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Nehemia Levtzion, Gideon Weigert
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This Ṣūfī ṭarīqah (order; lit. “path” or “way”) derives its name from khalwah, periodic retreat, which is an important feature in most branches of the Khalwatīyah. It is significant that the order derives its name from an institution rather than from an eponym, because the ṭarīqah does not trace its origin to one founder. Originating in Central Asia, the Khalwatīyah entered the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century. Within a century it had become the most widespread Ṣūfī order in the empire, although it experienced periods of stagnation, regression, and revival.

As a sharīʿah-oriented ṭarīqah, the Khalwatīyah stressed the combination of knowledge (ʿilm) and practice (ʿamal). It also required the tying of the heart (rabṭ al-qalb) of a disciple (murīd) to that of his master (shaykh or pīr) so that the relationship between the two should be stronger than that between a father and his son. Other features, in addition to the khalwah are silence (ṣamt), vigil (saḥar), participation in the dhikr (the chanting of God 's names), and the communal recital of wird al-sattār, composed by Yaḥyā al-Shirwānī in the fifteenth century, which is the center of the Khalwatī ritual.

The revival of the Khalwatīyah was initiated by Muṣṭafā ibn Kamāl al-Dīn al-Bakrī, a native of Syria who lived most of his life in Jerusalem. But it was in Egypt that the Khalwatīyah experienced a radical change through al-Bakrī 's disciple Muḥammad ibn Sālim al-Ḥifnī (1689–1768). In the middle of the eighteenth century the Khalwatīyah rose from a marginal group to become the dominant order in Egypt. In the words of al-Jabartī, it was “the best of the Ṣūfī orders (khayr al-ṭuruq).” For eighty years (1757–1838) all but one of those who held the office of shaykh of al-Azhar were Khalwatīs.

Three elements in al-Bakrī 's teaching probably contributed to the resurgence of the Khalwatīyah: the demand for an exclusive affiliation to the ṭarīqah, and stricter discipline in the performance of the litanies; a larger scope for the participation of common people in the rituals of the ṭarīqah; and adherence to the sharīʿah. Inspired by al-Bakrī, al-Ḥifnī made the Khalwatīyah in Egypt into a cohesive, sharīʿah-oriented order that accommodated leading scholars but also reached out to the common people.

Scholars from the Maghrib, mainly pilgrims on their way to Mecca, visited Cairo in the eighteenth century in growing numbers, where they were deeply influenced by al-Ḥifnī and by the Khalwatī shaykhs who succeeded him, like Maḥmūd al-Kurdī (1715–1780) and Aḥmad al-Dardīr (1715–1786). Subsequently two new orders developed in the Maghrib as offshoots of the Khalwatīyah. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Azharī (1713–1793), who had been initiated to the Khalwatīyah by al-Ḥifnῑ, spread the Khalwatīyah in Algeria, where the new branch became known after him as the Rahmānīyah. It was al-Azharī who initiated Sīdī Aḥmad al-Tijānī to the Khalwatīyah. Al-Tijānī learned additional secrets from Maḥmūd al-Kurdī in Cairo and from Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Sammān in Medina. The latter had been initiated by Muṣṭafā al-Bakrī during one of his pilgrimages.

Two of al-Sammān 's disciples spread a ṭarīqah called al-Sammānīyah to Sumatra and to the Sudan. One was ʿAbd al-Ṣamad al-Palimbānī (c.1703–1788), who spent most of his working life in Arabia and initiated students from Sumatra into the Sammānīyah. The Sammānīyah was introduced into the Sudan by Aḥmad al-Tayyib ibn al-Bashīr (d. 1823), who had been initiated by al-Sammān in Medina. The Sammānīyah, organized on a wider geographical and societal scale with a central hierarchical authority, expanded in the Sudan at the expense of the two older ṭarīqahs, the Qādirīyah and the Shādhilīyah, which had been adapted to the local parochial pattern of holy families.

In the nineteenth century these three extensions of the Khalwatīyah gave rise to militant movements in different parts of Africa. The Rahmāniyah led the revolt against the French in Algeria in 1871; al-Ḥājj ʿUmar al-Fūtī initiated a jihād of the Tijānīyah in West Africa; and the Mahdī of the Sudan, Muḥammad Aḥmad, had been a member of the Sammāniyah for ten years (1861–1871).

In Egypt the activities of the Khalwatīyah, together with other Ṣūfī orders, were regulated and brought under close government supervision by a decree of Muḥammad ʿAlī in 1812. Almost a century and a half later, another authoritarian government, that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, further reduced the influence and economic resources of the Ṣūfī orders. In a list of Ṣūfī orders in Egypt prepared in 1964, ten branches of the Khalwatīyah were recorded, although most of them were inactive. In 1988 Gideon Weigert visited the zawāyā of two branches of the Khalwatīyah in Cairo, the Demīrdāshīyah and the Shabrāwīyah, which were physically in a state of neglect and ruin, and spiritually without a shaykh.

In Turkey, the Ṣūfī orders were declared illegal in 1925 as a part of the Kemalist reform programs. However, the orders continued in clandestine form and began to reemerge in public life by the late 1950s. The Khalwatīyah was a part of this process but did not assume a highly visible role in the Islamic resurgence of the late twentieth century. In the Balkans, some Khalwatīyah centers continued to be active, especially in Albania, where the order survived in the official atheism of the Communist era.



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  • Chih, Rachida. “Cheminements et situation actuelle d ’un ordre mystique réformateur: la Khalwatiyya en Egypte (fin XVe siècle à nos jours).”Studia Islamica88 (1998): 181–201. Find it in your Library
  • Clayer, Nathalie. Mystiques, Etat et société: les Halvetis dans l  ’aire balkanique de la fin du XVe siècle à nos jours. Leiden: 1994. Find it in your Library
  • Jong, F. de. Ṭuruq and Ṭuruq-Linked Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Egypt. Leiden, 1978. Find it in your Library
  • Kissling, Hans Joachim. “Aus der Geschichte des Chalwetijje Ordens.”Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländische Gesellschaft102 (1953): 233–289. Find it in your Library
  • Martin, B. G.“A Short History of the Khalwati Order of Dervishes.” In Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, edited by Nikki R. Keddie, pp. 275–305. Berkeley, 1972. Find it in your Library
  • Weigert, Gideon. “The Khalwatiya in Egypt in the Eighteenth Century: A Nucleus for Islamic Revival.”Bulletin of the Israel Academic Centre, Cairo19 (1994). Find it in your Library
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