The Origins and Rise of Sufi Institutions (Part Four)

{jcomments on}Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia




Life and Activities in Early Sufi Institutions 

As seen earlier, Sufism as a complete and cohesive system of thought and Sufi institutions were developing almost simultaneously, the former being the cause and the latter the effect. Just as Sufism was evolving from the unique, and at times exaggerated, ways in which some people, later called wool-wearers, were perceiving and practicing asceticism, seclusion, poverty, devoutness and love of Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Sufi institutions, too, were developing gradually from crude single room hermitages to sophisticated and multi functional Sufi complexes called ribats, khanqahs, zawiyahs and tekkes. The fact that this evolution took place over the course of approximately two, or two and a half, centuries indicates, firstly, how quickly Sufism spread and found its permanent footing on the Muslim religious, epistemological and even cultural scenes, as well as in people’s hearts and minds, and secondly, how swiftly Sufism as an inclusive body of knowledge, teaching and training codes and standards evolved and furthered its unique brand and identity. The evolution of Sufi establishments, by and large, went through two major phases which were marked by the formation of firstly individual and then elaborately institutional and collective retreats and sanctuaries. It also meant that those institutions went from private and semi-private initiatives to community benefactors and government owned and controlled enterprises. The following report somewhat typifies the mentioned Sufi institutions’ evolution, even though it denotes an isolated case which took place in Cairo and long after the emergence of Sufi institutions had come to pass. According to the report, a blind Sufi sheikh, Abu Zakariyya Yahya b. Ali al-Sanafiri (d. 773 AH/ 1371 CE) is said to have firstly resided in a domed shrine in the large cemetery of Cairo called Qarafah. Frequently visited by many people, he was forced to create a retreat for himself. When that was not enough to ensure his privacy, he started to deter visitors by pelting stones at them. But that did not work either. Ultimately, he left his shrine in Cairo and chose to settle in a place called Sanafir, whence his name. There a ruler built a zawiyah or a khanqah for him.  When he died, over fifty thousand persons attended his funeral.[1]


            When they fully evolved, Sufi institutions for lots of people were truly remarkable and exciting places to be. Most of them functioned as places of worship, as educational and training centers, as hostels for either Sufi masters and their disciples, or for both of them, as hostels for traveling and visiting Sufis, and as places for mere socialization and meeting of the Sufis. However, since there were always two modes of Sufism: authentic and pseudo ones, Sufi institutions housed them both and thus could also be divided into two genres. Therefore, some Sufi institutions were the centers of practicing and, at the same time, of enjoining and proliferating uprightness  and virtue, while others, in varied degrees, stood for the reverse, that is, for practicing and, at the same time, for enjoining and propagating religious innovations and, every now and then, even outright wrongdoing and sin. It was due to the latter, surely, that Abu al-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH/ 1200 CE), in whose time certain forms of pseudo and theosophical Sufism were in their heyday, regarded the materialization of independent Sufi institutions as a serious religious innovation.[2] Offering a justification for his assertion, Abu al-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi, among other things, highlighted that such bogus and iniquitous Sufi institutions rivaled the mosque institution as a community development center, getting in the way of the latter’s optimization of its full potential. In the process, furthermore, the Sufis associated with, and active participants in, such a repugnant innovation, were bound to lose all the benefits and boons connected with mosques and with patronizing them for different legitimate purposes on a daily basis. In the same vein, the same Sufis were guilty of causing a similar desolation to those men and women whom they attracted to the orb of Sufism and to the programs and activities held in their burgeoning institutions.[3] Some of the activities which Abu al-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi outlined as most regular and widespread in pseudo Sufi establishments were excessive eating and drinking as an important part of some Sufi rituals and customs, making the kitchen, as a result, one of the essential spatial components in a few types of Sufi institutions.[4] Equally detrimental were singing and dancing performed under the pretext of carrying out certain spiritual obligations and ceremonies. If truth be told, many such Sufi institutions subsisted as part of vicious circles whereby they, at the behest of the Sufis themselves, were built under the patronage of some grossly unjust and erring rulers by means of unjustly accumulated funds. Those rulers saw in the wide-ranging world of Sufism and its enormous following potential for manipulating some of its core aspects for no other reason but for enhancing their dubious political goals and programs. Following the creation of politically motivated Sufi institutions, both the forms of pseudo Sufism and the propensity to oppression and injustice of the rulers in question were thus meant to be perpetuated by any means and methods, legitimate or otherwise.[5]

            A typical self-regulating Sufi institutional complex was, more or less, a boarding house, a meeting and socialization place, a place for learning and training, and to some extent, a mosque. It had all the essential annexes, services, amenities and facilities. It accommodated a prayer hall, spaces for teaching and learning, an enclosed court as well as rooms for both travelers and permanent residents and a portico. The spatial organization of these components varied and followed no specific type. The most common type, however, was the one adopted by most Islamic religious, educational and social institutions, that is, the type where rooms and some other spaces were constructed around an inner court. For some, especially public or semi-public, sections of the buildings in question, the hypostyle plan, which was favored my many Muslim institutional buildings, with abundant use of columns and arches often flanking open central spaces, was employed. The Sufi institutions associated with the Mawlawiyah Sufi fraternity which dominated many Ottoman territories also incorporated the semahane (dance hall), an Ottoman Turkish term for a room used by the Sufis in their ritual whirling and dancing.

At times – especially at a later date — some Sufi institutions were integrated into madrasahs or schools, mosque centers, and even into funerary complexes which typically contained the tombs of former sheikhs, saintly persons and the benefactors of the place. This shows that in terms of architecture, planning and even function, Sufi institutions were reasonably flexible and were responsive to the exigencies of different situations and environments. In Mamluki Cairo, for example, there were several of the structures known to us as mausoleums but which were also used as khanqahs. They were used for housing Sufi communities and acted as khanqahs in practice if not in name.[6] When al-Maqrizi spoke about the numerous khanqahs of Cairo, he termed several of them as mosques or madrasahs. He thus discussed them under the headings of either mosques or madrasahs. However, when coming to the same institutions in a section dedicated solely to khanqahs, al-Maqrizi would only mention them, give short introductions about them, and would then, as a rule, remark that those khanqahs were already discussed in sections assigned for either mosques or madrasahs.[7] These archetypal patterns of Sufi institutions were materializing as a result of two trends. Firstly, a standalone Sufi institution would in due course evolve into an aggregate religious, educational, welfare, or a funerary complex, that is to say, it would attract to its ambit a mosque, a madrasah, a mausoleum, or a shrine. It would become multi-institutional, multi-purpose and thus more advantageous and more appealing to all strata of society. Secondly, an evolving prominent mosque, madrasah, welfare, mausoleum, or a shrine complex would eventually incorporate a Sufi institution as well, that is to say, those institutional multiplexes would attract to their ambits a Sufi institution, too, so as to enhance at once their functionality and standing in society.

Another structural type of medieval Sufi institutions was a four-iwan plan whereby an open courtyard was surrounded by four iwans, or recesses with arched supports.[8] The largest and deepest of those iwans was the qiblah iwan. The qiblah iwan was composed of several isles of arches running parallel to the qiblah wall, and perpendicular to the other arches. Each of the four iwans represented one activity or function type. Behind some iwans were Sufi cells. The Sufi buildings in question recurrently employed domes which covered the mihrab (praying niche) area and some other sections of the buildings, muqarnas (system of projecting niches used for zones of transition and for architectural decoration[9]), rich geometric as well as heavily stylized and denaturalized floral decorative patterns, and calligraphy which depicted various spiritual themes from the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Sunnah, and the Sufi poems and lore which aimed to transport a beholder’s focus from the inconsequentiality of this fleeting world to a higher and infinite order of spiritual expression and meaning. This type of Sufi and other religious, educational, welfare and social institutions, with cross-axes ending in four iwans surrounding a courtyard first appeared in Khorosan, probably developed from ancient Persian models.

According to Hani Hamza, an archetypal Mamluki khanqah consisted “of an open court surrounded by cells and iwans on its sides, the cells for the resident Sufis, and the iwans for their collective activities with the largest being fitted with a mihrab (praying niche) and preserved for the prayers. A kitchen and hammam (public bath) would be annexed to the structure, while the burial place for the Sufis would be outside Cairo.”[10] Some khanqahs also had wells, gardens and water troughs for the animals.[11] The subsequent Mamluki (Burji) periods witnessed a revolution in the architectural setting of the khanqah. At the beginning, only the size was considerably increased, keeping the traditional setting of iwans and cells around a central court. The later development in size and plan was in line with that of Burji architecture. The structures became smaller in size as did the inner courts, which became covered. The living quarters were transferred outside, mostly to a separate structure adjoining the khanqah. Dependencies, consisting of hammam, kitchen, water facilities, kuttab (basic school in Islamic education), etc., remained as an integral part of a khanqah.[12]

The first in the Muslim world who resorted to a culture of extensive application of the four-iwan plan, especially in institutional architecture, were the Saljuqs who, although being of Turkish origins, are remembered as great patrons of Persian culture, art, literature and language. This was the case also because the Saljuqs, as the avid defenders of Sunnism and Sunni Islam – as we will see in the next chapter – were on a special mission. Integral to that mission were elements of Islamization, too, which were also pertinent to art and architecture. According to Richard N. Frye, the symbolism of Persian art was royal rather than religious. “City art under the Sasanians, if one may speak of such an entity; could have been little more than a pale copy of imperial art, since the court dominated the life of Sasanian Iran, with its hierarchy of classes. Furthermore, Zoroastrianism, unlike Islam, was pastoral and agriculturally oriented rather than commercially or city oriented, and one may suspect that non-imperial art was produced more in the town villas of the nobility than in the bazaars of towns. Undoubtedly folk art existed as well, but here we simply do not have the data or the remains to study such influences.”[13] A foremost feature in Persian exclusive royal or imperial art and architecture was the idea of iwan. It was their trademark.[14] Hence, one of the most notable Sasanid-era Persian monuments was the Iwan of Khosrau in the ancient royal city of Ctesiphon (al-Mada’in). The arched iwan hall was about 37 meters high, 26 meters across and 50 meters long. It was reputed as the largest vault ever constructed at the time. It was part of a massive imperial palace complex which stood as a symbol of the Persian might, tradition and grand ambitions.[15] It stands to reason that because of the verity that Islam as a popular movement would have encouraged a contribution from non-aristocratic people in the creation of its art, architecture, as well as culture,[16] on the one hand, and because of the projected cutting-edge mission and tasks of the Saljuqs, on the other, the iwan style buildings were pioneered especially at the communal institutional level which was accessible to everybody and from which everyone could benefit, and where the Sufis and Sufi institutions played a conspicuous role. The royal architecture of the Persians was finally to be brought down from the realm of exclusivism to the realm of Islamic collectivism and egalitarianism. It was likewise appropriate that the Saljuqs, whose many policies and programs were intrinsically populist and even embodied an esoteric outlook, were at the forefront of this new and certainly enriching approach and style which slowly extended to the art and architecture of Sufi institutions, too.

At long last, a hint at those pervasive Islamic values of communalism, universal justice and egalitarianism in Islamic institutional art and architecture, was given by the early Muslims after they had conquered the mentioned ancient royal Persian city of Ctesiphon in 16 AH / 637 CE. When the commander of the Muslim army, a great companion of the Prophet (pbuh), Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas (d. 44 AH/ 664 CE), entered the imperial palace complex and its great Iwan of Khosrau, he had no other words to express his rather indifference and pity, and to explicate what had just occurred, except the following Qur’anic words: “How many were the gardens and springs they left behind, and corn-fields and noble buildings, and pleasant things wherein they had taken such delight! Thus (was their end)! And We made other people inherit (those things)!” (al-Dukhkhan, 25-28).[17] Then, the iwan of Khosrau was converted into a makeshift mosque. The first Friday (jumu’ah) Prayer in Iraq was performed in it. The Muslims were asked to perform the Friday Prayer in the iwan-turned-mosque no matter how far away from it they might have settled.[18] Just like any other principal mosque (jami’) in an Islamic settlement, this improvised jami’ mosque, too, served as a community center.

Furthermore, according to Shihab al-Din Umar al-Suhrawardi, the dwellers of a Sufi institution formed three parties: men of service, men of fellowship and men of solitude. The men of service were the beginners, or Sufi novices. To the old Sufi men, the passing of their time in solitude was best. But to the Sufi youth, spending time in assemblies and benefiting from fellowship was better than solitude, so that, with the bond of knowledge which they were bound to attain, their lusts could be controlled.[19] Thus, a Sufi novice progresses from serving and performing an amount of manual labor inside a Sufi institution, to the level of fellowship where he learns and trains, and thus grows intellectually and spiritually, with other fellow Sufis, and finally to the level of seclusion where senior Sufis by virtue of dwelling at more advanced spiritual stations, and thus living through different spiritual states, are engaged in special and most arduous spiritual trainings and exercises which are aimed at achieving the highest Sufi spiritual goals and objectives. An example of conditions and experiences which were precursory to the life and activities in early Sufi institutions is contained in a report of Abu ‘Amr al-Zujaji (d. 348 AH/ 959 CE). Abu ‘Amr al-Zujaji narrated that he as a young Sufi novice stayed some time with al-Junayd al-Baghdadi in a “place” (al-mawdi’) where the latter used to teach Sufism. He said that the master al-Junayd would always see him in a state of worship, and would never say anything to him. One day when the meeting “place” became empty without any congregation, he removed his clothes, swept, cleaned and sprinkled the “place”, and cleaned its toilets and purification places. When the master al-Junayd returned, he saw the traces of dust on the face of young Abu ‘Amr al-Zujaji. He then called him, greeted him, and said three times to him: “Well done.”[20]

The residents of Sufi institutions were from two parties: the travelers and the dwellers. If a sheikh was a celibate, which was a rarity though, he resided inside the place where a special cell was reserved for his use. In due course, however, many Sufi institutions came to include the residences of Sufi sheikhs or masters and their families, too. In some infrequent cases, Sufi masters’ houses were converted into Sufi institutions which carried their names.[21]

Sufi institutions relied on mixed financing. All in all, they subsisted on the offerings, or the gifts, of either the pious individuals or the members of the ruling elite. Some had their own endowment funds. Institutional begging was strictly forbidden. A typical Ottoman tekke, or convent, contained from fifteen to thirty disciples. It was ruled over by a sheikh. The sheikh had unlimited power and authority in the tekke. If a tekke was endowed with an endowment fund (waqf), he would sell the produce of the farms, regulate the expenditure of the tekke, and distribute its alms. If his tekke was not endowed, the sheikh would then look for its supporters and sponsors,[22] which, nonetheless, could not amount to begging. There were even instances when Sufi sheikhs were directly involved in the economy of a place as landowners, moneylenders and urban landlords. The Sufi institutions under those sheikhs enjoyed greater financial security and were relatively autonomous. Donations from the rulers or private individuals were a minor source of income for such establishments.[23] According to the Fatih, Sultan Mehmed II (d. 886 AH/ 1481 CE), endowment’s expenditure ledger for 952 AH/ 1545 CE, for instance, four tekkes received regular meal allotments from the royal public kitchen (imaret). Some tekkes were physically separate from a mosque complex but appeared by name in the charter of a royal waqf (endowment), which put them on an equal legal footing with other endowment purposes.[24]

When the first Sultan of the Mamluki Burji dynaty, al-Malik al-Zahir Sayf al-Din Barquq (d. 802 AH/ 1399 CE), built his madrasah-khanqah complex to function as a pious foundation, he issued a foundational waqf document that contained detailed information on important formal and functional features of the complex. It also describes the qualifications and duties expected of principal staff, and gives details about salary and other material benefits attached to each position.[25] About the Sufis, their roles, responsibilities and benefits, the waqf document stipulates: “The administrator will also appoint sixty good and upright Muslims, Sufis, on the understanding that they will gather in this madrasah and act according to the requirements of this document. Each of them will receive, in view of their Sufi assignments, a monthly allotment of 10 silver dirhams, two measures of oil, two measures of soap, one measure of sweets, three Egyptian measures of bread daily, and 30 silver dirhams annually for clothing. Our master the Sultan, founder of this endowment – may God make his reign eternal – has stipulated that the sheikh of this khanqah, of the Hanafi school, who has already been mentioned, along with the students of the four law schools mentioned above, the sheikh of Hadith and his students, the sheikh of the seven Qur’an readings and his students, and the Sufis just mentioned, numbering 187 persons in all, shall gather daily to perform the afternoon prayer in this madrasahkhanqah. The above-mentioned sheikh will take his seat in the qiblah iwan surrounded by this assembly. Everyone will recite two full sections from the sixty sections of the exalted Qur’an either from memory or from revered texts circulated among them in sections, and they will proceed as described earlier… The administrator will appoint two individuals from among the sixty Hanafi Sufis already mentioned. One of them, an excellent jurist steeped in the seven Qur’anic readings, will lead the Muslims, in the qiblah iwan at the front of which is the mihrab, in the five prescribed ritual prayers and for the opening of the month of Ramadan and the times of assembly prescribed in shari’ah. His compensation will be 70 silver dirhams a month, 50 silver dirhams for clothing annually, in addition to what is allotted him from the Sufi activities described earlier. A second man will lead the Muslims in the five (prayers), as is customary, in the mausoleum in this madrasah. He will be paid 30 silver dirhams monthly, and 20 silver dirhams annually for clothing, in addition to what is set aside for him from his Sufi duties already mentioned…The administrator will also appoint six of these Sufis with beautiful voices who will intone the call to prayer and the exclamation of praise to God (tasbih), and magnification of God at times of fasting and the beginning of ritual prayer, and the enunciation ‘God is supreme’ (takbir) behind the imam, and the invocation of peace (taslim) upon the Prophet (pbuh) on Friday nights and at times of fasting. They will do that by turns as designated by the administrator in this waqf. Each of them will be paid 15 silver dirhams a month in addition to what is allotted them from Sufi activities.”[26]

When Ibn Battuta visited Cairo in 727 AH/ 1326 CE during the reign of a Mamluki Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad b. Qalawun (d. 741 AH / 1340 CE), he gave a vivid account on several aspects of dynamic residential Sufi life in Cairo. He said, for example, that there were many Sufi convents or khanqahs concerning whose founding and building the aristocrats of the booming city of Cairo vied with one another. Each Sufi institution had “a superior and a doorkeeper and their affairs are admirably organized. They have many special customs, one of which has to do with their food. The steward of the house comes in the morning to the dervishes, each of whom indicates what food he desires, and when they assemble for meals, each person is given his bread and soup in a separate dish, none sharing with another. They eat twice a day. They are each given winter clothes and summer clothes, and a monthly allowance of from twenty to thirty dirhams. Every Thursday night they receive sugar cakes, soap to wash their clothes, the price of a bath, and oil for their lamps. These men are celibate; the married men have separate convents.”[27] Ibn Battuta, while dwelling on the daily routine of the Sufis in question, added that an important part of that routine observed in khanqahs was that all parts of the Qur’an were divided among them, for each to read one part. In this way the Qur’an was completed daily and dhikr (remembrance of God) recitation started afterwards.[28]

To go off the point a bit, while on his epic voyages, Ibn Battuta frequently resided as a traveler or a guest in Sufi institutions. The magnanimous and insightful tone of his discussions of the Sufis and of the disposition of their Sufi living and activities, prompted some to suggest that he himself might have been a Sufi, and that some of the motives behind his travels might have been related to certain dimensions of Sufism.[29]

The economic and legal dimensions of residential Sufi life in Sufi institutions attracted considerable attention, and the legal and ethical status of the wealth that bankrolled this lifestyle was carefully scrutinized.[30] Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali for one was asked many questions pertaining to the types of Sufi endowments and grants, theirs and their sources’ authenticity, and which categories of Sufis could avail themselves of such donations and gifts.[31] According to Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali’s answers stressed the importance of classifying “food consumed in (Sufi) lodges into three categories: (1) legal alms (zakat), (2) solicited and unsolicited donations, (3) endowed funds (waqf). He (Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali) pointed out that use of legal alms was permissible only for those who could receive legal alms, but also declared without equivocation that constant prayer and dhikr (glorification and remembrance of God) could never be an excuse for not earning a livelihood. All the conditions that applied to use of legal alms also applied to donations, but there were two additional stipulations: (1) donations needed to be solicited indirectly and privately, and (2) they needed to be licit (halal), which, al-Ghazzali acknowledged, was indeed very difficult to insure. Donations (but not zakat) that were given to the lodge indirectly but willingly, with the understanding that they would enable lodge dwellers to be engaged in constant prayer, were acceptable. As for endowments, if the endowment was directly for the lodge, this was a relatively simple set-up where only the stipulations of the endower needed to be observed. If, however, the endowment was specifically for the Sufis, then it became obligatory to ascertain that those who made use of the endowed funds were indeed Sufis. In order to qualify for this status, one definitely needed to be free of all major sins, but the evaluation of minor sins was more complicated. (Al-Ghazzali observed that there were some minor sins which were as bad as major sins if they became habitual behavior; and there were other minor sins which even if committed only occasionally still nullified one’s claims to being a Sufi) Once these conditions were met, those who claimed to be Sufis also needed to be engaged in worship and service all day. Wearing Sufi garments and praying five times every day, al-Ghazzali declared, were simply not sufficient for one to be considered a Sufi.”[32]

Sufi institutions – especially those from subsequent times following their inauguration — though relatively quiet and serene places, were bustling with religious, intellectual, welfare and other social activities. Most of them were multifunctional and reasonably self-managed. Outlining formal rules and regulations for the collective life of Sufi institutions was preoccupying the minds of several Sufi masters from the moment independent Sufi institutions became a norm and their multipurpose functioning was getting into full swing. Sheikh Abu Sa’id b. Abi al-Khayr (d. 441 AH/ 1049 CE), the initiator of the so-called Persian Sufism, is believed to have been the pioneer of defining the first methodical regulations governing communal life in Khanqahs.[33] The permanent Sufi tenants inside a Sufi institution were routinely assigned to some specific maintenance responsibilities and errands. Some offices appear to have entailed a certain amount of manual labor, while others have merely nominal, or at most only occasional, duties. The offices in a typical Turkish tekke, by and large, were revolving around the following responsibilities: the Sheikh, the Deputy Sheikh, the Cook, the Baker, the Superintendant, the Steward, the Coffee-maker, the Bag-bearer, the Sacrificer, the attendant of the tekke, the Groom, and the attendant on the guests.[34]

Undoubtedly, the most important person in a Sufi institution was always the sheikh, whose personal qualities embodied all those of a scholar, a teacher and a spiritual guide. It was on account of this that Sufi epistles abound in spiritual advices to Sufi novices on how to honor, obey and behave towards the sheikh, in a Sufi institution or outside it. It is thus said that he who does not have a master, Satan is his leader.[35] To a Sufi novice, his sheikh is a fatherly figure. He looks at him with humility. Should the master choose him for any service, he should consider it to be a great favor.[36] A Sufi institution in which a Sufi novice resides and puts into operation his sheikh’s instructions and guidance is akin to his home, in that it is right there that the most extraordinary affairs, set to shape his life forever, unfold. According to Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, while in a Sufi establishment, a Sufi novice, or an aspirant, is to cut all ties and preoccupations of this world. He is then to submit to his Sufi master. He is not to oppose his master in anything that the latter prescribes to him. “For opposition to one’s master during one’s novitiate is a grave deficiency, because one’s initial state is the best indicator of what will happen to him during the rest of his life.”[37] When a pact between a Sufi novice and a master, based on trust and respect especially on the side of the novice, is established, the master instructs the novice in a method of remembrance (dhikr) as he sees fit and commands him to mention a certain name of God with his own tongue. He then orders that the heart of the aspirant recollect God alongside the tongue. The aspirant is then instructed to always maintain ritual purity, not to sleep unless overwhelmed by sleep, to reduce the amount of his food bit by bit until he has grown accustomed to it. In the end, the master “orders the aspirant to seek solitude and retreat and, while in this state, spare no effort in banishing mundane thoughts and distracting promptings from his heart.”[38] Laughing, disputing and getting angry are to be shunned. After the aspirant has adopted a constant remembering of God (dhikr) and has gone into a retreat, he may find there things that he has not witnessed before. He must never preoccupy himself with any of such things, nor find repose in them, nor anticipate their arrival.[39] Here, too, the constant guidance and protection of the Sufi master is vital, especially if the aspirant proves to be indiscreet and vulnerable.

Truly, it is obvious that a genuine Sufi institution was one tough educational and spiritual training battleground which was never meant for the weak, fainthearted, or for him who harbored any vested interests in joining the Sufi fraternity and its institutional hierarchy. Finally, Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri advised that if it is the aspirant’s duty to render services to the Sufis, inside a Sufi establishment or outside it, “he should bear it patently if they are harsh to him. Even if he believes that he spares no effort in their service, while they never praise him (for that), he should apologize to them for his shortcomings and assert that it is himself who is at fault, thereby soothing their hearts. (He should do this) even though he may know that he is nothing to be blamed for. Even though they may persist in being harsh toward him, he should exert himself in their service and in his solicitude (toward them).”[40]

Inside most Sufi institutions, not only was Sufism taught, but also Islamic jurisprudence, hadith and the sciences of the Qur’an. There were sometimes even sessions for teaching children. One such place was the Khanqah of a Mamluki amir or a commander Sayf al-Din al-Jibgha al-Muzaffari (d. 750 AH/ 1349 CE) in Cairo. In it, the deprived and underprivileged Muslims were accommodated, fed and taught Sufism at the hands of a Sufi sheikh. There was also a kuttab (basic school in Islamic education) where Muslim orphans were taught to read (the Qur’an) and write.[41] When another Mamluki amir or a commander Sayf al-Din Shaykhu al-‘Umari, built his Khanqah complex in 756 AH/ 1355 CE in Cairo, in whose proximity two public baths and some shops with public houses above them were also constructed, he arranged for Islamic jurisprudence teaching sessions to be conducted in accordance with all four mainstream schools of thought or madhhabs. The sciences of the Qur’an were also taught. Each session had a teacher and a group of students. The students, apart from attending their classes, had additionally to attend Sufi services and events held in the Khanqah. Both the teachers and students were well taken care of and provided for due to generous endowments accorded to the Khanqah. They all enjoyed numerous stipulated material benefits which were distributed to them either on a daily or a monthly basis. Eventually, many distinguished scholars graduated from this Sufi educational complex.[42]

Although Sufi institutions were places of worship, and they almost all featured large central halls which were used for the five daily ritual prayers, for the specifically Sufi forms of dhikr (glorification and remembrance of God), for meditation, and for any other form of celebration of the divine, nonetheless, no Friday or jumu’ah Prayers were performed in Sufi institutions. That was reserved for main mosques only. Praying the Friday Prayer in a khanqah would not have been tolerated and would have had some serious religious implications. This precept knew but a very few exceptions, such as the case of the Ribat of al-Afram in Cairo built approximately in 633 AH/ 1235 CE, which is reported to have had a minbar, or a pulpit, for delivering sermons during the Friday and two Muslim festivals (al-‘idayn) Prayers.[43] Thus, the Sufis would mostly perform their Friday Prayers either in neighboring mosques, as the Sufis of most Sufi institutions were doing, or in mosques that were established as parts of vast Sufi complexes, like in the case of a Mamluki Khanqah complex called Saryaqus which was built by Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad b. Qalawun in approximately 725 AH/ 1325 CE. This Khanqah had one hundred sanctums for one hundred Sufis. Adjacent to it, a mosque was erected wherein the Friday Prayer was conducted. The Sufi complex also had a public bath and a kitchen. Moreover, endowment funds set aside for the complex were unusually unstinted; as were the Sufis’ material benefits, assistances and stipends.[44] As a matter of fact, this Khanqah complex was firstly built in an uninhabited area called Saryaqus, for certain reasons relating to a vow once made by Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad b. Qalawun. However, in next to no time, myriad houses, shops, and khans, or caravanserais, started clustering around the Khanqah as the people thronged the area wishing to live in the vicinity of this in some ways virtually consecrated, so to speak, building. Thus, the unoccupied place in the end morphed into a large and thriving settlement.[45]

            On the same note, it was reported that the Sufis of the first and arguably most famous and influential khanqah in Egypt, the Khanqah al-Salahiyyah, used to perform the Friday Prayer in the Mosque of Sultan al-Hakim. Their marching in procession from the Khanqah to the Mosque was a sight to behold. The residents of Cairo would flock every Friday to view the awesome spectacle of the Sufis’ procession and their decorum and piety. Besides, the people believed that by doing so they would be blessed and would be granted virtue.[46]

[1] Boaz Shoshan, Popular Culture in Medieval Cairo, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 10.

[2] Abu al-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, p. 189.

[3] Ibid., p. 189.

[4] Ayla Algar, Food in the Life of the Tekke, in “The Dervish Lodge”, edited by Raymond Lifchez, p. 297.

[5] Abu al-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, p. 189.

[6] Hani Hamza, The Northern Cemetery of Cairo, (Cairo: The American University of Cairo Press, 2001), p. 43, 50.

[7] Abu al-‘Abbas al-Maqrizi, Al-Khitat al-Maqriziyyah, vol. 4 p. 288, 292.

[8] Sheila Blair, Sufi Saints and Shrine Architecture in the Early Fourteenth Century, in “Muqarnas VII: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture,” edited by Oleg Grabar, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990), p. 35-47.

[9] Muqarnas: Dictionary of Islamic Architecture, (accessed December 2, 2012).

[10] Hani Hamza, The Northern Cemetery of Cairo, p. 43.

[11] Ibid., p. 43.

[12] Ibid., p. 43.

[13] Richard N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia, (London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 177.

[14] Islamic Arts, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed December 2, 2012)

[15] Ancient Iran, Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, (accessed December 2, 2012)

Nabil Rastani, Master Builders, (accessed December 2, 2012)

[16] Richard N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia, p. 177.

[17] Abu al-Fida’ Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 7 p. 68.

[18] Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, The History, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), vol. 13 p. 23-31.

[19] Shihab al-Din Umar al-Suhrawardi, ‘Awarif al-Ma’arif, translated into English by H. Wilberforce Clarke, p. 37-39.

[20] Shihab al-Din Umar al-Suhrawardi, ‘Awarif al-Ma’arif, vol. 1 p. 279.

[21] Maylyuda Yusupova, Evolution of Architecture of the Sufi Complexes in Bukhara, in “Bukhara: The Myth and the Architecture,” edited by Attilio Petruccioli, p. 121-123.

[22] Lucy M.J. Garnett, The Dervishes of Turkey, (London: The Octagon Press, 1990), p. 78.

[23] Klaus Kreiser, The Dervish Living, in “The Dervish Lodge”, edited by Raymond Lifchez, p. 49.

[24] Ibid., p. 50.

[25] John Renard, Two Waqf Documents: Sultan Barquq and Khwaja Ahrar, (accessed December 1, 2012).

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, translated and selected by H. A. R. Gibb, p. 51

[28] Hani Hamza, The Northern Cemetery of Cairo, p. 50.

[29] Abd al-Salam Shafur, al-Bu’d al-Sufi fi Hayah Ibn Battuta min khilal Rihlatihi, (accessed December 2, 2012).

[30] Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Sufism, the Formative Period, p. 127.

[31] Ibid., p. 126.

[32] Ibid., p. 126-127.

[33] Wan Noor Zeiti Binti Wan Abdul Rashid, Khanqah, A Sufi Learning Institution in Mamluk Egypt (1250-1517 C.E.), p. 4-5. Ira M. Lapidus, Sufism and Ottoman Islamic Society, in “The Dervish Lodge”, edited by Raymond Lifchez, p. 25.

[34] Lucy M.J. Garnett, The Dervishes of Turkey, p. 84.

[35] Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, Al-Risalah al-Qushayriyyah, translated into English by Alexander Knysh, p. 405.

[36] Ibid., p. 410.

[37] Ibid., p. 406.

[38] Ibid., p. 407.

[39] Ibid., p. 409.

[40] Ibid., p. 414.

[41] Abu al-‘Abbas al-Maqrizi, Al-Khitat al-Maqriziyyah, vol. 4 p. 292.

[42] Ibid., vol. 4 p. 292.

[43] Ibid., vol. 4 p. 306.

[44] Ibid., vol. 4 p. 294.

[45] Ibid., vol. 4 p. 294.

[46] Ibid., vol. 4 p. 282.

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