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Home » History » Ahmad Sirhindī, Akbari Universalism and Islamic Orthodoxy in 16th/17th c. Mughal India

Ahmad Sirhindī, Akbari Universalism and Islamic Orthodoxy in 16th/17th c. Mughal India

The historical experience of Islam and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent spans nearly fourteen centuries. Throughout its long existence, Islam in India was shaped by various Arab, Persian, Turkic, Mongol, and indigenous dynasties, all of which inevitably influenced the religion as practiced and understood by its adherents in the Indian environment. Although dynastic military power and political dominance certainly played a significant role in the consolidation of Islam in India and provided the context in which the institutions, literature, and architecture of Islam in South Asia developed, any attempt to identify a distinctly Indian Islam must take into consideration the social context and the role of Islamic scholars and mystics in the medieval and early modern period. Although each phase of Islamic history in South Asia is important in its own right, it is the Mughal period (1526–1858) that witnessed the maturation of the social, political, and religious institutions of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. As a non-specialist in the history of Islam in South Asia, this piece is an attempt to think about trends occurring during the Mughal period, specifically during the years 1570–1620, within the broader context of early modern Islamic history.

Specifically, this post seeks to highlight the role of Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī (d. 1624), popularly known as Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thānī, the Renewer of the Second Millennium, as an oppositional ‘ālim (religious scholar) during the reigns of the Mughal emperors Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Akbar (r. 1556–1605) and Nūr al-Dīn Muḥammad Jahāngīr (r. 1605–1627). I argue that the environment of religious universalism in Mughal India, a concept rooted in the relativity of religious truth and the sulḥ-i kul (universal peace), nurtured by Akbār, prompted Sirhindī (and other ‘ulamā’) to aggressively undertake a program of radical reform to reverse these trends. For Sirhindī, a universalist environment, in which un-Islamic beliefs and practices were tolerated beyond the boundaries laid down by the sharī‘ah (Islamic law), and a situation in which the status of Muslims as a dominant community was diluted by laws which challenged the supremacy of Islam, was unacceptable and posed a direct threat to the sanctity of Islam and the preservation of the Muslim community in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to actively opposing Akbar’s universalist policies and the public manifestation of Hinduism (as well as the spread of Sikhism), Sirhindī was also deeply concerned with the rising power and influence of Shī‘ī Muslims and Shī‘ism in general within the Mughal court. For Sirhindī, the decline of the sharī‘ah’s dominance and the prominence of heresy and unbelief were closely linked, and represented the dire predicament in which Islamic “orthodoxy” found itself in Mughal India. “Orthodoxy,” an extremely loaded and problematic term to be sure, refers here to Sunni orthodoxy, defined as the legal-theological notion that the beliefs, practices and institutions of Sunni Islam provided the only legitimate basis for the social, religious, and political order and needed to be upheld by those in positions of authority. It is utilized here in order to refer specifically to those Sunni ‘ulamā’, such as Sirhindī, who believed that adherence to the sharī‘ah constituted the basic pillar of social and political legitimacy. In this context, it is important to remember that all schools of Islamic thought understood themselves, in some sense, as being the most Islamically authentic and orthodox form of the faith. This post is thus an exploration of this process of the definition, construction and defense of orthodoxy on the part of one Sunni scholar in late 16th and 17th-century Mughal India who viewed the integrity of the sharī‘ah (the very cornerstone of the legitimate order as far as he was concerned) being seriously threatened by the universalist atmosphere in the Mughal realm.

It is worth exploring this broader environment of universalism during the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr by highlighting the role of Shī‘ī Muslims in Mughal political, religious, and social life and by assessing Sirhindī’s reaction to this phenomenon. As such, I will be interpreting Sirhindīs stance vis-à-vis Shī‘ism within the larger context of his critique of the general religious atmosphere in late sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century Mughal India. I argue that Sirhindī’s anti- Shī‘ī writings should not be understood as a mere reproduction of Sunnī polemics against Shī‘ism from the Nile to Oxus region, in the same vein as Ibn Taymiyyah’s Minhāj al-Sunnah or Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī’s al-Ṣawā‘iq al-Muḥriqah, but rather as one manifestation of his broader program of opposition to Akbarī universalism and an affirmation of (Sunni) orthodoxy within a distinctly Mughal Indian universalist environment.[1] In this post, I will not include an in-depth analysis or translation of the text itself, but rather will seek to explore the broader contextual framework within which I think Sirhindī’s Radd-i Rawāfiẓ (‘The Epistle on the Refutation of the Rejectionists/Shī‘a’) can best be understood.[2]

The Era of Akbar and Jahāngīr (1556–1627): Sufism, Universalism, and Communalism

In order to attain a clearer understanding of the social and religious forces which lay at the core of Aḥmad Sirhindī’s drive to reform, it is first necessary to briefly outline the larger context of Mughal India in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The Mughal realm was composed of a large amount of territory which was inhabited by a religiously-diverse population. In addition to various Muslim groups (Ismā‘īlīs, Ithnā‘asharīs/Twelvers, Sunnīs, and other smaller sects) the subcontinent was home to a variety of non-Muslim communities, ranging from Hindus to Jains to Christians. Even before the arrival of Islam into South Asia, there had been a long tradition of syncretism in the Indian subcontinent, which was both a cause and a product of the coexistence between the different communities; this tradition of syncretism and coexistence continued to exert itself in several ways throughout the period of Islamic political dominance. Over the centuries, different groups of Muslims integrated themselves within the long tradition of universalism, understood as the notion that all religions were different, albeit legitimate, paths to the one Truth; certain strands of Sufism, in particular, promoted such understandings.[3]

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(Tomb of Shaykh Salim Chishti, built in the late 19th century)

The proliferation of popular Sufism, through the vehicle of such orders as the Qādirīyyah, the Naqshbandīyyah, and especially the Chishtīyyah, also meant that, often, the forms of Islam that existed in South Asia was less rigid and more inclusive of the cultural practices of the subcontinent.[4] Although the extent of this tolerance has been debated, it largely holds true that the universalism of certain forms of Sufism and its relative leniency towards Islamic law meant that the socio-religious environment in India during the medieval and early modern period was dominated by syncretism, inter-faith interaction, and cultural exchange.[5] Even the more hard-line ‘ulamā’ were forced to accommodate themselves to the situation by extending legitimacy to the status quo; however, it should be noted that many of the ‘ulamā’ themselves were affiliated to some degree with the Ṣūfī orders and, as such, played an important role in fostering this quasi-universalist environment.[6] Despite this accommodationist attitude, Muslims in the subcontinent remained the dominant community who held the reins of political power and enjoyed the status of a privileged elite within a larger Hindu environment, and the sharī‘ah (and its corresponding institutions) retained much of its dominance. Indeed, the political legitimacy of the ruler was closely linked with his upholding of Islamic orthodoxy and implementation of the sharī‘ah.[7]

(Akbar holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana/House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri. Illustration to the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605)

During the imperial reign of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Akbar, however, this supremacy of the Muslim community was challenged in several ways and the framework of political legitimacy was altered. Initially, Akbar’s religious policy was conciliatory towards the Sunni ‘ulamā’ and sought to bring state policy into harmony with the sharī‘ah.[8] However, by 1575 this attitude was abandoned and the emperor’s religious policy became far more independent and controversial.[9] Akbar curtailed the traditional authority of the ‘ulamā by retaining the right to appointment and dismissal of religious scholars to office, as well as the right to intervene in jurisprudential disputes between ‘ulamā.[10] He openly showed tolerance for Hindu rites and practices, even financing the construction of several Hindu temples.[11] The jizya tax on non-Muslims was abolished and the penalties for apostasy were removed.[12] Thus, by 1578, all religions within Akbar’s kingdom were placed on an equal footing; Muslims had lost their status as a privileged community in the Mughal Empire.[13]

17 5 c179 obv22

(Coin minted during the early reign of Akbar, with the Islamic declaration of faith and the names of the four caliphs http://www.davidmus.dk/en/collections/islamic/dynasties/mughal-india/coins/c179-2?show=design)

17 6 c133 rev22

(Coin struck after Akbar’s religious reforms. Declaration of faith and names of caliphs removed and new dating system introduced http://www.davidmus.dk/en/collections/islamic/dynasties/mughal-india/coins/c179?back=1&show=design)

One of the foundations of Akbar’s policies was the mystical outlook of the Chistīyyah order, which reinforced his desire to create a highly “inter-confessional” and universalist polity in a manner which promoted sulḥ-i kul, the universal peace, which would supersede the sectarian and communalist loyalties of his subjects by promoting loyalty to the emperor, none other than Akbar himself.[14] The tolerance for Shī‘ism, in particular, was also deeply rooted in Akbar’s affiliation with the Chishtīyyah, due to the elevated rank (tafẓīl) of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 661) and his descendants within the worldview of this order and the similar historical and mystical views which they held in common with the Twelver Shī‘īs.[15] Akbar’s religious policy not only curtailed the sharī‘ah, but increased the perception that he desired to overturn it altogether; the introduction of a new calendar to replace the Hijrī calendar simply reinforced this view.[16] The culmination of his religious policies was the formation in 1582 of a new religious order called the Dīn-i Ilāhī which was devoted to his universalist outlook and was centered upon his cult as saintly leader and ruler.[17] Akbar’s religious policies were strongly opposed as un-Islamic by many within the Mughal Empire and even led to a fatwa of kufr (disbelief) being pronounced against him in 1580.[18]


Despite this strong opposition, Akbar continued his religious policies until his death in 1605. Following the death of Akbar and the accession of his son Jahāngīr (r. 1605-1627) to the imperial throne, there was a heightened feeling of optimism among many ‘ulamā’, including Sirhindī, that Jahāngīr, unlike Akbar, would move away from heterodox policies and institute the sharī‘ah.[19] Indeed, following the enthronement of Jahāngīr, Sirhindī wrote to one of his associates that

“today, when the happy news of the rise of the Islamic Kingdom and accession of the King of Islam (padsāh-i Islām) reached the ears of every high and low, the followers of Islam consider it obligatory to extend their help and assistance to him, and guide him in promulgating the sharī‘ah and in strengthening the faith.”[20]


(Jahangir as crown-prince, ca. 1600)

Perhaps due to the staunch criticism which Akbar faced from orthodox Islamic circles and the growing influence of the Sunnī ‘ulamā’ as a whole, during Jahāngīr’s reign as emperor, the latter attempted to reintegrate the ‘ulamā’ into the Mughal court and to undercut some of Akbar’s more radical religious policies by partially restoring the sway of the sharī‘ah. Nevertheless, the universalist outlook which had characterized Akbar’s reign still exerted a powerful influence in the Mughal court during Jahāngīr’s reign.[21] The most notable exception to this attitude was the execution of the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev on Jahāngīr’s orders in 1606. This act has been interpreted in a variety of ways, with one explanation underscoring that it was undertaken as punishment of Arjan Dev’s participation in a rebellion against Jahāngīr, while other scholars have asserted that it sought to placate the ‘ulamā’ by demonstrating the emperor’s “orthodox” attitude towards heresy, and, as such, the execution of Arjan Dev signaled a break from the tolerant policies of Akbar.[22]  The importance of this event and its representation notwithstanding, it should be noted that it remained an anomaly and during Jahāngīr’s reign Hinduism remained largely tolerated, Muslim sects coexisted relatively peacefully, and jizya was not imposed on non-Muslims. As such, the universalism which dominated the policy of Akbar was continued.[23]

(Artistic depiction of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev)

Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī: Biographical and Historiographical Sketch

The drive by Akbar to universalism met with an equally aggressive movement in favor of the restoration of the sharī‘ah. This opposition was rooted in different initiatives and concerns, but was generally unified by the desire to witness the establishment of an Islamic-oriented policy based on the principle that Islam’s privileged position in Mughal India needed to be upheld. The oppositional ‘ulamā’ were in general agreement that political legitimacy of the emperor derived from the upholding of the sharī‘ah and, as such, it was imperative that his policy and concern derived from seeking the welfare of the Muslim community, rather than from a desire to uphold the sulḥ-i kul. Perhaps one of the most outspoken and persistent critics of the Akbarī universalistic outlook and the subsequent policies which characterized the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr was the Naqshbandī mystic and ‘ālim Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī. Sirhindī was outraged by the violations of the sharī‘ah (exemplified for Sirhindī by the discontinuation of jizya) and the disenfranchisement of the Sunnī Muslims, particularly the ‘ulamā, of their role as a privileged and dominant community.[24]

(Tomb of Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, Rauza Sharif Complex, Sirhind)

Aḥmad Sirhindī was born around 1564 in the Punjāb to a scholarly family with a Farūqi lineage (signifying descent from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb, the second caliph) which was closely affiliated with the Chishtīyyah and Qādirīyyah orders.[25] He was educated as an ‘ālim (Islamic scholar), studying the Qur’ān, ḥadīth and theology, before travelling to Agra as a young man where he became affiliated with the Mughal court and, especially, the circles of Akbar’s chief minister Abū al-Fazl (d. 1602).[26] It was in Agra where he established his reputation as an important scholar of Islamic law and a major critic of Akbar’s lenient stance towards non-Muslims and groups Sirhindī believed were “deviant,” such as the Shī‘īs; it was also during this period of his life when he composed the Radd-i Rawāfiẓ.[27] As a result of Akbar’s views and the promotion of religious policies which contravened the sharī‘ah, Sirhindī became disillusioned with the atmosphere in the Mughal court and returned to the Punjāb after several years.[28] Shortly thereafter, in 1600, he arrived in Delhi, where he was initiated into the Naqshbandī order, and undertook a vigorous program of religious reform which was to last until his death in 1624.[29] Several times during his life, Sirhindī fell afoul of the Mughal authorities due to his vehement critique of Akbar’s religious policies.[30] Despite his enthusiasm for the young emperor, Sirhindī also heavily criticized several of Jahāngīr’s policies which he believed violated the sharī‘ah. It was during the reign of the latter, around 1617, that  Sirhindī was imprisoned for a brief period, ironically enough on charges of blasphemy (kufr) for some mystical utterances, which are preserved in one of his letters.[31] His imprisonment on these charges by Jahāngīr reveals that ideas about “orthodoxy” in Mughal India were extremely fluid and even an individual such as Sirhindī, who viewed himself as the “renewer” of orthodoxy, could often violate the balance between universalism and sharī‘ah which existed in the early 17th century. It seems that in the religious environment in Jahāngīr’s kingdom, it was one thing for Hindus and Shī‘īs to participate in court life, but another matter entirely for a (particularly vocal) mystic to publicly claim, as Sirhindī did, that he had surpassed the spiritual rank of Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān, and ‘Alī (the “Rightly-Guided Caliphs”).[32]

Although Sirhindī was a jurist who strove to ensure the predominance of the sharī‘ah, he was more renowned as a mystic who sought to achieve a delicate harmony between the mystical and legal dimensions of Islam.[33] Sirhindī’s prolific career of writing and his aggressive activism as a defender of the sharī‘ah familiarized many scholars beyond the Indian subcontinent, especially in Transoxiana and the Ottoman Empire, with his works.  One of his contemporaries, Mullāh ‘Abd al-Ḥakīm al-Siyālkūtī even gave him the honorary name Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thānī (Renovator of Islam of the Second Millennium), a title which has now become inseparable from his name.[34] His prominence and influence was such that, after his death, the Naqshbandī order branched into the Mujaddidīyyah which was primarily composed of his students and followers. Most of his mystical and religious writings, composed in Persian, were compiled during his lifetime and have survived in his Maktūbāt, which remained important, notably in Naqshbandī circles, throughout the Mughal period.[35]

Perhaps due to his uncompromising opposition to the Akbarī universalism which characterized the Mughal court during this period, much of the modern historiography around Sirhindī has been extremely polarized. Debates about Mughal India and its place in South Asian history were revived following the increasing communalism within the Indian subcontinent in the early 20th century and the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. Unsurprisingly, the figure of Sirhindī, who championed the primacy of Islamic identity over the Akbarī model of religious tolerance, has figured quite prominently within these debates.[36] For many Indian historians, both Muslim and Hindu, Sirhindī represents the peak of communalistic bigotry and his thinking is said to have had destructive effects upon the tolerant atmosphere in India by promoting an intolerant attitude which was anathema to a society which was inclined to coexistence. On the other hand, several Pakistani nationalist historians, who were interested in reinforcing the existence of a distinctive Islamic polity, have praised Sirhindī for his defense of the sharī‘ah and for his recognition of the dangers posed to the purity of Islam in a largely Hindu cultural and religious environment. This ideologically-driven historiography, which dominated the field until the past three decades, has left a lasting impression on the field of Mughal studies and has led to Sirhindī being viewed as either a tragic hero who defended the Muslim community despite the persecution he faced, or as an intolerant villain whose career planted the seeds of Islamic extremism.[37] Recent historiography, seeking to move beyond this polarization, has sought to challenge this simplistic representation of a far more complex historical figure by reorienting the debate in several important ways.

The most significant school of thought which has emerged in the past several decades has sought to place more emphasis on the role of Sirhindī as a mystic, rather than as a political figure. Although recognizing his significance as a reformer of Islam, this group of historians has been far more interested in the exposition of his mystical doctrine and his attempted shar‘ī-Ṣūfī synthesis rather than in his role as an oppositional figure during the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr. To this end, these historians have provided crucial insight into the development of Sirhindī’s theory of waḥdat al-shuhūd (Oneness of Appearance), which was a critical reformulation of Muhyyīdīn ibn ‘Arabī’s (d. 1240) doctrine of waḥdat al-wujūd (Oneness of Being), as well as his other mystical doctrines.[38] These scholars have shown that Sirhindī sought to reform Sufism from within by opposing doctrines (and practices) which he viewed as pantheistic by seeking to bring mysticism into greater harmony with the sharī‘ah.[39] As one scholar has noted, “[Sirhindī] believed that mystic faith in pantheistic philosophy, negligence of the sharī‘at law by the ‘ulamā’ and emphasis on the interiorization of religious rites to the exclusion of formal adherence to law had weakened the moral fiber of the community and debilitated the structure of the faith.”[40]

Hence, this body of historiography has shown that rather than looking at Sirhindī’s opposition to Akbarī universalism and his reformulation of waḥdat al-wujūd as two independent concerns of his writings, it would be more prudent to recognize that the two themes were in fact closely linked for Sirhindī since he viewed the proliferation of reprehensible innovations (bid‘ah), religious experimentation, and outright unbelief as being rooted in the pantheistic doctrine of waḥdat al-wujūd. In other words, Sirhindī perceived the un-Islamic religious policies of Akbar as a direct consequence of mystical doctrines which had completely deviated from the sharī‘ah.[41] The solution for Sirhindī was, therefore, to bring the haqīqah (Truth) of the mystics into absolute harmony with the sharī‘ah of the ‘ulamā’.[42] This contextualization of Sirhindī has also led several of these scholars to draw comparisons between the Mujaddid and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), the Ḥanbalī Damascene jurist whose critique of Sufism has been viewed by some as an attempt to reformulate mysticism (and dialectical theology) along shar‘ī lines.[43]

(Miniature depicting the important Sufi Shaykh Salim Chishti)

Another school of thought has more explicitly linked Sirhindī’s religious writings with his broader role as a reformer of the social and political realms. Anne Marie Schimmel explains that Sirhindī’s radical reformulation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s doctrines should be understood within the broader context of the “Naqshbandī reaction” against all forms of antinomian and “innovative” Sufism in the Indian subcontinent, while Muzaffar Alam interprets Sirhindī’s oppositional role as a manifestation of the Naqshbandī-Chishtī rivalry for influence in the Mughal court during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[44] Yohanan Friedmann, in particular, has explored the dynamics of Sirhindī’s relationship with the Mughal court in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and established that he was indeed deeply invested in the political currents of his day, but had only a negligible impact upon the developments.[45] This argument has challenged the perception of past historians that Sirhindī was a highly influential political figure in his own time who was widely recognized and praised as such by his contemporaries.

Friedmann has also demonstrated that, although Sirhindī was staunchly opposed to Hinduism, which he identified as polytheistic and absolutely incompatible with Islam, his primary concern was an internal reform within Islam, a position which Friedmann supports by pointing to the fact that Sirhindī’s writings are devoted primarily to questions of spirituality, sharī‘ah, and expositions of mystical doctrine. Therefore, his critique of Hinduism, argues Friedmann, should be viewed as merely one facet of a broader program of challenging Akbarī universalism and restoring the sharī‘ah, and, within the broader scheme of his writings, these criticisms play only a peripheral role in reinforcing his opposition to Akbar’s policies.[46] It is within the broader approach of this latter school of thought which I propose Sirhindī’s views on Shī‘īs and Shī‘īsm should be understood. Rather than perceiving his writings against Shī‘īsm as a reproduction of traditional polemics produced by Sunnī scholars, it is imperative to interpret these writings within the broader context of Sirhindī’s attempts to undercut the influence of groups he termed “deviant” at the Mughal court, establish a firm basis of an “orthodox” Sunni Islamic identity, and pave the way for the establishment of a social and political order rooted in the sharī‘ah.

Shī‘ī Islam in Mughal India during the Reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr

Perhaps due to the sharp confessionalization which dominated the Safavid and Ottoman Empires in the sixteenth century, many historians have classified the Mughal Empire as a “Sunnī” polity. However, this is largely misleading because it gives the impression that the political and religious resources of the Mughal Empire were all geared towards upholding Sunnī Islam or that a narrow confessional affiliation played a dominant, or at least an important, role in guiding the policy of the state. It is worth noting that Babūr, considered to be the founder of the Timūrid/Mughal dynasty in India, although affiliated with Sunnī Islam and an adherent of the Naqshbandī order, relied quite substantially on Safavid support in his wars in Transoxiana and even, according to several accounts, converted to Shī‘ism in order to secure this aid.[47] Similarly, subsequent Mughal rulers were not averse to the Shī‘ī Safavid Empire, with whom they were allied against the Sunnī Uzbeks of Central Asia, let alone opposed to the existence, or even efflorescence, of non-Sunnī forms of Islam in their realms. Throughout the sixteenth century, especially following the conquest of a large part of northern Indian by Babūr, Humāyūn, and Akbar, there was an influx into Mughal India of Shī‘ī ‘ulamā’ from Safavid and Uzbek territories.[48] Akbar’s mother was in fact Hamida Banu Begum (d. 1604), the daughter of a prominent Persian Shī‘ī from Safavid Iran.[49] In addition, there were numerous state officials, ‘ulamā’, litterateurs, poets, artists and other prominent figures who adhered to Shī‘ī Islam within the domains of the Mughal Empire.[50] As such, considering the diversity of its Muslim population, to say nothing about the overwhelmingly Hindu composition of its territory and bureaucracy, it is difficult to speak in general terms about the Mughals as a distinctly “Sunnī” empire, unless this term is interpreted in the broadest possible sense as signifying a (loose) affiliation of the Mughal/Timūrid ruling family itself to Sunni forms of Islam, or in reference to their promotion of the Ḥanafī school of law and the Chishtī/Naqshbandī orders.[51]

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak, as John E. Woods has proposed, about religious identity in much of the Islamic world, especially in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions, within the context of “confessional ambiguity.”[52] Such an approach can allow historians to more closely identify and scrutinize developments, which were either explicitly universalist, such as Akbar’s religious policies, or communalist in nature, as in the case of Sirhindī’s anti-Hindu and anti-Shī‘ī writings, without reproducing pre-existing assumptions about the complex nature of early modern religious identity. In fact, “confessional ambiguity” was exactly the phenomenon to which Sirhindī was strongly opposed, and which he sought to undermine by promoting his communalistic vision, which involved (re)defining the legitimate boundaries of belief/practice for the Muslim community and seeking to uphold an orthodox vision of Islam. Sirhindī clearly believed that the Mughal domains should be structured along the lines of Sunnī orthodoxy and that the environment of Akbarī universalism which had been fostered not only blurred the lines between Islam and polytheism, but also destroyed the foundations of Islam by failing to distinguish between orthodox Islamic belief (identified with Sunnism) and heresy. For Sirhindī, therefore, the essential problem with the Mughals was that they were certainly not behaving like an authentically Islamic government, despite their formal affiliations, and his reformist program sought to underscore the necessity of the realm being governed along the lines of sharī‘ah, which Sirhindī identified with a strict version of Sunnī Islam that privileged Sunni Muslims over all other socio-religious groups in society. In order to achieve this objective, Sirhindī promoted the notion of jihād-i qawlī (“war of words”), which emphasized the duty of ‘ulamā’ to advise the emperor to strictly follow the laws of Islam and critique deviant influences within the court.[53]

(Mughal Emperor Humayun and Safavid Shah Tahmasp in Isfahan)

(Jahangir and Safavid Shah Abbas I embracing as a sign of their alliance)

During the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr in particular, Shī‘īs increased their influence in the Mughal court and in religious life across India more generally.[54] Largely as a result of the sulḥ-i kul and the alliance with the Safavids, both of these emperors were not particularly averse to Shī‘īsm or its doctrines. Already during the reign of Akbar, Shī‘īs had become emboldened enough as to undertake the proselytization of entire Sunnī communities, especially in Baluchistan and Multan, and to openly criticize the beliefs of Sunnī Muslims.[55] The career of Qāzī Nūrullāh Shūstārī (d. 1610), who held the position of Chief Justice (qāḍī al-qudāt) under Akbar, demonstrates this quite plainly, especially in his statements in which he asserts how “reinforced by the kindness and bounty of the Sultan [Akbar], I threw away the scarf of ṭaqīyya (precautionary dissimulation) and, taking with me an army of arguments, I plunged myself into jihād against the [Sunni] ‘ulamā’ of this country.”[56] According to contemporary sources, the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad were also openly reviled by Shī‘ī scholars in the court of Akbar.[57] Clearly, therefore, there was an atmosphere in which Shī‘īsm was propagated quite freely, to the horror and revulsion of the Sunnī ‘ulamā’. During the reign of Jahāngīr, in particular, the prominence of Persian Shī‘ī ‘ulamā’ in the Mughal court was increased following the emperor’s marriage to Nūr Jahān (d. 1645), herself a Twelver Shī‘ī; however, Jahāgīr also sought to establish firm boundaries for inclusion and exclusion, as can be seen by the execution of Qāzī Nūrullāh Shūstārī on charges of heresy in 1610.[58]

(Tomb of Qazi Nurullah Shustari, known as Shaheed-i Salis [“the third martyr”] by Shi’i Muslims, in Agra)

Due to the increasing prominence and influence of Shī‘ism (which always had a strong presence in South Asia, but now attained a more public profile in the Mughal context), many Sunnī ‘ulamā’, including Sirhindī, identified the universalism which dominated the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr as being rooted, at least partially, in Shī‘ī tendencies. The rising influence of Shī‘īs in the political sphere, in particular, was perceived by these Sunnī ‘ulamā’ as one of the most significant symptoms of the deviation from the proper religio-political order. Specifically, this phenomenon was interpreted as another consequence of the failure or refusal of the rulers to uphold Islamic orthodoxy.[59] Many modern scholars have noted the importance of interpreting Sirhindī’s polemic against Shī‘ism within this broader context of the rising Shī‘ī influence in the Mughal court on one hand, and the lax attitude taken towards instituting Sunnī orthodoxy by the Akbar and Jahāngīr, who were influenced by the universalist ideal (as well as pragmatic considerations) on the other.[60]  Historians sympathetic to Sirhindī have even suggested that his imprisonment by Jahāngīr was the direct result of the intervention of Shī‘īs affiliated with Nūr Jahān, who persuaded the emperor to persecute Sirhindī due to his radical views against their faith.[61] As a result of these developments, argue these scholars, Sirhindī took a strong stance against Shī‘ī doctrine. However, this argument largely ignores the fact that the bulk of Sirhindī’s anti-Shī‘ī writings were composed during Akbar’s reign, long before his political repression during Jahāngīr’s reign. I will now provide a briefly outline the structure of the Radd-i Rawāfiẓ in order to highlight how Sirhindī’s views of Shī‘īsm should be understood within the broader context of his reformist program.

(Portrait of Empress Nur Jahan http://collections.lacma.org/node/246864)

Sirhindī begins his epistle by explaining that he was driven to compose a response to the doctrines of Shī‘ism due to the “arrogance” of some Shī‘īs in his own time (perhaps referring to al-Shustarī?), who openly cursed the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, reviled the latter’s wives, and, worst of all, did so proudly in public and in the courts of amīrs and sulṭāns.[62] Furthermore, he asserts that his “Farūqī descent” and his “inclination to enjoin the good and forbid the evil” could not allow him to remain silent while falsehoods were being propagated so openly throughout the realm.[63] In other words, it is the direct context of the increasing influence and assertiveness of Shī‘ism which prompted Sirhindī to write the epistle.[64] As he explains elsewhere, the fine points of historical disagreement between Sunnīs and Shī‘īs surrounding the Imamate are largely insignificant when compared with the more important issue of correct theological doctrine (‘aqīdah) and proper ritual practice.[65] Sirhindī emphasizes that it is only because of the rising power of contemporary Shī‘ī ‘ulama’within the very corridors of political power (which had been largely denied to Sunnī scholars such as himself) that he decided to pen the Radd-i Rawāfiẓ.

(Ahmad Sirhindi claimed descent from the second caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, a figure regarded particularly negatively in Twelver Shi’ism)

Following this elaborate introduction and justification for the epistle, Sirhindī goes on to elucidate some of the “heterodox” doctrines of various (non-Twelver) Shī‘ī sects and explains how they deviate from the correct beliefs of (Sunni) Islam.[66] He then spends a substantial portion of the letter elucidating the many Prophetic traditions dealing with the virtues of the Companions of the Prophet, followed by a refutation of the theological views of Twelver Shī‘īs, and a comprehensive argument in favor of the legitimacy of the leadership of the first three Caliphs.[67] Following the argumentative portions of the text, Sirhindī asserts that he desires to “conclude this letter with the best of conclusions” and provides a short exposition of the privileged position of the Ahl al-Bayt (Family of the Prophet), including many of the Husaynid Shī‘ī Imams revered by Twelver Shī‘īs, among Sunnī Muslims, thereby making a strong claim that—unlike Shī‘īs—Sunnīs both revered the Ahl al-Bayt and respected the wives/Companions of the Prophet.[68] His decision to end the epistle on this note could be interpreted as an attempt by Sirhindī at conciliation between Shī‘īs and Sunnīs by pointing towards a legitimate shar‘ī doctrine (reverence for the Ahl al-Bayt) which could serve as a potential unifying factor.[69] However, it is most likely an assertion of Sunni supremacy by proclaiming that it is only the doctrine of Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jamā‘ah that perfectly harmonizes between loyalty to the Family of the Prophet and correct adherence to the sharī‘ah, a common trope in Sunni anti-Shī‘ī polemics. This section of the text demonstrates the prevalence of Alid loyalism in early modern South Asia even among strongly anti-Shī‘ī  scholars such as Sirhindī, while also underscoring that Alid loyalism and Shī‘ism (or sympathy towards it) were not interchangeable during this period (in fact, they could be quite antithetical). This closing section of the epistle also demonstrates his mystical background and inclinations, since the devotion to the Prophetic Household was an important characteristic of many Sūfī orders.

(Facsimile of the  Ottoman manuscript “Subhat al-Akhbar” (17th c.) On the right: the Prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun Caliphs with their respective genealogical charts. On the left are the Family of the Prophet (the Ahl al-Bayt), with al-Hasan and al-Husayn at the top and the remainder of the 12 Imams (including Muhammad al-Mahdi b. al-Hasan al-Askari) in the center. It represents the Ottoman [Sunni] attempt to harmonize loyalty to the first four caliphs and the Family of the Prophet)

The text of the Radd-i Rawāfiẓ is incredibly significant in its own right and provides important insights into the theological and historical perspectives of Sirhindī.[70] It shows that, although he staunchly opposed key tenets of Shī‘īsm, he was not inclined to disparage, undermine or ignore the supreme rank of the Prophetic Household as some other Sunnī scholars had done in the past within the context of polemics. Nor was he prepared to declare Twelver Shī‘īs to be outright disbelievers, but was content in labeling them “innovators.” More importantly, the epistle shows that Sirhindī was equally concerned with upholding “correct doctrine” as he was with undermining “heresy.” The introduction to the letter, in which he states that his primary motive in composing the Radd was a concern that the public manifestation of aspects of Shī‘ī doctrine, such as the tabarru’ (cursing of the first three caliphs), had become widespread in the Mughal court and needed to be refuted, makes his intentions in this regard quite clear.

For Sirhindī, the fact that Shī‘ī scholars were openly proclaiming their animosity towards figures who were considered sacred in the Sunnī tradition was far more troubling and dangerous to the Muslim community than the fact that they held such views in general. In other words, Sirhindī’s concerns were far more about the social and the political implications of such acts, rather than with the underlying theological beliefs of a particular group of Muslims, however deviant he may have viewed them to be. This is similar to how Friedmann classifies Sirhindī’s stance on Hinduism where he underscores that, despite the virulent rhetoric which Sirhindī utilizes, the latter was primarily concerned with the role of Hindus within the Mughal court and the failure of Akbar to uphold the jizya tax, but was otherwise indifferent to the theological or religious nature of Hinduism in India.[71] This is not to say that Sirhindī was not absolutely opposed, in principle, to either Hinduism or Shī‘īsm (he most certainly was), but rather it is to emphasize that his writings against them represent part of the jihad-i qawlī which sought to guide the Mughal emperor to recognize the deviation from orthodoxy and persuade him (and other figures in his court) to institute the sharī‘ah.

According to Sirhindī, it was the universalist environment of the Mughal court under Akbar and (to a lesser degree) Jahāngīr which encouraged heresy and, therefore, in this context, Shī‘īsm was merely part of a larger problem which plagued the religio-political order in the Mughal realms. Thus, the Radd should not be viewed merely as a reactionary document which seeks to single-out Shī‘īsm as a massive threat, but rather as complementary to a broader program of reform which sought to reinforce the “orthodox” identity of Sunni Muslims (especially within the Mughal court) and establish a legitimately Islamic basis for the religio-political order by delineating the “proper” doctrines of belief. The fact that this letter was composed prior to Sirhindī’s initiation into the Naqshbandī order and was never referred to again in any of his writings nor preserved in his Maktūbāt is very significant and demonstrates that it was a highly contextual response rather than a comprehensive theological refutation of Twelver Shī‘īsm. [72] Sirhindī’s later works, in which he considers Shī‘īs as “innovators” but nonetheless an inseparable part of the Muslim community, and in which he affirms the walāyah (spiritual leadership) of the Twelve Shī‘ī imams, proves his theological views to be more nuanced than that which is laid out in the Radd.[73]

Concluding Remarks: Towards a Reassessment of Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī

The environment of religious universalism in Mughal India, and the policies rooted in concepts of the relativity of religious truth and sulḥ-i kul, promoted by Akbar and continued to a lesser degree by Jahāngīr, prompted religious scholars such Sirhindī to aggressively undertake a program of radical reform to reverse these trends. For Sirhindī, a situation in which the privileged status of Muslims was diluted by laws which challenged the supremacy of the sharī‘ah was unacceptable and posed a direct threat to the sanctity of Islam and the preservation of the Muslim community. In addition to actively opposing Akbar’s universalist policies and the public manifestation of Hinduism, Sirhindī was also deeply concerned with the rising power and influence of Shī‘ī Muslims in the Mughal court.

Despite the brevity of this piece, I have attempted to argue for the need to reconceptualize Aḥmad Sirhindī’s writings on Shī‘īsm within the broader context of his program of tajdīd, or religious reform/renewal. By highlighting the larger environment of Akbarī universalism which was fostered during the reigns of the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahāngīr, scholars can attain a stronger appreciation of the atmosphere against which religious scholars such as Sirhindī were reacting in their writings. Rather than perceiving Sirhindī’s strong censure of Shī‘īsm as merely another document within the broad genre of intra-Islamic polemics during the medieval and early modern period, I have tried to show that the Radd-i Rawāfiẓ needs to be interpreted within the context of Sirhindī’s response to Akbarī universalism. As the introduction of the epistle makes clear, Sirhindī’s concerns were largely restricted to the Mughal context. The fact that his writings hardly make mention of the Safavids, a distinctly Shī‘ī polity with a staunchly anti-Sunnī policy, underscores that Sirhindī was primarily seeking to reform the state of affairs within India, rather than attempting to launch an invective against Shī‘īsm more broadly. Although I have not undertaken a comprehensive analysis of Sirhindī’s writings, which is an essential endeavor for anyone seeking to understand the relationship between the Mughal universalist context and his religious writings, I have sought to illuminate the broader socio-political context in which Sirhindī’s religious writings should be interpreted. In the near future, I hope to undertake further research and expand on these ideas by closely engaging with his Maktūbāt, which has been translated into Arabic in its entirety, and relating his views on Shī‘īsm more closely with his immediate context.

Notes

[1] Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥajar al-Ḥaythamī (d. 1566), Al-Ṣawā‘iq al-Muḥriqah ‘ala ahl al-rafḍ wa al-ḍalāl wa al-zandaqah (Beirut: Mu’asasat al-Risālah, 1997), 2 vols., ed. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Turkī; Aḥmad ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥalīm ibn Taymīyyah (d. 1328),  Minhā al-Sunnah al-Nabawīyyah (Riyadh: Ashrafat ʻalá ṭibāʻatih wa-nashrih Idārat al-Thaqāfah wa-al-Nashr bi-al-Jāmiʻah, 1986), 9 vols., ed. Muḥammad Rashād Salīm

[2] Translations and editions of these letters have been taken from Maḥmūd Aḥmad Ghāzī, Tarīkh al-Ḥarakah al-Mujadidīyyah: Dirasah Tarīkhīyyah Taḥlīlīyyah li-Ḥayat al-Imām al-Mujaddid Aḥmad al-Sirhindī (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmīyyah, 2009), pp. 241–445

[3] Marshall Hodgson, Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 3: 68

[4] For a discussion of Sufism in South Asia in the medieval period, see Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), pp. 344–370; J.S. Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” in Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ed. J.S. Grewal, pp. 318–352

[5] This question has attracted much attention in recent years and has been greatly politicized since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, which led the debate to be centered on the issue of the role of Islam in the identity of India. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the politics of the Indian nation-state has also greatly colored the historiography of the Mughal period and notions of “syncretism” and “tolerance”

[6] While it may be expected that Islam would view Hindus, who were not officially recognized in the Qur’ān as “people of the book,” as idol-worshipers who faced conversion or death, the earliest Muslim conquerors of India, including Muḥammad ibn Qāsim (d. 715), classified them as dhimmīs (subject communities) and granted them the same rights as those given to Christians and Jews in the Islamic polity; this policy was largely upheld by subsequent Muslim rulers and legitimated by the ‘ulamā’ in the subcontinent. Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Akbar and Religion (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delhi, 1989), pp. 96–97

[7] Imtiaz Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” in Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ed. J.S. Grewal, p. 270; Douglas E. Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online

[8] Iqtidar Alam Khan, “The Nobility under Akbar and the Development of His Religious Policy,” in India’s Islamic Traditions, 711–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), ed. Richard Eaton, p. 125; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 101–118

[9] Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 119–131

[10] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 65–66; Stephen F. Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 101; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 131–132

[11] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 71–72; Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 101–102

[12] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 71–72; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 107–108; Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online; Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 269

[13] Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online

[14] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 71–73; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 230–232; Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online

[15] Ali Nadeem Rezavi, “The Shia Muslims,” in Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ed. J.S. Grewal, pp. 284–285

[16] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 72

[17] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 73; Dale, The Muslim Empires, p. 102; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 132–143; Lisa Balabanlilar, “Lords of the Auspicious Conjunction: Turco-Mongol Imperial Identity on the Subcontinent,” Journal of World History 1 (2007), p. 25; Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 269

[18] Khan, “The Nobility under Akbar and the Development of His Religious Policy,” p. 125; Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 83–84; Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 359; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 270–272

[19] Iqbal Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” in Contribution of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi to Islamic Thought: Seminar Papers (Aligarh: Institute of Islamic Studies, 2002), eds. Abdul Ali and Zafarul Islam, p. 29; Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” p. 341

[20] Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” p. 29

[21] Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 104–105

[22] A.S. Bazmee Ansari, “Djahāgīr,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online. A similar phenomenon can be observed with the execution of the Shī ‘ī theologian Qāzī Nūrullāh Shūstārī, who was executed on Jahāngīr’s orders on charges of heresy in 1610 (Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 273)

[23] Ansari, “Djahāgīr,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 104–105

[24] Mahmudul Haq, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi: His Vision of Islam,” in Contribution of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi to Islamic Thought: Seminar Papers (Aligarh: Institute of Islamic Studies, 2002), eds. Abdul Ali and Zafarul Islam, p. 114; Dale, The Muslim Empires, p. 102; Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 261–268; Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online

[25] Yohanan Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī: An Outline of his Thought and a Study of his Image in the Eyes of Posterity (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971), p. xiii; J.G.J. Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet: Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī as Mystic (Leiden: Het Oosters Instituut, 1992), p. 23; Abdul Haq Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah: A Study of Ahmad Sirhindi’s Effort to Reform Sufism (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1986), p. 11; Sh. Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online

[26] Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. xiii; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, pp. 24–25; Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, p.11

[27] Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 85; Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 102–103; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, pp. 24–25

[28] Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, pp. 24–25; Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, p. 12; Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” p. 336

[29] Fazlur Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oneworld Books, 2000), p. 166; Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. xiii; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, p. 29; Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, p. 13

[30] For the complexity of Sirhindī’s relationship with Jahāngīr, see Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” pp. 27–55

[31] Hodgson, Venture of Islam, 3: 85; Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, p. 28; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. 83; Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Balabanlilar, “Lords of the Auspicious Conjunction,” p. 22

[32] Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, p. 28; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. 83

[33] Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, p. 166; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, p. 47

[34] Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, p. 167; Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. xiii

[35] Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Inayatullah, “Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online; Friedman, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, p. xiii

[36] Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, pp. 167–168

[37] For an example of such representations, see Burhān Aḥmad Farūqī, The Mujaddid’s Conception of Tawḥīd: A Study of Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī’s Doctrine of Unity (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture 1989) and Athar Abbas Rizvi, Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Agra: Agra University, 1965)

[38] Abdul Haq Ansari, “Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī’s Doctrine of Waḥdat al-Shuhūd,” Islamic Studies 37 (1998), pp. 281–313; Tasadduq Husain, “Mujaddid’s Criticism on Ibn ‘Arabi.” In Contribution of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi to Islamic Thought: Seminar Papers (Aligarh: Institute of Islamic Studies, 2002), eds. Abdul Ali and Zafarul Islam, pp. 70–80; Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, pp. 168–170; Hogdson, Venture of Islam, 3: 85. For the most comprehensive analysis of Sirhindī’s mysticism, see Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, pp. 47–160

[39] Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, pp. 61–100; Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” pp. 336–338

[40] Nizami, Akbar and Religion, p. 264

[41] Nizami, Akbar and Religion, pp. 261–262; Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, pp. 61–100; Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” pp. 336–338

[42] Arthur F. Buehler, “Shari’at and Ulama’ in Ahmad Sirhindi’s Collected Letters,” Die Welt des Islams 43 (2003), pp. 309–320. For an elaborate analysis of Sirhindī’s ṣūfī-shar‘ī synthesis, see Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, pp. 61–118

[43] Ansari, Sufism and Shari’ah, pp. 130–139; Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, p. 168; Haq, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi,” pp. 103–103

[44] Muzaffar Alam, “The Mughals, the Sufi Shaykhs, and the Formation of the Akbari Dispensation,” Modern Asian Studies 43 (2007), pp. 135–174; Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, pp. 367–369

[45] Friedmann, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, pp. 69–112

[46] Friedmann, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, pp. 69, 72–75

[47] Athar Abbas Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ‘Asharī Shī‘īs in India. Canberra: Ma’rifat Publishing House, 1986, 1: 189–192; Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 71–72; Balabanlilar, “Lords of the Auspicious Conjunction,” p. 24; Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 268

[48] Dale, The Muslim Empires, p. 103; Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 272

[49] Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ‘Asharī Shī‘īs in India, 1: 193; Streusand, “Akbar,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition. Brill Online

[50] For a discussion of the role of Shī‘īs in Mughal India during the early period, see Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ‘Asharī Shī‘īs in India, 1: 186–246

[51] Balabanlilar, “Lords of the Auspicious Conjunction,” pp. 20–21, 24–25; Dale, The Muslim Empires, pp. 75–76

[52] John E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), pp. 3–10

[53] Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” p. 28; Grewal, “Sufism in Medieval India,” p. 342

[54] Dale, The Muslim Empires, p. 103; Ahmad, “The Sunni Muslims,” p. 272

[55] Rezavi, “The Shia Muslims,” pp. 287–288

[56] Rezavi, “The Shia Muslims,” p. 289. For more on the career of Qāzī Nūrullāh Shūstārī, revered as Shahīd-i Thālith (“The Third Martyr”) by Shī‘ī communities in South Asia, see Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ‘Asharī Shī‘īs in India, 1: 342–387

[57] Rezavi, “The Shia Muslims,” p. 289

[58] Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 210; Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 367; Ansari, Sufism and Shariah, p. 28; Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” p. 33; Ansari, “Djahāgīr,” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online

[59] Hodgson, Venture of Islam, 3: 83

[60] Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam, p. 168

[61] Ansari, Sufism and Shariah, p. 28; Sabir, “Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Relations with Jahangir,” pp. 31–34.  Findly, Nur Jahan, p. 210 questions the veracity of this claim.

[62] Aḥmad Sirhindī, “Risālah fī al-Radd ‘ala al-Rawāfiẓ,” p. 300

[63] Aḥmad Sirhindī, “Risālah fī al-Radd ‘ala al-Rawāfiẓ,” p. 300. For an exposition of the broader context of the rise of Shī‘īsm in the Mughal context during the reigns of Akbar and Jahāngīr, see Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ‘Asharī Shī‘īs in India, 1: 199–246, 342–399

[64] Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, p. 73

[65] Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, p. 70

[66] Aḥmad Sirhindī, “Risālah fī al-Radd ‘ala al-Rawāfiẓ,” pp. 300–308

[67] Aḥmad Sirhindī, “Risālah fī al-Radd ‘ala al-Rawāfiẓ,” pp. 308–321

[68] Aḥmad Sirhindī, “Risālah fī al-Radd ‘ala al-Rawāfiẓ,” pp. 321–323

[69] The devotion to the Prophetic Household was an essential aspect of most mystical orders and it is unsurprising that Sirhindī includes a portion in his text expressing these sentiments.

[70] An excellent summary of the contents of the letter is provided in Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, pp. 70–74

[71] Friedmann, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, pp. 72–75

[72] Friedmann, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, pp. 4, 52–53

[73] Friedmann, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, pp. 52–53; Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet, p. 74


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