FARĪD, SHAIKH (569-664 AH/AD 1173-1265), Sūfī mystic and teacher, who is also known to be the first recorded poet in the Punjabi language. His father Shaikh Jamāluddīn Sulaimān whose family related, according to current tradition, to the rulers of Kābul by ties of blood, left his home in Central Asia during the period of Mongol incursions in the course of the twelfth century. Seeking safety and some place to settle in, he came into the Punjab where already under Ghaznavid rule several Muslim religious centres had developed and sizeable Muslim populations had grown, particularly in the areas now included in West Punjab (Pakistan).
To Shaikh Jamāluddīn Sulaimān was born in 569 AH/AD 1173 in the month of Ramadān a son, the future Shaikh Farīd. The newly born child is said to have been named after the Sūfī poet Farīduddīn Attār, author of several works on Sūfī philosophy. The child became famous by the first part of his name Farīd, which is Arabic for 'Unique'. He also acquired the appellation of Shakargañj or Gañj-i-Shakar (Treasury of Sugar) or Pīr-i- Shakarbār.
The place of his birth, close to Multān, was called Koṭhevāl. His father having died while he was still a child, his mother Qarsūm Bībī, an extremely pious lady, brought him up. He grew up to be a great saint, combining with holiness learning in all the sciences comprehended at that time under Islamic religious studies, such as canon law, jurisprudence and mystical philosophy.
About the appellation of Shakargañj popularly given him, it is related that in order to induce the child to say his prayers regularly, his mother used to place under his prayer mat small packet of shakar or country sugar which the child would get as a reward. Once, it is said, she forgot to provide the incentive. Such was the piety of the child and such the divine favour that a packet of shakar nevertheless appeared in the usual place. On discovery, this was attributed to a miracle, and hence the appellation Shakargañj. Another explanation given is that while undergoing in his youth extremely hard penance, he in a fainting state once looked around for something to break a three days' continuous fast. Not finding anything to assuage his hunger, he thrust a few stone pebbles into his mouth. By divine intervention, the stones turned into lumps of sugar. But this name may in reality be traceable to the blessing which he is recorded to have received from his spiritual preceptor, Khwājā Qutubuddīn Bakhtiyār Kākī, who praised the sweetness of his disposition and of his word, and remarked : "Thou shalt be sweet like sugar."
Shaikh Farīd is one of the founding-fathers of the famous Chishtī Sūfī order in India, which began its long course in the country towards the close of the twelfth century with the coming of the great saint Khwājā Mu'īnuddīn Chishtī. Khwājā Mu'īnuddīn came to India during the reign of Rāi Pithorā or Prithvīrāj Chauhān, the last Rājpūt king of Delhi, whose kingdom stretched to Ajmer and beyond. Shaikh Farīd became the disciple of Khwājā Qutubuddīn Bakhtiyār Kākī, himself a disciple of Khwājā Mu'īnuddīn Chishtī. He first met his future master at Multān and became deeply devoted to him. When the Khwājā was leaving Multān to resume his onward journey to Delhi, he adjured him to follow him to the city after completing his studies at Multān. Farīd continued his Sūfī practices under the guidance of the master he had adopted. This involved, in accordance with the tradition of the Chishtī order, rigorous penance and constant prayer, to subdue the flesh and acquire spiritual illumination. Included in this discipline was chillā-i-makūs, constant prayer with head hung downwards for forty days. Shaikh Farīd set up a centre of devotion at Hāṅsī, in present-day Haryāṇā, later shifting to Ajodhan, now Pāk Paṭṭan in Sāhīwāl district of Punjab (Pakistan). This was then a wild and arid area, with few of the comforts of life, and here he came in obedience to Khwājā Qutubuddīn's command : "Go thou and set up settlement in some wasteland." Ajodhan is close to the River Sutlej on its western side, on the banks of one of its tributary streams. The stream was served by a ferry called pattan. Later, in honour of Shaikh Farīd it came to be known as Pāk Paṭṭan (holy ferry). The place, now a fairly well-developed town, is till this day called by that name. It is recorded that Shaikh Farīd spent his entire life from his twenty-fourth year on at Ajodhan, where he made a reputation for himself by his pious and austere living and his many beneficent works. As related by his disciple, the famous Shaikh Nizāmuddīn Awlīyā, who visited him at least three times at Ajodhan, there was more often than not very little in his home to eat and the family and disciples would feel blessed if they could make a meal, on ḍelā, a wild sour-tasting berry growing on a leafless thorny bush. He maintained in the tradition of the Chishtī saints, a khānaqāh or hospice for itinerant Sūfīs and others, along with a prayer-house where strangers would be provided food and shelter and spiritual instruction. Here Shaikh Farīd also received visits from travelling scholars, other Sūfīs and dervishes and from large crowds seeking his blessing. Some miraculous stories are related of him which illustrate the great faith he inspired and the veneration in which the people held him.
That the Sūfīs brought the healing touch to the strife-torn religious scene in those times is evidenced by an incident which bears a deep symbolic character. Once someone brought a pair of scissors. Shaikh Farīd put it by and asked instead for a needle, saying : "I am come to join not to sever." Shaikh Farīd, whose influence spread far and wide, had, according to a report, twenty khalīfās or senior missionary disciples to preach his message in different parts of the country. Out of these, three were considered to be the principal ones. At the head was the famous Shaikh Nizāmuddīn Awlīyā of Delhi, followed by Shaikh Jamāluddīn of Hāṅsī and Shaikh 'Alāuddīn 'Alī Ahmad Sābir of Kaliyār, in Rājasthān.
The modern town of Farīdkoṭ, which is situated close to Baṭhiṇḍā and would in Shaikh Farīd's time be on the road leading out from Delhi and Hāṅsī towards Multān, is traditionally associated with his name. Ajodhan would be distant about a hundred miles from this place. A credible story connects the name of this place, Farīdkoṭ (Fort of Farīd), with the forced labour that this saint had to undergo there in the time of the local chief named Mokal, then building his fort. By a miracle Shaikh Farīd's sainthood was revealed and, on the inhabitants showing him reverence, he blessed the place.
The Gurū Granth Sāhib contains the spiritual and devotional compositions of certain saints besides the Gurūs. Prominent among these are Kabīr, Ravidās, Nāmdev and Farīd. The poetry of Shaikh Farīd, as preserved in the Gurū Granth Sāhib is deeply sensitive to the feeling of pity, the subtle attractiveness of sin, inevitable death and the waste of human life owing to man's indifference to God and goodness. His language is of an extraordinary power and sensitivity. The tragic waste of man's brief span of life in frivolous pursuits moves him to tender expression of pity and reproach. Withal he is deeply human and man's situation moves him to deep compassion such as would be in a man with eyes who saw a blind man standing on the edge of a precipice, about to take the fatal step into nothingness. The voice of human suffering finds in him an expression heard seldom and only in the greatest poetry. His language is the authentic idiom of the countryside of southwestern Punjab, where he spent the major portion of his life. Yet by a miracle of poetic creation this language has become in his hands full of subtle appeal, evoking tender emotions and stimulating the imagination.
The main theme of Shaikh Farīd's bāṇī is what in the Indian critical terminology would be called vairāgya, that is dispassion towards the world and its false attractions. In Sūfī terminology this is called taubā or turning away. The bāṇī of Farīd in the Gurū Granth Sāhib is slender in volume, but as poetry of spiritual experience it is creation of the highest order. It consists of four śabdas (hymns) and 112 ślokas (couplets) . Gurū Nānak, Gurū Amar Dās and Gurū Arjan have continued the theme of some of Farīd's couplets. These continuations appear in the body of Farīd's bāṇī. Gurū Nānak has left a śabda in measure Sūhī as a corrective to Farīd's beautiful lyric in the same measure, which, however, appeared to view the future of the human soul in a rather pessimistic light.
Certain recent writers, led by M.A. Macauliffe, have raised doubts as to Shaikh Farīd Shakargañj's authorship of the bāṇī, mainly on the score of its language which they think is too modern for his day. While in the course of oral transmission it may have at places taken on the colouring of subsequent periods, it is the authentic idiom of Multānī-Punjabi which that dialect retains to this day. The language argument against Farīd's authorship cannot be sustained. The Gurūs would not have given this bāṇī the place of honour they did, were they not convinced that it was composed by Shaikh Farīd Shakargañj, the most revered Muslim Sūfī of the Punjab. The high level of poetry, the sheer genius which has created it would make the claim of a lesser man than Shaikh Farīd to authorship insupportable. History does not know of any other man as famous as Farīd, the name used in the verses included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib