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Mir Shamsu d-Din Iraqi’s second visit to Kashmir

By: Dr. Ejaz Husain Malek
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

In Durusht, his homeland, Iraqi once again occupied the place of a favored companion to Shah Qasim, who provided him land for residence of his family close to his own house. Iraqi adorned it with a spacious garden. Shah Qasim named it Bagh-e Kashmir. This reflects the unceasing hope Qasim had for Kashmir as an apt destination for the spread and survival of the Order and a constant reminder for Iraqi’s achievement as an emissary cum missionary to that land. Since Solghan and Kashmir were equally salubrious, the title designates missionary legacy rather than natural beauty. His wife, Bejeh Agha, had given birth to two daughters during their stay in Kashmir, and now the birth of three more daughters led Bejeh Agha to desire for a son. When Iraqi came to know of this desire, he advised his young daughters Sania, Fatima and Rabi’a to proceed to Solghan and visit the shrine of Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh and submit their request. Almighty granted the prayer and the blessing descended on Persian New year’s day (Nauroz) in March 1495. The same day Prophet had installed Ali as his successor (wali). Shah Qasim named the boy Daniyal.
The Tuhfat al-ahbab projects that Iraqi was quite settled in Durusht, with no plans to return to Kashmir, until he learned that, about eight years after Iraqi’s departure, Isma’il had strayed and had expanded the purview of the Nurbakhshi khanqah against the instructions given him earlier. A Kashmiri Nurbakhshi who had stopped to pay his respects to Qasim in Durusht while on his way to the Hijaz for the Hajj brought the news. Both Iraqi and Qasim were perturbed to hear that Isma’il had initiated members into the order and now presided over a new khanqah near Kuh-i Maran, where fifty Sufis undertook the forty-day retreat every year. Qasim then suggested to Iraqi that he should return to Kashmir to set things right, but the latter resisted since Burhan ad-Din Baghdadi had recently passed away and he preferred to go to Baghdad and remain close to his ancestral region. Following Qasim’s further insistence, a prognostication, and the appearance of Bahau’d-Din Kashmiri during a mystical experience (vaqi’a), Iraqi became convinced that it was his duty to return to Kashmir and complete the work he had begun during the first visit.
Judging on circumstantial grounds, it is most likely the news about the unexpected success, and the waywardness, of the fledgling Nurbakhshi community in Kashmir that compelled Qasim and Iraqi to contemplate the latter’s return. Given both his role as caretaker of the order and his continuing belief in Nurbakhsh’s messianic prophecies, Qasim in particular must have felt compelled to pursue a promising venue for the order’s expansion. Poetry cited in Tuhfat al-ahbab explicitly likens Kashmiri Shi’i-Nurbakhshis wish for Iraqi’s return to Kashmir with the expectation of a messianic deliverer. Here he is referred to as the deputy of the Muslim Mahdi (na’ib-i Mahdi-yi-Islam) who will eliminate Gog and Magog and perform the messianic miracle of bringing the dead back to life.
Feeling his return to Kashmiris as an immense responsibility on his shoulders, Iraqi set off from Durusht most likely in Muharram 908 (July-August 1502). He received a good omen while passing through Khurasan in the form of a meeting with the legendary invisible saint Khizr, who reportedly predicted his success but told him that his most important task was to convert people belonging to false religions to the way of the “pure imams (mazhab-i a’imma-yi athar).
After his interface with Hazrat Khizr, Iraqi intended to visit the shrine of “Shah-i Khurasan,” Imam Riza in Mashad. After completing formalities, he proceeded towards Qandahar and planned to move towards Kashmir through Kabul. Since during his last visit to the court of Ulugh Baig, the ruler has expressed his desire to posses a copy of Ahwat, Iraqi had carried one copy accordingly for Ulugh Baig and wished to hand it over to him personally. However, he heard that Ulugh Baig had passed away, so he decided to go on through to Multan, where he spent the winter before arriving in Kashmir in 908/1503 through the Poonch route. Malik Chuni Renu, the highland chieftain of Rachapal (Poonch) who had declared allegiance to Isma’il Kubravi against the wishes of Iraqi, came to Bachehbal to receive Iraqi and made his allegiance to him by accepting Shi’i-Nurbakhshism. The community Iraqi had left Twelve years earlier had just finished its annual forty-day retreat and, according to the Tohfatu’l-Ahbab, both Isma’il Kubravi and Baba Ali Najjar extended him warm welcome. By this time, Isma’il had amassed considerable wealth in addition to the new khanqah built for the Nurbakhshis by the rulers, and he offered all this to Iraqi since he was the true head of the community. He told Iraqi, “We first came out of the skin of our grandfathers (meaning we converted from the faith of our grandfathers) and now I have come out of my skin as well (meaning he embraced Shi’i-Nurbakhshi faith). However, differences soon surfaced between Iraqi and Isma’il Kubravi when former forbade him from accepting allegiance from anybody without his permission. He objected to Iraqi’s high headedness and took to defiance. This led to the division of the community into factions loyal to Iraqi and Isma’il Kubravi.

Nurbakhshiya presence in contemporary political establishment
The Nurbakhshiya achieved its greatest political success (its greatest any where, not only in Kashmir) during the 23-year period between Iraqi’s arrival in Kashmir for the second time in 1503 and his death in 1526. The report on the movement’s popularity that lured Iraqi back to Kashmir proved to be true, and during this period Iraqi used both his prestige as a foreign religious divine and his political skills to advance the movement’s cause among Kashmir’s nobility. Rulers and viziers belonging to the Raina, Chak and Chadurah families in particular became his devotees, providing protection when necessary and using his belligerent posture towards the local religious establishment (Muslim as well as non-Muslim) to further their own cause. Iraqi’s second stay in Kashmir transpired during a politically chaotic period characterized by the contest between two Shahmiri claimants backed or opposed by noble families who could change allegiances at a moment’s notice. Muhammad Shah and Fath Shah had each already ascended the throne twice during Iraqi’s first visit; that the instability of the contemporary political environment was now even further exacerbated can be gauged from the fact that the throne changed hands five times between 1499 and 1521. The details of this internecine struggle are too complicated to discuss here in detail, but it is pertinent to summarize the political scenario and circumstances as the backdrop for Iraqi’s proselytizing activities. The political history clearly shows that Iraqi was an active participant in the affairs of the intriguing nobility.
In 1503, when Iraqi returned second time, Muhammad Shah ruled Kashmir with the support of Sayyid Muhammad Bayhaqi (d. 1505) and Malik Musa Raina (d. 1510-11). The latter two had helped Muhammad Shah oust Fath Shah and his supporters in 1499, but now Musa Raina became unwilling to remain subservient to Bayhaqi and Bayhaqi’s hostility towards Iraqi and his subsequent migration to Baltistan added to this unwillingness, so he started communicating with his old patron Fath Shah to invite him back to Kashmir with promises of internal support. Fath Shah accepted the offer, defeated Muhammad Shah and Bayhaqi, and again occupied the throne in 1505. Musa Raina now became the grand vizier and aided Iraqi in his missionary activities until he himself fell victim to intrigues in 1510-11. Subsequently, tension developed between Iraqi and Fath Shah wazir Malik Usman, and if the reigning ruler had not been defeated shortly, Iraqi might have met an invidious end. Muhammad Shah returned to power for the third time in 1516, but he had to abdicate within nine months when Fath Shah returned with better alliances among the nobility.
In his ascendancy, Malik Kaji Chak, who had, at an earlier time of disempowerment and poverty, taken an oath to follow Iraqi and further the cause of Islam as defined by him, supported Fath Shah. A little later, when Muhammad Shah gained power for the fourth time, with the help of Sikandar Lodhi (r. 1489-1517), the Sultan of Delhi, Kaji Chak was appointed the grand vizier. As the religious patron of the ruling authority, Iraqi now became one of the most powerful people in the kingdom. This influence manifested itself most strongly in 1518, when Kaji Chak allegedly executed seven hundred to eight hundred men, his action being based upon charges of apostasy leveled against the men by Iraqi. Kaji Chak and other members of his clan remained loyal to Iraqi during the rest of his life irrespective of whether they held the reigns of power or awaited their chance in the surrounding mountains. A few years before his death, Iraqi appointed his son Daniyal the successor to what was now a prosperous and prestigious estate, but the latter seems not to have had the father’s political agility or influence. Somewhat curiously, none of the early sources record the year of Iraqi’s death, though according to Tohfatu’l-Ahbab it occurred on the third of Ramadan. The later tradition that he died in 932/1526 is supported by the Tohfatu’l-Ahbab since it states that he was nearly a hundred years old.

Consolidation of Community Boundaries
As discussed earlier, Iraqi was welcomed in Kashmir by a thriving Shi’i-Nurbakhshi community that probably already had significant political backing. According to Kashmiri, Iraqi’s first activities upon arrival include dealing with Mulla Isma’il’s hidden desire to become a Shaikh and the conversion of Malik Musa Raina, at that time one of the most powerful people in the government. Giving equal weight to our inconclusive evidence, the situation now was that Isma’il was either an independent Kubravi Shaikh with whom Iraqi had associated during the first visit or he was a student whom Iraqi had put in charge of the community at the time of his departure. Which ever was the case, Isma’il now refused to regard Iraqi as his spiritual and social superior? It is hinted that Isma’il’s resistance to Iraqi’s authority my have resulted from his having realized the peculiar nature of Nurbakhshi doctrines. He is said to have rebelled at the instigation of a nephew, Hokeh Hajji, who told him that he had never come across anywhere in Mecca, Medina, Syria, Turkey, Egypt or Yemen the Nurbakhshi path or legal method (mazhab), while on pilgrimage. From Iraqi’s perspective, it was Isma’il’s jealousy that had turned him against Iraqi and towards colluding with the religious establishment.
After a period of accusations, verbal attacks, and counterattacks, Iraqi eventually decided to make a formal break from Isma’il and asked the Sufis to choose between the two leaders. To finalize this rupture, Iraqi left the Khanqah of Shaikh Sultan Kubra, which he had reinhabited upon his return, and took all his family and followers to Zadibal that had recently been donated to him by Musa Raina. Sultan Fath Shah had given Zadibal (in downtown Srinagar) to Chadurah family of Badgam for residence. Musa Raina was scion of this family. Iraqi had coveted the location for the possible construction of a khanqah even during his first visit in 1482, and now Musa Raina gave it to him in endowment (waqf) along with other wealth for himself as well as his family immediately after experiencing a spiritual inspiration. At Zadibal, Iraqi initially occupied the old buildings left behind by Musa Raina and then started acquiring the means for constructing a grand religious structure.
The preparation for the construction of the khanqah led Iraqi on the path of dismantling local temples for the sake of acquiring building materials around 1503. The temples destroyed at this time must have been already abandoned since Iraqi and his followers are shown to have faced no resistance from worshippers. However, any instance of opposition to Iraqi’s activities was silenced by Musa Raina for, we are informed by Rajatarangini that: “According to Merashesha’s (Mir Shams al-Din Iraqi) advice, Soma Chandra (Musa Raina) arrested men belonging to temples, confiscated lands of the Brahmins and gave them to Merashesha’s servants, and thus pleased them. The followers of Merashesha cut down lofty trees on the pretense that they were required for burning incense, but really for the object of obtaining fuel. The gods then deserted their images, for otherwise how could men plunder their temples?”
In Iraqi’s case, Musa Raina provided political support for the effort by having the vizier Muhammad Bayhaqi agree to the disassembling of a grand temple surrounded by large trees. These trees were cut to make the beams for the khanqah, and the project was well on its way when Iraqi began to have problems with Muhammad Bayhaqi, which led to temporary halting of construction.
Kashmiri states that Iraqi’s success in Kashmir under the patronage of Musa Raina started to irk the local religious scholars soon after his arrival. Their antipathy, which may have intensified greatly when Muhammad Shah made Iraqi the caretaker of the Khanqah of Ali Hamadani, caused them to complain about him to Bayhaqi, who similarly was not fond of Iraqi but had not stopped his activities due to Musa Raina’s influence. Some people further condemned the new building at Zadibal on the grounds that the qibla (direction towards Mecca) had been determined incorrectly, though Iraqi tried to prove otherwise by referring to Nurbakhsh’s work al-fiqh al-ahwat. Matters between Iraqi and Bayhaqi came to a head over two issues: first, Iraqi refused to fulfill Bayhaqi’s wish to marry his eldest daughter Bibi Agha; and second, he mistreated one of the Bayhaqi’s Hindu officials for taking on the airs of a Muslim nobleman. Once the situation became untenable, Iraqi decided, despite Musa Raina’s entreaties, to leave for neighbouring Baltistan with the promise that he would not come back to Kashmir as long as Bayhaqi remained in power. Although Iraqi’s stay in Baltistan lasted for only two months, he was successful in persuading Bukha of the ruling line of Maqpun, the ruler at that time to embrace Shi’i-Nurbakhshism. Kashmiri observes: “Bukha of the ruling line of Maqpun was the ruler in Skardu when Shams al-Din Iraqi arrived in those lands. He came out at the head of a large crowd to receive Iraqi. At that time, there were no traces Islam in Tibet. With his auspicious steps on this soil, all rajas, nobles, elite, peasants and common people were admitted to Islam.”
Although, Iraqi impressed Saif Dar, Musa Raina and Kaji Chak through his knowledge and spirituality, his proximity to Bukha is related to Iraqi’s closeness to political high ups in Kashmir. Accompanied by large entourage of Sufis, an advance party might have informed Bukha of his arrival, which defines his readiness in welcoming Iraqi on his arrival and his conversion subsequently. Since there used to be continuous communication between Tibetan and Kashmiri rulers, and they were quite aware of political developments in respective territories. This also explains the rise of Rinchana from the same region to the status of a sovereign once he found himself engulfed with myriad political intrigues, and finally sought asylum in Kashmir whose rulers welcomed him warmly. For much time to come the area became a safe haven for Shi’i-Nurbakhshis escaping problems in Kashmir.
Musa Raina turned against Bayhaqi and Muhammad Shah after Iraqi’s departure, and he sent messages to Fath Shah that he would support him from within the city in the case of an attack. The intriguing party was successful, and the government now changed to Fath Shah and Musa Raina. The latter immediately dispatched Mulla Jowhar to request Iraqi to return. Iraqi complied, despite it being winter, and he became busy with the task of completing Zadibal. The building of the khanqah, completed three years later in 1507, is said to have been the most imposing structure in the city at that time.

The Nurbakhshiya Hospice at Zadibal
To the degree that it can be understood from the description in the Tohfatu’l-Ahbab, the khanqah at Zadibal was designed and constructed to represent both the religious perspective and the political influence of the Shi’i-Nurbakhshis of Kashmir. The large, pilarless main sanctuary of the khanqah was surrounded by an open-air enclosure, beyond which lay gardens and lakes. Exemplifying the various stations of the mystical path, the compound’s three entrances were named Bab-i Shari’at (door of exoteric law), Bab-i Tariqat (mystical path), and Bab-i Haqiqat (mystical truth). Visitors, male or female, entered a door according to their station: commoners left their riding animals outside the Bab-i Shari’at and traveled some distance on foot to go beyond the other two doors in order to reach the sanctuary; noble visitors such as kings and viziers entered through Bab-i Tariqat; only the spiritually adept could enter directly through Bab-i Haqiqat. Iraqi held public audiences outside the Bab-i Tariqat, including discussions about religious questions and recitations of mystical poetry. He used to come to this gate to distribute gold, silver and clothing among his followers.
The sanctuary’s walls had considerable empty room on all sides to allow for ritual circumambulation (tavaf). The interior of the sanctuary was two storied, with each floor divided between a central open space and small cubicles for solitary exercises along the sides. The floor was made of stones salvaged from a temple. The only internal decoration mentioned is a Masnavi by Qazi Muhammad Qudsi that gave the Nurbakhshi chain of mystical authority going form Iraqi all the way to Muhammad the Prophet.
The inscription of the Silsila on the walls of the khanqah clearly shows that the building was meant to be a marker of the powerful Shi’i-Nurbakhshi presence in Kashmir at the time. Kashmiri says: “I have heard from my father that Iraqi used to say that every devoted believer will go around his grave seven times thinking that he virtually circumambulated the holy Ka’aba. He would receive grace equal to circumambulating the Ka’aba.”
Iraqi’s aims for the hospice are evident also from the fact that he advised one follower who desired to make a pilgrimage to Mecca for hajj to forsake the idea, give him the money he had saved, and perform the ritual around the khanqah. Basing himself on an example from Bayezid Bistami, Iraqi argued that devotion to the Nurbakhshi order symbolized in circumambulating Zadibal equaled the spiritual reward promised by God for the pilgrimage. During his lifetime, this Khanqah commanded as much respect as the mosque in the holy Ka’aba. One could enter the premises only for offering daily prayers.

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