Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Evolution of Two Distinct Sects of Islamic Sufism in the Valley

Iqbal describes the schism that distinguishes native Sufis from those who came from Persia

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 48, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numismatics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. He is employed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Influence of Sufi Thought on Kashmir Mindset

Apart from the local saints, who cultivated the Sufi traditions of this land, there was also another major group of Muslim missionaries who came from outside the valley, the state and the country. They began to arrive here from the beginning of 14th century AD. They were the Syeds, the descendants of the Holy Prophet (SAW). These were the noble people who adopted the mission of conversion. They not only practiced the true message of Islam in its finest spirits but also propagated it in the whole of valley. They were also Sufis and were associated with different schools of Islamic Sufism. They differed with the local Rishis in several ways while as the mission, at the core, remained similar- to spread Islam.

The local Sufis called Rishis were influenced by the local environment and traditions. The influence of Buddhism and Vaishavism was found in the dictates and practices of local Sufis, while as the Syed missionaries brought along them the social, cultural and other influences of Persia. They were strict to “Shariah”, the Islamic law as compared to the local missionaries and followed Persian culture in their teachings and practices instead of the Arabic one.

The introduction of Persian art, culture and languages is attributed to these Syed saints. They, like the local Sufis and saints, had no political ambitions or motivations and introduced the Khanqah system. Khanqah system was a practical way of teaching Sufic traditions and Persian arts and crafts besides the message of Islam.

These Syeds were also great saints and have shown miracles to the locals for bringing them closer towards the religion. So high were the spiritual strengths and aspects of these saints that the conversion process in the valley begain peacefully and kept going without any resistance or bloodshed. The valley people saw the people by their deeds and than paid a listening ear to them.

The shrines and sites associated with Syed saints are revered highly by the local people. The locals visit their respective tombs and seek spiritual and worldly aids by evoking their blessings. Their Urs (festivals) are also celebrated with full fervor and gaiety. “Khatutmai Muzumatt” (recitation of Wazif’s) and “Zikerwa-Azkar” (recitation of holy scripts) Mehfils are held at these shrines, during their festival days. Darood Khawani and Na'at Khawani mehfils (remembering the holy prophet) are also held at the Urs venues.

But unlike the local practices, beating of drums, dancing and playing of music like Sufi practices are not followed at the shrines of the Syed saints. The other practices and traditions arc the same which are followed at local Sufi shrines. The tombs of the Syed saints have also followed the similar architecture of local tombs. They adopted and introduced the Khanqah system in Kashmir.

It is nothing more than the building of Muslim mosques; the fundamental worship place for the Muslims. However, these mosques came to be known as Khanqahs because these sites were not only used for offering five time prayers but also served as basic Muslim institutions where people were invited and imparted the Muslim Sufi education and practices. The Sufis were also made to learn the various arts and crafts which these Syed saints had borrowed from Persian.

The Khanqahs proved instrumental in changing the socio-culture and economic life of the Kashmiri people. Syed may be remembered are the descendants of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). On the basis of their descent these people are considered as royal and their families are held in great esteem. The women of the Syed families too are held in high esteem and are known as royal mothers. Kashmiris usually call them “Bib Mauj”. One can also find many shrines and royal graveyards of Syed families, these are still held in high regard, I have seen such two royal graveyards one at Ammo Kulgam and another at Panchalthal-Sheikhpora in Anantnag district. Sayyid Bulbul Shah, Hamdan Mir Muhammad and Syed Hussain Samnani were few leading celebrated saints of this Islamic mission. Bulbul Shah Qalandar is the first Muslim saint who ensured a religious evolution in Kashmir by conquering the heart of its ruler as well as his subjects. A legend recorded in local traditions states that once the king of Kashmir1 called Richan who was a Buddhist declared that he would embrace the religion of the first man, whom he would meet first after coming out of his palace.

Next morning he came out of his palace and saw a saint offering Nimaz with full devotion, the king invited the saint to his palace and asked about his name and religion. The saint told him that his name was Bulbul Shah and his religion was Islam. He also told him about some of the miracles of Holy Prophet and his companions. The Buddhist king embraced Islam at the hands of the saint and adopted the new name of Sultan Sadr-ud-Din. The sultan is also recorded to have become the Mureed of Bulbul Shah, whose Khanqah is situated at Bulbul Lanker, Srinagar. Syed Taj-ud-Din was another Syed saint who arrived here during the period of sultan Shahab-ud-Din and lived at Shahab-ud-Din Pur. The sultan got impressed by his saintly character and became his Mureed. Traditions speak that it was due to the spiritual aids of the saint that Shahab-ud-Din made extensive conquests. He also built a Khanqah at Shahab-ud-Din Pora.

Syed Hassan Bahadur was son of Taj-ud-Din. He was also a great saint. It is said that he crossed over river Attack at several times while walking on the waters of the river. Syed Masood was another saint who lived during the times of Sultan Shahab-ud:Din. A legend states that once the son of Shahab-ud-Din named Mirza Hassan was very serious, all the Shah-e-Hakeems failed to cure him. The Sayyid was requested. He prayed in his favour and Hassan found his new life. Syed Hussain Samnani was a great Syed saint. He was the cousin of Shah Hamdan who also arrived here during the period of Sultan Shahab-ud Din. There are many legends associated with this Syed. He is said to have ridden a rock which gave him lift to this destination, after crossing over through Pir Panchal. The Syed is learnt to have settled at Kulgam in South Kashmir on the left bank of river Vishu.

Another tradition related with the Syed is that once he was sitting under the shade of an apricot tree. He was encircled by his mureeds the later desired that the tree should bear fruit during this off season. They only wished, the tree grew fresh fruits. The saint also had controlled many heavy floods of the river vishu, and thus saved the lives and property of the people who lived close to its banks.

Syed Samnani's shrine is the most famous shrine in entire South Kashmir, where people from its areas visit this shrine for seeking spiritual blessings. About 2 km below is Amanoo village. There are also few shrines associated with Sufis. The most significant site is the royal graveyard, where the holy women of Syed Hussain Samnani have been laid to rest. This royal graveyard is located at Astanbhar and is fenced around by high walls.

A common tradition speaks that men can not gaze into this royal graveyard. If any one gazes, he would lose his eyesight. As earlier said Kashmiries have been holding Syeds both men and women in high regard. The practice still continues in many areas, where a Syed woman would be revered high and a non-Syed man would never think of marrying a Syed woman.

No doubt Samnani was a great Sufi, but the most prominent among Syed Sufi missionaries was Syed Ali Hamdani popularly known Shah-e-Hamdan. He is subscribed as the leader of Syed missionaries who arrived in Kashmir in early 14th Century AD. Sufis always were non-political and did not believe on political practices, they always refrain from taking any part in active politics. They believed in social reformation through spiritual and peaceful means.

Records reveal that these Sufis originally lived in Persia. Syed Ali Hamadani accompanied by seven hundred Syed saints left their country to escape the tyrannical rule of Timur. These saints found no land as peaceful as Kashmir, where Buddhist faith was dominant among its people. Syed Hamdani entered Kashmir along with his other associates during the period of Sultan Shahab-ud-Din. When Kashmiris came to know of their descent, they received them with great honour and respect. These Syeds spread to all the corners of the valley and main Sufi centre along with a Khanqah was raised at the present site of Khanqah-e-Moulah. The centre was used as the main centre where Syed Ali used to meet his Mureeds and advice them in matters of Sufi Islam. Syed Ali performed great miracles here. The most outstanding was that he made about forty thousand converts to Islam. He was followed by another great missionary called Mir Muhammad Hamdani. Although these Syed saints reached to the distant lands of Kashmir, all of them did not stay here: some of them like Syed Ali and Mir Muhammad while establishing several Khanqahs did not prefer to live here and went to other central Asian places . Their tombs are not located anywhere in Kashmir. Most of the Syed saints lived in villages and towns of Kashmir. The glorious tombs symbolizing the Kashmir Rishi order of architecture have been created over their graves at every place. Their days are also celebrated here with great fevor and gaiety.

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