Religion in The Medieval Period

The medieval period saw the growth of two religious trends which influenced the life of the people. These were the Sufi trend and the Bhakti trend. Both these ideologies were not new to the Muslims and Hindus of India. What was new, however, was the increasing importance of the trends in the life of the people.


The Sikhs are followers of Guru Nanak and the other Sikh gurus. Guru Nanak laid the foundations of what later came to be called Sikhism. The Sikhs worship in a gurudwara and their holy book is known as the Guru Granth sahib. There are five sacred symbols of Sikhism, popularly known as the ‘five KS’-kesha (hair), kangha (comb), kara (bracelet), kaccha (underwear) and kirpan (dagger).

There are 10 sikh gurus. They are Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Angad Deo, Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas, Guru Amardas, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkrishan, Guru Tegbahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

The Sufi Movement

The Sufi movement had its origins in West Asia. From the ninth century onwards, many Sufis migrated to India. They settled in different parts of the country and popularised the Sufi philosophy. In course of time, the Sufi philosophy, which was originally Islamic, interacted with other philosophies and adopted within its fold many new ideas and practices such as rituals, fasting and penance. Sufism could play very different roles in different situations. In the form of renovated tariqahs, fellowships formed around particular Islamic masters, it could support reform and stimulate a consciousness marked by pan-Islamism (the idea that Islam can be the basis of a unified political and cultural order). Tariqah is a term for a shcool or order or sufirm or esp for the mystical teachings and agiritual practice of such any order with the aim of seeking haqiqah “ultimate truth.” Sufis often encouraged the study of tales about the Prophet Muhammad (Hadith), which they used to establish him as a model for spiritual and moral reconstruction and to invalidate many unacceptable traditional or customary Islamic practices. Sufi tariqahs provided interregional communication and contact and an indigenous form of social organisation that in some cases could even lead to the founding of a dynasty.

By the 13th century, the division of the Sufis into fourteen orders (silsilahs) had already crystallised.

Sufi Philosophy

The Sufi saints emphasised love and devotion as the means of coming near to God. They laid stress on contemplation and meditation. God was seen as one supreme reality who could be reached through different paths. They were thus tolerant of all religions. The Sufis devoted themselves to prayers and fasting. They kept themselves free from material desires and some strongly believed in charity towards the poor. The saints preached their message in a language which the common people could understand. Almost all of them believed in the policy of wahdat-ul-wajood (ultimate unity of being).

Sufi Orders

The Sufis were organised into many orders of silsilahs. By the thirteenth century, there were 12 silsilahs. Each one was identified by a prominent saint who lived in the khanqah, along with his disciples. Some of the popular silsilahs were the Chishtis, the Suhrawardis, the Firdawsiys, the Kubrawaiyya and the Qalandariyya. The Sufis of each silsilah guarded their traditions zealously.

Each Sufi silsilah was named after its founder. Two of these, namely the Chishti and the Suhrawardi, became very popular in India.

Chishti Silsilah

The most important Sufi order in India and Pakistan was the Sufi Chishtiyal named for Chisht, the village in which the founder of the order, Abu Ishaq of Syria, settled.

Brought to India by Khwajah Muimad-Din Chishtiyah in the 12 th century, the Chishtiyah became one of the most popular mystical orders in the country.

  • Great emphasis was originally placed by the Chishtiyah on the Sufi doctrine of the unity of being (waqdat alwujud), oneness with God
  • Thus, all material goods were rejected as distracting from the contemplation of God Absolutely no connection with the secular state was permitted
  • The recitation of the names of God, both aloud and silently (dhikr jahri, dhikr khafi), formed the cornerstone of Chishti practice.
  • Members of the order were pacifists.

The ideals of the early adherents are still revered, but some modifications of practice, e.g., ownership of property, occurred subsequently.

In the history of the Chishtiyah, the period of the Great Sheikhs (1200 -1356 A.D.) was marked by the establishment of a centralised network of monasteries (khannqahs) in the northern regions of Rajputana, the Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. From the 14th century, these monasteries were provincial institutions where various branches of the order took root, notably the bbir+yah branch in the 15 th century at Rudawli and the Nizamsyah, revived in the 18th century in Delhi

The founder of the Chishti silsilah in India was Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti. He was one of the greatest Sufi saints. His dargah at Ajmer is today a pilgrimage centre, visited by both Hindus and Muslims. The Chishti mystics believed in the spiritual value of music. The disciple of Muinuddin, Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki died in a state of ecstasy under the spell of music. Other famous Chisti saints were Sheikh Farid or Baba Farid, Nasir-ud-din Chirag-i-Dilli, and perhaps the greatest Sufi saint ever, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Auliya. He was popularly referred to as ‘Mehboob-i-Illahi’ (beloved of God) by his followers. His dargah located at Delhi is also visited by many. In general these saint kept themselves far away from political personalities and avoided contact with rich and powerful people.

Suhrawardi Silsilah

The founder of the Suharawardi silsilah was Sheikh Bhaha-ud-din Zakariya. He associated himself with the court and in the year 1228 Iltutmish appointed him the ‘Shaikh-ul Islam’. The saints of the Suhrawardi order thereafter were usually linked with the establishment and actively participated in political activities.

Shaikh Ruknuddin was another saint of this order, greatly venerated by the sultans of Delhi. He believed that a Sufi should possess three essential attributes:

  • Property (to satisfy the qalandar’s physical demand)
  • Knowledge (to discuss scholarly questions with the ulema) and
  • Hal (mystical enlightenment) to impress other Sufis

After his death (1334/35), the Suhrawardi order made progress in provinces other than Multan and spread from Uch to Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir and even Delhi. Under Firoz Shah Tughlaq, this order was revitalised by Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari.

Other famous Suhrawardi saints were Shah Alam Bukhari and Sheikh Shihab-ud-din Suhrawardi. This silsilah was popular in Sind and north-western India. Another order that developed in the 14th century, was called ‘Firdausiya’. Shaikh Sharfuddin Ahmad Yahya was the leading saint of this time. He was an ardent believer in wahdat-ul wujud.


This was a loosely organised group of wandering Muslim dervishes who formed an irregular (bishar or antinomian Sufi mystical order. The Qalandariyah seem to have arisen from the earlier Malamatiyah in central Asia and exhibited Buddhist and Hindu influences. The adherents of the order were notorious for their contempt for the norms of Muslim society, their use of drugs, and their abrasive behaviour. They shaved their heads, faces, and eyebrows, dressed only in blankets or in hip-length hairshirts, led a wandering, nomadic life, and regarded all acts as lawful.

The movement is first mentioned in Khorasan in the 11th century; from there it spread to India, Syria, and western Iran. The Qalandariyah were responsible for several uprisings in the Ottoman Empire prior to the 16th century.

Teachings of the Sufi Saints

  • God is the Supreme Reality. He should be worshipped through love and devotion.
  • Different religions preach different ways of reaching god. Therefore, respect all religions.
  • Lead a simple life. Serve the poor and the needy.
  • It is important to be attached to a pir who would show the correct path.
  • One can come close to God through devotional music. Khwaje Muin-ud-din Chishti, in particular, laid a lot of stress on music.

Shah Waliullah

Unlike in some other parts of the world, in India, Islamic activism was often of a more intellectual and educational nature. Its best exemplar was Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi (1702 – 1762), the spiritual ancestor of many later Indian Muslim reform movements. During his lifetime the collapse of Muslim political power was painfully evident. He tried to unite the Muslims of India, not around Sufism as others had tried to do but around the Shariah. Like Ibn Taymiyyah, he understood the Shariah to be based on firm sources-the Qurian and Sunnah-that could, with pious effort, be applied to present circumstances. The study of Hadith provided a rich array of precedents and inspired a positive spirit of social reconstruction akin to that of the Prophet.

Written by princy

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