AḤMAD RODAWLAVĪ, ʿABD-AL-ḤAQQ (d. 837/1434), early Muslim saint of the Ṣāberīya Češtīya (a branch of the Češtī selsela only scantily documented). He was probably born ca. 751/1350 (cf. his disciple ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs Gangōhī, Anwār al-ʿoyūn, lith. ed., Lucknow, 1296/1879, p. 26) in Rudawli, a town in eastern Uttar Pradesh near Jawnpur. His family had migrated from Balḵ in the second half of the 7th/13th century (ibid., pp. 120-21) and must have settled for a time in Delhi, since his grandfather is said to have been a disciple of Naṣīr-al-dīn Čerāḡ-e Dehlī (d. 757/1356; ibid., p. 121). Aḥmad and his brother, Taqī-al-dīn (later a skilled poet), went to Delhi to pursue their formal religious studies. Aḥmad’s mystical promptings and experiences (ibid., pp. 11-12) led him to Panipat and his pīr Shaikh Jalāl-al-dīn, who is recorded as the third head of the Ṣāberīya Češtīya (for the chronological problems in this lineage).
The mystical discipline which Aḥmad underwent at Panipat and practiced when he succeeded Jalāl-al-dīn was tinged with the wrath of God (qahr-e ḵodā; ibid., p. 21), as if he exemplified his master’s very name ǰalāl-al-dīn “the majesty of the faith.” Hoǰvīrī (Kašf al-maḥǰūb, tr. R. A. Nicholson, London, 1911, p. 288) noted that those who testify to the divine majesty (ǰalāl) “are always abhorring their own attributes and their hearts are stricken with awe.” Perhaps it was Aḥmad’s total absorption in devotional surrender to God that caused him to display his wrath toward those who crossed him. Once he was so offended that his family could not pay the musicians after a performance of samāʿ that he left home for six months (Anwār al-ʿoyūn, pp. 64-65). On another occasion one of his sons is said to have become too raucous in his play, disturbing Aḥmad’s meditation. The saint angrily stalked into the forest and selected a place for the boy’s grave; he died three days later (ibid., pp. 49-50).
Aḥmad’s charisma, according to ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs, derived from his acceptance of the prophetic dictum, often quoted by Sufis: “Die before you die.” In search of an appropriate place to cultivate his own group of disciples (he had already visited Bhakkar, Sind; Sannam, Panjab; Pandua, Bengal; and Bihar), the Shaikh is alleged to have stopped en route from Bihar to Oudh at a clearing, where he was commanded by God to dig a grave. He dug it and then lay in it for the next six months, continually communicating with the Almighty. As a result of this experience, he was given the honorific name ʿabd-al-Ḥaqq zendagānī-e abad “the slave of God, alive forever” (ibid., pp. 27-28, 114). Aḥmad returned to Rudawli and went to the tomb of Shaikh Ṣalāḥ Darvīš, where he asked the saint’s permission to settle within his welāyat or spiritual domain. Only when the Prophet himself had spoken to Aḥmad and materialized a prayer mat and water jug from the tomb of Ṣalāḥ Darvīš did the itinerant saint deem it proper to claim the qaṣaba of Rudawli as his own spiritual realm (ibid., pp. 39-40). He remained there and was probably beyond eighty when he expired on 15 Jomādā II 837/28 January 1434. The most distinctive aspect of Aḥmad’s devotional practices was his use of the name “Ḥaqq.” The word has been prominent in Sufism from the time of the mystic martyr Ḥallāǰ (d. 298/910), who was executed for having proclaimed ana’l-Ḥaqq “I am the Truth,” and it is one of God’s ninety-nine names (al-asmāʾ al-ḥosnā), but according to Aḥmad’s Ṣāberī Češtī followers, their patron saint concentrated on this name alone with total, unbending force after his dramatic sepulchral initiation. One tradition avers that the saint did not even know where the congregational mosque was located in Rudawli. At prayer time, his servant would precede him to the mosque, and then call out the words “Ḥaqq! Ḥaqq! Ḥaqq!” as a signal to the transfixed saint, who would walk in the direction of these words till he came to the mosque. If the servant remained silent, Aḥmad would stand in place awestruck (ibid., pp. 115-16). Even today members of his ḵānaqāh greet each other and begin their meals with a threefold repetition of this divine name; not surprisingly, various attempts have been made to explain its threefold nature (e.g., ibid., p. 115).
Beyond the mystical subtleties and severities of Aḥmad ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq, it has been suggested that his modest success was assisted by his connection with the ruling Šarqī dynasty of Jawnpur (S. Digby, “ʿAbd-al-Quddus,” pp. 5-6). Sultan Ebrāhīm Šarqī, whom the saint once met, offered him a grant of four villages and approximately 300 acres (1,000 bīghas) of land near Rudawli, and according to ʿAbd-al-Qoddūs (Anwār al-ʿoyūn, p. 35), even though Shaikh Aḥmad refused the royal grant, a substantial flow of charitable day-to-day offerings (fotūḥāt) came to his ḵānaqāh because of the prestige attached to his refusal. Shaikh Aḥmad’s successors continued to refuse royal grants. They and their dependents live today in meager circumstances near the esteemed ancestor’s grave, appropriately located within a modest shaded enclosure; over the entrance three words are inscribed: “Ḥaqq! Ḥaqq! Ḥaqq!”
ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Moḥaddeṯ Dehlavī, Aḵbār al-aḵyār, Delhi, 1280/1863, pp. 180-82.
Allāhdīā Čestī, Sīar al-aqṭāb (Urdu tr.), Lucknow, 1306/1888, pp. 179-81.
Ḡolām Sarvar Lāhūrī, Ḵazīnat al-aṣfīāʾ, Lahore, 1293/1876 pp. 374-78.
Ḵ. A. Neẓāmī, Tārīḵ-emašāʾeḵ-e Češt (Urdu), Delhi, 1953, pp. 215-20.
Š. M. A. Fārūqī, Šaḵṣīyat owr sīrat-i Šayḵ Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq Rodawlavī (Urdu), Lucknow, 1974.
S. Digby, “ʿAbd al-Quddus Gangohi (1456-1537 A.D.): The Personality and Attitudes of a Medieval Indian Sufi,” Medieval India: A Miscellany III, Aligarh, 1975, pp. 4-8.
(B. B. Lawrence)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 28, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 653-654
B. B. Lawrence, “AḤMAD RODAWLAVĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/6, pp. 653-654; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ahmad-rodawlavi-abd-al-haqq-d (accessed on 19 March 2014).