A heavy price was paid by the indigenous people and culture with the advent of Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani who is ironically honoured as the “Apostle of Kashmir”.
“The protector of the realm of Spirituality, the holder of the position of guidance, the denizen of the hermitage where there is none but God, inmate of the cloister where one merges with the Supreme, monarch on the throne of immortality, the peer of ‘Ali, Amir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, God sanctify his soul, consecrated the land of Kashmir by planting on its soil his most august footsteps. [This event] enhanced the prestige of the inhabitants of this land to supreme heights.”
– Baharistan-i-Shahi (1)
This essay explores the arrival of the Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani to Kashmir.
Persia to Kashmir
There was an influx of Sufi Islamic missionaries into Kashmir from foreign lands during the reign of Sultan Shamasudin (1339-1342 CE). Royal patronage made Kashmir ripe for proselytizing. Giant leaps were made in the spreading of Islam with Syed Ali Hamadani’s arrival.
Bestowed with mystical powers, the Syeds of Perisa are descendants of Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad. Escaping Taimur’s tyranny in Persia, Syed Ali Hamadani (Shah-e-Hamadan) fled to Kashmir in the 1370s and took refuge there along with his 700 followers. Some scholars claim that Taimur himself was a pious Muslim who revered Ali Hamadani, and the story of him fleeing Persia is false. According to them, it was pure religious zeal that made the Sufi travel to Kashmir three times (causing variation in years in this essay). Another reason attributed to the escape to Kashmir is the spread of plague in Persia.
The Sufi Mystic
The early ascetic Sufis interpreted jihad as an inner struggle experienced in detaching oneself from worldly temptations. Several gave up Islam entirely. The Sufis who came to Bharat in the medieval times were the ones who were a part of orthodox Islam. They concerned themselves with the inner path (tariqah), and the Ulemas with the outer law (Sharia). These Sufis encouraged the rulers to end murti puja, convert infidels, and enforce Sharia.
Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani belonged to the Kubraviya order. He went into long periods of isolation and led a simple life, earning his living by tailoring caps. He was a traveller, scholar, theologian, prolific poet, sociologist, reformer, and author. Dhakirat ul-Muluk and Zakhirat-ul Muluk (known as a work of tolerance and forbearance)(2) are his popular works.
The followers who accompanied him were distinguished intellectuals, artists, craftsmen, architects, and preachers. Sufi Hamadani is credited for bringing in rich arts and crafts and economic growth. His undeniably mammoth contributions were in the form of the revival of the shawl making industry, papier–mâché, stonework, Islamic architecture, prominent carpet industry, etc. Selective existing arts were enriched and new arts from Hamadan (Iran) introduced.
“Credit goes to Shah-e-Hamadan that he established a model Islamic Society wherever he went, particularly in Kashmir valley.” (3)
– S. M. Saeed
According to some scholars, his team was peaceful (4) in the way they spread Islam. 37000 People were converted. Apparently, Kashmir’s society then was ailing with social evils like the caste system, Sati, etc.
“Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani’s influence is a major factor behind changing the demographic character of Kashmir. Under his impact, Brahmanical influence declined and most castes embraced Islam.” (5)
The famous Khanqah-e-Maula was built in the memory of the Sufi.
Lalleshwari and Sufi Hamadani
Lalleshwari, a highly revered yogini, is known to have brought the profound philosophy of Shaivism to ordinary folks. Amongst many such fabrications, is an anecdote that says Lalleshwari ran towards a baker’s oven to cover her nudity as she had seen a “man” when she supposedly encountered Syed Hamadani and then she embraced Islam. Interestingly, the Persian chronicler Peer Ghulam Hassan makes no mention of a meeting between Lalleshwari and the Sufi. Lalleshwari died around the time Syed Hamadani visited. (6)
The Saint’s Influence on Sultans
While the Sufi never involved himself directly in politics or the use of the sword, he exercised a powerful influence on the Sultans, directing them to follow orthodox Islam. We will now observe the impact of the same.
Sultan Qutub-ud-Din (1373-1389 CE)
The Sufi gifted his book Zakhirat-ul-Mulk to him. In addition to noble ideas, this discourse on political ethics and government rules also described the 21 most demeaning conditions that are recommended to be enforced upon non-Muslim subjects by Muslim rulers.
“The first thing the Sufi Saint did was to build his khanqah on the site of ‘a small temple which was demolished…’ (7). Before his coming to Kashmir, the reigning Sultan Qutbud-Din paid little attention to enforcing religious laws. Muslims at all levels of society, including the Qazis and theologians of those days paid scant attention to things permitted or prohibited in Islam. The Muslim rulers, theologians, and commoners had tolerantly and comfortably submerged themselves in Hindu tradition.(8) Horrified by the un-Islamic practices of Kashmiri Muslims, Sayyid Hamdani forbade this laxity and tried to revive orthodoxy.
Sultan Qutbud-Din tried to adopt the orthodox way of Islam in his personal life but ‘failed to propagate Islam in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of Amir Sayyid Ali Hamdani.’ Reluctant to live in a land dominated by the infidel culture, customs, and religion, the Sufi saint left Kashmir in protest. Later on, his son Amir Sayyid Muhammad, another great Sufi saint of Kashmir, came during the reign of Sikandar the idol breaker.
The partnership of holy Sayyid Muhammad and Sikandar the Iconoclast succeeded in wiping out idolatry from Kashmir as discussed above. And ‘the credit of wiping out the vestiges of infidelity and heresy from the mirror of the conscience of the dwellers of these lands,’ goes to the holy Sufi saint Sayyid Muhammad, notes Baharistan-i-Shahi.” (9)
Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413 CE)
Syed Ali Hamadani’s political thoughts clearly held that rulers should prohibit all acts contrary to the Sharia and award harsh punishments, even by the use of the sword for such transgressions. Sultan Sikandar attempted to establish Sharia with the help of Syed Ali Hamadani’s son, Sufi Mir Mohammad (Amir Sayyid Muhammad) and Saif-ud-Din (a newly converted Brahmin). (10) An Islamic mission was launched.
M.A.Khan describes it:
“Sikandar, records Ferishtah, issued an order ‘proscribing the residence of any other than Mahomedans in Kashmeer, and he required that no man should wear the mark on his forehead (as worn by Hindus) … Lastly, he insisted on all golden and silver images (idols) being broken and melted down, and the metal coined into money. Many of the bramins (Brahmins), rather than abandon their religion or their country, poisoned themselves; some emigrated from their native homes, while a few escaped the evil of banishment by becoming Mahomedans. After the emigration of the bramins, Sikundur (Sikandar) ordered all the temples in Kashmeer to be thrown down… Having broken all the images in Kashmeer, he acquired the title of the Iconoclast (Butshikan), Destroyer of Idols.’ (11)
According to learned Ferishtah (d. 1614), this was the greatest deed of Sultan Sikandar. Succeeding the Iconoclast, his son Ameer Khan (or Ally Shah)—guided by his father’s fanatic prime minister—continued the butchery of remaining Hindus. They persecuted the few brahmins who still remained firm in their religion; and by putting all to death, who refused to embrace Mahomedism. He drove those who still lingered in Kashmeer entirely out of that kingdom,’ adds Ferishtah. (12) Later on, in the reigns of Malik Raina and Kaji Chak, the Hindus were converted to Islam by the sword, often accompanied by their mass slaughter. These historical records should leave one in no doubt about the measures that were instrumental in converting the masses of Indian infidels to Islam.”
It was as an orgy of cruelty, violence and terror let loose on the hapless Brahmins (13). Hindu festivals and music were banned. Jaziya was levied and an institute called Sheikh-o-Islam was made to ensure that Islam is followed strictly. Hindu literature was thrown into the Dal lake or buried. Hindus were given a choice between converting or getting killed. Many ran away or committed suicide. Several escaping Hindus were caught and thrown down from cliffs. 37 Kilos of janeus from killed bodies were burnt. Kashmiri Pandits numbering over one lakh were drowned in the Lake and were burned at a spot in the vicinity of Rainawari in Srinagar. It is known as Bhatta Mazar (the graveyard of Kashmiri Pandits). (14) Hindu women were raped and sold. Avoiding brutalities, many committed suicide by jumping into rivers or wells. (15)
Grand ancient mandirs and viharas, and murtis of the finest possible workmanship were destroyed. The riches were used to build mosques and khanqahs. Vijiveshvara khanqah at Bijbihara was built with the loot of Vijivehswara mandir. Several attempts were made to demolish the Martand mandir. Mandirs and stupas at Pandrethan were destroyed. The foundation of the Jamia Masjid on Tarapida mandir (sacred to Shaivites and Buddhists) was built with materials of demolished temples, including mandirs of Tripureshwara, Chakradhara, Sureshwara, Aawntipur, Paraspur. Detailed records are given by the ASI (16) and Jonaraja, a Kashmiri historian (15th century).
These atrocities resulted in the first tragic exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir.
Was it really peaceful, spiritual and tolerant?
A critical view
The influence of the Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani played a major role in changing the demographic character of Kashmir.
Zealous efforts were made to erase the indigenous ancient heritage of fine arts, literature, sciences, architecture etc. Can this immense damage be swept under the carpet, just because Persian arts/architecture were introduced?
At the time of the Sufis’ arrival, there were 12000 murtikars. Since Islam does not approve of murtikari, it is believed that the Sufi provided them with an alternative profession of stonework (which already existed as seen on ruins of ancient temples). Does this imply that all murtikars happily converted to Islam or were Islamic rules and conversion forcefully imposed on them? Hence, leaving them with no choice but take on the alternative profession. The rampant iconoclasm anyway ended their legacy.
According to M.A. Khan’s research, there is no evidence to support the claim that the Sufis who came to Bharat converted non-Muslims through “peaceful” means, that too in large numbers. Such conversions, if any, were marginal. The role of Sufis saints of medieval times in Ajmer, Bengal, Bijapur, Delhi, or Kashmir was violent.
It is believed that the Sufi saint and his associates performed several extraordinary feats or karamaats which thrilled the Brahmins. The public display of siddhis, if that is what is implied, is seen abundantly in Hindu tradition and is viewed only as a stepping stone (often an obstacle) in spiritual pursuits. It sounds absurd that Brahmins who engaged in tark-vitark and svadhyaya would fall for these fantastical acts to such an extent that they would convert to Islam. Considering such tales of easy conversion, it is strange that there was an exodus of Brahmins from Kashmir.
Apparently, Sikandar banned Sati under influence of the Sufis. Being such a reformer, why does he allow indulgence in rapes and selling of Hindu women (which made many commit suicide)?
M.A.Khan writes that the medieval Islamic chroniclers have no references to the fact that the lower caste Hindus flocked to Islam to escape the oppression of higher castes. There might have been more conversion amongst poor lower caste Hindus since taxes like jaziya hit them the hardest. How come Buddhists converted to Islam considering Buddhism is egalitarian?
Ironically, the Kashmiri Muslim society has a peculiar caste system. For example, sheikhs, bakkarwals, and qandars are considered lower castes. There is an additional gulf between foreign “original” Muslims like Syeds (Aslees) and new converts. Oddly, most scholars still blame this on the original Hindu culture that was annihilated anyway. Maybe not sanctioned by Islam or the Sufi, but the ill is existent nevertheless and was not cured.
A heavy price was paid by the indigenous people and culture with the advent of Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani who is ironically honoured as the “Apostle of Kashmir”.
“The Valley of Kashmir is indebted to the great saint for cleaning it from idol worship and blessing it with the gift of Islam.” (17)
– Dr. Farooq Peer
References and footnotes:
- Pundit KN (1991) “A Chronicle of Medieval Kashmir, (Translation)”, Firma KLM Pvt Ltd, Calcutta, p. 74 (This authoritative seventeenth-century Persian chronicle, entitled Baharistan-i-Shahi, was written anonymously. It has been translated by Prof. KN Pundit under the title, A Chronicle of Medieval Kashmir.) p.33
- Dr.Behnamfar and Bakhshaee-zadeh, “Tolerance and Forbearance in Mir Syed Ali Hamadani’s Zakhirat-ul-Muluk”, Journal of Subcontinent Researches, Vol.4, No.11, Summer 2002, p.p 19-42
- S. M. Saeed, “Shah-e-Hamadan and Kashmir”, Shah-e-Hamadan Amir Kabir Sayyid AH Hamadani (A.H. 714-786), Proceedings of the Shah-e-Hamadan International Conference held on October 2-4, 1987 at Muzaffarabad, AJK on the occasion of 622nd Anniversary of Amir Kabir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Shah-e-Ham adan, (b. 714-d.786 A.H.), ed(s)., Dr.Agha Hussain Hamadani and Dr.Muham m ad Riaz, Institute of Kashmir Studies, Muzaffarabad, 1991, p.129.
- Jafar Badakhshi Nurud Din, “Khulasal al-Manaqib”, Oriental Research Deptt., p.17.
- Mehraj Din Dar,Dr.Nighat Basu, “Influence of Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani On Vocational Education In Kashmir”, IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 21,Issue 3,Ver.II (Mar. 2016) PP 38-46 e-ISSN: 2279-0837,p-ISSN:2279-0845. www.iosrjournals.org DOI: 10.9790/0837-2103023846 www.iosrjournals.org
- Edited by Dr.S.S.Toshkhani,“Lal Ded: The great Kashmiri Saint-poetess”, Kashmir Education, Culture and Science Society (Regd), S.B.Nangia A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, Delhi 2002, p.19
- Pundit KN, Op. Cit., p.36
- Ibid., p.35
- Ibid, p.37
- Some records mention the trio who unleashed terror were Syed Ali Hamadani, Sikandar and Suha Bhatta while other records say that Syed Ali Hamadani left, it was his son Syed Mir Mohammad who participated in the zealous mission. This is probably due to dispute in the dates of their visits to Kashmir. Regardless, the inspiration was drawn from Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani and his son too was a known Sufi saint.
- Ferishtah MQHS (1829) “History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India”, translated by John Briggs, D.K.Publishers Distributors (P) Ltd, New Delhi, Vol. IV (1997 imprint), p. 268
- Ibid, p. 269
- Hassan, Tarikh-i-Kashmir, A 17th century Persian chronicle.
- Prof.K.L.Bhan, “Paradise Lost – Seven Exoduses of Kashmiri Pandits,” Kashmiri News Network, First Edition, April 2003
- Prof. Mohan Lal Koul, “Kashmir: Past and Present – Unravelling the Mystique”, Kashmir News Network, First Edition, August 2002
- Annual Report, ASI, 1915-16,1918:56)
- Dr. Farooq Peer (Secretary J&K Board of School Education), “Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (RA) The Inventor of Islam in Kashmir”, The Kashmir Horizon, 2018
- Colonel Tej K. Tikoo (Ph.D.) –Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus (Revised Edition), Lancer Publishers & Distributors, Printed at Thomas Press, New Delhi, 2020, ISBN-10: 1-935501-34-8
- Meenakshi Jain, “Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History”, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2009, ISBN: 978-81-7305-619-2, ch. 3.
- M.A.Khan, “Islamic Jihad – A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery”, Felibri.com, USA, Free PDF
- Mohammad Umar Farooq, “Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadanis Dhakiratul Muluk – An annotation and translation”, Shah-i-Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, 2015
- Mohamad Ilham Shah, “Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani- Religious Activism and his impact on Kashmiri Society”, Centre for Shaikh-ul-Aalam Studues, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, Vol.4, No.2, Apr-Jun-2018
- Suraiya Gull, “Development of Kubraviya Sufi Order in Kashmir with Special Reference to Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani”, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, 1999
- Mohan Lal Koul, “Kashmir – Wail of A Valley, Atrocity and Terror”, Gyan Sagar Publications, Delhi, First published 1999
- Historian True Indology – Jamia Masjid reference in essay
- Meenakshi Jain, Lectures on Sati, Centre for Indic Studies
- John Baldock, (2004) “The Essence of Sufism”, Arcturus Publishing Limited, London, 2006, ISBN: 0-572-03052-5