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Islam in Iran, The Mongol and Timurid Periods
Encyclopedia Iranica

By the time Aḥrār died in 895/1490, he had trained numerous disciples, several of whom were important in the further transmission of the order in Central Asia. One line proceeded from Aḥrār through Mawlānā Moḥammad Qāżi to Ḵᵛājagi Aḥmad Kāsāni (d. at Dahbid near Samarqand in 949/1542), better known by the honorific Maḵdum-e Aʿẓam; he counts as the eponym of the Dahbidiya suborder. He deviated from established Naqšbandi practice by permitting vocal ekr and samāʿ and introducing into the order the principle of hereditary succession. One of his sons, Ḵᵛāja Esḥāq Dahbidi, became broadly influential in eastern Turkistan, establishing there the branch of the Dahbidiya known as the Black Mountain (Qarāṭāḡliq) Ḵᵛājas. A half-century later, a grandson of Maḵdum-e Aʿẓam, Moḥammad Amin, died in his attempt to dispute their supremacy in the region, but Moḥammad Amin’s son, Ḵᵛāja Āfāq, enjoyed greater success; he not only founded a fully fledged competing lineage, that of the White Mountain (Āqṭāḡliq) Ḵᵛājas, but also wielded political power, albeit initially as a vassal of the Lamaist rulers of Dzungaria. Three associates of Aḥrār, Ḵᵛāja Moḥammad Amin Bolḡāri, Bābā Neʿmat-Allāh Naḵja-vāni, and ʿAbd al-Wahhāb Hamadāni, were present in Tabriz during the last decades of the pre-Safavid era, but do not seem to have expended any effort for propagating the Naqšbandi path there. The only attempt at implanting an Aḥrāri line in Persia came in Qazvin, in the second decade of the 10th/16th century; it came to an end in two generations (Algar, 2003, pp. 21-23).

More lastingly influential in the religious life of Persia than any branch of the Naqšbandiya was another Sufi order, the Neʿmat-Allāhi. Its eponym, Shah Neʿmat-Allāh Nur al-Din b. ʿAbd-Allāh Wali, was born in Aleppo, in either 730/1329-30 or 731/1330-31, to a father claiming descent from Esmāʿil b. Jaʿfar; this circumstance may help to account for the association in later centuries between several claimants to the Ismaʿili Imamate and the Neʿmat-Allāhi order. He seems to have grown up in a Persian-speaking environment, for his writings in Persian are stylistically superior to those in Arabic, and he is known to have studied in his early youth in Shiraz with celebrated theologians such as ʿAżod-al-Din Iji. At the age of twenty-four, Shah Neʿmat-Allāh was initiated into Sufism by ʿAbd-Allāh Yāfeʿi (d. 768/1194), a shaikh resident in Mecca, who had both Sohravardi and Šāḏeli lineages. He remained with him until his death, whereupon he embarked on a long series of travels that took him to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Transoxania (Pourjavady and Wilson, 1978, pp. 13-36). It seems to be in the last of these that he first presented himself as a moršed and the progenitor of a new order, the Neʿmat-Allāhiya, which, in view of Yāfeʿi’s principal affiliation, may be regarded as an offshoot of the Sohravardiya. Conditions were in a sense propitious, for the Turkic nomads of the area, awaiting Islamization, offered a vast pool of potential recruits, on which other Sufi shaikhs were already drawing. Precisely the extent of his success in establishing a series of ānaqāhs and in recruiting a following of nomads in the area of Šahr-e Sabz roused the suspicion of Timur and led to Shah Neʿmat-Allāh’s expulsion from Transoxania. Some accounts attribute this development to Amir Kolāl, but this is uncertain (Aubin, 1983, pp. 12-17). From Transoxania Shah Neʿmat-Allāh went first to Ṭus and then to Herat, arriving there in 774/1372. He married, engaged in agriculture—a pursuit he recommended to his followers as “the true alchemy—”and continued to train disciples. About a year later, he moved to Kerman, possibly because of continuing friction with the Timurids, and settled at first in Kuhbanān outside the city. Later he moved to the city itself and then to its suburb of Māhān. This was the most fruitful period of his life. Apart from his followers in the region of Kerman, he had numerous devotees, including the poet Shah Dāʿi in Shiraz, which he visited in 816/1413. It was also during the years in Māhān that he wrote numerous brief treatises dealing principally with themes of ʿEbn al-ʿArabi’s teaching, and a divān in which later generations discerned apocalyptic predictions.

Shah Neʿmat-Allāh died in 834/1430 and was buried at Māhān. He was succeeded by his only son, Shah Ḵalil, then fifty-nine years of age, who before long was summoned by Šāhroḵ the Timurid to his court at Herat. Outwardly a sign of veneration, this summons may have been a sign of distrust, for Šāhroḵ refused to exempt the family lands from taxation. Some time between 836/1432 and 840/1436, Shah Ḵalil decided to leave Persia for the kingdom of Aḥmad Shah Bahmani in the Deccan. This ruler had already been in communication with Shah Neʿmat-Allāh himself and received from him a long-distance initiation into the order (Pourjavdy and Wilson, 1978, pp. 27-28); the ground was therefore well prepared. The leadership of the order, now transferred to the Deccan, remained hereditary for eight generations before passing out of the family shortly before the reintroduction of the Ne ʿmat-Allāhiya to Persia in the 18th century.

The move to the Deccan went together with—or possibly was followed by—a change in the sectarian loyalties of the Neʿmatallāhiya from Sunnism to Shiʿism. There can be no doubt that Shah Neʿmat-Allāh had been a Sunnite. His master Yāfeʿi was a Shafeʿite, and he himself frequently cited Hadiths narrated by Abu Horayra, a traditionist unanimously excoriated by Shiʿites as unreliable or worse. It is true that, like some Kobrawi authors mentioned above, he accorded particular eminence to the Twelve Imams of the Household of the Prophet as the foremost possessors of welāya (religious authority), but this makes of him one more exponent of what has been felicitously called the “Twelver Sunnism” (Maḥjub, p. 414) that was widespread at the time, not a proto-Shiʿite. The Neʿmat-Allāhi switch to Shiʿism took place outside of Persia, reflecting the acquisition in the Deccan of a new constituency, and for that reason alone it cannot be cited as evidence of a general, countrywide trend in the same direction. It is nonetheless true that the change in sectarian affiliation made it possible for descendants of Shah Neʿmat-Allāh who had remained in Persia to assume various administrative posts under the Safavids after the order itself had migrated to the Deccan. It seems likely that a local cult of devotion to Shah Neʿmatallāh persisted at his shrine in Māhān, helping to make the Kerman region particularly receptive to the Neʿmat-Allāhiya when it was reintroduced to Persia.

Last among the orders to emerge before the transformations wrought in Persia by the Safavids was the Ḵalwatiya, which was closely related to them in terms of spiritual ancestry, as well as areas of origin and initial diffusion—Gilan, Azerbaijan, the southern Caucasus, and Anatolia. The eponym of the Ḵalwatiya, Serāj-al-Din ʿOmar Ḵalwati, was born and grew up at Lāhijān in Gilan before traveling to Chorasmia to join his uncle, Aḵi Karim-al-Din Moḥammad (d. 780/1378), who was separated by one link in the initiatic chain from Ebrāhim Zāhed Gilāni, the preceptor of Shaikh Ṣafi-al-Din. Insofar as Zāhed Gilāni was heir to a Sohravardi lineage, the Ḵalwatiya may count, like the Kobrawiya, as yet another derivative of the Sohravardiya. After the death of his uncle, ʿOmar Ḵalwati went first to Egypt for about seven years, While there, he is said to have received an invitation from the ruler of Herat, which, according to some accounts, he rebuffed. The presence of at least two Heratis, Sayf-al-Din and Ẓahir-al-Din, among his principal disciples makes it likely, however, that he did indeed spend some time in their city, under whatever auspices. Ultimately he settled in Tabriz, where he died in 800/1397. Despite a predilection for repeated retreats of forty days each in the hollowed out trunk of a tree—hence his designation and that of the order, Ḵalwati—ʿOmar Ḵalwati acquired numerous disciples, and his order spread rapidly in both Anatolia and Azerbaijan (Kissling, pp. 233-89).

A turning point seems to have come with Yaḥyā Širvāni, separated from ʿOmar Ḵalwati by three links in the chain of transmission; in the literature of the order as it developed in Turkey, he is designated as pir-e ṯāni (the second elder), that is, he who consolidated the practices of the order and assured its further continuation. Born in Šamāḵi, he died in Baku in 868/1463. His disciples were active primarily in Anatolia, but one of them, Dede ʿOmar Rawšani, a native of Aydın (Turkish for “light;” hence his Persian sobriquet of Rawšani) near the Aegean, spent the most fruitful part of his career in Tabriz. Yaḥyā Šir-vāni had first deputed him to spread the order at various locations in Anatolia, but, anxious not to be separated from him by inordinate distance, Rawšani chose instead to move back and forth among Qarābāḡ, Ganja, and Baku. On his master’s death, he took his place at the head of the Ḵalwati line in Baku, and it was from there that he dispatched his own leading disciple, Ebrāhim Golšani, to Tabriz soon after the Qarā Qoyunlu dynasty had made it their capital in 872/1467. He moved to Tabriz himself roughly a year later and took up residence in a ḵānaqāh established for him by Saljuq Ḵātun, the wife of the ruler. The royal respect this betokened continued throughout the reigns of Sultān Yaʿqub (883-896/1478-1490). His prominence and position of favor at the Aq Qoyunlu court were inherited upon his death in 892/1487 by Ebrāhim Golšani, from whose biography a rooted aversion to Shiʿism can be discerned. It is not therefore surprising that he quit Tabriz soon after the Safavid conquest in 907/1502, bringing to an end the Ḵalwati presence in Persia (Gülşenî, p. 248).

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