In India the needs of thousands of men used to be satisfied through the Sufi saints; in countless homes the hearths were lighted because of their benevolence; a vast number of people lived in their Khanqahs (spiritual seminaries) as permanent guests enjoying all the reasonable comforts of life. At the dinner-spreads of the Sufi ascetics no distinction was observed between the rich and the poor, the friend and the foe, and the kindred and the stranger.
The dinner-spread of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia was proverbial both for its extensiveness and sumptuousness of the meals served on it.
At the Khanqah of Sheikh Saifuddin Sirhindi, a Mujaddidiya divine of the 17th century, 1400 persons used to dine every day and every one of them was served with food of his own choice.1
Another Chishti saint of the late 17th and early 18th century, Syed Mohammad Saeed alias Shah Bheek, it is reported by his biographer that, apart from the 5,000 votaries who lived permanently in his Khanqah, an equal number from among the daily visitors also joined in at the meals with the result that about 10000 persons dined with him regularly.
Once Roshanuddaula, who was a Seh-Hazari (meaning a Mansabdar commanding 3,000 soldiers) feudal lord of the Court of Emperor Farrukh Siyar of Delhi, presented Shah Bheek Rs. 70,000/- for the construction of the Khanqah. Shah advised him to leave the money and go and have little rest and construction work would commence in the afternoon. After Roshanuddaula had retired Shah Bheek sent the entire money to widows and other needy and indigent people of Ambala, Thanesar, Sirhind and Panipat through the ascetics of the Khanqah. When Roshanuddaula returned in the afternoon, Shah Saheb said to him:
“You could never have earned so much Divine reward by the construction of the Khanqah as you have by serving so many poor, helpless persons and hermits. What would an humble ascetic like me do with a palatial building ?”
On another occasion, Emperor Farrukh Siyar, Roshanuddaula and Nawab Abdullah Khan sent him promissory notes worth Rs. 3,00,000 along with their petitions. The divine had all the money distributed in the neighbouring towns and among indigent families of good birth.2
As Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani had very appropriately observed:
“The Khanqahs of the Sufi saints served as the connecting link between the rich and the poor. Even reigning monarchs paid tribute to the courts of these august men. Take the case of Sultan-ul-Mashaikh. It has been shown how Khizir Khan, the heir- apparent to the throne of Delhi, was his bondman (meaning a devoted disciple). Sultan Alauddin Khilji used to collect the tribute from all parts of the country, but there was one treasury in which he also had to deposit the submission money………………………………..The Khanqahs were the channels through which the share of the poor and the needy used to reach them throughout the land This is what was implied by the well-known saying that ‘the property of the Sufi is at everybody’s disposal.’ ”
“This confluence of poverty and riches, i.e. the holy Order of the Sufis to which the rich and the poor alike paid homage was the agency by means of which the needs of innumerable destitute Muslim families were satisfied. Indeed, there was no phase in the whole era of Muslim supremacy in India, and no province, in the entire sub-continent, in which the Prophet’s command that ‘it should be taken from those among them that are rich and given to those among them that are poor’ was not dutifully carried into practice by the Sufi saints, especially by those among them who, by some extraordinary circumstance, had come to acquire influence over the rich and privileged sections of the community; the fortunes of the distressed sections would then literally wake up.” 3
1. Nuzhat-ul- Khawatir, Vol. V
2. Manazir Ahsan Gilani: Nizam-i-Talim wa Tarbiyat, Vol. II, pp. 221-222
3. Manazir Ahsan Gilani: Nizam-i-Talim wa Tarbiyat, Vol. II, p. 220