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KHATMIYAH. The Sufi order tariqah known as the Khatmiyah was introduced into the Sudan in 1817 by its founder Muhammad `Uthman al-Mirghani. The founder’s family, the Mirghani, is thought to have come to Mecca from Central Asia and claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad. The founder was educated in Mecca as a pupil of the reformist teacher Ahmad ibn Idris al-Fasi (1760-1837) and was initiated into the Qadiriyah, Shadhiliyah, Naqshbandiyah, Junaydiyah, and Mirghaniyah Sufi orders. He asserted that the Khatmiyah was the “seal” (khatm) of all Sufi orders, whose secret (sirr) became the prerogative of the Mirghani family. Al-Hasan (1819-i869), the founder’s son, whose mother was Sudanese, was responsible for the spread of the order in the Sudan and for the founding of the Khatmiyah town in Kasala province, which became an important seat of the order. The Khatmiyah spread its influence among the river communities of northern Sudan and the nomadic and settled peoples of eastern Sudan. Some followers are also found in Eritrea, Egypt, and western Sudan.

The Khatmiyah prescribes devotion and quiet contemplation of al-nur al-Muhammadiyah (the light of the prophet Muhammad), as well as the performance of a twice-weekly ritual in which the mawlid, the poetic biography of the prophet Muhammad written by Muhammad `Uthman, is recited. The mawlid is performed on various secular and religious occasions to give spiritual rejuvenation and reaffirm belief. Recitation of litanies (awrad) written by the founder and some of his descendants is also recommended. The Khatmiyah Youth organization brings young men into the order, but its influence has declined with the spread of secular education. Urban dwellers maintain affiliation, and educated members are especially active politically. Allegiance to the Khatmiyah cuts across tribal and geographic boundaries, bringing together its followers through a loosely organized religio-political structure.

Under Turco-Egyptian rule (1820/21-1885) the Khatmiyah assumed the role of intermediary between its followers and the authorities. During the establishment of the Mahdist state (1885-1898), the Khatmiyah refused to join the Mahdists, and the order’s head went to Egypt. With the collapse of the Mahdist state in 1898, the Khatmiyah regained its prominence during the Anglo-Egyptian condominium (1898-1956). Its religious status remained unchanged, and it joined other political forces-including those of its rival, the Mahdiyah (commonly known as the Ansar)-in the years before Sudan’s independence. Recognizing the cultural and religious diversity of Sudan, it saw the necessity for such political dialogue.

`All al-Mirghani (1878-1968), the great-grandson of the founder, played an important role in the nationalist movement for independence. Under his leadership the Khatmiyah’s political wing, the People’s Democratic Party, was formed in 1958; he later agreed to its merger in 1967 with the National Unionist Party, and the combined forces came to be known as the Democratic Unionist Party. `All’s son Muhammad `Uthman (b. 1936), the head of the order in the early 1990s, took a more direct political role, and his brother Ahmad (b. 1941) accepted the chairmanship of the Council of State in 1986. This overt political activity aroused some criticism.

Since independence the Khatmiyah has played an important role in government, either in coalition, sometimes with the Ansar, or in opposition. Successive military regimes (1958-1964, 1969-1985, and since 1989) have tried to weaken its political influence, but with limited success. The failure of military rule and the oneparty system strengthened the position of the Khatmiyah. Muhammad `Uthman was praised for concluding an agreement with the leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Addis Ababa in 1988 in an attempt to resolve the civil war in southern Sudan; however, this came too late to prevent a military coup in 1989. Criticism and factionalism within the Democratic Unionist Party has emerged within the last two decades, but the Khatmiyah leadership continues its dual political and religious role-a position it assumed during the Turco-Egyptian regime.

[See also Ansar; Mahdlyah; Sudan.]


AI-Shahi, Ahmed. Themes from Northern Sudan. London, 1986. Includes articles on the Khatmiyah in the Sudan from an anthropological perspective.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. Islam in the Sudan. 2d impr. London, 1965. Very useful history, particularly of the Sufi orders.

Voll, John O. A History of the Khatmiyyah Tariqah in the Sudan. 2 vols. Ann Arbor, 1978. Excellent detailed study of the history and religious background of the Khatmiyah.

Warburg, Gabriel. Islam, Nationalism, and Communism in a Traditional Society: The Case of the Sudan. London, 1978. Useful study of sectarian and secular politics in the Sudan.

Willis, C. A. “Religious Confraternities of the Sudan.” Sudan Notes and Records 4.4 (1921): 175-194. Early enquiry into the history of Sufi orders.

Woodward, Peter. Sudan, 1898-1989: The Unstable State. London, 199o. Analysis of politics in the Sudan; includes the role of various religious groups.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khatmiyah/

  • writerPosted On: July 25, 2014
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