Read more: The Origins and Rise of Sufi Institutions (Part Two)
The first instance of an independent Sufi institution was the establishment of a Sufi duwayrah (small house or convent) by some followers of an early Sufi master Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd (d. 150 AH/ 767 CE). Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd lived in Basrah where for sometime he accompanied and studied with al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110 AH/ 728 CE). During Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd’s time, Basrah enjoyed a reputation as a place where people spoke exaggeratedly about such Sufism oriented concepts as asceticism, worship, love for and fear of God, etc. Basrah is thus regarded as the birthplace of Sufism. Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd himself was known for tenacity in worship and asceticism. He was a great preacher who used to preach in mosques. He traveled a lot and often participated in holy wars (jihad). He narrated that al-Hasan al-Basri had said that every road has a shortcut, and the shortcut on the road leading to Paradise (jannah) is holy war (jihad). This and some other similar Sufi duwayrahs or little houses or convents were the antecedents of true Sufi institutions which started to emerge perhaps less than a century later. They in all probability functioned as unpretentious multi-purpose gathering places and shelters for some Sufis and their followers and novices. They also functioned as shelters and hostels for an emerging phenomenon of traveling and visiting Sufis. Some such lodges or cloisters are reported to have been built next to mosques.
In this paper, the origins and rise of Sufi institutions will be discussed. Our discussion will revolve, mainly, around the impact of the mosque institution and the decentralization of its multifaceted roles and functions, which themselves evolved into independent institutions, on the emergence of first independent Sufi institutions, such as duwayrahs, ribats, khanqahs, zawiyahs and tekkes. The main religious, intellectual and social activities in early Sufi institutions will also be discussed.Read more: The Origins and Rise of Sufi Institutions (Part One)
Second Example: the Persian Iwan (Hall) in al-Mada’in or Ctesiphon
The other example where the early Muslims fully availed themselves of, or even shared, an existing architectural legacy that belonged to the non-Muslim local population of a territory newly opened to Islam is as follows. When in the year 637 AC/16 H the Muslims opened to Islam (fath) the Persian capital al-Mada’in, or Ctesiphon, in Iraq, they used without much repugnance its great Iwan (Hall), which was part of a royal White Palace, as their mosque in spite of some paintings and statues decorating it. The paintings and statues, which included men and horses, were done away with much later. According to K.A.C. Creswell, the decorative paintings were still there in 897 AC/284 H. It was in this Iwan-turned-mosque that the first Jumu’ah or Friday Prayer was performed in Iraq. In it, a pulpit or a minbar was erected for delivering sermons (khutbah) during Friday Prayers and for other communication purposes. The Muslims were requested to perform their Friday Prayers in congregation in the Iwan even if they happened to be as far as in the very centers of their villages. Read more: Early Phases of the Evolution of Islamic Architecture (Part Four)
First Example: the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus
As the first example, we hear of the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus as being one of the most splendid buildings ever built by Muslims, which was built by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid in 705 AC / 87 H. The Mosque was, as Ross Burns describes, “the glittering epicenter of this (Islamic) new civilization, probably the most richly decorated building since the passing of ancient Rome. In the 14 years from the Dome of the Rock to the Umayyad Mosque, the Umayyads developed a series of architectural symbols of great significance and massive proportions, decorated with unparalleled splendor. They were truly imperial gestures marking the transition in a few generations from a people who had few architectural traditions to an empire that dramatically asserted its new order.”
However, the original site of the mosque was a big church, the Church of St John the Baptist. When the Muslims opened Damascus to Islam in 635 AC / 14 H, one of their commanders, Khalid b. al-Walid, entered by force from the eastern side of the city through one of its gates reaching as far as the city’s center that included a half of the Church of St John the Baptist, while the other commander, Abu ‘Ubaydah, as a result of negotiations entered peacefully from the western side of the city and also reached the city’s center that included the other half of the Church. Because the Muslims urgently needed -- just like everywhere else -- a principal mosque as their community center, preferably in the center of urban and densely populated Damascus, and because a half of the city and a half of one of its main churches, the Church of St John the Baptist, had to be overcome by force, and because the Christian population in Damascus was set to start decreasing from then onwards and, as a result, the role of Christianity and the people’s affiliation with the existing churches to wane – because of all these factors a solution was devised to the effect that the eastern part of the Church of St John the Baptist, which was captured by force, be changed into a mosque, and the other western half, which was part of a capitulation treaty, to remain as a church.Read more: Early Phases of the Evolution of Islamic Architecture (Part Three)