searching for the True Inheritor
of the Secret of the Prophet "S"
Importance of Finding a Shaykh
God said in the Holy Quran:
O ye who believe, fear God and keep company with
those who are truthful. (9:119)
God’s Word is for all time, for every era and for every century. It is an
ongoing order, from which we understand the importance of keeping company
with the trustworthy. God orders all human beings to accompany them, because
by keeping their company, one will see how they live their lives, how they
deal with people, how they address their companions, how they eat, how they
sleep, and how they worship. By accompanying them, one will learn all their
good manners and their ways of life.
Another way to understand this verse is that one should accompany a
trustworthy person, because to be trustworthy is very rare and not many
people achieve it. Everyone, however, can find a trustworthy person and
accompany him, in order to be guided. Following a trustworthy person is
essential to our spiritual path. Such a person is needed to lead us, to
guide us, and to be a beacon for us on that way.
In the Naqshbandi Order, the living presence of a connected shaykh is
essential. Through his physical and spiritual linkage to the Prophet "S", he
establishes the disciple’s connection. The disciple’s obligation is to
maintain his connection to his shaykh, to hold tightly to the hand of the
one within his reach. The shaykh maintains the further connection to the
previous shaykhs and to the Prophet "S".
From what has been said above and in the biographies of the masters, the
importance of accompanying a true master is clearly demonstrated. It
provides the seeker with the opportunity to learn the essentials of ethics
and good conduct, to discover the hidden defects of his heart, and to be
lifted to the states of perfection. There are two requisites for entering
upon such an endeavor: when the seeker feels the need to seek in this way,
he must purify his intention and ask his Lord to connect him to a truthful
person, and he must look in his own country for someone who will point him
in the direction of the perfected guide.
The Need for a Living Guide
If one is separated from his shaykh by death or other circumstances, it
becomes necessary to find a living guide who can complete the work of the
first master. The path itself is not the goal, but the means to reach the
goal. Holding on to the attachment to a master who is no longer present
usually represents an unrealistic expectation and a false hope. It may also
be a manifestation of pride.
Although they had already pledged themselves to the Prophet "S", the
Companions had to take initiation with Abu Bakr "r" after the Prophet "S" died.
As they renewed their pledge to the successive caliphs, Umar "r", Uthman "r",
and Ali "as", so too does a sincere seeker need to put his hand into the hand
of a living shaykh, and renew his initiation, in order to complete his
journey to the Divine Presence.
Qualifications of a Master
Masters of Tariqa possess the following four qualifications:
A SCHOLAR IN THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE RELIGION
The master must be a scholar in all religious obligations, such as the
conditions of prescribed prayers, the conditions of prescribed fasting, and
the conditions of the prescribed poor-due. He must be knowledgeable in
Islamic jurisprudence and all necessary matters of the Divine Law. He must
be a scholar in the science of monotheism (Oneness of God) and all the other
conditions of faith.
To be a knower means the master must have the knowledge of the conditions of
the state of excellence, as mentioned by the Prophet "S" in the Tradition:
Worship God as if you see Him, and if you do not see him, know that He sees
A knower must bear witness in his heart that God is the Unique One in His
Essence, in His Attributes, and in His Actions. He must know about His
Attributes through vision and taste, by experiencing self-effacement in the
The master must have already purified or sanctified himself as a seeker
under a master of his own. He will have come to know the different stages of
the ego, its illnesses and its defects. The master must be fully aware of
all the methods Satan uses to enter the breast. He must know all the ways to
sanctify others and the methods to heal his followers in order to raise them
up to reach the state of perfection.
If a seeker comes to the shaykh with perfect sincerity and truthfulness,
asking to be initiated in the Order, the shaykh must not hurry to initiate
him, until he knows that he will remain trustworthy when he reaches the
goal. He must look at his capability. If his capability corresponds to the
capability of the near ones, then he will show him the way, as it is the way
of the trustworthy.
That way is built on effacing one’s own will and connecting and submitting
oneself to the will of one’s shaykh. The seeker must do as the Prophet "S"
said, “Die before you die!” He must leave his natural will, which causes him
to move according to his mind, and leave all his affairs to the will of his
shaykh. The shaykh will lift him up through a path filled with difficulties,
train him through worship, and guide him to a state of complete
self-effacement. Only this will elevate him to the Divine Presence.
That is why Khwaja Ubayd Allah al-Ahrar said:
Who is the shaykh? The shaykh is the one who can know, through the vision
that God has granted him, the capability of his disciple. From the day he
meets him to the day of his death, he will know which state the disciple
will attain, in which way he will taste, and in which way he will reach the
Divine Presence. If the shaykh cannot summon that
knowledge, it is forbidden for him to give the seeker initiation.
The shaykh must avoid the wealth of his disciple. If the disciple wishes to
help the shaykh it, is his choice. The states of guidance are above all
states, and the master must not ask except from the Divine Presence.
It is said that once a disciple of Junayd came to him and wanted to give him
all his money. Junayd refused and said, “No.” When that same disciple
reached the state of perfection and was lifted up to the Divine Presence, he
came to Junayd and again offered to give all his money to him. At that time
Junayd said, “Yes. Now, I accept, because when you give now, you will not
We do not like our disciples to give money to the shaykh before they have
reached the state of perfection because they might regret later and be in
doubt. This will harm them. When the disciple reaches that state, he will
give sincerely and will never regret it later.
The evidence of this is that Abu Bakr
and Umar "r" came to the Prophet "S" and from the first Abu Bakr "r" gave all his
The Prophet "S" asked, “What have you left for your family?” He replied, “I
have left them God and His Prophet "S".” When the disciple reaches the state
of real generosity and real perfection, then the shaykh may accept what he
gives. If he has not reached that state, his gift must not be accepted.
The shaykh must not order any of his followers to do something he himself
cannot do or would not do. He must know all the obligatory and forbidden
actions according to the Divine Law. Similarly, he must know all the states
of spirituality, and must have tasted all tastes, so that he is an example,
and when he speaks he speaks with real knowledge.
An example of this is a lady who came to a perfect shaykh with her son,
saying, “My son is always asking for sweets. Please pray for him to leave
that desire, as I do not always have sweets to give him.” He said, “Be
patient for three days and then bring him back to me.” After three days, she
brought him back and the shaykh told him, “O my son, do not eat candies,
because it is harmful for your stomach.” From that day the child never ate
sweets again. Sometime later someone asked the shaykh, “Why did you wait
three days to give the child that advice?” That shaykh replied, “When the
lady came to me, she asked me to prevent her child from eating sweets. I
could not do that for him because I myself was under that temptation of
eating sweets. So I stopped eating sweets for three days. When I had
stopped, I was able to supplicate for him, and that supplication was
Qushayri relates in his Letters that Hallaj was once asked to talk about
poverty. He said, “Wait a minute.” He entered his house, went out somewhere,
and came back. Then he sat and spoke, saying poverty consists of this and
that. One disciple asked him, “O my shaykh, why did you not speak like this
from the beginning?” He said, “When I was asked, I had one dirham in my
house. I could not speak about poverty while I still had something. So I
went and took that dirham, spent it in God’s way, and then I could speak on
The shaykh must have authorization from his master to train his followers
and to show the Way of this Path. That permission must reach him through the
chain of the Grandshaykhs from one to another, all the way back to the
Prophet "S". As the wise person will not go to a doctor who has no license in
healing, so the seeker in this way must find a perfect guide who has
received the license, the permission, from his shaykh.
Imam Muslim said, “This great knowledge (the knowledge of the self) is by
itself the religion. So you have to know from whom you take your religion.”
In the book of Hafiz ibn Ali, Kanz al-ummal, the following Tradition is
The Prophet "S" said, “O Umar, your religion is your flesh and blood. Look at
those from whom you take your religion. Take it from those who are on the
right path and do not take from those who have deviated.” A knower said,
“Knowledge is a spirit which is blown into the hearts, not philosophy or
pretty tales to be written. So be very careful from whom you take it.”
The Signs of Mastery
The main indication of mastery is that when you sit with a master you feel a
breeze of faith, spiritual pleasure. He does not speak except about God. He
is always advising the good. You will benefit from being in his company as
you benefit from his words. You will benefit when you are far from him as
you benefit when you are near him. You must see among his disciples the
picture of faith, sincerity, humbleness, and piety (God-consciousness), and
you must remember, when you are mixing with them, the highest state of love,
truth, and deference to others. You must see that his followers represent
all different kinds of people in the community. That is how the Companions
of the Prophet "S" were.
The seeker must follow a perfect master able to guide him to the way of God,
Almighty and Exalted, and to illuminate for him that way until he reaches
the state of annihilation. The seeker must give his oath and his promise to
his guide, to learn from him how to put aside his bad manners and to lift
himself to better conduct in order to reach the perfect knowledge of
spirituality. The meaning of initiation and its conditions has been
mentioned in the Holy Quran, in the Sunnah of the Prophet "S", and in the
lives of the Companions:
Verily those who swear allegiance to
thee indeed swear allegiance to God. The Hand of God is over their hands. So
whoever breaks his oath, breaks it to his own loss; and whoever fulfills the
covenant that he has made with God, He will surely give him a great reward.
And fulfill the Covenant of God
when you have made it. Break not your oaths after making them firm, while
you have made God your surety. Certainly, God knows what you do. (16:91)
And fulfill the covenant, for the covenant shall be questioned about.
We see the Quran encouraging people to give their oath and to keep their
oath to the Prophet "S", who leads them to the Presence of God, Almighty and
Exalted. That initiation was done in the time of the Prophet "S" and after the
time of the Prophet "S".
According to the Sunnah of the Prophet "S", the oath was taken from men, as a
group or as individuals; from women, as a group or as individuals; and even
Bukhari and Muslim narrate that Ubada ibn Samit "r" said:
The Prophet "S" said, “Give me your pledge and oath not to associate anything
with God, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to kill your children,
not to backbite, not to fall into sin. And who keeps his promise, then his
reward is from God, Almighty and Exalted.” And then we gave our pledge to
the Prophet "S" and our oath.
The Prophet "S" gave initiation to all people and urged them to take it.
Bukhari and Muslim narrated in their books that Abd Allah ibn Umar ² said:
When we pledged to the Prophet "S" to listen and obey, the Prophet "S" said, “To
the limit that you can bear.”
INITIATION OF WOMEN
The Prophet "S" accepted the allegiance of women many times. It is narrated by
Imam Ahmad in the Musnad that Salma bint Qays ˉ said:
I came to the Prophet "S" with many people from the Helpers. We gave him our
pledge that we would not associate anyone with God, we would not steal, we
would not commit adultery, we would not kill our children, we would not
backbite, and we would not disobey. We gave him our pledge and we went.
INITIATION OF CHILDREN
The Prophet "S", according to the books of Nisai and Tirmidhi, accepted
allegiance from Umaymah bint Ruqiyyah "r". It was narrated by Tabarani that Izza bint Khayyil
"r" gave her allegiance to the Prophet "S" when she was not
yet seven. It was also narrated by Tabarani in an authentic Tradition that
the Prophet "S" accepted the allegiance of al-Hasan "as", al-Husayn "as", Abd Allah
ibn Abbas ², and Abd Allah ibn Jafar "as" when they were seven years of age.
INITIATION WITH THE CALIPHS
The Companions of the Prophet "S" gave their pledge to the caliphs of the
Prophet "S" after his passing. It is narrated through the biographies of the
Companions that they gave their pledge to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, to Umar ibn
al-Khattab, to Uthman ibn Affan, to Ali , to Muawiya "r", and to all the
caliphs who came later, as they had given it to the Prophet "S".
The Prophet "S" said in a Tradition related by Abu Dawud and Ahmad: Whoever
imitates a group of people will be of them.
Therefore, the inheritors of the master of the Sufi orders, especially the
Naqshbandi Sufi Order, inherited the initiation in every century. Just as it
was an obligation in the times of the Prophet "S", the Companions, the
Successors, the Successors of the Successors, and in the times of the
Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, and Ottomans, so it is also an obligation to
give our pledge to a perfect guide who leads us to the Way of God, Almighty
and Exalted. And who is a better guide than the Sufi masters who are
inheritors of the Prophet "S" and inheritors of the Divine Presence?
The scholar, Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, said:
Abd al-Qadir Gilani, the Arch-Intercessor of the Sufi Orders, Shaykh
Muhyiddin ibn Arabi, and all the Masters of the Naqshbandi Golden Chain,
opened the door of initiation as wide as possible, for every individual who
has good and true belief, to find something that will be of value to him
spiritually, and for everyone to renew his covenant with God, Almighty and
Exalted. These Sufi Masters of the Naqshbandi Golden Chain and all Sufi
orders lifted their followers to a station of truthfulness, to feel the
responsibility of their initiation and to renew their faith.
Thus we see that it is an important factor in every Sufi order for one to
give one’s allegiance to the shaykh in order to sanctify oneself and to be
lifted up to the Divine Presence. These guides are the revivers in every
century to connect our hearts with the heart of the Prophet "S", who in turn
connects our heart to the Divine Presence. These guides are the beacon of
the light of the Prophet "S" and the Light of the Divine Presence. They are
the true examples for all people to follow.