Khilafat and Bayat

In addition to a small circle of disciples, Imam Ahmad Raza had a much larger circle of Khalifas [vicegerent; successor to a Sufi master]. Some of them such as Hazrat Naimuddin Muradabadi (may Allah be pleased with him) and Hazrat Didar Ali Alwari (may Allah be pleased with him) were prominent leaders of the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat in the 1920s. Many came to him from different parts of north and central India towards the end of their course, attracted to him by his growing reputation for scholarship and for the particular point of view he adopted. 


The term khilafat as it is applied with Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) and his followers, does not necessarily denote a relationship of discipleship to the Imam. It was a loosely applied term, it would appear, usually an honorific bestowed by Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him). Granting Khilafat was an individual as well as a public act, undertaken from time to time and the Dabdaba-e Sikandari reported in January 1910 that on the third and last day of the Urs of Sayyid Shah Ale Rasul (may Allah be pleased with him) at Imam Ahmad Raza’s house that year, Ahmad Raza bestowed the title of Khalifa on Maulana Zafaruddin Bihari (may Allah be pleased with him) by tying the turban (the dastar-e khilafat) on his head. Zafaruddin fell to his feet, and Ahmad Raza responded by giving him 'necessary counsel' (nasihat).

Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) explained the difference between a khalifa and a disciple (murid) by stating that there are two kinds of Khilafat, the ordinary (amm) and the special (khass). The first kind obtains when a murshid (teacher) chooses to make someone he considers worthy (la’iq), whether a student of his or a follower, his Khalifa and deputy (na’ib). The teacher guides his Khalifa in matters related to Sufism (azkar, ashghal, aurad, amal). The 'position' (masnad) is of religious (dini) significance alone, and there is no limit to the number of Khalifas that he may choose to have. This relationship ceases upon death of the Pir (murshid/teacher). 

But, by contrast, in the second kind of Khilafat, the Khalifa continues in this role even after his Murshid’s death because the relationship is special because the Khalifa in this case is his Murshid’s sajjada-nishan, a position to which only one person may be appointed. Here the role also carries worldly responsibilities for the maintenance of properties and went on to say that this position usually develops upon the Murshid’s eldest son, though various Sharia conditions may obtain to alter the situation.

This two-fold distinction between the sajjada-nishan on the one hand, and a large number of Khalifas on the other, does not convey the diversity of relationships between a Murshid and his murids or khalifas. On examination it appears that the relationship between a Murshid and his murid was not always as close or as intense as has been described above. In Imam Raza’s own case, shortly before his death a large number of men and woman came forward to take bayat (bai’at) at his hands; so many that he had to deputize his two sons, Hazrat Hamid Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) and Hazrat Mustapha Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him), to officiate on his behalf. Obviously not all who became murids at this time could enjoy a close relationship with him; nor, probably had they made the careful and thoughtful choice that he had advised. These murids do not fit the picture of one who was giving of him or herself to the Pir in the total sense that is described in his literature (Malfuzat). What had probably attracted them to him was the baraka (blessing, power inherent in saintly persons or sacred objects) that he, as learned, upright, and renowned Pir (and alim) was believed to possess. Nevertheless the term used in this case is also bayat.

Imam Ahmad Raza’s (may Allah be pleased with him) relationship with his Khalifas was not as distant as may appear from this categorization. His relations with them appear to have been loosely structured, individual, and diverse. He was their Murshid in the informal way that they respected him greatly, and sought to promote the same ends as he in their own lives; but they did not necessarily live in Bareilly or take instruction from him.

Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) interacted on a day-to day basis with a diffuse set of people who sought his advice on all kinds of matters, big of small and some hours in the late afternoon were set for this. As with Sayyid Nuri Miyan (may Allah be pleased with him), an important function Ahmad Raza performed for this wide circle of followers was that of curing and healing. A man who came to him asking for dua (prayer) because he was beset with problems, was told:

A Companion [sahabi] went to the beloved Prophet and said that the world has turned its back on me. The beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, don’t you remember that tasbih [prayer of praise] praising the angels, by the baraka of which we receive our daily food? Good fortune will come to you after your distress. At the time of the Fajr prayer of sunrise repeat this prayer: "Subhan Allah bi-hamdihi subhan allah al-azim wa bi-hamdidhi astagfir Allah.". Seven days after the beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had given the Sahabi (may Allah be pleased with him) this advice, the Sahabi returned. His fortune had changed so much, he said, that he didn’t know how to describe it. You too [Imam Ahmad Raza addressed this man] should repeat this prayer. If you miss the time of sunrise, say it in the morning after joining the congregation at the Fajr prayer. And if some day you miss saying it then, say it before sunrise [of the following day]. The solution to a problem was not always that simple, however they are some examples of how Imam Raza Khan may Allah be pleased with him) advised those with problems.