BAḠDĀDĪ, MAWLĀNĀ ḴĀLED ŻĪĀʾ-AL-DĪN (1193-1242/1779-1827), the founder of a significant branch of the Naqšbandī Sufi order—named Ḵāledī after him—that has had a profound impact not only on his native Kurdistan but also on many other regions of the western Islamic world. Mawlānā Ḵāled apparently acquired the nesba Baḡdādī through his repeated stays in Baghdad, for it was in the Kurdish town of Qarādāḡ, about five miles distant from Solaymānīya, that he was born in 1193/1779. His father was a Sufi (probably of the Qāderī order), who was popularly known as Pīr Mīkāʾīl Šeš-angošt, and his mother also came from a celebrated Sufi family of Kurdistan. For many years, however, Mawlānā Ḵāled’s interests were focused exclusively on ʿelm, the formal traditions of religious learning, and his later, somewhat abrupt, turning to Sufism is highly reminiscent of the pattern found in many a classic Sufi biography.
His studies began in Qarādāḡ, with the memorization of the Koran, the assimilation of basic works of Shafeʿite feqh, and the learning of elementary logic. He then traveled to other centers of religious study in Kurdistan, concentrating on logic and kalām. Foremost among his teachers were two brothers, Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm and Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Karīm Barzanjī. Next he came to Baghdad, where he astounded the established ʿolamāʾ with his learning and worsted them in debate on many topics (at least according to Ḵāledī hagiographical sources). Such was his precocious mastery of the traditional religious sciences that the governor of Bābān proposed him a post as modarres, but he modestly refused. However, when ʿAbd-al-Karīm Barzanjī died of the plague in 1213/1798-99, Mawlānā Ḵāled assumed responsibility for the madrasa in Solaymānīya he had founded. There Mawlānā Ḵāled remained for about seven years, distinguished as yet only by his great learning and a high degree of asceticism that caused him to shun the company of secular authority.
In 1220/1805, Mawlānā Ḵāled conceived a desire to perform the hajj, and the journey he undertook as a result turned his aspirations to Sufism. Traveling by way of Mosul, Diyarbakir, Aleppo, and Damascus, he stopped for a few days in Medina before continuing to Mecca. There he encountered an anonymous, saintly Yemeni, who prophetically warned not to condemn hastily anything he might see in Mecca apparently contradicting the Šarīʿa. Once arrived in Mecca, Mawlānā Ḵāled went forthwith to the Kaʿba, where he saw a man sitting with his back to the sacred structure and facing him. Forgetting the admonition he had heard in Medina, Mawlānā Ḵāled inwardly reproved the man, who immediately divined his thoughts and said, “do you not know that the worth of the believer is greater in God’s eyes than the worth of the Kaʿba?” Penitent and overwhelmed, Mawlānā Ḵāled asked for forgiveness and begged the stranger to accept him as disciple. He refused, telling Mawlānā Ḵāled that his master awaited him in India. After the hajj, he returned to Solaymānīya and his duties at the madrasa but was inwardly agitated by the desire to find his destined master. Finally, in 1224/1809, an Indian dervish by the name of Mīrzā Raḥīm-Allāh ʿAẓīmābādī chanced to visit Solaymānīya, and he recommended to Mawlānā Ḵāled that he travel to India and seek initiation from a Naqšbandī shaikh of Delhi, Shah ʿAbd-Allāh (also known as Shah Ḡolām-ʿAlī) Dehlavī. Mawlānā Ḵāled departed immediately.
He traveled overland to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. There are indications in Mawlānā Ḵāled’s poetry that the journey was harsh and unpleasant, partly, no doubt, because of his insistence on doing vigorous sectarian debate with the various Shiʿite ʿolamāʾ he encountered, especially Shaikh Esmāʿīl Kāšī, a mojtahed of Tehran. He reached Delhi about a year after leaving Solaymānīya, and was immediately initiated into the Naqšbandī order by Shah ʿAbd-Allāh. It is said that in five months he completed all the stages of spiritual wayfaring laid down in the Naqšbandī order, and that in a year he attained the highest degree of sainthood (al-welāya al-kobrā). He was then sent back to Solaymānīya by Shah ʿAbd-Allāh, with full authority to act as his ḵalīfa in western Asia and to grant initiation not only in the Naqšbandī but also in the Qāderī, Sohrawardī, Kobrawī, and Češtī orders.
The return journey—again punctuated by hostile debate with Shiʿite ʿolamāʾ—took about fifty days and saw Mawlānā Ḵāled in Muscat, Yazd, Shiraz, Isfahan, Hamadān, and Sanandaj. Soon after his return, he came for a brief period to Baghdad, preaching the Naqšbandī way with considerable success. In Solaymānīya, however, rival shaikhs, of the Qāderī order, resented his popularity and tried to enlist the authority of the governor of the city against him. In 1228/1813, he therefore left prudently for another stay in Baghdad, where he took possession of a dilapidated madrasa and turned it into a Naqšbandī hospice and began recruiting numerous and often influential morīds. When one of his enemies from Solaymānīya sent a letter to Saʿīd Pasha, the governor of Baghdad, accusing Mawlānā Ḵāled of heresy in the hope of destroying his success, the maneuver failed: Saʿīd Pasha remained convinced of Mawlānā Ḵāled’s rectitude and had the celebrated Hanafite faqīh, Moḥammad Amīn b. ʿĀbedīn, compose a refutation of the charges raised against Mawlānā Ḵāled. He was thus able to make a triumphant return visit to Solaymānīya, where a zāwīa was built for him by Maḥmūd Pasha, governor of the city. He chose, however, to continue residing in Baghdad, and began to organize his ever-increasing following in the Ottoman lands by appointing ḵalīfas for different areas. Among those he sent out from Baghdad was Shaikh Aḥmad Ḵaṭīb Erbīlī, his ḵalīfa for Damascus. Erbīlī succeeded in recruiting the moftī of Damascus, Ḥosayn Efendi Morādī, into Mawlānā Ḵāled’s branch of the Naqšbandī order, and in 1238/1823 Morādī was able to persuade Mawlānā Ḵāled to move from Baghdad to Damascus.
He remained in Damascus for the remaining years of his life, leaving only to visit Jerusalem, where an impressive welcome was organized for him by his ḵalīfa for the city, Shaikh ʿAbd-Allāh Fardī, and to perform the hajj once again. In 1241/1826, the plague struck Damascus. He foresaw that he would die of the infection and after making meticulous provision for the place and manner of his burial, and appointing Shaikh Esmāʿīl Anārānī as his chief ḵalīfa, he died on 14 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 1242/8 June 1827 and was buried on one of the foothills of Jabal Qāsīyūn, on the edge of the Kurdish quarter of Damascus. Later a building was erected over the tomb, comprising a zāwīa and a library; it is still frequented.
Mawlānā Ḵāled established a new branch of an existing Sufi order; he did not originate a completely new one. Much of his significance lies, then, in his giving renewed emphasis to traditional tenets and practices of the Naqšbandī order, notably adherence to the Šarīʿa and the sonna and avoidance of vocal for silent ḏekr. Nonetheless, there were elements in his teaching that were novel and controversial, even among other Naqšbandīs. Foremost among these was his interpretation of the practice known as rābeṭa—the linking, in the imagination, of the heart of the morīd with that of the preceptor. In the only formal treatise he wrote on Sufi matters, Mawlānā Ḵāled defined it in novel fashion as “an imaginary fixing of the form of the shaikh between the eyes of the morīd,” and he proclaimed that rābeṭa was to be practiced exclusively with reference to himself, even after his death (Resālat al-rābeṭa, contained in Majmūʿa ʿaẓīma fī asrār al-ṭarīq, Istanbul, n.d., p. 20).
Equally important for the identity of the Ḵāledī branch of the Naqšbandī order was its political orientation: a pronounced loyalty to the Ottoman state as focus of Muslim unity and strength, and a concomitant hostility to the imperialist powers of Europe. Almost everywhere the Ḵāledīya went, from Daghestan to Sumatra, its members stood out through their militant attitudes and activities.
The diffusion of his following was extremely wide, reaching from the Balkans and the Crimea to South-East Asia just one generation after his death. His principal following was, however, in the Islamic heartlands, the Arab, Turkish, and Kurdish provinces of the Ottoman state and the Kurdish-inhabited areas of Iran. He gained many followers among the Ottoman learned hierarchy; not only Ebn ʿĀbedīn, but also Maḥmūd al-Alūsī, author of the important tafsīr Rūḥ al-maʿānī, and Makkīzāda Moṣṭafā ʿĀṣem Efendi, šayḵ-al-eslām under Maḥmūd II, were his morīds. Almost everywhere in Anatolia as well as in the capital itself, the Ḵāledī branch of the Naqšbandī order came to supersede branches of more ancient origin, and in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, the Naqšbandīs assumed an important place in the ranks of the Sufis for the first time.
Mawlānā Ḵāled had a special impact on the religious life of his homeland, Kurdistan. For the Kurds, the practice of Islam had been traditionally connected with membership in a Sufi order, and the Qāderī order had predominated in most Kurdish-inhabited areas. With the emergence of the Ḵāledīya, matters were changed: the Qāderīya lost their preeminence to the Naqšbandīya, and many shaikhly families switched their allegiance from the former to the latter. Kurdish identity became to a degree associated with the Ḵāledī branch of the Naqšbandī order, and this fact, together with the hereditary form that the leadership of the order assumed in Kurdistan, accounts for the prominence of various Naqšbandī families in Kurdistan down to the present.
It is also worth remarking that Mawlānā Ḵāled harbored a distinct enmity to the Shiʿites; he concludes his treatise on the rābeṭa, for example, with an imprecation against “the apostate Persians” as well as “the cursed Christians.” His spiritual descendants in Kurdistan fully assimilated these attitudes, so that the revolt of the Naqšbandī Shaikh ʿObayd-Allāh in the Orūmīa (Urmia) region in 1880 was not only a rebellion against Iranian rule but also a war against Shiʿism.
Mawlānā Ḵāled influenced his contemporaries mostly by means of his teaching, and posterity by means of the many lines of descent that go forth from him; he is certainly not among the most prolific of Sufi writers. Nonetheless, he left behind a number of writings in both poetry and prose. His Dīvān (first published at Būlāq in 1260/1844) consists of poems written in Persian, Arabic, and Gūrānī Kurdish, mostly the first. Some of the Persian ḡazals—all written under the influence of Indo-Persian masters such as Bīdel and Mīr Dard—show delicacy and imagination, but the general level of his verse is mediocre, and its chief interest lies in the biographical information that can be culled from it. His letters, in both Arabic and Persian, were collected and published after his death, and they attest to the widespread influence he enjoyed. Finally, there are the treatise he composed on the rābeṭa, and other brief pieces relating to various theological questions.
The chief source on the life of Mawlānā Ḵāled Baḡdādī is Ebrāhīm Faṣīḥ Ḥaydarī, al-Majd al-tāled fī manāqeb al-šayḵ Ḵāled, Istanbul, 1292/1874.
A briefer account, drawing on earlier sources, is contained in ʿAbd-al-Majīd al-Ḵānī, al-Ḥadāʾeq al-wardīya fī ḥaqāʾeq ajellāʾ al-Naqšbandīya, Cairo, 1306/1889, pp. 224-28, which also lists his main successors in the Ottoman lands (pp. 259-61).
Concerning the transmission of the Ḵāledīya to South East Asia, see Abaebakar Atjeh, Pengantar Ilmu Tarekut (Uraian Tentang Mystik), Bandung, 1964, pp. 334-37.
The history of the Ḵāledīya in Kurdistan has been discussed by Martin van Bruinessen in Agha, Shaikh and State: On the Social and Political Organization of Kurdistan, Utrecht, 1978, pp. 281-96, and Moḥammad-Rāʾūf Tawakkolī in Tārīḵ-etaṣawwof dar Kordestān, Tehran, n.d., pp. 196-225.
The collected works of Mawlānā Ḵāled, in Persian, Arabic, and Kurdish, have been reprinted in a single volume by Mollā ʿAbd-al-Karīm Modarres, together with a lengthy biographical introduction in Kurdish, under the title Yād-e mardān: Mawlānā Ḵāled-e Naqšbandī, Baghdad, 1979.
The only study of Mawlānā Ḵāled in a Western language is Albert Hourani, “Shaikh Khalid and the Naqshbandi Order,” Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition, ed. S. M. Stern, A. Hourani, and V. Brown, Oxford, 1972, pp. 89-103.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 22, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 410-412