Pakistan’s love for Kashmir is pure Islamic – in the “exclusionary” sense as people know Islam today. This is the source of all problems Pakistan has been creating in Kashmir. Since 1947, Pakistan has failed to understand that Kashmir’s identity is not Islam, and certainly not any form of the backward looking Islamic fundamentalism that wants to go back to the 7th century world.
So, what makes Kashmiris, Kashmiri? What distinguishes them from societies? Around 60% Kashmiris do call themselves Muslims, but even for them being Kashmiri is at least as important as being Muslim. They don’t consider the rest of the 40% non-Muslims as aliens or enemies. Their contribution to Kashmir’s unique culture is not less than those of the Muslims. Kashmiri identity is made up of many things, apart from elements of “spiritual” Islam. To make the point clear, let’s give a simile.
The majority of French or Dutch people follow Christianity, but it would be wrong to say that Christianity is what makes them French or Dutch. If we followed this logic, all European countries would have exactly one and the same identity – Christianity. But we know, it’s wrong and deceptive to say so because being Christian is just a part of their identity. Exactly in the same way, there is much more to Kashmiri identity than Islam – which has so many interpretations.
Kashmiris identify themselves with the Sufi-Rishi culture that evolved in the Valley in last 600 years. It is absolutely different from the hate-all culture that Pakistan promotes as Islam. It unites Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists in Kashmir. It teaches people to love each other – something unthinkable from the Islamic extremists trained by Pakistan.
What is the Sufi-Rishi Culture of Kashmir
It is a beautiful amalgamation of the “spiritual” Sufi Islam and the universal “Dharma” of Hindus. It is a well known fact that Sufis have been historically persecuted by traditional Muslim clergy who considered them non-Muslims. Thus, in 14 century they started arriving from Central Asia looking for safe refuge. Since Sufis believe in practicing the “essence” of Prophet’s teachings, they found an ideal environment in Kashmir which, being in Himalayas, has been an ancient abode of spiritual seekers – Hindu Sanyasis, ascetics, monks and Rishis of different traditions.
Since Sufis practiced “pure” spirituality which is the “essence” of the prophet’s teachings, it couldn’t be different from the India’s “Dharma” – the universal laws of ethics and morality – lived and taught by countless Rishis and sages since ages. Their deep commitment to the Islamic philosophy of Divine Unity (wahdat-ul-wajud) mirrored the Hindu philosophy of non duality (Advaita). Thus, even if they used Arabic phrases their message of love, peace and ‘oneness of humanity’ easily transcended the divides of languages, faiths, beliefs and religions.
A noted scholar has described the Sufi-Rishi culture in this peculiar way: “a Kashmiri expression of Islam” and an “Islamic expression of the Kashmiri rishi tradition.” It is only in Kashmir where Muslims have Hindu surnames such as ‘pandit’ and ‘bhat’.
What distinguished the Sufis from other Islamic preachers was their absolute focus on the “spiritual essence” of Islam. They did not preach mere words of Islam to establish its supremacy or dominate people, but their compassionate conduct attracted all people. Keeping away from all worldly pleasures, they also devoted a lot of time in prayers or meditation, like ancient saints of the soil. Their extremely simple, humble and compassionate demeanours always reminded people of the ancient rishis.
Thus, Islamic Sufis became Rishis in Kashmir! And what evolved over centuries is what Kashmiris proudly call their Sufi-Rishi culture. They also love to call Kashmir – the garden of Pirs, saints and sages.
Early Sufi and Rishi
Sayyed Sharfuddin Abdur Rahman from Turkistan, who arrived in the thirteenth century, was the earliest known Sufi in Kashmir. He later became popular as Bulbul Shah. The next popular Sufi immigrant was the 14th century Iranian Sufi saint, Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani who arrived with many disciples. They spread the principles of the Kubrawi Sufi order in the region.
The non-discriminatory flavour of Sufism grew into a powerful social movement. What evolved after encounter of Sufi wonderers with local traditions was the Muslim Rishi movement, the only indigenous Sufi order in Kashmir. It was an all assimilating philosophy through its core belief in universal values of love, peace and harmony, and the common fraternal bond permeating the whole humanity. It appealed people because they cherished such beliefs deep within.
Sheikh Nur ud-Din Noorani (1377-1440), more popular as Nund Rishi, is often seen as the pioneer of the Sufi Rishi tradition in Kashmir. People saw him as an ‘enlightened’ saint for whom Islam was a universal message of love, tolerance and service, and at the same time a crusaded against social injustice and useless rituals. Serving humanity was a cornerstone of this tradition and helping the poor and suffering people was seen superior to rituals of worshipping God.
It is only in Kashmir that sufi Islam dominated the society, thanks to the ancient dharma based culture of the land. Sufis and Rishis could even reprimand traditional Islamic preachers as well as ritualistic Brahmin class. People of all faiths and beliefs still visit their shrines with highest devotion.
Rishi Culuture under Jehadi Attack
It is a shame that Pak trained Islamic fanatics started targeting all these symbols of unity and divinity since 1989. These Jehadi hate killers did not spare even the Sufi shrines in Pakistan. They even attacked the Data Darbar in Lahore and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the patron saint of Karachi.
Of course, of late Pakistan has started claiming to be the biggest victim of Islamic extremism. It certainly is a helpless state and perhaps loves permanent victimhood and decay.
You may also like to read: Destroying Kashmiri Culture – The Pakistan Way