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Hazrat Shah Nematollah Vali

Hazrat Shāh Ne‘matollāh Walī

 

Sayyid Nūruddīn Kermānī Shāh Ne‘matollāh[i] was one of the most influential and prominent Persian Sufi Masters. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1330 CE. He was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. His father, Mīr ‘Abdullāh was a Sufi Master. He passed his spirituality on to his son, who later became a Sufi Master himself.

 

During his spiritual journeys he met many other Sufi Masters who shed light upon his path and helped him to attain spiritual knowledge (ma‘rifat or ‘irfān) and achieve higher mystical and inner stages.[ii]

 

For many years he travelled through the Islamic world and guided innumerable disciples (murīds). In 1431 he breathed his last and his spirit crossed over to the other world.

 

The word Shāh means “king” in Fārsī and is given to Sufi Masters who have reached the realm of spiritual poverty (faqr). In Sufism, spiritual poverty is the stage of Love in which the existence of the Sufi (nafs, or ego or lower self) is annihilated in God (fanā Fillāh). Subsequently, he reaches the stage of Subsistence in God (Baqā Billāh).

 

His Journeys

 

He actively travelled through the Islamic world and met numerous revered Sufi Masters, who imparted their ideas and views to him, thus adding to and strengthening his spiritual knowledge (‘Irfān).

 

On one of his journeys to Mecca – the milestone of his spiritual quest – he met one of the foremost Sufi Masters of his time, i.e. Hazrat[iii] Shaykh ‘Abdullāh Yāfi‘ī (1298-1367 CE), who is generally considered as the Master who contributed the most to his progression on the Sufi Path (Tarīqat).

 

He spent seven years in the Master’s company, learning, imbibing and practising more significant and profound aspects of the Sufi doctrine than he would ever receive during his lifetime.

 

Hazrat Shaykh ‘Abdullāh Yāfi‘ī instilled the very essence of Sufism in his murīd. This period was extremely fruitful for Hazrat Shāh Ne‘matollāh and was of key importance for his further spiritual life.

 

After seven years of teachings and practices, he was granted the title of Shaykh {"Master" , "Sufi Teacher"} by Hazrat Shaykh ‘Abdullāh Yāfi‘ī, who charged him with the mission to travel to other places and guide murīds on the Sufi Path.
 

He traveled to Egypt, Transoxania, Herat and Yazd, and temporarily resided in Samarqand, where he met the formidable Mongol conqueror Tamerlane (a.k.a. Tīmūr-e Lang, “Timur the Lame” – 1336-1405 CE). However, in those days Samarqand was not a suitable and safe place to live in, and so he mov(“Master”,ed to the Persian city of Kerman, where he spent the rest of his life fulfilling his spiritual mission.

 

His Philosophy and Poetry

 

Like other eminent spiritual Masters, Shāh Ne‘matollūh used poetry to convey his mystical message. Like Hāfez (1312-1389 CE) and Sa‘dī (1184-1291 CE), he belonged to the poetical school of ‘Irāqī (1213-1289 CE) . The most notable characteristic of this school is the use of symbolic language, certain specific Arabic words, expressions and proverbs in order to enrich and embellish mystical poems.

 

Shāh Ne‘matollāh’s thinking was strongly influenced by the school of the illustrious Sufi mystic and theoretician Ibn ‘Arabī (1165-1240 CE, the school of Wahdat-ul-Wujūd or "the Unity of Being"}. As a young man he studied two major works by Ibn ‘Arabī: Al-Futūhāt-ul-Makkīya {"Meccan Revelations"} and Fusūs-ul-Hikam {"The Seals of Wisdom"}.

 

Together with such mystical poets as ‘Irāqī, Jāmī, Shaykh Shabistarī, Bīdel and others, Shāh Ne‘matollāh Walī[iv] too, had a profound knowledge of the school of Wahdat-ul-Wujūd {"The Oneness of Existence or Being"}, of which Ibn ‘Arabī was the foremost exponent.

 

In his writings, Shāh Ne‘matollāh clearly shows the integration of Persian ‘Irfān {"gnosis"} and Ibn ‘Arabī’s doctrine. In Jawāhir [v] {"Gems"}, one of his most famous risālāt (treatises), he comments on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Fusūs-ul-Hikam. This book is a combination of poetry and prose and is similar to ‘Irāqī’s Lama‘āt. {"Divine Flashes"}.

 

Shāh Ne‘matollāh clearly illustrates the doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wujūd in the sonnet below:

 

The light of His Self-disclosure enlightened me

Emanating from His Beauty, I came into Being

 

The Pīr of Love’s Tavern (Kharābāt [vi]) poured Wine into my cup

And made me the Sāqī [vii] of the drunkards

 

O intellect, for one moment go away from the drunkards of Love

I am drunk and you are sober and we do not match

 

Your party is yours and my party is mine,

The fragmented thoughts are yours and the Beloved’s perfumed hair is mine

 

In my view, Love, Beloved and lover are One

To me there is only One Reality in both worlds

 

Through His attributes His Divine Essence is made manifest

I am the manifested form of Love’s disclosure

 

I am the servant of every Master and Master of every servant,

It was the decree of the Tavern (Winehouse) that the Master of Qanbar* (‘Alī) should become my Master.**

 

  • Qanbar was a faithful murīd and servant of Hazrat ‘Alī.
  • Dīwān-e Shāh Ne‘matollāh Walī, Sonnet nr 12, Page 4.

 

His Silsila[viii]

 

The Ne‘matollāhī Sufi Order is one of Iran’s most eminent Sufi orders. It is also present in India. Its influence is still remarkably widespread and alive, especially in Iran.

 

All the ramifications of the Ne‘matollāhī Sufi Order[ix] recognize Hazrat Shāh Ne‘matollāh Walī, whose lineage goes back directly to the Prophet Muhammad, as their greatest Pīr.

 

When Hazrat Shāh Ne‘matollāh was almost one hundred years old, he appointed his son Shāh Khalīlullāh as his successor and passed the office of Pīr on to him. Shāh Khalīlullāh was immediately sent to India to represent and establish the Ne‘matollāhī Sufi Order there.

 

Shāh Khalīlullāh remained in India, fulfilling his spiritual duties, guiding and helping murīds until his demise in the city of Bidār, in the state of Karnataka, South India.

 

Shāh Ne‘matollāh lived for more than one hundred years and eventually died in 1431 in Mahan, Iran, where his tomb is still a place of pilgrimage for Sufis and other people.

May his soul rest in peace.

 



[i] Ne‘matollāh can also be transliterated as Ni‘matullāh, depending on whether one follows the Persian or Arabic method of transliteration. Both forms are acceptable and correct.

[ii] “Stages”: i.e. maqām (plural maqāmāt). A maqām is a stage of inner realization, and is attained through one’s own efforts on the Path. It is opposed to hāl (plural ahwāl or hālāt), a temporary mystical state, which is a grace bestowed by God.

[iii] Hazrat is a title which expresses the holiness of a Prophet, Saint or Master. It is usually translated as “His Holiness”, but its actual meaning is “spiritual presence”.

[iv] Walī (plural: awliyā) is the general term to denote a Sufi Saint. The full meaning of walī is “intimate and close friend of God” (walīyu’Llāh).

[v] The singular of Jawāhir, i.e. jawhar, may also mean “essence” or “substance”.

[vi] Kharābāt literally means “ruins”.

[vii] Sāqī: “Cup-bearer”, “He who pours the intoxicating mystical Wine”.

[viii] Silsila: the chain of succession and mystical transmission from one Sufi Master to the next in a Sufi order.

[ix] Such as the Gonābādī, Monavvar‘alīshāhī, Shamsīyeh, Kousarīyeh and other braches of the Ne‘matollāhī Sufi Order.

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