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date: 22 June 2017

The Medieval Khwājagān and the Early Naqshbandīyya

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

The Khwājagān (“masters”) were Sufis in the medieval Persianate regions of Transoxiana and Khurasan who traced their silsila, or spiritual lineage, back to the caliph Abu Bakr through a succession of Sufi shaykhs or masters. The Naqshbandīyya were a specific group of Sufis from this broad Khwājagānī movement who followed the teachings of their shaykh, Khwāja Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband (1318–1389). Given the eventual primacy of the Naqshbandīyya among the Khwājagān by the 15th century, Naqshbandī hagiographers have combined the histories of both into a single narrative.

Naqshbandī hagiographers credit Khwāja Yūsuf Hamadānī (1062–1140) as the first of the Sufis from their silsila to adopt the title of Khwāja, or master. As a movement stemming from the various successors of Khwāja Hamadānī, the medieval Khwājagān existed as a broad tradition generally eschewing ostentatious modes of worship and rejecting the traditional Sufi aversion to social, political, and economic activities. While Khwāja Hamadānī and his immediate successors tolerated and practiced various devotional rituals, the Khwājagān displayed an increased tendency to favor silent forms of dhikr, or ritual recitation, over more vocal ones throughout the 13th and 14th centuries. This was reflected in the career of Khwāja ʿAbd al-Khāliq Ghijdūvānī (d. 617/1220), who laid down a set of eight rules focused on silent and inward devotional practices for his disciples. A century later, Khwāja Naqshband’s addition of three rules to Khwāja Ghijdūvānī’s eight marked the rise of a distinctly Naqshbandī strain within the Khwājagān defined by an increased emphasis on silent dhikr practices. This adherence to a particular set of rituals distinguished the Naqshbandīyya from other groups within the Khwājagān until the mid-15th century, when the influential Naqshbandī leader KhwājaʿUbayd Allāh Aḥrār (1404–1490) consolidated various Naqshbandī and Khwājagān groups under his leadership.