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  • Devdatta Maitra

Malfuzat Literature

The Malfuzat records the teachings of mystic or Sufi saints and of the pirs and the sheikhs. Malfuzat literature can also be defined as discourses, conversations, and sermons delivered by the Sufis in the assemblies of learned persons and recorded by their disciples. This is also defined as religious writing by several scholars. This is a distinctive genre of Persian Literature that emerged in the form of Malfuzat. These sources are of great importance for the reconstruction of Medieval Indian History. Malfuzat is an Arabic word meaning ‘what has been said’.The term ‘malfuzat’ is “the plural form of malfuz, a passive participial noun meaning 'uttered’ or ‘utterance'.

Decipherment of texts belonging to a particular religious community still remains a central challenge, it is so because the decipherment of religious texts requires a particular hermeneutic approach. In this sense, Malfuzat literature can be seen as a logical development of the twin Islamic traditions of biography and collection of dicta inaugurated in the early centuries of the Islamic era to preserve the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in the forms of sira and hadith. Sufi Tradition has various biographical accounts of various significant Sufi saints such as the Abd-al-rahman al-sulami’s Tabaqat-al-sufiya’. All these biographical accounts were largely based on oral traditions. Interestingly, they account for a very important part of the religious reconstruction of the Sufi Tradition of Medieval India.

Malfuzat is peculiar to the South Asian Muslim culture. They are an independent genre in itself, each text focusing on a single individual whose teachings were recorded by any of his most close disciples. Fawa-id-al-fuad which is written by Amir Sijzi, recorded the conversations of a very well-known Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya, whose dargah is in Delhi. This text gained wide popularity among the masses and was considered to be authentic by most scholars and hence was a much-imitated text. Nizamuddin Auliya was a Chishti Saint and Malfuzat flourished the most among them. This particular text serves more as a guide to the practical aspects of Sufism than as a treatise on its metaphysical and theosophical aspects. This text includes his conversations with the Nathpanti Yogis and the text also mentions that he always avoided the company of the sultans and avoided visiting the courts. The saint’s teachings were disseminated through anecdotes, a loose structuring that remains cognizant of the presence of varieties of conducts and beliefs. George Makdisi had demonstrated the keeping of personal diaries by students of hadith dated back to the 9th century and perhaps earlier. However, such diaries were only intended as source material for historical compositions and not for publication, as in the case of Malfuzat.

The South Asian Malfuzat records informal conversations, textual explanations, mini-lectures, and other interactions between sheikh's and his audience. It tries to pen down the whole experience of a Sufi saint’s company. The credit of Malfuzat goes to the Chishti order because they initiated Sufism in India. A significant portion of this literature has a variant in which the sheikh’s teachings are organized in chapters. Until the 19th century, Malfuzat was written only in Persian, which is the literary language of the South Asian Islamic society. The writing of Malfuzat still continues though the language chosen is now Urdu.

Jalal al-din Bukhari’s malfuzat are some of the earliest extant Suhrawardi examples of this genre. They are also particularly valuable because there are a number of compilations done by different disciples at different times in Jalal-al-din-Bukhari’s life. There are other sheikh’s of Suhrawardi order but Bukhari’s texts stand out. Jalal-al-din-Bukhari has 7 titles of Malfuzat ascribed to him. Having 7 separate texts devoted to a single figure allows not only a rich description of his life and teachings but also provides a fuller understanding of the nature of malfuzat texts. Later in the 14th century at the time of their compilation, Malfuzat had become an established genre in itself, behind the confines of Chishti Order.

Malfuzat literature portrays Sufi life in the social context, also provides detailed information on economic, political, and social history, a point made repeatedly by scholars familiar with this genre of literature. While a major part of the medieval historical writings focused on the royal courts and military accomplishments, Malfuzat illuminated the Indo-Muslim Society. Because of the disciple’s tendency to include almost everything about the Sheikh’s life we get a detailed picture of their culinary practices, economic conditions, vernacular languages, topography, and even their leisure activities.

The historical importance of these texts has forced the historians to question their authenticity that is whether it is actually by the disciple and about the Sheikh that it claims to be. Some of the important issues that need to be addressed here are the complex relationship between the sheikh and the disciple, the ambiguity of their authorship, and the relation between form and function. Debates regarding the question of authorship have been widely debated by historians. It also seems obvious that the disciple is the author: he has usually included a preface with his own name, stating his intention to compile the teachings of his masters and frequently citing earlier malfuzat’s as his models.

The mixture of materials present in the malfuzat is related to their multiple functions. On the one hand, the malfuzat are narrating life stories: as a memoir of the disciple’s time with the sheikh, as biography-hagiography of the sheikh, and as the autobiography of the sheikh. On the other hand, they are acting as textbooks and anthologies summarizing Islamic doctrine, legal rules, and Sufi practice.

Malfuzat can be compared with the other structure of power of the Sufi saints which is the Tomb. The focus of the parallel drawn between Malfuzat and the Tomb is that both work towards the preservation of the spiritual function of the saint as a guide and a teacher. Thus it works as a window to the past, giving insights to the socio-religious conditions which the other historical texts do not mostly offer.


His master's voice the genre of malfuzat in South Asian Sufism-Ameina Steinfels.

Maktub and malfuzat literature: as a source of socio-political history-Sayed Hasan Askari.

Image credit-google images

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