Born in 1699, in Malwa, India, Khwaja Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan, also known as Shamsuddin Habibullah, was a renowned Naqshbandi saint and a distinguished Urdu poet. He was known for his absolute, unflinching commitment to and imitation of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He also established the Naqshbandi branch named Mazhariyya Shamsiyya and was also initiated in the Qadri, Chishti and Suhrwardi orders.
The date of his birth is recorded as 11th Ramadan 1111 AH, though some sources have noted it as 1113 AH. His father Mirza Jaan was employed in the army of the mighty Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. According to custom, the Emperor had the right to name the sons of his officers, so Aurangzeb is reported to have said: “A son is the soul of his father. Since the name of his father is Mirza Jaan, the name of the son will be Jaan-e Jaanan.”
Since childhood, it is said that the light of guidance and piety shone forth physically from his forehead so that he was known for his beauty as was the Prophet Yusuf. He was loved by all because he represented beauty, both internal and external. Most of his essential teaching happened through his grandfather, and through his righteous mother, he was trained in adab andakhlaaq (respect and noble character).
When Shaykh Mazhar was nine years of age, he saw the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, in a vision, who gave him the power of karamah and great blessings through spiritual transmission. At this tender age, if anyone mentioned Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddiq in his presence, he would see him appear with his physical eyes. He could see the Messenger of Allah with his own eyes as well as all the noble Companions, and all the Shuyukh of the Naqshbandi tariqa, especially the great Master and Guide, Khwaja Ahmad al-Faruqi al-Sirhindi Mujaddidi.
Elevation & Khilafat
His father raised him and educated him in all branches of religious knowledge, and from a young age, his heart was attracted to the spiritual light coming from his Shaykh, Khwaja Sayyid Nur Muhammad Badayuni. His Shaykh opened the eyes of his heart so he became aware and understood the science of tasawwuf, and he took him out of the state of self-conscienceness, allowing him to ascend into divine Nearness (Qurb). He would remain steadfast in serving his Shaykh (khidmat) with complete truthfulness and sincerity, and continued to progress by entering seclusion (khalwa) in the desert and jungles at the instruction of his Shaykh. In these seclusions, his only food was grass and the leaves of trees, and his clothes were only to cover him. At one point, after many of these seclusions, he looked into the mirror and instead of seeing himself, he saw his Shaykh in his reflection. It was at this stage that his Shaykh then authorized him to guide Allah’s servants to their destinies and to the Straight Path, making Shaykh Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan his successor (khalifa).
Seeking a Living Guide
When his Shaykh, Khwaja Sayyid Nur Muhammad Badayuni, passed away, he was quite young and he continued to visit his mausoleum to benefit from his spiritual blessings (fayz). For a period of two years, he received guidance and light from his Shaykh from within his tomb, and then was eventually instructed by him to connect with a living teacher.
He then went to the door of some of the greatest saints of the time, Shaykh Mohammad Afzal, Shaykh Safi Sadullah, and Shaykh Mohammad Abid. He attached himself to Shaykh Shah Kalshan, and to another Shaykh by the name of Muhammad az-Zubair.
He used to attend the session of Shaykh Mohammad Afzal, one of the successors of the son of Khwaja Mohammad Masoom. He visited and studied with Shaykh Abdul Ahad and received from him Knowledge of the Beloved Prophet i.e. Hadith. During this class, whenever the Shaykh would mention a Hadith, he would disappear through self-effacement, and a vision would come to him in which he would find himself sitting with the Messenger of Allah and hearing the Hadith directly from his own blessed mouth. Hence, he was able to correct any mistakes that might occur in the Shaykh’s narration of the Hadith, and was acknowledged as a genius in the science of Hadith.
Attainment of Rank as a Qutb
He kept the company of these blessed Shuyukh for twenty years. He progressed further and further in tasawwuf and obtained control over his heart and nafs, deeply affected by the company of these blessed people, until he became the Qutb of his time. The great saint, Shaykh Mohammad Afzal said, “Shaykh Mazhar Habibullah has been given the state of Qutb and he is the central pivot of this tariqa at this time and will remain so in times to come.” His spiritual understanding and awareness attracted people from all reaches of the sub-continent. In his presence, each seeker would find what he needed, until through his blessing, the Indian sub-continent became as a Ka’bah encircled by flocks of pure beings.
In his noble person were combined the fayz (spiritual grace) of four tariqa. He was a master of the Naqshbandi, Qadri, Suhrwardi and Chishti Orders. He used to say, “I received the Secrets and Knowledge of these orders from my Shaykh, Sayyid Nur Muhammad Badayuni, until I attained a very distinguished awareness in these Orders. He lifted me from the Ibrahimic Stage to the Stage of Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, which caused me to see the Messenger of Allah sitting in my place, while I was sitting in his. Then I disappeared and I saw him sitting in the two places. Then I saw him disappearing and I saw myself sitting in both places.”
About the Connection between Shaykh & Mureed
About Ghayb (the Unseen), many misconceptions exist. It is argued that after the Master has passed away, how can the disciple (mureed) be nourished and nurtured through him? After all, the Master is the connection or the link between the mureed and the realm of Ghayb. So when the Master is no longer alive, how can this link remain? This can be explained thus: before the birth of a child, milk descends into the mother’s breasts – so in a similar way, once the inner connection with the master opens for the disciple, it remains open despite the master’s physical absence, and the disciple continues to be nourished with Treasures of this unknown and unknowable realm. For this, unwavering trust for the master is the first criterion. With adab (respect) comes love for the master. Love is the key to the Treasures of the realm of Ghayb. For ordinary consciousness, this is very difficult to understand as there is no inner connection. Once the doors of Ghayb are unlocked, you are connected to all the Masters who were present in the past, and also those who are to arrive at some future date – the chain of Awliya are revealed to you. With this inner connection, all the inner states of awareness and tariqa and all else that is needed for spiritual transformation becomes available.
Shaykh Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan emphasized that one can be in the world and still follow the path to an inward journey. One can proceed fully in the outer world and its affairs, but deep within flows the stream of benediction and awareness. With trust and adab, one remains connected with the realm of the pious Masters. Remember trust and adab is not simply an outward exposition, it is an understanding through which one realizes that the spiritual grace of his Master always envelopes the seekers.
Shaykh Mazhar emphasized that it is not only important that the disciple does the dhikr, or other virtues, but what is also important is the inner connection with his Master. This inner connection happens only because of the bond, love and adab towards one’s Shaykh. Once this has happened, the journey becomes easy. However, when the seeker begins to move from within on his own, the journey becomes difficult. Due to his constant negligence of the inner state, there remains utter darkness; and travelling through the dark caves of the being is not only difficult but dangerous too. It is the light of the Master that guides the seeker, until one reaches a state when darkness is no more. Instead, there is illumination and you are ‘light within yourself’. This is how tariqa works – light from the Messenger of Allah directly guides his Companion (in the case of the Naqsbandi chain, this Companion is Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddiq), whose light then guides another, whose light then also guides another and so it continues, such that we have a chain of Masters whose light is passed on from one to another, subsequently reaching us seekers on the Path.
Facts & Anecdotes of the Shaykh’s Life
As well as being a noted poet, Shaykh Mazhar had also worked in the army of Aurangzeb and fought certain wars too, such that even in the spiritual realm, he would use the terminology of a soldier. He states that a seeker needs to be like a soldier who sacrifices even his life for his Master.
The life of Shaykh Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan is full of anecdotes and incidents, which cannot all be recorded due to the sheer volume and the extent of his spiritual state.
However, below are some mentions of the Shaykh’s karamah and various extraordinary experiences.
- Once he was on a journey with some of his followers without any food or provision. They traveled on foot, and whenever they became tired, they would sit and take rest. The Shaykh would then call them and say, “This food is for you,” whereupon tables of food would appear in front of them. One day, during the trip there was a terrible storm and the wind was blowing away everything in its path. The cold was so bitter that it caused them all to shiver, and their situation worsened, until it appeared that they were going to die in the frozen desert. Then Shaykh Mazhar raised his hands and said, “O Allah, make it (the wind) surround us but let it not be upon us.” Immediately the clouds lifted from above them, and though the freezing rain continued one mile away, around them the temperature rose to a comfortable level.
- He said, “One time I visited the grave of Shaykh Mohammad Hafiz Muhsin. I disappeared from myself (in reference to muraqaba) and in a vision, I saw his body. It had suffered no decomposition, and his shroud was still perfectly clean except for a patch of dirt on one part by his feet. Through my spiritual power, I asked him about that. He said, ‘O my son I will tell you a story. One day I took a stone from the garden of my neighbour and put it in a hole in my garden, and I said to myself, ‘In the morning I will return it to him,’ but I forgot. As a result of that action, the dirt has appeared on my shroud. That one action has tainted my shroud.'”
- One day he became angry with a tyrant, and he said, “A vision came to me in which I saw that all the Shuyukh, from Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddiq up to the Shuyukh of today, were unhappy with that tyrant.” The next day, that tyrant died.
- Once, a man came to him and said, “O my Master, my brother has been jailed in another village. Please pray to Allah to save him.” He said, “O my son, your brother has not been jailed, but he has done something wrong and tomorrow you will receive a letter from him.” It turned out to be just as he described.
- In another incident, he informed his followers of great tidings but some who harbored jealousy in their hearts refused to accept the truths he had mentioned. He said, “If you don’t believe me, let us bring a judge. We will each tell him our point of view and let him judge between us.” They said, “We don’t accept any judge except the Messenger of Allah, and on the Day of Judgement, we will ask for his verdict on this matter.” The Shaykh replied, “There is no need to wait until the Day of Judgement; we will request the Messenger of Allah to give his verdict now.” Saying this, he entered a deep state of contemplation in his heart and was inspired to read Surah al-Fatiha. This he did, and immediately the Messenger of Allah appeared to all present and said, “Al-Mazhar Habibullah is right and you are all in error.”
Final Stage of the Shaykh’s Life
Shortly before his death, Shaykh Mazhar entered a state of intense emotion and Love of Allah, experiencing immense grief at having spent so long in this transient world. He spent his last days in intense contemplation and, when asked, he would always say that his state was that of annihilation in Allah (fana fillah) and existence in Allah (baqa billah). He also increased his dhikr during his final days, and as a result of this immense increase in light, thousands upon thousands of seekers entered into the tariqa. Each new day would bring approximately three thousand new people to his door, and he would not let one of them go without meeting him. Eventually, he became so exhausted that he scheduled only two times a day to meet with the people.
One day, one of his followers, Shaykh Mullah Nazim, asked for his permission to travel and visit his parents in his homeland. He said, “My son, you may go if you wish, but I may not be here when you return.” This reply went from one mouth to another, shaking the hearts of people, as it indicated that his time was ending. With tearful eyes and broken hearts, people all around Punjab began to enter a state of grief. His house was full of visitors, of whom all were lost at the thought of coping with his absence. Then he took a paper and wrote to one of his successors, Mullah Abdur-Razzaq, “O my son, I am now over eighty and my life is coming to its close. Remember me in your prayers.” He addressed the same letter to many others too.
The Extraordinary Departure
After thanking Allah for His Favours, he said, “There is nothing left in my heart of anything that I have wished to achieve, or that which remains to be accomplished. There is nothing for which I have asked Allah that I did not receive. My only remaining desire is to leave this world and be in His Presence continuously. Allah gave me everything, except permission to go to Him. I am asking Allah to take me to Him today, before tomorrow. However I do not wish to return to Him in an ordinary state. I wish to return to Allah as He has described in the Holy Qur’an, as a martyr who remains alive. So, O Allah, make me a martyr in this world and take me to You as a martyr. Such a death will bring happiness into my heart and will place me in the presence of Your Beloved Messenger, and of Prophet Ibrahim and of Prophet Musa, and with all your 124,000 Prophets; and to be with all the Companions of the Beloved Messenger, and to be with Imam al-Junayd and the Master of this Order, Khwaja Shah Baha’uddin Naqshband, and with all the masters of the tariqa. O Allah, I hope to combine the witnessing of physical martyrdom with spiritual death in the state of fana (spiritual annihilation).”
It was Wednesday evening on 7th Muharram, of the year 1195H/1780CE. Shaykh Mazhar’s servant came to him and said, “There are three men at your door. They want to visit you.” He said, “Let them enter.”
When they entered, he came out of his bedroom and greeted them. One of them said to him, “Are you Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan Habibullah?” He answered, “Yes.” The two said to the third, “Yes, he is the one.” One of the men took a knife from his pocket and stabbed him in the back, piercing his kidney. Because of his age, he was unable to withstand the severity of the blow and he fell to the ground. When it was time for the Fajr prayer, the King sent him a doctor. He sent back the doctor and said, “I don’t need him. As for the men who stabbed me, I forgive them, because I am glad to die as a martyr and they came as an answer to my prayer.” Many of his Urdu biographers have also written that he was killed by gunshot by a Shia on 7th Muharram, and that he died 3 days later.
He passed from this life on a Friday.
When it reached mid-day, he recited Surah al-Fatiha and Yaseen until ‘Asr time, then he asked his followers how many hours were left until sunset. They said, “Four hours,” to which he replied, “It is still long until the meeting with my Lord.” Then he said, “I have missed ten prayers in my life, all in these past two days, because my body is full of blood and I have been unable to raise my head.” They asked him, “If a sick person is in such a weak condition, is he obliged to pray with movements of his eyes and his forehead, or to postpone his prayer?” He answered, “Both ways are correct.” He waited with patience for sunset, and then he breathed his last. It was the night of ‘Ashura, 10th Muharram 1195 H /1781 AD.
He passed his secret to his successor, al-Shaykh Abdullah ad-Dehlwi.
Some Words from the Shaykh
Here are some sayings of Shaykh Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e Jaanan:
- “Once I was sitting in the presence of Shaykh Mohammad Abid and the Shaykh said: ‘The two suns at the two ends met, and if their lights were combined and spread throughout this universe, they would have burned everything.’”
- “Shaykh Mohammad Afzal was much older than I but he used to stand up for me when I entered, and he used to say to me: ‘I am standing in respect of the high lineage that you possess.’”
- “This whole world and the entire universe are in my hand, and I can see everything in them, just as clearly as I can see my hand.”
- “As long as you rise upward in piety, you will be lifted up in sainthood.”
- “Existence is an Attribute of Allah alone. This world is a mere shadow of realities existing in the Divine Presence. The reality of all possible creations, or haqa’iq al-mumkinaat, results from the action of the Divine Attributes and Qualities on the void. The real existence of all that manifests in physical creation is confirmed as a light in the Divine Presence.”