Kashmir’s Sufis and Rishis


Book: Islam in Kashmir: A Study of Prominent Sufis and Rishis
Compiled & Edited by Prof. Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi
Publisher: Book Palace, Srinagar, Kashmir
Year of Publication: 2015
Pages: 384
Price: Rs 995

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

Spirituality has left an indelible mark on the soil of Kashmir valley. The wise words of the famous poet and historian Kalhana that “Kashmir can never be subdued by military might but only by spiritual force”, still upholds as gospel truth for the people of Kashmir because literalist, puritanical, rigid and exclusivist form and interpretation of no religion could take a firm root in the valley. The spiritual essence of each religion found the soil of Kashmir conducive for its survival and spread.

Islam was no exception to this norm. Hence, it spread in Kashmir through the selfless efforts of Sufis. Its spread wasn’t a result of fanatic zeal of some sword-wielding Muslim conqueror. The spread of Islam in Kashmir and the Islamisation process by Sufis has been deliberated, debated and discussed by various scholars, academics and writers, but the lesser-known aspects of various Sufi orders, role of Sufism in promoting pluralistic culture in Kashmir, Sufism as a channel of inter-faith dialogue are lessons which Kashmiri Sufism has for the world to make it a peaceful place to dwell. The serious, and sensitive academic studies of Kashmir Sufism have been rare and even neglected, but the present book under review tries to fill this void.

Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, who complied, edited and introduced this well-researched book depicting the lesser known aspects of Sufism, and its impact on various fields of life, letters and living of common people. The book is divided into twelve chapters, each lucidly written and well-researched, depicting a certain aspect of Sufi Islam, its impact and various dimensions. Most of the papers have been contributed by Prof. Rafiabadi, but some have been written by other scholars. Prof. Rafiabadi has noted that there is a historical confusion over the visits of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani to Kashmir. He has also clarified that performance of miracles was not a part of activities of a Sufi.

The influence of Islam resulted in development of a unique Rishi philosophy, which was an amalgamation of Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences. Sufism in Kashmir developed a unique, indigenous aspect known as Rishism, which then spread through the poetry of Shaikh Nooruddin Noorani and works of his successor rishis. Prof Rafiabadi deliberates on the reconciliation of Sufism with doctrinal Islam as the great work of Imam Ghazzali whom he regards himself as spiritual disciple. In the first chapter, the role of Sufis belonging to Suharwardi, Naqashbandi and Qadri orders has been elucidated, about whose life and working in Kashmir little academic work has been done. He also talks about the amalgamation of Sufism with other religious teachings and local culture, which gave birth to Rishism, whose greatest manifestation is evident in the personality of Shaikh Noorudin Noorani, but the causes of decline of Rishism aren’t discussed by the learned author.

The contribution of Syed Ali Hamadani to Kashmiri society is immense. He not only brought a social revolution by preaching the tenets of Islamic social justice, fraternity, love and Equality, but also wrote a political treatise Zakhiratul Maluk for guidance of kings about how to rule. He also ushered in an economic revolution by introducing new arts and crafts in Kashmir, which even today form the backbone of Kashmiri local industry, and because of which the valley is famed all over the world. Rafiabadi has well depicted these changes in “Syed Ali Hamadani-The Architect of Islamic Identity in Kashmir”.

The paper “The Life and Career of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani”, by Mehraj Dar lucidly explains the characteristics and travels of Sayyid Hamadani. Prof. Rafiabadi in another paper, “The Spiritual Legacy of Awrad i Fatihya of Syed Ali Hamdani”, that is recited daily after dawn prayers in most mosques of the valley. Dr Naseem Gul Dar has contributed a brief paper titled “Risaalah Zikriyyah Sagiyriyyah Arabiyyah of Sayyid Ali Hamdani”.

The next important article of Prof. Rafiabadi, “Sheikh Nooruddin-A Kashmiri Defender of Mansur Al Hallaj” tries to bring a reconciliation and depicts the impact of Mansur Al Hallaj on Shaikh Nooruddin’s poetry. “Nooruddin has made Mansur a symbolic character in his poetry and I think that Nooruddin is the only Muslim poet and mystic who has made Mansur a subject of his several deliberations and has given him representative status so far as the gnostic love is concerned” (P-148-149). Rafiabadi writes about Mansur’s visit to Kashmir and its impact on society and then discusses his influence on Sheikh ul Alam.

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar’s paper, “Sheikh ul Alam and his Sufi Perspective”, tries to distinguish between Rishi and Bhakti movements. He analyses the reasons for indifferent attitude of Kashmiris towards tawhidic essence. Zargar digresses from the topic when he begins to compare Awrad e Fathiyya with Sheikh ul Alam’s poetry. Zargar fails to bring out the conclusions about Sheikh ul Alam’s Sufi perspectives. Instead, he deals with history of Sufism and fundamentals of Islam.

In his “Poet: The Visionary Sheikh Noor U Din Wali” Abdul Rashid Afaque, who has the credit of translating Sheikh ul Alam’s poetry in English, writes. “The Sheikh was not only a Sufi-saint but also a religious reformer. Right from the first Shaloka up to the end, the reader does not find any trace of escapism in the poetry of the Sheikh. After his encounter with Mir Mohammad Hamadani, the Sheikh had worn off the robes of asceticism and become a sane Muslim, a firm believer and a vehement preacher of Islam” (P-215). Sheikh ul Alam stood against caste and use of religion as a tool of exploitation, but Afaque digresses from the theme when he writes about the six theories of knowledge, because the paper is in no way dealing with epistemology. In the last paper “The enduring Legacy of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani”, Prof. Rafiabdi critically analyses the recent scholarship on Shiekh ul Alam.   

The essence of syncretic culture of Sufism and Rishism runs throughout the book and it is an important addition to the lesser known aspects of an endangered and threatened culture which still is a distinguishing mark of Kashmiri identity. The author deserves our appreciation for bringing out this timely book, but its high price restricts access to it by common people. The printing is error-free and the cover attractive.

A study of this book dispels the myth about Sufis as parasites, non-contributing and aloof from worldly affairs. The Sufis contributed to diverse fields from poetry to politics, music to mysticism and sociology to spirituality. This book is a laudable contribution from an inhabitant of Pir Vare(Valley Of Saints) to understanding of different aspects of Islam and Sufism. It is indispensable for persons who want to know the relationship between Sufism, Islam and Kashmir.

M.H.A.Sikander is writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2016 on page no. 21

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