This is a re-write of an original article I did back in 2003, previously featured at http://www.kali-yuga.org/esoterica/roshaniyya.html
The Rawshaniyya – Islam’s Illuminati, and Bayazid Ansari – the Dark Elder
By Kamal S. (Revisions: June 2003, June 3 2006, August 2 2009)
At the close of the 18th century, and the dawn of the first few decades of the 19th century, Western Europe was rocked by a series of attempted revolts fomented by a number of covert socialist underground movements.
These movements were closely tied together and coordinated through the thoughts and actions of a small group of intellectuals, belonging to an organization known to its members as The Perfectibilists. Theirs was a revolutionary faith, a religion of sorts, whose tenants are increasingly becoming known to historical scrutiny. They were part of a stream of thought that literally created the political and social world we now inhabit, in the west.
This group was also known as the Bavarian Illuminati.
Few know that similar matters were afoot in the east, within that time period..
Long a mainstay of paranoid conspiracy theorists, this group has lately been the subject of good academic historical analysis (a good survey is Congressional Historian, James Billington’s “Fire in the Minds of Men” – Terry Melanson’s “The Perfectibilists” is also a good survey. Billington’s work has more academic rigor than Melanson’s, but both are valuable books)
Writer Idries Shah Naqshbandi, under the pen name Arkan Darual, mentions the Illuminati, in his seminal work on the subject, Secret Societies.
Shah’s treatment of The Illuminati depicted a revolutionary, Left Wing, proto-Communist league, that emerged in Bavaria’s University scene and rapidly spread, covertly within Europe’s Freemason Lodges. Within a few years, due both to the connections of an aristocratic member, Barron Franz F. Knigge, and the organizational genius of the founders, this group decidedly marked the thought of Western Civilizations enlightenment period. Through infiltrating and subverting practically every single Masonic lodge on the European continent (and some suggest, in the American colonies themselves) the movement acquired Europe’s scientific and political brightest minds.
Their clandestine aims were: the destruction of the established powers of Church and Monarchy, and the construction of what they saw as an enlightened secular and Socialist Republics. As the society was marked by a gradated series of initiations, much like the Ismaili Assassin cult that terrorized medieval Islamdom, each initiate under its pyramid like structure of hierarchical control was strictly on a “need to know basis” regarding the aims and disposition of the larger organization. The ostensible head of the organization was a former professor of cannon law, named Adam Weishaupt. Much unverifiable ink has been spilt over the centuries regarding Dr. Weishaupt and his organization, but the essence of what is verifiable and known to history is expressed here.
Now this is “old hat”, much hyperbole has reached paper about the Illuminati’s demise, what is known is that while being harshly suppressed by Bavaria’s Government, many of the movement’s ideas lived on. It’s concept of a revolutionary socialism expressed in esoteric symbolism likely inspired the fomenters of France’s revolution, and bounced around in French utopian, occult, and socialist circles for decades prior to the formation of the original Communist league, and their manifesto’s later articulation by Marx & Engels.
Indeed some argue that it is to Bavaria’s Illuminati and their charismatic secretive leader, Dr. Adam Weishaupt, that we owe the current political divisions of the West’s classical Liberal tradition; Right Wing and Left Wing. Hard evidence for this is scant, which is understandable when dealing with a covert secret society undergoing government suppression and experiencing defection of its key members..
The Illuminati were more than a political society. Some documentary evidence suggests that the Illuminati possessed certain esoteric doctrines, and while they were political revolutionaries devoted to overthrowing Monarchy, an end to private ownership of property, and the utter destruction of the Church, they also grew up in the bosom of Masonic and Rosicrucian speculations, and had complex symbolic initiatory systems.
The evidence indicating esoteric spiritualist doctrines of an pseudo-initiatory held by the group is scattered, and woefully incomplete, given their clandestine nature, and over two centuries of suppression. Still enough exists to suggest something to all but the most skeptical of readers.
What few people know, is that Europe’s Illuminati were preceded by little more than a century, by another group, a similar clandestine society, with somewhat similar doctrines, bearing a name that literally translated means “Illuminati”.
This group are known to Western scholars as The Roshanites. And instead of the West, they found their home in the distant East of the Himalayas. Who they were, and what their significance was, is our chief concern.
In the middle of the 16th century a mysterious Order emerged, from among the Pashtun (Pathan) tribes in the Himalaya Mountains, in Khurasan’s easternmost provinces , which we know today as Afghanistan. These regions were then part of the Mughal State, and for over 80 years, from 1560 to 1638, the Mughal Empire battled this mysterious secret society, which rapidly spread among Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes.
This Order, known to English literature as the Roshanites, called themselves the Rawshaniyya (or Roshaniyya) which literally means “The Illuminated.”
Who and What were the Roshaniyya, and what was their significance ?
An obscure, mostly self-taught, Sufi and preacher named Bayazid Ansari (1525-1581) began preaching a doctrine of enlightenment to Pashtun tribesmen. Who began to call him “Pir-i Rawshan”, (or Rokhan, or Roshan, depending on the dialect) which literally means “Elder of Light”, or “Illuminated Elder”. His growing detractors and opponents labeled him Pir-i Tarik (The Dark Elder) ( 1).
His sect, or cult, originated in Kabul and spread to areas of Kashmir. Known works of his includes the books, “Khayr al-Bayan”, “Maksud al- Muminin”, “Surat-i Tawhid”, “Fakhr”, “Hal-Nama” and a few more. Khair al-Bayan is now lost to historians, but a few pages survive, in Pashtu, Persian, and Arabic. It was his autobiography and exposition of his mystic philosophy. These books were all rigorously opposed by the area’s Hanafi, Sunni Scholars and clergy.
What survives of his theology and doctrine is thoroughly heretical by Sunni Muslim standards, some suggest that there was some influence of Ismaili (Assassin) esoteric doctrine. Some of Ansari’s doctrines resembled Ismaili speculations in vogue in Kandahar, but there appears to be no direct link between the Ismailis and the Roshaniyya.
Little direct is known, however Order initiates undertook an oath severing all personal allegiance except to the Roshanite Order. The initiate agreed to bind himself to silence and unshaken loyalty concerning the Order, and to regard all of humanity unable to identify themselves by their secret sign to be their lawful prey.
And what was this secret sign ? Reportedly a Roshanite has to pass a hand over his forehead, with his palm inward. The countersign given was to hold the ear with the fingers, and support the elbow in one’s other cupped hand.
One major teaching of the group was that there was no after-life of the kind generally believed in by orthodox Muslims. There was no Heaven nor Hell, no post mortem reward, punishment, or resurrection. Rather the spirit existed in some sort of state of an utterly different order from earthly life. Those spirits who belonged to this illuminated order could enjoy themselves, and even possess earthly powers, acting through the still living earthly members of the order. Indeed a spirit could, if an initiate, continue to be very powerful in this world after death.
Members were taught to gain power, sever all allegiances outside of the Order itself, and prey on those who could not identify themselves by the covert signs of the Order.
Idries Shah (though somewhat of a problematic source) was the first English language writers to not only seriously treat this now obscure cult, but to suggest that the Rawshaniyya may have had links with prototypes of the Order that later emerged in 18th century European History as the above mentioned Illuminati of Bavaria.
The late William Cooper in his “Behold a Pale Horse” touches this theme lightly, from Idries Shah, who also points out that an earlier group preceding the Illuminati, Spain’s Alumbrados (well known to students of speculative esoterica) also shared some similarities. Some speculate that the seeds of Weishaupt’s Illuminati may have been inspired by this distant sect in the high Himalayas, or at least have been influenced, in part, by them. Some would go as far as to suggest that the same individual was behind all three. Reliable documentary evidence for this is almost non-existent, but there is a clear pattern that these orders all followed.
In many ways the movement itself, in a sense, represented a flowering of Pashtun nationalism. While the Pashtun Afghans inhabited the region for thousands of years, they were but one of many related Indo-Aryan nations and ethnic groups in Khorasan. They had no real literature in their language, and possessed only an inchoate sense of national status. The writings of Ansari were deliberately put in Pashtu, and not Persian (Dari).
These teachings were presented in highly persuasive and powerful poetic verse, and without a doubt were the first real examples of modern Pashtu literature. Shaykh Ansari’s writings influenced even the style of the polemics of his bitterest enemies, his own opponents were forced to write in his mode in their polemics against him, and he influenced such seminal literary figures as Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1689), who helped ignite a seventeenth century revival and renaissance in Pashtu letters.
Pashtu prose and poetry not only flowered due to Ansari’s movement, but his writings formally introduced themes of esoteric mysticism into Pashtu literature. Ansari even devised the very alphabet of the Pashtu language.
The Founder’s Background
Obviously Ansari was no mere village mad mystic. Rather he was a man possessed of tremendous charm, organizational capacity, literary and persuasive talent. If more than just fragments of his writings still survived, perhaps we would know more about this enigmatic figure.
What we do know is that Bayezid Ansari claimed to be the son of a poor Mullah and Sufi. Growing up in humble backgrounds, he himself was not a Pashtun, yet his family was linked to a Pashtun tribe.
The surname Ansari can denote possible lineage from one of the Ansar, the saintly helpers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace upon him) who assisted him in escaping the oppression of Mecca’s pagan overlords, 1400 years ago. Bayezid Ansari himself claimed that, as a reward for this service, Ansari’s ancestors were granted initiation into the mysteries of the secret inner training propagated by Prophet Abraham to Ishmael, dating from the rebuilding of the ancient temple of Mecca, the Kaaba.
Bayezid Ansari claims to have grown up as a neglected and abused child. His father seems to have had a cruel edge to him, and as Ansari grew older he became introspective, and his interests turned to matters of mystical speculation. Though he was never formally initiated into a Sufi Lodge, Ansari began subjecting himself to types of mystical training and exercises. He claimed to have obtained, thereby, some degree of illumination. It is not known from where he learned these exercises, what literature influenced him, or indeed if he was simply making the whole matter up.
Bayezid grew into adulthood, and opened up a small school in the region slightly north of modern day Peshawar (now in modern Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province). Therein he carefully trained a small group of aspirants convinced in his authority. This group were taught the various “supernatural” and “mystical” sciences Ansari claimed to have acquired in his meditations. Be also began teaching a heterodox doctrine He taught that the Supreme Being, Allah, desired the creation of a new class of Illuminated Men and Women to govern the world. Such aspirants would be placed in a carefully supervised vigil of seclusion and quiet meditation, known as Khilwat. These now “illuminated” students would then be sent to turn their loved ones and patrons onto this new system.
This worked quite well, and soon Ansari was lavishly provided for by wealthy Pashtun merchants and tribal lords. His fortunes steadily increased.
Soon Ansari’s Order began to stockpile arms. This alarmed local Sufis and Mullahs, who noted with growing unease the order’s growing power and potential.
Soon thereafter, violent skirmishes erupted between uneasy locals and Ansari’s Order.
The activities of this “Dark Elder”, as his enemies called Ansari, ignited a war of words and a battle of books between Herat to Delhi itself. Debates, polemics, books, and counter-arguing books poured out defending the order, and condemning the order. A Pashtun Shaykh, Akhund Darwaza (Darweza) became Ansari’s chief opponent after a number of public discussions with him.
Shaykh Darwaza authored a book, Makhzanul Islam (the treasure of Islam), which summed up his positions and his critique of Ansari. For a time, their respective followers continued a battle of words, each side in turn (ironically) further enriching Pashtu as a language of philosophical and religious discourse. Since Pashtu was never used as a vehicle of philosophical and religious speculation, this war of words all but defined the language in its modern form. Ansari, in particular, played a role similar to that of Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Dante in codifying the modern language.
By strategic adoption of particular Pashtun tribal elders, and maintaining himself outside of the Pashtun tribal system, which made him independent of any single tribe’s patronage, Ansari was able to mold together a collective identity greater than the individual tribal level. In his genius he molded, for the first time, in the minds of these rustic, belligerent mountain Pashtuns, a sense of a greater identity. Not just a feeling of greater collective Islamic identity, but also an elite sense of identity as a Rawshanite, and for the first time, a dawning of a more lucid identity as a Pashtun, as an Afghan.
In a sense, this made Ansari into a covert father of modern Afghanistan. This also made his Order, his movement, keen and focused. As a mere war of words and books, with occasional skirmishes by outliers, grew in pitch it became increasingly rigorously opposed by other Sufis and Sunni clergy outside of the region. This put Ansari and his order under the keen eye of Akbar’s Mughal government. The Mughals possessed partial surzanity over the areas of Afghanistan and Kashmir, and decided to formally confront the movement.
Several battles with the Mughal army were vigorously fought, and many of Ansari’s followers were executed. Since this was history’s first broad scale religious and political movement that managed to unite the divided and mutually feuding Pashtu speaking Afghan tribes of the region, The Rawshaniyya order lingered on, underground, for quite some time after official Mughal suppression, and continued to covertly profoundly affect Afghan culture.
Though they had no formal connection with the movement (we cannot rule out an informal, covert, connection) the Mughal Army also harshly repressed the area’s Ismailis, a large bulk of whom met their deaths in Kashmir during Mughal operations. Surviving Ismailis were forced to migrate into the Punjab, where they eventually re-emerged under the name of the Shamsi (this being a couple of centuries prior to the rise of the Agha Khan Ismaili movement during the British Raj).
As for Shaykh Darweza, his polemics with Ansari helped mold Pashtu as a language of orthodox religious discourse and speculation. Darweza was well connected to established elders and clergy, and himself was highly educated, well steeped in jurisprudence and scholarship as well as Sufi mysticism.
As an accomplished Dervish himself, Darweza was educated in the subtleties of language and allusions through which Islamic metaphysics was articulated. This gave Darweza an edge over Ansari with more literate and educated observers. His formal made him into a potent opponent of Ansari, who was mostly self-taught, self initiated into mysticism, and thus lacked a formal lineage of transmission from previous Sufi mystics ( though Ansari’s father himself was reportedly a minor Mullah and Sufi) While Ansari possessed some small degree of formal education, he was simply intellectually out-matched by Darweza.
It was Darweza’s own teacher, Mullah Zangi Pabini, who dubbed Ansari “Dark Elder” (Pir Tarik). Such wars of wits and words mattered in the social atmosphere of the time. Scholarship and literacy were highly respected and public debates and book readings were highly influential modes of conveying political and religious propaganda.
After the movement’s suppression, Shaykh Darweza continued to exert a great influence on Islam and Sufi Mysticism in Afghanistan. “Darwezi Baba” was further initiated into the Lodge s of Shaykh Hadrat Musir Ahmad, Shaykh Maulana Jamal al-Din Hindustani, and the famous mystic known in the area as Pir Baba, but whose real name was Sayyid ‘Ali Tirmidhi (Tirmizi) of the Chishtiyya order.
Assassins and Ismailites
Modern Ismaili scholars maintain that Ismaili missionaries had no relations with the Roshaniyya sect, though as we noted the Bayazid Ansari’s esoteric doctrines were marked by Ismaili influences. And as stated, during Mughal maneuvers many Kashmir’s Ismailis were killed. It bears noting that this fact, perhaps, points to a closer connection between the cult and the region’s Ismailis than many suggest. But their story does not concern us.
Back to Bavaria Oddly enough, twas but a bit over forty years after the death of the final leader of this Afghan Illuminati, that we note an odd and peculiar fact. The formation of a society, bearing the same name in translation (the Illuminated ones), in the German Kingdom of Bavaria. The group founded by a Jewish convert to, and later apostate from, Catholicism: Adam Weishaupt, a young professor of Canon Law at Ingolstadt University. Legends suggest that Weishaupt had a foreign teacher, who spent considerable tie in the middle east. Is it possible that this wandering teacher may have introduced Weishaupt to heterodox teachings of the Naziri Ismaili (Assassins), or similar covert revolutionary groups who once terrorized the Islamic world and were collectively known as “The Reds” (al-Khurramiyya)? Groups advocating destruction of established religion, a messianic reign of enlightened free thinkers, with free sex and open marriage, destruction of private property, the overthrow of established political authorities, all presided over by a hidden master or a group of hidden masters led by their “Imam”
Or perhaps, introduced to the ideas of the Roshaniyya of Afghanistan? Or a complex mix?
We shall never know, documentary evidence for any of this is scant and unreliable. There are a few Muslims who are of the opinion that Shaikh Ansari, and similar figures, are cut in the mold of a figure known in Islamic thought as “The Dajjal” – a wandering, long lived and nearly immortal figure sowing corruption wherever he goes.
At this point, however, we leave verifiable history, and enter into a realm where intuition, faith, and gnosis dictates.
Endnotes / Sources:
Fire in the Minds of Men, by James Billington
Literature in Swat Through Years. By: Fazal Rabbi Rahi http://www.swatvalley.com/swat/articles/litrature_in_swat.shtml
Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, by Terry Melanson
Secret Societies: a History, by Arkon Daraul
The Heritage Society’s Ismaili History Encyclopedia at http://www.ismaili.net/histoire – See entry for Imam NIZAR II.
The Legend Amir Hamza Shinwari (Baba) http://www.afghanan.net/biographies/hamzababa.htm
Akhund Darweza Baba is Shaykh Darwezai ibn Gada ibn Sa’di al-Chistii, born either in 1533 or 1549, depending on the authority quoted, and died in 1048/1638, in the reign of Mughal Shah Jahan Shah. An accomplished scholar of formal outward religious sciences and lore, as well as a powerful mystic, and a well accomplished poet in Pashtu and Persian, Shaykh Darwezas tomb lies in Hazarkhwani Graveyard, Peshawar, Pakistan, and may Allah be well pleased with him, may his Secret be sanctified. Amen. Halim Athar Afghani discusses Darweza in his work, Ruhani Rabita Au Ruhani Tarun, a Pashtu work, printed in Bajaur 1967 (2nd edition), pp. 512-513. It is worth stating that Darweza not only fought Ansari by the pen, but he was also a Mujahid, a man of the sword, this shows how seriously Darweza and other Afghani Sufis took Ansari’s influence. Darweza is the author of the following books; Tadhkirat al-Abrar wal-Ashrar (Persian), Irshad al-Talibin (Persian), Irshad al-Muridin (Persian), Makhzan al-Islam (Pushtu completed by his son ‘Abd al- Karim), Sharh Qasidah Amali (Persian) and Sharh Asma’al-Husna (Persian).
Akhund Darweza Baba left three sons: Akhund ‘Abd al-Karim, known also as Akhun Karim Dad, or Mian Karim Dad; Mian Painda Muhammad; Mian ‘Abd Allah, also called Mian Allah Dad.
The source for Shaykh Darweza’s (q.s) biographical details is:http://www.peshawar1.com/htmls/history/hazar1.html