A Culture of Sufism: Naqshbandīs in the Ottoman World, 1450–1700

Publication Year



Unearths the history of the Naqshbandiyya, one of the most widespread and enduring Sufi brotherhoods.

A Culture of Sufism opens a window to a new understanding of one of the most prolific and enduring of all the Sufi brotherhoods, the Naqshbandiyya, as it spread from its birthplace in central Asia to Iran, Anatolia, Arabia, and the Balkans between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Drawing on original sources and carefully aware of the power of modern paradigms to obscure, Le Gall portrays a Naqshbandiyya that was devotionally sober yet not demysticized and rigorously orthodox without being politically activist. She argues that the establishment of this brotherhood in Ottoman society was not the product of political instrumentality. Instead the Naqshbandī dissemination is best explained in reference to a series of little-appreciated organizational and cultural modes such as proclivity to long-distance travel, independence from specialized Sufi institutions, linguistic adaptability, commitment to writing and copying, and the practice of bequeathing spiritual authority to non-kin.

“Dina Le Gall’s book fills a gap in our knowledge of a major phenomenon in Muslim societies … Drawing on an impressive range and breadth of primary sources (mystical treatises, biographical dictionaries, travel literature, chronicles, etc.), the author touches on the political, social and cultural aspects of tariqa activity in order to analyze its dynamics, changes and internal varieties.” — Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam

“The research presented by Dina Le Gall, the first of its kind in English, demonstrates her command of the intellectual and social history of the early Ottoman period. She overturns prevailing conceptions of this tariµqa with an exhaustive survey of the primary literature.” — Jonathan Katz, author of Dreams, Sufism, and Sainthood: The Visionary Career of Muhammad al-Zawâwî

“Intellectually sophisticated and rigorous, this study demystifies the Naqshbandiµs and points the way toward a greater appreciation of the complexity and diversity of Sufi practice.” — Jane Hathaway, author of A Tale of Two Factions: Myth, Memory, and Identity in Ottoman Egypt and Yemen

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration


Part One: Dissemination

1. From Transoxania to the Ottoman Lands

The Birth of a Tariqa: From Khwajagan to Naqshbandiyya
Agents of Transmission
In the Shadow of Safavid Persecution
Safavid Power and Changing Patterns of Communications

2. Istanbul

Establishing a Presence
Spiritual Lines and Continuity
Tekkes and Institutional Arrangements
Penetrating Society
Waqf-Making and the Women of the Tariqa

3. Anatolia and the Balkans

Capital and Province, Town and Countryside
The Balkans
A Charismatic Shaykh and His Demise

4. Arabia

Constraints on Early Transmission
An Indian Transplant and His Arabian Disciples
Teaching in Multiple Tariqas

Part Two: The Politics and Culture of a Tariqa

5. Devotional Practice and the Construction of Orthodoxy

"Acting with Strictness"
Sobriety in Devotional Practice
Communicating with the "Friends of God"
Teaching Ibn al-'Arabi
Bakri Genealogy: From a Spiritual to a Political Marker?

6. Politics of Sunnism, Battles over Orthodoxy

Ahrarian Politics and the Ottoman Environment
"Bringing the Heterodox to Heel"
A Thesis Revisited
A Naqshbandi Kadizadeli

7. Organizational and Cultural Modes

"The Shadow of the Shaykh is Better than Dhikr"
Bequeathing Spiritual Authority and Sending off Khalifas
Tariqa, Silsila, and Pride of Affiliation
Travel, Language, and the Tariqa as Interregional Network






Series Title
SUNY Series in Medieval Middle East History
State University of New York Press
Cloth: 9780791462454; paper: 9781438448725