First ever khanqah was established by Holy Prophet Mohammad at al-Suffa next to al-Masjid an-Nabawi. It was home for many poor and homeless Companions of the Prophet. Moreover, any foreign Muslim who had nowhere to reside, temporarily or permanently, stayed in al-Suffa. It was also shelter for newly converted Muslim emigrants who could not practice Islam freely in their respective countries. The Prophet established al-Suffa basically to guide and educate new and foreign Muslims. Hence, al-Suffa was the first official institute of Islamic education.
People of al-Suffa were distinguished community who had fully devoted their lives for Allah. None of them had any stable source of income, nor enough stamina or time to earn. Due to their modesty and dignity, they did not ask anything from anyone even at the time of need. However, the Prophet personally took care of their livelihood and set apart large portion for them from the goods people donated for treasury (bait-ul-maal). Generous Companions also took care of them.
Many traditions unheard by rest of Companions reached the Suffa community due to their proximity to Prophet. That is why they also lead in narration of Hadiths. Three of the Companions having narrated most number of Hadiths namely Abu Huraira, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abu Saeed al-Hudri were among Companions of al-Suffa. Other well-known Companions of al-Suffa include Salman the Persian, Bilal ibn Rabah, Abu Zar Ghafari, Talha ibn Ubaydullah, Bara ibn Malik.
Allah praises the people of al-Suffa in these words:
لَمَسۡجِدٌ اُسِّسَ عَلَی التَّقۡوٰی مِنۡ اَوَّلِ یَوۡمٍ اَحَقُّ اَنۡ تَقُوۡمَ فِیۡہِ ؕ فِیۡہِ رِجَالٌ یُّحِبُّوۡنَ اَنۡ یَّتَطَہَّرُوۡا ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ یُحِبُّ الۡمُطَّہِّرِیۡنَ (9:108)
“(O Beloved!)) The mosque, founded on righteousness from the first day is more worthy for you to stand in. There are people in it who love to remain purified (both physically and spiritually), and Allah loves those who commit themselves to purity.”(9:108)
They kept themselves purified of sins, worldliness and everything other than Allah. Hence, became the beloveds of Allah and His Prophet. The Holy Prophet explained the grandeur of people of Suffa in these words;
- The people of al-Suffa would be closest to me on the doomsday.
Actually, the people of al-Suffa are the pioneers of ascetic life based on spirituality and mysticism. The Saints got the title of ‘Sufis’ after the title ‘al-Suffa’. Thus, basic principle of khanqah is the same as that of al-Suffa. The Sunna of Prophet Mohammad to establish a dwelling for those who renounce world purely for Allah was carried on by Saints. Just like they carried on many other spirituality based Sunnas which the religious scholars renounced. Every Saint established a khanqah for his devotees which remained the center of all activities of that Saint’s circle. The way every institution has a home, the same way, home of Sufis is their khanqah.
People of Khanqah are one Community
The people of khanqah have strong connection. They all have same purpose, same determination and destination i.e. closeness to Allah. Hence, they all are one community or caravan travelling together towards destination. Their mutual connection is like the people of paradise as Allah says:
وَ نَزَعۡنَا مَا فِیۡ صُدُوۡرِہِمۡ مِّنۡ غِلٍّ اِخۡوَانًا عَلٰی سُرُرٍ مُّتَقٰبِلِیۡنَ (15:47)
“And We shall remove from their breasts all spite that they had (in the world against one another due to misunderstanding). The brothers will sit on couches face to face (in Paradise).” (15:47)
People of al-Suffa were exactly according to this verse, as their inwards were pure. Malice and jealousy result from love of world and its desires. People of al-Suffa chose to renounce the world. Hence, there was no malice or jealousy among them.
Similar is the matter of people of khanqah. Their spiritual guide purifies their inward of every kind of impurity like malice, jealousy, arrogance, backbiting, talebearing etc. Thus, there is uniformity in their inward and outward self. Inner purification bonds them tightly, hence they jointly form a divine congregation. Abdullah bin Umar narrated that the Holy Prophet said;
- Prayer in congregation is twenty-seven times superior to the prayer offered by person alone. (Sahih Bukhari 645)
People of khanqah perform all devotions in congregation. Since their goal is same, they are always ready to help each other. Their sitting and eating is together. They know that it is a bliss to stay together.
Seclusion from world
Just as al-Suffa was home for the Muslims who could not practice Islam freely in their country, similarly khanqah is a place of seclusion for the devotees who face obstacles from worldly people on their path to Allah. Some adopt seclusion in khanqah to save themselves from worldly attractions and desires. Worldly temptations can make them oblivious of their goal. They may fall into useless things that give way to troubles and calamities. Hence, they find refuge in separating from world and living in khanqah among people who have same attributes and aim. By coming under the shelter and supervision of perfect spiritual guide, they get rid of all negative effects of world.
Responsibilities at Khanqah
Companions of al-Suffa performed various responsibilities like taking care of al-Masjid an-Nabawi, inscribing verses of Quran, narrating Hadiths. Likewise, everyone at khanqah is assigned responsibilities according to his nature and age. Purpose behind it is to keep the seekers involved in matters of khanqah as well as bless them with reward. Good intention and level of sincerity while performing responsibilities bless the seeker with spiritual elevation accordingly. These responsibilities are kind of mystic struggles and trials that spiritual guide takes to check purity and sincerity of disciple. The more a seeker is devoted towards his responsibilities the more he is considered devoted towards Allah.
he should be performing the duties just to please Allah not for self-praise or pretense.
Involvement in religious matters prevents the seeker from indulging in worldly matters. Moreover, it saves him from satanic whispers, oblivion, evil thoughts and sensual desires. He learns punctuality, dedication, discipline, self-control and new skills through the duties and services assigned to him. While coordinating with other disciples for duties, his bonding with them strengthens and his attribute of tolerance enhance. In addition, numerous jobs for the cause of Allah are done. Hence, responsibilities at khanqah are beneficial in every way.
Collaboration of seekers for matters of Allah is a source of beneficence of Allah for them. The People of al-Suffa also coordinated and compromised with each other through piety and fear of Allah. On matters of religion, they worked together with their brothers through all means.
Sufis do not take Services from Outsiders:
Waseeq Rumi was the freed slave of Umar bin Khattab RA. He told that once Umar bin Khattab said to him, “Accept Islam. If you become a Muslim, I would assign you the services of Muslims. I cannot assign the trust of Muslims to any non-Muslim.” Despite this offer, he refused to accept Islam. Umar RA said, “There is no compulsion in religion.” Near the time of his death, Umar freed Rumi.
Hence, Sufis do not appreciate taking services from person who does not belong to their khanqah, neither seeks their guidance. In fact, they do not even appreciate being social with them. Whoever does not like the ways of Sufis, is not trusted for their jobs.