Monday, December 05, 2005

The Portrait of A Shaykh: Muhammad Abdul Halim Chishti


[This is somewhat of a rough draft, so any corrections or suggestions are welcome.]

He is the Shaykh, the Muhaddith, the Faqih, Muhammad Abdul Halim Nu'mani (his family name, which is put after Sayyiduna Nu'man bin Thabit also known as Abu Hanifah, radhiallahu'anhu, although I don't think that he is a descendent) Chishti.

He was born to a respectable and scholarly religious family in the Rajistani city of Jaipur before the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947.

His elder brother, Shaykh Mawlana 'Abdul-Rashid Nu'mani (Iftikhar Bhai's shaykh), rahimahullah, was probably the most renowned muhaddith of his age, rivalling the Syrian Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, rahimahullah, in Scholarship (in fact the two read each other's works, were fond of each other and quoted each other often in writings). Shaykh Abdul Rashid could boast one of the shortest sanads to Shah Waliyullah of anyone in his age, as he was singled out by the Righteous Shaykh and Muhaddith Haydar Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him) in his youth for personal instruction, both in Hadith and Tasawwuf. He attained some of his first ijazas in both from him. He later in life took the suhbah of the Qutb al-Irshad Mawlana 'Abdul-Qadir Raipuri, where he met and became good friends with Mawlana Sayyid Abul-Hasan Ali Nadawi, rahimahullah, and the renowned murshid and scribe Shaykh Sayyid Nafis Shah al-Husayni (the shaykh of Tayyib Bhai and the living shaykh of the tariqah).

Shaykh Chishti, when he was young, set out in the footsteps of his elder brother to seek knowledge. However, unlike his elder brother who spent his time studying under the private tutelage of Shaykh Haydar Hasan, rahimahullahu ta'ala, Shaykh Chishti enrolled in Dar al-Ulum Deoband, where he became the student and disciple of the righteous Shaykh Husayn Ahmad Madani.

Shaykh Madani was not only the rector of the Dar al-Ulum at the time, and its principle shaykh al-hadith, but also a inheritor of the successorship of the Tariqah of Shaykh Abdul Rashid Gangohi, rahimahullah. He was the Shaykh of one the three major Khanqahs that claimed descent from the Shaykh Gangohi, who was one of the founders of Deoband.** ** Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi was the inheritor of the sanad of Shaykh Sayyid Ahmad Shahid, the great Sufi and Mujahid who lead an army of 'ulama against the British and Sikhs in the 1800's. In Shaykh Sayyid Ahmad Shahid unite the lines of the four tariqahs***.

Shaykh Chishti first took the tariqah from Shaykh Husayn Ahmad Madani while under his tutelage studying hadith. It is in following Shaykh Madani's example that he started to use the name Chishti, continuing a Sufi practice of giving preference to spiritual descent to that of blood. Upon completion of his study in Deoband, Shaykh Chishti inherited the sanad of Shaykh Madani in hadith. It is one of the highest and most sought-after sanads, with 'ulama coming from all over the world to ask Shaykh Chishti for its honor to this very day. This all was near the time of the partition.

After the partition, one by one, many of Shaykh Chishti's brothers came to Pakistan, principally to Karachi. Upon his sanad from Deoband and his certification as a "Munchi Fazil" (the Farsi equivalent of a college degree) in Pakistan, Shaykh Chishti was given an appointment in the Government of Pakistan's Department of Libraries, Historical Texts and Archives department, where he worked. He later pursued a Master's degree and PhD in Library science in which his doctoral thesis was on the massive libraries of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Later on in life he went to Nigeria where he worked as the director of libraries in a major university for about a decade. Upon his return to Pakistan, he returned to his madrasah roots and took up a post teaching hadith at the renowned Binnuri Town madrasah in Karachi, where he currently teaches and is the chair of the Hadith Sciences Department.

Through his brother, Shaykh Abdul Rashid, Shaykh Chishti kept the Suhbah of Mawlana 'Abdul Qadir Raipuri on his many visits to Pakistan, and also made the acquaintance of Shaykh Sayyid Nafis Shah al-Husayni, from whom he would later in life, take the Tariqah and complete his training in Tassawuf until he received the khilafah from him.

Throughout his years in his different occupation, he never gave up his thirst for knowledge. His family members report that he would often spend the entire night reading and could even be found on the day of Eid, studying his books. Nowadays, his eyesight is so weak that he is cautious not to read anything but that which is necessary; however he can be often found listening to one of his admiring students reading to him, those books which he does not have the strength to read with his own eyes.

In fact, he is marked by his extraordinary love and concern for his students, and their affection for him. They visit him often, even years after graduation, and they make him busy by frequently requesting him to write forwards for their own publications; a task that he takes seriously and executes with responsibility.

He leads the Dhuhr and 'Asr prayers at the Jami' Masjid of Gole Market in Nazimabad, Karachi, after his teaching responsibilities are discharged. I have often observed that his du'ahs are much longer than most, although in keeping with the sunnah, he does not make his du'ahs outloud or force the entire group to sit through them.

When I had the honor of traveling with him and spend Ramadan in the Khanqah of Shaykh Nafis Shah in Lahore, I noted that Shaykh Nafis would often have his khalifah make du'as after adhkar and in sittings, in which he was always particular to ask Allah's bounties for all people in all lands and in all states, naming them one by one, first and last, big and small, muslim and non-muslim, Arab and Ajam; when asked by people to remember them in his du'as he honestly responds that one need's not ask because he already does.

The mention of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and give him peace, Sahabah, Ulama' and Awliya, may Allah be pleased with them all, often cause his eyes to well up with tears and cause him to choke when speaking. A state passes over him suddenly at their mention which overwhelms him.

He is among the last of a generation of scholars who took their tutelage directly from the awliya' of Allah and come from a time in which the Muslims still kept their identity and din above all else. May Allah bless the rest of his days with barakah, make exalted his station amongst the believers and leave not one of us untouched by the light of his secret.

Written by Humza Chaudhry

***The tassawwuf of the sub-continent has its roots in four tariqahs principly: The Chishti Tariqah brought to the subcontinent by the Wali of Allah Shaykh Khaja Mu'in al-Din Chishti (Chisht is the village in Afghanistan where he was from) who came to the subcontinent after taking the ijaza from his Shaykh in Hijaz as well as several saintly figures in other parts of the Arabic-speaking Islamic world. That line was propagated through several well known saints such as Khaja Qutb al-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki, Shaykh Baba Farid al-Din Ganj-e-Shakar, Khaja Shaykh Nidham al-Din Awliya, and Shah Waliyullah al-Muhaddith al-Dehlawi to name a few (each of whom was renowned for their knowledge and adherence to the Shari'ah as well as illuminated knowledge of the path; in particular Shah Waliyullah carries what is probably the most widespread and often-transmitted sanad of hadith in the world).

The Qadiri Tariqah is probably the most widespread tariqah of tasawwuf in the world. Attributed to Shaykh Mawlana 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani, the famous Sayyid and Hanbali Faqih, its fame and awliya are known far and wide with its sanad being the wellspring for the Shadhilis, Khalwatis, Jerrahis and many other living tariqahs.

The Naqshabandi Tariqa, well known for its adherence to the sunnah and illumination through strict muhajadah, was brought to the subcontinent by Shaykh Abdul Baqi also known as Khaja Baqi Billah, and his disciple Shaykh Mujaddid Alf al-Thani Ahmad Sirhandi who is a descendant of Sayyiduna 'Umar and is commonly accepted to be the Mujaddid of the second Islamic millennium. The barakah of his resistance to the tyrannical and demented rule of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who had him imprisoned, was manifested by his son, Jahangir releasing him and as a token of respect, taking his discipleship, as well as the conversion of countless people into Islam and the propagation of the Naqshabandi Tariqah throughout the lands of Islam, including to Turkey where it is now a fixed institution of Muslim life since Ottoman times, and Central Asia where it is the sole means by which most Muslims cling to the din.

The Suhrawardi tariqah is also well known and claimed influence on many prominent Islamic personalities such as Imam al-Ghazali.

** ** One of those khanqahs being the line of Shaykh ul-Hind which included Shaykh Madani and Maulana Zakariyyah, rahimamhumullah, the second being that of Thana Bhawan being that of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi and later on Maulana Taqi Uthmani's family, among others, and the third being that of Raipur, whose shaykhs were previously mentioned.