Who is Ubaydullah Ahrar?


Who is Ubaydullah Ahrar? What kind of person Ubaydullah Ahrar? When did Ubaydullah Ahrar live?

Ubaydullah Ahrar [1404 – 1490]

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) is famous for the title Khwaja Ahrar (‘the shaykh of the free’). It is narrated that this title was given to him on account of his heart being free from worry about property and wealth and anxiety about both worlds[1].

He was born in the month of Ramadan in the hijri year 806 in the village of Baghistan in Tashkent. His lineage goes back to the caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him)[2].

The son of his uncle, Khwaja Ishaq, narrates:

“When we were children, we wanted to include Khwaja Ubaydullah in some of our games but we could never succeed however much we tried. We thought that he would accept our invitation and play with us. When we became engrossed in our game, he would part from us and be with himself. He would always preserve himself from vain affairs”[3].

One day Ubaydullah Ahrar saw the prophet Isa (peace be upon him) in his dream. Some of his relatives wanted to interpret this dream as meaning that he would become a physician. However, he interpreted this dream himself, saying that he would revive dead hearts, that is, he would be given the duty of guiding the people and giving life to their hearts[4].

When he was 22 years old he occupied himself with his studies and also travelled around the various cities of Maveraunnehir, benefitting from the leading men of the Naqshibandiyya.  He visited the tomb of Shah Naqshiband (may Allah have mercy on him). He met with many of his successors and benefitted from them. In particular, he spent 40 days conversing with Alauddin Ghujdwani (may Allah have mercy on him) and received his ijaza (permission) to guide others from him[5].

Ubaydullah Ahrar narrates:

“In the beginning, such a great storm of imploring Allah broke out within me, that I requested with great humility, whomever I encountered, free or slave, old or young, masters or laymen, to pray for me and help me”[6].

A short time later Ubaydullah Ahrar went to see Yaqub Charkhi (may Allah have mercy on them both). After he spent some days in his company he aligned himself with him. Charkhi spoke about him to those around him as follows:

“This is how a disciple should enter the presence of his guide! He should be spiritually prepared with his entire being. Now all that awaits is to write his ijaza. He has prepared the lantern, the oil and the wick, now all we need is to light the match”.

Ubaydullah Ahrar stayed in the company of Yaqub Charkhi for three months and then receiving permission to be his successor, he returned to Herat and began to guide the people there[7].

The Path of Service

Ubaydullah Ahrar preferred to live humbly and independently, both in times of plenty and times of want. He withdrew his hand from the bounties of the world and focused himself entirely on marifatullah.

He mentions a time from the days when he was in need as follows:

“One day I went to the market. A man came up to me and said:

“I am hungry. Will you feed me for the sake of Allah?”.

At that moment I had nothing to give him. I only had an old turban. I went to one of the restaurants and said to the chef:

“Take this turban of mine. It is old but it is clean. You can dry your dishes with it. In return, feed this hungry man”.

The chef gave that poor man some food and he also wanted to return my turban. I did not accept, despite his insistence. Even though I was hungry myself, I waited until that poor man eaten his fill.

When I was young I helped and served many people. I had no horse and no other mount. I would wear one cardigan for the whole year and that was so old that it was falling apart. I would make do with a coat and a simple pair of shoes for three years”[8].

By the grace of Allah, Ubaydullah Ahrar was given a great fortune. He had thousands of workers on his farm. However, this blessed man did not refrain from serving others for the sake of Allah despite all of this. From the day he took his first step on the path of spiritual perfection until his last breath, his help and compassion for others, both those he knew and those he did not know, was unlimited in its greatness.

He speaks of some of his acts of service as follows:

“I had taken on the care of three patients in the Mawlana Qutbuddin Madrasah in Samarkand. When their illness got worse they began to soil their beds. I would wash them with my own hands and dress them. Since I was always looking after them their sickness passed on to me and I was also bedridden. However, even whilst in that state I brought water with urns and cleaned them and continued to wash their clothes”[9].

Ubaydullah Ahrar would serve others at every opportunity and never distinguish between them. He would then secretly leave so that they would not give him anything for his services.[10].

He used to say:

“I advanced on this path not from the books of tasawwuf, but by serving the people…This is the virtue of serving others. Everyone was taken by a different path and I was taken by this path of service.

This is why serving others is a method that I am content with and that I prefer and love. I advise those who I see with spiritual potential and who are worthy of serving others”[11].

Earning His Own Livelihood

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) would earn his own livelihood by occupying himself with agriculture, in order to avoid being dependent on anyone[12]. At first he did this by becoming a partner with somebody else. With his partner’s support he bought a pair of oxen. Allah, Most High, then blessed his property to such a degree and in so short a time that he had to appoint people to manage his affairs. His property and wealth was beyond measure. His fields numbered more than 1300[13].

Khwaja Ahrar narrates:

“Allah, Most High, bestowed great blessings on my wealth. After every harvest 1000 batman[14] of crops would be stored and when they came out of the storehouse they would be 1400 or 1500 batmans[15].

The man who was appointed to look after the storehouse crops said:

“We saw that as we used the grains from the store they would increase. Seeing this, our devotion to Ubaydullah Ahrar grew. One time when I asked him the meaning of this, he replied:

“Our property is for the poor; this is why it increases”[16].

Khwaja would give all of the gain that came from these fields to the scholars and students in the madrasahs; to the Sufis from the taqqas, zawiyahs (dervish lodges) and mosques; and to foundations established to benefit the travellers and the needy Muslims.

Ubaydullah Ahrar had much wealth and property in various cities. He endowed some of these for important acts of service such as mosques, madrasahs and taqqas.[17]

The Basis of The Matter: Be Careful About What You Eat

One of his leading students, Mawlanazade narrates:

“One day I prepared a meal and offered it to Ubaydullah Ahrar. He did not even touch the meal and said:

“This meal was not prepared with care! Investigate and see where the fault lies?”

After we investigated carefully we found that at the kitchen where this meal was cooked a piece of wood of doubtful origins was put into the fire to cook it. Learning of this, Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) became angry and said:

 “The foundation of this journey of the spirit is to be very careful about what one eats. It is absolutely necessary that one gives great importance to this matter. The effects of the things that enter a person’s body will appear in their outer form. All of this displeasure and wretchedness you see is generally a result of eating foods of doubtful origin”[18].

Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi’s (may Allah have mercy on him) words on this matter are significant:

“Last night inspiration came to us in a diferent form because a few mouthfuls of doubtful food that entered the stomach blocked the path of inspiration”.

Ubaydullah Ahrar also refrained from eating food from endowments as he believed that it was the right of the poor[19].

His Compassion

The following words of Ubaydullah Ahrar are sufficient to demonstrate the broad scope of his compassion:

“Just as people care about their relatives, so too they should be saddened if some harm comes to any of Allah’s creatures”[20].

Ubaydullah Ahrar established many foundations for the benefit of the people. He also paid his taxes with more than was necessary, in order to lighten the load of the people. When the ruler of Tashkent, Mirza Umar, instituted heavy taxes for the people, Ubaydullah Ahrar first sent 250,000 dinars to this ruler, then later 70,000 dinars, in order to lighten one year of the tax burden on the people[21].

When drought came to the region of Turkistan and its people came to Tashkent, Ubaydullah Ahrar appointed one of his disciples, Muhammad Qadi, to feed the people. Muhammad Qadi slaughtered seven sheep every day, had 700 loaves of bread baked, and also offered melons from the villages to feed the poor. Ubaydullah Ahrar complimented this service of his by saying:

“Our teachers would occupy those people about whom they were hopeful in acts of service”[22].

Ahrar would also meet with sultans and advise them and tolerate their problems in order to protect the people from oppression and make the life of the Muslims easy[23].

His Efforts to Spread Islam

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) spent his entire life guiding the people and performing acts of service. He wrote such valuable works as Fiqarat, Risale Hawraiyya, Risale Waldiyah and Ruka’at (Muraselat).

One time he went to Herat to meet with the sultan of that time, Abu Sa’id, and to ask him to lift the trade tax called ‘tamga’ which was not legal according to the religion. The Sultan lifted this tax in the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand and also promised to lift all of the taxes of the non-Muslims in his country[24].

One of Ubaydullah Ahrar’s disciple Mawlana Burhanaddin (may Allah have mercy on them both) who was extremely knowledgeable narrates:

“It was the beginning of the winter season. It was extremely cold. Sultan Ahmad Mirza had organised an expedition to Turkestan. He asked that Ubaydullah Ahrar accompany him. Ubaydullah Ahrar accepted his invitation without hesitation. A group of his friends also joined them and I was one of them. During the journey our Master and his friends endured great difficulties. The weather was very harsh. At many times the following misgiving appeared to me: “If our Master did not want to come on this journey, the Sultan would not have insisted. Neither he nor his friends would then have to endure such difficulties and hardships. There is no benefit for our Master in this journey”. However hard I tried to distance this evil thought from my heart I was unable to do so. We finally arrived in Shahruhiye under these difficult circumstances.

Two or three days after we entered the city a sudden intense revolt broke out; four thousand or so Moghul unbelievers along with a thousand or so Ozbek unbelievers had arrived in the city to raid and pillage it. They had already pillaged other towns in that area. The people of the town and some envoys from the leading circles of society came to Ubaydullah Ahrar crying and they asked him to pray for them saying:

“The sultan does not have enough soldiers to put up a resistance to so many unbelieving soldiers. The removal of this calamity looks to your prayers for good”. The sultan also came to Ubaydullah Ahrar, greatly affected and asked him for his protection and help.

Ubaydullah Ahrar went to where those oppressive soldiers were with a group of his people of knowledge. He spoke with the commander of the soldiers and with their leader and convinced them. They were so moved by his words that they took out the idols that were hanging around their necks and threw them down and became Muslim in the presence of Ubaydullah Ahrar. They also encouraged their soldiers to enter Islam. All of the soldiers present were honoured with becoming Muslim. The soldiers also returned to Ubaydullah Ahrar the two thousand or so slaves they had taken and all of the ten thousand animals they had taken.

Our Master first sent the slaves back to their lands. Then he appointed a hafiz and a scholar of fiqh to teach the soldiers about Islam. The hafiz taught them how to recite the Holy Qur’an; and the scholar of fiqh taught them the pillars of Islam, how to worship, treatment of others and perfection of character.

Ubaydullah Ahrar returned to the city. He asked for permission from the Sultan and went to Samarkand. When we set out he said to me:

“Mawlana Burhan! Now do you understand why we endured the hardships of that journey?”[25]

He Was Present at The Conquest of Istanbul

Khwaja Muhammad Qasim, the son of the grandson of Ubaydullah Ahrar, tells of how he travelled across from Central Asia to participate in the conquest of Istanbul:

“One Thursday afternoon, Ubaydullah Ahrar suddenly told us to prepare his horse for him. He quickly mounted it and left Samarkand. He said to his students: “You stay here”.

One of his students by the name of Mawlana Shaykh followed him for a short time. He then informed us that Ubaydullah Ahrar first moved to the right and then to the left and then disappeared from sight. He returned a short while later. Excitedly his students asked him about the wisdom in this sudden journey. He replied:

“The Turkish Sultan, Mehmed Han, asked me for help. So I went to help him. By the permission of Allah they were victorious…”

Khwaja Abdulhadi, the grandson of Ubaydullah Ahrar, narrates:

“When I went to Istanbul Sultan Bayazid the second said to me:

“My father Fatih told me: “At the most intense time of the battle I sought refuge with my Lord and asked that the Pole of that time come to help me. That man with such and such characteristics appeared in front of me on a white horse and said:

“Do not fear! Victory is yours…”

I said to him:

“The soldiers of the infidels are many in number”.

He then opened up his robe and said:

“Look inside”.

When I saw an army that flowed like a river inside his sleeve I was shocked and he said:

“All of these men have come to help the army of Islam”. Then he continued:

“Now go to that hill, strike the drum three times and give the command for all of the soldiers to attack”.

I did as he said. Then that saint joined in the attack along with his army. The promised conquest was realised”[26].

Respect and love for the descendants of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)

Ubaydullah Ahrar had the following to say about showing reverence and respect for the descendants of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him):

“I could not live in a land where the Sayyids live. They are at such a superior rank in terms of honour and exaltedness as a result of being from the lineage of the prophet. It is not possible to describe this honour. This is why I do not feel that I would be capable of showing them the required respect”.

Similarly Imam Azam was one day teaching a lesson and during the lesson he stood up and sat down a few times. Nobody understood why he did this. Finally one of his students could no longer resist and asked him the reason.

Imam Azam replied:

“Some children from the Sayyids were playing in the garden of the madrasah. Whenever they passed by the door I found myself standing up out of respect for them”[27].

His Virtues

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) was an extremely selfless and generous person. One time he had gone to Kash with some of his disciples and when the night fell they set up camp and stayed there the night.  When it started to rain he went outside finding some excuse and convinced his students to stay in the tent so that they would not get wet. He then disappeared and passed the entire night under the rain.

A similar event took place on an extremely hot day. There was only one shaded place in the field and in order for his spiritual children to be more comfortable he used the excuse that he wanted to go and see the ploughed fields. He did not return for a long time.

This is the reason why he left because he knew that his students would be hesitant to rest when they were with him. For the days that they were there, Ubaydullah Ahrar continued to walk the fields in this way so that his disciples could be comfortable[28].

Ubaydullah Ahrar was extremely committed to the commands and prohibitions of Islam. He was very adamant in his claim that it was impossible for a person to reach high ranks without following the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). He also said that to follow the Sunnah was dependent on living in the way of ahl-Sunnah wa al-jamaa’[29].

His Methods of Educating

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) stated that it was necessary to strive for spiritual development as follows:

“If a person occupies themselves with dhikr, taking great care and with much effort, he will reach such a rank in so short a time that the sounds he hears and the talk of people around him will seem like dhikr to him. Even his own speech will be like this. However, this state will not come about if there is no effort and no care shown”[30].

One time Khwaja Ubaydullah advised one of the dervishes who asked for permission to go to Khorasan as follows:

“When I parted from Alauddin Ghujdawani he said to me: “As you travel promise yourself this: “I will protect my spiritual state until I reach such and such a place. I will not be heedless of Allah”. Then when you reach the designated place decide on another place and keep yourself from heedlessness until you reach it. In this way strive to maintain your state of dhikr in each place you go and wherever you stop. Continue in this way until presence of heart and spiritual awareness become like second nature to you”[31].

Ubaydullah Ahrar also said:

“If presence of heart does not become second nature to a person when they are young and healthy it will become even more difficult to gain this when one is old due to weakness of the body and the mind”[32].

“We should check every hour that passes to see whether it was passed in heedlessness or awareness of the presence of Allah. This is called muhasaba. If we passed our time in heedlessness, then we should immediately make a turn around and perform righteous deeds”[33].

“In the path of the Khwajagan the principle of khalwat dar anjuman (being with Allah whilst being among the people) is the foundation. This elevated group of people built their path on this principle. This ruling was taken from the following verse: ‘…there are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening, not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah’ (Nur, 24:37)”[34].

Ubaydullah Ahrar also said that the path of spirituality should be built upon ‘muhabbah’ (love). One time he said:

“There were many doors that opened onto the masjid of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). During his last illness he ordered that all other doors be closed except for the one that opened onto the house of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). His Companions obeyed this command.

The scholars had much to say about this and we can summarise as follows:

The love felt by Abu Bakr for the Messenger of Allah, was at the peak of the station of ‘fana fil Rasul’. Consequently the above event indicates the following: All bonds other than the bond of love are broken and only the path of love, which is the only path that will allow one to reach their aim, is left open.

In that case, devotion to a True Friend of Allah worthy of guiding one to Allah, must be made with love. The path of the Khwajagan goes back to Abu Bakr and takes his love as its foundation. Their path in reality is to look out for this bond of love and never lose it”[35].

His Death

Ubaydullah Ahrar (may Allah have mercy on him) became ill in the month of Muharram in the hijri year 895 and after an illness that lasted for 89 days he passed away at the age of 89. This coincidence reminded his disciples of the following hadith:

 “One day of fever is equal to one year’s atonement for one’s sins”[36].

Even when his illness became very intense Ubaydullah Ahrar performed his prayers on time and placed much importance on praying them at the start of the appointed time. In the month of Rabi al-awwal he had become extremely ill. It was time for the evening prayer and he asked:

“Is it time for the evening prayer?”

They replied that it was and he performed his prayer by the indicating with his head only. When the time for the late night prayer arrived he gave his last breath and was reunited with the mercy of Allah. The date was the 29th of Rabi al-awwal in the year 895 which corresponds to the 20th of February 1490[37].

His blessed body was buried in the suburb of Khwaja Kafshir in Samarkand[38].

His words of wisdom

  • “The aim of man’s creation is servanthood. The essence of servanthood is to seek refuge in Allah in a state of constant humility, annihilation, a sense of nothingness before Him and deep reverence. It is to contemplate on His greatness in all circumstances and never forget that He is with us at every instant”[39].
  • In a letter written to one of his disciples he stated:

“The reality of servanthood is seeking refuge in Allah with humility, reverence, entreaty and a broken heart. That is, it is to be in a state of constant supplication. This state arises when the awareness of the greatness of Allah becomes truly established in the heart. Gaining happiness is dependent on love. The establishment of love is dependent on following the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), the master of those who went before and who came after. Following the Messenger of Allah is possible by knowing this method. In order to learn this method one should continue in the assemblies of the scholars and the people of hal. However one should remain distant from scholars who use their knowledge to gain worldly benefits and worldly posts. One should be wary of being with dervishes who dance and perform the sama (without being wary of the halal, haram or the doubtful) and taking and giving without hesitation. One should also avoid listening to words that are not in accordance with the creed of the ahl al sunnah wa al jama’. One should seek knowledge for the sake of the manifestation of true wisdom that leads one to follow the Messenger of Allah, and that is all…”[40].

  • “On this path one should clean and preserve their breath with dhikrullah and give great importance to this. That is, one should breathe every breath in awareness of the presence of Allah and in a state of spiritual awareness”[41].
  • “The duty that falls upon the faithful disciple is to enter the hearts of the Friends of Allah and carry out their commands with great sincerity. They should consider their desires above their own”[42].
  • “The traveller may sometimes lose his spiritual state. Generally the reasons for this are as follows:

– Acting in opposition to the rulings of Islam, for instance eating, food that is prohibited or of doubtful origins…

– Transgressing the rights of others, for instance, backbiting a fellow believer…

– Being unmerciful towards the creatures of Allah or harming them. For instance harming a cat or dog without good reason…”[43]

  • “Too much hunger and sleeplessness can harm the mind. Such a mind can be weakened so that it cannot perceive reality. This is why there are some errors in the spiritual insights of some of the people of riyazat (abstinence)”[44].
  • “Even if all positive spiritual states and ecstasy were to be given to us, but within us we do not bear the creed of the ahl al sunnah wa al jama, we will see all of these states as debasement. Even if we bear within us all faults and defects but our inner world is rightly founded upon the creed of the ahl al sunnah wa al jama’, then we do not see any harm in this”[45].
  • “It is easy to say: “Ana al-Haqq” (I am the Real). What is difficult is annihilating the nafs[46].

[1]. See Kose Ahmad, Tuhfat al Ahbab, vr. 94a; Walikhwaja, Khwaja Ahrar-i Wali, p. 74-75; Necdet Tosun, Bahauddin Naqshiband: His life, his views and his tariq, Istanbul 2002, p. 159.[2]. Jami, Nafahat, p. 564.[3]. Rashahat, p. 413.[4]. Rashahat, p. 413.[5]. Mir Abdulawwal, Mesmu’at, p. 70, 78; Muhammad Qadi, Silsila al Arifin, vr. 34a-35a; Rashahat, p. 148-152, 432, 434.[6]. Rashahat, p. 415.[7]. Jami, Nafahat, p. 550, 564; Muhammad Qadi, ibid, vr. 47b-48b; Rashahat, p. 207, 434; Badraddin Sirhindi, Hazarat al-Quds, I, 174a.[8]. See Rashahat, p. 419.[9]. Mir Abdulawwal, ibid, p. 32-33; Rashahat, p. 425.[10]. Muhammad  Qadi, ibid, vr. 37b; Rashahat, p. 425.[11]. Rashahat, p. 426-427.[12]. Mir Abdulawaal, ibid, p. 106; Muhammad Qadi, ibid, vr. 34a, 142b-143a.[13]. Rashahat, p. 423. During recent times in documents published in Moscow entitled The Semerqand Documents of the XV-XVI Centuries it is stated that Khwaja Ahrar managed 35000 hectares of land in the region of Samarqand. Amongst the fields are gardens, houses, stores, mills, farming tools, taqqas, schools and mosques. , (Kadir Kose – H. Ibrahim Shimsek, Golden Chains, p. 283)[14] One batman is equal to 7697kg.[15]. Rashahat, p. 424.[16]. Rashahat, p. 424.[17]. O. D. Chehovic, The Samarqand Documents XV-XVI vv. (o Vladeniyah Hodci Ahrara v Srednei Azii iAfganistane), Moscow 1974, p. 107-174, 332; Walikhwaja, ibid, p. 73.[18]. Rashahat, p.. 639.[19]. Mir Abdulawwal, ibid, p. 82.[20]. Rashahat, p. 487.[21]. Mawlana Shaykh, Manaqib-i Khwaja Ubaydullah-i Ahrar, vr. 12a.[22]. Kishmi, Nasamatu al Quds, p. 244.[23]. Mawlana Shaykh, ibid, vr. 72b-73a; Rashahat, p. 549.[24]. Mir Abdulawwal, ibid, p. 72; Mawlana Shaykh, ibid, vr. 11a; Muhammad Qadi, ibid, vr. 64b-65a.[25]. Rashahat, p. 615-616.[26]. See Mawlana Shaykh, ibid, vr. 4b-5a; Jami, Nafahat al Uns, [Lami i Chalabi part], p. 566-567; Tashkopruzade, al Shakaiqu an Nu’maniyya, p. 157-158; Majdi Mehmed, Hadaiqu al Shaqaiq, p. 272-273; Hoca Sadeddin, Taju al Tawarih, I, 410-411.[27]. Rashahat, p. 483-484.[28]. Mir Abdulawwal, ibid, p. 153; Rashahat, p. 429-430.[29]. Ubaydullah Ahrar, Fikarat, vr. 74a, 118b, 153a-b, 156a; Arif Nawshahi, “Risale-i Walidiyya”, p. 69-72.[30]. Rashahat, p. 68.[31]. Rashahat, p. 474.[32]. Rashahat, p. 156.[33]. Rashahat, p. 74.[34]. Rashahat, p. 621-622.[35]. Rashahat, p. 460.[36]. Munawi, Kunuzu al Haqaiq, nr: 3304; Ajluni, Kashfu al Khafa, I, 367, nr: 1173.[37]. Rashahat, p. 652.[38]. Rashahat, p. 653; Sayyid Sharif Rakim, Tarih-i Rakim, vr. 76a-79a.[39]. Rashahat, p. 521.[40]. Rashahat, p.  629.[41]. Rashahat, p. 63.[42]. Rashahat, p. 162.[43]. See Mir Abdulawwal, ibid p. 77; Rashahat, p.  492-493.[44]. Rashahat, p. 518.[45]. Imam Rabbani, Maktubat, I, 578, no: 193.[46]. Abdulghai ibn Abi Said, Huwalghani Risale, p. 159.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş,The Golden Chain of Transmission Masters of the Naqshinandi Way, Erkam Publications

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