KHᾹNAGᾹH is a Persian word for the lodge or hospice where Ṣūfī masters (mashāʾikh ) reside, teaching disciples (who sometimes are also residents), conversing with visitors, welcoming travelers, and feeding the poor. The word is functionally interchangeable with equivalent technical terms of Ṣūfī vocabulary, such as ribāṭ, tekke, takīyah, zāwiyah, dāʾirah, and dargāh, though each has a distinct, region-specific connotation.
Mystics must live in the world. Literature by or about mystics frequently emphasizes the importance of escaping not only involvement in the world but, by extension, concern with all material needs and desires. Khānagāh, together with its lexical equivalents, inverts that emphasis, riveting attention to the physical spaces that Ṣūfīs inhabit, interacting with others and relying on instruments from the very world that they seek to escape.
Usage of the word khānagāh dates back to the tenth century, although its actual origin remains obscure. The modern attempt to relate it to khān, the widely used term for commercial way stations, has been dismissed by those who argue that the Ṣūfī concept of a hospice bears no relation to the mercantile institution of khān. But the distinction seems specious because both khān and khānagāh were clearly places for Muslim wayfarers, whether they sought rest on a trade route or guidance on a spiritual path.
The khānagāh itself is embedded in a pre-Muslim, pre-Ṣūfī history from which it was never fully disentangled. It derives from Manichaean antecedents as well as pre-Ṣūfī ascetic communities (the Karrāmiyah of Khorasan in eastern Iran). One of the earliest Ṣūfī masters to establish a khānagāh, Shaykh Abū Saʿīd ibn Abī al-Khayr (d. 1049), also laid down rules that were to apply to its inmates: He is extolled in a posthumous family biography for the firm but moderate spiritual discipline he imparted to the residents of his khānagāh. Later Ṣūfī masters were less collegial and more autocratic, but they, like Abū Saʿīd, utilized a khānagāh or similar facility for engaging in a variety of communal relations.
It was also in the late eleventh century, beginning with the Seljuk rulers of Egypt and Syria and continuing under their successors, that the establishment of khānagāh s and their equivalents became widespread. The most renowned hospices were clustered in places that were also the commercial and political capitals of major Muslim dynasties—Cairo, Baghdad, Mosul, Lahore, and Delhi. Their persistence is suggested by the fact that ribāṭ s founded in Baghdad in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were replicated, at least in their broad outlines, by zāwiyah s built in North Africa during the nineteenth century.
Although one would expect to find accounts detailing khānagāh architectural design and physical layout, few exist from the medieval period. One of the most graphic relates to the foremost saint of pre-Mughal North Indian Sufism, Shaykh Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyāʾ of Delhi (d. 1325). His khānagāh was a huge building, consisting of a main hall (jamāʿat khānah), courtyard, veranda, gate room, and kitchen. It accommodated several senior disciples in lower rooms, but its crowning structure was also the least imposing: an isolated, small room on the roof where the shaykh passed his late evening and early afternoon hours in prayer, meditation, and (rarely) sleep. The plan seems to have been repeated, with adaptations to local taste, in many regions of Central and South Asia.
The appeal of the khānagāh s as the most visible expression of institutional Sufism was multiple. To the outer circle of disciples, including Muslims and non-Muslims of mixed social background who came to visit at irregular intervals, it housed at once a saintly presence deemed to be magical and a public kitchen dispensing free food. Closer to the shaykh were disciples who pursued mystical studies and began meditative exercises at his behest; they would frequent the khānagāh on a regular basis and occasionally take up residence there. The most intimate circle of disciples were the permanent residents designated as successors (khalīfah s) to the shaykh: Not only did he entrust them with his deepest insights, but he also allowed them to initiate others into the tradition of his order (ṭarīqah; pl., turuq ).
Despite the continuous and widespread association of the khānagāh with Ṣūfī orders and their masters, the nonmystical dimension of khānagāh s was never fully excised. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, there is ample evidence of non-Ṣūfī hospices and also nonmystical Muslims in charge of Ṣūfī hospices. The reason is evident: The source of support for every khānagāh was lay; it derived from the income, earned or not, of those who dwelled outside its walls. Even in those not-so-rare instances of rural hospices where inmates engaged in agricultural pursuits, their continued existence depended on contributions from the wider lay circle of the shaykh's followers and admirers. Not all sources of income were acceptable to all Ṣūfīs, however. For the Chishtī and Naqshbandī masters, it was normative (despite major exceptions) that they reject all governmental assistance, while for the Suhrawardi and Qādirī communities, any benefactor from the wealthy mercantile and ruling classes was usually welcome to make occasional offerings or even to set up permanent charitable endowments (awqāf; sg., waqf) supporting the khānagāh and its operations. Those saints who attempted to refuse governmental offers of assistance were often overruled and compelled to yield: Such was the power of the medieval state that few Ṣūfī masters or their successors could resist a headstrong ruler who wished to use the spiritual power of a khānagāh and its saintly denizens to undergird his own legitimacy.
That the khānagāh continued for centuries to be the mainstay of institutional Sufism has never been questioned, but its vitality has. Some chart a decline in the major orders from the time that the khānagāh ceased to house a fraternal group of like-minded Ṣūfīs and became instead a tomb complex. This institution may have retained the name of khānagāh, but in fact it perpetuated the memory of a dead shaykh through greedy relatives who ignored his legacy yet lived off his spiritual capital by accepting all forms of public and private subsidy. Indeed, as early as the fourteenth century, the khānagāh was commonly linked to a tomb, as well as to an adjacent mosque and madrasah. Most Muslims, however, accepted this extension of the public profile of Ṣūfī agencies, because they acknowledged the mashāʾikh as exemplars of the prophetic standard (sunnah ) and boons for their own local communities.
Nonetheless, and no matter how one evaluates the khānagāh and institutional Sufism, the theory of diachronic decline and charismatic sclerosis is weakened, if not refuted, by the emergence of North African reformist orders, especially the Sanūsīyah, during the nineteenth century. Even that most extreme of puritanical groups, the Wahhābīyah, tacitly acknowledged the benefits that accrued to all Muslims from the extension of Sanūsī influence. The instrument for that extension was a network of hospices (zāwiyahs ), deliberately located in areas that would maximize support for the Sanūsī armed resistance to Italian colonial administration.
Nor was the Sanūsī movement the death rattle of institutional Sufism or the last dramatic staging of fraternal lodges. Their continued influence in modern Egypt and Algeria has been well chronicled, and for many Muslims the physical abode of saints, by whatever name it is denoted, continues to embody the cosmic quality attributed to it by the thirteenth-century Kubrawī saint Najm al-Dīn al-Rāzī: "The world is in truth like a hospice where God is the shaykh and the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is the steward or servant" (Hamid Algar, trans., The Path of God's Bondsmen from Origin to Return, New York, 1982, p. 485).
There is no single book to consult on the khānagāh or its equivalent terms. For an appreciation of its origin and medieval development, the best starting points are the two articles by Jacqueline Chabbi, "Khānḳah, " in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. (Leiden, 1960–), and "La fonction du ribāṭ à Bagdad du cinquième siècle au début du septième siècle," Revue des études islamiques 42 (1974): 101–121. On the contribution of Abū Saʿīd, there is the incomparable study by Fritz Meier, Abū Saʿīd-i Abū L-H̬ayr (Leiden, 1976), especially pages 296–336. The South Asian evidence is set forth in a number of articles and monographs, the best being K. A. Niẓāmi's "Some Aspects of Khānqah Life in Medieval India," Studia Islamica 8 (1957): 51–69; Fritz Lehmann's "Muslim Monasteries in Mughal India," unpublished paper delivered to the Canadian Historical Association, Kingston, June 8, 1973; and Richard Maxwell Eaton's Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India (Princeton, N.J., 1978), especially pages 165–242.
To understand the Sanūsīyah in their North African setting, one can do no better than consult the comprehensive analysis of Bradford G. Martin, Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth Century Africa (Cambridge, U.K., 1976), chap. 4. Also indicative of the persistent role of the zāwiyah s in another vital context are two monographs on Egyptian Sufism: F. de Jong's Turuq and Turuq-Linked Institutions in Nineteenth Century Egypt (Leiden, 1978) and Michael Gilsenan's Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt (Oxford, 1973). J. Spencer Trimingham's The Sufi Orders in Islam (New York, 1971), despite its seeming comprehensiveness, is unfortunately limited by pseudotypological explanations and an Arab puritan bias.
Bruce B. Lawrence (1987)
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