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Kashmiri Society and Shamsuddin Iraqi’s program of Islamization

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

The self-confident attitude projected by the Zadibal khanqah found its reflection in Iraqi’s other activities: he led a rigorous campaign to “Islamize” the local population. The targets for this program- Hindu temples and Muslim individuals-give us a good idea of Kashmir social life during the period. The Tohfatu’l-Ahbab gives the names of thirty-three temples or other non-Muslim gathering places in the vicinity of Srinagar that were either destroyed or dismantled and converted into mosques by Iraqi and his supporters. Among all these cases, Iraqi met physical resistance twice, and furthermore in the second case the combatants were identified as outsider pilgrims. In first case, the task of destroying the temple was given to Shri Bhat, who was originally from Shihabu’d-Din Pora and was converted to Shi’ism by Iraqi. In the second case, Ali Raina, son of Musa Raina assisted Iraqi in pulling down the temple of Udran. The altercation left such an impression on Iraqi that he asked Musa Raina that the name of the place be changed to Islampura to mark the holy effort. Later Qazi Muhammad Qudsi was stationed permanently in Islampura to impart training to the common people. The lack of resistance to temple destruction implies that either the buildings were already deserted or the non-Muslim community was so reduced in numbers and influence that it could not put up a fight on the ground or in king’s court. The impression is confirmed by the story about an earlier Kubravi Shaikh named Usman Majzub, who respected major temples to the degree that he would dismount his horse when passing near them and would walk on foot until the temples was no longer in his sight. Shams Ganai, a close associate of Iraqi once enquired from him about this extraordinary effort, he replied that Muslims did not at that time have the power to confront the temple worshippers, and he respected them so that they would not meddle with his religion and would leave him to worship in peace. He then predicted that one day a man would come from Iraq, who would, with God’s aid, demolish all the temples and chase the impious out of Kashmir. The prediction was now coming true as Iraqi and his vigilante Sufis went around destroying temples in Srinagar and vicinity. In general, Kashmiri’s extended account of temple destruction sounds almost like a salvage operation in which existing religious structures were dismantled and then reconstituted into mosques, paralleling the transition from a Hindu to a predominantly Muslim society.
In contrast to the temple destruction, Iraqi’s human Islamization program was directed against so called Muslims who had outwardly changed their religion while continuing to practice their old customs behind closed doors. In Iraqi’s perception, this situation was primarily the fault of the tolerant attitude adopted by Sultan Zainu’l-Abidin during his half a century rule over Kashmir (1420-70). While Zainu’l-Abidin’s father Sultan Sikandar had earned the title the Iconoclast (butshikan) due to his Islamizing efforts, the son had undone all his work by not being rigorous in castigating deviance from Islamic norms. The result had been the production of a religious culture that was nominally Muslim but culturally Hindu, particularly in matters such as marriages, yearly festivals, and the unveiling of women. To correct this situation of “apostasy”, Iraqi asked for a legal response (fatwa) from local jurists; their reply was that apostates are forgiven if they reaffirm their faith in Islam, but if they desist, they have to be executed. Armed with this judgment and the protection of Musa Raina, Iraqi started a vigorous campaign to Islamize Kashmir.
Judging from this description, Kashmiri society at the beginning of the 16th century was in the middle of the process that eventually led to the population-becoming majority Muslim. As the work of Richard Eaton and Bruce Lawrence has shown, the Islamic identities of the agrarian peoples of Punjab and Bengal in South Asia resulted, over a course of centuries, from a gradual integration of Islamic personalities in the religious as well as socioeconomic life of the areas. In the case of Kashmir, contact with Muslim Central Asia and the employment of Turkish mercenary soldiers by local Hindu rulers beginning in the 13th century first led to a substantial Islamic presence in the region. The conversion of the Ladakhi-born king Rinchana to Islam around 1330 and the change over to the Muslim Shahmiri dynasty in 1339 intensified the process. The kings encouraged and relied for their legitimacy on Muslim divines such as famous Ali Hamadani and his son Muhammad Hamadani, and their disciples then settled in various parts of the valley. The religious atmosphere consequently started acquiring an Islamic hue. During the fifteenth century, rulers such as Sikandar attempted to accelerate the process or let it evolve at its own pace. This was the situation Iraqi found around him during his presence in Kashmir, and his missionary zeal compelled him to attempt a correction once he had the necessary political backing.
In addition to his general Islamic fervor, Iraqi’s purpose was also to propagate the Shi’i-Nurbakhshi form of Islam in Kashmir as widely as possible. During the conversion drive, Shi’i-Nurbakhshi centers became filled with throngs of men. Converts were made to recite the profession of faith, take off their sacred thread (zunnar), be circumcised, and eat cow’s meat to become fully Muslim. A similar campaign was organized for women, with the most trusted Nurbakhshi disciples going house to house through the city and villages to teach the basics of Islam. Nurbakhshis seem to have had an exclusive concession for the process of further Islamic education as well. However, the Tuhfatu’l-Ahbab mentions that the small number of people in Kashmir who had never converted to Islam was left to themselves: the project was aimed at reclaiming Muslims and not at forcing Islam on fresh converts. Kashmiri writes: “Iraqi issued fatwa on the basis of the support of Malik Musa Raina. Consequently, every day groups of infidels numbering five hundred to two thousand or even more came to the residence of Iraqi bringing with them their ceremonial thread (zunnar) for reconversion to Islam. Dervishes and Sufis of Iraqi spread out in different parts of Kashmir. None among the nobles or the men of authority in the land had the courage to cause them obstruction in their mission. In each village, locality and habitat, a “master-mullah” was appointed to educate the converts on the Quran. Principles of Islam, system of offering prayers (namaz), fasting, Islamic laws and tenets of faith etc.”
Iraqi’s attitude towards non-Nurbakhshi Muslim scholars and mystics is a clear indication that his efforts were directed at producing an exclusively Nurbakhshi society. The particular target on this issue was the Khanqah-i Mu’alla of Ali Hamadani, which came under Iraqi’s guardianship for the first time during his campaigns. The Tohfatu’l-Ahbab proclaims this to have been a more significant event than the destruction of all the temples. Comparing the khanqah to the Ka’aba, calling it the second Ka’aba, Kashmiri assigns Ali Hamadani the role of Abraham, who had constructed the Ka’aba, and Iraqi is seen as Muhammad, who now cleansed it from the impieties of the unbelievers and apostates through the assistance of Musa Raina, whose role bears resemblance with Ali Murtaza. Iraqi’s effort to brand the local community of scholars as apostates met local resistance under the leadership of Shaikh Fathu’llah, son of Isma’il Kubravi, who reportedly wrote a letter to Iraqi trying to show him the error of his ways. The opposition was quashed by Kaji Chak, Iraqi’s patron between 1516 and 1526, who confiscated Fathu’llah’s property and forced him to migrate out of Kashmir.
Amid the political and social mayhem of early 16th century Kashmir, Iraqi also continued to initiate disciples into the order and regularly performed the yearly forty-day retreat. Nurbakhshi religious training in Kashmir emphasized knowledge acquired through spiritual exercises and experiences over any form of book learning. Kashmiri openly states that Iraqi’s most advanced disciples possessed little knowledge in disciplines such as written interpretation of the Qur’an (tafsir) or Muhammad’s sayings. They nevertheless, based upon their intuitive capacities, could provide better answers to religious questions than any learned scholar.
Iraqi’s personal interaction with the community of the faithful is exemplified in the reminiscence of Muhammad Ali Kashmiri, the author of Tohfatu’l-Ahbab, who was the son of Maulana Khalil’ullah, one of his oldest and most trusted disciples. He remembers seeing Iraqi walk towards the sanctuary at Zadibal while the young Kashmiri and other children were playing outside the Bab-i shari‘at. Once, when Kashmiri was five years old, Iraqi sat him down in front of him, rubbed his hands on his face seven or eight times, and placed a sugar cube which Iraqi was chewing in his as a form of conveying spiritual merit. He then had food brought for him and his brother, and the whole event left a indelible impression on Kashmiri’s memory. It is perhaps the very combination of great care and tenderness for his followers (Quote his generosity towards peasants of Hanjivir) and severity towards enemies that made Iraqi an effective leader for the Shi’i-Nurbakhshiya in Kashmir. His movement’s continued influence after his death was clearly due to the loyalties he had elicited for himself and his order rather than the weak personalities and efforts of those who followed him as leaders of the Order.

The Shi’i-Nurbakhshi Community post Iraqi’s demise
After Iraqi’s death in 1526, the Nurbakhshiya remained a vital force on the religious scene in Kashmir until about 1586, when the region was incorporated into the Mughal Empire. This period was, however, punctuated with internal struggles between Iraqi’s successors, severe repression under the rule of Mirza Haider Dughlat, and renewed patronage during the short lived rule of the Chak dynasty between 1561 and 1586. The movement’s political profile remained tied strongly to the fortunes of the Chak dynasty: it gained power when Chaks ruled as viziers or kings and was persecuted by Dughlat when they were in the opposition.

Internal conflict after Iraqi’s Death
The Kashmiri Nurbakhshis were beset with an internal power struggle immediately after Iraqi’s death. The conflict stemmed from Iraqi having appointed his son Daniyal and Baba Ali Najjar as his principal successors. He may have made some delimitation in the scope o each deputy’s authority, but it is impossible to see this directly from the surviving sources. The path towards a genealogical succession was initiated when Iraqi began including Daniyal in the yearly retreats from the time he was twelve or thirteen. Daniyal had in fact deputized for Iraqi at his very first retreat by handing out the candles to all participants, and his position was confirmed when all Sufis were asked to take an oath on his hands three or four years before Iraqi’s death.
Prior to Daniyal’s anointment, Iraqi had made a public display of investing spiritual authority in Baba Ali at a time when Zadibal was still under construction. On this occasion, Baba Ali was called to the open courtyard one evening after Iraqi had finished his day’s lessons for novices. He was asked to recite a section from Farid ad-Din Attar’s Mantiq at-tayar (conference of the Birds), in which a bird questions the hoopoe about its selection as the bird’s leaders for their pursuit of the fabulous bird Simurgh. The hoopoe’s meaningful reply invokes the authority of the Prophet Solomon, who had chosen him at an earlier time, and asks all the birds to be obedient to the leader. After the recitation, Iraqi turned to the audience and told them that he now vested his authority in Baba Ali in the same way that Solomon had chosen the hoopoe. The ceremony was completed when Iraqi wound his own distinctive turban around Baba Ali’s head and all those present took and oath on Baba Ali’s hands.
As depicted in these stories, the designation of successor seems paradoxically unequivocal for both candidates. The Tuhfat al-ahbab, whose author was partial to Baba Ali, portrays Daniyal as a jealous man who attempted to restrict Baba Ali’s influence despite the latter’s conciliatory attitude. The older man is depicted as having gone out of his way to show reverence to Daniyal, who would not stop his harassment due to his envy over Baba Ali’s popularity in the community as a spiritual guide. Because of Daniyal’s recalcitrance, Baba Ali eventually removed himself from Zadibal, going to the Khanqah-i Mu’alla, which was awarded to him by Daulat Chak (d. 1555) despite Daniyal’s resistance.
Daniyal’s opposition to Baba Ali probably stemmed from his difficulties in acquiring recognition as a Shaikh in the community despite Iraqi’s designation. Although interested in the position of community’s leader, he may not, as Kashmiri states in a veiled reference, have shared his father’s dedication to religious exercises and retreats. This problem can be observed also in the story of Sayyid Ahmad, who visited Kashmir around 938/1531 and became immediately popular between both elites and commoners. He was even made the caretaker of the Khanqah-i Mu’alla by the rulers, though he shortly moved to the more spacious Zadibal upon Daniyal’s invitation. Some people consider Sayyid Ahmad a member of the Nurbakhshi family, which would have placed him above Daniyal, who soon grew very jealous of Sayyid Ahmad’s popularity. Sayyid Ahmad eventually left Kashmir altogether around 1543 due to the unstable political climate, and Daniyal himself decided to transfer to Baltistan, probably for the same reason.

Persecution under the Rule of Mirza Haider Dughlat
The departure of Sayyid Ahmad and Shaykh Daniyal from Kashmir resulted from the conquest of the territory by Mirza Haider Dughlat in 1540. Mirza Haider Dughlat, who recorded his adventures extensively in his Tarikh-i Rashidi, first occupied Kashmir briefly in 1532 on behalf of Sultan Sa’id Khan (d. 1533), the ruler of Kashghar, who had begun a campaign in Ladakh and Baltistan in 1532. He returned to the region in 1540, this time under the employ of the Mughal emperor Humayun (d. 1555), who had succeeded Babur in 1530 but was then in Lahore after suffering the disloyalty of his brothers and a defeat by Sher Shah Suri in 1539. Malik Abdal Magray and Malik Regi Chak who, in disfavor, were biding time in the hills surrounding the valley invited Dughlat to Kashmir. He and his associates were successful in expelling Kaji Chak from the valley, though another member of the family named Regi Chak was at that time a member of Dughlat’s camp. The kingdom was now divided up between the victors, with Dughlat at the head of the government and Nazuk Shah its nominal Shahmiri sovereign. Dughlat indicates that he had undertaken the expedition to Kashmir to provide a haven for the defeated Humayun, but the emperor left for Iran without waiting to see the results of the campaign.
Dughlat’s work Tarikh-i Rashidi contains a vigorous condemnation of Nurbakhshi beliefs. The work claims that, during Dughlat’s reign in Kashmir, he had announced the death penalty as the punishment for anyone who refused to accept the Sunni-Hanafi mazhab. This may indeed have been his policy towards the Nurbakhshis a few years after his arrival, but the Baharistan reports that he was in fact respectful of Nurbakhshi monuments in the beginning, while he shared power with Regi Chak. He had gone to Zadibal in the company of Regi Chak to meet the visiting Sayyid Ahmad Nurbakhsh and at one point had even offered the fatiha at Shams al-Din Iraqi’s tomb in a most respectful manner.
A little later after this event, Regi Chak fell out of Dughlat’s favor and left the city to join the opposition led by Kaji Chak. Dughlat and his allies then defeated the Chaks soundly. The Kaji Chak died in exile in September 1544. Dughlat now decided to root out all the Nurbakhshis from Kashmir. This was due either, as he himself states, to his distaste for their beliefs or to the sect’s being tied closely to the Chaks, his foremost enemies. His biggest religious objection the group was that it could not be classified as either Sunni or Shi’i. Somewhat curiously, he states that he had earlier, in Badakshan and other places, met a son of Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh and many other Nurbakhshi Shaikhs who were all Sunnis. He was surprised by the fact that, in comparison, the Nurbakhshis of Kashmir reviled Muhammad’s wife Aisha and other companions of the Prophet favored by Sunnis. This made the Nurbakhshis akin to Twelver Shi’is, except they did not consider the Twelfth Imam the Mahdi and saw Nurbakhsh as the holder of this office instead. What made matters even more ambiguous for Dughlat was that these Nurbakhshis revered many Sufi saints who were all Sunni. He says: “The people were [formerly] all Hanafi, but in the reign of Fath Shah, a man of the name of Shams came from Talish in Iraq, who gave himself out as Nurbakhshi. He introduced a corrupt form of religion, giving it the name of Nurbakhshi and practiced many heresies. He wrote a book for these cowardly people called Fiqh al-ahwat, which does not conform to the teachings of any of the sects, whether Sunni or Shia. [These sectaries] revile the companions of the Prophet and Aisha, as do the Shias, but contrary to the teachings of the latter, they look upon Amir Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh as the Lord of the age and the promised Mahdi.”
Apart from Ferishta, a modern scholar also ascribes the authorship of Ahwat to Iraqi citing Tohfatu’l-Ahbab, Tarikh-i Rashidi, Sayyid Ali and A’zami as his sources. The information regarding Ahwat in Sayyid Ali’s Tarikh-i Kashmir, A’zami and Ferishta is based on Tarikh-i Rashidi. Tohfatu’l-Ahbab nowhere gives a hint of Iraqi’s writing skills, neither does it inform us about him having authored any text. It repeatedly mentions Nurbakhsh as the author of Ahwat. (cite from ahbab, ali and A’zami) Syed Muhammad Nurbakhsh himself wrote Fiqh al-ahwat. Mawlawi Muhammad Shafi, a competent scholar, suggests that Siraju’l-Islam (a work of Immamiya Fiqh) and Fiqh al-ahwat are identical. According to Ladakh traditions the Siraju’l-Islam is identical with Fiqh al-ahwat. During Iraqi’s first visit to Kashmir, writes Kashmiri, Iraqi brought with him a copy of Fiqh al-ahwat so that his family members and children were imparted lessons from it. During his second visit to Kashmir, Iraqi brought another copy of Ahwat. Kashmiri says: “After visiting the shrine of Imam Reza (8th Imam of Shi’ites) Iraqi left Mashhad. He arrived in Qandahar and had planned to return to Kashmir via Kabul. But he carried with him a copy of Shi’i theological work Ahwat authored by Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh. It was a gift for Mirza Baig (Ulugh Baig), and he wanted to hand it over to him in person. At this time came the news of the demise of this righteous ruler.”
The evidence emphasizes the grudge of Mirza towards Shi’i-Nurbakhshis, the same hostility exhibited by Shaikh Shihab whose objection to Iraqi was based on his referring to Ahwat and thereby popularizing Muhammad Nurbakhsh as a Shi’i Sufi, superior in theological sciences than any other contemporary religious scholars. Had Mirza been impartial in his treatment of the Order in his chronicle, he would have not misled us with the authorship of Ahwat. Since, he was well acquainted of the Order’s existence during his day as a noble in the court of ruler of Kashgar, as he describes in his work, the importance of Ahwat to the Order would not have eluded his acumen for Ahwat was quite popular a legal text of Nurbakhshiya by the time Mirza invaded Kashmir, even Ulugh Beg, the ruler of Kabul had desired to posses one copy when Iraqi visited him during his return from Kashmir sometime three decades before Mirza ascended the throne of Kashmir. To legitimize his persecution of the Order as a just act, to avenge the opposition of Chak nobles, and to garner the support of Ulema of other persuasions particularly Hanafite, Mirza resorted to bigotry in an atmosphere of religious contestations.
Dughlat’s objection to Nurbakhshis liminal position between the accepted Islamic sects was ratified by Indian scholars to whom he sent Fiqh al-ahwat for a legal opinion. Mirza intentionally conceals the name of the scholars of Hindustan. The vigorously condemned it as a work of heresy and reprehensible innovation (bid’a) and advocated complete extirpation of the sect’s adherents. To this charge, Dughlat added the objection that the practices of these alleged Sufis were confined to extended retreats for meditation and undue attention to dream interpretation. This was, consequently, not the Sufism of the learned but a charismatic cult set up around corrupt Shaikhs who claimed extraordinary powers.
The well-known affiliation between the Chaks and Shi’i-Nurbakhshi Shaikhs either formed the background of Dughlat’s religious objections or at least added to his hostility towards the group. As a result, he strictly prohibited all Nurbakhshi rituals and practices and had Shaikh Daniyal captured and brought back from Baltistan, where he had taken refuge in this tumultuous period. He was kept imprisoned for almost a year and then executed in 1550 based upon advice from Shaykh Fathu’llah b. Isma’il and legal opinions extracted from local jurists who had earlier opposed Iraqi’s heavy-handed religious policy. In addition, Dughlat burned the Zadibal khanqah to the ground and desecrated Iraqi’s tomb, which was within its grounds. According to a later Sunni source hostile to Iraqi, Dughlat extracted Iraqi’s bones from the grave and had them burned and turned the whole site into a dung heap and public latrine. The pro-Shi’i-Nurbakhshi historiographical tradition maintains that the Shi’i-Nurbakhshis had extracted Iraqi’s bones from the grave when they heard of Dughlat’s intentions and that these were interred on land owned by the Chadurah family outside Srinagar. A mausoleum denoting Iraqi’s grave still stands on the Chadurah estate and is in the care of Kashmiri Twelver Shi’is who trace their roots back to him.

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