Ghazni, the Queen of the East, presented a gala appearance, when Sultan Mahmood, after his memorable victory against the combined Hindu forces at Somnath in 1026 A.C. returned to his Capital. He was accompanied by a large retinue loaded with treasures of Hindustan, including the sandalwood gate of the famous temple at Somnath. The populace of the Ghaznavide Metropolis had come out to accord an unprecedented welcome to the great conqueror.
The Sultan held a grand Durbar in which some of the rare exhibits brought from Hindustan were exhibited to the excited populace of the Capital city. These included a Hindu Savant (philosopher) who was known for his deep knowledge and erudition. There seemed hardly anyone in the Ghaznavide Court who could challenge him. At last, a young man of 20 years, stepped forward to challenge the Hindu philosopher and in the presence of the Sultan, he “utterly discomfited him by an exhibition of miraculous powers”. The young man was Syed Ali Hujweri, better known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, who was destined to play an important role in the spiritual life of the sub-continent.
Syed Abul Hasan ibn Osman ibn Ali al-Jullabi al-Ghaznavi al-Hujweri surnamed as “Data Ganj Bakhsh,” was born in 1009 A.C., at Hujwer, a suburb of Ghazni. He was a Hasani Syed, whose family had migrated from Arabia during the Omayyad regime and settled down in Iran and later in Afghanistan.
He was given a thorough education in different branches of learning. His teachers included Abul Abbas bin Muhammad Shaqani, a learned pious Muslim. He received his spiritual education and training from Abul Fazal Muhammad bin Hasan Khatli who belonged to the Junaidia order of the Sufis.
Syed Abul Hasan, during his early life, undertook an extensive tour of the world of Islam in search of truth and spiritualism. He visited Iraq, Iran, Turkistan, Egypt, Syria, and Hejaz, offered fateha at the tombs of well-known pious Muslims, and met several living Sufi saints.
Data Saheb in his well-known work Kashful Mahjub has given some details of his spiritual experience of Kashf. Once, during his travels, he came across in a village of Khorasan a convent of Sufis. Data Saheb who was wearing a rough dark gown with a staff in his hand and a leather bottle hung across his shoulder did not present a respectable appearance to the Sufis. He was lodged on the ground floor while the Sufis made merry in a comfortable upper floor room, eating sweet-smelling food, giving only crumbs to their guest, and they also pelted him with skins of melons which they ate. This was to impress upon Data Saheb how lightly they thought of him. This strange behavior of the so-called ‘Sufis’ taught Data Saheb humility and forbearance and the meaning of kashf which are the essential attributes of Sufis.
Data Saheb, who was a disciple of Abul Fazal Muhammad bin Hasan Khatli belonged to Junaidia sect of Sufis. He was much benefited from the long line of saints of this sect who inspired and thus shaped his spiritual life.
Once, Data Saheb saw the Holy Prophet of Islam in a dream. He implored the Prophet to give him a word of advice. The Prophet said: “imprison your tongue and your senses”. Acting on this invaluable advice, Data Saheb reached the heights of spiritualism. According to him, the imprisonment of tongue means complete self-mortification. Imprisoning of senses meant shutting the door to all sorts of impurities and the subordination of physical senses to spiritual well being. This enabled him to distinguish between pure and impure, virtue and evil and climb the heights of spiritual glory.
Having accomplished the spiritual maturity through extensive travels in Islamic countries, meeting a number of Sufi saints and undergoing rigorous spiritual discipline, he was directed by his Pir (Spiritual Teacher), Hazrat al-Khat) to proceed to Lahore. According to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, as stated in Fuadul-Fawad, Data Saheb expressed surprise at the order as his spiritual brother Shaikh Zanjani was already there, but his Pir asked him to comply with the order without questioning. Data Saheb, therefore, reached Lahore probably in 1034 or 1035 A.C. and the first thing he came across at Lahore was the funeral of Shaikh Zanjani. He led the funeral prayer of his brother disciple and at that moment it dawned upon him why his Pir (Spiritual Teacher) had directed him to proceed to Lahore.
The exemplary spiritual life led by Data Saheb and his impressive discourses brought a large number of non-Muslims into the fold of Islam. These included Rai Raju, who was the Administrator of Sultan Maudud ibn Masood Ghaznavi at Lahore. He was given the nickname of Shaikh Hindi and his descendants continued to be the keeper of the Tomb of Data Saheb at Lahore till 1960: In January 1960 it was taken over by the Augaf Department, Government of the Punjab, Lahore.
Data Saheb did not like the un-Islamic practices which had been creeping into the fold of Sufism. He strictly adhered to the Shariat of Islam and purified Sufism from unhealthy un-Islamic trends. The conception that a beggar was a parasite on society was opposed by Data Saheb who held that paying of alms was obligatory on well-to-do persons and the beggar who received the alms, in fact, relieved a brother Muslim of his obligation and thus should be thanked rather than condemned.
Data Saheb who was also a poet has written a number of books including Kashful Mahjub, Minhajuddin, Kitab Al-Fana-wal-Baqa, and Bahr-ul-Kulub. But, of these, the most outstanding is Kashful Mahjub (The Revelation of Mystery) which is recognized as the first book on Sufism written in Persian. This has been translated into several languages, including English and Urdu. Professor Reynold A. Nicholson rendered the first English translation of the book which was published in 1911. A number of Urdu translation of this book were published, including one by Moulvi Ferozuddin, founder of Ferozsons Ltd., in 1893 and another by Shaikh Muhammad Iqbal.
A number of eminent Sufi saints, including Nizamuddin Aulia and Syed Jehangir Ashraf Samnani, speak highly of this book. The book, which is divided into 25 Chapters deals with the multifarious spiritual experiences of the learned author. In the first chapter, he defines knowledge and classifies it into human and Divine. The second chapter deals with poverty, the third with Sufism, the fourteenth discusses various orders of the Sufis and their doctrines and at the end of the book, he justifies Sama (audition). He says, “if audition produces, a lawful and healthy effect on the mind, it is permitted.”
Writing in the Preface of Kashful Mahjub, Prof. Nicholson says: “The object is to set forth a complete system of Sufism, not to put together a great number of sayings of different Shaykhs, but to discuss and expound the doctrines and practices of Sufis.
The author’s attitude throughout is that of a teacher, instructing a pupil … . His exposition of Sufi doctrine and practice is distinguished not only by wide learning and first-hand knowledge but also by strongly personal character impressed on everything he writes”.
The author of Punjab-men-Urdu, Mr. Mahmud Sherani has credited Data Saheb with the origination of Urdu language, by bringing about a synthesis between Persian and the local dialects.
Data Saheb, died at Lahore in 465 A.H. or 1072 A.C., as given by most of the historians and was buried there.
Data Saheb, an eminent Sufi saint, scholar, poet, and philosopher has contributed towards bridging the gulf between orthodox theology and Sufism. The celebrated Saint of Ajmer, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, known as Sultan-ul-Hind spent forty days of seclusion and meditation at the Shrine of Data Saheb and it was there that he got the spiritual illumination. The Saint of Ajmer, standing at Data Saheb’s grave expressed himself in verses.
“Thou art Ganj Bakhsh, the bestower of treasures in both the worlds;
“Thou art the manifestation of the glory of God;
“Thou art an accomplished guide for those who are perfect; and
“Thou showeth the way to those who stray.”