Najm ud-Din Kubra

Najm al-Din Kubra and the Kubrawiyyah Order

by Atosa Aria Abedini

Part I

Five to seven hundred years after the Hijrat of the Prophet Muḥammad (swa), the Muslim world experienced an extremely turbulent period. However, Sufism blossomed and spread its roots even further. Between 550-700 A.H. the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the chaotic disruption of the Mongol invasion reached as far as Baghdad and destroyed the caliphate along with numerous concurrent disasters. Regardless, the faithful Muslim saints and scholars flourished at a greater rate than previously recorded. Many Sufi Orders were founded in this period; and those who had dissipated were once again revived.

Among the saintly scholars, Najm al-Din Kubra, founder of the Kubrawiyyah Order, began teaching in Khwarazm; a region in NW Uzbekistan, which, in the past, was part of the great Persian Empire, under the rule of Cyres, the Great. The Kubrawiyyah Order soon expanded its wings and spread its teachings to Persia, Afghanistan, India and China. The Kubrawiyyah, throughout their long history, produced masters of great stature who taught and produced numerous, elaborate writings and doctrines of the Sufis. In 540/1145, in Khwarazm, South of the Aral Sea, Abu’l-Jannab Najm al-Din ibn Umar al-Kubra was born. From a very young age, he displayed a surpassing intelligence. In school he received the nickname Kubra, which literally means “the greatest.” It is the abbreviated form of the Koranic phrase al-tammat al-Kubra, “the Greatest Calamity” (LXXIX: 34, Holy Qur’an). After completing his studies in Islamic religious sciences, Najm al-Din left his birthplace to pursue studies in other lands. He went to Persia to study the science of the Hadith then onto Egypt. In his early thirties, his thirst for esoteric matters attracted him to the Suhrawardiyyah order, where he was initiated by Shaykh Ruzbihan al-Wazzan al-Misri. According to Sheikh Kubra’s writings, it is known that he had at least one profoundly moving spiritual experience in his childhood. Some believe that Najm al-Din’s direction in spirituality may have been greatly affected by Baba Faraj Tabrizi due to his impressive mannerisms and advice to pursue the esoteric sciences.

His first experience as a salek was in Dizful, in western Persia, under the supervision of Ismail al-Qasri. After a short while, Ismail advised him to become an apprentice with Ammar ibn Yasir al-Bidlisi, who was a disciple of Abu’l-Najib al-Suhrawardi. After the passing of his teacher, Sheikh Ammar, Najm al-Din returned to Egypt where Sheikh al-Misri helped him to continue his training until he was permitted to instruct disciples of his own. While under the instruction of Sheikh al-Misri, he married his master’s daughter. Upon receiving permission to teach, he was instructed to return to his birthplace, Khwarasm

Najm al-Din returned to Khwarazm sometime between 582/1185 and 586/ 1190 where he remained the rest of his life, devoting himself to the spiritual path and to teaching disciples. Although he had few disciples, he earned an epithet for his success rate of producing masters of high stature. The epithet was: Wali-tarash, “Sculptor of Saints.” He wrote a number of discourses; Fawa’ih al-jamal wa fawatih al-jalal (Aromas of Beauty and Preambles of Majesty), being the most important of his works. In this text he included records of his personal, visionary experiences and guidance for practicing the path; a detailed theory of the Sufi path for initiates.

After a fruitful, spiritual life, Najm al-Din passed away in Urgench, near Khwarazm, in the year 618/1221, during the Mongol invasion. He was offered protection if he had accepted to take refuge with the Mongols; instead, he chose to fight and defend the City for it would result in a glorified martyr’s death in battle.

All schools of Sufism are known for their strict rules and discipline of the self and the Kubrawiyyah’s methods were not different from the rest. As a Sufi master, Najm al-Din insisted on certain prerequisites before he would consider anyone as a potential salek (student). In order to be considered as a candidate and accepted as a student, one was required to have solid knowledge of Islamic laws and Islamic theological doctrines. The disciplinary rules of the school are eight principles of Junayd (third/ninth centuries). A salek must constantly observe the following

1. Ritual purity (wudu, a process of cleansing prior to prayer),

2. Fasting,

3. Silence,

4. Seclusion,

5. Innvocation or recollection of Allah, using the formula La Ilaha Ill’Allah (zikr),

6. Heart to heart connection with his/her Sheikh at all times,

7. Impure thoughts and impulses are to be put aside as they occur,

8. Surrender him/herself to the will of Allah and never refuse or question what Allah has imposed upon him.

In addition to the mentioned eight rules, Najm al-Din also highly recommended two additional rules: moderation in eating and drinking when breaking a fast, and maintaining a bare minimum of sleep.

Sheikh Kubra’s description and theory of the Sufi path was that the journey towards Allah was none but an inward journey. He believed that whatever Allah put in the macrocosm, also existed within every individual on the microcosmic level. “Know that the lower soul, the devil, and the angels are realities that are not external to you. You are they. So, too, Heaven, Earth and the Divine throne are not located outside of you; nor are Paradise, Hell, Life, or death.” VXVII:32, Holy Koran. He often told people to pray because Allah is praiseworthy; not for fear of hell or in wishing for paradise.

What set Sheikh Kubra’s school aside from others and gave it a distinctive feature were his teachings on photisms; objective realities such as auras and other information obtained by faculties of the spirit, known as suprasensory senses, rather than the five physical senses. Suprasensory senses are considered to be more informative than those of our sensory perceptions, for the suprasensory perception, belonging to the higher Order of existence, is wide enough to observe both realms. It is said that when a salek begins his inward journey, he will first discover darkness. He then may receive visions of light. As he progresses, he will see beauty and lucidity. Soon after, spiritual visions will begin and gain strength as the salek becomes more pure. As the salek achieves further purity, his centers (various points in the body called Latifah, comparable to Chakras) gain strength. Kubra mentioned many times: “Our method (or path, tariqat) is the method of alchemy.” The mystical experience will cause a transmutation and transforms the being, the spirit, and the five senses into senses that have further reach than that of the corporeal realm

Sheikh Kubra described love (ishq) as being the necessary, essential ingredient for the union of the lover and the Beloved. Sheikh Kubra also taught that the mutual love between the lover and the Beloved would bring forth the mundus imaginalis, “the person of light”. The form of this person of light appears to the salek and is an indication of his later spiritual state. It is said that, initially, the person of light will appear in black form, which represents the darkness of the individual’s existence. When the salek attains the state of purity, his visions of light will be green. The person of light will appear in an extraordinary luminous form; sunlike in intensity. Sheikh Kubra went on to describe the face as the face of the salek and that the sunlike form, the “sun of the spirit” would be that which would oscillate with one’s body. The moment one is able to see the person of light, “the entire body is immersed in purity.” The physical body then generates light due to the falling of the veil. That is when the faculties of inner vision are accessible by the physical body and the chest is a receiver, wide open.
Najm al-Din Kubra successfully passed on his teachings and spiritual discoveries to his disciples who went on to spread the teachings of their master and offered the knowledge to unlock doors and reach the treasures that lie within. One of Sheikh Kubra’s outstanding successors was Majd al-Din Baghdadi from a village in Khorasan, a province in Persia.

Very little is known about his life. Najm al-Din predicted that the death of his student would be by the hands of the Mongols and that he would be drowned in a river. Majd al-Din was also responsible for bringing together and producing praiseworthy disciples. Among his disciples was Najm al-Din Dayah. Although Baghdadi passed away before Sheikh Kubra, it seemed peculiar that Dayah did not acknowledge Kubra as his Sheikh. He regarded Baghdadi as his only Sheikh. Another follower of Majd al-Din was Farid al-Din ‘‘Aṭṭār of Nayshapur, a great Persian Sufi writer and scholar.

reprinted from Sufism Journal