A Sufi Way in Resolving the Ethical Issues

A Sufi Way in Resolving the Ethical Issues

(An Analytical Study of Fawaid al-Fuad)


Human society is made of variant components; very diverse, beneficial and harmful, emanating from human experiences and actions. As diversity is bound to get into conflict, in some instance, it can become disastrous for society’s very existence, and so human needs to manage the balance for stability within it by suppressing the bad and promoting the good. It happens simultaneously. The nature of this divergence is, for example, a constant struggle between good and bad forces. Each of them tries to be overlapping. These forces radiate from man’s tendencies which are inherent in his personality. Necessarily, when man started understanding his own disposition, stress would have been given on the good for the sake of well-being of his own personality, individually, and for society, collectively. Emphasizing good in human personality, then, is considered to be essential for maintaining the balance. As a result, some interested groups devoted themselves for promoting it to the extent of spirituality and liability. The focus was directed on differentiating between what is right and what is wrong; and how man may be habituated to what is right. This practice, i.e. ethics what we name it today, unfolded wherever human society flourished in the world throughout history. Religion and Philosophy (human understanding of the nature of the universe and human) happened to be the crucial means in developing the practice of ethics. However, it should be noted that religion itself cannot be separated from philosophy due to the fact that religion, actually, is affected by man’s curiosity of its understanding and explaining. In developing ethics of understanding that what is right and what is wrong, like other civilized nations, Muslims also devoted their efforts; and they adopted both philosophy and religion, Islam, as the means to comprehend the nature of man and things.

In developing ethics of understanding that what is right and what is wrong, like other civilized nations, Muslims also devoted their efforts

This practice was started among Muslims when the nascent community of Islam was undergoing an ethical crisis. However, this is not to say that there was nothing like ethics for Muslims in the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet. In the Quran and the Hadith words like tazkiyah and ihsan are used for emphasizing ethics and performing excellent and good deeds. But, during its formative period, Muslim community faced very diverse ideological crises, which at some points proved to be fruitful. To cope with these crises there seemed uproar within the stretching and then splitting community. These splits materialized into many groups carrying respective plans suited to their convictions; among them was a group of Sufis, then was called tasawwuf. Their motive was to preach ethical teachings of Islam embedded into tazkiyah and ihsan by educating the masses. The group flourished during the early centuries of Islam as Sufis were diffused throughout the Muslim world along with the expanding Muslim empire. As Muslims conquerors set their foot in India, Sufis also came. They established here khanqahs and caused in bringing the Indians into the fold of Islam. Their contribution in India is not merely limited to the preaching of Islam, they promoted a unique culture also by interweaving Muslim and Indian cultural threads.


Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya was one of the most celebrated Sufis, who lived during the late 13th and early 14th century in India. He is credited with his efforts in imparting ethical and moral teachings of Islam, to the extent that, as the renowned historian Ziauddin Barani describes in his account, ‘people refrained from many improper things, because they considered themselves disciples of the Shaykh—[As a result of his teachings] the general public showed an inclination to religion and prayer.’

The gate of the khanqah was wide open for all kinds of people irrespective of their caste, creed, class and religion.

Shaykh Nizamuddinwas born circa the year 1243-1244, in Badaon in a family which migrated from Bukhara owing to the upheavals caused by the Mongol invasion. While he was still in his infancy, he lost his father. His mother, then, took care of him. It was his mother who is said to have inculcated in him ‘the spirit of resignation and contentment.’ During his early twenty years Shaykh Nizamuddin lived in Badaon and completed his education. These days of abject poverty led Shaykh Nizamuddin to consider moving from Badaon to Delhi, the then capital city of the Sultanate, where he could benefit from the better academic opportunities available here. Shaykh Nizamuddin’s first thought was to become a qazi, ‘the highest ambition of a scholar in those days’, but he was destined to be something else, a dervish. After coming to Delhi, he happened to stay in the neighborhood of Shaykh Najeebuddin Mutawakkil, a younger brother of Shaykh Farid, and himself a Sufi and pious dervish. Who drew his attention to Shaykh Farid, whom he was inspired in his early youth. His destiny then brought him to the khanqah of Baba Farid in Ajodhan, now Pakpattan, at the time when he was only twenty years old. Baba Farid instructed in him some basic texts and fundamental principles of the order. Inspired by his intelligence and spiritual potential, Baba Farid quickly made Shaykh Nizamuddin his chief successor, khalifa, and entrusted him with the task of the spiritual well-being of others.

After having been bestowed with khilafat, though reluctant he had to live in Giyathpur, a village some miles from the capital, throughout the rest of his life. As a sincere dervish he devoted his whole life to the humanitarian cause. He constructed a building called khanqah by the side of Jamuna River. The purposes of this establishment were manifold. This was the place where people were educated in the teachings of Islam, the poor got fulfilled with their needs, homeless and travelers were provided with shelter. The gate of the khanqah was wide open for all kinds of people irrespective of their caste, creed, class and religion. They were treated here not on the basis of their religious affiliations, rather as the creation of God. The managing members of the khanqah were instructed by Shaykh Nizamuddin to look after the visitors of different faiths in such a way that their sentiments may not get offended. It seems that Shaykh Nizamuddin pursued his disciples to develop a language which should be common both to Hindu and Muslim. He asked his disciple Amir Khusrow ‘to compose poetry in Hindi language so that Muslims could attract towards the vernacular of Hindus and unfamiliarity may be reduced’.

After having made such unprecedented contributions to humanity, Shaykh Nizamuddin breathed his last on 3 April, 1325. However, along with his death, his endeavors did not die away. They survived in the form of his disciples and teachings, still extant in Fawaid al-Fuad and other works, which had far reaching effects on medieval Indian society.


Being interested and instructed in the traditional education, including tasawwuf, since his childhood, Shaykh Nizamuddin was exposed to various scholarships of his time. These all helped him become an erudite scholar and a proficient spiritual mentor. Since assuming the successorship of Baba Farid, he passionately dedicated himself to the task of saving people from sin and suffering. For carrying out this task, inevitably, he had to educate people in such a way that they could distinguish between right and wrong, and act accordingly. Being aware of the fact, Shaykh Nizamuddin started the practice of holding assemblies where he could teach people. He adopted the Sufi method of teaching in preference to the traditional one, i.e. memorizing traditional books alone. Being a Sufi, his focus concentrated on developing a sentience regarding the value of morals and ethics. In his assemblies, all kinds of people of all ages were allowed to sit and extract guidance from his teachings. The nature of these assemblies was conversational where Shaykh Nizamuddin delivered didactic fables, parables and stories of the prophets, saints and pious men, in addition to the recitation of the verses from the Quran and Hadith or their interpretations, in a narrative form. Each carried messages for the audiences. Sometimes these stories happened to have a definite space-time context. He continued directing people to the right path throughout his life His last conversation was recorded in Fawaid al-Fuad in 1322, not long before the year of his death in 1325.

Chronologically, Fawaid al-Fuad contains an account of Shaykh Nizamuddin’s conversations from 28 January, 1308 to 2 September, 1322. It is divided into five fascicles, and each is composed of different numbers of assemblies.

After his death his teachings continued contributing to bring about a massive change in the society. The impression of being his disciple, murid, was so strong that their consciousness prevented them ‘from doing things forbidden’.
The value of Shaykh Nizamuddin’s teachings emanating from his conversations came to be believed as an embodiment of a model to be followed and imitated. This conviction pursued his disciples to record his conversations. Amir Hasan Ala-i Sijzi, one of the compilers of Shaykh Nizamuddin’s conversations, thus, at the beginning of his book, Fawaid al-Fuad, puts forward the motive of his initiative in these words that, ‘the heart of the spiritually aroused will benefit from it.’

These compilations received a sincere attention of the masses after his demise, but Fawaid al-Fuad among them became more famous for various reasons. Its compiler, Amir Hasan , painstakingly recorded the conversations while sitting in the assembly. And then after, he showed it to his master to revise it lest something unauthentic might be found its way in the text. Sufis and people of medieval India regarded it as a manual for guidance. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan informs us that in his time men and women used to read it.

Chronologically, Fawaid al-Fuad contains an account of Shaykh Nizamuddin’s conversations from 28 January, 1308 to 2 September, 1322. It is divided into five fascicles, and each is composed of different numbers of assemblies.

Farooqi has written that once Amir Hasan completed his work, he went on to revise it. He adopted only those portions for his summarized version of Fawaid al-Fuad which focused on the discussion of saints, shed light on Shaykh Nizamuddin’s biography and theological discussions. However, while reading Fawaid al-Fuad, it seems that many times he left out Shaykh’s own reflections about the things he was talking about; and if they were included, there might be some more scope of thinking about his personality. For example, in assembly 8 in the fourth fascicle he records as, ‘Then the conversation moved towards forbearance, and in connection with that he told a story about Shaykh al-Islam Farid al-Din.’ This way he jumps directly on a story skipping the preceding conversation which, can be assumed, might be carried Shaykh Nizamuddin’s own understanding regarding forbearance to which he might have related the story. Nevertheless, the book is remarkable in terms of providing a vast scope for thinking about Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya.


Ethics is described as ‘systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong’. Defining ethics in this way seems more theoretical. But in terms of Muslim ethicists, they had been ‘more interested in morals and matters of conduct’.

Ethics is one of the interesting fields where Muslims have been engaged in intellectual exercises. Among Muslims, however, Sufis are said to have occupied a distinct place in terms of this discipline, as their prime concern is based upon these cardinal principles: purification of one’s inner self and sincerity in deeds. Like other Muslims, Sufis are also inspired by the Quran and Hadith in deriving their concepts and creeds. There are many instances in the Quran and Hadith where some guiding principles for distinguishing between right and wrong are revealed. And their motive is clearly defined as successfulness i.e. salvation. The Quran tells its followers that ‘successful indeed is he who purifies himself’. Purifying one’s self includes purity in faith, deeds and devotion to God. Likewise, Hadith says ‘deeds (their correctness and rewards) depend upon intentions.’ These principles remained central to the Sufi thought upon which Sufis constructed whole edifice of their ideology of right and wrong for purifying inner self to attain solace and eternal peace. Shaykh Nizamuddin, like other Sufi masters, also inherited the same legacy which is evident, as we will see, from his recorded conversations.

Like other Muslims, Sufis are also inspired by the Quran and Hadith in deriving their concepts and creeds. There are many instances in the Quran and Hadith where some guiding principles for distinguishing between right and wrong are revealed.

For Sufis, ethics is God-centric. He is the source of performing good behavior. Believing in Hadith, Sufis regard that intention behind performance will decide the standard of deeds. Thus, Shaykh Nizamuddin also seems worried about inculcating the doctrine into his disciples by saying that ‘Be pure and unmarred wherever you are’. In fascicle 1, assembly 24, he cited a story in response to a question was asked about ones who observe the all-night prayer vigil in the mosque, and ones who stay up all night in their home (who are better among them?). The story reads: a man who in bygone days used to stay awake throughout the night and perform prayers in the congregational mosque of Damascus; he hoped that such conspicuous devotion would secure his appointment as Shaykh al-Islam. He then went on to say that ‘the first thing you must do is to turn your back on becoming Shaykh al-Islam or master of a Sufi hospice’. In the same assembly he also said that ‘to recite one portion of the Quran at home is better than to recite the whole of the Quran in a mosque.’ By telling these Parables, Khwaja Nizamuddin wished to teach his disciples that impure intentions are harmful and disastrous for one’s inner self. Deeds with impious intentions may lead actions toward dangerous motives. For God must be the sole motive behind all human actions; whether spiritual or mundane. Sufis’ spiritualism essentially emphasizes on pure intention and sincerity. Whatever God-oriented people do, Khwaja Nizamuddin said, they do for the sake of God; and their intention is always for God. The Sufis notion of being God-oriented is inspired by two reasons; the first is love or wish for attaining God’s will and the second is the sense of liability. Because whatever we do in this world, we will be asked in the hereafter. By the following couplet he tends to teach the same idea:

The deed-books read on Judgment Day
Must have their entries here first penned.

Ethicists divide ethics into three parts broadly: meta ethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. The second of them, normative ethics, includes the efforts to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. It is a search for an ideal litmus test of proper behavior. This principle of ethics is enshrined in what is called the Golden Rule: ‘We should do to others what we would want others to do to us.’ This principle means to touch one’s consciousness about the fact that others are humans in the same meaning as he is. Whatever he feels they feel the same. If he seems it wrong to be harmed by someone else, then it would also be wrong to harm others. With this reasoning we can understand and judge right and wrong conduct.

The prophet said to them, ‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ Sufis behavior regarding this Golden Principle was enthusiastic.

Muslims were very early made aware of this principle. The prophet said to them, ‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ Sufis behavior regarding this Golden Principle was enthusiastic. It was, for them, not such an ideal which would be hard to be practiced, rather they made it applicable. Sufi masters in their khanqahs taught it to their disciples and trained them. Khwaja Nizamuddin is recorded to have told a story of Khwaja Ajall Shirazi, who taught his disciple, instead of instructing him supererogatory prayers, ‘whatever you do not find agreeable for yourself, do not wish it to happen to others; wish for yourself (only) what you also wish for others.’

Interestingly, with Sufis we find something beyond the ethicists’ principle of Golden Rule. To them, the Golden Rule would read: We should do to others what we would want God to do to us. If we want God to show His mercy upon us, we should be kind and generous to His creation. That is why, Shaykh Nizamuddin considered it to be necessary as he said that one should be warm-hearted and lively compassionate for people. At another place, he revealed the same belief he had in a different way. He said that ‘Between God and man there are two kinds of relationships, between man and man, three kinds. The relationship of God to man is characterized by either justice or kindness, or oppression. If people are just or kind to one another, God will be kind to them. But if people are oppressive or unjust with one another, God will judge them accordingly, and He will mete out the appropriate punishment, even if the offender be the prophet of his time!’ The conclusion of the above remark may be assumed that the sincere desire for the love for God and His mercy requires that one should be just and kind to others.

Sufi literature focuses on some particular virtues which, as is considered, should be all-pervasive in human disposition.

Sufi literature focuses on some particular virtues which, as is considered, should be all-pervasive in human disposition. These virtues cause in purifying man’s inner self and help him pass through the spiritual stations, maqamat. Once a man passes through the stations, he becomes perfect, kamil. And to remain in perfection, stability and firmness is required in these virtues.

Man is not infallible meaning he is an easy prey to sin. But through repentance he can feel sorry for his previous wrong behavior, and can join the company of righteous men. In this regard, Shaykh Nizamuddin believes, on the authority of Hadith, that the penitent is equivalent to the upright. This is because, he goes on to explain, he who repents is every moment conscious of the need to obey. This very enthusiastic and ardent zeal of saving himself from committing sins reduces to ashes all his sinful excesses.

For attaining tawakkul, Sufis prefer an ascetic life and refrain from indulging into the worldly things i.e. wealth, fame and so on, lest their concentration may be disturbed.

However, repentance, tawbah, requires constancy. By constancy, Shaykh Nizamuddin means that ‘when the penitent grounds himself in repentance, he will not wish for any sin nor will he even recollect the word ‘iniquity’.’
Hope of repentance is a better cure of sinfulness, toward which Shaykh Nizamuddin persuaded his disciple.
Another virtue, complete trust, tawakkul, (in God), is regarded very desirable in Sufi literature. By this, Sufis maintain that men should be content and desiring nothing other than God. Man should be trustful in God, to the extent that ‘like a corpse in the hands of a washerman; which asks no question and does not move on its own.’
This concept has revolutionized the very idea of conduct and human behavior. If a man does not desire of anything from anyone other than God, he does not need to fear for others and worry about anything. Through his own peculiar method, Shaykh Nizamuddin teaches it to his disciples in Fawaid al-Fuad.

For attaining tawakkul, Sufis prefer an ascetic life and refrain from indulging into the worldly things i.e. wealth, fame and so on, lest their concentration may be disturbed. There are many interesting discussions about asceticism and the concept of asceticism in tasawwuf in Fawaid al-Fuad.

Endurance, sabr, and contentment, raza, are among the cardinal virtues in Sufi literature. In the Quran endurance is described as a mean for seeking help and stability from God in difficulties. For, there have always been problems in the way of performing right and refraining from wrong. At this time, man is needed to be firm and constant. Sufis believe that this could be attained by endurance and contentment.

Endurance is that when something odious happens to you, you bear with it and do not complain.

However, for Sufis, the concept of endurance and contentment is very idealistic. Shaykh Nizamuddin tells us what Sufis mean by them. He says: ‘endurance is that when something odious happens to you, you bear with it and do not complain. As for contentment, that is when something odious happens to you and you do not regard it as odious, but instead act as if that misfortune had never befallen you!’ Though it seems impractical, but to the Shaykh, these virtues are attainable only if man ‘is preoccupied with meditating on God.’ Shaykh Nizamuddin goes on at other place, by quoting al-Ghazzali, that ‘endurance is the dominance of the urge to seek God over the urges to satisfy one’s own desire.’

The virtues, patience, tahammul, and forbearance burdbari, are the characteristics of the Sufi pacifistic ideology. Sufis tend to adopt a peaceful way of resolving conflicts. Revenge, to them, is not preferable. ‘One, says Shaykh Nizamuddin’ must not be bent on retaliation.’ Because retaliation brings more destruction to both sides. By this a conflict cannot be resolved until the weaker faction is destroyed or humiliated. The way Shaykh Nizamuddin explains the concept is adorable and fascinating. He says: ‘if someone puts a thorn (in your path) and you put a thorn (in his), there are thorns everywhere!’


The ethical philosophy which developed under the Sufi environment stands in a distinct place in the history of ethical philosophy. Tasawwuf has developed a peculiar method of training in ethical and moral conducts. What does it do? It stimulates the emotions and feelings buried in the unconsciousness of man. It makes people aware of the Islamic concept of accountability in front of God. Being made aware of this fact, man refrains from committing sins. The virtues it focuses upon are important in terms of enhancing human character. While other philosophical and religious schools tend to develop those morals and ethical values which are reciprocal, tasawwuf desires to bring change and development into those actions as well, which are purely spiritual i.e. worship of God. This is also a part of Sufi ethics which makes it unique.


. Tarikh-I Firuz Shahi, ed. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, p. 308 (quoted in the introduction of the English translation of Fawaid al-Fuad (Morals For The Heart) Bruce Lawrence, p.3. (US: Paulist Press)
. Ibid. p.16.
. Ibid. p 24.
. Fawaid al-Fuad, Urdu translation, Khwaja Hasan Nizami, p.79. (India: Urdu Academy Delhi, 1990).
. Fawaid, Lawrence, p.25.
. Ibid. p.26
. Ibid. p.26.
. Nizami Bansari, Ahmed Ayaz, Urdu translation by Khawaja Hasan Nizami, (Pakistan: Dost Publication) (the writer of this book is contemporary and disciple of Shaykh Nizamuddin who wrote an interesting event in deference to the Hindu custom which he witnessed in the khanqah during his first visit.)
. Ibid. p.29.
. Shaykh Nizamuddin left a large number of his disciples as his legacy, who were trained in his khanqah under his guidance. After his death, they all dispersed throughout the country engaging in disseminating the teachings of Shaykh, which resulted into the development and success of Chishti order in India. Nisar Ahmed Farooqi produced a comprehensive list of his 111 successors who are living in the accounts of historians and hagiographers, but if it is compared with the complete list, as Farooqi said, cannot even be a fraction of it. (Fawaid, Urdu, Nizami, pp. 145-49.)
. Fawaid, Lawrence, p.42.
. In addition to Amir Hasan, some other disciples of Shaykh Nizamuddin recorded his conversations. Khaliq Ahmed Nizami has given a list of five other compilations. These are as follow: Durar-i Nizami, by Ali Jandar; Malfuzat, by Khwaja Shams al-din Bihari; Anwar al-Majalis, by Khwaja Muhammad; Hasrat Namah, by Ziya al-din Barani; Tuhfat al-Abrar wa Karamat al-Akhyar, by Khwaja Aziz al-din Sufi. However, except Durar-i Nizami all other compilations are extinct., Fawaid, by Lawrence, p.46.
. In this article, generally, I have adopted Bruce Lawrence’s English translation of Fawaid al-Fuad, ‘Morals For The Heart’, but at some place where I needed I have translated my own. Though, for maintaining the authenticity of the translation, I have crosschecked it with the original Persian text. The original text, which I am using here, was first published by Urdu Academy Delhi, in 1990 with the Urdu translation of Khwaja Hasan Thani Nizami. However, the translation carries blatant translation mistakes. For example, Lawrence has translated tasadduq as forgiveness, and the whole story, which follows it, goes on contrary to the story narrated in the text, (Lawrence, Fawaid, p.123.).
. Amir Hasan Ala-i Sijzi was born in Badaon in 1254. After receiving his early education in his native town he moved to Delhi where he had been associated with royal court. He was an excellent poet, and so was conferred an honorary title ‘Sa’di of Hindustan’. He was a devoted disciple of Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya. By writing Fawaid al-Fuad, he is credited with ‘introducing a new genre for the communication of mystic ideas and practices.’
. Fawaid, fascicle I, assembly 28.
. Fawaid, Lawrence, p.4.
. Fawaid, Urdu, Nizami, p.171.
. Translated by the author from the Persian text.
. http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/print; accessed on 1/20/2016.
. A History of Muslim Philosophy, ed. M M Sharif, , p.306, (Germany, 1963).
. Quran, 87:14.
. Zia al-Quran, Pir Karam Shah Azhari,p.543-44 (Pakistan: Zia al-Quran).
. Bukhari, book 1; Hadith no. 1.
. Fascicle II, assembly 3.
. Fawaid, fascicle II, assembly 18. This sentence is not in the Lawrence’s translation. I found it in the text published with Hasan Nizami’s Urdu translation.
. Fawaid, fascicle I, assembly 1.
. http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/print.
. Fawaid, fascicle I, assembly 6.
. Ibid. fascicle IV, assembly 4.
. Ibid. fascicle III, assembly 13.
. Fawaid, fascicle I, assembly 1.
. Ibid., fascicle I, assembly 17.
. Ibid, fascicle II, assembly 9.
. Ibid. fascicle I, assembly 6.
. Ziaul Quran, Karam Shah, p.107.
. Fawaid, fascicle II, assembly 9.
. Ibid.
. Ibid. fascicle II, assembly 26.
. Ibid. fascicle II, assembly 35
. Ibid.

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