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Islam in Iran, The Mongol and Timurid Periods
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Encyclopedia Iranica
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The principal line of descent from Kobrā was, however, that originating with Rażi-al-Din ʿAli Lālā of Ghazna (d. 642/1244). Separated from him by one generation was Nur-al-Din Esfarāʾeni (d. 713/1317), active principally in Baghdad; like other shaikhs of the order, he sought with some success to influence members of the Il-khanid administration. Esfarāʾeni was in turn the preceptor of ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Semnāni (d. 776/1336), renowned for his critique of wadat al-wojud, as formulated by Ebn al-ʿArabi or by later members of his school; his elaboration of a sevenfold scheme of laāʾef (subtle organs of perception); and his completion of a tafsir (commentary) on which Najm-al-Din Rāzi had embarked, generally known as the Bar al-aqāʾeq wa’l-maʿāni. Semnāni also trained a number of disciples, most notably Maḥmud Mazdaqāni (d. 766/1364), the preceptor of ʿAli Hamadāni (d. 786/1385). The most prolific author in the entire history of the Kobrawiya and possibly its most energetic propagator, Hamadāni left his native city in 734/1334, when he was approximately twenty years of age, to embark on a series of travels that lasted some two decades. He then returned to Hamadan, to depart anew in 774/1372, this time for Balkh and then Badaḵšān. Some years later, he moved on yet again, to Kashmir, where he participated vigorously in the propagation of Islam and the diffusion of his branch of the Kobrawiya. Finding himself at odds with the ruler of Kashmir, he left in 786/1385, dying not long after at Kunar on the upper Indus (Rafiqi, pp. 36-41).

The next generation in this Kobrawi line witnessed a major schism that resulted in the emergence of the Nurbaḵšiya and, somewhat later, the Ḏahabiya, both of them effectively separate orders. Each embraced Shiʿism (although Shiʿism initially of an aberrant kind, in the case of the former), a development that has caused the Kobrawiya erroneously to be interpreted as proto-Shiʿite in its entirety. The eponym of the Nurbaḵšiya, Sayyed Moḥammad Nurbaḵš, was born at Qāʾen in Qohestān in 795/1392, and after studies in Herat, he joined the circle of Sayyed Esḥāq Ḵottalāni, Hamadāni’s principal successor. According to some accounts, it was Ḵottalāni himself who, on the basis of a dream, declared Nurbaḵš to be the Mahdi and incited him to rise up accordingly against all worldly powers. Other accounts assert that Nurbaḵš originated the claim independently and then had it endorsed by Ḵottalāni, who was too senile and decrepit to stand in his way (Ḥāfeẓ Ḥosayn Karbalāʾi/Ebn Karbalāʾi, II, pp. 249-50). Whatever be the case, Ḵottalāni and his messiah disciple ensconced themselves at a nearby castle in 826/1423, only to be extracted soon thereafter by the Timurid governor of the area; Ḵottalāni was put to death and Nurbaḵš arrested for transportation to Herat. There followed periods of imprisonment in Shiraz and Behbahān before Nurbaḵš was released and able to wander in southwest Persia and Iraq, propagating his claim to Mahdihood. The positive reception he was accorded by some among the Baḵtiāris caused him to be imprisoned anew, this time in the bottom of a pit where he was encouraged to reflect soberly on his extravagant pretensions. He duly renounced them, hesitantly but publicly, at the Masjed-e Jāmeʿ in Herat, and was released on the condition that he restrict himself to teaching the conventional religious sciences. It seems that he did in fact reduce his public claims to spiritual eminence to those customary for a Sufi shaikh, ultimately dying in the village of Solfān near Rayy in 869/1464 (Bashir, 2003, pp. 71-72). His concept of the Mahdi had, in any event, deviated considerably from that standard in Twelver Shiʿism, for he rejected completely the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, asserting that his body had decomposed and his functions and attributes were now manifest in him, Nurbaḵš (Bashir, 2003, pp. 102-8). None of Nurbaḵš’s descendants, active first in Herat and then in Rayy, attempted to sustain these theories, and they seem to have adopted normative Twelver Shiʿism.

The principal adversary of Nurbaḵš among the followers of Ḵottalāni had been ʿAbd-Allāh Barzešābādi (d. 872/1467), the native of a village near Mashad, who perpetuated the teachings of the Kobrawiya after the death of his master without significant doctrinal change. Most of his followers were also from the region of Mashad, as were his initiatic descendants for the next three generations. Separated from Barzešābādi by four links in the chain was Ḥāji Moḥammad of Ḵabušān (the present-day Qučān), indubitably a Sunnite, who attracted followers from Chorasmia and Transoxania. One of his pupils was, however, Ḡolām-ʿAli Nišāpuri (d. 938/1531), to whom a switch to Shiʿism and thereby the origination of the Ḏahabiya as a distinct order can be attributed. The frequently encountered designation of the sayyeds of Lāla in Azerbaijan, another line of descent from Barzešābādi, as Ḏahabi is incorrect; they never made the switch to Shiʿism (Ḥāfeẓ Ḥosayn Karbalāʾi/Ebn Karbalāʾi, II, pp. 109-72). It was, in any event, only these three branches or offshoots of Kobrawi tradition that survived in Persia into the early Safavid period: the Nurbaḵšiya, the Ḏahabiya, and the sayyeds of Lāla. The others were confined to Central Asia, where they were destined to be eclipsed by the Naqšbandiya.

The Naqšbandi order first arose as the crystallization of the Ḵᵛājagān, a regional Sufi lineage that went back to Ḵᵛaja Yusof Hamadāni (d. near Marv in 535/1140). The eponym, Bahāʾ-al-Din Naqšband (q.v.), was born, in 718/1318, in a hamlet near Bukhara called Qaṣr-e Hendovān (later renamed out of deference to him as Qaṣr-e ʿĀrefān); his epithet, Naqšband, although variously interpreted, is commonly connected to the concept of fixing in the heart the impress (naqš) of the divine name by means of silent invocation (ekr-e afi). Bahāʾ al-Din’s choice of this method of ekr seems in fact to have determined the perception that he was the progenitor of a new order, not simply another link in the initiatic chain. Other characteristics of his practice were reminiscent of the Malāmatiya: the repudiation of music (samāʿ) and retreat (alwa) as means of devotion; the deprecation of charismatic feats (karāmāt); and the shunning of a distinctive form of dress for his followers (Algar, 1998, pp. 27-36). Although he had some association with two masters of the Yasavi order, the leaders of which were known as the mašaye-e tork (the Turkish shaikhs), Bahāʾ-al-Din Naqšband’s immediate followers belonged almost exclusively to the Persian/Tajiki-speaking population of Bukhara and its environs. Even after the Naqšbandiya had expanded over vast areas of Muslim Asia, most of the authoritative literature of the order continued to be produced in Persian, even though its presence in Persia was destined to be marginal. This paradox is to be explained, on the one hand, by the status of Persian as the dominant lingua franca for purposes of literary composition in both Central and South Asia; and, on the other hand, by the firmly Sunnite orientation of the order, resting in part on an initiatic chain going back to Abu Bakr, and its consequent exclusion from Safavid Persia.

The succession to Bahāʾ-al-Din was first vested in Ḵᵛāja Moḥammad Pārsā (d. 822/1420), a leading scholar of Bukhara and the first to demonstrate the appeal held by the order exerted on the ulema by virtue of its sobriety and insistence on adherence to the šariʿa. None of Pārsā’s five disciples, however, left behind any successors, although one of them, his son Abu Naṣr (d. 865/1460), counts as the founder of a family tradition of scholarship in Balkh.

Of greater importance for the long-term dissemination of the order was ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭṭār (d. 802/1400), of whom Bahāʾ-al-Din once remarked that he had lightened his burden by assuming the training of some of his disciples. ʿAṭṭār had once traveled at his master’s behest to Chorasmia, a sure indication that interest in Bahāʾ-al-Din’s teachings had reached that city, and soon after his death he retired to C&aḡāniān, a region to the southeast of Bukhara. Noteworthy among his ten disciples were Sayyed Šarif Jorjāni (d. 816/1413), the celebrated theologian; his own son, Ḥasan ʿAṭṭār (d. 826/1423); and Neẓām-al-Din Ḵāmuš (d. ca. 853/1459 in Tashkent), whose sobriquet derived from his silent absorption in a constant state of rapture (jaba).

Ḵāmuš was the preceptor of Saʿd-al-Din Kāšḡari (d. 860/1456), in whose person the Naqšbandiya reached Herat, thereby transcending the limits of its Central Asian homeland for the first time. He wrote a number of brief treatises on the Naqšbandi path but is chiefly remembered for numbering among his disciples the great poet and polymath, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi. In some of his verse, Jāmi skillfully blended the principal themes of Naqšbandi teaching with the concepts of Ebn al-ʿArabi; he devoted to those themes a brief treatise entitled Resāla-ye sarešta-ye ariq-e ᵛājagān; and he was buried in symbolic closeness next to the tomb of Kāšḡari in the Ḵiābān district of Herat. He manifested little enthusiasm for the task of eršād (directorship), and when Kāšḡari died in 860/1456, he encouraged the Naqšbandis of Herat to gather around Moḥammad Šams-al-Din Ruji (d. 904/1499). According to contemporary sources, Jāmi’s own disciples were essentially two in number: his son, Ziāʾ-al-Din Yusof and ʿAbd-al-Ḡaffār Lāri. The mention of the Jāmiya as a branch of the Naqšbandiya found in later sources is of dubious accuracy; it may be a question of scholarly rather than initiatic transmission and even then may be titular (Zabidi).

One member of Jāmi’s circle in Herat was a certain Ṣonʿ-Allāh Kuzakonāni, who hailed from a village in the Orunāq district twelve farsasdistant from Tabriz. He was drawn there in large part by the fame of Jāmi, who appointed him as his personal emām but referred him for his spiritual training to Mawlānā ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Ābezi Maktabdār, another disciple of Kāšḡari. Returning to Tabriz early in the reign of Yaʿqub Mirzā Aq Qoyunlu (883-96/1478-90), Kuzakonāni set about propagating the Naqš-bandi path with considerable success, but he found it advisable to flee the city and take refuge in Bitlis when Shah Esmāʿil took Tabriz in 907/1501. Nostalgia impelled him to return after a number of years, and he lived on unmolested until 929/1523 (Algar, 2003, p. 14).
The third noteworthy successor of Bahāʾ-al-Din was Mawlānā Yaʿqub Čarḵi. Born near Ghazna, he studied in Herat and Cairo before coming to Bukhara in 782/1380, where, towards the end of his stay, he sought initiation from Bahāʾ-al-Din. Initially hesitant, he ultimately accepted him into his circle, with the proviso that he submit to ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭṭār for his spiritual training. After the death of Bahāʾ-al-Din in 791/1389, Čarḵi accordingly joined ʿAṭṭār in Čāḡāniān, remaining with him until his death, whereupon he relocated to the region of Ḥeṣār-e Šādmān in what is now Tajikistan, dying there in 851/1447; his shrine, refurbished after the fall of communism, is still a place of pilgrimage. He wrote a number of works on Sufism, some pertaining directly to the Naqšbandi path, but his fame is due principally to having been the moršed (teacher and guide) of Ḵᵛāja ʿObayd-Allāh Aḥrār (Ṣafi, pp. 66-69).

Aḥrār was by far the most important figure to emerge in the Naqšbandi selsela after the eponym himself. The biographical details available for him are far more plentiful indeed than those for Bahāʾ-al-Din. It was under Aḥrār’s auspices that the order became fully established as a major focus of power, worldly as well as spiritual; acquired or reinforced some of its main doctrinal emphases; came to dominate Central Asia, although not yet to eclipse all other orders active there; and put forth branches to the east, the west, and the south that, unlike the lines descended from Kāšḡari, were destined to survive for many centuries. Born in the village of Bāḡestān near Tashkent in 806/1404, he studied briefly in Samarqand before moving to Herat, where his interest in Sufism was awakened. His request for a Naqšbandi association was rebuffed by Ḵᵛāja Ḥasan ʿAṭṭār; perceiving little sign of spiritual talent in him, ʿAṭṭār advised him to take up the martial arts. Instead, Aḥrār joined Čarḵi at his retreat in Čaḡāniān, who proved more receptive, and he stayed with him until 835/1431, when he returned to Tashkent and soon established himself as the chief Sufi shaikh of the city (Algar, 1990, p. 13). His dominance was destined to extend far beyond Tashkent. In 855/1451, he recruited Uzbek auxiliaries under the command of Abu’l-Ḵayr Khan to aid the Timurid prince Abu Saʿid in his struggle with a rival for the rule of Samarqand. His power showed itself again in several other incidents: the organization of the defense of Samarqand in 858/1454; his success in 865/1460 in persuading Abu Saʿid to abolish the tax known as the tamḡā in Bukhara and Samarqand and to promise a general repeal of all non-šarʿi imposts throughout the realm; and his mediation between warring princes on three separate occasions (Algar, 1990, p. 13). Aḥrār clearly regarded all this political involvement as a matter of religious duty. Early in life, he had dreamed of the Prophet standing at the foot of a hill near Tashkent and ordering him to carry him to the top of the hill, a burden he interpreted as the propagation of the šariʿa (Algar, 1990, p. 14). Related to his political involvement was his accumulation of landed property as awqāf (endowments) for the upkeep of Naqšbandi ḵānaqāhs. These aspects of his activity have attracted more scholarly attention than his admittedly sparse writings on Sufism; however, the several biographies of him written by contemporaries or near-contemporaries are replete with dicta on purely spiritual matters.

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