Shaykh Ahmed al-Faruqi was born on the day of Ashura in 1564 AD, in the village of Sirhind, now in the state of Punjab in north-west India. He was the fourth son of Shaykh Abdulahad, who was a descendant of the second Caliph, Umar al-Faruq. Shaykh Abdulahad was authorized to teach both Chisti, Suhrawardi and Qadri Sufi practices.
After the young Ahmed al-Faruqi studied the Quran, his father sent him to Sialkot for formal education in all the branches of Islamic religious knowledge, including the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) Tradition, Quran commentary, Jurisprudence and Arabic grammar. He studied with Mawlana Kamal Kashmiri, the well-known Hadith scholar, who was the first to recognize Shaykh Ahmed as the ‘Renewer of the Second Millenium’. Whilst in Sialkot, he also studied under Shaykh Yaqub Sarfi Kashmiri. When he was seventeen, he returned to Sirhind to study Hadith with Qadi Bahlul Badakhshani and Shaykh Abdulrrahman. He then moved to Agra, the Moghul capital of India when he was twenty two, to join the Moghul army. During his six years in Agra, Shaykh Ahmed became associated with the Court of the Moghul Emperor Akbar. He worked with two brothers, Faydi, Akbar’s poet-laureate and Abul Fadl Allami, the closest courtier to Akbar’s, who also wrote Akbar’s history. The Court culture was not to Shaykh Ahmed’s liking and he left after a disagreement with Abul Fadl, who dismissed prophecy in preference to reason. Shaykh Ahmed soon afterwards wrote an ‘Epistle Confirming Prophecy’.
On his way back to Sirhind, Shaykh Ahmed married the daughter of a prominent nobleman, Shaykh Sultan Thaneswari and soon afterwards his first son, Muhammad Sadiq was born. On his return to Sirhind, Shaykh Ahmed’s father gave him permission to teach the Chisti, Suhrawardi and Qadri practices, shortly before he died. Although he was busy spreading the teachings of these orders and guiding his followers, he felt that something was missing. Nine months after his father’s death, Shaykh Ahmed travelled to Delhi, with the intention of making pilgrimage to Mecca.
Then came the turning point in his life. In Delhi, he met Shaykh Muhammad Baqibillah, described by Shaykh Ahmed as “the Spiritual Pole of all creatures, the perfect human being”, and instead of making the pilgrimage, he moved into Shaykh Baqibillah’s Sufi Lodge in Firuzabad Fort, near Delhi. According to Shaykh Ahmed, this was the true beginning of his Sufi training. He stayed with Shaykh Baqibillah for two and a half months until Shaykh Baqibillah opened his heart to the secret of the Naqshbandi spiritual Order and gave him authorization to train disciples in the Order. He said about him, “He is the highest Spiritual Pole in his time.” Shaykh Ahmed returned to Sirhind and later visited Shaykh Baqibillah two more times before Shaykh Baqibillah died. Shaykh Ahmed was recognized by nearly all of Shaykh Baqibillah’s disciples as his successor.
The Prophet Muhammad said, “There will be among my Community a man called ‘Silah’ (Connection). By his intercession many people will be saved.” Shaykh Ahmed wrote, “God has made me the ‘Silah’ between the two oceans.”
Shaykh Ahmed also wrote, “The perfections of the Friends of God (Awliya) of this time (one thousand years after the death of the Prophet) resemble the perfections of the noble Companions (of Muhammad), even though the Companions have precedence. Because of the perfect resemblance between the Companions and the Friends of God, one cannot give preference to one group over another. From this the Prophet was able to say, “(My Community is like the rain); I do not know who is better, the first or the last among them.”
Shaykh Ahmed settled for most of the remainder of his life in Sirhind. When people came to him from all over India and beyond, he instructed them until they reached a high level of perfection and then sent them back to teach Islam and Sufism in their native language. The Shaykh had students throughout India, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Persia and Mecca. His Deputies constantly kept in touch, so that Shaykh Ahmed could instruct the populations in those areas, usually by his letters. Jahangir, the Moghul Emperor, wrote sixteen years after the Shaykh started his teaching, “The disciples of the Shaykh have spread all over the cities and towns of India.” This was how Shaykh Ahmed was able to fulfil his role as the ‘Reformer’.
Shaykh Ahmed promoted the preservation of the Prophet’s heritage. To be an authentic Sufi, one had to have a detailed knowledge of Islam and the Prophet’s way of life, and to live in accordance with this knowledge. In the realm of Sufi practice, Shaykh Ahmed did not want people to confuse any altered state of consciousness with being close to God. He thought, too many Sufis were fostering altered states of consciousness among their disciples and avoiding the necessary hard work needed to crush out-of-control egos. This teaching is contained in Shaykh Ahmed’s “Collected Letters”, which can be used as a teaching reference.
At the same time, the Moghul Emperor, Akbar started exploring and then ‘unifying’ the different religions groups of his Empire. As this continued, the men in Akbar’s court turned this quest into a campaign against Islam, with even the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was criticised. Akbar opposed the laws of the country, basing his approach on the ‘Shariah’, the effect of which caused Islam to cease to be a religion among other religions. Some Mosques were destroyed without recourse. Shaykh Ahmed courageously opposed Akbar by promoting and teaching of traditional Islam and Sufism, fulfilling his role as the ‘Reformer’.
After the death of Akbar, his son and successor, Jahangir, being influenced by court politics, called Shaykh Ahmed to Agra and imprisoned him for one year. Shaykh Ahmed bore the sufferings of imprisonment with patience and used the opportunity to teach hundreds of prison inmates. A year later, Jahangir set Shaykh Ahmed free, calling him to court and honouring him with a robe and a thousand rupees. He gave him the option to go home or to accompany Jahangir and the army. Shaykh Ahmed chose to stay, so he could preach to the Emperor and the army. He had sessions with Jahangir, reading the Quran and teaching him Islam, from which time the Emperor began to support Islam and Sufism, in accordance with Shaykh Ahmed’s teaching. The Shaykh accompanied the Emperor on several campaigns and visited many places for three years until his health began to fail, when he returned to his home to Sirhind, where he devoted himself to Dhikr and prayer.
Shortly after returning to Sirhind, Shaykh Ahmed passed away in 1624 AD at the age of sixty three years, the same age that the Prophet Muhammad had died over one thousand years before. At this stage, he had millions of followers and his influence throughout India and beyond was profound. He wrote many books. He passed the secret of the Naqshbandi Way to his middle son, Shaykh Muhammad Masum. Shaykh Ahmed al-Faruqi as-Sirhindi’s Shrine is located in his complex of buildings in Sirhind, India.
May God be well pleased with him.
Sources:- ‘The Naqshbandi Way – History and Guidebook of the Saints of the Golden Chain’ by Mawlana Shaykh Hisham.
‘Revealed Grace. The Juristic Sufism of Ahmed Sirhindi (1564-1624) by Arthur f. Buehler.
‘Sufi Heirs of the Prophets. The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh’ by Arthur f. Buehler.
‘Sufism and Shariah – A Study of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Effort to Reform Sufism’ by Muhammad Abdul Haq Ansari.