Shaikh ‘Umar al-Qahiri

October 19, 2010

The zealous missionary and elegant Sufi poet, Shaikh ‘Umar b. ‘Abdu-l Qadir al-Qahiri, popularly known as ‘Umar Waliyullah (உமர் வலியுல்லாஹ்) in the Arwi region, was a reputed scholar and a devout Sufi. His grandmother was a daughter of the renowned Arwi Saint, Shaikh Sadaqatu-Llah b. Sulaiman al-Qahiri, known more commonly as Sadaqatullah Appa (சதகதுல்லாஹ் அப்பா).

His Education

He mastered the Arabic language and was well versed in theology [aqidah], jurisprudence [fiqh] and spirituality [tasawwuf]. He attained his early education and was initiated into the Qadiri path by the venerable Shaikh Muhammad al-Nuski, popularly known as Pal-Kudi Appa (பால்-குடி அப்பா). He was also initiated into the Qadiri path and anointed as deputy [khalifa] by the sage and saint from Hadramawt, Sayyid Jifri Tangal.

His Travels

He journeyed extensively to spread the message of Islam. He also went to perform Hajj and Ziyarah of Habib al-Mustafa, Allah bless him and give him peace, in Madinatu-l Munawwarah. Here he met the scholar and saint, Sayyid Muhsin al-Mukaibali. In his company, he witnessed unveilings and experienced spiritual openings. After five years in the city of the beloved Prophet – first as teacher then as principal of an institution there – he returned back to his birthplace in South India, Kayalpatnam.

His return back home marked the start of another crucial phase of his spiritual development and wayfaring. One day, while leading the congregational prayer at the Makhdum Mosque in Kayalpatnam, he heard the call from the pole of the age [Qutbu-z Zaman], Sayyid Muhammad Bukhari Tangal of Cannore, Kerala. He duly set off in search of his final spiritual master, who embraced him with open arms and initiated him into the Qadiri path and appointed him as his inheritor and a spiritual guide in his own right. Following this, Sayyid Muhammad Bukhari Tangal made a ceremonial visit to Kayalpatnam where he was warmly welcomed at the seashore by the people of the town who humbly gave bai’ah to him.

Following these momentous incidents, on the instructions of his Spiritual Master, he went to the Dutch East Indies in 1177 AH. He established a number of madrasas (known as Pesantharan) in the jungles of Aceh Daru-s Salam and other parts of Sumatra (present day Indonesia). Whilst there, he met many mystics resulting in much mutual benefit. He ended up spending fourteen years in missionary activities in the region. This intense period of continued meditation, spiritual practices and deep prayers resulted in spiritual openings beyond description. Allah bestowed upon him Divine Grace [tawfiq] and exhibited many miraculous exploits [karamat] at his hands, including curing people of their illnesses.

His Writings

On return to India from the Far East, he began composing spiritual odes [qasa’id] of utmost elegance on mystical themes. Twelve of his stupendous compositions have been collated in two anthologies, Nuru-l ‘Aynayn and Mukhammas Dhukhru-l Ma’ad. The most acclaimed of his works is Qasidatu-l Allafa-l Alif. The amazing lines of this poem speak of the importance of loving the holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), necessity of the spiritual path, perils of earthly life, amongst others.

The beauty of this 31-couplet composition lies in the fact that each of the 29 couplets between the opening and closing verses begin with a letter from the Arabic alphabet in order. In everyline, the starting letter is repeated between ten to fifteen times. Another literary feature of this masterpiece is that, sets of words (two words), identifical in form (both having the same letters in the same order), are skilfully used in the same verse with differing meanings to convey highly advanced Sufi thoughts.

Several commentaries have been written on this ode. The most comprehensive being ‘Awarifu-l Ma’arif by Shaikh ‘Abdu-r Rahman al-Naqshbandi which was last published by Ibrahim Kutty of Tanur, Kerala, in 1975. The renowed scholar of Abiramam, Shaikh ‘Abdu-l Qadir has also written a concise commentary. Another poem of his that begins with the words, Ilahi kam tubaqqini [O my God, for how long are you going to keep me alive!] is regularly recited in the Arwi region with much fervour and devotion.

Some of his poetic compositions include:

  • Ghara’ibu-n Nizam
  • Hidayatu-l Aghniya
  • Bahru-s Sirr
  • Sirru-sh Shaikh
  • Shikayatu-l Gharam ila Hamimi-l Maram
  • Tariqu-l Wasl
  • Mubaya ‘atush Shaikh
  • Basharatu-Llah
  • Kanzu-l Jinan
  • Malil ‘Ubaidi ma Yasha’u Yudabbir
  • Nizamu-l Mada’ih

His Characteristics

His state of being was such that he was regularly found in spiritual trance and absorption. Nevertheless, he never failed to fulfill his obligatory duties.  He drew a large number of followers to the Qadiri path by virtue of his knowledge, piety and exemplary character. He firmly believed that loving the holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the pre-requisite to climbing the spiritual ladder and keeping oneself off aberrations.

His Passing

After a life spent in worshipful devotion and service to humanity, he left the earthly realm on 14th Dhu-l Qa’da 1216 A.H / 1804 A.D. Shaikh ‘Abdu-r Rahman of Kayalpatnam has composed an eulogy [marthiyyah] of 94 lines on him. His life and works have also been discussed by Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdu-l Qadir in the manaqib entitled, Tal’atu-l Qamar fi Mawlidi-sh shaikhi ‘Umar.

May Allah be well pleased with Shaikh ‘Umar al-Qahiri, sanctify his secret and illuminate his resting abode. May He forgive us and bless us all for his sake.

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