The Core Chishti Practices

  • Carl W. Ernst
  • Bruce B. Lawrence


It was above all the transmission of distinctive practices that gave each order its character. For the Chishti order, this transmission included distinctive practices associated with listening to music (sama‘). But the core of Sufi transmission was the complex of prayer and meditation practices associated with the recollection and recitation of the Arabic names of God mentioned in the Qur’an.1 The term for this recitation is zikr, meaning “recollection.” Zikr is mentioned very frequently in the Qur’an, since humanity is often called upon in the sacred text to remember God and his commands. The movement toward interiorization of the Qur’an that was so decisive for the development of Sufism lent itself especially to the practice of meditation in which the names of God (traditionally 99 in number) are chanted over and over again, either in solitude or in company, aloud or silently. Both historically and in the present day, the practice of recollection continues to be a central part of Sufi practice.


Meditative Practice Yogic Practice Spiritual State Breath Control Human Lover 
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  1. 1.
    See Carl W. Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997), esp. chapter 4, for a discussion of Sufi practices associated with the names of God.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari, The Key to Salvation: A Sufi Manual of Invocation, trans. Mary Ann Koury-Danner (Portland: International Specialized Book Services, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    The thesis of political rivalry between Chishtis and Naqshbandis is maintained by S. A. A. Rizvi, Shah Wall Allah and His Times: A Study of Eighteenth Century Islam, Politics, and Society in India (Canberra: Ma’rifat Publishing, 1980), esp. pp. 360, 372.Google Scholar
  4. 43.
    Bruce B. Lawrence, “The Early Chishti Approach to Sama’,” in Islamic Society and Culture: Essays in Honour of Professor Aziz Ahmad, ed. M. Israel and N. K. Wagle (Delhi: Manohar, 1983), p. 72.Google Scholar
  5. 44.
    See Marjan Molé, “La dance extatique en Islam,” Sources Orientales 6 (1963), pp. 147–228. Molé’s analysis offers thematic continuity but not a holistic perspective. He alludes, for instance, to the importance of Adab al-muridin, a Sufi manual written by Abu Najib Suhrawardi; ‘Awarif al-ma‘arif a similar manual by Abu Najib’s nephew, Abu Hafs ‘Umar Suhrawardi; and Misbah al-hidaya, a summary Persian translation of ‘Awarif by ‘Izz ad-Din Mahmud Kashani (Molé, p. 184); yet he gives no quotations for these sources, nor does he compare their contents with those of the works he does cite.Google Scholar
  6. 45.
    Most literary evidence for the role of sama‘va. disseminating Sufi beliefs through the Asian subcontinent derives from the Mughal period and later. See Richard M. Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 117–27 and 157–64.Google Scholar
  7. 56.
    Abu Nasr Sarraj, Kitab al-luma ‘fi’t-tasawwuf ed. R. A. Nicholson, E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series, XXII (Leiden: E. J. Brill, and London: Luzac & Co., 1914), p. 288.Google Scholar
  8. 76.
    Carl W. Ernst, Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center, SUNY Series in Muslim Spirituality in South Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 147–154.Google Scholar
  9. 77.
    See Bruce B. Lawrence, Notes from a Distant Flute (Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1978), but a continuation of the equivocal posture of Hujwiri and Qushayri vis-à-vis sama‘ may be found in Sharafuddin Maneri, The Hundred Letters, trans. Paul Jackson (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), pp. 382–93.Google Scholar
  10. 78.
    Mushtaq Ilahi Faruqi, Naghmat-i sama‘ (Karach: Educational Press, 1392/1972), pp. 249–51, trans. Carl W. Ernst, Teachings of Sufism (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999), pp. 112–15.Google Scholar

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© Carl W. Ernst and Bruce B. Lawrence 2002

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  • Carl W. Ernst
  • Bruce B. Lawrence

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