Who was Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi and what was his role in the reformation of Sufism?
Did he really profess to having prophetic guidance from God? And what was the concept of Tajdid-e-Alaf he propounded?
Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi was born in Sirhind in 971 A.H. Sirhind is really Sarhand, which means the forest of tigers. At a very early age, he learnt the Quran by heart and took to the study of Hadith, Exegesis and Philosophy. After finishing his education, he took to mystic discipline under the guidance of his father who was an eminent mystic and received Khilafat1) from him in the Chisitiyah and Suhrwardiyah orders. Shaikh Ahmad was the first mystic who expressly opposed the Pantheistic conception of Tawhid known as Wahdat-i-Wujud2). This conception had become almost universal amongst Muslim mystics, especially since Ibn ‘Arabi who wrote on it extensively and has had enormous influence on the subsequent thought of Islam. Ibn ‘Arabi seems to have been the first to interpret his own mystic experience of Tawhid or unity in such a way as to be intelligible to others, and to have strenuously maintained that Wahdat-i-Wujud is the very essence of Islam. And Ibn ‘Arabi tried to support his interpretation with verses of the Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet.
The oppostion of Shaikh Ahmad to Wahdat-i-Wujud is based not on theological dogma or philosophical argument, but on Kashf or ‘direct religious experience’. Consequently it gave rise to burning controversies among mystics. Many scholars and mystics of eminence took exception to his position while others emphatically affirmed it. He criticized Wahdat-i-Wujud and gave his own conception of Tawhid.
Dr. Burhan Ahmad Faruqi writes while expounding Shaikh Ahmad’s doctrine of unity in his book ‘The Mujaddis’s Conception of Tawhid’:
The conception of Tawhid as advanced by the Mujaddid himself is this. We cannot know God through Kashfo-shuhud or intuition and mystic experience. Hence we should revert to Revelation and to Ulama-i-Zahir or divines, because their conception is derived direct from Revelation. Consequently the Mujaddid discusses dhat-o-sifat or the being and the attributes of God on the principle of Muslim theologians.
However, as mentioned earlier, we are told that the error involved in Wahdat-I-Wujud was ‘revealed’ to him through Kashf. Thus, while he follows a particular theological school, he corroborates the conception on the basis of his mystic experience as well.
January 10, 2003
- Khilafat: in mystic terminology it is generally the recognition of the spiritual leader that the disciple has completed the mystic journey and has reached such a high stage of development that he can be authorized to guide others on the way. (Taken from: The Mujjaddid’s conception of Tawhid, Study of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s doctrine of unity, Dr. Burhan Ahmad Faruqi [↩]
- Wahdat-i-Wujud is unity of being. It is the doctrine of very many mystics in Islam. The exact equivalent would be Unityism-that the existence is one. This soon becomes Identyism-that it is identical with everything else, which in the end passes on to Pantheism-that it is God and God is all. (Taken from: The Mujjaddid’s conception of Tawhid, Study of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s doctrine of unity, Dr. Burhan Ahmad Faruqi [↩]