Kashmir Sufism

Md. Sadiq

1 March 2013

The atmosphere of hatred and religious bigotry in Kashmir has largely succeeded in eclipsing the state's age old culture of tolerance and communal coexistence. Worse, it has severely impacted Kashmir's core culture that is based on Sufism. The mystic Sufi sect of Islam has come under attack not just by changing social values and conflict but also by the challenge of rising Wahhabi brand of Islam. Should Sufism be snuffed out in Kashmir, it would mean the end of a historical culture and the end of a sacred order.

Birth of Sufism

"Under the Umayyad rule, when Muslim communities were rife with schisms, bloodshed, and fanaticism - a group of pious companions, such as Ahle Suffa, who used to sit on the benches (suffa) and were known for their ascetic life, decided to move out of this politicised atmosphere of the cities and go into rural areas to devote themselves to Allah and Islam. They were the early Sufis but they did not call themselves Sufis as yet. Among them are Hassan Al Basri, Rabia al Basri, Imam Jafar Al Sadik, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifa (May Allah be pleased with them all). They were also the theoreticians of the Traditional Islam, as Abu Hanifa mentioned above.

Some of the more remarkable qualities of these people included loving and humanitarian attitudes toward fellow human beings irrespective of race or religion, humility, living an ascetic life -- and spending most of their time in prayer, Zikr (reciting Qur'an, chanting the names of God), and contemplation. They also had a strong love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his illustrious family, companions and the saints among them. They learned higher spirituality from and gave their loyalty to a Sufi Sheikh (or Pir in Persian/Indian languages). Thus, unlike the city people who wore silk, they would wear coarse woolen (Arabicsuf) clothes. Soon, from this humble dress, they got their distinctive name, Sufi, and their meditative and contemplative practice, Tasawwuf in Arabic or Sufism in English." [Sufism an Antidote to Islamic Extremism, By Mahboob A Khan, 25 06 2012, New Age Islam, http://newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/sufism-an-antidote-to-islamic-extremism/d/7765]

"The Sufi path provides the light necessary to illuminate the dark corners of our souls and facilitates the journey within. This self-knowledge pierces through the outer coverings that limit our ordinary consciousness and makes one aware of his/her ultimate identity beyond the confines of time and space", according to author Sadia Dehlvi.

Kashmir Sufism

"The most dominant influence on the Kashmiri Muslims, in terms of their Kashmiriyat, is that of the Rishi order of Sufis. While the Sufi orders like the Suharwardi, Kubravi, Naqshbandi and Quadri, arrived in Kashmir from Persia, Central Asia, and Central and North India, the Rishi order evolved in the valley itself indigenously in the beginning of the fifteenth century. The Kashmir valley was already permeated with the traditions of Hindu ascetism and Buddhist renunciation. The term `Rishi' itself is clearly a derivation from Sanskrit and Indian traditions, though some Medieval Muslim scholars have tried to show that it is derived from the Persian word raish or rish meaning the feathers or wings of a bird", writes Sultan Shaheen in his article 'Kashmir: Where Sufis are Rishis and Rishis are Sufis!'

"The Kashmiri Muslim Rishi's ascetic and unworldly life thus bears a close resemblance to the lifestyle of the Hindu Rishis and Munis as well as Buddhist and Jain monks. Baba Dawood Khaki describes a Rishi as one who is an ascetic and leads a disciplined life different from those of other saints. He is free from all worldly pleasures. Baba Nasib calls them gracious to the pious and describes them as men of pure heart. Their presence has turned Kashmir into heaven, he says. Cutting themselves away from all worldly relationships, they neither marry nor bother themselves with a family life. Piety is their apparel(khirqa); their nights are devoted to worship and during the day they worship incessantly. Having abandoned all worldly desires, they have succeeded in controlling their carnal lusts."

Hindu-Muslim Coexistence

"We belong to the same parents.
Then why this difference?
Let Hindus and Muslims(together)
Worship God alone.
We came to this world like partners.
We should have shared our joys
and sorrows together."

Sheikh Nooruddin

Writer Yogesh Sikand has rightly pointed out that "the conflict in Kashmir is understood as being but the latest stage in over a thousand-year history of unceasing, relentless conflict between Hindus and Muslims, whose religious beliefs are said to be so different from, and so contradictory to, each other as to make constant strife between them inevitable. The existence of shared beliefs and values between Muslims and Hindus, and of multiple identities, is thus totally denied…Kashmir provides some of the clearest instances of shared religious identities, remnants of which are still to be found, in however attenuated forms, today. As numerous writers have noted, the Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits shared several customs and beliefs in common, and the numerous Sufi shrines that dot the Valley attracted Hindus as well as Muslims in large numbers. While Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims were undoubtedly aware of their differences, popular Sufism served to promote a common way of understanding the world. Belief in the powers of the Sufi saints and attendance at their shrines thus helped promote what could be called a 'dialogue of every-day life' between Muslims and Pandits. To the south, in Jammu, as in adjacent Punjab, Sufi saints had a large following among Hindus, Dalits, Muslims and Sikhs. Although this shared popular tradition was not powerful enough to completely erase differences between the different groups, it was crucial in the promotion of organic ties and relationships across community boundaries. The Sufi traditions of Jammu and Kashmir still play an important role in the lives of people in the region. These, and certain theological resources contained in both scripturalist Islam and more 'mainstream' forms of Hinduism, can play an important role in helping build bridges between people of different faiths."

Preserving Sufism

In the context of the Kashmir conflict and the rise of Wahhabi theology, preserving Sufism has become an important issue. Greater understanding of Sufism would help ease communal tensions, aid global understanding of diverse cultures and help bring peace to Kashmir

Further Reading:

Kashmir: Where Sufis are Rishis and Rishis are Sufis! By Sultan Shaheen in www.jammu-kashmir.com [http://www.jammu-kashmir.com/insights/insight990901.html]

Kashmiri Sufism: Theological Resources For Peace-Building, By Yoginder Sikand, 21 July, 2006, Countercurrents.org [http://www.countercurrents.org/kashmir-sikand210706.htm]

1 March 2013