Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti was born in 1141 and died in 1230 CE, also known as Gharib Nawaz , is the most famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order of South Asia. He was born in 536 A.H./1141 CE, in Sajistan, Khorasan (other accounts say Isfahan) in Persia. He was a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.
He was one of the most outstanding figures in the annals of Islamic mysticism and founder of the Chistiyya order in India.
Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti visited the seminaries of Samarkand and Bukhara and acquired religious learning at the feet of eminent scholars of his age. He visited nearly all the great centers of Muslim culture, and acquainted himself with almost every important trend in Muslim religious life in the Middle Ages. In 1220 he became the disciple of the Chishti Khawaja Uthman Harooni. They traveled the Middle East extensively together, including visits to Makkah and Medina.
Moinuddin Chishti turned towards India, reputedly after a dream in which the Holy Prophet told him to do so, and, after a brief stay at Lahore(there is a small shrine there for him at the dargah of Data Ganj Bakhsh) he reached Ajmer where he settled down. There he attracted a substantial following, acquiring a great deal of respect amongst the residents of the city. Today, hundreds of thousands of people, Muslims, Hindus and others, from the Indian sub-continent assemble to his tomb on the occasion of his urs (death anniversary). (here is a map of his travels: http://sufiajmer.org/images/travelmap.jpg)
He apparently never wrote down his teachings in the form of a book, nor did his immediate disciples do so. But he laid the foundations of the Chishtiyya order in Ajmer, India, where common people flocked to him in large numbers. His firm faith in Wahdat al-wujud (Unity of Being) provided the necessary ideological support to his mystic mission to bring about emotional integration of the people amongst whom he lived.
The central principles that became characteristics of the Chistiyya order are based on his many teachings and practices. They lay stress on renunciation of material goods; strict regime of self-discipline and personal prayer; participation in Sama as a legitimate means to spiritual transformation; reliance on either cultivation or unsolicited offerings as means of basic subsistence; independence from rulers and the state, including rejection of monetary and land grants; generosity to others, particularly, through sharing of food and wealth, and tolerance and respect for religious differences.
He, in other words, interpreted religion in terms of human service and exhorted his disciples “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality.” The highest form of devotion, according to him, was “to redress the misery of those in distress – to fulfill the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry.”
Khawaja Qutbuddin Baktiyar Kaki (d. 1235) and Hamiduddin Nagori (d. 1276) were Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti’s celebrated Khalifa or disciples who continued transmitting the teachings of their master through their disciples, leading to the widespread proliferation of the Chistiyya order in India.
Among Khawaja Qutbuddin Baktiyar’s prominent disciples was Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (d. 1265), whose dargah is at Pakpattan (Pakistan). And Fariduddin’s most famous disciple was Nizamuddin Awliya (d. 1325) popularly referred to as Mahboob-i-Ilahi (God’s beloved) whose dargah is located in old Delhi.
From Delhi, the disciples branched out to establish dargahs in several regions of South Asia, from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, and the Deccan in the south. But from all the network of Chishti dargahs Ajmer dargah took on the special distinction of being the ‘mother’ dargah of them all.