The Chishti Order is one of the most ancient and most influential among the four orders of Sufism within the mystic branches of Islam. The Order was founded in a small town named Chisht, near Herat, about 930 CE and it is continuing with its own glory, till today. The famous and great classical Sufi author and philosopher, Khwaja Abu-Ishak Shami Chishti, or 'the Syrian', was the founder of the Chishti Order. Abu Ishak was born early in the tenth century and he was a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. The followers of Abu-Ishak are actually a branch of the Line of the Masters that became known as the Naqsh-bandi or 'the People of the Design', at a later period. Abu Ishak initiated, trained and deputized Khwaja Abu Ahmad Abdal to carry forward the Chishti Order and also spread the message of Sufism. The Chishtiyya or the Chishti community flourished as a regional mystical order, under the able leadership of Abu Ahmad's descendants.
Khwajah Muinud-din Chishti, a native of Sajistan, introduced the Chishti order in India. He reached Delhi in 1193 AD and shifted to Ajmer, which was a place of considerable political and religious importance. He was highly sympathetic and humane, his approach being a pantheistic one made a great impact on Hindus and he was able to attract a large number of followers. He was also responsible for initiating the custom of introducing and training disciples regardless of religious affiliations. The custom perfectly represented the tolerance and openness of the Chishti Order and it continued through Nizamuddin Auliya and Shaykh ul-Masha'ikh Kalimullah Jehanabadi. Apart from Moinuddin Chishti, some of the other famous and popular saints of the Chishti Order include the likes of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Shah Wali'ullah of Delhi, Fariduddin Ganjshakar of Pak Pattan, Hazrat Ashraf Jahangir Semnani of Kicchocha Sharif, Uttar Pradesh and Mohammed Badesha Qadri of Wadi.
The saints of Chishti Order were liberal in outlook and recognised that there were many paths to God. They insisted on following Shariatwas. It implies the necessity of conforming to a code of discipline and a system. Love of God and service to mankind were their most important principles. They were believers in pantheistic monism, the earliest exposition of which is to be found in the Upanishads. It was, therefore, no wonder that Hindus felt closer to this silsila (principle) and many of them became its followers. The life of abject poverty in which the saints of this order lived made a great impact on the Hindus whose religion held in high esteem all those who followed the path of renunciation.
Chishtis gave priority to social service over all other forms of devotion. They rendered help to the needy and alleviated the suffering of the distressed. Prayers, fasting, Haj or pilgrimage to Mecca were obligatory for every follower. Most of the Chishti saints lived in starvation and refused to accept any grants from the State. They were of the view that possession of any kind of private property is an obstacle to spiritual advancement.
Chishti saints are also famous for special kind of devotional songs, known as Sema or Qawwali, something that has made its own position in the history of Indian music, as well. The specialized methodologies of the Chishtis soon became crystalised into a simplified love for music; the emotional arousal produced by music being confused with 'spiritual experience.' The Sufi music that was enriched by the Chishti saints is still played in a major regions of contemporary India.
There are nine basic principles of the Chishti Order that describe the essence of the entire Order. These principles have made the Chishti Order more popular amongst the common people. The principles include 1) Obedience to sheikh and/or pir, 2) Renunciation of the material world, 3) Distance from worldly powers, 4) Sama (or musical assemblies), 5) Prayers and fasting, 6) Service to humanity, 7) Respect for other devotional traditions, 8) Dependence on the Creator and not the creation and 9) Disapproval of showing off miraculous feats.
The Chistiya Chain in South Asia is as follows: