Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chishti
The Chisti Order, probably the most widespread and influential of the Sufi Orders in the sub-continent of India, was introduced into India by Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chishti, popularly known as Hazrat Gharib Nawaz which means the Helper of the poor. He was born in about 1142 in Seistan in Central Asia, and was descended from both Imam Hasan (A.S) and Imam Husayn (A.S). He studied the traditional Islamic sciences of the Holy Quran and the recorded actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the universities of Bukhara and Samarkand. However, his yearning for the inner knowledge of self-unfoldment led him to become the close follower of Khwaja Uthman Herwani, a Chishti Sufi master from the Nishapur region of Khurasan in Persia. He served this spiritual master devotedly for twenty years, accompanying him on many travels throughout Central Asia and Arabia. After going on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and visiting the tomb of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Medina, he was asked to establish Islam in India. After spending forty days in the spiritual retreat next to the tomb of Shaykh Ali-al-Hujwiri, popularly known as Hazrat Date Ganj Bakhsh (d. about 1075) in Lahore, Shaykh Chishti made his way to India.
Hazrat Gharib Nawab was nearing fifty when he reached India. After his stay in Lahore, he travelled via Multan and Delhi until he arrived in Ajmer in Rajasthan which he made his base. Here he is said to have married twice and both of them gave him children. In Ajmer he devoted most of his time to guiding serious seekers of self-knowledge, and to dispelling the ignorance of the orthodox Muslims by awakening a higher consciousness of the reality of Islam in them. He also inspired many Hindus to purify their own devotional practices, and there is no doubt that many people’s hearts turned to Islam because of the example which he himself set. Some historical accounts state that thousand families accepted Islam at his hand.
Shaykh Muin-ud-Din Chishti died in 1236. His teaching was quite simple and basic, and he preached in a manner that was universal rather than purely dogmatic. He taught that the highest form of devotion was nothing other than ‘feeding the hungry, providing clothes for the naked and helping those in distress.’ He describes the qualities that endear man to God as being ‘river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality’.
The proof of the universality of Hazrat Gharib Nawaz’s message and his role as a teacher is that today, as throughout all the centuries since his death, his tomb in Ajmer is visited by innumerable Muslims and countless thousands of Hindus who acknowledge his high spiritual station. Every day, all the year round, as in his lifetime, gifts of food from the more well-off flood into the hands of his descendants, only to be cooked in giant cauldrons and redistributed to the less well-off before the end of the day.