The Salasil of Taswawwuf & the Reality of Bay’ah

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from The Salasil of Taswawwuf & the Reality of Bay’ah by Mufti Mahmud Ashraf al-’Utsmani (r.a.) and translated by Bilal ‘Ali.  The plural of silsilah, the chains of transmission of the knowledge, is salasil.

How many salasil exist in taswawwuf?  Who founded these salasil and when?  What is the method of performing bay’ah, the pledge, according to the shari’ah?  Is it possible to give bay’ah from afar without being present before the shaykh?

The salasil of four mashayikh are more well known and recognised.  The Qadiri silsilah is attributed to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.) (470 - 561 A.H.).  The Jisty silsilah is attributed to Khwaja Mu’in ad-Din ash-Jisty (q.s.) (527 - 633 A.H.), the Suhrawardi silsilah, which is attributed to Shaykh Shihab ad-Din as-Suhrawardi (q.s.) (539 - 632 A.H.).  The Naqshbandi silsilah which is attributed to Khwaja Baha’ ad-Din an-Naqshbandi (q.s.) (718 - 791 A.H.).

The silsilah of these four pious saints became more well-known because Allah (s.w.t.) used the four of them extensively for the task of spiritual purification, tazkiyyah.  Their influence not only spread very far but was also pure and complete in its adherence to Islamic principles.  These mashayikh, in terms of both knowledge and practice, served taswawwuf and suluk so magnificently that all latter-day mashayikh openly accepted their greatness and spiritual excellence and they took pride in attributing themselves to and understood the protection of their Diyn to be in their noble salasil.  At the same time, one cannot forget that aside from these four saints, other great shuyukh also exist and served the Diyn with their knowledge and action.

The chains of these four particular salasil, after passing through many well-known and pious awliya’ of Allah (s.w.t.) are traced up to the tabi’in and aswhab, and the chain of bay'ah, pledge, of the four salasil end at the Pious Khalifah.  The Pious Khalifah pledged allegiance at the hands of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.), bay’ah of faith, jihad, leaving sin, a manifest fact for which no evidence is needed.

Below the four mashayikh of these famous salasil, many branches later came into existence and the branches of these spiritual chains still exist today, like the lineal family trees of ancestral heritage.  Fourteen branches of taswawwuf are more well-known, but Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Ghanghuhi (q.s.) once wrote in Makatib Rashidiyyah, “…and there are four families: the Qadiri, Jisty, Naqshbandi, and Suhrawardi.  A family lineage is that which consists of branches.  The branches are numerous.  Those who have mentioned fourteen did so because at the time only fourteen branches existed.  Later more came into existence.  In other words, the spiritual lines are many and fourteen were only at a particular time.  Now, it is not correct to say fourteen.  It is old terminology.”

In the salasil of some of the mashayikh of the near past, such as Shaykh Imdadullah Muhajir al-Makki (q.s.), Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Ghanghuhi (q.s.), and Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Tsanwi (q.s.), the salik was instructed to give bay’ah in all four salasil so that all the saints be respected equally and to avoid any discrimination between them.  All the mashayikh unanimously agree that complete salvation can only be achieved through sincere repentance and the purification of the nafs.  For this, bay’ah is not absolutely obligatory, but because when a murid gives bay’ah at the hand of his shaykh that he will repent from all his sins and make a firm intention to purify his soul, both of these things become much easier and the shaykh’s attention therefore becomes fixed upon him.  This is why the bay’ah has become in vogue in every silsilah of taswawwuf.

Mawlana Masihullah Khan Sharwani (q.s.) was one of the most distinguished of Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Tsanwi’s (q.s.) khalifah and also the shaykh and murshid of Mufti Mahmud Ashraf ‘Utsmani (q.s.).  In explaining the process of bay’ah, Mawlana Masihullah Khan Sharwani (q.s.) wrote, “Bay’ah is a pledge to strive to adhere to and execute the esoteric and exoteric actions of Islam.  This pledge is also called bay’ah ath-thariqa’, which has been in vogue by authoritative transmission from generation to generation from the earliest era of Islam.

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) had enacted the bay’ah of the companions not only on jihad, but on Islam and the adherence to all the injunctions and practices of Islam.  This is established by numerous ahadits…  The bay’ah is enacted by the shaykh by placing the right hand of his disciple into his own right hand.  If the group contracting the bay’ah is large, the shaykh uses a length of cloth which each member of the group clasps with his right hand.  Women who perform the bay’ah, do so from behind a screen.  A mahram of the female should be present at the bay’ah ceremony.  A length of cloth is spread from the shaykh to the lady behind the screen and the pledge is taken verbally, just as it is proven by the ahadits

This is the method of bay’ah when one is in the presence of the shaykh.  Those who are not able to be present themselves personally to the shaykh may contract the bay’ah by means of a letter or through the agency of a responsible and trustworthy person.  This form of bay’ah is called bay’ah ‘utsmani. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), on the occasion of the Pledge of Ridhwan, took the bay’ah of ‘Utsman (r.a.) in his absence.  He placed his right hand on his own left hand and announced that he had made the bay’ah of ‘Utsman (r.a.).”


  1. Very well answered...


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