Respected and honorable Hadhrat Maulana Mufti Mahmud Ashraf ‘Uthmani,
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!
I sincerely enjoyed the article you wrote in the monthly Al-Balagh magazine on tasawwuf. In fact, I read it thrice. It was very comprehensive, demonstrative, and authentic, and it covered all the necessary aspects of the topic.
After reading the article, three questions came to mind, which I have written below:
(1) How many silsilas exist in tasawwuf? Only two silsilas, the Chishti and Naqshbandi silsilas were mentioned in the article.
(2) Who founded these silsilas and when?
(3) What is the method of performing bai’ah (the pledge) according to the shari’ah? Is it possible to give bai’ah from afar (without being present in front of the shaikh)?
A seeker of your du’a
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!
I received your letter in which you mentioned that you read my article. I ask Allah that He makes it a means of benefit for both its author and its readers. Ameen.
The answers to your questions are as follows:
(1,2) The silsilas of four mashayikh (shaikhs) are more well known and recognized (in the Indian sub-continent).
1. The Qadri silsila: which is attributed to Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (470-561 A.H.)
2. The Chishti silsila: which is attributed to Khwaja Mu’eenuddin Chishti (527-633 A.H.)
3. The Suhrawardi silsila: which is attributed to Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi (539-632 A.H.)
4. The Naqshbandi silsila: which is attributed to Khwaja Bahaauddin Naqshbandi (718-791 A.H.)
The silsilas of these four pious saints (may Allah enlighten their graves) became more well-known because Allah used the four of them extensively for the task of spiritual purification (tazkiya). 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 tasawwuf and suluk so magnificently that all later-day mashayikh openly accepted their greatness and spiritual excellence and they took pride in attributing themselves to and understood the protection of their deen to be in their noble silsilas. At the same time, one cannot forget that aside from these four saints, other great shaikhs also existed and served the deen with their knowledge and action.
The chains of these four particular silsilas, after passing through many well-known and pious walis of Allah eventually reach the tabi’een and sahabah (ra), and the chain of bai’ah (pledge) of the four silsilas end at the pious khalifas (ra). The Pious Khalifas (ra) pledged allegiance at the hands of the Noble Prophet (s) (bai’ah of faith, jihad, leaving sin), a manifest fact for which no evidence is needed.
Below the four mashayikh of the famous silsilas, 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 tasawwuf are more well-known, but Shaikh Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (ra) once wrote in a letter:
“…and there are four families: the Qadri, Chishti, 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.” (Makateeb Rashidia pg.79 Meerath edition)
In the silsilas of some of the mashayikh of the near past, such as Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki, Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (may Allah enlighten their graves), the salik was instructed to give bai’ah in all four silsilas so that all the saints be respected equally and to avoid any discrimination between them.
(3) All the mashayikh unanimously agree that complete salvation can only be achieved through sincere repentance and the purification of the nafs. For this, bai’ah is not absolutely obligatory, but because when a mureed gives bai’ah at the hand of his shaikh 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 shaikh’s attention therefore becomes fixed upon him. This is why the bai’ah has become in vogue in every silsila of tasawwuf.
In explaining the process of bai’ah, Maulana Maseehullah Khan Sherwani (rh) writes:
“Bai’ah is a pledge to strive to adhere to and execute the esoteric and exoteric actions of Islam. This pledge is also called bai’at-e-tariqat, which has been in vogue by authoritative transmission from generation to generation from the earliest era of Islam.
The Messenger of Allah (s) had enacted the bai’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 ahadith…
The bai’ah is enacted by the shaikh by placing the right hand of his disciple into his own right hand. If the group contracting the bai’ah is large, the shaikh uses a length of cloth which each member of the group clasps with his right hand. Women who perform the bai’ah do so from behind a screen. A mahram of the female should be present at the bai’ah ceremony. A length of cloth is spread from the shaikh to the lady behind the screen and the pledge is taken verbally, just as it is proven by the ahadith…
This is the method of bai’ah when one is in the presence of the shaikh. Those who are not able to be present themselves personally to the shaikh may contract the bai’ah by means of a letter or through the agency of a responsible and trustworthy person. This form of bai’ah is called bai’ah-‘uthmani. The Messenger of Allah (s), on the occasion of the Pledge of Ridhwaan, took the bai’ah of ‘Uthman (ra) in his absence. He (s) placed his right hand on his own left hand and announced that he had made the bai’ah of ‘Uthman (ra).” [Shari’ah wa Tasawwuf pg.100-102]
And Allah the Glorified knows best.
Mahmud Ashraf ‘Uthmani (may Allah forgive him his sins)
Darul Iftaa’, Jamia Darul ‘Uloom Karachi #14
The answer is correct.
Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani
(translated by Bilal ‘Ali Ansari as part of the book “The Reality of Tasawwuf”)
 The respected Maulana Maseehullah Khan Sherwani was one of the most distinguished of Hakeemul Ummat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi’s khalifas and also the shaikh and murshid of the author of this booklet, Maulana Mufti Mahmud Ashraf ‘Uthmani.