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date: 05 December 2022

The Medieval Khwājagān and the Early Naqshbandīyyalocked

The Medieval Khwājagān and the Early Naqshbandīyyalocked

  • Ali Gibran SiddiquiAli Gibran SiddiquiDepartment of History, Ohio State University


The Khwājagān (lit. “Masters”) were a constellation of Ṣūfīs in 13th- to 16th-century Mawara an-Nahr and Khurasan. The Naqshbandīyya were Ṣūfīs from among the Khwājagān who followed the teachings of their shaykh, or Ṣūfī master, Khwāja Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband (1318–1389). Given the eventual emergence of a more centrally organized Naqshbandī order among the otherwise unorganized Khwājagānī tradition by the mid-15th century, later Naqshbandī hagiographers have retroactively combined the development of both traditions under a single linear narrative. While such hagiographies from the 16th century onward portray the Khwājagān as a monolithic group, united in beliefs and rituals, and tracing its silsila (lit. “chain”) or spiritual lineage back to the first caliph Abū Bakr (r. 632–634), there is little evidence from the 13th and 14th centuries to buttress these claims. A study of earlier sources from this time period instead suggests that there was considerable variation among the attitudes and beliefs espoused by individual Khwājagānī Ṣūfī masters and that a loosely defined common identity among the Khwājagān grew out of aversion to the practices of more established Ṣūfī traditions that included ascribing particular importance to spiritual lineages and public displays of devotion. Thus, this Khwājagānī current spread across Central Asia in the form of local Ṣūfī communities, which sought to challenge traditional understandings of Sufism. Part of the Khwājagānī aversion to ostentatious modes of worship by more traditional forms of Sufism led to an increased preference for silent forms of dhikr (lit. remembrance) or the ritualistic recitation of sacred names and phrases, as opposed to more vocal and public forms. By the 15th century, this proclivity toward silent dhikr had become a hallmark of the Khwājagānī-Naqshbandī tradition.

The term Khwājagān is the plural of the Persian word khwāja, which literally means “master” and often reserved for persons of distinction. As an honorific term, originally reserved as a title of prestige for prominent members of Persianate societies, Ṣūfī murīds or disciples used the title “khwāja” to refer to their masters or teachers with respect. In Naqshbandī sources written from the 16th century onward, hagiographers such as ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn Kāshifī Ṣafī have consistently referred to all members of the Khwājagānī and the Naqshbandī tradition by the epithet “khwāja.” Consequently, these Naqshbandī hagiographers have used the term Silsila-ye Khwājagān or the Chain of the Khwājas to refer to both the Naqshbandī silsila and its predecessors among the Ṣūfī masters of 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-century Central Asia.


  • Central Asia
  • Political

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