Coming back to our main discussion on the evolution of Sufi institutions, sometime after the establishment of ribats, the khanqah as a new and most recognizable Sufi religious and educational institution started to emerge. Although ribats and to a lesser extent duwayrahs were still there, the emergence of khanqahs eclipsed them all. This was so because the emergence of khanqahs both coincided and was spurred by a favorable socio-political climate -- as we will see later. This was so, furthermore, because the evolution of Sufi institutions from mosques and duwayrahs to ribats and khanqahs followed some logic and was rather spontaneous. Ribats and to a smaller degree duwayrahs were mere shelters for the Sufis where they resided and where some basic and perhaps ad hoc worship, ascetic and learning activities were conducted. As al-Maqrizi remarked: “Every community has its home (dwelling). The home (dwelling) of the Sufi community is the ribat.” The same idiom has been ascribed to Shihab al-Din Umar al-Suhrawardi as well. Khanqahs, on the other hand, signified Sufi complexes where the Sufis still resided but their worship, ascetic, socialization and learning activities became more sophisticated and elaborate. They were getting closer to grouping themselves into orders and fraternities (tariqah) and that necessitated some additional logistic, management, organizational and functional support and rethinking. Thus, in some places ribats simply merged with khanqahs, while in other places they both existed separately, often next to each other, serving in their different capacities the growing interests of Sufism and the Sufi fraternity. When existing together, it seems as though khanqahs functioned as worshipping, learning and socializing centers, whereas ribats functioned mainly as hostels. As an illustration, while describing the Khanqah of a Mamluki Sultan Ruknuddin Baybars al-Jashankir (d. 709 AH/ 1309 CE) in Cairo, which was the most splendid khanqah in Cairo, al-Maqrizi wrote that next to it, the Sultan built a massive ribat to which one could go from inside the khanqah. Ibn Jubayr also spoke of both ribats and khanqahs as separate institutions in Damascus. But at one point he commented that ribats were called khanqahs and were numerous in Damascus. Surely, those accounts only buttress our reflection that the two institutions sometimes merged and were called khanqahs, sometimes, rarely though, stood and operated separately, and yet at other times were integrated into a Sufi complex while retaining their respective identities. In the last scenario, ribats normally played a supplementary role to khanqahs.
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.
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.