Kashmir’s First Preacher

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In this brief write-up, Dr Darakhshan Abdullah offers an idea about Islam’s emphasis on preaching while offering basic details about Kashmir’s first missionary preacher, Bulbul Shah

Bulbulshah Mosque. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Bulbulshah Mosque. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Islam ordains its followers the responsibility of the preaching of the faith and as such from the very advent of Islam by Prophet (PBUH) in Arabia, missionaries were deputed to spread the teachings of Islam in the four corners of the earth.

The social appeal of the religion of Islam suited the disturbed minds of the people and there is no wonder that the disintegrated tribal society was converted into the most powerful force and ventured to establish an empire surpassing even the Byzantine and Roman Empires.

There were many cumulative factors other than the missionary zeal and social appeal of the faith resulting in the fall of one country after other before the sceptre of Islam.

Nevertheless, it was always borne on the minds of the Muslims that the propagation of the faith among non-Muslims is an integral part of the duties of a true Muslim. Therefore, the knowledgeable personalities technically called the ulema either proceeded or followed the Muslim forces.

In the case of Kashmir, it was perfectly the legacy of this class that Islam was introduced and institutionalised in the fertile soil of Kashmir. However, this credit goes to the Ulema, Sufis and saints of Central Asia. They came individually and collectively while most of them settled down in the kingdom. Needless to say that the Arabs while conquering the Sindh and Mahmud of Ghazni failed to bring Kashmir under their sway.

It is a misnomer that the tiny kingdom of Kashmir was politically, culturally and socially an isolated mass of land. Being located on a very important link of Central Asia silk route, there was frequent movement of men and ideas between Kashmir and Central Asia. However, the social mobilisation from Central Asia towards northern India was further accelerated on account of tribal pressures, love of learning, commercial consideration end above all employment prospects.

Kashmir was the heartland of Buddhism for centuries and an abode of Shavemet. It also occupied the highest place in Hindu India as for as the learning and philosophy was concerned. But after the fall of Lohra dynasty, the socio-economic fibre of the kingdom was dampened beyond the capacity of repair and the political system was falling under its own weight. So the land and the people were looking forward to a new message.

Smallest and the oldest mosque in Srinagar's Aali Kadal. It is not open for prayers. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Smallest and the oldest mosque in Srinagar’s Aali Kadal. It is not open for prayers. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Thus the Central Asian missionaries could not find any conducive piece to propagate Islam other than Kashmir. Obviously, their arrival was welcomed and with a couple of centuries, the entire population was converted at the hands of the missionaries. They established Khanqahs in different parts of the Valley, where they acquainted the neophytes with the basic tenets of Islam and attracted them by their simplicity and piety. It is difficult to have a vivid account of their life and activities and as such our account is wanting in many respects.

In the twelfth century an account of a prominent person Sayyed Sharfu-din by name is found in many chroniclers. However, his popular name was Bulbul Shah. He hailed from Turkistan. Opinions are divergent with regard to his preceptor as some write that he was a direct disciple of Shihabud-in-Suhrawardi while others say that his spiritual teacher was Mulla Ahmad Allama. But these views are refuted on the ground that firstly there appears almost a gap of ninety-two years (632-725 AH) between Shihab-ud-Din and Bulbul Shah’s period. Therefore, the Shaikh does not appear to have guided Bulbul Shah.

Secondly, if Mulla Ahmad was the teacher, then Bulbul Shah would not have taken lead in the conversion of Rinchana in the presence of his spiritual guide (Mulla Ahmad) who would be thus relegated to the secondary position on such important occasion.

A modem scholar suggests that Mulla Ahmad was a lieutenant of Bulbul Shah. The most accepted view is that he was a disciple of Shah Niamat-Ullah Farsi, a descendant of Shahabu-Din-Suhraward, who belonged to Suhrawardi school of Sufis. Bulbul Shah in accordance with the directives of his teacher travelled extensively and reached Kashmir during the reign of Suhedava (1301-20 AD) with one thousand followers. Gifted with spiritual power and attainments of high moral standard, Bulbul Shah exercised great Influence on those people among whom he worked and lived and converted a number of people to the fold of Islam.

Fortunately, the conditions prevailing in Kashmir were also favourable to him as the Hindu rule was at the verge of its decline due to continuous intrigues and extravagance of its rulers, which resulted in the dilapidation of the resources of the country. In order to meet the expenses, heavy taxes were imposed. This heavy burden of over-taxation was ultimately passed on to the common man as the Brahmans and officials of the state were exempted. The net result of the scheme was an economic breakdown. The overexploitation of the social system has further deteriorated its fibre.

Ladakh prince Rinchana, who came to be known as Sadar-ud-Din, the first muslim ruler of Kashmir. He converted to Islam at the hand of Bulbul Shah. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Ladakh prince Rinchana, who came to be known as Sadar-ud-Din, the first muslim ruler of Kashmir. He converted to Islam at the hand of Bulbul Shah. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The observation of S W Lawrence with regard to the twelfth century Kashmir is befitting. He states, “Kashmir was a country of drunkards, gamblers” and where “women were no better than they should be”. Therefore, the Hindus, on the one hand, were fed up with the misrule of their kings and on the other hand, the ill-treatment meted out to them at the hands of Brahmans compelled them to come out of the existing social order in which their position was no better than cattle. Low caste Hindus were not allowed to recite the verses of sacred scriptures as it was only the privilege of the upper class, and if he was heard of doing so, his tongue was out off.

While on the other hand, the social appeal of Islam was a great force of attraction to them. The unity of God or equality of human beings provided them with an equal status before God with their co-religionist immaterial of their social status. They experienced satisfaction while standing by their master or a religious leader while offering prayers without any inhibition.

According to one tradition as many as ten thousand people embraced the creed of Bulbul Shah and the most important personality who was brought to the fold of Islam by him was Rinchan (a Ladakhi Buddhist). This singular achievement surpassed the records as this ultimately paved the way for the establishment of Muslim rule in Kashmir.

Different people have attributed different motives to Rinchana for accepting Islam. But it is certain that Rinchana embraced Islam at the hands of Bulbul Shah and adopted the name of Sadru-ud-Dln. The royal patronage which Islam secured, won for it many new converts as ancient and medieval history is full of explains when the subjects invariably followed the footsteps of their ruler who had undergone a religious conversion.

Rinchana after conversion, on the instigation of his preceptor, constructed a Khanqah on the bank of river Jehlum known as Bulbul Lankar, where he offered his congregation prayers five times a day. This was the first mosque ever to have been built in Kashmir. A Langer (free kitchen) was also attached to Khanqah for the maintenance of which Rinchana has assigned the revenues of few villages. Throughout the Sultanate period, the auspice turned to be the centre of the inmates. Bulbul Shah died in 727 /1326 AD and was buried in this Khanqah.

(The passages were excerpted from the author’s PhD thesis titled Religious Policy of the Sultans of Kashmir 1320-1586 AD.)

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