Shams al-Din Iraqi: A Shia Missionary in Kashmir
By: Dr. Ejaz Husain Malek
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Shams al-Din Muhammad Iraqi was born in a village named Kundala in the vicinity of Solghan, to Darvish Ibrahim and Firuza Khatun some time around the year 1429-30 AD. His father was one among the dedicated disciples of the Qutb of the time, Imam Muhammad Nurbakhsh; his mother descended from a family of Sayyids originally from Qazvin. Iraqi’s biographer states that as a child, Iraqi occasionally accompanied his father on visiting the Imam (Nurbakhsh). These visits earned him Imam’s affection and care. He listened to his exhortations and sermons, and finally joined the circle of his disciples. His father, Dervish Ibrahim, was then of advanced age. For a long time, he had done penance, and remained in seclusion at the shrine of Nurbakhsh. For this reason, he had forbidden his son to leave his family and become a recluse. He told the Imam that owing to his physical infirmity and old age, he was unable to look after his family. Therefore he had entrusted it to the care of his worthy son. But if he decided to forsake his family and home, and become a recluse and live the life of celibacy, what would happen to the members of the family and its affairs? The Imam called Iraqi to his presence and said, “Muhammad, you should think of serving your father because service to parents means earning happiness in the hereafter. As long as your father is alive, look after his family. Penance and acquisition of religious knowledge come after that. Should I continue to live, I shall impart training to you. But if I be no more, my disciples and followers will impart knowledge and training to you.” Iraqi acquiesced to the command of the Imam and returned to his home, to the satisfaction of his father. Following this advice, Iraqi earnestly began discharging responsibilities of the household and dedicated himself to the family business and came to Nurbakhsh’s presence only for an occasional benediction.
After his father’s death, Iraqi was obliged to make a lengthy business trip to Syria and Egypt. It was during his stay at the Khanqah of Muhammad Samarqandhi in Cairo that he learned of Nurbakhsh’s death in 1464. The news caused him great distress, and he decided to leave immediately for his homeland in order to pay his respects at the master’s grave. Upon his arrival back home, he deposited all business matters in the hands of his brother and rushed to Solghan. At that point of time, the Nuriya hospice of the Imam had just been completed. The Imam’s holy body remains buried in it. After visiting Nurbakhsh’s grave, he decided to dedicate his life to the Nurbakhshi cause by attaching himself to Nurbakhsh’s students.
Kashmiri states that following this decision, Iraqi spent the next 19 years of his life travelling to various Khanqahs in Iran and Iraq, where Nurbakhsh’s disciples were spreading their master’s teachings. He consequently ascended the hierarchy of living Nurbakhshi masters by spending anywhere between two and six years with five different teachers before becoming attached to Qasim Faizbakhsh at his residence in Durusht. The total number of years spent in this quest is likely an exaggeration on Kashmiri’s part since that would mean that Iraqi spent no time with Qasim before arriving in Kashmir in 1484, exactly 19 years after Nurbakhsh’s death. The purpose of showing his passage through the threshold of various Shaikhs in the biography, however, is to establish his credentials as Nurbakhshi adept.
Iraqi’s first stop in this path was Shaikh Mahmud Bahri, who along with his brother Pir Hajji Bahrabadi belonged to the middle-level disciples of Nurbakhsh but was quite knowledgeable. Bahri has been Nurbakhsh’s personal attendant, and Iraqi stayed with him for two years to learn all that he could about spiritual attainment of Imam Nurbakhsh. Bahri’s death led Iraqi to his second preceptor, Husain Kawkabi, who was from the second generation of Nurbakhsh’s disciples. He was well versed in rational and transmitted sciences besides being a leading scholar of Arabic. Iraqi asserted, mentions Kashmiri, that the Imam had said a number of times that after him, Mulla Hussain Kawkabi had all pre-requisites to hold the wilayat. Kawkabi had distinguished himself as a teacher during Nurbakhsh’s lifetime and had served as the tutor in the religious sciences for the Nurbakhsh’s sons and daughters. In addition, he had translated parts of Nurbakhsh’s legal work al-Fiqh al-ahwat from Arabic into Persian for the benefit of those unable to read the original. Iraqi spent three years in the service of Maulana Husain Kawkabi, strictly following the religious practices and spent most of his time living in seclusion, meticulously observing the prayer schedule. Kawkabi death compelled Iraqi to move on to other Sufis of the Order to progress further on the path of learning.
Iraqi’s third teacher was Mahmud Sufli, who was among the forty Sufis guided by Bahrabadi in their spiritual sojourn and to whom he had issued certificates of competence (khat-e-irshad). Iraqi remained in Sufli’s hospice for two years, after which Sufli conveyed him to the presence of Burhan ad-Din Baghdadi, who was one of the accomplished and leading disciples of Nurbakhsh. He had established a Nurbakhshi Khanqah in Baghdad during Nurbakhsh’s lifetime. The enormity of his knowledge can be gauged from his works, which include Bahr’ul-Manaqib fi Faza’il-e Ali ibn Abi Talib. This treatise contains careful research on the qualities and merits of the Choicest of Jurisconsults (Ali). After a lengthy apprenticeship- six years-Baghdadi suggested Iraqi to proceed to Nurbakhsh’s most learned disciple, Shaikh Muhammad Lahiji Asiri, in Shiraz. Iraqi found Lahiji’s Khanqah-i Nuriya bustling with followers of the Nurbakhshi path; he was unable, however, to acquire a special place in Lahiji’s heart because of his outstanding spiritual qualities. Lahiji used to visit Qasim Faizbakhsh once or twice a year. He would make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Nurbakhsh in Solghan. During these visits he would entrust Iraqi with responsibilities including reception and guidance of the dervishes in the Khanqah in Shiraz. However, Iraqi expressed his desire to visit the shrine of the Nurbakhsh. He got an opportunity during Lahiji’s seventh visit to Shah Qasim and it was thus that he became a disciple of Qasim Faizbakhsh in Durusht, before his journey to Heart to join the court of Husain Bayqara.
Soon after joining Shah Qasim, Iraqi became a close companion to the Shaikh due to his devotion and mystical aptitude. His progress on the Nurbakhshi path was ratified through Qasim’s interpretation of one of his dreams. Before entering the service of Shah Qasim, Iraqi had a dream, which he narrated to Shah Qasim. “In the dream, said Iraqi, I found myself going along a path by the side of which many streams, rivulets and rivers were flowing. There was plenty of water. I made ablution and took a dip in the waters of each stream. But I did not feel satisfied and no ablution provided me consolation. At last, I came to a place where a big river was flowing. On its banks, I took off my clothes and plunged into its waters. I had a bath. This bath and this ablution gave me complete satisfaction.” Shah Qasim interpreted the dream in these words: “In the path of mystic attainments and penance, you have acquired knowledge and training from many spiritual guides. However, that did not bring you satisfaction. Now God willing you will find satisfaction and consolation in my service.” Qasim then gave Iraqi the epithet of Sham al-Din (sun of religion), due to his achievements in acquiring the goals of mystical exercises and appointed him the tutor in mysticism for his eldest son Shah Shams al-Din. In this capacity, Iraqi both provided guidance to the young heir-apparent of the Nurbakhshi family and prepared the followers of the Order to accept the young scion as a Sufi guide in his own right.
As long as Shah Qasim remained at Durusht, he would dispatch Iraqi to the followers and admirers of the Imam in different countries and regions. Zakat-money and other offerings would also be sent along with him. Besides, Shah Qasim would also send through him letters to the elders and notables of those lands. These letters generally carried the theme that Shams al-Din Iraqi was the choicest among the disciples and foremost among the crusaders and that they should make allegiance at his hand because that was tantamount to making allegiance to him (Shah Qasim).
When Husain Bayqara invited Shah Qasim to join his court, Iraqi also accompanied him to Herat. The Sultan exhibited generous hospitality and declared along with his queen Khadija formal allegiance to Shah Qasim. In Kashmiri’s description, Iraqi acted as the chief aide to the Shaikh during his stay, taking care of both family business and visitors. It was also now that Iraqi first became useful to Bayqara as an envoy sent to Ray to determine the truth about rumors that Yaqub Mirza, the ruler of Persian Iraq, was preparing an invasion of Bayqara’s domain in Khurasan. Bayqara had asked Qasim’s assistance in investigating the matter because of his association with the region, and Qasim in turn had chosen Iraqi as the most reliable person for the job. Iraqi indeed vindicated the Shaikh’s choice by travelling to Durusht in half the usual time (twenty five days) and, after determining that the rumor was false, returning at the same speed. The feat impressed Bayqara, resulting in rewards for Iraqi and further elevation of Qasim’s position in the court.
In Kashmiri’s account, Iraqi’s completion of his first mission in record time for Bayqara meant that the ruler again chose him when he decided to send an ambassador to Kashmir for the purpose of acquiring medicinal herbs. Bayqara was promised to do so by Qasim, who was acting as one of his physicians and had recently had considerable success in curing his debilitating ailments. Iraqi was initially reluctant to leave Qasim and take on the mission, but he eventually accepted on Qasim’s insistence and set off for Kashmir with a companion named Amir Dervish and letters and gifts intended for the region’s ruler. Iraqi’s mission to Kashmir was arranged on Qasim’s insistence. Kashmiri, however, gives another reason of this mission: “The cause of causes (God Almighty) had ordained that in the ‘proposed world’ (alam-e-ijab) the auspicious steps of Shams al-Din Iraqi would bring cure to the sick, and true guidance to the people steeped in ignorance and those who had gone astray from the right path. The dazzling rays of this sun (Shams) of true guidance would kindle the candles of truthful direction to remove the darkness of kufr (infidelity) and aberration. The visit became a source of spiritual guidance and discipline for the sinful and the heretical (people of Kashmir).”
Qasim held a precarious position in the Herat court due to opposition from powerful figures such as Alishir Nawa’i and Abd ar-Rahman Jami, and Iraqi’s true intended mission was, from the outset, probably to spread Nurbakhshi beliefs. Qasim and other Nurbakhshis may also have held hopes for an imminent success of Iraqi’s mission and have considered Kashmir to be a promising spot for a beginning.
Iraqi’s First visit to Kashmir as an Ambassador for Husain Bayqara (1484-1491) to the Court of Hasan Shah (1472-84)
At the time when Shams al-Din Iraqi took leave of his Pir Shah Qasim for his journey to Kashmir, Sultan Hasan Shah, son of Haider Shah, son of Zainu’l-Abidin reigned over Kashmir. Shah Qasim directed one of his disciples, Mir Dervish, to join the entourage of Iraqi to keep him company during his long and arduous journey. In order to reach Kashmir from Herat, Iraqi took the well-known road running through Qandahar and Multan. He arrived in Multan during a period of famine and acquired a name for himself due to his generosity in giving alms to the city’s beleaguered population. Poor people from adjoining areas flocked to his place and partook meals at his dastarkhwan. It was also at Multan that, at the age of fifty-five, Iraqi received and accepted the proposal of a Sayyid family in the city, who had migrated from Iraqi, to marry Bejeh Agha. He had spent his years in pursuit of knowledge and for performing social service. He then proceeded towards Kashmir through the territory of Ghakkars. There, he purchased Maulana Bayezid for the service of his family particularly Bejeh Agha. Thereafter, his entourage set off for Kashmir and reached the region some time in the year A. H. 888 (February 1483-January 1484). Nobles escorted Iraqi to the city (of Srinagar). He was received well by Sultan Hasan Shah on account of the ambassadorial title and the sumptuous gifts he had brought from Khurasan, though his biographer portrays him still disappointed over the lack of proper etiquette among the rulers and nobles of Kashmir. The reason was that the rulers of Kashmir had never been at war with other rulers. They had never heard about court manners and the norms of protocol. As such, they (the rulers of Kashmir) were ignorant about the protocol and the etiquette generally followed as mark of respect to the messages, letters and the gifts from royalties. The implication was that Kashmir was a step down from Herat in culture and civilization and that Iraqi saw himself as a teacher for the regions natives. Kashmiri says that, “it is because of the teachings and guidance of Iraqi that the sovereigns of Kashmir imbibed the culture of extending due regard and respect to the proclamations (farman) and letters from rulers of other countries.”
After Iraqi settled down in the hospice of Ahmad Yattu, Hasan Shah sent him some sustenance provisions including a hundred sheep. Iraqi distributed them among needy and destitute and those who had come to offer their obeisance to him. This generosity and munificence increased his fame and popularity among the common people. The number of visitors and guests began to swell day after day. This also expanded the circle of his acquaintances and associates. The general impression among the people was that he was the emissary and ambassador of the king of Khurasan. This they thought was the reason for his open-handedness and lofty disposition. To establish his position as a Sufi and spiritualist, Iraqi resorted to wajd-o-sama (dancing in ecstasy). Impressed by his spiritual powers, the Sultan Hasan out of curiosity once asked Iraqi to which order of Sufis he belonged. Iraqi replied, “My path is that of the exalted Order of Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh and I have made allegiance to the great spiritualist Shah Qasim Faizbakhsh. He has been staying in the capital city of Herat where he came from Iraq. He had dispatched me to Kashmir on the request of Sultan Husain Mirza. It was on his instructions that I proceeded to these lands. I have nothing to do with the service of Sultan Husain Mirza nor am I bound to him. I have no connections with any Sultan or king.”
For approximately the first year of his presence in Kashmir, Iraqi contented himself in the role of an outside ambassador. His residence during this period was the hospice of Ahmad Yattu, which, later as well, served as a guesthouse for other foreign dignitaries. Sultan Hasan fell ill three or four months after Iraqi’s arrival. When his illness prolonged, Iraqi’s associates and acquaintances requested him to address his inner self, and through his grace make a prediction. Iraqi is said to have predicted, based upon mystical prognostication (Istikhara), a rapid death. Hasan Shah’s son Muhammad Shah, then a child of seven, was now installed as the new ruler, and the kingdom fell into complete chaos for the next few years due to internecine fighting between various powerful families. Kashmiri and other historians state that this political instability, rampant quarrels and dissensions among nobles compelled Iraqi to prolong his stay in Kashmir for eight years, though it is difficult to see why the internal problems of the state should have lengthened, not shortened, a foreign ambassador’s stay. The prolongation of the visit was most likely connected to Iraqi’s true mission, the propagation of the Nurbakhshi cause.
Formation and Consolidation Shi’i-Nurbakhshi Order in Kashmir
The formation of the Nurbakhshi religious community and political faction in Kashmir is best understood through references about Shams al-Din Iraqi’s association with local rulers, nobles, and religious personalities. His stay in Kashmir coincided with a political conundrum in which Muhammad Shah and his father’s first cousin Fath Shah ascended and were deposed from the throne a number of times at short intervals. Muhammad Shah ascended the throne in 1484, a little after Iraqi’s arrival in 1482-83; Fath Shah was the king at the time of his departure around 1490-91; and the throne changed hands at least twice in the intervening eight years. One the whole, Iraqi seems to have had better relations with Fath Shah and his viziers than with Muhammad Shah. This is indicated, first, through his having been obliged to vacate the hospice of Ahmad Yattu about a year after his arrival, following complaints to the court by the caretakers of the hospice. As a result he shifted to a spacious structure in the vicinity of the Mazar-i Salatin where he stayed for about a year, during which his wife, Bejeh Agha, soon gave birth to his eldest daughter Bibi Agha in 1485.
In comparison with this fall from royal favor, Iraqi had cordial relations with Fath Shah, at least initially, as seen from stories about the patronage he received from Fath Shah’s vizier Malik Saif Dar. Kashmiri’s account for this period is concerned particularly with an antagonist named Shaykh Shihab al-Din Hindi, with whom Iraqi had three altercations in the context of Saif Dar’s court. This Shihab was a scholar and skilled debater who had arrived in Kashmir about the same time as Iraqi. His origins were in India, from wherefrom he had been exiled due to his hypocritical nature and involvement in court intrigues, and he was directed to go to the Hijaz. Shihab set off accompanied by his daughter, and in both Mecca and Medina noble families asked him for her hand, but he had determined (through an Istikhara) that she was destined to marry a king named Hasan who ruled in Kashmir. Based upon this sign from the hidden world, he had travelled back to India (acquiring an affiliation with the Qadiri Sufi order in Baghdad on the way) and sneaked into Kashmir via the Punjab without the Emperor at Delhi coming to know of his movement. Hasan Shah, after asking Shihab to rest a few months before, he said, he would marry the daughter, passed away before the event could materialize. As a consequence, the daughter was married to Jahangir Magre, vizier to Muhammad Shah, and Shihab had acquired a prominent position in the circle of scholars in Kashmir through this matrimonial alliance.
The rivalry between Iraqi and Shihab resulted from three points of conflict: they were partial to different political factions – (Fath Ali Shah and Saif Dar versus Muhammad Shah and Jahangir Magre); Iraqi was a Shi’i-Nurbakhshi, whereas Shihab was a Qadiri Sufi in a time of intense rivalry between Sufi orders through out the Islamic world; and while Iraqi disdained book learning as a low form of knowledge, Shihab prided himself on his scholarly accomplishments. The first unpleasantness between the two occurred when Shihab took offence at Iraqi’s negative remarks about Yezid b. Mu’awiya, the son of Hind (t’an-e-Yezid pisar-e-Hind) during a public discussion about resolving the political chaos that had engulfed the state following Hasan Shah’s death. The point of difference (which reflects an Alid versus Sunni bias) caused Shihab to insult Iraqi by addressing his son, Miyan Budehh, who was much younger, and sitting behind Iraqi in the assembly, in these words, “Dear son, you are a learned man and a scholar in your own right. Why do you choose to sit behind ordinary people? Stand up and take your seat at the top.“ Iraqi did not express his indignation at the moment, but he determined that the son would die in the near future due to the insolence he had committed at his father’s behest. The tragedy indeed came to pass, when Miyan Budehh was killed by his own brother, though Shihab refused to see it as a mark of Iraqi’s high spiritual status.
In the second instance of conflict took place in the Hamadaniyyeh hospice where Iraqi and Shihab were seated together at a banquet arranged by Saif Dar for the benefit of scholars and dignitaries. According to local custom, each guest was served with a large plate of food and that after himself partaking he sent to his household for his family. Iraqi partook few morsels from his platter to satisfy his appetite. The remaining dainties were distributed among his servants and attendants. Part of the feast was offered to the servants and attendants in the hospice. Shihab observed that Iraqi didn’t send anything to his home. He reproached Iraqi by stating that sending food home was decreed in the Quran. Iraqi disputed his claim that this was the correct meaning of the relevant verse and was vindicated when his interpretation was found to the one given in the famous commentary of al-Kashshaf. Before the book was brought to the company, other scholars present at the occasion had sided with Shihab because of his extensive learning and they were all surprised to see that a man with little or no familiarity with literary sources had turned out to be correct. In any case, when the book was presented and the verse examined, its interpretation went like this; “kulu va tamatu’u qaleelan inakum mujrimoon” meaning “eat and enjoy but in small quantity. Verily you are among the culprits.” Shihab wanted to detach the verse from its concluding part and distort the entire ayat so that he could argue that it supported his interpretation.
The third and last recorded encounter between Iraqi and Shihab was the most dramatic since it resulted in a physical violence that involved the two men themselves and their followers. The scene was again a gathering convened by Saif Dar, who had just regained his position as vizier and wanted to exact revenge from Shihab for having declared his son-in-law as Khalifa and Imam and thereby sanctioning the persecution of his followers through legal opinions in the period he was not in power. At the outset, Malik Saif Dar asked the Ulema to tell him what Islamic injunction has to say about a person who issues a decree of infidelity against Kalima-reciting Muslims and sheds their blood? When Iraqi’s turn came to speak at the occasion, he prefaced his remarks by referring to his teacher Qasim Faizbakhsh. Shihab grew incensed at this and remarked that Iraqi should refrain from repeatedly mentioning someone who was nothing more than an alchemist (Kimiyagar) and had wasted his life in seeking unattainable things. Iraqi has earlier warned Shihab about casting aspersions on the predecessors in his order and answered the insult by hitting the latter across the face. This act precipitated a general fight among those present, and Iraqi was saved grievous harm only when his supporters whisked him away from the venue.
A consideration of these three incidents provides us a picture of the religiopolitical scene in Kashmir towards the end of the 15th century. It is evident that the community of religious professionals was divided among a number of factions based upon both ideological differences and political affiliation. The viziers Jahangir Magre and Malik Saif Dar represent the political backdrop of these incidents, while the religious differences involve the nature of religious knowledge and authority in general and allegiance to sects and Sufi orders. In the words of his biographer, Iraqi explicitly taught his disciples that scholars concerned with the exoteric religious sciences (ahl-i zahir) were fundamentally insincere since, contrary to their claims, they were not erudite enough to produce works on these branches of theological science. Nevertheless, he said, the mullas kept with them private collections, which included works by elders. They did not themselves actually write books; they merely copied what was already present in their massive libraries and attached prefaces that extolled whatever ruler they intended to please at any given time. Since Shihab al-Din was a representative of this group, his opposition to Iraqi flowed from his general disdain for Sufis and their intuitive knowledge, of which he himself was not in possession. Shihab would have objected to the derisive aspects of this analysis, but if he was indeed primarily a legal scholar as stated in Tohfatu’l-Ahbab, he would have agreed that he valued more the knowledge acquired from studying the works of previous authors rather than claims of spiritual knowledge and power advanced by a Sufi who merely meditated and alleged that he received inspirations. In addition to this difference of fundamental approach, Iraqi and Shihab were opposed to each other due to their Alid/Nurbakhshi versus Sunni/Qadiri affiliations. As later events clearly show, Iraqi propagated the reformed Shi’ism represented by Nurbakhsh himself, which differed from the Twelver Shi’i legal perspective, but maintained a high level of emotional attachment to early Imams such as Ali and Hussain. His differences with Shihab al-Din’s Sunni views in this instance were prologue to the intense sectarian competition that came to characterize Kashmiri society from the 16th century onward. The late fifteenth century was also a period of solidification of the boundaries between Sufi orders, when one’s allegiance to a chain of authority and its associated method represented a significant part of one’s public identity. Iraqi’s Kubravi background via the Shi’i-Nurbakhshi line thus constituted a substantial point of difference between him and the Qadiri Shihab al-Din. The positive outcome of these debates was that it established Iraqi’s credentials as a scholar, spiritualist and an adept debater among the political high ups and the commoners. Contrary to other contemporary sources, which fail to justify the association and conversion of some powerful nobles by Iraqi to Shi’i-Nurbakhshism, Kashmiri says that these debates impressed both Saif Dar and Malik Regi Chak so much so that they became ardent disciples and enthusiastic supporters of his cause. He observes: “During these debates Malik Saif Dar and Malik Regi Chak became the disciples of Mir Shamsu'd-Din Iraqi. Finding that Iraqi was a person of high status the nobles and grandees (of Kashmir) became his devotees. They visited him often and thus benefitted from his discourses in seeking the path of the mystics.”
Although Iraqi managed to avenge the insult directed at Qasim Faizbakhsh by striking Shihab al-Din across his face, his impulsive act eventually enhanced the stature of his rival. Other scholars in the city now came to Shihab al-Din’s support and demanded punishment for Iraqi’s inappropriate act otherwise, they would migrate out of Kashmir. They demanded that Iraqi be banished from Kashmir. Saif Dar declined this demand since Iraqi was still the ambassador of a foreign ruler, but in order to pacify the Ulema, he assigned Shihab an estate (Jagir) and also made him the caretaker (mutavalli) of the city’s most prestigious religious institution, the Khanqah-i Mu’alla, established by Sayyid Ali Hamadani. This was a tremendous affront to Iraqi since Hamadani was a crucial link in the Kubravi chain, and Shihab made matters even worse by reforming the liturgy performed at the hospice to exclude the awrad-i fathiya, the hallmark of Kubravi spiritual practice and introduced awrad-i Qadiryyeh. He further intended to uproot the Hamadaniyyeh order completely from the words and hearts of the people. Sensing this act to be a deep danger to the survival of the Kubraviya in Kashmir, Iraqi now decided to refocus his mission in the region towards propagating the Kubravi method in its Shi’i-Nurbakhshi form.
Shihab’s resolve to root out Hamadaniyyeh order from valley and his antipathy towards Nurbakhshi Order may have stimulated Iraqi’s thought towards propagation of Nurbakhshism on a wider-scale, though it is likely that he had planned to promulgate the Shi’i-Nurbakhshi cause from the beginning of his Kashmiri sojourn. His journey towards developing a Nurbakhshi presence started with the effort to establish himself as the rightful heir of the local Kubravi tradition. He considered it his immediate responsibility to rejuvenate the practices and (Sufi) order of Amir Sayyid Ali. This is reflected in Kashmiri’s report that soon after the handover of Hamadani’s khanqah to Shihab, Iraqi began searching for a suitable khanqah for his own purposes. He therefore sought an augury from Sufi Jamal, one of his devotees and associates to find propitious moment to start his mission. His motive in this regard was to revive the abodes of other Kubravi Sufi Shaikhs that had by this time fallen into disuse. He first inquired about Shaikh Bahau’d-Din Kashmiri, who had been a student of Ishaq Khuttalani, Nurbakhsh’s master, and had even been mentioned as great mystic by the Nurbakhsh in one of his works. It turned out, however, that despite his influence on the wife of Sultan Zainu’l-Abidin (d.875/1470), Bahau’d-Din, due to his reclusive nature, had never established a Khanqah in Kashmir. Also Bahau’d-Din’s residence being situated close to the hospice of Ali Hamadani, Iraqi, by reviving it, would have thought of influencing the flow of people to the Khanqah of Sayyid Ali Hamadani which was now under the guardianship of Shihab. In any case, to revive the legacy of Baha al-din, Iraqi starting regularly visiting his grave, which consequently increased the popularity of the Shaikh and it, became famous as Mazar-e-Shaikh Baha al-Din. Iraqi then looked towards the legacy of Shaikh Sultan Kubra, who had been a student of Ishaq Khuttalani and had established a khanqah in the area of Kuh-i Suleyman. After a visit to the uninhabited khanqah, Iraqi determined that although it was small, the overall plan of the building was suitable for his purposes, and it was selected as the new home for him and his followers.
Iraqi’s first concern at the new abode was to mark the territory of his order by holding a forty-day retreat (arba’in) in the manner it was performed by Nurbakhshis. Since it was winter, the time was perfect for initiating his close followers fully into the rituals of the order, and Iraqi gave orders for the assembling of provisions for the event. On the night the retreat began, the whole khanqah was lit up with candles and a large crowd participated in the initial invocations, including the recitation of mystical poetry. Mir Darvish was assigned the responsibility of lightening the candles in the secluded cells of the dervishes. He received training in making candles. All except twelve close companions left following the communal dinner, when the candles were gathered and placed in front of Iraqi. Imitating the function of Nurbakhsh (light giver), he then handed a candle to the disciples one by one and each left with the light to meditate in a seclusion chamber. The disciples were given green or black robes or turbans at the end of the event based upon their spiritual accomplishments. This “uniform” of the order, together with the open celebration at the end of the retreat, established the Nurbakhshiya as a presence on the religious map towards the end of the fifteenth century. Iraqi stayed in this Khanqah for six years imparting training to the seekers of divine path. Many prominent saints like Sufi Jamal, Mulla Sa’eed, Hazrat Baba (Baba Ali Najjar), Mulla Muhammad Imam, and Mulla Yusuf, Mulla Ismail benefitted from his company. His second daughter Sania Bibi was born in this Khanqah.
Nurbakhshiya after Iraqi’s Departure from Kashmir
Our discussion so far gives us a picture of Iraqi’s activities in Kashmir with respect to the political authorities and religious personalities belonging to rival sects and orders. In the portrayal of his biographer, Iraqi’s decision to stay in Kashmir for an extended period reflected his desire to revive the tradition of Kubravi Sufism brought to the region by Ali Hamadani almost a century before his own ambassadorial mission. This perspective presumes that the Kubraviya was in fact nearly moribund in Kashmir at the time and would have become extinct with out Iraqi’s intervention. We must ask, however, what the true position of the Kubraviya was in Kashmir during this period.
Given the state of our sources, it is impossible to answer definitively. The author of Tohfatu’l-Ahbab predictably portrays the Kubravi community of Kashmir in a state of waiting even before Iraqi’s arrival. Quite early in the text, the reader is introduced to Baba Ali Najjar who greatly wished to travel for spiritual purposes but was unable to fulfill his heart’s desire due to the limitations of his circumstances. He therefore became a hermit; waiting for a spiritual guide to one day arrive in Kashmir, and this was precisely the true esoteric (batini haqiqat) reason behind the circumstances that led to Iraqi’s travel to Kashmir. Baba Ali’s destiny was to become to Iraqi what Ishaq Khuttalani had been to Ali Hamadani. During Ali Hamadani’s stay in Khatlan, many sincere and devoted people became the recipients of his favours and guidance through Ishaq Khatlani. Likewise, Baba Ali and many of his companions, and the caretakers of Ali Hamadani’s khanqah are said to have pledged allegiance to Iraqi within three or four months of his appearance in Kashmir.
It was in the Khanqah of Shaikh Sultan Kubra that Muhammad Ali Kashmiri the author of Tohfatu’l-Ahbab used to visit Iraqi. Kashmiri’s father Maulana Khaleel was Iraqi’s ardent disciple. His maternal uncle Maulana Muhammad, too, was among the followers of Iraqi. It was he who introduced Kashmiri to Iraqi. He offered his allegiance to Iraqi at the age of twelve, in return Iraqi kissed his forehead and recited him Kalima (words of faith). Kashmiri says that this whole episode left a deep imprint on his mind. Two years after this incident, Iraqi left for Herat for communion with his spiritual master Shah Qasim.
Iraqi’s disciples are said to have rapidly swelled following his transfer to the khanqah of Shaikh Sultan Kubra. After about six years of guiding them on the Shi’i-Nurbakhshi path, Iraqi started thinking about returning to Khurasan with the medicines he had come to acquire in Kashmir for Husain Bayqara. Sultan Fath Shah and Malik Saif Dar, who were in power at the time, protested against his plan, but he felt determined to leave and started preparing the Sufi community for life in his absence. State officials issued instructions to local physicians and perfume dealers to collect elixirs that were required for the ailing Sultan Husain Bayqara. One Maulana Husain Shangi, a courtier adorned with the ornaments of knowledge and acumen, was to accompany him as the emissary of the Sultan of Kashmir to the court of Bayqara. Iraqi did not designate Baba Ali the leader of the fledgling Nurbakhshi community at this time because the Baba had not yet achieved the highest spiritual station, and there was some danger that he would become selfish if entrusted with such authority. Instead, he decided to choose between Baba Jamal and Mulla Isma’il Kubravi, two disciples who had distinguished themselves during spiritual retreats. He asked both about how they would provide for the community’s material needs. Baba Jamal was then dismissed because he answered that he would clear and farm some land near khanqah. Isma’il Kubravi, on the other hand, responded correctly by stating that he would busy himself solely in religious exercises and Almighty will provide sustenance to the community out of His munificence. Iraqi chose Isma’il as the leader with these instructions (a) he will show no laxity in taking care of the dervishes and the group of devotees placed in his charge (b) no laxity is allowed in winning their goodwill and their security so that they are forced to disperse in different directions (c) five-time prayers are offered regularly (d) recitation of awrad-i fathiya is made a regular and permanent habit (d) in winter they should take to lent (chilleh), exercise penance in accordance with the training imparted to them. He prohibited Isma’il from constructing more buildings or taking an oath of allegiance from new disciples. The purpose, writes Kashmiri, was to perpetrate the Hamadaniyyeh and Nurbakhshiya Orders in Kashmir. As leader of the group, Iraqi instructed Isma’il, not to lose his head and become haughty, for it may deviate him from the right path. The underlying message was that no one among the Kashmiris possessed the fortitude and self-control to become a full-fledged Sufi guide. Isma’il was chosen simply because he was pious and was least likely to acquire grandiose ideas about himself. As later developments showed, Isma’il failed to live up to Iraqi’s expectations, and the two had a bitter parting of ways when Iraqi returned to Kashmir for the second time.
The account of Iraqi’s activities is contradicted by non-Nurbakhshi sources, which state that Isma’il Kubravi had in fact been the foremost Kubravi Shaikh in Kashmir at the time of Iraqi’s arrival. His spiritual pedigree went back directly to Ali Hamadani, who had appointed his grandfather, Shaikh Ahmad, his successor at the time of his departure form Kashmir. Shaikh Isma’il was a distinguished Sufi as well as a reputed alim. Scholars from Hindustan and Kabul are said to have gathered at his seminary, which he had established near his Khanqah at Koh-i Hari Parbat in Srinagar. Sultan Hasan Shah and his successor, Muhammad Shah, provided the expenditure for the upkeep of the seminary. Isma’il Kubravi was well known in the religious circles of his time. Sultan Hasan Shah had appointed him as his Shaikhu’l-Islam, in which capacity he is said to have constructed a number of mosques and Khanqahs in the valley. Towards the end of his life, Isma’il led a life of complete retirement and appointed Baba Ali Najjar as his Khalifa. Isma’il Kubravi passed away on 8 June 1510, and was laid to rest near his own Khanqah at Koh-i Hari Parbat. Iraqi imbued Baba Ali with Shi’i-Nurbakhshi ideas while he had been pretending to be a devotee of Isma’il Kubravi.
Both these accounts of the relationship between Iraqi, Isma’il Kubravi and Baba Ali leave something to be desired in terms of credibility. In addition to the obvious bias for Iraqi, Tohfatu’l-Ahbab fails to paint the whole picture, giving no information on any living Kubravi Shaikh resident of Kashmir at the time of Iraqi’s first visit. According to this version, Iraqi had to re-enliven the Hamadani-Kubravi tradition from point zero, and Isma’il was a mere promising disciple led astray by his vanity. This seems unlikely, though works that project Isma’il as a great scholar and popular Sufi deceived by Iraqi are themselves not fully credible due to their late dates and tendentious nature.
The earliest extant work to mention Isma’il b. Fathu’llah Hafiz as a rival to Iraqi is the Tarikh-i Kashmir of Sayyid Ali, which mentions only that Iraqi was unable to corrupt the whole ruling class in Kashmir due to Isma’il’s efforts. The fact that Sayyid Ali’s work is highly partial to Sunnis is a significant problem since, by the time he was writing sometime after 1579, Iraqi’s name had already become notorious for introducing the Shi’i “problem” into Kashmir. Later Sunni authors tend to exalt Isma’il’s status even further, now seeing him and Iraqi as the respective champions of Sunnism and Shi’ism in a highly charged sectarian environment. While it is possible that these authors information is derived from legitimate earlier sources that are no longer extant, the problem of sectarian bias is too prominent a factor in Kashmiri historiography for us to accept their viewpoint without caution.
A review of information from sources both favorable and antagonistic to Iraqi leaves us with an inconclusive picture of the Kubravi presence in Kashmir at the end of the 15th century. Treating both sides with equal caution, it can be surmised that there were in fact prominent Kubravi Shaikhs active in Srinagar at the time of Iraqi’s arrival, and he was able to get along well with them as long as he refrained from a direct subversion of their authority. The idea that Isma’il was merely one of Iraqi’s students during his first stay in Kashmir is very likely an understatement, though the conflict between the two developed only when Iraqi arrived for the second time and was able to garner significant political patronage. In addition, Baba Ali Najjar was probably a local Kubravi Shaikh who became acquainted with Iraqi during his first visit and became a part of his faction upon his return.
Iraqi’s returns to the presence of Shah Qasim Faizbakhsh
Eight years after his arrival in Kashmir as an ambassador from Sultan Husain Bayqara, Iraqi gathered together the medicinal herbs he had been sent to bring and, together with gifts, letters, and a Kashmiri ambassador, made his way westward around 1490-91. Taking a route different from that of his arrival, he traveled through Pakhli and Shamangi to reach the court of Ulugh Beg Mirza Khord (d.1501), the ruler of Kabul. Earlier Sayyid Ja’far, the son of Muhammad Nurbakhsh while on his way from Herat to India had interacted with Ulugh Beg and was quite impressed by Ja’far. As a representative of Nurbakhshiya Order, Iraqi was warmly received. Ulugh Beg during his interaction with Iraqi expressed his desire to possess a copy of Fiqh-i Ahwat. In Kabul Iraqi was informed that Qasim Faizbakhsh had already left Herat and, forsaking the possibility of being rewarded by Bayqara, he decided to return directly to Durusht leaving Maulana Husain to proceed toward Herat. Iraqi crossed the Hindu Kush Mountain, and arrived first at Khatlan (now in Tajikistan) to visit the grave of Ali Hamadani. Then he proceeded to Badakshan to visit the shrine of Khwaja Ishaq, the Martyr. His next stage was Balkh, the place where Khawaja Ishaq had been martyred. The body of this martyr remains buried by the side of the mosque in Balkh. Subsequently, following a stay of two months in Samarqand and travel through Merv, Astrabad, and Gilan, he arrived in Qasim’s presence to a joyous reception. Shah Qasim felt extremely happy when informed about Iraqi’s return. He said that when Iraqi bid him goodbye, he was alone and had now returned with a large family. He related the arrival of Iraqi with the following incident. When Ali conquered Khyber, Ja’far Taiyyar returned from Ethiopia. The holy Prophet had said at that time that he did not know whether he should celebrate the victory of Khyber or the return of Ja’far. In the same way, Qasim said, whether he should celebrate the return of Iraqi or the appearance of his family.