Any one writing on Hazrat Ali bin Usman Al-Hujwiri, in spite of his popularity amongst all classes of people and the deep veneration in which he has been held for nearly 900 years, is faced with considerable difficulty. There is no authentic biography of the saint, no record of his table-talks (malfuz) by his immediate disciples and companions, no detailed account of his life and teachings in earlier tazkiras or biographical dictionaries of saints of any importance except the Nafahat-ul-uns of Abdur Rahman Jami. References are to be found in later hagiological works but the information is scrappy and mere repetition of the Nafahat. Only Dara Shukoh, in his Safina-tul-Aulia, gives us a brief but informative account of the great saint and speaks of his numerous karamat, which he does not mention, except the one relating to the direction of the mosque built by Ali Al-Hujwiri. This paucity of material relating to the life of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh, as he came to be popularly known, may have been due to the fact that Lahore had to pass through a series of political revolutions and military depredation during which most of the written records of all sorts must have perished.
Secondly, the Chishti, Suharwardi, Naqshbandi and Qadiri silsilas became the most popular silsilas in the subcontinent and the Junaidi silsila, to which Ali Al-Hujwiri was affiliated, does not appear to have had an effective organisation in this country. The absence of biographical accounts has in a way been a blessing in disguise as no miracles, no legends, no fiction has gathered round his name to obscure his personality. His monumental work on Sufism, the universally esteemed Kashf-ul-Mahjub and his Kashf-ul-Asrar, probably an apocryphal work, are the only authentic sources of information for his life and thought.
Abul Hasan Ali bin Usman Al-Hujwiri Al-Jullabi Al-Ghazanwi was born probably in Ghazni (Hujwir) where his family had settled and the members of which were held in high esteem for piety and learning. He was known as Ali Al-Hujwiri Al-Jullabi, Al-Ghazanwi because he lived for a long time in Hujwir and Jullab, the two suburbs (Mazafat) or quarters (Mohallas) of the city of Ghazni. Little is known of his early life or his education. Amongst his teachers, he mentions Abul Abbas bin Muhammad Al-Shaqani.
"I was very intimate with him" writes he "and he had a sincere affection for me. He was my teacher in some sciences. During my whole life I have never seen anyone of my sect, who held the religious law in greater veneration than he." He also mentions Shaikh Abu Jaafar Muhammad as-Sayadalani with whom he used to read out the works of Hasan bin Mansur al-Hallaj, and another scholar-saint was "Abdul Qasim Abul Karim bin Hawazin al-Qushairi (d. 438-39 A. H.) whom he knew well and who, according to him, was the wonder of the age by virtue of his spiritual life and other manifold virtues. He visited and "had much spiritual conversation with Abul Qasim bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Gurgani who was unique and incomparable in his own time." Besides the above, he mentions Abul Abbas Ahmad bin Qassab, Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ali Al-Daghistani, Abu Said Fazl-Ullah bin Muhammad and Abu Ahmad Al-Muzaffar bin Hamdani.
Abul Fazl Muhammad bin Al-Hasan Al-Khuttali was his spiritual teacher. He was well-versed in tafsir and riwayat. He was a follower in Sufism of Junaid. "I never saw," says Al-Hujwiri, any one "who inspired me with greater awe than he did." He died at Bayt-al-Jin in Syria. Ali Al-Hujwiri was with him at his death-bed with the dying saint’s head resting on his bosom. His spiritual guide said to him, "O my son, I will tell thee one article of belief which if thou holdest it firmly will deliver thee from all troubles. Whatever good or evil God creates, do not in any place or circumstance quarrel with His action or be grieved in thy heart."
After having completed his studies, he travelled widely as was customary with early Sufi Shaikhs, in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Tabaristan, Khuzistan, Kirman and Transoxiana and met several prominent Sufis of the time. In Khurasan alone he is reported to have met 300 Sufis. He relates an interesting encounter with a group of sufis while on his way to Khurasan.
"Once I, Ali b. Uthman al-Jullabi, found myself in a difficulty. After many devotional exercises undertaken in the hope of clearing it away, I repaired-as I had done with success on a former occasion-to the tomb of Abu Yazid, and stayed beside it for a space of three months, performing every day three ablutions and thirty purifications in the hope that my difficulty might be removed. It was not, however, so I departed and journeyed towards Khurasan. One night I arrived at a village in that country where there was a convent (khanqah) inhabited by a number of aspirants to Sufism. I was wearing a dark-blue frock (muraqqa-i-khishan) such as is prescribed by the Sunna: but I had with me nothing of the Sufi’s regular equipment (alat-i-ahi-i-rasm) except a staff and a leathern water-bottle (rakwa). I appeared very contemptible in the eyes of these Sufis, who did not know me.
They regarded only my external habit and said to one another, ‘This fellow is not one of us’. And so in truth it was: I was not one of them, but I had to pass the night in that place. They lodged me on a roof, while they themselves went up to a roof above mine, and set before me dry bread which had turned green, while I was drawing into my nostrils the savour of the viands with which they regaled themselves. All the time they were addressing derisive remarks to me from the roof. When they finished the food, they began to pelt me with the skin of the melons which they had eaten, by way of showing how pleased they were with themselves and how lightly they thought of me. I said in my heart: ‘O Lord God, were it not that they are wearing dress of Thy friends, I would not have borne this from them.’ And the more they scoffed at me the more glad became my heart, so that the endurance of this burden was the means of delivering me from that difficulty which I have mentioned, and forthwith I perceived why the Shaykhs have always given fools leave to associate with them and for what reason they submit to their annoyance."
He is reported to have travelled for forty years, during which he used to offer his prayers always in congregation and was always in some town for Friday prayers. Like his spiritual guide he disliked ostentations, and wearing of Sufi symbols which he regarded as marks of hypocrisy.
Once in Iraq where he appears to have settled down for some time, he occupied himself in amassing wealth and giving it away so lavishly and inconsiderately that he ran into debt. Then some one who saw his plight wrote to him as follows: "Beware that you distract your mind from God by satisfying the wishes of those whose minds are engrossed on vanity. If you find anyone whose mind is nobler than your own, you may firstly distract yourself, since God is sufficient for his servants." This advice he appears to have followed and obtained relief from his predicament.
It is not clear whether he married or not. From his statement in Kashf-ul-Mahjub it appears that he had a very poor opinion about women in general which might have been a result of his own unhappy experience of association with women. The Sufis were divided about their views on celibacy, women being regarded by some Sufis as an entanglement and obstruction in the pursuit of the knowledge of God which required complete absorption in prayer and meditation. The short and unpleasant experience of married life to which Nicholson refers in his Preface to the English translation of Kashf-ul-Mahjub is given here. :
"A woman was the cause of the first calamity that overtook Adam in Paradise, and also of the first quarrel that happened in this world, i.e. the quarrel of Abel and Cain. A woman was the cause of punishment inflicted on the two angles (Harut and Marut); and down to the present day all mischiefs, wordly and religious, have been caused by women. After God had preserved me for eleven years from the dangers of matrimony, it was my destiny to fall in love with the description of a woman whom I had never seen, and during a whole year my passion so absorbed me that my religion was near being ruined, until at last God in His bounty gave protection to my wretched heart and mercifully delivered me. In short, Sufism was founded on celibacy; the introduction of marriage brought about a change." The inference drawn by Nicholson about Ali Hujwiri having married is far fetched and the passage referred to above may be interpreted differently.
Ali Al-Hujwiri came to Lahore under orders from his Pir as successor to Shaikh Husain Zanjani at a time when as a result of the irruption of the Seljuks on one side and the rising tide of Hindu resistance on the other, the Ghaznavid Empire began to dismember rapidly and life in Ghazni itself was disrupted. The saint had to leave Ghazni in difficult circumstances and had to leave his books behind. According to fawid-ul-fuad, Ali Al-Hujwiri reached Lahore at night and in the morning found the people bringing out the bier of Shaikh Husain Zanjani whom he was to replace in Lahore. "Shaikh Husain Zanjani and Shaikh ‘Ali al-Hujwiri were the disciples of the same Pir who was the Qutb of the age. Husain Zanjani had been settled in Lahore for some time. Later the Pir directed ‘Ali Al-Hujwiri to go and settle in Lahore. Shaikh Hujwiri pointed out that Shaikh Zanjani was already there. The Pir again asked him to go. When ‘Ali Al-Hujwiri in compliance with the order of his Pir reached Lahore it was night time. The bier of Shaikh Husain was brought out of the city (Lahore) in the morning." He does not appear to have found Lahore a congenial place to live in, as he found himself amongst uncongenial people. He writes:
"My Shaykh had further traditions concerning him, but I could not possibly set down more than this", my books having been left at Ghazna-may God guard it- while I myself had become a captive among uncongenial folk (darmiyan-i-najinsa) in the district of Lahawur, which is a dependency of Multan. God be praised both in joy and sorrow."
At Lahore he settled at the place where his mausoleum now stands. He built a mosque here and gathered round himself a group of students. He gave up teaching because this, according to him, engendered a spirit of superiority over others. About the mosque mentioned above, Dara Shukoh relates a story which is the only Karamat, as already mentioned, ascribed to him. "In Lahore ‘Ali Al-Hujwiri took to teaching during the day and instructing those who were the followers of the Truth at night. Thousands of unlettered persons became alims; Kafirs accepted Islam, the misguided began to follow the Path, the insane recovered reason and sanity, the imperfect became perfect (in knowledge), the sinners became virtuous". Lahore was at that time the centre of "Ulama who benefited by studying under him". Speaking of the mosque referred to above, Dara Shukoh writes, "He had built a mosque, the Mihrab of which was turned a little to the south as compared with the other mosques. The Ulama of that age raised an objection in regard to the direction of the Mihrab. One day he assembled all of them, and led them in prayer. Addressing the assembled Ulama he said, ‘Look! in which direction is the Kaaba? The Ulama saw that all the veils (hijabat) had been removed and they could see (in front of them) the Kaba-i-Hijazi".
It is claimed that Ali Al-Hujwiri converted a large number of the inhabitants of the area to Islam. One of the earlier converts was one Rai Raju, the naib of Lahore during the time of Sultan Maudood. On conversion to Islam he was named Shaikh Hindi. His descendants have been since that time the custodians of the mausoleum.
Ali Al-Hujwiri died on the twentieth of the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal 465 H.E. The date, the month and year are all conjectural. Most of the early writers are agreed on the year 455 H. E. on the basis of the various chronograms incorporating the year of his death. Prof. Nicholson has suggested that he died between 465 and 469. Mr. Yahya Habibi in a well-argued article published in the Oriental College Magazine, Lahore (Volume 36, pp. 27-43) has examined the question of the year of death on the basis of Kashf-ul-Mahjub, and the internal evidence it provides of the dates of death of those of his contemporaries with whom Al-Hujwiri was in close touch. He has come to the following conclusions:
(i) That Kashf-ul-Mahjub was completed sometimes between 481 and 500, A.H. and that, (ii) the saint died sometimes between 481-500 A.H.
One is inclined to agree with Mr. Habibi. The most disturbing statement of Al-Hujwiri is that he was with his Pir in Syria when the latter died. According to ‘Allama Zahabi, Khuttali died in 460 H. E. and this date is commonly accepted. According to Mufti Ghulam Sarwar Lahori, Khuttali died in 453. Even if this date is accepted, will it be too far-fetched to infer that Al-Hujwiri came to Lahore after that? He mentions nowhere his fellow murid Husain Zanjani whom he is supposed to have replaced. The date of the death of Husain Zanjani also presents similar difficulties.
Very little is known of the life of Al-Hujwiri in Lahore. There is only one mention of Lahore in his Kashf-ul-Mahjub. We do not know anything about his daily life, the sort of people he met, his friends and pupils. A man of his disposition and active habits must have been engaged in religious exercises which he mentions in his book and in promulgating and popularising Islam and sufi doctrines. In Kashf-ul-Asrar, he relates that he met one Husam-ud-Din and was much impressed by his piety. He was ninety years old. He asked Husam-ud-Din for advice about his spiritual well-being. The Sufi replied, "Keep constantly occupied in bringing solace to the heart of the people and making them forget their miseries". Do not hurt the feelings of anyone". Do not waste the knowledge you have gained ". Constantly, remember your Pir." Another person mentioned in Kashf-ul-Asrar is Karim-Ullah Tajir (merchant), a very wealthy man, who lost all that he had " his wealth, his son and his wife. This story is related to impress his disciples with the transitoriness of worldly belongings.
Al-Hujwiri was buried near the mosque which he had built during his life-time. Several Sufi-Shaikhs besides multitudes of people from all sections of society have since visited the tomb. Hazrat Muin-ud-Din Chishti is reported to have stayed there for Itikaf and when he left the place he recited the following couplet:
It is from this time that Ali Al-Hujwiri, according to popular tradition, came to be known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (the master who bestows treasures). In Kashf-ul-Asrar, however, he complains that people call him Ganj Bakhsh though he was penniless. This would mean that he came to be known as Ganj Bakhsh during his life-time and this appears to be more reasonable. It is significant that many rulers and saints after him came to be known by similar appellations " Lachhman Sen of Nudea, Qutb-ud-Din Aibak, Sultan Sakhi Sarwar and Shaikh Hamid Ganj Bakhsh Qadiri.
The tomb of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh is situated outside Bhati Gate of Lahore. Towards the north is a graveyard, a well and a bathroom. The courtyard to the east of the well was built by Rani Chand Kaur, wife of Kharak Singh. Some of the extant buildings were built by Akbar and later repaired or rebuilt by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Adjoining the porch is a mosque, an extension of the one which the Shaikh had built during his life-time. To the east of this mosque is the grave of Shaikh Sulaiman Mujawir which was built in the time of Akbar. In front of it is the gate of a small room where Hazrat Khwaja Muin-ud-Din performed his Chilla. To the west of the tomb is the courtyard for the reciters of Quran.
The tomb of Ali Hujwiri is built on a white marble chabutra. The enclosure of the chabutra, was built by ‘Iwaz Khan, an elephant-keeper of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In the centre is the tomb of Al-Hujwiri and the two graves on its sides are of Shaikh Ahmad Sarkhasi and Shaikh Abu Saeed Hujwiri at whose request the Kashf-ul-Mahjub was written. The tomb, a chabutra and some buildings surrounding it were firs built by Zahir-ud-Daula Sultan Ibrahim, nephew of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi.
In 1278 A. H. Noor Muhammad Sadhu built a dome (Gunbad) on the enclosure. Several copies of the Quran presented to the mausoleum are preserved. The most prized of them are; the one presented by Moran, the mistress of Maharaja Ranjit Singh; the second by Muhammad Khan Chaththa of Ahmadnagar; the third, an autographed copy by Nawab Nasir Jang of Daccan and the fourth by Amir Bakhsh. A copy of the Quran was presented by Maharaja Ranjint Singh after his victorious campaign against the Afghans, and a copy written in musk was presented by an unidentified devotee.
Note: The above monograph was published in 1967. Since then, because of renovation from time to time, a lot of improvement can be witnessed in the premises of the shrine.