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Bradford G. Martin
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century


Among the better‐known names in Islamic mysticism is that of ῾Abd al‐Qādir al‐Gīlānī (or Jīlānī or Jīlī), who is associated with the beginnings of the Qādirī brotherhood or ṭarīqah either as founder or as patron and sponsor. ῾Abd al‐Qādir's birthdate is usually given as AH 470/1077–1078 CE and his date of death as 561/1165–1166. According to the biographer MuḥammadIbn Shākir al‐Kutubī, ῾Abd al‐Qādir came from the Persian province of Gīlān, southwest of the Caspian Sea; his father was called Abū Ṣāliḥ ibn Jangīdūst. Coming as a young student to Baghdad, ῾Abd al‐Qādir studied under a number of different masters but always remained a Ḥanbalī. These studies included traditions and Ḥanbalī law, at first under Abū Sa῾d al‐Mukharrimī, then under Shaykh Aḥmad (or Ḥammād) al‐Dabbās, and later under a number of others. After a long period, including a time of wandering through Iraq, ῾Abd al‐Qādir returned to Baghdad, where he began to win fame as a preacher (wā῾iẓ) at funerals and other public occasions.

At this time in his life ῾Abd al‐Qādir was better known for his sermons and eulogies than for his asceticism or Ṣūfī activities; apparently his interest in mysticism came toward the end of his career. Ibn Shākir says that ῾Abd al‐Qādir took the “Ṣūfī way” (ṭarīq) from al‐Dabbās. Soon he acquired a great reputation as a holy person and as the “Imām of his Time and the Quṭb [leading authority] of his Period,” and he was considered incontestably the “Shaykh of Shaykhs.” Ibn Shākir claims that “by 521/1127, ῾Abd al‐Qādir had a majlis and was acclaimed by the people.” Seven years later ῾Abd al‐Qādir had succeeded his old master al‐Mukharrimī at his madrasah or religious school, “where he taught and gave fatwās.” Ibn Shākir closes his report by noting that ῾Abd al‐Qādir had forty‐nine children, twenty sons and twenty‐nine daughters. Aged about eighty‐eight, ῾Abd al‐Qādir died in 561/1165–1166.

Although this short account from the Fawāt al‐wafayāt of Ibn Shākir was written about 180 years after ῾Abd al‐Qādir's death, the author gives a restrained description of this learned man. Unlike many later accounts, it is unencumbered with imaginary details and yields a sober portrait. Moreover, it emerges from the researches of Jacqueline Chabbi (1973) that ῾Abd al‐Qādir was merely a Ḥanbalī jurist, a part‐time muftī (jurisconsult), and a public preacher. Although there are signs that he was increasingly friendly at the end of his life toward Sufism—which at the end of the twelfth century was rising along an ascending curve—῾Abd al‐Qādir did not found or promote any sort of Ṣūfī organization. However, one of his authentic writings, Al‐ghunyah li‐ṭālibī ṭarīq al‐ḥaqq, has a section at its end about the relations of Ṣūfī students (murīds) and their shaykhs or murshids.

After his death, however, interested people raised him to the rank of patron or original sponsor of the Qādirīyah, which assumed his name about 1200; very soon ῾Abd al‐Qādir became the “founder” of the brotherhood. Chabbi shows in detail the remarkable differences between contemporary notices and comments written about ῾Abd al‐Qādir during his public career, when he had many enemies (some of this hostility arising from his forty‐year occupancy of a “chair” at the Mukharrimī madrasah), and the eulogies that circulated once he was dead. The latter are typified by their length, their fulsomeness, and the imaginative episodes they contain. These notices were soon amplified by his karāmāt, stories about his startling ability to cure the sick, and tales of how he helped Ṣūfī students and adepts (Chabbi, 1973, p. 84). Somewhat later ῾Abd al‐Qādir was credited with writing a Qur'ānic commentary, and many of his conversations and aphorisms (malfūẓāt) were recorded. With the passing of time many of these stories became even more vivid and sensational: A. A. Rizvi notes that ῾Abd al‐Qādir supposedly “crushed mountains, dried up oceans, and raised the dead to life” (1978–1981, vol. 1, p. 85).

The Qādirīyah doubtless had real organizational difficulties on ῾Abd al‐Qādir's death, but it was assisted by two of his sons, ῾Abd al‐῾Azīz and ῾Abd al‐Razzāq, and slightly later by his grandson Shams al‐Dīn. One might guess that its numbers were still very small, but that it benefited from its alleged founder's burgeoning reputation. By the end of this obscure period it is likely that a ribāṭ or zāwiyah (hospice) for the group had been constructed, perhaps near the tomb of ῾Abd al‐Qādir. This tomb would have been a simple monument, not the large and magnificent structure erected for ῾Abd al‐Qādir by the Ottoman sultan Süleyman I in 1535; the earlier structure may well have been damaged in the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. Yet there is thin evidence that by 1300, small groups of ῾Abd al‐Qādir's followers existed in Syria and Egypt and perhaps also in Yemen.

῾Abd al‐Qādir had left no system, no instructions, and no “Ṣūfī way” of his own. Nevertheless, these gaps were soon filled by his sons, followers, and relatives, who elaborated a Ṣūfī order in his name. The arrangement was a loose one, yet it embodied charitable and philanthropic aspects wherever it spread—very quickly in some places. As a result, it would not be wrong to say that ῾Abd al‐Qādir eventually became the most popular saint in Islam. The director of each local unit of the Qādirīyah, often called the khalīfah, could use dhikrs (ritual repetitions), prayers, and other liturgies (including aḥzāb and awrād, specialized prayers and invocations) as he liked. Samā῾ (listening to music) was another widely used Ṣūfī technique. As for the saint himself, some groups saw him as a universal holy man, nearly divine, whereas others only manifested great reverence toward him. Probably by 800/1397 there was a Qādirī zāwiyah in Damascus, called the Dā'ūdīyah, and another Qādirī group could be found at al‐Azhar in Cairo, holding their sessions in mosques or madrasahs, buildings originally designed for different purposes.

Not long after the demise of ῾Abd al‐Qādir, it seems probable that Indian influences began to enter Sufism, including the Qādirīyah. Exactly when this occurred is still uncertain, but it is likely that around 1200, various breathing techniques and perhaps body movements were imported into Arabia, Central Asia, Iran, and Iraq, and then traveled farther west. In his Manhal al‐rawī al‐rā'iq, Muḥammad ῾Alī al‐Sanūsī (1785–1859) gives an example of a Qādirī dhikr. He probably borrowed the details from an older book by Abū al‐Baqā' Ḥasan al‐Ujaymī (d. 1702), perhaps his Risālah, but the details given are much older.

"… As for the Qādiri brotherhood … its basis is the verbal dhikr in a congregational circle .. along with a gradual diminution of eating, and flight from human beings.… It should be accompanied at the start by the prayer Jalāl Allāh wa ῾aẓamatihi [“the glory of God and His majesty”]. For through that, the breath is suppressed and purified, and … the loosening by the Jalāl prayer is the quickest way to extricate one's self from frivolity.One sits crosslegged, grasping with the toes of the right foot … the large artery which lies behind the left knee joint. One puts one's hands open on the knees, so that they take the form of the word Allāh. Then one speaks the name of God, prolonging it for a time, and extending it with an emphatic pronunciation (tafkhīm) until the breath is cut off, making the words ῾Aẓamat al‐Ḥaqq [“the majesty of the True”] while exhausting the breath.… One continues that way until the heart is relaxed and the Divine Lights are revealed. Then one goes on with … the dhikr of absorption (fanā') and remaining (baqā') in God, ascribed to Shaykh Sīdī ῾Abd al‐Qādir. It consists of sitting as described and turning the face toward the right shoulder and saying , turning the face to the left, saying , then lowering the head and expelling the breath while saying Ḥayy, and repeating this without stopping."

Whether the diffusion of the Qādirīyah can be credited more to their own proselytizing efforts or to the scattering effects of the Mongol attack on Baghdad, it is clear that by 1350, they possessed all the contemporary Ṣūfī techniques and practices: dhikr on a regular basis, local leaders, khalīfahs, and shaykhs.

As the Qādirīyah spread from Baghdad and other Middle Eastern centers, India was the early destination of many Qādirīs. In one of the first instances, the founder of another Ṣūfī group, Shāh Ni'mat Allāh Walī of Mahān in Iran, sent his nephew Mīr Nūr Allāh to India about 1425. The nephew, a Qādirī, settled at the court of the Bahmanid sultan Aḥmad I at Bidar in the Deccan, where the Qādirīs had considerable support and success. A similar success is recorded in Multan, where the founder of a local branch (a ninth‐generation descendant of ῾Abd al‐Qādir) called himself al‐Ḥusaynī, claiming the status of a sayyid (descendant of the Prophet), which no doubt helped in gaining adherents. The order also spread into the Punjab and Sind, which was proselytized by members of the same family that had been in Multan earlier. This family order of the Qādirīyah then progressed to Agra and Delhi and to other local capitals, being taken up at the Mughal court on several occasions. Other branches of developing family groups of the Jilānī clan arrived in Gujarat and Malwa from Iraq via Iran and Afghanistan in the sixteenth century, founding khānqāhs, attracting large numbers of followers, and to a large extent becoming the local scholars, intellectuals, and clerics.

In the course of time, the Qādirīyah included some famous names, such as Shaykh ῾Abd al‐Ḥaqq (1551–1642), a muḥaddith (expert in ḥadīth) and a translator of ῾Abd al‐Qādir's Arabic writings into Persian as well as a distinguished theologian. Another famous Qādirī was the ascetic Miyān Mīr (1531–1635), renowned for his austerities and also largely for avoiding kings and other worldly notables, in true Ṣūfī fashion. In the mid‐seventeenth century another Qādirī figure, Mulla Shāh Badākhshī, initiated the Mughal prince Dārā Shukūh into the order; Dārā Shikūh was executed by his brother Awrangzīb for heresy in 1659. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Indian Qādirīyah continued to to flourish on the subcontinent, and it exists in both India and Pakistan today.

In the Islamic West, oral tradition has the grandsons or other descendants of ῾Abd al‐Qādir entering Spain from the East. Under pressure during the period of the Reconquista, Qādirīs fled Spain for North Africa around 1460. Some of these Qādirīs penetrated through Morocco into the Sāqiyat al‐Ḥamrā' (Mauretania). One name often mentioned is that of Aḥmad al‐Bakkā'ī al‐Kuntī (d. 1504), who won many adherents. [See the biography of Bakkā'ī al‐Kuntī.] Another allied to this group is Muḥammad al‐Maghīlī (also d. 1504), a Qādirī who had influence in Hausaland and adjoining regions; he was also involved in the persecutions of Jews. In the eighteenth century the Kunta branch of the Qādirīyah was rejuvenated by al‐Mukhtār ibn Aḥmad al‐Kuntī (d. 1811), a prolific author and master of many karāmāt. Al‐Mukhtār ibn Aḥmad had direct influence on Usuman Dan Fodio (d. 1817), the leader of the Fulani Jihād in northern Nigeria, who was also a Qādirī. For a time in the early nineteenth century, the Mukhtārīyah Qādirīyah was very influential. In the mid‐nineteenth century there was a bloody Qādirī‐Tijānī contest in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal, involving the famous Tijānī jihādist al‐Ḥājj ῾Umar Tal (d. 1864). One of the most recent offshoots of this West African cluster of branches (including the Fāḋilīyah) is the Murīdīyah, led by Aḥmadu Bamba (d. 1927). The Murīds, now less active than previously, were famous for their peanut growing and their subservience to French colonial control. [See Tijānīyah; Murīdīyah; and the biographies of Dan Fodio and ῾Umar Tal.]

In parts of North Africa, particularly Algeria and Tunisia, there are numerous Qādirī groups. In the nineteenth century one of the better known was the zāwiyah of the Algerian register Amīr ῾Abd al‐Qādir at Mascara. From here and elsewhere in western Algeria the amīr led a successful war against France until 1847, when the local resistance was crushed. The Tunisian Qādirīs included the eighteenth‐century Manzalīyah at Jerba, Safaqis, and Qabes. At Al‐Kef there was a zāwiyah of the Mazūnīyah, founded in the nineteenth century by Muḥammad al‐Mazūnī and related through its silsilah (chain of authority) to the Manzalīyah. The Moroccan Qādirī group called the Jilālah originated in Spain in the middle or late fifteenth century: according to J. S. Trimingham, a Qādirī zāwīyah was established at Fez in 1693 (1971, p. 272). A number of other smaller groups in Fez and elsewhere are mentioned by Mehmed Ali Aynî (1967, p. 252).

In the eastern Sudan, the fire of ῾Abd al‐Qādir was lit by Tāj al‐Dīn al‐Bahārī about 1550. He stayed for a time in the Jazīrah, leaving behind a number of khalīfahs or deputies who spread the order. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it gained many adherents and became popular, as it remains today.

In ῾Abd al‐Qādir's homeland of Iran, the order spread widely between the time of his death and the appearance of the Ṣafavid regime in 1501, when many Ṣūfī orders were expelled from the country—the Ṣafavīyah and two or three other Shī῾ī orders being exceptions. According to I. P. Petrushevsky (1985, p. 296), Qādirīs were especially numerous, but they were forced to depart from Iran because “῾Abd al‐Qādir was a Sunnī Ḥanbalite and fiercely antagonistic to the Shi'ites.” Petrushevsky also claims that the color green was the symbol of this Ṣūfī organization, that the Qādirīs were “pantheistic,” and that ῾Abd al‐Qādir “was deified in secret” (p. 296).

In neighboring Afghanistan Qādirīs apparently reappeared after the downfall of Ṣafavid Shiism in 1722. About 1828, for example, one of the numerous descendants of ῾Abd al‐Qādir, Sa῾d Allāh Gīlānī, moved from Baghdad to Herat. Like others in his family, he was skilled in Qur'ānic commentary and prophetic traditions, attracting many students as a result. He managed to marry a descendant of the former Afghan ruler Aḥmad Shāh Abdālī (or Durrānī). Eventually he and his descendants acquired a khānqāh in a village about 14 kilometers south of Herat called Siyāwshān. This suborder of the Qādirīyah, the Razzāqīyah, functioned for a long time during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. (Sayyid Maḥmud Gīlānī, 1989, p. 131).

The order became established in Ottoman Turkey when a Qādirī called Pīr Ismā῾īl Rūmī or Pīrī Sānī (d. 1631), from Kastamuni, founded a “Qādirī house” (kadirihana) at Istanbul, followed by some forty others throughout Anatolia. He invented a special Qādirī cap made of white cloth in eight parts in a cylindrical shape; he also created a dhikr in which the participants, standing upright, grasped each others' arms, swaying back and forth in rhythmic fashion and balancing themselves first right, then left, shouting loudly as they did so—to the scandal of the conservative ῾ulamā'. This Rūmīyah suborder was only one of many, including the Hindīyah, Khulūṣīyah, Nābulusīyah, and Waṣlatīyah. These Qādirī institutions, like many others, were shut down in 1924 by Kemal Atatürk, and the orders were outlawed. Nevertheless it seems likely that the Qādirīyah continued a clandestine existence despite these prohibitions, and that it still exists in Turkey, although with a diminished membership.

Qādirīs are also to be found in China, Central Asia, Kurdistan, Indonesia, Bosnia and Macedonia, Somalia and the Horn of Africa, the East African coast, Palestine, and elsewhere. Much useful information on them is provided by A. Popovic and G. Veinstein (1986).

See also Sainthood; Sufism; Sufism and Politics; Zāwiyah; the biography of ῾Abd al‐Qādir; and entries on specific countries.


  • ῾Abd al‐Qādir al‐Jīlānī. Al‐ghunyah li‐ṭālibī ṭarīq al‐ḥaqq. 2 vols. in 1. Cairo, 1956.
  • Aynî, Mehmed Ali (Mehmet Ali Aini). Un grand saint de l'Islam, ῾Abd al‐Qādir Guilânî, 1077–1166. Paris, 1967. Photographic reproduction of the 1938 edition.
  • Chabbi, Jacqueline. ῾Abd al‐Kadir al‐Djilani, personnage historique. Studia Islamica 38 (1973): 75–106.
  • Gīlānī, Sayyid Maḥmūd. Tajallī‐yi ῾irfān‐i Qādirīyah. Islamabad, 1989.
  • Kutubī, Muḥammad ibn Shākir al‐. Fawāt al‐wafayāt. Vol. 2. Cairo, 1951.
  • Petrushevsky, I. P. Islam in Iran. Albany, N.Y., 1985.
  • Popovic, Alexandre, and Gilles Veinstein, eds. Les ordres mystiques dans l'Islam: Cheminements et situation actuelle. Paris, 1986.
  • Rizvi, S. A. A. A History of Sufism in India. 2 vols. New Delhi, 1978–1983.
  • Sanūsī, Muḥammad ibn ῾Alī al‐. Kitāb al‐manhal al‐rawī al‐rā'iq fī asānid al‐῾ulūm wa‐uṣūl al‐ṭarā'iq. In Majmū῾āh al‐mukhtārah. Beirut, 1968.
  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford, 1971.
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