Amir-i Kabir, Shah-i Hamadan Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani
By: Ejaz Husain Malek
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
The early period of the Shah Mir dynasty witnessed a steady arrival of quite a stream of Sayyids who immensely facilitated the propagation of Islam in Kashmir. However, in the history of Islam in Kashmir, the arrival of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani marked a watershed event. Sayyid Ali Hamadani popularly called in Kashmir as Amir-i Kabir, Shah-i Hamadan, Bani-e Islam, Bani-e Mussalmani and Ali-e Sani was born to Sayyid Shihabu’d-Din and Bibi Fatima of Hamadan in 1314 AD. He descended from the Alawi Sayyids of Hamadan, who claimed their descent from Ali. He is said to have travelled extensively, but his sojourn to Kashmir is considered one of the most important event of his life. He introduced Kubraviya Silsila in Kashmir, which was established by Najmu’d-Din Kubra (b. 1145). The Kubraviya Silsila achieved among other Sufi orders in Kashmir immense popularity both because of the personal charisma of Hamadani and the unreserved patronage of the Shahmir Sultans. His visit to Kashmir is related with the tyranny Timur (1335-1405) unleashed on Alawi Sayyids of Hamadan after his invasion of Persia. Mohibbul Hasan who describes the arrival of Hamadani to Kashmir with the invasion of Persia and Iraqi by Timur in 1383, who expelled from these lands powerful Alawi Sayyids for their association with the local political affairs, also endorses this view. However, contending the views of Hasan, Rafiqi argues that references from contemporary sources provide evidence contrary to the contention that Timur was hostile to the Sayyids or his extermination of Alawi Sayyids was responsible for the flight of Hamadani and his followers from their native place to Kashmir. In fact, it was the newly established Muslims rule in Kashmir that attracted and offered him immense possibilities for popularizing Islam.
When Sayyid Ali arrived in Kashmir, a large group of Sufis also accompanied him. All these Sufis were not associated only with the Alawi Sayyids of Hamadan; some of them belonged to other families. Also, long before Timur is said to have banished Alawi Sayyids from Hamadan, Sayyid Ali had dispatched two Alawi Sayyids, Taju’d-Din and Sayyid Hussain, to Kashmir during the reign of Sultan Shihabu’d-Din (r.1354-73) as an advance party to examine the possibilities of encouragement of Islam in those lands and report to him as soon as possible.
The communication of these Sayyids seems to have been heartening, prompting Sayyid Ali to proceed towards Kashmir where he arrived during the reign of Sultan Qutbu’d-Din (1373-89). The Sultan offered warm reception to the Sayyid who decided to make Alau’d-Din Pore in Srinagar, his residence.
There is no unanimity among the sources regarding the arrival and number of visits of Ali Hamadani to Kashmir. According to Pir Hassan, Sayyid Ali visited Kashmir thrice in 1373, 1379 and 1384. However, Hassan does not mention any details regarding activities of Sayyid Ali during his previous two visits. Tarikh-i Rashidi and Ain-i Akbari mention that Sayyid Ali visited Kashmir only once during the reign of Sultan Qutbu’d-Din. Tarikh-i Kashmir, the earliest source gives the date of his arrival in Kashmir as 1384-85. At the same time, he says that Shaikhu’l-Islam, Sayyid Muhammad Khawari, has versified a chronogram, which records the year of his arrivals in 1383-84. Since, Ali Hamadani passed away in 1385, therefore, the dates arrived at by Tarikh-i Kashmir are both confusing and incorrect. Baharistan-i Shahi in concurrence with Haider Malik Chadurah provide 1381 as the date of his visit. This coincides with the description of his elaborate missionary activities in Kashmir by other sources and his return from the valley in 1385.
After consolidating himself at Alau’d-din Pore, Sayyid Ali began to materialize his mission. Although contemporary sources highly exaggerate the missionary activities of Ali Hamadani, none has bothered to detail upon his methodology. Instead they take recourse to miracles in describing his proselytization of local masses. One anecdote, which is mentioned by all contemporary sources, attributes conversion of masses to Islam through a miracle performed by Sayyid. It had been conveyed to Sayyid Ali that a Hindu hermit who was living in a small monastery in Alau’d-Din Pore had a jin (a demon) under his control. He used to demand food from people, which he relished with his companions, and in case they failed to supply the sustenance, he would eat them one by one. Both Hindus and Muslims, who were still holding on to their old customs would follow the dictates of the hermit and in case of delay, the hermit would appear as a demon and kill them. Sayyid Ali along with his companions headed towards Alau’d-Din Pore. When the hermit came to know of Sayyid’s arrival in his locality, he realized that he would loose his influence over the people, who because of their false faith had held the hermit in high regard. The hermit came in Sayyid’s presence and requested a debate between them wherein he claimed to possess many spiritual powers like ascending the heavens, resurrecting the dead etc. Sayyid Ali demanded a demonstration of these powers; otherwise he would destroy his temple and his idols. Meanwhile, Sayyid Ali commanded the idols “to break” and the largest one broke into four pieces with a leaf inscribed with the Kalima that ‘there is no god but Allah’ emerging out of it. However, the hermit continued his disputation. The Sayyid asked him to demonstrate the power of ascending to heavens. So, the hermit started levitating and was out of sight. Thereupon, Sayyid requested one of his companions, Sayyid Muhammad Kabir Baihaqi to teach the hermit a lesson. Sayyid Kabir instead tossed up his shoes and ordered them to bring the hermit down by beating his head. The shoes performed the exact task. Thereupon, the hermit refrained from performing any of his powers and tearing up his thread, converted to Islam along with his followers at the hands of Sayyid Ali Hamadani. The temple in which the hermit resided was destroyed and transformed into a platform for offering daily prayers by Sayyid Ali. It is said that on that day more than 4000 people, young and old, men and women tore up their sacred threads and embraced Islam.
The conversion of the hermit who was a Brahman of the temple, Kali Mandir, was not a miracle. The Sufis missionary activities in no part involved miracles. In fact, Sufis out rightly viewed the possession of supernatural powers of yogis with dejection calling it istidraj (“conferring of benefits by Almighty on unyielding sinners”) Sayyid Ali might have entered into debate with the hermit so that when witnessed by the common people that the Brahman has no arguments to counter the Sayyid, his loss could well be translated into mass conversion of his followers. Thus he resorted to simple ways and methods to make people understand the superiority of his faith over their beliefs. The miracle is a concoction resorted to by the sources to exalt the status of Hamadani as a spiritual master much beyond the simple powers of a hermit. The miracles attributed to Hamadani, however, reflect that his arrival provided great impetus to the propagation of Islam in Kashmir. He brought into the fold of Islam large volume of people both in Shahr (Srinagar) and in hinterland. He not only had the reigning Sultan and the influential noble families like Magrays, Ganaies and Chandan as his followers, he now also had the Presiding Priest of the Kali Mandir, and his thousands of devotees as his dedicated adherents, who now glorified Islam. This however, in no measure means that he changed in brief period of time, the Hindu majority into Muslim Kashmir. The strong foundation he laid for the propagation of Islam by establishing mosques and assigning them Imams in every nook and corner of the valley helped his disciples in carrying forward his standard. Still a large volume of population including the men at the helm of affairs was non-Muslims. It was left to his son Mir Muhammad Hamadani, to proceed with the mission his father had initiated.
Sayyid Ali’s return from Kashmir says Baharistan was a result of Sultan Qutbu’d-Din’s non-responsive behaviour to his missionary zeal. The Sultan followed Hindu customs and practices and used to visit the temples every morning. Our sources say that it was out of political expediency since majority of the people and nobles at the helm of affairs were mushriks (idolaters), the Sultan in order to maintain peace and stability of his realm, and to keep them happy followed their customs and traditions. This conflict in their attitude regarding the non-Muslims created irreconcilable differences between them. Therefore, Sayyid Ali decided to leave Kashmir and proceed towards Mecca for performing Hajj. He died on his way at Pakhli in 1385 at the age of 73. He was laid to rest at Khuttalan.
According to a tradition among the Shi’ites of Kashmir, Sayyid Ali Hamadani (the founder of Kubrawiya Silsila in Kashmir) was a Shi’ite. His genealogy according to the treatise Khulasatul Manaqib of Nurud-Din Ja’far Badakhshi can be traced to Imam Ali through his son Imam al-Husain, Sayyid Ali being sixteenth in direct descent. Moreover, Nurullah Shushtari in his Majalis ul Muminin has included him in the list of Shi’ite Sufis on account of his poetic compositions extolling the virtues of Ali and his successors [Ahl-i bayt, the house of the Prophet]. Mohibbul Hasan who rightly argues that many Sunni writers had done the same has contested this view.
The presumed Shi’i identity gained currency during the sixteenth century when Shi’ism gained considerable following, and was receiving royal patronage from the ruling dynasty, the Chaks. The presumed Shi’i identity of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani and his son also emerged from the fact that they belonged to Shafi’i School whose followers professed devotion to Ahl-i bayt, in practice and in written word. Mir Syed Ali Hamadani’s treatise Muwaddatu’l Qurba, based on the verses of the Quran ardently advocates the love for Ahl al-bayt. Apart from discussing the Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet (hadith) in praise of Ahl i-bayt, Sayyid Ali emphasizes the role and importance of Ahl al-bayt in Islam. Interestingly, he refers only to those traditions (hadith), which were well accepted among different sects of Islam. In one of his quatrain (ruba’is) Sayyid Ali says: “If you do not love Ali, and the family of Fatima, do not expect the Prophet’s recommendation on the day of Judgment (Yaum al-Qiyama). You perform all the prayers prescribed in Islam, but if you don not love Ali, then nothing would be accepted by God.”
The Arba’in fi faza’il Amiru’l-mu’minin by Mir Syed Ali is a collection of Ahadith (Prophetic tradition) on Ali’s superiority over the Prophet’s companions. His Awrad fathiyya comprises touching invocations to God, repeating Divine names of Twelve Shi’i Imams rhythmically. The Awrad Khamsa by the Mir invokes love and devotion to Prophet Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussain , the Divine Five (Panjtan-i Pak). The recitation of Awrad-i Fathiyya, was revived by Mir Shams al-Din Iraqi, in the fifteenth century, with particular emphasis on its importance in the awareness it had created regarding Ahl-i bayt in the earlier history of Islam in Kashmir. Since, Iraqi found the tradition of Manaqibs absent in Kashmir, he resorted to the revival of practices, Ali Hamadani had introduced in Kashmir, which contained sufficient amount of Shi’ite content.
The recitation of Awrad-i fathiyya and Awrad-i Khamsa (Invocations of the Five) in the mosques of valley was strongly opposed by Sayyid Ahmad Kirmani-- an orthodox Sunni of the fifteenth century. Possibly he saw into the versions of the Awrad prevalent at that time the seeds of Shi’ism. Regarding Sayyid Kirmani’s disapproving approach towards recitation of Awrad-i fathiyya, Sayyid Ali, the author of Tarikh-i Kashmir observes: Sayyid Ahmad Kirmani was a renowned Sufi who followed Hanafite school of thought. When he came to Kashmir, he observed that after five daily prayers, people recited Awrad-i fathiyya. He started propaganda to preclude its recitation. Some time later, he decided to return to his native country and left Kashmir via Baramulla. On his way he made a night stay near Bunyar in Upalhak-Marg. After morning prayers while he was meditating, Amir Sayyid Ali appeared to him with a spear in his hand. Mir Sayyid Ali wanted to throw the spear towards Sayyid Ahmad, who without resisting, most humbly enquired the reason for such angst and disappointment. Sayyid Ali replied that his audacity to prohibit the recitation of Awrad-i fathiyya by the people of Kashmir was his worst fault. It was this practice, the Sayyid continued, which had immensely popularized Islam in Kashmir. Sayyid Ahmad Kirmani understood his transgression and immediately headed back to valley to revive the recitation of Awrad and exhorted people to recite it in the same manner as instructed by Amir Sayyid Ali.
The followers of Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who was a Shafi’i, never objected to the recitation of Awrad. Sayyid Kirmani, a Hanafite found recitation of Awrad and its content unfavorable for the propagation of Hanafite school, which lays more emphasis on the importance of Khulfa-i Rashideen (the four Caliphs) than on Ahl-i bayt in the history of Islam. His opposition to the recitation of Awrad-i fathiyya was mainly responsible for his decision to return back to his native land, since people considered their prayers incomplete with reciting Awrad. However, his endorsing the Awrad provided him enough space to thrive in Kashmir, because now he was considered a follower of Shah-i Hamadan, rather than his nemesis. The fourteenth and fifteenth century Kubrawiya Sufis subscribed to Shafi’i School of thought, their devotion to Ali and Ahl al-bayt had made them sympathetic to Shi’ism. From among the sects of Sunnis, the sect of Shafi’i is closest to the fundamentals of Isna Asharis. Muhammad bin Idris, the founder of Shafi’i sect bore personal allegiance to Ali and his House. Apart from the encomia for Hussain and the Martyrs of Karbala, he has composed many elegies as well. The Shafi’is like the Twelver Shi’ites believe in ghaibat-e Sahib-e Zaman (Occultation of Mehdi) and his return raj’at.
Syeda Ashraf who has extensively analyzed many aspects of Sayyid Ali’s religious thought, contradicts the opinion that associate the writings and preaching’s of Hamadani with him being a Shi’ite. She observes that Sayyid Ali was a magnanimous personality whose thoughts transcend the partisanships of religious sectarianism. He cultivated wholehearted reverence for the Sufi saints (Aulia) and had unfathomable devotion towards the family of the Prophet. He regarded the Ahl-i bayt as glowing sun and Suhabah (companions of the Prophet) as shining stars. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani belonged to Kubravi order of Sufis and practiced Shafi’i School of thought , a learned man of high intellectual standard, aware of the consequences of sectarianism, he took recourse to non-sectarian path in guiding people towards Islam in Kashmir, since his predecessor Sayyid Sharfu’d-Din Bulbul Shah, the founder of Suhravardi Silsila and the first Sufi to arrive in Kashmir, preached Islam in accordance with Hanafite doctrine. Thus, Sayyid Ali’s non-sectarian approach not only provided Islam with ample space for consolidation, it also worked in preventing fissures in its very formative phase, thereby keeping its chief protagonists united.
Sayyid Ali Hamadani’s Chain of Spiritual Authority
Sayyid Ali Hamadani
Nuru’d-Din Abdu’r Rahman Isfara’ini
Abu Bakr Nassaj
Abu’l Qasim Gurragani
Abu Usman Maghribi
Abu Ali Katib
Ali b. Musa ar-Riza
Line of Twelver Imams from Ali ibn Abi Talib