His excellency Khwāja Yūsuf Hamdānī was an exalted Sufi shaykh of Central Asia. He was the most qualified scholar and jurist and the ultimate spiritual guide in that region and the mentor of renowned Sufi masters. His deputies founded the Naqshbandiyyah, Yasaviyyah and Bektāshiyyah tariqahs, and founders of the Qadri and Chishti orders also benefited from his company.
He was born in circa 440 AH (1048/9) at Būzanjird, a village near Hamadān (present-day Iran). His name was Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb ibn Yūsuf ibn Ḥusayn ibn Wahrah, and his kunya was Abū-Ya‘qūb.
In his young age (in approximately 460), he traveled to Baghdād where he studied Islamic jurisprudence from an eminent Shāfi‘ī scholar Abū-Isḥāq Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Alī Shīrāzī (d.476). His teacher would seat him in the front despite his young age. He also studied religious sciences such as jurisprudence, Ḥadīth, Tafsīr and philosophy in Iṣfahān and Bukhārā. His other teachers include many distinguished scholars of that era, including Abul-Ḥusayn Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī, Abul-Ghanā’im ‘Abd al-Ṣamad ibn ‘Alī ibn Ma’mūn, Abū-Ja‘far Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, Khaṭīb Baghdādī (d.463) and many others.
He was a scholar of the Ḥanafī school and followed the Supreme Imām, Abū Ḥanīfa, while his shaykh was a Shāfi‘ī scholar. He was trained in the mystical sciences by Shaykh Ḥasan Simnānī, Shaykh ‘Abd-Allāh Jūwaynī, and finally by Khwāja Abū-‘Alī Fārmadī.
He lived sometimes in Merv (Turkmenistan) and sometimes in Herāt (Afghanistan). He spent sixty years of his life in preaching and providing spiritual guidance. His extraordinary knowledge of esoteric and exoteric knowledge made him popular throughout Central Asia. His khānqāh in Merv was so renowned, it was called the “Ka‘bah of Khurāsān.” It was always full with numerous seekers and murīds; no other khānqāh had so many attendees. Samʻānī says no other khānqāh received so many seekers as the khānqāh of Khwāja Yūsuf.
He was the keeper of the staff and turban of Sayyidinā Salmān Fārsī radiyAllāhu ʻanhu.
He was the Ghawth of his time. Some scholars even consider him the Mujaddid of the sixth century instead of Imām Ghazālī. Ghazālī was a prolific writer and left a huge collection of writings. Khwāja Yūsuf was the ultimate shaykh and spiritual mentor, whose students founded some of the largest Sufi Orders (including Naqshbandī, Yasavī, Qādrī and Chishtī).
Several notable scholars and Sufi masters benefited from his noble company and guidance. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī used to stay in his company. Khwāja Mu‘īn ad-Dīn Ajmerī also stayed with him for six months. Ḥakīm Sanāī, a famous Persian Sufi poet, visited Khwāja Yūsuf and affiliated himself to the Khwāja, and stayed with him for some time.
Sam‘ānī introduced him with the following words:
He was a pious Imām, putting his knowledge into practice. He was an authority for Muslims, possessor of lofty states and stations. He was the ultimate mentor for sincere disciples in Merv.
The author of Rashaḥāt praises him as follows:
He was endowed with profound rapture and charismatic talent. Over a vast area, stretching from Baghdād to Samarqand, people would flock to visit him, in order to derive benefit from his holy breath.
He visited Baghdād in 506 AH, where he delivered public sermons and provided spiritual guidance. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī also accompanied him and described his first meeting in the following words:
A man came to Baghdād from Hamadān, called Yūsuf Hamdānī. I heard he was a Quṭb. He stayed at a ribāṭ (Sufi center). When I heard about him, I went to the ribāṭ but did not find him. When I asked around, I was told he was in the cellar. I went down to him. He stood up when he saw me, then sat down close to me. He described my state of affairs [aḥwāl] and resolved all my obstacles. Then he said to me: “O ‘Abd al-Qādir! Address the people.” I said: “O my master! I am a non-Arab person, how can I speak to the eloquent people of Baghdād?” He said: “You have now mastered (the sciences of) jurisprudence, the principles of jurisprudence, argumentation [khilāf], grammar and language, and Qurānic exegesis. It is now time to speak. Sit on the chair and speak to the people, for I see in you a root that will soon grow into a large tree.”
One day the shaykh was addressing the people. Two literalist jurists, who were ignorant of spiritual secrets and realities, said to him: “Keep silent, you are devising innovations [bid‘ah].” The shaykh replied: “You should be silent, you may not live.” They both immediately fell dead.
Once a boy from the region of Hamadān was captured and taken away by the Romans. His mother came crying to Khwāja Yūsuf and told him about it. The Shaykh asked him to be patient, but she cried and said I can’t have patience, my son has been taken away from me. The shaykh supplicated to the Almighty Lord:
“O Allāh! Free him from captivity and quicken his release.”
The shaykh told her to return home and find her son there. The woman returned and saw that her son was already at home. When asked, the boy said he had just been in Constantinople, held captive and under guard, but suddenly a person appeared and instantly carried him back home. The mother later told this enthusiastically to the shaykh, who replied: “Do you wonder about the authority of God?”
Sayings and teachings
Once Khwāja Ḥasan Andaqī entered a special state of ecstasy and went into a state of seclusion from the world, including his business and home. When Khwāja Yūsuf noticed his situation, he advised him in the following words:
“You are a poor man, with a wife and children to support. You have a personal obligation to attend to their basic needs, the neglect of which is neither reasonable nor in accordance with the Sharia.”
Masters of the Naqshbandi Order do not approve social seclusion in the name of spiritual exercise and have always encouraged their followers to fulfill their social responsibilities with utmost care.
Once a dervish came to Khwāja Yūsuf and said: I had been in the assembly of Shaykh Aḥmad Ghazālī who was eating together with his murīds that suddenly he entered a state of absorption and trance; afterwards the Shaykh said that just now the Master of the Universe (Holy Prophet) sallAllahu alayhi wasallam appeared and fed me a mouthful. Khwāja Yūsuf replied: “These are imaginations for nurturing the kids of the Spiritual Path.” He meant that such visions are signs of the beginning, not perfection.
Spiritual Hearing [Simā‘] is an ambassador from God and a bearer of glad tidings. It is food for the souls, nourishment for the bodies, life for the hearts and stability for the secrets. It is the unlocker of secrets, (like) the bright lighening and the luminous sun.
[Simā‘ in those times was a Sufi gathering where dervishes listened to a singer who would sing Naats, hymns and spiritual couplets without music, while others would listen intently. Later on, some Sufis added light music in Simā‘.]
Once he said to his murīd Abū-Sa‘d: “I advise you: do not visit the kings, and always make certain that what you are eating is not ḥarām.”
Some people asked him: “What should we do when the Friends [awliyā’] of Allāh depart from us?” He said: “Recount their speeches.”
He passed away during a journey from Herāt to Merv, in a small town called Bāmiyīn. During his last moments, Khwāja Yūsuf asked his deputy Aḥmad Yasavī to recite the chapters Yāsīn and al-Nāzi‘āt from the Qur’ān. After living for more than ninety years, he died on Monday 22 Rabī‘ al-Awwal 535 AH (4 November 1140).
He was initially buried in that town, later his blessed body was transported to Merv (Turkmenistan) by one of his disciples Ibn-Najjār and he was reburied there. His tomb in Merv has been a place of pilgrimage for the spiritual seekers.
He was well versed in Persian and Arabic but apparently did not speak Turkish. He wrote a number of treatises, one of them Rutbat al-Ḥayāt (Persian) has been published. Other known treatises include Manāzil al-Sālikīn and Manāzil al-Sā’irīn.
Deputies and students
Khwāja Yūsuf appointed four deputies, each of them was worthy of spiritual directorship:
- Khwāja ‘Abd-Allāh Baraqī Khwārizmī (d.555 AH, Uzbekistan),
- Khwāja Ḥasan Andaqī (d.552 AH, Bukhārā, Uzbekistan),
- Khwāja Aḥmad Yasavī (d.562 AH, Kazakhstan),
- Khwāja ‘Abd al-Khāliq Ghujdawānī (d.575 AH, Uzbekistan).
The first two did not establish their shaykhhood. When Khwāja Aḥmad Yasavī wanted to leave for Turkestan (Central Asia), he directed his murīds to accompany Khwāja ‘Abd al-Khāliq.
Khwāja ‘Abd al-Khāliq is the founder of the Naqshbandī Sufi Order and Khwāja Aḥmad is the founder of the Yasavī Order which was once very popular and widespread in Central Asia.
Among his students in the exoteric knowledge are the following:
- Imām Abul-Qāsim Ibn-ʻAsākir (d.571 AH)
- Abū-Rawh ʻAbd al-Muʻizz Hiravī (d.)
The next in the Naqshbandī Mujaddidī Tāhirī spiritual golden chain is Khwāja Abd al-Khāliq al-Ghujdawānī.
- Rashahāt Ain al-Hayāt
- Nafahāt al-Uns, by Mawlānā Jāmī
- Manāzil al-Sā’irīn, attributed to Khwājā Yūsuf al-Hamadānī
- Manāzil al-Sālikīn, attributed to Khwājā Yūsuf al-Hamadānī
- Maqāmāt-i Yūsuf-i Hamadānī, attributed to Khwājā Abd al-Khāliq al-Ghujdawānī
- Siyar-u Aʻlām an-Nubalāʼ, by Imām Dhahabī, vol. 20, no. 41
- Mirʼāt az-Zamān Fī Tawārīkh al-Aʻyān, by Yūsuf Ibn al-Jawzī (d.654 AH), vol. 20, page 331