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Biographical Accounts Of The Tatar Sheikh Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi (Kamalov) in The Arabic Manuscripts

For several centuries the Tatar literature has been evolving within the entire Islamic civilization maintaining strong ties with the Arabic, the Persian and the Turkish cultures.

The Muslims of the Volga and the Ural regions belonged as a community to the world of Islam and the Middle East, the fact that had its impact on the set of genres of the Tatar Islamic literature that had absorbed, in its turn, the best traditions of the Arab-Islamic literature. One needs to mention that the Tatar Muslim literature has not been evolving within an isolated region but kept in touch with the other regions of Russia, especially with the region of the North Caucasus. The Muslims of the Ural and the Volga regions have maintained historical, cultural and religious ties with the Muslims of the North Caucasus for centuries. These contacts reached its utmost intensity by the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century when some Dagestanis due to certain historical circumansetances were studying at Tatar Islamic schools. A good example of the religious bonds between the Muslim community from the Volga region and Dagestan is the work of Sayfullah-Qadi Bashlarov, a Dagestani Sufi sheikh who received ijazah (a licence for being a spiritual master) subcequently from three Tatar sheikhs: Muhammad-Zakir from Chistopol, Zaynullah Rasulev from Trouitsk and Muhammad Salih from the Tatar village of Azimovo (4. p. 72-74). It is a quite peculiar detail that the biographical information about the above mentioned Tatar sheikhs can be found in Arabic manuscripts originating from Dagestan.

The biography of Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi, Gabdul-Bagap Kamalov’s (1804-1893) son and the first sheikh of S.K. Bashlarov, is of particular interest for scientific research. There is but little biographic information about this sheikh. It is known that he served as imam and khatib (preacher) in the city of Chistopol of the Kazan governorate and ran Kamaliya, a quite big Islamic school for those times; among its graduates there were such prominent figures of the Tatar nation as R. Fakhreddin, F. Karimi, G. Gafurov-Chygtai, G. Ishaki etc. M.-Z. Kamalov was the leader of the Naqshbandiya brotherhood in the Central Russia. His more detailed biography can be found in some Arabic essays from Dagestan. One of such essays containing a more detailed biography of Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi is a work of a Tatar scholar and tariqat sheikh Muradullah (Muhammad Murad) bin Bahadirshah Abdallah bin Adilshah ar-Ramzi al-Manzalawi al-Qazani (1855-1934). The title of the above mentioned essay is “Nafais as-salihat fi tazyil al-baqiyat as-salihat” (“The gems of the good deeds added to the other good deeds”). This essay has been included into the compilation of works by the Dagestani sheikh Shu’ayb bin Idris al-Baghini (1853-1912) “Tabaqat al-khwajakan an-naqshbandiya” (“Vitae of the Naqshbandi masters”)[1] that became known in the scientific world due to several prominent Dagestani scientists (2. p. 37-43). The published version of the essay is based on the manuscript submitted to the publishing house by Arslan Ali, the president of the Alims’ Council of Dagestan, through the Deputy Mufti of the Republic.  It should be mentioned that the essay of Muhammad Murad ar-Ramzi until now has been only known within the book with several sections by the Dagestani sheikh Shu’ayb al-Baghini.  According to the author’s words his essay is based on the following two books: “Al-Baqiyat as-salihat fi taqrib ar-rashahat” (“The other good deeds compared to water drops”) by Ali bin al-Husayn al-Kashifi. The work takes note of biographies of the Naqshbandi sheikhs starting with Abu Bakr Siddiq and ending with Ubaydullah Ahrar. The second chapter of the book is an essay called “Nafais as-salihat fi tazyil al-baqiyat as-salihat” (“The precious (part) of the good deeds added to the other good deeds”) whose author was the Tatar scholar Muhammad Murad ar-Ramzi al-Qazani al-Manzalawi. The second chapter contains biographies of the Naqshbandi sheikhs from Muhammad Zahid to Khalid al-Baghdadi. The third chapter (this is the original part written by Shu’ayb al-Baghini) contains biographies of the remaining Naqshbandi sheikhs. The last part of the book contains some explanations of the rules, the ethics and the distinctive features of the Naqshbandi convent [5. p. 19-20]..

A brief account of Muhammad Zakir al-Chistawi’s life can be found in the second chapter written by Muhammad Murad ar-Ramzi. This chapter is included into the work of the Dagestani sheikh Shu’ayb al-Baghini “Mawlana sheikh Muhammad Zakir Effendi al-Qazani al-Chistawi, may Allah prolong his life, and may He have mercy upon him and us, is an illustrous successor (khalifah) of the Khalidi branch (of the Naqshbandi tariqat) in our land and the one worthy of emulation by all of us. There is no place in Kazan where the great scholars and the most worthy men of this city would not follow him. He is a great scholar in all sciences: rational and traditional. He studied fiqh from a great deceased scholar Abdullah al-Muchaskarawi, who was the only of his kind, may Allah have mercy upon him and us. Later Muhammad Zakir-Effendi became a teacher and served his contemporaries for many years applying his scientific expertise that he had acquired.  Then he stepped into the Khalidi branch of the Naqshbandi tariqat and learned zikr from sheikh Mahmud-Effendi al-Daghistani al-Almali, may God hallow his spirit. Mahmud al-Almali learned this zikr from sheikh Yunus al-Khalidi, and the latter one - from sheikh Abdullah al-Arzanjani. I copied the commentries on this zikr from the letter signed by sheikh Muhammad Zakir-Effendi himself. However we have heard from sheikh Khalil Basha that Yunus-Effendi had joined tariqat under the guidance of Yahya Beg and never met sheikh Abdullah al-Makki. And the Almighty knows better “...all people knew their watering place” [1].

Mahmud-Effendi al-Daghistani stepped into tariqat under the guidance of sheikh Hashim-Effendi al-Yashmani, and the latter one - under the guidance of sheikh Diyaddin Zubayhullah ash-Shirwani. The latter one was a successor of Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi - may Allah hallow their high spirits. The author of these lines was honored by meeting this man several times.

I have completed, abridged and edited (what I could find out of) the work of sheikh Muhammad Murad bin Abdallah al-Qazani, a scholar who knew Allah (and was thus an arif), and held onto the rope of Allah...” (5. p. 346-347).

The same compilation work by Shu’ayb al-Baghini contains Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi’s own essay in Arabic titled “Tabsirat al-murshidin” (“Elucidation of the masters”). This essay, in addition to the prephace of the publisher and a brief biographical information about Muhammad-Zakir, also contains elucidation of some questions of the Naqshbandi religious practice and explanation of certain Sufi terminology.

Information about Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi is also found in another Arabic essay titled “Siraj as-sa’adat” (“The cresset of happiness”) by a Dagestani sheikh Hasan al-Kahibi. Citing the words of his teacher, Hassan al-Kahibi wrote in the section dedicated to the vita of his sheikh Sayfullah-Qadi Bashlarov: “We were bound by ties of friendship with Hasbulat al-Kustaki, a renowned scholar. I was his student and studied the book “Silk al-’ayn” under his supervision. Then I told him I wanted to become his murid. He said: “I was visited by the soul of my sheikh Mahmud al-Almali. His soul told me that my master would be sheikh Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi who has a high position in tariqat, and I would be with him in the spring time.” I was embarrassed by these words. And again, he spoke to me: “I was hoping that you can become my son. But alas - the will of Allah is that you will meet Muhammad-Zakir, may God hallow his high spirit”. Thus in the spring I bade my farewell and went to Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi.” Soon Sayfullah-Qadi met the Naqshbandi sheikh Muhammad-Zakir. Sayfullah describes this meeting: “It was a great sheikh with numerous virtues. I have never heard him speaking of worldly matters. Once when I came to him he was busy with muraqabah (a Sufi spiritual practice meaning enhanced self-control). When I came to him he was glad to see me. During our meeting there were around one thousand five hundred murids present. Muhammad-Zakir made me sit near himself and as long as I was near him, no one of his murids set down. He told me to perform sultan az-zikr (the main zikr among the Naqshbandi spiritual practices) for 40 days. Soon after taking permissions from his sheikh he left us and returned to his homeland. I told him I wanted to visit him once more but he smiled and said: “You will not see me again.” It was true - they never met again. After sheikh al-Chistawi had passed Sayfullah-Qadi became student of Z. Rasulev and received ijazah from the latter. (3. p.242-243).

There are memoirs by Abulkhalil al-Ata al-Bakri where he explains why Muhammad-Zakir al-Chistawi decided to become murid of sheikh Mahmud Effendi al-Daghistani: “Our brother scholar Hajji Habibullah al-Kahi told me that sheikh Muhammad Zakir, the author of “Tabsirat al-murshidin” (“Instructions for masters”) was an intellectual and affluent person big in stature; he did not acknowledge sheikh Mahmud-Effendi. Once at night when he was asleep he saw Mahmud-Effendi in a dream. Mahmud Effendi hit him with a stick. Then he woke up and fell asleep again. In his dream, the sheikhs approached him again and stroke him with a stick. Muhammad Zakir woke up again... This repeated seven times. After this the sheikh came (in reality) and stood next to him in silence. Mahmud-Effendi explained to him what had happened to him while he was asleep. After this Muhammad-Zakir joined the tariqat and became a perfect (kamil) sheikh.

Our pious brother Sayfullah al-Nitsubkri said about Muhammad-Zakir: “I saw a letter written by sheikh Mahmud-Effendi to sheikh Muhammad-Zakir. The first spoke to the latter with the words: “You are ahead of us in darajat (spiritual level). That’s is.”  May Allah be pleased with the both of them and with all Muslims” (5. p.7-8).

Thus the genre of hagiography that included a spiritual geneology (shajarah) as well as the so-called tabaqat - essays dedicated to biographies of prominent Islamic personalities, played a definite role in the Tatar literature in the Arabic language. The above mentioned material reveals that the Tatar Islamic literature was not an isolated literature but on the contrary was closely related to the literaral tradition of the other regions of Russia. In spite of the difference between the Islamic law schools of the Muslims of the Volga region and the Ural and those of North-East Caucasus, the literary material speaks not only of various cultural ties between the regions but also of a certain similarity in the set of genres of Islamic litarature. The Arabic texts that have been discovered allow to see the close ties between the two regions from a new perspective. When speaking of the Tatar literature in the Arabic language and in the Arabic script it should be noted that many texts by the Muslim spiritual elite scattered in many regions of Russia, remain unstudied. Scientific research and field work help discover new texts by Tatar scholars who followed both the Arabic tradition as well as the local traditions of the Muslims of the Volga and the Ural. Nowadays there is nothing worthier of attention than the legacy of our ancestors: our noble sheikhs and imams. By studying their essays and their vitae we strengthen the ties between our generation and its spiritual roots.


1. Quran: 2; 60.               

2. Musayev M.A., Shikhaliyev Sh.Sh.: Miracles of Saints in the Dagestani Arabic Sufi bibliographic essay “Tabaqat al-Khwajakan an-naqshbandiya wa ‘adat al-mashayikh al-Khalidiya al-Mahmudiya” // Islamic Studies No 4. 2011 [Мусаев М.А., Шихалиев Ш.Ш. Чудотворства святых в дагестанском арабоязычном суфийском биографическом сочинении «Табакат ал-Хваджакан ан-накшбандиййа вас адат ал-машаих ал-Халидийа ал-Махмудийа» // Исламоведение. № 4. 2011.] p.37-43.

3. Hassan b. Muhammad Hilmi al-Kahi. Siraj as-saadat fi siyar as-sadat (in the Arabic language). Makhachkala, 2011. [Хасан б. Мухаммад Хилми ал-Кахи. Сирадж ас-саадат фи сийар ас-садат (на арабском языке). Махачкала, 2011.]

4. Shikhaliyev Sh.Sh. Saypullah-Qadi // Islam on the territory of the former Russian Empire: Encyclopedical Dictionary / ed. S.M. Prozorov. Moscow, V. 4, 2004. [Шихалиев Ш.Ш. Сайпулла-кади // Ислам на территории бывшей Российской империи: Энциклопедический словарь / под ред. С.М. Прозорова. Москва. Т.4, 2003.]   

5. Shu’ayb bin Idris al-Baghini. Tabaqat al-Khajagan al-Naqshbandiya wa sadat masheikh al-khalidiya al-mahmudiya (in the Arabic language). Damascus, 1999.

Hasavnekh Alsu, Doctor of Philology


[1]‎‏ هدايات الزمان في طبقات الخواجكان النقشبندية و سادات المشايخ الخالدية المحمودية. دمشق: دار النعمان للعلوم،‏٢٠٠٣‏. – ص.‏‏١‏ – ‏٧٨‏‎