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NI`MATULLAHIYAH. Beginning as a Sunni Sufi order in the fourteenth century in southeastern Iran, the Ni’matullahiyah became Sh!’! in the fifteenth century. It established itself in India in the same century, returned to Iran in the eighteenth, and since the mid197os has spread into the West.

The Ni’matullahiyah takes its name from Nur al-Din Ni’mat Allah ibn `Abd Allah al-Kirmani, better known as Shah Ni’mat Allah Wali, a Sufi and prolific author born around the year 1331. At the age of twenty-four Ni`mat Allah met his shaykh, `Abd Allah ibn As`ad alYafi`i (d. 1367). YafiTs main lineage goes back to Ahmad al-Ghazzali (d. 1126), passes through Ma’ruf alKarkhi (d. 815), and ultimately derives from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661). Shah Ni`mat Allah, a Sunni, lived most of his fife in Iran in the region of Kirman. After guiding his followers for nearly sixty years with teachings steeped in the thought of Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 1240), he died in 1430/31. His domed tomb in Mahan continues to be a pilgrimage site and is one of the marvels of Islamic art and architecture.

Soon after the passing of Shah Ni’mat Allah, while Iran was still under Timurid rule, his son and successor Khalil Allah (d. 1456) moved the base of the order to India. During the rule of the Safavids, by which time the order had become Shi’l, the Ni’matullahiyah gradually died out in Iran. It returned, however, in 1775, when the ecstatic Ma`sfim `All Shah began gathering disciples. This Sufi activity was seen as a threat by the Shi`i establishment, and in 1797/98 Ma’sum `Ali and subsequently his follower Nur ‘Ali Shah-i Isfahani were killed by Shi’i religious authorities.

Throughout the Qajar period the mutual dislike between Ni’matullahis and the Shi`i authorities gradually lessened. The order flourished, but after Majdhub `All Shah (d. 1823) it divided into a number of branches. In the early 1990s the two most significant branches were known as the Gunabddi order and the Ni`matullahi Sufi order. The Gunabddi order, characterized by an emphasis on shari `ah-based practice, has as its current shaykh Rizd ‘Ali Shah Sultan Husayn Tabandah, who is known internationally for his A Muslim Commentary on the Declaration of Human Rights (London, 1970). The Ni’matullahi Sfifi order, otherwise known as the Khaniqahi Ni’matullahi, the branch of Dhu al-Riydsatayn, or the Mu’nisiyah order, emphasizes the universal, spiritual, and ethical aspects of Sufism and Islam while still following the shari `ah. Its membership has traditionally come from all strata of Iranian society, with the middle class being dominant. Since 1974 the order has expanded beyond its base in Iran into the United States, Europe, and Africa. Outside of Iran the membership of the order consists of both expatriate Iranians and converts to Islam. The shaykh of the order is Dr. Javdd Nurbakhsh, a retired psychiatrist, who lives in London; he has published numerous works on Sufism in both English and Persian and oversees the publication of a journal, Sufi.

Dr. Nurbakhsh puts love ahead of intellect as the key to spiritual advancement. In addition, he emphasizes the need for devotees continuously to practice the silent remembrance (dhikr) of God while they are in the midst of productive activity in the world. It is also essential that devotees attune themselves to the shaykh. Traditionally this attunement, devotion to, or “passing away” (fand’) in the shaykh has often been regarded as necessary for attaining the goal of Ni’matullahi Sufi practice, which is “passing away” in God and then “subsisting” (baqa’) in God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Algar, Hamid. “Ni’mat-Allahiyya.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 8, pp. 40-43. Leiden, 196o-. A detailed article exclusively on the history of the order. Includes an extensive bibliography.

Gramlich, Richard. Die Schiitischen Derwischorden Persiens. Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes (AKM), 36.1, pp. 2769. erster Teil: Die Affiliationen. Wiesbaden, 1965. AKM 36.2-4, zweiter Teil: Glaube and Lehre. Wiesbaden, 1976. AKM, 45.2, dritter Teil: Brauchtum and Riten. Wiesbaden, 1981. This masterpiece of thorough textual research contains much material not covered in English sources.

Nurbakhsh, Javad. In the Tavern of Ruin: Seven Essays on Sufism. New York, 1978.

Nurbakhsh, Javad. In the Paradise of the Sufis. New York, 1979. Emphasizing love as the path to the divine, both this and the previous work set forth the basic themes and methods of Nurbakhsh’s Ni’o Nurbakhsh, Javad. “The Nimatullahi.” In Islamic Spirituality: Manifestations, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 144-161. New York, 1991. Largely Nurbakhsh’s own summary of Ni’matullahi history, doctrine, and practice.

Pourjavady, Nasrollah, and Peter Wilson. Kings of Love: The History and Poetry of the Ni’matullahi Sufi Order of Iran. Tehran, 1978. Written in an enjoyable conversational style, this work is scholarly yet easily read by the nonspecialist.

ALAN A. GODLAS

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