Friday, April 20, 2012

Khalwatiyyah Tariqah and Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai

            The Khalwatiyyah is a popular order of Sufism that is widespread throughout the world.  Sufism itself is one of the more popular branches of Islam and has been for many centuries.  The Khalwatiyyah is important to understand because of its effects on Islamic doctrine and its history within the overall Sufi movement. 
            As is the case in the history of most religions, the origin of the Khalwatiyyah Tariqah is still of some dispute.  Most scholars believe that Umar al-Khalwati, Muhammad b. Nur al-Balisi, or al-Shirwani was the founder of the brotherhood dating back to the 13th or 14th century.[1]  It is believed this order came about roughly in the region of Persia and became popular in Anotolia under the tutelage of al-Shirwani.[2] A distinct feature of the Khalwatiyyah is that it was leaderless for much of its history, at least in principle. 
            The Khalwattiyah never organized a physical headquarters or came under the rule of strict ideology.[3]  Through successive centuries the Khalwatiyyah grew and spread west.  New branches sprang from this growth including specific orders for individual nations or regions.  The Khalwatiyyah flourished in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.[4]  As Sufism grew, so did the Khalwatiyyah order.  This order branched out into other influential orders such as the Kamaliyyah, Jamaliyyah, and the Bakhshiyyah, which still continue to this day.[5]  The Khalwatiyyah has become less influential in the past century because it was essentially ordered void in 1925 by many Sufis.  However, surviving branches along with important teachings continue on.[6]  Much of what we know about the Khalwatiyyah is found in its doctrines and teachings which is discussed in further detail below.

Key Figures
            As mentioned above, the founders of the Khalwatiyyah were principally Umar al-Khalwatti and later al-Shirwani.  Al-Shirwani played an important role in taking the initial tribe and spreading its influence across a large area.  Al-Shirwani oversaw the branching out of many new tribes of Khalwatiyyah across Africa and even Europe.[7]  In the 18th and 19th century Kamal al-Din al-Bakri played a key role in spreading new branches to southern Asia and further East in other Arab regions.[8]  Al-Bakri led the movement by adding to Sufi teachings and writing hundreds of books.[9]  By the time of the 20th century, much of the influential leaders were officials in local sects across the Muslim world.  The Khalwattiyah eventually broke down into an unorganized, individualistic order with different local variants and sects.

            The Khalwattiyah do not differ greatly from the generality of Sufi teachings.  Overall, Sufism puts a greater emphasis on mysticism and takes a more individual approach to spiritual righteousness.  There is less focus on legal scholars and authority figures.  The Khalwatiyyah value meditation, fasting, isolation, and other rituals that are shunned by certain conservative branches of Islam.[10]  The word khalwa means to “retreat”, thus greater emphasis is placed upon personal rebirth.  The main goal is to be on a complete path towards the prophet Muhammad.  Some regional branches of Khalwatiyyah follow a seven step process by which to become closer to Muhammad while becoming spiritually pure.[11] 

Type of Activism
            There is not much evidence for the Khalwatiyyah being a terrorist organization or deeply political at all.  Much of the Khalwatiyyah focus was on the individual and personal salvation rather than conquest or political goals.  Due to its openness to mysticism and its liberal doctrine, Sufism became very popular based on its ideas and wasn’t overtly violent or extremist compared to more reactionary or strict sects.  The Khalwatiyyah did protest on behalf of the poor for better living conditions on occasion.  The Khalwatiyyah helped with protests in Egypt in the 1800’s against British colonialism.[12]  Western influence in the region was growing and many orders felt strongly in removing this influence permanently.  Many similar tribes followed this pattern of resistance across the Muslim world.  The Khalwatiyyah order was mostly a mainstream movement that lacked official leaders but grew naturally from its popular appeal.  The movement appealed to the lower classes and the open minded alike.

Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai
Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai was one of the founders of neo-Sufism and played an integral role in the Sufi movement of the 18th century.  His upbringing and early biography tell of a boy genius who was chosen for greatness.[13]  It is alleged that Shah Waliullah performed miracles, memorized entire manuscripts, was fluent in several languages, and received direct revelations all before the age of 20.[14]  He trained and mastered many subjects at various madrasas in Arabia and began to form and teach his own opinions. 
According to John Obert Voll, Waliullah’s career “was a high point in the evolution of Islam that had been set in motion by the rise of the Moghuls and the emergence of Naqshbandiyyah revivalism, and on the other hand, his work provided the foundation for virtually every major Muslim movement in India since that time.[15]  Waliullah was one of the most important figures in the world of Islam and his impact can be felt in the reform movement of the 18th century.  As opposed to the seemingly more liberal Sufis, Waliullah was a reactionary fundamentalist that wanted to reconcile the differences of Islam.[16]  Waliullah rejected some of the more mystical aspects of Sufism and focused more on the Qur’an and the Hadith.  With this view, he appealed to more conservative believers and preached a more legalistic approach to Islam that centered around scholars. 
Much of what Waliullah left behind became the basis for future actions.  He did not himself organize a headquarters or any direct attempt to create a movement.  Waliullah’s focus was on his teachings and literary works.  After his death in 1762 his ideas were continued and put into action by his followers.[17]  These followers interpreted many of his ideas militaristically and became politically engaged.[18]  Waliullah turned the attention of Muslims back to the fundamental foundations of Islam’s existence.  The Qur’an and the Hadith were the only real sources of knowledge and those who thought otherwise were not true believers.  This renewed focus on the original documents was a sort of purification process for multiple Islamic reform movements in the 18th century.  This led to schools and institutions of higher learning that focused strictly on these documents.  His beliefs are still practiced today and have had a large impact on Islam as a whole.

[1] F de. Jong, Khalwatiyyah, 2012, available from>.
[2] Philtar, Khalwatiyyah, 1999, available from
[3] Ibid.
[4] Shems Friedlander, A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order, available from
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Nikki R. Keddie, Scholars, Saints, and Sufis (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), 401.
[10] Philtar, Khalwatiyyah.
[11] Shems Friedlander, A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order.
[12] Frederick De Jong, Sufi Orders in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Egypt and the Middle East (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2000),  274.
[13] Enterprise Team, Shah Wali Ullah, 2011, available from
[14] Ibid.
[15] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58.
[16] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern, 59.
[17] Enterprise Team, Shah Wali Ullah.
[18] John Overt Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern, 61.

Annotated Bibliography
De Job, Frederick. Sufi Orders in Ottoman and Post- Ottoman Egypt and the Middle East (Istanbul, Turkey: Isis Press, 2000), 274.

Enterprise Team. “Shah Wali Ullah [1703-1762].” Story of Pakistan, 2011. February 18 2012.

            This source was important for the upbringing and history of Waliullah.  It also talked about the impact and scope of his literary work as well as some of his personal characteristics.

Friedlander, Shems. “A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order.” Halveti-Jerrahi Tariqah: Traditional Sufi Order. 19 February 2012.

            This source examined many aspects of the Khalwatiyyah including the history and some more modern ideas.  This was helpful when discussing the growth and ideas of the tribe.

Jong,”Khalwatiyya.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman; , Th. Bianquis; , C.E. Bosworth; , E. van Donzel; and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2012. Brill Online. University of Utah. 06 February 2012>.

Keddie, Nikki R. Scholars, Saints, and Sufis (Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1972), 401.

PHILTAR, University of Cumbria. “Khalwatiyyah.” Overview of World Religion. 1999. University of Cumbria. 19 February 2012.
This source was used for some of the Khalwatiyyah doctrines and teachings.  The history and background was also useful to look at.

Voll, John Obert. Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Second Edition (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58-61.
This source was used for research on Waliullah.  Much of his history and background are focused upon in this book.

Amir Abd al-Qadir

            Amir Abd al-Qadir was a militant anti-colonialist and a staunch fighter for independence.  No single person had as much of an impact on the Algerian independence movement in the 19th century.  Abd al-Qadir served as the leader of the resistance movement against the French forces; a movement that lasted seventeen years.  His views on Western imperialism and Muslim reform were very influential not just in Algeria but throughout the region.  Al-Qadir’s impact outlived his own life as he laid the blueprint for other resistance movements as well as the successful revolution in Algeria in the 20th century.

            Abd al-Qadir was born in 1808 in Mascara, Algeria and is said to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.[1]  He intensely studied the Sufi tradiont of Islam as a youth and was trained in the sciences.[2]  His ancestry ran through much of the Sufi branch of Islam.  Abd  al-Qadir’s grandfather reorganized the Qadiriyya tariqah and al-Qadir’s father later became a shayk of this order.[3]  Abd al-Qadir thus naturally became a leader of the Qadiriyya later in the 19th century when Muslims turned towards him for leadership and guidance.
            After years of strict schooling throughout Africa Abd al-Qadir began writing heavily about Islam and its practices.  He also began to participate more in protests against the French colonists in Algeria.  In the 1830’s Abd al-Qadir began formulating ideas for a possible independence movement by building on the jihad against the French for which his father had initiated.  In 1832 open conflict began with the French army while Abd al-Qadir had scarcely enough unity among his own subordinates.
            The French government had tried to offer some concessions but Abd al-Qadir and his supporters were not interested in piecemeal change.  The revolution had begun and al-Qadir was the leader.  In 1835 the Algerians scored a large victory at Macta by defeating the French handily.  Raphael Danziger states that the “Disaster at Macta was one of the worst military defeats sustained by the French during their occupation in Algeria.”[4]  The French took over 300 casualties and lost its ability to fight in the region.[5] 
            The largest problem faced by al-Qadir was the sheer size and capability of the French Army.  This was exacerbated when the French looked for revenge after their humiliating defeat.  The rest of the war was an example of a superpower forcibly imposing its will on a lesser opponent.  At Mascara the French walked into the city with almost no resistance and the movement seemed to be dying.[6]  Al-Qadir however proved to be a valiant tactician and a true fighter because the resistance continued after the French made mistake after mistake in Algeria.  The French army was frequently susceptible to interparty squabbling and interference by politicians at home.  The French left the cities they had taken captive thinking that the war was over.  However al-Qadir attacked again and again and regained much of what the Algerians had lost.[7]
            The Battle of Sikkak proved to be a thorough destruction of the al-Qadir’s forces and future influence with his troops.  The Algerians attempted to fight the French out in the open and were wiped off the field.  Danziger states “this unique attempt to beat the Europeans at their own game failed completely.”[8]  Much of al-Qadir’s thinly held tribes began to fall apart through mistrust and backstabbing.  The Algerian War had drawn to a close when the army had been reduced as a fighting force and al-Qadir began making peace overtures towards the French.[9]  Later  in 1847 he was captured and exiled by the French.[10]  He lived out the rest of his life in Turkey and Damascus and died in 1883.[11]
            After the Algerian Wars, al-Qadir continued to write heavily on the topic of Islam and independence.  He argued heavily for Islamism as a way to defeat Western imperialism.  Much of al-Qadir’s problems stemmed from the lack of stability and unity among the Muslim tribes.  Even after defeat al-Qadir still believed fully in his cause.  His influence lasted decades as the Algerians would eventually gain full independence in 1962 from the French.  Many of al-Qadir’s fighting tactics and ideas were used in this successful revolution.

            Al-Qadir’s ideology was based on Sufi tradition, specifically the Qadiriyya tariqah.  He believed in the Islamic sciences as well as mysticism.[12]  Some of these beliefs were targets of criticism by others because they were seen as contradictions to the Qur’an.  Like many Muslims al-Qadir was strict in his study of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  However, as we can see in his relation to Europe, he did display some openness to the West.  He realized the West’s superiority in technology and its influence in the world.  Throughout the Algerian wars he made repeated attempts to ally with both Britain and the United States.  In this sense he was a sort of opportunist.  In order to win independence he had to take risks and make the most out of his opportunity.  Later in life his writings became blueprints for other movements and he is held in high esteem by the Muslim community.

Type of Activism
            Al-Qadir clearly favored violent methods of revolution rather than other types of activism.  Some of his contemporaries exhibited passive assimilation or adaptationism.  Al-Qadir strongly believed in defeating the French through military force and instituting the principles of Islam in the Algerian government.  He is widely known as the most famous militant leader of the 19th century and was “both an able military commander and an effective political organizer.”[13]  He not only wanted to win the war but also establish a state.  Voll states that al-Qadir was “fundamentalist in spirit but willing to accept new techniques if they would make his army and administration more effective.”[14]
            Al-Qadir also never accepted outright defeat at the hands of the French and continued to firmly believe in independence.  Some leaders of the time became easily disheartened and quickly surrendered to the ways of the West.  Al-Qadir believed in preaching Islam but also using politics and the military as the main methods of resistance.
            Al-Qadir’s impact is immeasurable in terms of Algeria.  Voll states that “it was the individualistic style of Islam, which emphasized charismatic and messianic leadership, that provided the vision necessary for revolt in the face of French power.”[15]  Al-Qadir’s style of leadership became the basis for other revolutionary movements.  Although Algeria ceased resistance for some time following the Algerian wars, the people once again rose up following World War 1 using the methods of al-Qadir.[16]

[1] The First English Journal of Traditional Studies, Amir Abd al-Qadir, 2007, available from
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4]Raphael  Danziger, Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation (New York, London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1977), 117.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 121.
[7] Ibid., 123.
[8] Ibid., 126.
[9] Ibid., 130.
[10] Jean-Michel Lafreniere, Abd al-Qadir, 2011, available from
[11] Ibid.
[12] The First English Journal of Traditional Studies, Amir Abd al-Qadir.
[13] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 120
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 121.
[16] Ibid.

Annotated Bibliography

Danziger, Raphael. Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation (New York, London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1977), 117-130.
This source was very detailed about al-Qadir’s role in the resistance movement.  It does a great job at looking at the French army compared to the Algerian tribes.

Lafreniere, Jean-Michel. “Abd al-Qadir.” 2011.
            This source was a basic biography of al-Qadir which took a chronological approach to his life and actions.

Voll, John Obert. Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Second Edition (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58-61.
This source was used for research on al-Qadir.  Much of his history and background are focused upon in this book.  A lot of insight on the impact of his methods are given as well.

The First English Journal of Traditional Studies. “Amir Abd al-Qadir.” Studies in Comparative Religion. 2007.

            This source was used for a background and biography of al-Qadir.  Much of his beginnings are examined.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)

Muhammad Abduh was a great Egyptian thinker in the nineteenth century, who  believed in openness to other cultures and brought social, political and religious reform.1


Born in 1849 in Egypt,  Abduh was raised as part of the creative class, a class based on learning and piety.2  Abduh later went to the al-Azhar university where he got his alamiya (similar to a BA) in 1877.3  While at al-Azhar, his favorite subject was mysticism; his interest in the subject led him to live as a ascetic for a while.
In 1872, while still at Al Azhar, Abduh met Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, the founder of the pan-Islam Movement.4 Agreeing with the movement’s goal of uniting all Muslims, Abduh came out from his ascetic lifestyle and started to teach and became an activist for the liberation from British colonialism.5   

The student eventually became the teacher, Abduh teaching at the university he graduated from. Now professor, Abduh taught his students modern philosophy. He periodically referenced European philosophers, such as Montesquieu, in his lectures.6 He also taught a secular school, Dar al-’Ulum.
Once Afghani was exiled, Abduh was forced to leave his teaching job and return to his village by Khedive Tawfiq (similar to an English viceroy7), he viewed as being for anti-government movements. However in 1880, he returned to Cairo where he was given a job as editor in chief of an Egyptian gazette. Abduh had Afghani to thank for this. Afghani got him into press writing, especially that which called for reform. The gazette, "al-Waqa'le al-Masriyya", became a big player in the intellectual, social, and literary scene thanks to Abduh.8  

In 1879, tensions began to rise between British and Egyptians, until a revolt broke out, known as the Urabi Revolution. Abduh was sent to prison in 1881 for his voice in the revolt against the British, placing him in a cell for three months, He was then exiled from Egypt for three year, during which time he went to Beirut, and then to Paris, where he met up with Afghani once again.

While in France, al-Afghani and Abduh started a secret society in 1884 that had branches stretching into the Middle East. They also published a newspaper, “al-Urwa al-wuthqa”. The paper introduced European ideas to the Middle East and explored the weaknesses within the Muslim world and how it could be fixed.

In 1888, Abduh returned to Egypt. Once back in his home country, he wanted to start teaching again, but was not allowed by the khedive, who feared Abduh’s to influence young minds.9 But that didn’t stop the once-exiled Abduh. He was appointed judge in the Eyptian Courts of First Instance of the Native Tribunals and in 1890, became a member of Court of Appeal.10 And in 1899 Abduh was promoted to mufti of Egypt. This allowed him to have control over the system of religious law. He also became an appointed member of the Legislative Council, created in 1883 to advise the government. With his heart still in teaching, he helped found the Benevolent Society that helped in the establishment of schools.

Abduh stayed in contact with Europe. He had some ties with European philosophers. He even wrote a letter to Tolstoy.11 Whenever he could, Abduh would head over to the West to “renew himself”, this giving him hope that one day, the Muslim world would pull through from its present state of discontent.12 On July of 1905, Abduh passed away at the age of fifty-six.


Abduh shared similar beliefs to that of his teacher, Afghani. Both believed that Islam was suffering from inner decay and was in need of reform13 and the East could actually learn something from the West. However, Abduh was much more systematic and had more of a lasting influence than his teacher. And unlike Afghani, Abduh tried to separate politics from religion.

According to Abduh, former Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali tried to place Western beliefs in Egypt’s land by enforcing European laws and schools, this allowing reform to take place. With European schools, two types of educational institutions were created, the traditional Islamic schools that did not teach students necessities of the modern world, and then secular schools that would allow students to be learned in the sciences and thinkers of the West. With the creation of secular schools, Muslims feared that students would lose their faith. So a choice had to be made to have either a modern education or stick to tradition. Abduh felt that  European laws meant nothing to Egyptians, the Egyptian not knowing or respecting such laws as a European would. This would not only cause confusion, but would also make the situation worse. This would result in no law, resulting to a society heading to ruin.14

In order to fix this, Abduh believed that Islam should not look to the past for the answer to stop what Muhammad Ali had created, but to accept that Islam needed to change, and have those changes be linked to Islam itself.15 By doing this would show that the changes happening are permissible by Islam. Abduh believed that Islam could be melded with modern thought. Many traditional clerics disagreed with him, saying his Islam was not pure.

Abduh tried to convey what principals of Islam were essential and those that could be changed. Ijtihad was essential due to the fact the Hadith and Quran did not cover all issues in the world. Both the Quran and Hadith told Muslims how to worship and many other things, and it was up to man apply them to life, this showing that ijtihad is a required part of Islam.

The laws of worship were also to be unchanged. To Abduh, the doctrines of worship were created by pious ancestors. Since these traditions of devotion spoke about the oneness of God (tawhid) and there being so little of these documents and were so simple, they were to be left alone and were considered scared. Laws, customs, and social concerns were considered liable to change because they are not sacred, and are just applications of Islamic thought to cultural customs, each different based on traditions of the location.16


Abduh considered his philosophy to be directly to the Salafiyya (lit. predecessors, early Muslims). This was considered to be the purest form of Islam and for Islam to be reformed, it must revert to this purest form. Therefore, Salafiyya thinkers, like Abduh, tend fundamentalist. Similar to Whabbism or Jihaddist. Abduh considered himself to be a liberal form of Salafist.17 However, some of Abduh’s students went a different route.

One of Abduh’s most important students, Muhammad Rashid Rida, was an early radical Islamist and inspired Hassan al-Banna, the founder and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and al- Banna’s successor, Sayyid Qutb.18  After Abduh died, Rida was Abduh’s leading successor. Rida continued Abduh’s work on Qur’an commentary and wanting ijtihad. Rida also became fearful of Zionism.
Rida’s philosophy and fear of Jews took a hold of Hassan al-Banna, who created the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. The Brotherhood originated in Egypt with the goal of changing Islamic states into states ruled by Sha’aria Law, the re-establishment of the Caliphate, and lastly world domination through violent jihad. Their views are grossly anti-Semetic, anti-Western, and anti-democratic (due to the belief that the West and democracy were created by Jews). 19

Some of Abdu’s student’s had a more liberal, secular philosophy.  One such student was Lufti al-Sayyid. He believed that Islam should be honored but was not the guide to life. For life to improve, Egyptian schools had to change as well as there being equal rights for women. The welfare of the people and families was the welfare of the nation according to al-Sayyid.

Another student, Qasim Amin became a sociologist. He took a Darwinist approach to Islam’s downward slope. Islam would not be able to survive in the world because the religion had lost its social integrity.  In order for the Muslim nation to get back to its feet, Amin believed, women must have a voice. The seclusion of women resulted in a lack of respect for women. It did not say to do as such in Sharia Law. Sharia was supposed to create equality between men and women, not the opposite. The freedom of women in the west not due to  tradition but due to rational thinking.

In conclusion, Abdu was a very intelligent man with the hopes of improving the Muslim world by modernizing Islam itself. Though some of his students went down a more radical route, like Rida, many of them took  different approach. Such students like al-Sayyid and Amin supported the rights of women and  secular education. These ideals were considered ways for Islam  to be on the path towards modernization.

End Notes
1.“Prominent Muslims: Muhammad Abduh,” last accessed April 1, 2012, http://islamic-
2.Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1983),130
3. “Prominent Muslims: Muhammad Abduh”
4. “Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905),” last modified 2010,
5. “Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)”
6. “Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)”
7. “Khedive,” last modified February 6, 2012,
8. “Prominent Muslims: Muhammad Abduh”
9. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 134
10. “Muhammad Abduh,” last modified March 18, 2012,
11. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 135
12. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 135
13. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age,136
14. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 137
15. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 139
16. “Muhammad Abduhh,” last modified December 26, 2008,
17. “Salafi,” last modified December 19, 2008
18. “Muhammad Rashid Rida,” last accessed April 1, 2012
19. “Muslim Brotherhood,” last modified December 17, 2008


Center of Islam and Science. “Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905).” Last modified 2010.

Encyclopedia of the Middle East. “Muhammad Abduhh.” Last modified December 26, 2008.
“Muslim Brotherhood.” Last modified December 17, 2008.
“Muhammad Rashid Rida.” Last accessed April 1, 2012.
“Salafi.” Last modified December 19, 2008.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Islamic World. Prominent Muslims: Muhammad Abduh.” Last accessed April 1, 2012. http://islamic-

Wikipedia. “Khedive.” Last modified February 6, 2012.