AḴBĀR AL-AḴYĀR, the most reliable taḏkera of early Indian Sufis, by Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Moḥaddeṯ Dehlavī (d. 1052/1642). The book has been so carefully pruned of factual errors and legendary accretions that the shaikh appears to have applied oṣūl-e esnād, the yard-stick of Hadith scholarship, to the study of medieval saints (Nezami, Life and Times, p. 6). A history of the text is provided by the author himself at the end of several manuscripts. For instance, in State Library, Rampur no. 2299/fārsī 3 (undated but with seal of ownership [mohr] reading 1012/1603), fol. 239, it is said that the book was begun between 949-59/1542-52, the first draft finished by 996/1588 and the final version completed in 999/1591, shortly after ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq’s return to India from the Ḥeǰāz. This account confirms Badāʾūnī’s remark (tr., III, p. 167) that the date of writing is supplied by the chronogram, ḏekr al-awlīāʾ (999/1591). Rieu (Pers. Man. I, p. 355) has conjectured that ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq did not complete Aḵbār al-aḵyār till much later because, according to Tūzok-e Jahāngīrī (tr., II, p. 111), the shaikh visited the emperor in 1028/1618 and presented him with a book containing the biographies of Indian Sufi shaikhs. It was not unusual, however, for medieval authors to present their best rather than most recent book to kings. Moreover, Aḵbār al-aṣfīāʾ, which is clearly modeled after Aḵbār al-aḵyār, had been completed and dedicated to Jahāngīr in 1014/1605-06 (Ethé, Cat. Ind. Off. I, p. 266).
The format of the book is generous but orderly. The initial biography concerns ʿAbd-al-Qāder Jīlānī and resembles the more detailed account of his life which the shaikh wrote in Arabic (Zobdat al-āṯār). It is followed by the lives of Indian saints from both major and minor selselas, concluding with brief notices on ecstatic saints and notable wives or mothers of famous saints earlier described. The takmela explains ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq’s own ancestry and life; in the printed editions, it is invariably followed by the questionable letter of apology to Shaikh Aḥmad Serhendī (for a well-documented argument against the authenticity of this text, see Y. Friedmann, Shaikh Aḥmad Sirhindī, Montreal, 1971, p. 90). The major portion of Aḵbār al-aḵyār is devoted to expositing the lives of the principal Sufi shaikhs of India. The chronological conspectus which ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq proposes at the outset may have been derived from ʿAbdallāh Anṣārī’s Ṭabaqāt via Jāmī’s Nafaḥāt al-ons, but as Rieu has indicated, it is gradually abandoned: The first three generations (ṭabaqāt) account for less than half of the 255 saints’ biographies, and even they are unnaturally related to three of the first five major Češtī saints of India—Moʿīn-al-dīn, Farīd al-dīn, and Naṣīr-al-dīn. At the same time, there is no sharp delineation between disciples of Neẓām-al-dīn, the foremost Češtī shaikh, and others distantly connected with him, such as Żīaʾ-al-dīn Naḵšabī, nor are the progeny of saints discussed unless they themselves became saints, a difficult task for sons and an almost impossible goal for daughters, with the result that some few biographies are included only at the end of Aḵbār al-aḵyār.
Yet the organizational flaw of the book is minor in comparison with its achievements. Significant details about Češtī, Sohravardī, Ferdawsī, Šaṭṭārī, Qalandarī, and of course, Qāderī saints are tersely laid out, together with excerpts from their most distinctive and/or most popular writings (many of which are now unavailable). There is no bias toward one selsela or one viewpoint. Certain saints are excluded from consideration only because ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq implicitly adheres to a territorial definition of Indian Islam; to be an Indian Muslim one must die in India and be buried under Indian soil, unless one dies on the ḥaǰǰ, as did Faḵr-al-dīn Zarrādī, or is a resident in exile of Mecca, as was ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq’s own teacher, ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb Mottaqī. Hence, Sayyed ʿAlī Hamadānī, though a major saint and literary figure in medieval Kashmir, is not mentioned in Aḵbār al-aḵyār, since he died and was buried at Ḵottalān in Transoxania.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq culls numerous sources for his biographical information. From time to time he uses Sīar al-ʿārefīn of Shaikh Jamālī and Fawāʾed al-foʾād of Amīr Ḥasan. The spurious Češtī malfūẓāt must have been known to him, but he avoids even the mention of them except in one instance (the biography of Moʿīn-al-dīn). The first three ṭabaqāt, insofar as they concern Češtī and Sohravardī saints, reflect the influence of Amīr Ḵᵛord’s Sīar al-awlīāʾ, particularly in the accounts of minor saints. Yet ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq selects with care the material he incorporates from Sīar al-awlīāʾ, avoiding the latter’s prolixity and too frequent insertion of verse. He also draws from primary sources to illustrate the literary style and contribution of particular saints. When no source exists to solve a knotty problem, such as the selsela affiliation of legendized saints, he admits that it is insoluble.
Aḵbār al-aḵyār itself became a model for contemporary and later taḏkera writers. Aḵbār al-aṣfīāʾ, authored by and ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad, describes many of the same saints, often with parallel encomia and literary excerpts. ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad also describes some marginally Indian saints omitted by ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq, e.g., Faḵr-al-dīn ʿErāqī and Amīr Ḥosaynī Sādāt, and occasionally offers a different perspective on the same saint, e.g., Ḥosām-al-dīn Manekpūrī. The author of Maʿāreǰ al-walāyāt, Ḡolām Moʿīn-al-dīn ʿAbdallāh Ḵᵛēšgī, was also influenced by Aḵbār al-aḵyār, though he does not mention it among his principal sources.
Although it has never been critically edited, Aḵbār al-aḵyār has appeared in several lithograph editions (1270, 1282, 1309, 1332, Delhi) and has once been translated into Urdu (Aḥmad Neẓāmī, Anwār al-ṣūfīyah, Delhi, n.d.).
Rieu, Cat. Pers. Man. I, pp. 355-56.
Storey, I, pp. 978-79.
K. A. Nizami, The Life and Times of Shaikh Farid u’d-din Ganj-i Shakar, repr., Delhi, 1973, pp. 6-9.
Idem, Ḥayāt-e Šayḵ ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Moḥaddeṯ-e Dehlī, Delhi, 1964, pp. 200-04.
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, pp. 711-712
B. Lawrence, “AḴBĀR AL-AḴYĀR,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, pp. 711-712; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/akbar-al-akyar (accessed on 25 April 2014).