Khalwatiyyah is not to be understood in terms of distinctive doctrines emanating from the teachings of a founding figure. Its distinctive identity derives from the particular approach adopted by members of the order in pursuit of spiritual self-development. Practices characteristic of the order are: voluntary hunger, silence, vigil, seclusion, meditation, permanent ritual cleanliness, and complete devotion to one’s master. The shaikh (master) of the order is elected. The initiation ceremony undergone by the novitiate is particularly arduous. After prayers the shaikh will take the novitiate by the hand and whisper into his ear the first ‘word’ la ilaha illa ‘lla (no god but Allah), instructing him to repeat this 101, 151, or 301 times a day.
After this the novice goes into a retreat (known as a khalwa, hence the name khalwatiyyah). While in retreat he is expected to report to the shaikh the visions and dreams that he experiences, and it is by means of these that the shaikh gauges his progress and is able to determine when the novice has passed through the first stage. Once this has been achieved the novice breathes into his ear the second word Ya Allah (O Allah). Once again the novitiate goes into retreat and describes his dreams and visions to his master. Five further stages are undertaken, each of which are respectively associated with the following five ‘words’: Ya Huwa (O He), Ya Haqq (O Truth), Ya Hayy (O Living), Ya Qayyum (O Eternal), Ya Qahhar (O Subduer). These seven ‘words’ are associated with the seven spheres and seven lights, from which emanate the seven colours.
This whole process takes between six and twelve months, following which the novitiate is admitted as a full brother. It is the length of the course undertaken by the novitiate that principally distinguishes Khalwatiyyah from most other Sufi orders. In other orders the novitiate will normally spend between three and forty days in prayer, fasting, night vigils and retreat.
A ritual common to all Khalwatiyyah branches is the reading of Yashya al-Shirwani’s Wird al-Sattar; that is, a booklet containing prescribed prayers to be undertaken at set times and under set conditions.
The Khalwatiyyah order was founded in fourteenth century Persia and spread from there into Anatolia. It derives its name from the Arabic word khalwa which means solitary retreat, and is so-called because its members were accustomed to going into solitary retreats that lasted forty days. Its exact beginnings are uncertain. Traditionally it has traced its origins to certain, semi-mythical Persian, Kurdish or Turkish ascetics. It is generally believed that the order was founded by Yahya Shirwani (d. 1460) since it was under his leadership and that of his disciple, Umar Rushani (d. 1480), that the order became popular.
The order never had a single headquarters or main centre; it simply expanded into numerous branches and convents in Anatolia and parts of the Balkans. During the period of the Ottoman empire the head of each Khalwati branch was regarded as the successor of the original founder of the branch. From Khalwatiyyah two other Sufi orders emerged, Bayramiyyah and Jalwatiyyah. Along with other Sufi orders, Khalwatiyyah was suppressed in 1925 as a result of Kemal Ataturk’s policy of secularising the Turkish state.
The order has no distinctive symbol system.
There are no figures identifying the size of the order today. Small groups are believed to be still in existence in Kosova and Macedonia.
Main Centre The order has no headquarters or main centre.