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Sufism in Uzbekistan. On the track of spiritual elevation

Sufism developed in Muslim countries over 1200 years ago and within several centuries it spread from the Middle East to India and Central Asia, and from the northern parts of China to Indonesia. Soon Sufism became an important part of Oriental culture and began to strongly affect the philosophy, literature and art of Islamic peoples. The term Sufism, tasavvuf, is traced to the Arabic word suf ('wool'), referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics used to wear. Scholars define Sufism as mystic Islamic belief and practice. But this definition is as brief as it is inaccurate. Ordinary people associate Sufism with asceticism or philosophizing... Peculiar are the paths Sufism traveled along in the past.

The development of Sufism and Sufi teachings was inseparably linked with the spread of Islam in the 7th – 8th centuries in the Middle East and Central Asia populated with Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews.

The essence of Sufi philosophy is in taking the mystical pathway leading closer to God and God's Truth. A true Sufi was to abandon wealth and content himself with the little, asking for alms or earning his living by his own labour. This rule, according to one of the hadiths, comes from the Prophet's expression 'My poverty is my pride'.

The key concept of Sufism is the ecstatic state one gets from God. This state is a sudden inner enlightenment that means that a Sufi has got beyond the usual ways of perception of the world, got free from emotions and became full of God's love and knowledge.

In the 9th century there appeared small Sufi groups, each consisting of a teacher and his disciples. The first Sufi centers were khanakas. A khanaka was a cloister or a hospice. From the 11th century Sufi brotherhoods made them their abode. In khanakas the Sufis prayed, practiced their collective mystical rites, fasted, and exchanged spiritual experiences. Each pir (teacher) had his own khanaka where he preached to his murids (disciples). Such khanakas gave rise to Sufi orders led by sheikhs, spiritual tutors.

In the literature it is a common practice to call a Sufi tariqah community an order, similar to Christian monastic brotherhoods. But this is erroneous approach since the relations between the teacher and a disciple in a Sufi brotherhood have nothing in common with the monastic charter. Members of Sufi orders, for example, never took vows of celibacy, and, as a rule, had families.

The outstanding theologian Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail Abu Abdallah al-Bukhari should be considered the precursor of Sufism in Uzbekistan. He went down in history as the author of the second important Islamic book (after the Koran) Al-Jami as Sahih – a collection of 7275 most trustworthy hadiths. From extant records we know that he was born in Bukhara in 810. Imam al-Bukhari wrote over twenty theological works dealing with lots of subjects: strong and weak points of a human being, wisdom and generosity, compassion and sense of duty, diligence and dangers of an idle life. He died in 870 in the village of Hartang, at a distance of 12 kilometers from Samarkand. The mausoleum built over his tomb became one of the most important Islamic pilgrimage destinations.

Among a large number of Al-Bukhari's disciples and followers the most prominent was his younger contemporary Abu Isa Muhammad ibn Savra ibn Musa ad-Dahhak as-Sulami, known in the Islamic world as Imam At-Termizi. He was born in 824 in the small village of Bus near Termez (present-day Surkhandarya Province). Having made a hajj to Mecca, he stayed in Arabia for many years. There he became Al-Bukhari's disciple and companion and developed an orderly, logical system of views on the essence of the trust in Allah and His Prophet. These views were set forth in the scholar's theological works A Treatise on Differences and Interpretations in Hadiths, A Book on Piety, A Book on Names and Nicknames, The Great Collection. At-Termizi went down in history not only as an outstanding muhaddis but also as the founder and the sheikh of the Sufi order Hakimija (The order of the wise). During his lifetime he was given the nickname Hakim at-Termizi – 'A Wise Man From Termez'. He died in 892.

To a great extent the development of Sufism in Central Asia was fostered by Hajji Ahmad Yassavi. He lived in the 11th – 12th centuries. His name is bound up with many legends. Hajji Ahmad was born in the village of Yassa. He studied in Bukhara where he became a follower of Sufism. Among his teachers, there was the well-known Sufi Yusuf Hamadoni, under whose influence Ahmad Yassavi developed his doctrine Yassaviya which became widely spread in the territory of present-day Uzbekistan since it was expounded in the Turkic language.

Having attained the age of the Prophet, that is the age of 63, Ahmad Yassavi retired from the worldly life and secluded in a specially built underground cell where he spent the rest of his life ascetically, trying to reach the depths of Spirit and its predominance over the perishable evanescent world. Ahmad Yassavi's work Devoni Hikmat (Collection of Wise Sayings) contains adages and hikmats - maxims of the truth which his followers have referred to for centuries. Hajji Ahmad Yassavi died in 1166 and was buried in the town of Turkestan.

Moral and ethical principles consolidating the virtue of the true Islam were the content of the religious system created by another outstanding theologian Hajji Abdulhalik Gijduvani. He was born in the small town of Gijduvan near Bukhara in 1103. The doctrine he developed was notable for its originality; it successfully opposed various 'heretical' trends in Islam. In his theological works 'Risolayi Sahobia', 'Risolayi Tariqat', 'Vasiyatnoma' and others he conveyed his thoughts about science, religion and secular people's interactions; about man and his place in society, about fostering in oneself such qualities of a Moslem as kindness, respect for seniors, adherence to moral principles, generosity… Gijduvani was buried in his hometown.

One of the most prominent figures among the Sufis of the times of Mongolian invasion was the poet and philosopher Pahlavan Mahmud. He was born in Khiva in 1147. The amazing virtues of Pahlavan Makhmud, who combined in himself poetic talent, courage and strength of an invincible wrestler, mastery of a craftsman and wisdom of a philosopher, brought him respect and love of contemporaries and high esteem of the next generations. He was a member of the Sufi order Javonmardlik ('Courage of Youth'). His Sufi views are in the best way expressed in his verse:

To glorify the truth is the best.
To meet the dawn with a prayer is the best.
For the sake of a good name
To give bread to hungry men is the best.

Pahlavan Mahmud died at the age of 80 and according to his will was buried in the yard of his furrier's workshop. Centuries later a necropolis of the khan's family appeared around his grave. Pakhlavan Mahmud was proclaimed a pir - a patron saint of Khiva.

A contemporary and fellow countryman of Pakhlavan Mahmud and one of the most outstanding Oriental theologians was Sheikh Najmiddin Kubro - the founder and ardent preacher of the Sufi order Kubraviya. He was born in Khorezm in 1145. He studied in Egypt where the famous philosopher Ruzbehona al-Misri was his tutor. Najmiddin Kubro's legacy includes a number of theological and philosophical treatises and a collection of lyric poems.

The main point of Najmiddin Kubro's doctrine is equality of all the people before God, irrespective of their origin, wealth and social status. Kubro claimed that man is the God's top creation, his will is free and so he should be responsible for his acts, without hoping for or complaining of predestination, and should live relying on his power of reason and on his labour.

Najmiddin Kubro's views incorporated moral principles of the working people. It is no wonder that Kubraviya was widespread among handicraftsmen and peasants. People nicknamed the sheikh Valitarosh – 'Creator of Saints', because many of his murids - disciples became sheikhs. The fame of Najmiddin Kubro reached the most remote corners of the Muslim world. Even the most powerful governors reckoned with his popularity and authority. Before Genghis Khan began his military campaign in Khorezm, he sent a messenger to the sheikh offering him to leave the town. But Kubro rejected such a shameful escape. With his disciples he participated in the fight against Mongolian soldiers and suffered death at the enemy's hands.

Najmiddin Kubro's followers were so numerous that across all Asia branches of Kubraviya order were set up with its centers in Bukhara, Horasan, Kashmir, Delhi, and East Turkestan.

An invaluable influence on Sufism in Uzbekistan and in the Muslim world in general was exerted by Sheikh Bahauddin Naqshbandi - a great Sufi and spiritual tutor of Amir Temur. Muhammad Bahauddin Naqshbandi was born in a small village near Bukhara in 1318, in the family of a weaver. Early in life he excelled at weaving of patterned silk fabrics. So it was not without reason that in later period he was regarded the patron saint of handicraftsmen. Having developed his own doctrine, Bahauddin Naqshbandi founded the Sufi order Naqshbandiya. The basic principle of Nakshbandi's teaching was the necessity of following the example of the Prophet and his associates. The priority of the order was the realization of faqr, that is 'voluntary poverty' principle.

After Bahauddin Naqshbandi died in 1389 numerous pilgrims began visiting his grave, as he was worshipped not only in Bukhara, and three pilgrimages to his tomb are treated as equal to a small hajj to Mecca. The name of Sheikh Bahauddin is surrounded by an aura of sanctity. Before ascending the throne Bukhara emirs would visit his tomb and utter a prayer.

In a short period Sufi doctrine of Naqshbandiya became very influential in Iran, Afghanistan, India and Asia Minor, in East Turkestan and Kashgar, in Caucasian countries and Turkey. Even today Naqshbandiya order keeps influencing to a great extent the religious policy and position of Muslim clergy.

Next to the memorial complex of Bahauddin Naqshbandi there stands Bahauddinn Naqsbandi Museum. Actually, this is the only museum of Sufism history in the world.

One of the most influential and mysterious personalities of the turbulent 15th century was Hajji Ahrar Vali, a sheikh of Naqsbandiya order. He was born in the village of Boghistan in Tashkent oasis in 1404 in the family of a landowner and a hereditary sheikh. It was Sheikh Yakub Charkhi who initiated Hajji Ahrar into Naqshbandiya order. For several years Hajji Ahrar was engaged in farming activity at his ancestral estate on a small plot of arable land, which could be ploughed with just a pair of oxen. He later reiterated that he was a simple peasant. Moreover, others people too called him 'a rural sheikh'.

Little by little this Sufi sheikh bought more lands. Wealthy members of Naqshbandiya order donated him parts of their allotments and soon Hajji Ahrar became one of the major landowners in Central Asia. However, Hajji Ahrar led an extraordinary modest life of a dervish. Like the founder of Naqshbandiya order, he worked in the field thus earning his living. At the same time he provided charitable endowment to the poor, doling out bread and money, building hospices for the clergy. He sponsored the construction of mosques and madrassahs in Samarkand, Tashkent, Bukhara and Kabul, and khanaqas abodes for dervishes.

Hajji Ahrar proclaimed himself protector of the oppressed and asserted that this role of his had been granted to him by God. Mongolian khan Yunus-khan, the governor of Tashkent, joined Naqshbandiya order and became Hajji Ahrar's disciple.

Feeling the approach of his death, Hajj Ahrar appointed his son Muhammed Yakhya his successor and custodian of his 'sacred tomb'. Hajji Ahrar was buried in Samarkand.

Many of the best intellectuals of the medieval Uzbekistan – poets and sovereigns, scientists and philosophers – were members of Sufi orders. Among them was Hajji Ahrar's contemporary, the great Uzbek poet Alisher Navoi. His Sufi views are best reflected in his poem 'Lisonut-tayr' ('Language of Birds'). It was written under the impressions he got after reading in his early years of the poem 'Speeches of Birds' by outstanding, thirteenth-century Sufi Fariduddin Atar. At the heart of Sufi concept of the poem 'Language of Birds' there underlies the assertion that man and beautiful nature around him are divine emanations on the earth:

He is Creator of all living beings, of their flesh and bodies.
He is both in mortals and immortals, infinitely everywhere.

The poem conveys the idea that Creator set up a personal path for each human, and everyone can reach God through personal purification and sincere repentance. To achieve this one should overcome his own obstinacy, greed, willfulness, pride, and arrogance, should be sincere in his prayers and actions and should choose benevolent way of life.

The whole life of a Sufi is a spiritual self-improvement with the main goal being the perception of the Truth, that is 'fusion with God'. During its centuries-old history Sufism has become widespread and continues to win more and more new followers worldwide. Web-sites on Sufism have appeared in Internet and they even hold on-line Sufi conferences. This ensures that Sufism becomes public. Nowadays there still exist tens of Sufi orders and schools. The major ones - Chishtiya, Sukhravardiya, Kadiriya, and Naqshbandiya - have the followers in all Islamic countries, including Uzbekistan. The names of the founders of the largest Sufi schools – Najmiddin Kubro, Akhmad Yassavi, At-Termezi, Bahauddin Naqshbandi – became inscribed upon the pages of the world's history of Moslem philosophy.

Humanism, optimism, toleration, moral and spiritual development of an individual in Sufism is what makes Sufis teachers the teachers of mankind. People constantly refer to Sufi wisdom, to their rich literary and philosophical legacy. According to Sufism, a human's happiness is possible only when he becomes a source of happiness for others. After all, Sufism is a way of life which allows man to realize his potential given to him by God and Nature.