Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed: a brief biography

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  1. Translated from the Urdu book Tazkira-ye Awliya-e-Pak o Hind: Khum-khanah-ye Tassawuf [Memoirs of the Saints of India and Pakistan: the tavern of Sufism] by Dr. Zahurul Hasan Sharib [​IMG] Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim

    Sarmad the Martyr was unique in his age and the saint of his time.

    Sher Khan Lodhi is of the opinion that, “his origin was foreign and he was Armenian. [1]” He was from an Iranian family; some scholars are of the opinion that he was originally a Christian whereas others think he was Jewish.

    His homeland was Kashan [2]; there was a large Armenian community in Iran of which some were Christian and some Jewish. He accepted Islam. He is famous as Sarmad although in some books he is referred to as Sarmad the Cheerful (Saeedaaye Sarmad).

    From his Letters and Quatrains it is apparent that he was very learned in the traditional Islamic sciences. He had great command over the Persian language and also knew Arabic. Professionally, he was a trader.

    A turning point in his life

    In those days Persian works of art were greatly valued in India and one could get a good price for them. Thus, Sarmad gathered some works of art and set off for India. He intended to sell these works of art in India and buy precious gems with the money and then sell these gems in Persia. In those days travellers went to India via Sindh and he too took that path. When he got to Thatta, he fell in love with a Hindu boy. He was so lost in love that he forgot his own self but became completely oblivious to his trade too! The historians are divided as to the exact location of this incident. Ali Quli Khan Daghistani places this incident in Surat [3]. Azad Bilgrami has said that it took place in Azimabad, Patna. Sher Khan Lodhi writes, “In the town of Thatta for trade, he fell ardently in love with a Hindu boy[4].”

    This ardent love [‘ishq] caused a visible change in his life. He became unconcerned with matters of trade. His heart became tired of the world. All thoughts of luxury and relaxation fled from his mind and he roamed around in a state of bewilderment and amazement. After a while clothes too seemed a burden and he removed these as well. Now he roamed around naked.

    His entry into Delhi

    He reached Delhi in this state of nakedness. Prince Dara Shikuh was Sufi-orientated and a friend of fakirs. When he discovered that Sarmad had entered Delhi he ensured that he became acquainted with the Shaykh very soon. After he got to know the Shaykh closely, he was greatly affected by his spiritual power. He respected the Shaykh very much. Prince Dara Shikuh was one of his admirers. Thus he became to have much influence at court.

    A change of government

    Prince Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikuh and took the reigns of power into his own hands in lieu of Shah Jahan. Dara Shikuh began to wander from desert to desert and settlement to settlement. This period was a testing one for Dara Shikuh’s sympathisers, supporters and associates. Hazrat Sarmad was one of these too. Some people had fled with Dara Shikuh and those who remained considered themselves in danger. Hazrat Sarmad chose not to leave as he knew that his burial place would be in Delhi.


    The accusations which were made upon him were not free from political machinations. The first accusation was that he had apparently rejected the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) physical Ascension [mi’raj] in the following quatrain [5]:

    Every man who is aware of his secret
    He becomes concealed even from the skies
    The mullah says that Ahmad [6] went to the heavens
    Sarmad says that the heavens were inside Ahmad!

    The second accusation made upon him was that he was a sympathiser and well-wisher of Dara Shikuh. The third was that he was always nude which is against the teachings of the Shar’iah. The fourth accusation was that he did not read the full kalimah and only recited the words, “There is no god ” [7].

    His replies

    Aurangzeb sent the Chief Justice Mullah Qavi to Hazrat Sarmad to question him about why he remained naked. When Mullah Qavi asked him the reason as to why he remained naked he recited the following quatrain:

    He is happy on account of my humble self
    Evil eye and wine is stolen from my hands
    He is in my bosom; search for Him in me!
    Tis strange that a thief has caused me to be naked!

    He was summoned before the court. In this gathering there were the greatest scholars and divines present too in addition to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb asked him, “People say that you gave Dara Shikuh the good news of the sultanate. Is this true?” Hazrat Sarmad replied, “Yes it is true; and that good news was truthful for he has attained the crown of the eternal sultanate.” The scholars asked him, “Why do you roam around naked?” He gave the same reply which he had given earlier to Mullah Qavi. The scholars asked him to put on some clothes but he ignored them [8] . Aurangzeb addressed the scholars and said, “Being naked in itself is not a reason to kill someone. Ask him to recite the first kalimah.” Sarmad was asked to recite the kalimah. As per his habit he only recited, “There is no god”. When the scholars heard these words of negation they were extremely annoyed. He replied, “Presently, I am drowned [mustaghraq] in Negation [9] ; I have not yet reached the (spiritual) station of Affirmation yet. If I read the full kalimah in this state, I will be telling a lie.” The scholars decided that this action of his was blasphemy [kufr] and that repentance was necessary. Hazrat Sarmad refused to repent. The scholars decided that the death penalty was permissible in this case.

    The next day he was taken to the execution spot. When the executioner came near to him with a gleaming sword in his hand, he smiled on seeing him and then lifting his eyes to the heavens spoke these historic words:

    “May I be sacrificed for you! Come, come, for whichever guise You come in, I recognise You!” Then he recited this distich:

    There was a commotion and I opened my eyes from the dream of Non-Existence
    I saw that the night of sedition still remained, and so went back to sleep!

    After reading this verse he presented his neck and drank from the goblet of martyrdom. His martyrdom occurred in the year 1070 A.H.

    His shrine is beneath the Jamia Masjid in Delhi and a fount of blessings and grace.

    Hazrat Sarmad was a perfect intoxicated [majzub] saint. He had no equal in his Islamic knowledge and virtues. Many people were his followers and disciples. His letters, which are known by the title, “Ruqa’at e Sarmad” [Epistles of Sarmad] are a testimony to his knowledge. He also wrote many quatrains [rubai] in Persian and these are famous as Rubaiyyaat e Sarmad (Quatrains of Sarmad). These have been published. Two of his most famous quatrains are given below and are a representation of his thought and ideas:

    O’ Sarmad the pain of love is not given to slaves of their desires
    The burning of the moth’s heart is not given to the honey-bee!
    A whole lifetime is required to obtain Union with the Friend
    This treasure, Sarmad, is not given to one and all!


    I have been honoured with the office of Love
    I have been made oblivious to asking from creatures
    Like a candle have I been melted in this world
    Due to my burning have I been made a confidante!


    After his martyrdom the words, ”There is no god but Allah” were heard from his mouth thrice. Not only did his severed head recite the kalimah but it continued to praise Allah Almighty for some time afterwards. Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 48 years after Hazrat Sarmad’s martyrdom but never achieved peace and tranquillity. He spent a long time fighting in the Deccan and finally died there [10].
    Footnote: 1. Lodhi, Sher Khan. Mir’at al Khayal.

    2. Riyaz ul Shu’ara (a manuscript which is in the library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.)

    3. Daghistani, Ali Quli.Khan. Riyaz ul Shu’ra

    4. Mir’at al Khayal.

    5. The belief of orthodox, traditional, Sunni Islam is that the Prophet’s ascension occurred physically with both body and spirit and was not just spiritual or a vision but an actual physical experience. This is stated in all orthodox doctrinal tracts such as Imam at-Tahawi’s Aqidah Tahawiyyah.

    6. The name of the Prophet in the heavens (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).

    7. The full kalimah (Muslim credo) is, “There is no god but Allah (and) Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

    8. Riyaz ul Shu’ara.

    9. Affirmation and Negation are two technical terms in Sufism and descriptions of a Sufi’s spiritual state.

    10. Traditional Sunnis, i.e. those who regard Hazrat Sarmad as a saint and martyr, also consider Hazrat Aurangzeb as a saint too.

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