Monday 30 March 2020 \


Sufi History in Daghestan

Fourty graves of Prophet Muhammad's [pbuh] companions in 5000 years old Derbent, sourthern Dagestan.

Sufism has an age-long history which has yet only recently become the subject of study. However the last few years have seen a certain amount of work done, for example, the publication of important articles on the history and practice of Sufism in Daghestan, especially in the 18th-20th centuries, Sufi treatises by Daghestani authors. The research sources pool has grown. The Eastern Literature publishing house in Moscow has released an important monograph by a Daghestani author Alikber Alikberov on the early history of Sufism in Daghestan.

As is well-known, 1400-year-old Islam has played a tremendous role in the spiritual, economic and political life of Daghestan at many historical stages. The environment where Islam was developing determined its special face and was conducive to the stability of this monotheistic religion spreading among confessional pluralism.

Historical and cultural links between the Middle East (especially the Arab Caliphate) and Daghestan in the pre-Mongolian time have not been thoroughly studied so far. Recent discoveries and previously known materials allow us to glimpse into the history of spiritual communication between the peoples of Daghestan and many centers of Islamic culture.

Both political and economic factors actively promoted the cultural communication. Partial inclusion of Daghestan into the Arab Caliphate, and then into the Seljuk Empire triggered the cultural development in all its regions and encouraged a wide dissemination of the cultural achievements of the epoch and an active formation of new ideological movements in Daghestan.

The history of Islam has several periods. Each of them is very peculiar. Classical Islamic era is one of the major historical stages. The period dates back to the introduction of the Muslim teachings at the beginning of 7th century and the formation of the Arab Caliphate until its fall in 1258 under the attacks of the Mongolian troops.

It was this period that became the subject of investigation by Alikber Alikberov. The study is based on the unique Arabic manuscript ‘Rayhan al-Haqaiq wa-Bustan al-Daqaiq’ (‘Basil of Truths and Garden of Subtleties’) - Sufi Encyclopedia written by a Sufi from Derbent, Abu Bakr Muhammad, the son of Musa al-Darbandi.By numerous facts the monograph shows that Islam was spreading widely in the region mainly as Sufism. In that historical context Sufism incorporated Muslim dogmas and introduced them into the local environment. Sufism, which played a huge role in the 10th-12th centuries in the Muslim world, grew from elite ideas and movements into the ‘confession of the masses’ according to the researchers. The Derbent of the 11th - the second half of the 13th century was a Sufi city.

Sufism in Daghestan in the 11th - first half of the 13th centuries is extensively covered in ‘Epoch of Classical Islam in the Caucasus’.

This publication highlights that the later Sufism, i.e. in the second half of the 13th-17th centuries, has been poorly studied. Until recently there wasn’t even a talk about researching it primarily due to the absence of sources. However, gradually accumulated facts changed the attitude to the issue.

In spite of their scarcity, the monuments of epigraphy and narrative texts showed a fairly strong position of Sufism in Daghestan at that time.

Sufism is generally regarded as the phenomenon of ‘urban culture’. Daghestan, meanwhile, provides a different concept, as the ‘demand’ for the Sufi ideas emerges in the rural area (starting from the 12th century and gets especially strong in the 15th-17th centuries). It is evidenced graphically by the memorial texts on the tomb of Shaykh Ahmad ibn al-Husayn in Derbent (11th century) and on the Sufi Shaykhs’ graves in the Tatil’village (12th century), construction of khanak – Sufis’ dorm in Rutul (12th century), ‘pirs’- sanctuaries in Akhty, Khnov, Rutul, Tpig, Mishlesh, Orta-Stal (XV-XVII century.), the tomb of Shaykh Asildar in Arkas (15th century).

In 861/1456-57 Mahmood of Khinalug wrote a historical treatise on the political events in the region. The work was based on the ‘reliable ascension line’ recorded ​​in the presence of about two hundred people (out of villages Ikhir, Kurush, Maza, Rutul, Kurakh) - and they all were Sufis.

Recently there have been discovered ziyarats of shaykhs in Sogratl dating back to the 12th century. (the information is provided by Ahduhanov); Murshids’ Shaykh, ‘the Qutb of Qutbs’ (‘the Pole of Poles’) of Shaykh Muhammad (the Machada village, 1634, the information is provided by Sheyhmagomedov).

Shaykh Muhammad, the son of Musa is one of the most advanced representatives of the Sufi hierarchy. He was recognized as a spiritual authority of his time. Shaykh Muhammad seems to be part of NaqshbandiTariqa.

There are many Sufi Tariqa. One of the most popular is NaqshbandiTariqa. As al-Kurdi notes in al-Mawahib as-Sarmadiya, the name of this Sufi brotherhood comes from the word ‘Naqshbandi’ (meaning ‘a pattern on the heart’) and is associated with the name of Bahauddin Al – Bukhari (1318-1389), the biggest figure in Central Asian Sufism.

Then the Tariqabecame widespreadoutside Central Asia as well. Actually, the role of Sufism in Daghestan can be illustrated by the ‘geography’ of works written by an outstanding thinker of the Muslim world and Sufi ideologist al-Ghazali (1058-1111). The manuscripts were preserved in different Daghestan regions in public and private collections and in mosques. Al-Ghazali's Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Islamic Sciences) had the most profound, intense, long-lasting and large-scale effect.

Daghestan has got the earliest copies of this ethical-dogmatic treatise. The Foundation of Oriental Manuscripts at the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Daghestan Science Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences houses one of the oldest, if not the oldest at all, manuscript of  Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Here are two books (Kitab) of the fourth part (Rub), called Al-Mundzhiyat (The Saviors).

The first part was rewritten on 20Dhu 'l-Kada, 586 \19 December, 1190 and the second on 7 Dhu 'l-Hidjdja, 586 /5 January, 1191, in the place clearly stated in the manuscript: “the City of the World, Baghdad”. All the remaining copies of Ihya ‘Ulum al-Dinmet in Daghestan: made in 1495 in the Shira village by Harun, son of Ahmad, in 1497 by the same Harun al-Shira; in 1505 in the Akusha village by Idris, son of Ahmad al-Akusha; in 1510 by Idee, son of Muhammad al-Zirihgeran; in 1673 by Khidhir, son of Manat fromthe Mugi village; in 1679 by Muhammad, son of Muhammat.

Further on there are 11 manuscripts of another great work by al-Ghazali Minhaj al-Abidin (‘The Path of the Worshippers’). Its earliest copy was made by the above mentioned Idris, son of Ahmad from Akusha, in 1497, and later, in 1682, in the Gotsatl village at the Madrasa of “our Imam, honorable Ustaz accomplished in sciences, Mala Muhammad the son of Umar from the Tsad village.

Foreign Muslim writers also provide some interesting information here. A Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi (the 17th century) who visited North Caucasus twice (in 1641-42 and 1666-67) describes a fortress on the Koisu river, where there are three balnearies, a tavern, and seven elementary schools, three madrasas, two tekkes of Naqshbandi Order dervishes, three inns for merchants. Sufis also lived in another village under the rule of the son of Karabudak Khan. The latter “in a secluded corner of the mansion indulged in prayers, studied history, the Hadith; from dusk till dawn he studied under the tutelage of Daghestani worthiest scholars”.

A monument to Shaykh Muhammad (died in 1634 or 1635) gains a special importance as a trace of Nakshbandi brotherhood in the early 17th century.

It is necessary to mention another work by al-Ghazali - his legal treatise Al-Wajiz (The Short Commentary). This work was rewritten in 1310 in the Middle East, in Caesarea (in Turkey or Palestine), and was brought to Daghestan by the famous conqueror Timur at the end of the 14th century who handed it to the head of the village Mugi to abide by it fairly.

Finally, in Daghestan, they found five manuscripts of Jawahir al-Qur’an (The Jewels of the Quran), rewritten in the 17th century in the villages Akusha, Karata, Mulebki, Uri.

We see that the Daghestani, especially the 15th – 17th centuries, were very interested in the works by al-Ghazali, a great scientist of the Middle Ages. It turns out that al-Ghazali’s earliest books are traced back to the 12th – 14th centuries, to the cities of the Middle East, especially Baghdad. Afterwards, in the 15th – 17th centuries, the flow of manuscripts from the Arab countries stopped, and Daghestan started to make copies locally.

The location of the manuscript copying centers is peculiar too. In the 15th century manuscript copying of books was concentrated mainly in the villages Dargwa (Kubachi, Akusha, Shiri), but in the 16th – 17th centuries it spread to the Avar, Lak, Tabasaran villages. However, the texts of the 18th century could not be found. The reason for the loss of interest in al-Ghazali's works has yet to be found.

The interest to al-Ghazali's ideas in the 12th – 17th centuries can be explained not only by the rule of Shafi Madhhab in Daghestan and the adaptability of Sufism to the local pre-Islamic cults, but also by fact that the Daghestani went to study to the Caliphate, mainly to Baghdad, at al-Ghazali’s Madrasa al Nizamiyya.

State support for Sufism had a major impact on the science and the manuscript culture. Moreover, it defined for long the scope and the themes of manuscripts flowing into Daghestan and copied here by the local scribes (katibs). Writings by al-Ghazali ranked rather high in this flow.

Sufi brotherhoods in Daghestan have shown, especially in recent years, their vitality, love for peace, perseverance in the protection of the unity of Daghestan. Our historical overview will help to understand better the role of Sufism in the spiritual and social life of the Daghestani society nowadays.

Amri Shihsaidov

Professor, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Chief Researcher atthe Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Daghestan Science Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Honoured Science Worker of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Daghestan



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