AḤRĀR, KǰᵛĀJA ʿOBAYDALLĀH B. MAḤMŪD (806-96/1404-90), influential Naqšbandī of Transoxania. Surprisingly little is known of his career, and the sources are often contradictory or biased. He was born in 806/1404 at Bāḡestān in the welāyat of Tashkent, into a family of hereditary shaikhs with agricultural and commercial interests. He studied in a maktab and later in a madrasa in Samarkand, though this he left after two years, claiming that he had not even mastered two pages of Arabic grammar (Rašaḥāt, p. 232). His works, however, show him to have been by no means uneducated, and he may have played down his book learning to emphasize the heaven-sent quality of his inspiration.

Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār first appears in Samarkand at the age of twenty-two (Rašaḥāt, pp. 93ff., 250). Two years later he set off for Herat in search of a pīr. He found one instead in Čaḡānīān, in the shape of a Naqšbandī from Badaḵšān, Yaʿqūb Čarḵī (Masmūʿāt, fols. 138b-39a; Rašaḥāt, pp. 66, 241). He returned to Tashkent ca. 835/1431-32 to live on the family estates (Masmūʿāt, fol. 189b; Rašaḥāt, p. 235). His activities at this time are obscure, but he evidently aroused the opposition of the local ʿolamāʾ, since the hagiographies are liberal with accusations of heterodoxy on both sides (Rašaḥāt, passim; see pp. 302-03, 354; Masmūʿāt, fol. 199b, primarily based on Manāqeb, fols. 62a, 83a-b). Since such accusations were a commonplace of theological disputes at the time, there is no necessity to take them at their face value.

After the judicial murder of Uluḡ Beg (Bartol’d, Ulugbek, pp. 165ff., largely following Dawlatšāh), the Timurid ruler Abū Saʿīd finally gained control of Samarkand in the summer of 855/1451. The Tārīḵ-eAbu’l-Ḵayr Ḵānī presents as Abū Saʿīd’s savior the Uzbek Abu’l-Ḵayr, one of the leaders of the campaign on Samarkand, whose name appeared for an unspecified period in the ḵoṭba and the coins of Samarkand. The Rašaḥāt, however, gives all the credit to Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār, who, on condition that Abū Saʿīd uphold the Šarīʿa, threw the weight of his following to his side. Abū Saʿīd was evidently already acquainted with Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār (Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn, MS LGU, fol. 298a) and obedient to his precepts, though the Rašaḥāt (p. 288) records Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s unsuccessful journey in 854/1450 to see Abū Saʿīd in Samarkand, evidently in a bold attempt to displace the local ʿolamāʾ as the upholder of the Šarīʿa. An alternative version (Rašaḥāt, p. 20), that he met Abū Saʿīd in Tashkent and/or that he then aided him in the latter’s campaign against Mīrzā ʿAbdallāh, is evidently an a posteriori explanation of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s rise to favor at the Timurid court in the face of opposition from Samarkand Sufissuch as Elyās b. Sayyed ʿAšīq and ʿolamāʾ such as the šayḵ-al Eslām of Samarkand, Ḵᵛāǰa Mawlānā ʿEṣām-al-dīn (Rašaḥāt, pp. 301-05, 345-46, 354; Selselat al-ʿārefīn, fols. 155b-57b, 173b-74b).

Bartol’d (Ulugbek, pp. 122-23) emphasizes that Sufism in Central Asia, in marked contrast to the situation in Western Asia at the time, had considerable claims to being the upholder of orthodoxy and the Šarīʿa. Sufis were not necessarily unlearned, and the ʿolamāʾ could sometimes be viewed as delinquent in their religious duties. Bartol’d surmises (op. cit., p. 166) that Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār, as head of the Tashkent Naqšbandīya, probably had connections in Bokhara, which would have made him specially useful to Abū Saʿīd, though the absence of information on the latter’s movements before 853/1449 presents an insoluble problem.

By 858/1454 Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār was solidly established at Samarkand, organizing the defense of the town and reinforcing Abū Saʿīd’s morale in the face of attack by Abu’l-Qāsem Bābor from Khorasan (Chekhovich, “Oborona”). His declaration that he was the mediator between the townspeople (mardom-e šahr) and the ruler on the occasion of the suppression of an uprising at Samarkand in 862/1458 (Masmūʿāt, fol. 131) shows the evolution of his political role, though his insistence on the maintenance of fixed strata of society in which Sufis existed to inspire the love of God and the established order shows his influence to have been essentially conservative. His success may well have been due to a forceful personality and is not necessarily symptomatic of the triumph of taṣawwof. There is so far no good explanation for the attraction of Timurid and other Turkish rulers to Sufi pīrs. But the current explanation, as advanced by Chekhovich (Samarkandskie dokumenty, p. 22), that in Transoxania Sufism was an instrument of state power to control the masses, who were temperamentally more inclined to superstition than to the observance of the Šarīʿa, does not fit the known facts of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s career at this period.

Following the execution of Gawhar Šād in 861/1457 for alleged complicity in a plot against his life, Abū Saʿīd made Herat his virtual capital (Bartol’d, Ulugbek, pp. 171ff.). Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s influence remained restricted to Transoxania. He visited Herat, however (23 Ṣafar-11 Rabīʿ I 865/8-25 December 1460), when he persuaded Abū Saʿīd to lift the tamḡā and other “forbidden taxes” in Samarkand and Bokhara (Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn, MS LGU, fol. 325a). This evidently refers to the fear that, as had occurred following Abū Saʿīd’s defeat at Otrār (Rawżat al-ṣafāʾ, p. 1342) in 1455, a special tax, the dūdī, would be reimposed to pay for the reequipment of the army. The rebellion of Moḥammad Jūkī b. ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf at Šāhroḵīya and the ensuing protracted siege of that fortress between 865/1461 and 868/1463 (see especially Tārīḵ-eAbu’l-Ḵayr Ḵānī, fol. 469b) caused Abū Saʿīd to use both the šayḵ-al-Eslām of Samarkand, Borhān-al-dīn, and Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār as diplomatic emissaries. The latter was ultimately successful in imposing the condition that the rebels’ lives would be spared, though Moḥammad Jūkī was imprisoned at Herat and died there in 869/1464. In the winter of 872/1467-68 Abū Saʿīd summoned Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār, having become totally dependent upon his advice (Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn, MS LGU, fol. 338b), to discuss the possibility of a campaign in western Persia, following the death of the Black Sheep ruler, Jahānšāh. The decision was a disaster. Abū Saʿīd (ibid., fol. 339b) set out in early Šaʿbān, 872/late February, 1468; his army was annihilated, and he himself was killed. The Rašaḥāt (pp. 323ff.) reports that this bad advice brought Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār some unpopularity. However, in the disorders in Transoxania following Abū Saʿīd’s death, Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār actively preached the restoration of order (Masmūʿāt, fols. 131a, 194a); in a letter to Sultan Maḥmūd Mīrzā, who besieged Samarkand in 1470, he warned against further oppression of the people but offered his aid in the pacification of the town (Maktūbāt, MS 146/11, fol. 76a). His temporary eclipse and the triumph of the ʿolamāʾ was brought, in any case, to an end under Abū Saʿīd’s son and successor, Sultan Aḥmad, who became even more dependent upon Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār than his father had been. Even so, Bābor observes power was not in Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s hands so much as in the begs’, even in Transoxania (Bābor-nāma, fols. 18b-19a), and despite the shift of political power from Samarkand to the court of Sultan Ḥosayn at Herat (ibid., fols. 188a, 177b). Though we have Bābor’s testimony that Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s influence as a Sufi adviser was paramount, he appears only infrequently on the political scene thereafter. He died in Rabīʿ I, 895/February, 1490 (Masmūʿāt, fol. 173b; Rašaḥāt, p. 360) and was buried in his funerary ḵānaqāh at Samarkand in the suburb of Kafšīr. This probably remained in existence till the 11th/17th century, when a madrasa (begun in 1040/1630-31 and completed in 1045/1635-36) was erected on the spot by the dīvānbeḡī, Nāder Mīrzāʾī Ṭaḡāʾī (Pletnëv and Shvab, “Arkhitekturnyĭ ansambl’”). This houses the dated cenotaph of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār (Veselovskiĭ, “Pamyatnik,” p. 330).

The hagiographies, and even contemporary chroniclers, may have exaggerated Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s political importance. Bābor notwithstanding, there were other Sufi shaikhs who had authority under Abū Saʿīd, for example, Esmāʿīl ʿAṭāʾ (Bartol’d, Ulugbek, p. 23). Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s interventions were not always well judged, and he had some signal failures. In 864/1460 he failed at Nūrātā to win over the rebellious Nūr Saʿīd; the peace of Šāhroḵīya in 867/1463 resulted in the cession of Tashkent to the Mughals; and his appeasement of Abu’l-Qāsem Bābor led to the loss of vast territories from the Oxus to the Morḡāb. Thus his preaching against the political quietism of his Sufi rivals (Masmūʿāt, fols. 156a-57b, 161a, 217b) was on occasion decidedly injudicious.

New light has been cast on the importance of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār in 9th/15th century Transoxania by the recent publication of documents relating to his waqf endowments (Chekhovich, Samarkandskie dokumenty). In fact the hagiographies (for example, Manāqeb, fols. 7b-8a) indicate the landholdings of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār and his immediate descendants as being even greater, located not only in the welāyats of Qaršī, Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bokhara but in the Andeǰān and Esfīǰāb/Sayrām areas too. There are no precise details of their area, or even type, in the surviving documents; but notional estimates based on taxes paid or demanded on various occasions make it certain that they were vast. Chekhovich concluded from an analysis of the names, ranks, and classes of those who offered (nīāz kardan) or sold land to the Ḵᵛāǰa, that they were principally small peasants or petty craftsmen, but the spectrum of donors is far wider, and it is unclear that small offerings indicate small holdings. Most interesting is the appearance of mawlānās among them (a title used primarily by the higher ʿolamāʾ ), since this fact testifies to the respect in which Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār was held even by those classes traditionally most opposed to the expansion of Sufi power. The evidence these documents provide for the fragmentation of land in later 9th/15th century Transoxania is inconclusive; but pari passu the waqfīyas do not suggest that Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār was concerned to reunify landholdings in the form of awqāf for their economical exploitation. Nor, finally, is an accusation (Rašaḥāt, p. 302) that lands were improperly acquired either cogent or necessarily typical.

The recorded works of Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār are the following: 1. Maǰmūʿa-ye morāsalāt, autograph manuscript in the Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Uzbek SSR, no. 2178 (see A. A. Semënov, “Dva avtografa Khodzhi Akhrara,” Epigrafika Vostoka 1951, pp. 51-57). 2. Maktūbāt, non-autograph MSS, Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Tajik SSR, nos. 548/6, 146/11; Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Uzbek SSR, no. 296; Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Leningrad, no. C-326. 3. Resāla-ye wāledīya, a treatise on Sufi ethics. Chaghatay translation by Ẓahīr-al-dīn Bābor (Bregel-Storey, III, p. 829). 4. Resāla-ye ḵorāya, possibly apocryphal commentary on the quatrains of the 11th- century Sufi mystic, Abū Saʿīd (V. A. Zhukovskiĭ, Taĭny edineniya s Bogom v podvigakh startsa Abu Sayyida. Tolkovaniye na chetverostish’ya Abu Sayyida, St. Petersburg, 1899, pp. 489-93). 5. Selected letters, incorporated into the enšāʾ anthology, the Šaraf-nāma of ʿAbdallāh Morvārīd (ed. and tr. H. R. Roemer, Staatsschreiben der Timuridenzeit, Wiesbaden, 1952, fols. 52a-55a, pp. 115-17, 188-90).


See also: Primary sources: Mīr ʿAbd-al-Awwal Nīšāpūrī, Masmūʿāt, MS Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Uzbek SSR, no. 3735/11 (undated but composed in the last decade of the 15th century).

Manāqeb-e Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār, MSS Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Uzbek SSR, nos. 9730, 8237/i, 1883/iv (material mostly collected by Mawlānā Shaikh, whom the Rašaḥāt states to have been Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s land agent but who died in 1510, before the work was completed).

Moḥammad Qāżī b. Borhān-al-dīn, Selselat al-ʿarefīn wa taḏkerat al-ṣeddīqīn, MSS Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Uzbek SSR, nos. 4452, 8237/ii (written ca. 1504 by Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār’s pupil and successor).

Kamāl-al-dīn Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī Kāšefī, Rašaḥāt ʿayn al-ḥayāt, lith. ed., Lucknow, 1890 (written ca. 1504, relying largely upon the Masmūʿāt and the Selselat al-ʿārefīn).

ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandī, Maṭlaʿ al-saʿdayn wa maǰmaʿ al-baḥrayn, ed. Moḥammad Šafīʿ, Lahore, 1360-68/1941-49; also MS Leningrad University Library (LGU), no. 157 (the principal source for Mīrḵᵛānd’s and Ḵᵛāndamīr’s references to Ḵᵛāǰa Aḥrār).

Ḵᵛāndamīr, Ḥabīb al-sīar I-III, Tehran, 1333 Š./1955.

Masʿūd b. ʿOṯmān Kūhestānī, Tārīḵ-eAbu’l-Ḵayr Ḵānī, MS LGU, no. 852.

Secondary sources: M. Aĭdarov, “Svyatye, chtimye tuzemtsami, preimushchestvenno sartami Turkestanskogo kraya: Khodzha Akhrar i ego ucheniki, sheĭkh Khasan-Shashi i sheĭkh Makhmud Sogdi (legenda),” with additions by P. A. Komarov in Sbornik materialov dlya statistiki Syr-Dar’yinskoĭ oblasti VI, Tashkent, 1870, pp. 3-90.

V. V. Bartol’d, “Ulugbek i ego vremya,” Sochineniya II/2, Moscow, 1964, pp. 164-74.

A. S. Beveridge, The Bābur-Nāma in English, London, 1922.

O. D. Chekhovich, “K voprosu o gramotakh Khodzhi Akhrara,” Istoricheskie zapiski Akademii Nauk SSSR 29, Moscow, 1949, pp. 236-43.

Idem, “Oborona Samarkanda v 1454 godu,” Izvestiya Akademii Nauk Uzbekskoĭ SSR. Seriya Obschchestvennykh Nauk (SON) 1960-64, pp. 36-44.

Idem, Samarkandskie dokumenty XV-XVI vv. O vladeniyakh Khodzhi Akhrara v Sredneĭ Azii i v Afganistane, facsimile, text, tr. and commentary, Moscow, 1974.

R. N. Nabiev, “Iz istorii politichesko-ekonomicheskoĭ zhizni Maverannakhra XV v. (Zametki o Khodzha-Akhrare),” in Velikiĭ Uzbekskiĭ poet, Tashkent, 1948, pp. 25-49.

I. E. Pletnëv and Yu. Z. Shvab, “Arkhitekturnyĭ ansambl’ u mazara Khodzha Akhrara v Samarkande,” in Srednyaya Aziya v drevnosti i Srednevekov’e, ed. B. G. Gafurov and B. A. Litvinskiĭ, Moscow, 1977, pp. 160-64.

J. M. Rogers, “Waqfiyyas and waqf-registers. New primary sources for Islamic Architecture,” Kunst des Orients 11/1-2, 1976-77, pp. 182-96.

Idem, “Central Asian waqfiyyas of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. The Endowments of Khwāja Aḥrār,” in International Seminar on Social and Economic Aspects of the MuslimWaqf, ed. Gabriel Baer, Jerusalem, in press. N. I. Veselovskiĭ, “Pamyatnik Khodzhi Akhrara v Samarkande,” in Vostochnye zametki. Sbornik stateĭ i issledovaniĭ professorov i prepodavateleĭ fakul’teta vostochnykh yazykov Imp. S.-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, St. Petersburg, 1895, pp. 321-35.

V. L. Vyatkin, “Iz biografii Khodzhi Akhrara,” Turkestanskie Vedomosti, Tashkent, 1904, no. 147. Idem, “O Khodzhe Akhrare,” Turkestanskie Vedomosti, Tashkent, 1898, no. 3.


(J. M. Rogers)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 667-670

Cite this entry:

J. M. Rogers, “AḤRĀR, ḴᵛĀJA ʿOBAYDALLĀH,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/6, pp. 667-670; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ahrar-kaja-obaydallah-b (accessed on 28 March 2014).