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SIRHINDI, AHMAD (26 June 1564-10 December 1624), eminent Indian Sufi whose ideas shaped the second or Mujaddidi- phase of the Naqshbandi order. Sirhindi was born in the town of Sirhind, East Punjab, the son of a Chishti-Sabiri shaykh, `Abdulahad. Educated by his father and at Sialkot, he was later invited to the Mughal court where he assisted the chief minister Abu’l-Fadl. In 1599 he was initiated into the Naqshband! order by Khoja Baqi Billah (1563-1603). Subsequently he devoted his considerable energies to expounding Nagshbandi doctrine. Some of his claims, for instance that he had surpassed Ibn `Arab! to reach the last divine manifestation, brought him powerful opposition from colleagues. In 1619 the emperor Jahanglr imprisoned him so that his “confused mind would calm down a little.” After a year he was released but was kept under surveillance until he died.

Sirhindi’s creative life falls into two periods: his preSufi phase, when he wrote work typical of a scholar of his time, refuting Shiism and proving the necessity of prophecy; and his Sufi phase, when he produced a range of works suffused with spiritual insight. The most important of these was his collection of 534 letters to nearly two hundred recipients, the Maktubat-i imam-i rabbani. Nearly seventy of these letters were to Mughal officials whom he was concerned to win to his viewsthat orthodoxy should be revived, that superstitious Sufi practices should be suppressed, and that infidels should be humiliated. The great majority of the letters were concerned with his exploration of spiritual mysteries. Regarded as a landmark in Indo-Muslim thought, the letters continue to be republished in their original Persian as well as in Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu.

Sirhindi’s prime concern was to integrate his sfifi ideas within a Sunni frame, thus achieving the “perfections of prophecy,” the highest Sfifi achievement. In pursuing his spiritual quest he elevated the concept of wahdat al-shuhud (unity of witness) over Ibn ‘Arabi’s wahdat al-wujud (unity of being) that had dominated Sufi thought for several centuries. Believers had to realize that “Everything is from Him” and not that “Everything is Him.” This new emphasis focused attention away from otherworldly contemplation toward worldly action: the Muslim must strive to realize revelation on earth. This was the basis of Sirhindi’s involvement with political power and his emphasis on orthodoxy, and the source of `Abdulhakim Siyalkoti’s (d. 1656) title for him, Mujaddid-i Alf-i Sani, the Renewer of the Second Millennium of Islam.

In the twentieth century the significance of Sirhindi has been much debated. He has been seen variously in religio-political roles as the defiant rebel against government, as the savior of Indian Islam from Mughal heresies, and as the progenitor of a narrow-minded Muslim communalism, and in a Sufi role as replacing wahdat al-wujud with wahdat al-shuhud. But his impact on seventeenth-century India was not as great as has been claimed; his religious vision was much contested, and Awrangzib proscribed his Maktubat. Moreover, his wahdat al-shuhud did not replace wahdat al-wujud in Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi thinking. His emphasis, however, on obedience to shari `ah and sunnah as a means of achieving spiritual realization was widely accepted by the Naqshbandiyah and was carried by his successors into Central Asia, Turkey, and the Arab lands, where it has been a source of inspiration to the present.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in South Asia; Mughal Empire; Naqshbandiyah; and the biography of Ibn al’Arabi.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ansari, Muhammad Abdul Haq. Sufism and Shart`ah: A Study of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Effort to Reform Sufism. Leicester, 1986. Synthesis of Sirhindi’s main ideas, with some of his letters in English translation.

Faruqi, Burhan Ahmad. The Mujaddid’s Concept of Tawhid. 2d ed. Lahore, 1943. Argues that Sirhindi replaced wahdat al-wujad with wahdat al-shuhud.

Friedmann, Yohanan. Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi: An Outline of His Thought and a Study of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity. Montreal, 1971. The best analysis of Sirhindi’s thought, although the author’s judgment is perhaps too influenced by a desire to correct the distortions of others.

Gaborieau, Marc, et al., eds. Naqshbandis: Historical Developments and Present Situation of a Muslim Mystical Order. Istanbul and Paris, 1990. Articles by Hamid Algar, Johan ter Haar, Yohanan Friedmann, Charles Adams, Fateh Mohammad Malik, Marc Gaborieau, cover aspects -of Sirhindi’s thought and in and David Damrel fluence.

FRANCIS ROBINSON

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sirhindi-ahmad/
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