One of my favourite verses of the Quran is Surah
Al Azhab which makes it clear that spiritual blessings
are intended for both righteous men and women who are
equal in the eyes of God. The woman auliya
meaning friend of God appeared in the early history
of Islam and the dignity of sainthood was conferred
on women as much as men. The doctrine of Sufism which
seeks Union with God through love and devotion does
not leave space for the distinction of sex. Islam has
no order of priesthood and nothing prevents a woman
from achieving great mystical heights. Sufis themselves
have chosen the famed mystic woman Rabia Basri (died
801) as the representative of the first development
of mysticism in Islam.
was consumed by love and desire for God and a famous
anecdote explains the Sufi attitude. Rabia was found
running while carrying a fire torch in one hand and
a pail of water in the other. When people asked the
meaning of her actions, the Sufi replied, I am
going to burn paradise with the fire and dampen the
fires of Hell with this water so that people love God
for the sake of God and not for want of paradise or
the fear of Hell.
the other early women mystics are Umm Haram whose tomb
is in Cyprus, Rabia bint Ismail of Syria, Muadha al
Adaiyya of Syria, Nafisa of Makkah, Zainab and Ishi
Nili of Persia. These women made major contributions
to the vitality and development of Islamic thought.
For Sufis, it is the inner purpose of heart that matters
and not outward forms. Some amongst Delhi Sufi women
are recognized the world over.
Fatima Sams shrine is in Kaka Nagar facing the
Oberoi Hotel in Delhi and the tombstone recognizes her
title as the Rabia of Delhi. The mystic woman is frequently
mentioned in the published discourses of Hazrat Nizamuddin
Auliya, who met her when she was alive and continued
to visit her shrine for meditation. Commenting on Bibi
Fatimas spiritual status, the Sufi master said
When the lion has come out of the forest ,nobody
asks if it is male or female. She was the adopted
sister of my master Baba Farid Ganj e Shaker. Bibi Fatima
Sam once told me The saints will cast away both
worldly and religious blessings to give a piece of bread
or a drink of water to someone in need .This is a spiritual
state one cannot obtain by one hundred thousand fasts
may seek love and you may seek soul.
Seek them both, but it wont be easy.
is believed that after her death she appeared in a fellow
Sufis dream and said One day by appointment I
went to the revered Lord and passed some angels who
asked , Who are you and why should you be proceeding
so carelessly ? I replied , I have sworn
an oath that I shall not move till God himself summons
me; the wife and the daughter of Prophet Muhammad
came and I felt at their feet. They said Fatima
Sam, who is there like you today? God has sent us in
search of you. I said, I am your slave;
but I have sworn an oath. Then the decree came
from God: Fatima Sam speaks rightly. You both
must depart and leave her alone. Then I heard
God call, Come to Me, to Me. I moved and
spoke to the lord.
Zulekha known as Mai Sahiba is the mother of Hazrat
Nizam ud din Auliya.
Widowed early, she brought up her son and daughter Bibi
Jannat under great hardship earning a living by weaving
cloth. When there was nothing to eat in the house, Mai
Sahiba would say, Nizamuddin. Today we are the
guests of God. She explained to the children that
God sent down spiritual nourishment which was different
than the taste of worldly food.
Sahiba was a pious woman completely devoted to God.
One new moon she said, Nizam! At whose feet shall
you put your head next month The Shaikh with tears
in his eyes said, At whose care shall you entrust
me. I will tell you tomorrow. Mai
Sahiba replied and directed him to go and sleep in the
neighbouring house of Shaikh Najeeb ud din Mutawakkil,
Baba Farids brother and disciple. In the early hours
of the morning the maid servant rushed to call Mai Sahibas
son who hurried to the house. She held his right hand
and said, O God. I entrust him to Thee.
Having said this, Mai Sahiba breathed her last.
Sahibas shrine is on Sri Aurobindo Marg earlier
known as the Udhchini village. The shrine is visited
by hundreds of devotees specially women. It is believed
that Mai Sahiba cannot bear the sorrow of a woman and
bestows her blessings on them immediately. Whenever
in acute distress Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya used to go
and pray at his mothers shrine and said his prayers
were always answered.
( 1614-1681) daughter of the Emperor Shahjahan, like
her brother Dara Shikoh was a Sufi and like him an the
author of biographical works on contemporary and historical
Sufi saints. Jahanara wrote a biography of her Sufi
mentor Mulla Shah as well as a literary biographical
account of the famous Sufi of Ajmer, Moin al-Din Chishty
(d. 1236). In The Confidant of Spirits
the Princess uses the word faqirathe feminine
form of faqirto signify her own spiritual vocation
as a Sufi woman.
spent many weeks along with her father Shahjehan at
Ajmer seeking the blessings of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.
The princess details her spiritual activities at the
shrine and her mystical experiences. Praise
be to God as I attained the happiness of pilgrimage
to the illuminated and perfumed tomb of the revered
saving master. I went to the holy sanctuary and rubbed
my pale face on the dust of the threshold. From the
door-way to the blessed tomb I went barefoot, kissing
the ground. Having entered the dome, I went around the
light-filled tomb of my master seven times, sweeping
it with my eyelashes, and making the sweet-smelling
dust of that place the mascara of my eyes. Of
Khwaja she wrote ,
Moin ud-Din is annihilated in God,
And after that he subsists in the absolute essence.
Sufi princess is buried in a small white marble tomb,
open to the elements and devoid of any dome opposite
her beloved Sufi Hazrat Nizam al-Din Auliya in Delhi.
The inscription on her shrine reads as follows :
is the Living, the Sustaining.
Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the
The annihilated faqira Lady Jahanara,
Disciple of the Lords of Chisht,
Daughter of Shahjahan the Warrior
(May God illuminate his proof).
mediaperson and social worker, Sadia Dehlvi, sent this
version of her article that was earlier published by
the Hindustan Times