ʿABDALLĀH, ŠĀH (d. 890/1485), Persian Sufi who introduced the Šaṭṭārī order into India. His family claimed descent from Shaikh Šehāb-al-dīn Sohravardī, while he traced his spiritual genealogy to Shaikh Abū Yazīd Ṭayfūr Besṭāmī. His selsela was known as ʿEšqīya in Iran and Besṭāmīya in Asia Minor (Golzār-e abrār, fol. 101a), but in India as Šaṭṭārī; and ʿAbdallāh is the first saint with whose name the term Šaṭṭārī appears (Maʿāref al-welāya, ms.; Ḵazīnat al-aṣfīāʾ, p. 947). Unlike the many orders named after some outstanding saint, his is named after a spiritual talent—speed in traversing the mystic path (Golzār-e abrār, fol. 102a). According to the saints of this selsela (Laṭāʾef-e ḡaybīya, ms.), there are three types of mystics who strife for maʿrefat “gnosis”—the aḵyār “the good,” the abrār “the pious,” and the šaṭṭār “the swift.” The course followed by the šaṭṭār is said to be the shortest and quickest to true gnosis.
ʿAbdallāh traveled extensively, visiting a number of eminent saints in Iraq and Khorasan before reaching India. In Bokhara he heard about the spiritual prowess of Shaikh Moẓaffar Kītānī Ḵalvatī and went to see him at Nīšāpūr. It was from him that ʿAbdallāh learned different types of ḏekr. In Azerbaijan he visited Sayyed ʿAlī Movaḥḥed, who taught him many mystic practices. ʿAbdallāh arrived in India at a time when the minor dynasties that had followed the decline of the centralized Delhi sultanate were coming to an end. There was widespread chaos and instability in northern India. He ultimately settled in Mandu, where he died in 832/1429 (Ḵazīnat al-aṣfīāʾ, p. 949) or, according to others, 890/1485.
The Šaṭṭārī teachings centered on asrār-e tawḥīd, secrets of divine unity, in a distinctive manner. Wherever ʿAbdallāh went he sent a message to local saints to come and instruct him about divine unity; if they were unable to do so, they were asked to come and learn it from him. Shaikh Moḥammad ʿAlāʾ (later known as Shaikh Qażen Šaṭṭārī) at first challenged Šāh ʿAbdallāh but subsequently became one of his ardent disciples, popularizing the Šaṭṭārī selsela in Bengal. Thereafter Šaṭṭārī centers came to be established at Jaunpur, Rudawli, Sambhal, Kalpi, Gwalior, Agra, Bhanpur, Baroda, Ahmadabad, and Mandu.
Šāh ʿAbdallāh lived with great pomp and panoply, put on royal apparel, and moved from place to place with a band of disciples clad in military uniform, displaying banners and beating drums. They appeared to be a militia, and every ruler initially reacted with suspicion. But when it became evident that the objectives of Šāh ʿAbdallāh were non-political, he was allowed to carry on his propaganda. It is said that before admitting a person to his discipline, the saint gave him a piece of bread with some gravy on it. If the person consumed the bread and the gravy together, he was admitted; if not, he was rejected as one lacking insight and wisdom and therefore unfit for higher spiritual work (Aḵbār al-aḵyār, p. 169).
One of Šāh ʿAbdallāh’s claims was the simultaneous attainment of opposite but complementary spiritual states through his meditative discipline—ḥeǰāb “concealment” with enkešāf “exposition,” qabż “depression” with basṭ “expansion,” hast “existence” with nīst “non-existence,” tanhāʾī “solitude” with hamrāhī “company,” and ḵāmūšī “silence” with gūyāʾī “speech” (Golzār-e abrār, fol. 183a). He emphasized the interiorization of religious practices more than other Sufis, and it was partially for this reason that the impact of his teachings remained confined to the selected few around him.
Šāh ʿAbdallāh compiled a single work, Laṭāʾef-e ḡaybīya, which he allegedly dedicated to Sultan Ḡīāṯ-al-dīn Ḵalǰī of Malwa (1469-1500). It still exists in manuscript form (e.g., Maner ms. dated 1025/1616), and sets forth the doctrines that remained normative for the Šaṭṭārī selsela.
Moḥammad Ḡawṯī Šaṭṭārī, Golzār-e abrār (ms. in John Rylands Library, fols. 101a-02b) contains an authentic and detailed account of the saint and other Sufis of the selsela. Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Moḥaddeṯ Dehlavī, Aḵbār al-aḵyār, Delhi, 1280/1863-64, p. 169.
Ḡolām Moʿīn-al-dīn ʿAbdallāh Ḵᵛešgī, Maʿāref al-welāya, ms. in private collection. Ḡolām Sarvar Lāhūrī, Ḵazīnat al-aṣfīāʾ, Lahore, 1284/1867, pp. 947-49.
Qāżī Moʿīn-al-dīn Aḥmad, “History of the Šaṭṭārī Selsela,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Aligarh Muslim University, 1963, pp. 1-16.
K. A. Nizami, “Šaṭṭārī Saints and their Attitude towards the State,” MIQ 1/2, pp. 56-70.
(K. A. Nizami)
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 15, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, p. 178