Kubrā, Najm al-Dīn

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KUBRĀ, NAJM AL-DĪN . Al-Kubrā, Shaykh Abū al-Jannāb Najm al-Dīn Amad ibn ʿUmar, Khīwaqī, known as Najm al-Dīn Kubrā, was a ūfī master (ahsixthseventh centuries/twelfththirteenth centuries ce) and founder of the Kubrawīyah Order. Najm al-Dīn was born circa ah540/1145 ce at Khiva in Khwārizm (Khorezm, Uzbekistan), then a flourishing region of Central Asia. As a student his talent for theological disputation earned him the epithet al-Kubrā, an abbreviated form of the Qurʾanic phrase al-iāmmat al-kubrā, "the greatest calamity" (84:34)

Kubrā's travels in search of religious learningchiefly adīth (prophetic tradition) and kalām (theology)took him to Egypt, where he spent several years, and also to Iran and Asia Minor. Najm al-Dīn received initiation into Sufism in Egypt from Rūzbihān al-Wazzān, a sheikh of the Suhrawardīyah Order. Najm al-Dīn continued to study theology in Iran until he had a decisive encounter in Tabriz with Bābā Faraj, after which he devoted himself wholly to the mystical path, first under Ismāʿīl al-Qarī (d. 589/1193) in western Iran and then under ʿAmmār ibn Yāsir al-Bidlīsī (d. 582/1186). Finally ʿAmmār sent him back to Rūzbihān to complete his training. Probably between 581/1185 and 586/1190, Kubrā returned to Khwārizm with authorization as a ūfī master in his own right.

The remainder of Najm al-Dīn's life was devoted to the ūfī path, the training of disciples, and the composition of treatises. He founded the Kubrawīyah arīqah (order), whose offshoots spread far and wide. Its genealogical line of successive sheikhs is traced back to the Prophet through Rūzbihān al-Wazzān and Abū al-Najīb al-Suhrawardī (Gramlich, 1965). Owing to the stature of his disciples, Kubrā acquired a second nickname, Walī-Tarāsh ("Fashioner of Saints"). He died a martyr's death in battle when the Mongol army attacked Urganj, present-day Kunya-Urgench in Turkmenistan.

Najm al-Dīn Kubrā's principal writings are mostly in Arabic. ifāt al-ādāb, in Persian (Meier, 1999), expounds the basics of the ūfī path, including rules of discipline. Kubrā's rules are also set out in al-Uūl al -ʿasharah, which inspired several commentaries, and in Persian in both Risālat al-hāʾim al-khāʾif min lawmat al-lāʾim (Letter to the ecstatic one fearful of blamers' blame) and the more wide-ranging exposition Ādāb al-sulūk il arat Mālik al-Mulk wa Mālik al-Mulk (Rules of traveling to the presence of the Master of the Kingdom and King of Kings). To summarize, they prescribe constant observance of ritual purity, fasting, silence, seclusion, and invocation of God. Disciples must keep their hearts focused on the sheikh, abandoning their own will and referring all questions to him; discard all thought impulses, the various types of which, good and bad, must nevertheless be rigorously distinguished; and surrender entirely to the Divine Will. Sleep must be minimized and moderation observed in breaking the fast.

Najm al-Dīn probably wrote only a small part of Bar al-aqāʾiq (The ocean of divine realities), also known as ʿAyn al-ayāt (The source of life), the profound and highly original Qurʾān commentary (tafsīr) begun by him and completed in turn by two other Kubrawīs, Rāzī and Simnānī. Several brief tracts and some mystical quatrains (rubā ʿiyyāt ) in Persian are also attributed to Kubrā.

Kubrā's best-known work, Fawāʾi al-jalāl wa fawāti al-jamāl, contains instructions on ūfī discipline; reminiscences of incidents in the author's outward and inner lives; and interpretive descriptions of mystical states, encounters, visions, and revelations. Prolonged retreat for intensive invocation and fasting, often for forty days, was central to Kubrawī methodology as a means of opening the heart to experiential knowledge of God. The Fawāʾi describes with exceptional openness experiences of a highly personal nature in both the everyday and the suprasensory realms. Its primary themes include that everything in the created universe can be found within the human microcosm; that humans have innate knowledge of spiritual realities, but to actualize it they must "un-forget" (cf. Neoplatonic anamnesis); that because like can only be known by like, inward purity and outward purity are prerequisites for gaining maʿrifah; the latāʾif, subtle centers of perception; and the significance of visions of lights seen during invocation in relation to spiritual states and the latāʾif. The Fawāʾi also contains unusual hermeneutical interpretations (taʾwīlāt ) of Qurʾanic verses and of other texts and sayings.

Mainly because of the Mongol invasion, Kubrā's followers dispersed widely. His successors, direct and later, varied greatly in background and outlook. Several made significant contributions to Kubrawī doctrine and methodology. Majd al-Dīn Baghdādī (d. 616/1219) composed some short treatises before his untimely death. Saʿd al-Dīn ammūʾī (d. 650/1252) and the Shīʿī ʿAzīz al-Dīn Nasafī (d. before 1300) wielded much influence in Iran. Both were prolific authors. While ammūʾī tends to be abstruse, Nasafī, like Rāzī, is distinguished by his clarity of exposition. Kamāl al-Dīn (also known as Bābā Kamāl) Jandī, later Sighnaqī (d. 672/1273), played a major part in transmitting the order in Khwārizm and surrounding regions, especially among the Turkic population. In the Bukhara region Sayf al-Dīn Bākharzī (d. 658/1260) was revered as Shaykh-i ʿĀlam (the Sheikh of the World). Both Raī al-Dīn ʿAlī Lālā Samarqandī (d. 642/1244) and Baghdādī's disciple Najm al-Dīn Dāyah Rāzī (d. 654/1256) brought Kubrawī teachings to Asia Minor. Coauthor of Bar al-aqāʾiq, Rāzī also wrote one of the finest Persian treatises on Islamic mysticism, ethics, and eschatology, Mirsad al-ʿibad (The path of God's servants). The work traveled far, and one extant manuscript has annotations in a Chinese dialect. Another Iranian Kubrawī sheikh, ʿAlāʾ al-Dawlah Simnānī (d. 736/1336), produced several treatises, lyric poetry, and also much of Bar al-aqāʾiq. His Risālah- ʿi Nūrīyah adds to Kubrā's and Rāzī's earlier interpretations of visions of light.

Some Kubrawī masters acquired influence in the outside world. Berke, khan of the Mongol Golden Horde, converted to Islam at Sayf al-Dīn Bākharzī's kh ānaqāh. ammūʾī's son and successor officiated when Ghāzān Khan, Mongol ruler of Iran, embraced Islam in 694/1295. Simnānī also moved in court circles. As for literati, notable Persian poets who were disciples or associates of Kubrawī sheikhs include Humām Tabrīzī, Muammad Shīrīn Maghribī, and Sayyid Qāsim al-Anwār.

The Kubrawīyah prospered for some generations in parts of central Asia and Iran. A few offshoots of the order have survived into the twenty-first century. By 699/1300 it reached India, where it became known as the Firdawsīyah and produced a didactic classic in the Maktūb-i adī (Hundred letters of Sharaf al-Dīn Manerī [d. 772/1371]). The missionary activity of Sayyid ʿAlī Hamadānī (d. 786/1385), a Persian Kubrawī, played a great part in the spread of Islam in Kashmir, where the Hamadānīyah branch is still active. Far to the west the Ottoman sultan Sulaymān II the Magnificent (r. 926974/15201566) was initiated into Sayyid ʿAlʾī's litanies (awrād). Even in the nineteenth century some Turkish sheikhs of other orders claimed a Kubrawī affiliation as well, though the order seems never to have become established on Ottoman soil. In Iran the Nūrbakhshīyah branch endured into the tenth/sixteenth century. The rival Barzishābādī faction, also descended from Hamadānī, eventually evolved into the Shīʿī Dhahabīyah Order, which still has two active branches, and during the fourteenth/twentieth century it produced many writings.

The Kubrawīyah's later history in Central Asia has been brilliantly investigated by Devin De Weese (1988, 1994). The ninth/fifteenth century saw the rise of the Naqshbandī Order, which largely supplanted all its rivals there by the end of the eleventh/seventeenth century. usayn Khwārazm (d. 958/1551) temporarily revived Kubrawī fortunes in Samarkand and elsewhere; in India his deputy Yaʿqūb arfī initiated the famous Naqshbandī Mujaddid Sheikh Amad Sirhindī. In Java (van Bruinessen, 1994) several ūfī orders included Najm al-Dīn Kubrā's name in their genealogy (silsila ), and Kubrawī teachings conceivably had some actual influence, for example, on the interpretation of visions. Heavily mythologized, Kubrā also features in Javanese quasi-Islamic folklore under the name of Jumadil Kubra, who has several maqām s (centers of pilgrimage). Some Kubrawī groups possibly existed in modern times in Chinese-ruled Central Asia, though hard evidence is lacking. Najm al-Dīn Kubrā's shrine remains among the most revered in Central Asia.


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Meier, Fritz. "A Book of Etiquette for Sufis." In Essays on Islamic Piety and Mysticism, translated by John O'Kane, edited by Bernd Radtke, pp. 4992. Leiden, Netherlands, 1999. A paraphrase with commentary of Kubrā's ifāt al-ādāb.

Molé, Marijan. "Les Kubrawiya entre sunnisme et shiisme aux huitième et neuvième siècles de l'Hégire." Revue des etudes islamiques 29 (1961): 61142.

Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā. Die Fawāʾi al-jamāl wa fawāti al-jalāl. Edited with introductory study by Fritz Meier. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1957. A French translation is Les éclosions de la beauté et les parfums de la majesté, translated by P. Ballanfat. Paris, 2001.

Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā. "Traités mineurs de Najm al-Dīn Kubrā." Edited by M. Molé. Annales islamologiques 4 (1963): 178.

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Van Bruinessen, Martin. "Najmuddin al-Kubra, Jumadil Kubra, and Jamaluddin al-Akbar: Traces of Kubrawiyya Influence in Early Indonesian Islam." BKI (Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkerkunde ) 150, no. 2 (1994): 305328.

Waley, Muhammadisa I. "Najm al-Dīn Kubrā and the Central Asian School of Sufism (the Kubrawiyyah)." In Islamic Spirituality: Manifestations, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 80104. World Spirituality vol. 20. New York, 1991.

Muhammad Isa Waley (2005)

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