A Brief History of the Halveti-Jerrahi Order

One of the most important Sufi orders in Turkey today is the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah, which has also spread to the West during the past few years.  This order branched off from the Khalwatiyyah Order (Helvetiyye in Turkish), established by the Persian Sufi `Umar Khalwati, who died in tabriz in 800/1397.  The second master of the order, Yahya Shirwani, continued the work of spreading the order in anatolia, where it became closely associated with the Akhi movement.  After Shirwani’s death in Baku in 869/1464, branches of the order such as the Gulshaniyyah and damirdashiyyah spread in Egypt, where the order has been strong ever since.  It experienced a remarkable growth in the 13th/19th century, mostly as a result of the teachings of Kamal al-Din al-Bakr, the founder of the Bakriyyah branch of the Khalwatiyyah.  Also in the 12th/18th century other branches of the Khalwatiyyah Order, such as the Kamaliyyah, spread in other regions of the Arab East, such as Palestine.  The Sammaniyyah-Khalwatiyyah Order spread on the one hand into black africa and on the other hand through Mecca into Southeast Asia.  Syria was also one of the important arenas for the activity of the Khalwatiyyah, and such branches as the Jamaliyyah and Bakhshiyyah have been active in that land up to modern times.

The main arena of activity of the Khalwatiyyah Order remained Turkey, where in the 11th/17th century it became an important element even in the political life of the Ottoman world.  The peak of its spiritual flowering in the Ottoman world was during the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent and Sultan Selim I.  Moreover, the order continued to flourish in Turkey and the provinces of the Ottoman Empire right up to this century.  It was strong in Albania until the 1967 cultural revolution and is active in Yugoslavia to this day.  It has also continued to survive in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.  In Turkey itself the Khalwatiyyah Order was abolished with other Sufi orders in 1925 but has nevertheless continued its existence, especially the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah branch, which is very active and continues to have its center in Istanbul.

The Khalwatiyyah consider themselves heirs to the teachings of Junayd and usually have supported and followed the perspective of Ibn `Arabi, especially as concerns the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud.  Historically, they have also had a pro-Shi`ite tendency.  The order has always emphasized fasting, vigil, ritual cleanliness, silence, and invocation (dhikr).  It also insists on the spiritual retreat (khalwah) from three to forty days.  There is an elaborate teaching in the order concerning the stages of dhikr of the “Seven Divine Names” (al-asma` al-sab`ah), which correspond to the seven stages in the spiritual development of the human soul.  the members of the order also participate regularly in the communal invocation and sacred dance (al-hadrah) and are instructed in reading and chanting Shirwani’s Wird al-sattar (The Covering Litany) on specific occasions and times established by the masters of the order.  Each branch, however, also has its own particular litanies, as can be seen in the case of the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah.

The members of the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order point to the fact that Imam Ahmad ibn `Uthman Sharnubi, the khalifah and son-in-law of the qutb Ibrahim Dasuqi, wrote in the Tabaqat al-alwiya` (Ranks of the Saints) some three hundred years before the birth of Nur al-Din Jarrahi:

Sayyid Nur al-din Jarrahi will be from Istanbul and will appear in the year 1115 A.H. He will live forty-four years. One of his miracles will be that he will see his station in heaven while in this world, and will enter paradise directly upon his demise. The prayers of those who visit him and of those who pray in his presence will be accepted by God.

Pir Nur al-din signed the book, which is currently in the Fatih Library in Istanbul (#3286), near this passage.

The founder of the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order, Pir Nur al-din al-Jarrahi was born in 1089/1678.  Through his father Sayyid `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad Husam al-Din, he was a descendent of `Ubayd ibn Jarrah, one of the ten companions whose inclusion in paradise, according to tradition, was announced in this world by the Prophet.

At the age of nineteen he finished his study of law with honors, and the sultan appointed him chief justice (qadi) of Egypt, which was then an Ottoman province.  As he traveled through Istanbul on horseback, trailed by an entourage, in order to bid farewell to his family, he visited Hajji Husayn Efendi, his maternal uncle, across from whose house was the dergah of the Jalwatiyyah branch of the Khalwati Order of dervishes.  It was on the Togyar hill in Uskudar, and the shaykh was al-Hajj `Ali `Ala al-Din al-Khalwati Kostendili.  His uncle took him to meet the shaykh, who knew his name before the introduction.  during the dhikr ceremony after prayers, Nur al-din experienced a state of ecstacy and was filled with a fervent desire to become a dervish of this shaykh.  Shaykh `Ali `Ala al-Din ordered him to put the world behind him.  Nur al-Din, therefore, resigned from his honored post, dispersed his followers, and gave all his possessions to members of his family.  He then entered the spiritual retreat (khalwah), spending a period of forty days in seclusion and fasting.  for seven years he studied with his shaykh, until the age of twenty-six he himself was declared a shaykh.

During his lifetime Pir Nur al-din had seven khalifahs among his many dervishes.  His dergah was an Ottoman structure built for him by the sultan, and it still stands in the Karagumruk area of Istanbul.  In the year 1115/1704, when he became shaykh and inaugurated the dergah, he received the Divine Names, recitations, and prayers particular to his order, the wird-i kabir-i sabahiyyah (“the great morning litany”) and the wird-i saghir-i masa`iyyah (“the great evening litany”), the adab (rules of behavior), and the rules of his particular branch of the Khalwati Order, all through divine inspiration.

At one time Pir Nur al-Din Jarrahi had some forty thousand dervishes in many dergahs throughout Turkey.  Some of his khalifas remained in Istanbul, and others went to Bursa, Edirne, and even as far away as Morea (Peloponnesus) in Greece, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire.  Some of these khalifas established branches that flourish to this day, while other branches have been established since then elsewhere.  Hadrat Moravi Shaykh Yahya Efendi, Pir Nur al-din Jarrahi’s fourth khalifah, was was one hundred years old when he returned to Istanbul to sit on the post at Karagumruk, after having built forty dergahs in the Moreas peninsula.  He was murshid there for twenty-four years and died during a khalwah, that time of spiritual seclusion which is characteristic of the order.  The seclusion is not from the world but from the attraction of the world.  Pir Nur al-Din encouraged his dervishes to be in the world, but not of the world.

Initially the dergah at Karagumruk attracted the court of the sultan and administrators, just as the Mevlevi at that time attracted intellectuals and artists, the Bektashi drew the military, and the Naqshbandi the clergy.  Today people from all walks of life gather there for dhikr.  On any given night the minister of protocol or a university professor might be seated next to a shoemaker or a carpenter.

Unique to the Jarrahis is their many-faceted dhikr, which originated as particular gifts given in recognition of Pir Nur al-Din’s station.  It is said traditionally that the blue post upon which the shaykh of the principal dergah sits was a gift of Hadrat Huda`i of the Jalwati branch of the Khalwatiyyah.  The part of the shaykh’s turban that hangs on the left side of the taj was a gift from `Abd al-Qadir Jilani.  Ahmad Rifa`i sent the metal top of the flag and the qiyam dhikr.  Jalal (power) came from Ibrahim Dasuqi and Jamil (Beauty) came from Ahmad Bedawi, who also sent a particular dhikr movement known as the bedevi topu.  From the Naqshbandis came the recitation of the Qur’an during the dhikr. Shams al-din Siwasi sent the first chant sung in the  dhikr and Shaykh Wafa, the repetitions done during the final circumnabulations.  from Mawlana Jalal al-din Rumi came the Sultan Walad Walk and from Hadrat Sunbul Sinan the ism, or name, Ya Hayy, which is repeated as part of the dawran or circular movement in the  dhikr.  Within the Jarrahi tariqah can be found essential elements of many different sufi orders.

The Jarrahi  dhikr is jahri (said aloud) and rhythmic, using musical compositions derived from various tariqahs.  The Jarrahis are known as “Howling dervishes,” for the ism, Hu, is stretched, coupled with a breathing exercise which creates a controlled sound of the ism.  This sound is often likened to the heavy rhythm of a saw as the shaykh indicates that the dhikr should become qalbi, issuing from the heart.  Group singers called dhakirs stand outside the circle of dervishes along with musicians playing bendir and kudum (kinds of drums) and cymbals used for rhythm.  In the dhikr ceremony the dervishes sit in a circle reciting the formula of tawhid (La ilaha illa’Llah), which is followed by the Supreme Name, Allah, and than the ism Hu.  between each cycle there is a Quranic recitation and a du`a.  The dervishes then stand and chant the usul, the initial ilahi given by Shams al-din siwasi.  They continue with the repetition of Hu, which develops into the Divine Name Hayy.  They conclude by repeating Hayy ul-Qayyum Allah, brought the them initially by Shaykh Wafa, and finally Hayy, Hayy, Hayy, Hu.

Each dervish is given certain Names or asma’, according to his station.  the number increases to twenty-eight asma’, which is a secret of the tariqah.

Since Pir Nur al-Din Jarrahi, twenty shaykhs have sat on the blue post (dyed sheepskin) at the principal dergah in Karagumruk and followed Islamic principals in order to bind themselves to Allah.  Nineteen of these shaykhs, along with Pir Nur al-Din and his family, are buried in the dergah.  The nineteenth, al-Hajj Shaykh Muzaffereddin al-Jerrahi al Khalwati, came to America and initiated a branch of the order in the West. Shaykh Muzaffer’s principal goal was to have as many people as possible repeat the phrase of unity: There is no god, but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”  He died in Istanbul on 12 February 1985, with his head lowered in prayer and his lips and heart repeating the phrase of Unity.  today, Shaykh Safer Efendi, the twentieth shaykh of the Jarrahi Order’s principal dergah, leads Muslims in prayer at the original Jarrahi dergah in Istanbul, and the order continues to be active in america.