Khanaqah: A Persian word. Place where the meal cloth is spread. Term for Sufi meetinghouse. Al-Maqrizi (d. 1461) wrote that khanaqahs first appeared in the tenth century and these buildings were ‘exclusively dedicated to the worship of God almighty,’ although other reports refer to their existence as early as the ninth century.

Some of the earliest recorded khanaqahs in Persia were established by Muhammad ibn Karram (d. 839), the founder of the Karrami sect, for his followers. Abu Said ibn Abil-Khayr (d. 1049) was the first to codify and record rules for Sufi novices in the khanaqah. Early classical Persian Sufi sources employ five different terms khanaqah,  ribatsumaatekke, and zawiyah practically interchangeably to denote the meetinghouse of the first Sufi fraternities. >

This article by was originally published in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, 2004.


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Dr. Leonard Lewisohn

A respected author, translator and lecturer in the area of Islamic studies and a specialist in Persian language and Sufi literature, the late Dr Lewisohn (1953 - 2018) was a Research Associate at the London Middle East Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and Associate Member of the Centre for Iranian Studies also at SOAS . Dr Lewisohn's works include Beyond Faith and Fidelity: the Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari (London, 1993), a critical edition of Divan-i Muhammad Shirin