Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani, born in 1077 C.E. in Jilan, Iran, mastered the scholarly disciplines of Islam before dedicating himself to austerities and spiritual studies as a young man. Eventually he settled in Baghdad (then the capital of the Muslim world), where his lectures routinely drew listeners by the thousands.
He became an important public figure, overseeing charitable trusts, issuing judicial decisions, and addressing audiences that included high government officials. Themes he stressed included virtue, ethical conduct and self-discipline. The popularity of his teachings continued after his death in 1166, inspiring his followers and subsequent generations of disciples to establish the Qadiri order.
The Chishty order was founded by Shaykh Abu Is’haq (d. 940 or 966). A native of Syria, Shaykh Abu Is’haq was sent by his spiritual guide to teach in the town of Chisht (near Heart, Afghanistan).
The order he established was later nourished and popularized by the eminent Shaykh Khwajah Moinuddin Chishty (d. 1236), originally of Iran, who studied and taught in Central Asia, Iraq, Arabia, and India. Known for his generosity, warmth, and compassion, Shaykh Moinuddin Chishty spread a message of peace and love. His commitment to service earned him the title “The one who shows kindness to the poor.” Much of his later life was spent in Ajmer, India, which remains a major center of Chishty teachings to this day.
The Naqshbandi order stems from the Silsilah Khwajagan, which originally developed in Turkestan. The best known Shaykhs of the Khwajagan were Khwajah Ahmed Yasawi (r.a.) (d. about 1167 C.E.), a native of Sayram in Kazakhstan and Khwajah ‘Abdul al-Khaliq Ghujdawani of Bukhara (r.a) (d. 1179). The latter was responsible for coining certain terms with technical and spiritual meanings which are still in active use within the Naqshbandi tariqah to this day. He also made the teachings of the order accessible and relevant to the people of his era.
The Naqshbandi tariqa takes its name from Khwaja Baha’uddin Naqshband Bukhari (r.a.) (d. 1389 C.E.), a very prominent Sufi Shaykh who continued the tradition of making the spiritual teachings and practices of Sufism more applicable to the changing times in which he lived. Khwaja Baha’uddin Naqshband was the student, and later the khalifa (successor) of Amir Kulal. However, he also received instruction from the ruhaniya (or spiritual being) of Khwajah Abdul Khaliq Ghujdawani, who gave Baha’uddin Naqshband the practise of silent dhikr.
The Naqshbandi tariqah is notable in being the only Sufi tariqah which traces its lineage to Prophet Muhammad (saw) through Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), the first Caliph. All other sufi tariqahs trace their lineage through Ali ibn Abu-Talib (ra), who became the fourth Caliph of Islam.