Day 12: Mausoleum of Al-Hakim al-Termizi

Al-Hakim al-Termizi riled the accepted Hadith and introduced radical new ideas about the attainment of divine light through self improvement and discovering the secret meaning in all things.  A steady stream of pilgrims still visit the tomb of the Sufi mystic scholar in old-Termez.

The Al-Hakim al-Termizi complex on the edge of old-Termez is a conglomerate of several structures built from the 11th to 15th centuries dedicated to the 9th century Sufi mystic, great early Islamic author, and most important representative of Central Asian Sufism, Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ali bin Hasan bin Bashir Al Hakim At-Termizi.  Born in the mid 8th century in Termez to an orthodox family and generally accepted to have lived to be at least 100 years old, Al-Hakim al-Termizi is considered by many to be the “father of Termez” despite the city having been founded at least a thousand years before his birth.  For his reputation as a scholar and his contributions to Islamic thinking and the Hadith, Al-Hakim al-Termizi is often referred to simply as “al-Hakim” the wise.

interior of the early 15th century dome built by grandson of Amir Timur, Khalil-Sultan

Al-Hakim made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at the age of 28 which made a profound impact on the young scholar.  When he returned to Termez he became a follower of Sufism, withdrawing from society, and took after his father by studying and debating the Hadith, the basis of Islamic religious law and moral guidance second only the Quran.  He went on to author as many as 400 works, including his 291 Hadith which are kept in his “unique Principles of Learning about RasulAllah – the Messenger of God”, an original copy of which is kept in the library of the Islamic Society of Uzbekistan at the Khast-Imam Complex in Tashkent.

Al-Hakim’s contributions to Sufism included ideas about the different states of the soul, and how through the attainment of knowledge individuals could reach a state of “divine light” which he argued is imprisoned in the hearts of all people.  Preaching a philosophy of self improvement, and how through suffering one can be purified from sin, al-Hakim’s debates of the accepted Hadith and ideas about the soul were at the time not universally appreciated.

the white marble tombstone sits within the original 11th century mausoleum, slightly raised above the ground level of the late 14th century Timurid expansion

Like many great thinkers throughout world history, his contributions to the faith put him in a dangerous position with local authorities and ruling theologians.  Perhaps his most controversial teachings were those which reduced the accepted Sharia law to “ordinary” knowledge, and that the only way to reach the divine light is through the understanding of the secret meaning or “divine essence” of all things, attainment of which is impossible through regular learning.  The riled authorities forced al-Hakim to flee first to Balkh, in Afghanistan, and then to Nishapur, in Iran, where al-Hakim gained many followers.

Al-Hakim’s legacy is his significant contribution to the mystical philosophy of Sufism.  Being forced to flee due to his radical ideas had the unintended consequence of spreading his teachings to a much wider audience across the Islamic world.  By the time of his eventual return to Termez he was already over 100 years old.  When al-Hakim died, he was buried near the old-city fortress, remains of which can be still be seen in the highly protected border zone behind the present mausoleum.  A small domed brick mausoleum was built in the 11th century, and expanded by Amir Timur in the 14th century.  The white marble tombstone that covers the burial place is actually a copy.  The original is kept in the museum adjacent to the complex, and is considered one of the finest examples of early 15th century Islamic art.

from this angle the largest dome with vaulted iwan can be seen behind the smaller 14th century mausoleum

Following the death of Amir Timur, his cocky grandson Khalil-Sultan made the largest addition to the complex during his brief six year reign, adding the large vaulted iwan and domed wing of the mausoleum to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims who still make the journey to Termez to this day.  Misguided “improvements” made to the complex in the early 21st century have mostly been undone by horrified preservationists, but the addition of air-conditioning and too-perfect plaster work in the 14th and 15th century wings of the mausoleum are hard not to notice.  While certainly appreciated by the imam who chants prayers for the steady stream of pilgrims, the mausoleum does have a certain “new-car” smell to it that seems decidedly out of place in the sacred tomb chamber of a 9th century Sufi mystic scholar.

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