Historically speaking, the Naqshbandi Sufi order (Tareeqat) can be traced back to the first of the Rightly-Guided Successors of Muhammad the Messenger (saw). His name was Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra), who succeeded the Prophet in his knowledge and in his role of guiding the Community of Spirituality. Allah said in the Blessed Quran
"he was the second of two in the cave, and he said to his friend: do not be sad, for God is with us."(Quran, 9:40)
Concerning Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the Blessed Prophet said, "the sun never rose nor set on anyone better Abu Bakr except prophets." (Tarikh al-Khulafa). He also said, "Abu Bakr does not precede you in anything in the way of prayers or fasting but in a secret rooted deep in his heart." (Manaqib as-Sahaba of Imam Ahmad ). The Prophet (saw) also said, "If I had taken to myself a beloved friend, I would have taken Abu Bakr as my beloved friend; but he is my brother and my companion." (Sahih Muslim) What distinguishes the Naqshbandi Sufi Way from other Sufi orders was the fact that it took its foundations and principles from the teachings and example of five bright stars in the firmament of the Prophet (saw). These great figures were Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Salman al-Farsi, Bayazid al-Bistami, Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani and Muhammad Bahauddin Uwaysi al-Bukhari, better known as Shah Naqshband--the eponymous Imam of the tareeqat.
Behind the word Naqshband stand two ideas: naqsh which means "engraving" and suggests engraving the name of God in the heart, and band which means "bond" and indicates the link between the individual and his Creator. This means that the Naqshbandi Sufi initiate practices her or his prayers and obligations according to the Divine Revelations and Inspirations, and keeps to the Traditions and Perfect Moral Character of the Prophets and their Saintly Disciples and Companions, striving to keep the presence and love of God alive in her or his heart through a direct personal experience of the link between herself or himself and his Lord.
Salman al-Farsi (r)
But who besides Abu Bakr as-Siddiq are these stars in the firmament of the Messenger of Allah? One of them was Salman al-Farsi. His origin was Ispahan in Persia and he was the one who advised the Community to dig a trench in the battle of Ahzab (Khandak), to avoid casualties and bring about a situation conducive to peace. After the passing away of the Holy Messenger, he moved to al-Madain, the capital city of Persia, where he was made Prince and governor of that city and remained there until his death.
Bayazid Tayfur al-Bistami(q)
Another star was Bayazid Tayfur al-Bistami whose grandfather was a Zoroastrian. Bayazid made a detailed study of the statutes of Islamic shariah and practiced a strict regimen of self-denial (zuhd). All his life he was assiduous in the practice of his religious obligations. He urged his students (murids) to put their efforts in the hands of Allah and he encouraged them to accept sincere and pure doctrine of Unity: Tawhid.
Bayazid al-Bistami's Doctrine of Oneness This doctrine, which consisted of five elements: to keep their obligations according to Divine Revelations and Inspirations and the Traditional Path of the Messenger, to always speak the truth, to keep the heart from hatred, to avoid harmful food, and to shun innovation.
Bayazid said that the ultimate goal of the Sufis is to see God in the Hereafter. To that effect he added:
"There are special servants of God, who if God veiled them from His vision in Paradise, would have implored Him to bring them out of Paradise as the inhabitants of the Fire implore Him to escape from Hell."
Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujduvani (q)
Yet another star in the firmament of the Prophet (s), was Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujduvani, who was born in the village of Ghujduvan, near Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan. He was raised and buried there. He studied Divine Scripture, Exegesis (tafsir), Jurisprudence fiqh and the Science of the Traditions (hadith) with Shaykh Sadruddin. Having mastered the sciences of Divinity (shariah), he moved on to Spiritual Warriorship (jihad an-nafs ) combatting his lower self until he reached a high station of purity and sincerity. He then traveled to Damascus where he established a school from which many students graduated. Each became the masters of Divinity and Tradition as well as spirituality in their time, both in the regions of Central Asia and in the Middle East.
Abdul Khaliq continued the work of his predecessors by formulating the dhikr (remembrance of God) passed down from the Prophet (s) according to the Sunnah. In his letters he set down the code of conduct (adab) that the students of the Naqshbandiyya were expected to follow. We quote from his sayings:
"O my son, I urge you to acquire knowledge and righteous conduct and fear of God. Follow the steps of he pious precedessors in Spirituality, hold on to the Way of the Prophet (s) and keep company with sincere believers. Read books of Divine Law and Jurisprudence, (fiqh) study the Traditions (hadith) and the Commentary on Divine Revelation (tafsir), avoid ignorant charlatans and keep to the prayer in congregation. Beware of fame and its dangers. Be among the ordinary people and do not seek positions."
Shah Naqshband Muhammad Bahauddin Uways al-Bukhari (q)
In this constellation, we come finally to Muhammad Bahauddin Uways al-Bukhari, known as Shah Naqshband, the Imam of the Naqshbandi Tareeqat without peer. He was born in the year 1317 C.E. in the village of Qasr al-Arifin, near Bukhara. After he mastered the shariah sciences at the tender age of 18, he kept company with the Shaykh Muhammad Baba as-Samasi, who was Master of Traditions (imam al-muhaddithin) in Central Asia at that time. After the latters death, he followed Shaykh Amir Kulal who continued and perfected his training in Ilm al-Quran (the Science of Quran) and Ilm az-Zikr (the Science of Remembrance) which Kulal had inherited from his master through the chain of teachers that started with the Prophet Muhammad (s), through his successors Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Salman al-Farsi and on up to his time.
The students of Shaykh Amir Kulal used to make zikr aloud when sitting together in association, and silent zikr when alone. Concerning this he says,
"There are two methods of zikr; one is silent and one is loud. I chose the silent one because it is stronger and therefore more preferable."
The silent zikr thus became the distinguishing feature of the Naqshbandiyya among other tareeqats. Though Abu Bakr as-Siddiq and Shah Naqshband never criticized nor objected to the loud Zikr, but he preferred the silent zikr.
Shah Naqshband performed Hajj three times, after which he resided in Merv and Bukhara. Towards the end of his life he went back to settle in his native city of Qasr al-Arifin. His teachings became quoted everywhere and his name was on every tongue. Visitors from far and wide came to see him and to seek his advice. They received teaching in his school and mosque, a complex which at one time accommodated more than five thousand people. This school is the largest Islamic center of learning in Central Asia and still exists in our day. It was recently renovated and reopened after surviving seventy years of Communist rule.
Shah Naqshband's teachings changed the hearts of seekers from darkness to light. He continued to teach his students the knowledge of the Oneness of God in which his precedessors had specialized, emphasizing the realization of the state of excellent character (ihsan) for his followers according to the hadith of the Prophet (s),
"Perfect Character is to worship God as if you see Him.".
When Shah Naqshband entered his final illness he locked himself up into his room. Wave after wave of his followers began to visit him, and he gave to each of them what they needed. At one point he ordered them to the Chapter of Quran known as surat Ya Sin. When they finished reading the sura, Shah Naqshband raised his hands in supplication to God. Then he raised his right finger to say the testimony of Oneness. As soon as he finished saying this testimony, his soul returned to God. He died on a Monday night in 1388. He was buried in his garden as he requested. The succeeding Kings of Bukhara took care of his school and mosque, expanding them and increasing their religious endowments (awqaaf).
Succeeding shaykhs of the Distinguished Naqshbandi Sufi Order wrote many biographies of Shah Naqshband. Among them are Masoud al-Bukhari and Sharif al-Jarjani, who composed the Risala Bahaiyya which describes his and his life's works including his legal decisions (fatawa). Shaykh Muhammad Parsa, who died in Madina in 1419 wrote Risala Qudsiyya in which he talks of Shah Naqshband's life his virtues and his teachings.
Shah Naqshband's literary legacy included many books. Among them are al-Awrad al-Bahaiyya, the Devotions of Shah Naqshband." Another book is Tanbih al-Ghafilin. A third book is Maslakul Anwar. A fourth is Hadiyyatus Salikin wa Tuhfat at-Talibeen. He left many noble expressions praising the Prophet and he wrote many fatawa (legal rulings). One of his opinions was that all the different acts and kinds of worship, whether obligatory or voluntary, were permitted for the seeker in order to reach reality. Prayer, fasting, charity, remembrance by chanting and invoking the Names of the Divine, striving against the ego's desire (mujahadat) and self-denial zuhd were emphasized as ways to reach God Almighty. (See the Eleven Principles of the Naqshbandi Way.)
Shah Naqshband built his school on the renewal of the teachings of the Islamic religion. He insisted on the necessity of keeping to the Revelations of God and the teachings of the Path of the Blessed Messenger. When they asked him,
"What are the requirements of one who follows your way?"
he said, "To follow the Path of the Prophet (s) with love."
He continued saying: "Our way is a rare one. It keeps the Urwat ul-Wuthqa, the Unbreakable Bond, and it asks nothing else of its followers but to take hold of the Pure Path of the Prophet (s) and follow the way of his Disciples and Companions in their striving to encounter God."
Shah Naqshband's self-denial made him live a harsh and austere life. He was extremely concerned with acquiring only the halal (permitted) livelihood. He used to eat bread made from barley that he planted and reaped himself in his garden. He loved the poor and needy and he used to cook and serve them himself as well as visit them when they were sick. He was very wealthy and he used his money to spend in the way of God, not for himself and his family. Because of that, everyone loved him and acknowledged his generosity.
Shah Naqshband said:
"The Naqshbandi School is the easiest and simplest way for the student to understand tawhid. ...It is also free from all innovations and deviations and exaggerated statements (shaathiyyat) and dancing and dubious recitals (sama'a). It does not demand of its followers perpetual hunger or wakefulness. That is how the Naqshbandiyya has managed to remain free from the excesses of the ignorant and the charlatans (mushawazeen). In sum we say that our way is the mother of all tareeqats and the guardian of all spiritual trusts. It is the safest, wisest and clearest way. It is the purest drinking-station, the most distilled essence. Naqshbandiyya is innocent from any attack because it keeps the the way of the blessed Sunnah."