[Verily, on the friends of Allah is there no fear, nor do they grieve. Those who believe and are always conscious of Allah.] (Surah Yunus)
The very name Habibia is derived from the glimmering personality of Khwaja Habib Ali Shah Chisti (R.A.), who was the Murshid [Spiritual Guide] of Mawlana Abdul Latif (R.A.). Habibia was designated as a Khanqah [Spiritual Hospice] by Sufi Sahib (R.A.), brother murid [disciple] and brother in law of Mawlana Abdul Latif (R.A.). To understand the spiritual force that drives Habibia, one needs to look at the lives of these two sterling servants of Islam. In this regard it would be useful as a first step to paint a brief background to Sufism in India.
Sufism’s impact on India
Sufism reached great heights in India during the period from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Its spiritual teachings and practice during this era had a great impact on the local population. Many of them converted to Islam when they realized the positive effects Sufism would have on their lives. For three hundred years Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (RA), the founder of the Chisti Order of Sufis in India, and later his deputies (khulafa), were engaged in the spiritual illumination of people in this country. The most prominent of these khulafa are Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar (RA), Khwaja Farid-ud-din Ganj Shakr (RA), Khwaja Nizamuddin Awliya (RA), Khwaja Allaudin Sabiri (RA) and Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlwi (RA). In spite of staunch opposition they were rewarded with amazing success in the spread of Islam in the Subcontinent – a spread that was to be extended worldwide wherever people of Indian descent settled.
From the 16th to 18th centuries the Chisti order gradually lost ground in India until another great Chisti upsurge took place in the 19th century with the appearance of a great spiritual personage in the form of Khwaja Shah Sulaiman Tawsasi (RA) of Tawas in the Punjab. He lived to the ripe old age of 84, having spent all his life in the field of Islamic education and spiritual enlightenment. He conferred khilafah (deputyship) on seventy of his disciples (murids), among whom was Sayyid Khwaja Hafiz Ali Shah (RA) of Khairabad, near Lucknow, who was referred to as the “Shibli of the Era” and “Sultan ul Mashaikh” [the King of the Shaykhs].
Hazrat Hafiz Paak*, as he was popularly known, established his spiritual centre in Khairabad which proved to be a cradle of learning attracting knowledge-thirsty and spiritually-hungry seekers from all over India. [*Paak is an honorific title meaning “pure” that is used for a saintly person in the Indian subcontinent]
One great personality who was destined to be attracted to this cauldron of wisdom and who was to quench his thirst from this fountain of erudition was Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.).
Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah Chisti Nizami Hafizi (R.A.)
Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) was of aristocratic lineage, being the youngest son of Nawab [“Sir”]Ahmed Yaar Khan Muhiy ud Daula the fourth. Khwaja Habib Paak was born in Hyderabad on the 20th of Jamad ul-Thani 1236 AH .
It is a known fact that at the time of Khwaja Habib Paak's (R.A.) birth a pious person was heard standing at their doorway and saying,
"A Shaykh is born! A Shaykh is born!”
Khwaja Hafiz Ali Shah (R.A.) of Khairabad, who was to later become this newborn’s spiritual guide, also predicted the birth of Khwaja Habib Paak(R.A). Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.)) said to Ahmed Yaar Khan (who was his murid),
“In your house a son of mine will be born in your house and you should name him Habib."
Upon hearing this, the Nawab Ahmad Yaar Khan was silent and it crossed his mind as to how this could possibly be as his wife had passed child bearing age. Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.)) intercepted these thoughts of the Nawab and said,
"No! No! A son will indeed be born in your house!"
After this, Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.) returned to Khairabad. After two years Ahmad Yaar Khan's wife fell pregnant and gave birth to a very beautiful son who was named Habib Yaar Khan.
Four years later, Hafiz Paak (R.A.) returned to Hyderabad. Upon his arrival he asked Ahmed Yaar Khan,
"Has my son been born yet? I have come to perform his Bismillah Khani” [a tradition whereby a child begins to recite the Qur'an].
After Hafiz Paak (R.A.) performed Khwaja Habib Paak's (R.A.) Bismillah Khani he tested the young boy by placing some gold coins and sweetmeats in front of him. He then said to the young Habib Yaar Khan,
“Choose whichever one of these you want by placing your hand on it.”
The young boy replied,
"1 will take this and take that!" and placed one hand on the sweetmeats and the other on the coins. Hafiz Paak (R.A.) smiled and said, "This child will choose spirituality over wealth, and will be a wealth of spirituality."
At the age of sixteen, Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) openly and out of his own accord renounced his billion rupee estate and his status as a Nawab (royal), and became the murid of Khwaja Hafiz Ali Shah (R.A.).
Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) handed himself completely to his murshid just as a dead body in the hands of the person giving him his final ghusl. His every action was upon the instruction of his murshid. The effect of his murshid's company began to impact greatly upon him. As time passed, Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) became so intoxicated in his murshid, that it was difficult to differentiate between the two. He was also accepted into the court of his murshid, and wherever he went, he was recognized as coming from Khairabad, from the court of Khwaja Hafiz 'Ali Shah (R.A.). Hafiz Paak (R.A.) used to say,
"Do not call him Habib Ali Shah Hyderabadi but address him as Habib Ali Shah Khairabadi!"
Due to his love for the Qur'an, he memorized it first before proceeding to other studies. He excelled in the rational sciences, as well as studies in Hadith and Tafsir. He studied Persian and Arabic works of his era, and also took lessons of Maulana Rumi's (R.A) Mathnawi Sharif under the tutorship of his murshid Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.). Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) also studied the works of the great Sufi masters, such as Kashf-ul-Mahjub by Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh Ali Hujwiri R.A., Dalail ul-Arifin by Hazrat Khwaja Qutb ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki R.A., Madarij -un-Nubuwwah by Shaykh Abd al-Haq Muhaddith Dehlwi R.A., Rahat al-Qulub by Khwaja Nizam ud-din Awliya Mahbub Ilahi R.A., Fusus al-Hikam by al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muhiy ud--din ibn Arabi R.A., Ghunyat ut-Talibin (by al-Ghawth al-Azam Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani R.A., and the Tafsir of ibn Kathir. He used poetry to explain concepts of tariqah (the spiritual way) and the secrets of ma’rifa (gnosis). His composition of poetry devoted to divine love is entitled Diwan-¬e-Habib.
Service to humanity
During the lifetime of his murshid, he spent most of his time serving him and undergoing strenuous mujahada [spiritual exercises]. Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.) then declared him the Qutb[Spiritual Axis] of Kokan, and instructed him to proceed to Bombay to guide the people there. Khwaja Hafiz Paak (R.A.) said to him,
"Bombay is a new area being developed. Go and serve the community there. Show them the path to Allah. In that city you will find people of differing religions and ideas. Bring about love and peace among them."
In strict compliance with the instructions of his murshid, Khwaja Habib Paak
(R.A.) stayed in Bombay [occasionally visiting Hyderabad for important functions] serving humanity up to his last breath. He established a centre in Dockyard Road, Najgown, which still exists today, perpetuating the legacy of selfless service for which its founder is famous. Hazrat Khwaja Habib Paak’s (R.A.) entire life speaks of profound spirituality, unblemished service and countless miracles. He not only took murids but trained them to serve as khulafa. He sent his renowned khulafa to different parts of the world with specific instructions that they selflessly serve humanity and that they propagate Islam in its pristine purity, refraining from indulging in futile debates and vain arguments. Thus the Habibiyah branch of the Chistia Silsilah was inaugurated.
Silsilah and Bay'ah
As mentioned earlier, Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) took bay 'ah [spiritual allegiance] at the hand of Shaykhul Islam, the Qutb of his time, Hazrat Khwaja Hafiz Ali Shah Khairabadi (R.A.). The silsilah (spiritual order) continues via a chain of mashaikh (grand masters) such as Khwaja Sulayman Tawsawi (R.A.), Khwaja Noor Mahrewi (R.A.), Hazrat Shaykh Kalimullah Jahan Abadi (R.A.), reaching Khwaja Nasir ud-din Mahmud Chiragh Dehlwi (R.A.). From here the silsilah links up with Shaykh-ul-Mashaikh Khwaja Nizam ud-¬din Awliya Mahbub Ilahi (R.A.), thereafter leading to Shaykh-ul-Islam Khawaja Farid ud-din Ganj Shakar (R.A.), Qutb ul-Aqtab Khwaja Qutub ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki (R.A.), and then reaching the Sovereign King of the Indo-Pak sub-continent, The Crown of Crowns, Khwaja-e-Khwajegan, Sultan-ul-Hind Hazrat Khwaja Muin ud-din Chisti Hasan Sanjari Ajmeri (R.A.). The chain then continues via the great masters until it reaches the Pride of Creation, Rahmatul lil Alimin Sayyiddina Muhammad Mustafa, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him.
Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) is also linked to the Qadiri Silsilah and reaches the King of the Awliya, al-Ghawth al-A’zam, Hazrat Shaykh Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Jilani (R.A.) via a chain of twenty three mashaaikh. Via his paternal forefather, Hazrat Shaykh 'Abd al-Ghafur Chinki Samarqandi (R.A.), he is linked to the first Khalifa of Islam, The Leader of the Believers, Hazrat Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him).
His wisal [departure to the next world]
Finally, this Blazing Sun of the Tariqah, whose holy personality and teachings brought light to dark hearts, left this mundane world for the hereafter on the 6th of Dhil Hajj 1323 AH , in the city of Bombay. Though he left this mundane world as per command of Allah, up to this day his Astana [institution] shines with a radiance which continues to enlighten hearts. From his khanqah in Bombay, the blessed body of Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) was transported via train to Hyderabad, and reached there only four days later, on the 10th of Dhil Hajj, due to the thronging crowds at every station who wished to pay homage to the great Shaykh. His janaza salah was attended by thousands of people and up to this day, his mazar [tomb] in Hyderabad stands as a beacon of guidance, emitting the sweet fragrance of the Chistiya Silsilah.
There are approximately twenty books written by Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.), of which the Diwan-e-Habib (3 Volumes) is among the most famous.
These are some of the Khwaja’s utterances on various aspects of the Sufi path.
“DHIKR” (Remembrance of Allah)
"There are four types of Dhikr: Dhikr al Nasut, Dhikr al Malakut, Dhikr al Jabarut and Dhikr al Lahut. Dhikr al Nasut is the dhikr of La Ilahi Ill-Allah [“There is no god but Allah”]. Dhikr al Malakut (also known as the dhikr of the tariqah) is to recite Ill-Allah [“except Allah”].Dhikr al Jabarut (also known as the dhikr of ma'rifah) is to recite the name "Allah”. Dhikr al Lahut (also known as the dhikr of haqiqah [ultimate reality]) is to recite the name “Hu” [“He]”.
[* The terms Nasut, Malakut, Jabarut and Lahut refer to specific dimensions of reality. Nasut refers to the corporeal, Malakut to the dimension of the souls; Jabarut to Allah’s Names and Lahut to the potentialities that exist in Allah’s Knowledge].
"A seeker should practice the following principles:
1. Eat less
2. Speak less
3. Sleep less
4. Associate less with the people”
“SAMA” [Spiritual music]
“Hazrat Junayd Baghdadi (R.A.) was asked as to why people become unconscious and fall into ecstasy while being absorbed in sama. He replied, "On the original day of creation, when all the souls were asked by Allah in a most beautiful voice, 'Alastu bi Rabbikum’? (Am I not your Lord?) they were overcome by ecstasy upon hearing the divine voice.” Forgetfulness has been put into the body and soul- when one listens to sweet sounds it reminds them of the divine voice and one is overcome by ecstasy.
In reference to fana, Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) says that there are 3 types : fana fi shaykh [annihilation in the Shaykh], fana fi rasul[annihilation in the Messenger] and fana fillah [annihilation in Allah], and in every fana there are thousands of degrees of fana present.
His successors (khulafa)
Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) left behind many spiritual successors, one of the most famous of whom was Hazrat Khwaja Shah Goolam Muhammad, popularly known as Sufi Sahib (R.A.), of Durban.
Hazrat Khwaja Shah Goolam Muhammad Sufi Sahib Chisti Nizami Habibi (R.A.)- the great Khalifa of Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A)
Hazrat Haji Shah Goolam Muhammad Sufi Siddique Chisti al-Qadiri Habibi (R.A.) was born in 1267 AH  in Ibrahimpatan,
Ratnagir, India. He was the eldest son of Hazrat Ibrahim Siddiqui (R.A.), a direct descendant of the first Khalifa of Islam, Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique (Radi Allahu 'Anhu).
Unlike many other children of his time, he was brought up in a strict Islamic atmosphere, and received his early education from his father, who was the Imam (leader) of the local mosque and teacher at the madrasah (Islamic school). Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) excelled in his studies and qualified as a hafiz (one who has memorized the Holy Qur'an) at this madrasah. After the demise of his father in 1872 (when he was 22 years old), Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) was appointed as the Imam of the mosque and teacher.
Acting upon a vision of the Holy Ka’bah whilst teaching his students the importance of Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah), Hazrat Sufi Sahib decided to go for Hajj in 1892. After performing the sacred pilgrimage to Makkah, and paying his respect to the Holy Prophet Muharnmad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) in the Holy City of Al-Madinah, he returned back home to India, and was turned away from the materialistic world towards spiritualism. Mystic ideas were now imbued in him, and he felt the need for a murshid (Spiritual Guide), who could place him on the path of Sufism. He thus left India, and journeyed to Baghdad, in search of a spiritual guide.
After arriving in Baghdad, Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) spent some time in the khanqah (monastery) of a-Ghawth al-Azam, Hazrat Shaykh Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Jilani (R.A.), before setting off in search of a murshid. Here, he met Hazrat Shah Ghulam Mustafa Effendi al-Qadiri (R.A.), who accepted Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) as a murid (disciple) in the Qadiriya Sufi order. It was Hazrat Shah Ghulam Mustafa Effendi (R.A.) who first called him "Sufi." Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) spent six months thereafter in Baghdad, where he used to sit in the mazar of Hazrat al-Ghawth al-A'zam engaged in mujahada. After this time, his "Qadiri" murshid, Shah Ghulam Mustafa Effendi (R.A.) ordered Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) to return to India, to meet with his "Chisti" murshid, the Qutb of Kokan, Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah Chisti Nizami Hafizi (R.A.).
Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) thus left Baghdad and journeyed back to India. When he reached the khanqah of' Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) in Hyderabad, Deccan, a mehfil us sama (recitation of devotional and mystic poetry) was in progress. Hazrat Khwaja Habib 'Ali Shah (R.A.) immediately recognized Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.), and with one glance caused Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) to become overcome with wajd (ecstasy), which lasted for two days. After this, Khwaja Habib 'All Shah (R.A.) embraced him, and immediately accepted him into the Chistiya Silsila..
Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) recognized Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) as a brilliant shining star amongst his disciples and loved him dearly. Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.), after resigning from his post as Imam and teacher at the madressa, remained in the service of his murshid and was instructed in the way of Sufism.
Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) always visited the mazaars of the Awliya Allah (Friends of Allah) especially during the urs celebrations. During one of his visits to the urs of Hazrat Khwaja Nasir rud-din Chiragh (R.A.) in Delhi, whilst sitting at the grave, Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) was instructed by Khwaja Nasir rud-din Chiragh (R.A.) to send his brilliant murid (Hazrat Sufi Sahib) to South Africa to propagate Islam and the Chistiya silsilah.Thus acting upon this instruction, Khwaja Habib Paak (R.A.) ordered Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) to South Africa.
In 1895, Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) arrived in Durban, South Africa. Upon arrival in South Africa, Hazrat Sufi Sahib made it his first task to locate the grave of a saint of Allah who was unknown to the people, Hazrat Shaykh Ahmed Badsha Peer (R.A.). After making enquiries, he found himself at the cemetery in Brook Street, Durban, where he meditated until he was able to identify the grave of Hazrat Badsha Peer (R.A.).
Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) then searched for land to build a khanqah, from where he could propagate Islam and the Chistiya Silsila. He found this at Riverside, on the banks of the Umgeni River in Durban.
Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) purchased this land and the trust deed was created with the assistance of Mahatma Gandhi (who was then a practicing lawyer in Durban). It was here in Riverside that Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) planted the flag of Islam and the Chistiya Silsila. A mosque, madrasah and orphanage were built, and thus the first Chisti khanqah in South Africa came into existence. From here, the sweet fragrance of the Chistiya Silsila spread through South Africa, and the rose-bud of this great mystic order of Islam continues to bloom until the present day.
Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.), apart from imparting religious lessons and caring for the orphans, sick and needy, also established many other Islamic activities, such as the regular commemoration of urs of the various grand masters, dhikr programmes, and Mawlid un-Nabi (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him), to name a few. He also provided many welfare services (e.g. prison and hospital visits, burial services, spiritual help, marriages etc.), and established the first old-age home to care for the elderly. At the hands of Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.), many non-Muslims entered the fold of Islam, and many Muslims became murids (disciples) in the Chistiya and Qadiriya Sufi Orders of Islam.
The work of Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) did not stop in Durban. He established similar khanqahs in Ladysmith, Cape Town (Habibia),Colenso, Tongaat Butha Buthe,Verulam, Pietermaritzburg and Newcastle. In Durban, apart from Riverside, khanqas were established in Westville, 45th Cutting, Springfield and Kenville. He accomplished all of this in just fifteen years!
On Thursday, 29 June 1911(2 Rajab 1329 AH), Hazrat Sufi Sahib (R.A.) stood at the door of his house and, whilst looking towards the khanqah, said, “May Almighty Allah, through the wasilah [means] of our beloved Nabi (the salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) accept the humble effort of ours and may He safeguard the khanqahs!”
The same day, as the muaddhin was calling the adhaan for the Dhuhr prayers, this shining star of the Chistiya Silsila breathed his last. He was 63 years old. His mazaar stands in Riverside, at the banks of the Umgeni River where it overlooks the Indian Ocean, reflecting the bright light of Islam and the Chistiya Silsila. It has been declared a National Monument by the local government, and the road leading to the mazaar has been named after this fragrant rose-bud from the garden of Chist.
We owe our gratitude to Hazrat Khwaja Habib Ali Shah (R.A.) for sending this great servant of Islam to our South African shores, who lit the lamp of iman and love in our hearts.