THE SAINT OF SIRHIND Biography

The Durbar Hall of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir was packed to its capacity. The Emperor was seated on his golden throne studded with precious stones, placed on a raised marble platform, attended by his Ministers and Courtiers flanking the passage leading to the Throne. All eyes were directed impatiently towards the entrance. The Emperor had summoned to his presence a person known as a dangerous religious reformer. At the appointed hour a slim and lanky person in the attire of a dervish advanced in measured steps towards the Throne. All eyes turned towards him till he reached the Throne and did not make the customary obeisance of kissing the floor before the Emperor, whereupon the Vizier standing beside the Emperor cried out :

“Make obeisance and kiss the floor. You are in the august presence of Emperor Jahangir.”

“No”, replied the visitor firmly. “This head which bows before Almighty God can never bow before any mortal.”

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A wave of resentment swept the audience and after a few cross questionings, the Emperor ordered the visitor who was no other than the Saint of Sirhind himself to be thrown into the Gawalior prison.

Sheikh Ahmad Farooqi of Sirhind, better known as Mujaddid Alif-i-Sani, also styled as Imam Rabbani, lived at a time when Islam faced the greatest threat to its existence in India due to the irreligious practices of the Mughal Emperor Akbar who, with his grotesque religious innovations, including the introduction of “Deen-i-Elahi”, had considerably weakened Islam, thus striking at its very foundation. In such an atmosphere was born Sheikh Ahmad who boldly, faced the mighty Emperor and his misguided associates, and restored Islam to its pristine glory. His courageous stand for the purification of Islam by ruthless and fearless campaigning against the irreligious practices introduced by Akbar, set an example to the future generations of Muslims to fight against any encroachment on their great religion.

Sheikh Ahmad Farooqi, Reformer of the Second Millenium of the Hejira Era and universally acclaimed as the Saint of Sirhind, was born in 1564 at Sirhind, a town in East Punjab. His family originally belonged to Madina and his great ancestor was Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umar Farooq. From Madina, his ancestors migrated to Kabul and thence to Samana in the Patiala State. His father Sheikh Abdul Ahad was reputed for his high learning and religious background. Sheikh Ahmad was his fourth son. After receiving his early education from his father, he proceeded to Lahore and Sialkot for higher education. At Sialkot, he obtained religious education from such reputed scholars as Maulana Kamaluddin Kashmiri and Maulana Yaqub Kashmiri. Another well-known scholar of the time, Qazi Bahlol Badakhshani taught him jurisprudence. Sirat and history.

Having been well versed in worldly education at an early age of 17, Sheikh Ahmad diverted his attention towards spiritual education. He was initiated into the Qadiriya System by his father and later by Shah Sikandar, On his father’s death in 1007 A.H. he became the disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billah, a great mystic saint of Delhi, who appointed him his lieutenant in Sirhind.

In one of his letters, the Saint writes about Sheikh Ahmad: “In Sirhind is a person Sheikh Ahmad by name whose knowledge is extensive and whose will power is immense. For a few days, he was with me. I chanced to observe very strange things from the way he behaved and passed his days. I hope he would prove such a shining light as would illumine the entire world. He is sure to attain perfection in mysticism and spiritualism which further leads me to confirm what I have said above”.

Sheikh Ahmad, too, had great regard for his illustrious teacher. In one of his works, the Mabda wa Ma’ad, he writes: “It is my conviction that the company like that of Khwaja Baqi Billah and training and guidance like the one imparted to us during the time of the Holy Prophet, has not been possible. This is a fit occasion of thanksgiving. Although it has not been my good fortune to have been present in the days of the Prophet, yet I have not been deprived of the company of Khwaja Baqi Billah”.

Later, Sheikh Ahmad went to Akbarabad (Agra), the seat of the Mughal Empire, where he came into close contact with Faizi and Abul Fazal, the two intellectual luminaries of the Imperial Court, who were highly impressed by his deep knowledge. It is said that once Faizi got stuck up and could not find suitable words for certain Quranic verses in connection with his Swati-al-Nham, the dotless commentary of the Holy Quran. His further progress in this connection had come to a standstill when perchance the Sheikh happened to arrive there and solved the problem without much difficulty. Abul Fazal in his momentous work, Aeen-e-Akbari, considers Sheikh Ahmad as one of the intellectual giants of the age. Once Abul Fazal, in his discussion with the Sheikh, used disrespectful language about Imam Ghazali. The Sheikh lost his temper and openly rebuked the powerful Prime Minister for using objectionable remarks against such a well-known Savant and until Abul Fazal apologised for his conduct, the Sheikh did not visit him.

The frequent contacts of the Sheikh with the two talented brothers enabled him to acquire first-hand knowledge of the scepticism and irreligiosity pervading the Mughal Court and the two brothers, too, realised the high intellect and indomitable courage of the Sheikh. During his stay at Agra, he wrote several treatises in Arabic and Persian including, Mabda wa Ma’ad and Radd-i-Rawafiz.

He married the daughter of Sheikh Sultan, a nobleman of Thanesar. He built a Stately Mosque out of the Dowry brought by his wife. He had seven sons from his wife.

He died on December 10, 1624, and was buried in the small town of Sirhind.

During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Islam in India was at its lowest ebb and its tenets were openly violated. People were encouraged to adopt anti-Islamic ways. The Emperor himself, surrounded by irreligious courtiers, was more inclined towards Hinduism and had promulgated Deen-e-Elahi as the state religion which was the negation of some of the basic principles of Islam. The celebrated historian Badayuni in his well-known historical work MuntakhabatTwarikh throws ample light on the un-Islamic activities of Akbar and some of his courtiers. He says: “Public prayers and the Azan which was called five times a day for prayer in the state hall, were stopped. Names like Ahmad, Muhammad and Mustafa, etc. were offensive to His Majesty, who thereby wished to please the infidels outside and the princesses (Hindu women) inside the harem till after some time those Courtiers who bore such names changed them; and names like Yar Muhammad, Muhammad Khan were altered to Rahmat”. (MuntakhabatTwarikh by Abdul Qadir Badayuni, Vol. II, page 314). Badayuni further states: “During the Nauroz festivities most of the Ulema, pious men and Qazis were forced to participate in carousals . . . . A separate quarter was built for this legalised adultery in a land of Islam and was named Shaitanpura. He appointed a Keeper, a Deputy and a Secretary for the quarter so that anyone wishing to associate with those wenches or take them home or hire, may do so with the full knowledge of the government officials …….. The killing of animals on the first day of the week was strictly prohibited because this day was sacred to the Sun (Vol. II, page 322). A second-order was issued by the Emperor that the Sun should be worshipped four times a day. A thousand names of the Sun were diligently collected and Akbar devoutly read them over standing with his face towards the Sun ….. The accursed Birbal tried to persuade the Emperor that since the Sun gives light to all and ripens grains and fruits as well as supports human life, therefore this heavenly body should be the object of worship and veneration, that face should be turned towards the rising and not towards the setting Sun, i.e. the West as the Muslims do. He was further told to venerate fire, stones and trees and all other objects of nature even down to the cows and their dung, so sacred to the Hindus …. He smeared his forehead with the Hindu marks of tilak at noon and at midnight”.

It would be seen that Akbar’s policies and way of life were extremely detrimental to the healthy growth of a society based on Islamic principles. Islam met its greatest threat from within during his reign. Its basic principles were not only defied but ridiculed. All opposition was suppressed either by money or by force. This was the proper occasion for the appearance of a reformer who could have the courage to face the onslaughts of a degenerated Imperial system aimed at wiping out all traces of Islamic culture and religion from India. The great reformer who appeared on the scene was Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi. He boldly faced Akbar. With his indomitable will and incessant efforts, he once more firmly implanted Islam on the Indian soil and established a society based on equality, fraternity and justice preached by Islam. It was primarily due to the great moral and religious influence which Sheikh Ahmad wielded during his lifetime and thereafter, that the Mughal Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb and the ruling class as a whole came closer and closer to Islam.

The early period of the reign of Jahangir was troublesome for the Sheikh. His increasing popularity in the army and high personages alarmed the Emperor, who was systematically prejudiced against the Sheikh by interested persons. A showdown looked imminent. The Emperor was advised to summon the Sheikh and question him about his views, which, according to the informers, were slowly sowing the germs of revolution and indiscipline in the Imperial army. Accordingly, the Sheikh was summoned by Jahangir who, not being satisfied with the explanation offered by the Sheikh, cast him into Gwalior prison. Earlier, Shah Jahan, a sincere disciple of the Sheikh, had advised him through his associates to perform the customary obeisance before the Emperor, but the dauntless Sheikh flatly refused to do so, saying that such a bow was permitted for Almighty only.

Sheikh Ahmad remained in the Gwalior prison for a year. His exemplary character and teachings revolutionised the life of the criminals who came into contact with him in jail and became pious Muslims. Sir. Thomas Arnold says: “In the reign of Emperor Jahangir (1605–1628), Sheikh Ahmad Mujaddid who was kept in prison converted to Islam several hundred idolators who were his companions in the same prison” (Preaching of Islam).

This solitary confinement of the Sheikh was, according to his own confessions in a letter to one Mir Muhammad Noman, a blessing in disguise which gave him time for meditation and cultivation of other spiritual as well as moral virtues. The haughty Mughal Emperor, at last, realized his mistake, set the Sheikh free and bestowed all honours on him. Writing in his Memoirs on the 15th anniversary of his accession, Jahangir says: “1 called to my presence Sheikh Ahmad who had spent some time in the prison and set him free. I gave him a Khilaat (Robe) and one thousand rupees, with the option to stay at the Court or return to his home. He was fair enough to admit that the chastisement had done him good”.

Jahangir abolished the Deen-i-Elahi of Akbar and restored the practice of Shariat Law throughout his realm. Henceforward, Sheikh Ahmad was the adviser of the State in all religious matters and was free to preach his Islamic principles among all classes of people including the Imperial forces. His moral teachings had greatly influenced the army and the nobles, who now came closer to the true spirit of Islam.

Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor, had himself requested the Sheikh to remain with the Imperial army. The Sheikh complied and preached true Islam among the troops which greatly contributed to enhancing the morale of armed forces as well as prepare them for their duties towards Islam and the State.

Sheikh Ahmad, the Saint of Sirhind, was an outstanding religious reformer, who amended and rectified some of the wrong doctrines as well as practices introduced among Muslims by Sufis. His father had succeeded Abdul Quddus Gangohi as the Chief of the Chishtiya Sect, an office which later on devolved on Sheikh Ahmad. But the austere Saint did not participate in Sama practised by this sect. He was all-in-all for the strict enforcement of Islamic Shariat. As regards mysticism, he strongly repudiated, Wahdat-ul-Wajud (the unity of existence), the doctrine of mystical unity advanced by Ibn-al-Arabi, the celebrated mystic of Spain.

This doctrine propounded by Ibn al-Arabi was extremely popular among mystics, but it failed to win the approval of orthodox religious teachers as it conflicted with the Shariat of Islam. Being an orthodox Muslim, Sheikh Ahmad was against the doctrine of “Wahdat-ul-Wajud” and was in search of a preceptor who could guide him in the matter. This he got in the person of Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah, a Naqshbandi Saint of Delhi. Sheikh Ahmad acquired the highest spiritual teaching and experience from Hazrat Baqi Billah, Sheikh Ahmad discarded the doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wajud and instead adopted the doctrine of Wahdat us Shuhud and developed it with exceptional thoroughness and daring. “According to Sheikh Ahmad”, says Dr Iqbal, “the Alam-i-Amr or the world of directive energy, must be passed through before one reaches that unique experience which symbolises the purely objective”.

Imam Rabbani Hazrat Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, strove throughout his life to restore Islamic Shariat in all its purity among the Indian Muslims who were led astray in the anti-Islamic regime of Akbar and Jahangir. His new doctrine stirred the Muslim masses and narrowed down the gulf between the Ulema and the Sufis (mystics). He boldly practised what he preached and lived up to his convictions when he refused to kiss the ground before the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Sheikh Ahmad was a zealous missionary and a revolutionary religious reformer. He wrote epistles to Muslim nobles exhorting them to undo the evil effects of anti-Islamic activities carried on during the regime of Akbar. He campaigned for the full-blooded enforcement of Shariat Laws through epistles to nobles, lectures and discourses to the common man. His epistles exist in three volumes, namely

  1. Durul Maarifat (containing 313 epistles)
  2. Durul Khalaiq (containing 97 lengthy epistles)
  3. Maarifat ul Haqaiq (containing 124 epistles)

The first volume consists of epistles addressed to his teacher Hazrat Baqi Billah and Muslim nobles containing dissertations on religious and intellectual subjects. The second volume contains epistles dealing with tenets of Islam and mysticism. The third volume, compiled after his death contains an epistle addressed to Mughal Emperor Jahangir. His epistles fully bring out not only his spiritual and intellectual abilities but also his courageous stand against a despotic power countenancing irreligious activities. His epistles (Maktubaat) fully expose the irreligiosity of the majority of Ulema and their adherence to un-Islamic practices.

In one of his epistles he writes: “In the days gone by, the infidels being in power dominated the Muslims and openly ordered them to observe Hindu customs and injunctions. The Muslims could not practise their faith and if they attempted to do so, they had to pay with their lives. What a pity! Woe betide the followers of the Prophet, the chosen and most favoured of God, are these days humiliated while the disbelievers are honoured and exalted. Not only this but also the infidels jeer at them, adding insult to injury”.

In another epistle, he writes: “The infidels are demolishing mosques and converting them into temples and godowns. At Thanesar, a mosque and the shrine of a Muslim saint have been razed to the ground. A large temple has replaced both. The infidels enjoy complete freedom in the observance of their religious rites; the Muslims are inhibited and helpless in the same measure”. Such was the state of affairs in the reign of Akbar the Great, who, in the lust for Hindu women, had forsaken all morality, decency and propriety. Jahangir, in his later days, changed his mind, and under the influence of Sheikh Ahmad enforced Shariat Law throughout his vast Empire. He came to cherish great regard for the pious Sheikh, who, in one of his epistles, pays tribute to his love for Islam.

Sheikh Ahmad continued to wield great influence long after his death. His teachings, as well as his courageous stand against the Mughal power, continues to inspire the freedom fighters and his Urs (death anniversary) is celebrated with great pomp at Sirhind. Every year the pilgrims flock from all parts of the subcontinent to his shrine at Sirhind to pay homage to one who stood like a rock in the most critical period of the history of Muslim India.

His descendants continued his noble mission. Emperor Aurangzeb is said to have become a disciple of his son, Khwaja Muhammad Masoom.

The great Saint was the founder of Mujaddidiya sub-order which has made an invaluable contribution to the enforcement of Shariat (Islamic Law). In his Kalemaat-e-Tayyaba; “Imamul Hind Shah Waliullah of Delhi pays him high tributes, as the leveller of inequalities in Islamic thought, a paragon of spiritual guidance and a revealer of many special realities.”

Allama Iqbal, the greatest Poet-Philosopher of Islam, pays appropriate tributes to the Saint of Sirhind when he says :

“Gardan na jhuki jiski Jahangir ke aage,
Jis ke nafas-i-garm se hai garmi-e-Ahrar
Woh Hind men sarmaya-e-millat ka nigahban
Allah ne bar waqt kia jis ko khabardar.”

(Whose neck did not bend before Jahangir and whose breath warms the hearts of fighters for freedom. He was the protector of the Islamic faith in India and one who was alarmed by God at the right moment.)

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