Binding with a Perfect Sufi Master: Naqshbandī Defenses of Rābiṭa from the Late Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic

In: Die Welt des Islams


This article explores debates surrounding the controversial spiritual exercise of rābiṭa – the binding of the disciple with a Sufi master by envisioning the image of the master in different parts of the body. Despite being criticized as a non-Qurʾanic practice and as a form of idolatry, rābiṭa was made a ritual of prominence among the Khālidī-Naqshbandī suborder which took shape in early nineteenth-century Syria and spread throughout the late Ottoman Empire. Tracing defenses of the practice from Arabic sources in the early nineteenth century to Turkish language treatises in the twentieth century, I argue that the Sufi ādāb manual al-Bahja al-saniyya composed by Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh al-Khānī (1798-1862) established a repertoire of arguments that have been adopted and reused in Turkish language treatises until the present with little variation, revealing a remarkable continuity of apologetics over nearly two centuries. Additionally, the article considers the role of this ritual in defining the nature of master-disciple relationships and establishing hierarchies of Sufi devotion and obedience.