Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti (Persian: خواجہ معین الدین چشتی ) was born in 1141 and died in 1230 CE, also known as Gharib Nawaz (Persian: غریب نواز ), is the most famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order of South Asia. He was born in 536 A.H./1141 CE, in Sajistan, Khorasan (other accounts say Isfahan) in Persia. He was a direct descendent of Muhammad.

He was one of the most outstanding figures in the annals of Islamic mysticism and founder of the Chistiyya order in India.

Journeys

Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti visited the seminaries of Samarkand and Bukhara and acquired religious learning at the feet of eminent scholars of his age. He visited nearly all the great centers of Muslim culture, and acquainted himself with almost every important trend in Muslim religious life in the Middle Ages. In 1220 he became the disciple of the Chishti Khawaja Uthman Harooni. They traveled the Middle East extensively together, including visits to Mecca and Medina.

Return to India

Moinuddin Chishti turned towards India, reputedly after a dream in which Muhammad told him to do so, and, after a brief stay at Lahore he reached Ajmer where he settled down. There he attracted a substantial following, acquiring a great deal of respect amongst the residents of the city. Today, hundreds of thousands of people, Muslims, Hindus and others, from the Indian sub-continent assemble to his tomb on the occasion of his urs (death anniversary).

Founding of Chishtiyya order in India

He apparently never wrote down his teachings in the form of a book, nor did his immediate disciples do so. But he laid the foundations of the Chishtiyya order in Ajmer, India, where common people flocked to him in large numbers. His firm faith in Wahdat al-wujud (Unity of Being) provided the necessary ideological support to his mystic mission to bring about emotional integration of the people amongst whom he lived.

The central principles that became characteristics of the Chistiyya order are based on his teachings and practices. They lay stress on renunciation of material goods; strict regime of self-discipline and personal prayer; participation in Sama as a legitimate means to spiritual transformation; reliance on either cultivation or unsolicited offerings as means of basic subsistence; independence from rulers and the state, including rejection of monetary and land grants; generosity to others, particularly, through sharing of food and wealth, and tolerance and respect for religious differences.

He, in other words, interpreted religion in terms of human service and exhorted his disciples “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality.” The highest form of devotion, according to him, was “to redress the misery of those in distress – to fulfill the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry.”

It was during the reign of Akbar (1556 – 1605) that Ajmer emerged as one of the most important centers of pilgrimage in India when the Mughal Emperor undertook an unceremonial journey on foot to accomplish his humble wish to reach the place. The Akbarnama records that the emperor’s interest was first sparked when he heard some minstrels singing songs about the virtues of the holy man who lay asleep in Ajmer. Emperor Akbar was a Sufi mystic who firmly believed that all existence is one, and that love of God and one’s brethren was more important than narrow religious rituals.

Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti authored several books including ‘Anis al-Arwah’ and ‘Daleel al-Arefeen’ both of them dealing with Islamic code of living.

Khawaja Qutbuddin Baktiyar Kaki (d. 1235) and Hamiduddin Nagori (d. 1276) were Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti’s celebrated Khalifa or disciples who continued transmitting the teachings of their master through their disciples, leading to the widespread proliferation of the Chistiyya order in India.

Among Khawaja Qutbuddin Baktiyar’s prominent disciples was Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (d. 1265), whose dargah is at Pakpattan (Pakistan). And Fariduddin’s most famous disciple was Nizamuddin Awliya (d. 1325) popularly referred to as Mahboob-i-Ilahi (God’s beloved) whose dargah is located in South Delhi.

From Delhi, the disciples branched out to establish dargahs in several regions of South Asia, from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, and the Deccan in the south. But from all the network of Chishti dargahs Ajmer dargah took on the special distinction of being the ‘mother’ dargah of them all.

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