Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Sharif-ud-din, a Muslim missionary in Kashmir

  Prof. M.L. Koul*

     Mohd. Ghaznavi an ill famed vandal, tried twice to ravage and conquer Kashmir but failed to succeed because of the stiff resistance from the natives. The Impelling factor for him to conquer Kashmir was to top notch his record as an iconoclast and level all temple edifices of amazing architectural and aesthetic value. What made Kashmir to fend off the invading hordes from the vulnerable approaches to the kingdom was the massive military build-up at such points as part of an over all defence strategy. As the immediate neighbourhoods had grown turbulent the native rulers sensitive to the development raised their guard through enhancing the fortification of the routes, that the enemies were wont to use for incursions and surprise raids. The vigilant rulers guarded the security of the region by dis-allowing men of doubtful credentials to enter the borders of the state. About the defence strategy of the Kashmir rulers Alberuni records:-                                                                                               ‘They (Hindu) are particularly anxious about the natural strength of their country and therefore take much care to keep a strong-hold upon the entrances and roads leading to it. In consequence, it is very difficult to have any commerce with them. In former times they used to allow one or two foreigners to enter their country. Particularly Jews, but at present do not allow any Hindu whom they do not know personally to enter, much less, other people’.

     The moment guards were lowered and defensive againswt the enemies ignored and skirted away, Kashmir which was already on the target-list of Muslim rulers of India became critically vulnerable to vile shades of sabotage, subversion and chaos. Two Kashmir kings period? Harsa

and Suha Dev, who thoughtlessly permitted persons of doubtful antecedents to enter & stay in Kashmir . Harsa recruited alien Muslims in his state army. Suba Dev granted munificent patronage to an adventurer, Shah Mir, coming all the way from Swat. His commander-in-chief, Ram Chander, gave refuge to a Ladakhi prince who otherwise would have been cruelly butchered by the enemies of his clan. Unaware of the historical fact of Sufi-Sayyids being sappers and miners of Islam Suha Dev granted benign patronage to a Sayyid-Sufi, Sharf-ud-din, who had been exiled from his native place in Turkestan by the Muslim ruler for his Suharwardian brand of politics.

     The syndrome of over-confidence buttressed by high-scale strides and achievements that Kashmir had registered in ali spheres of human knowledge including abstract thought had made Kashmir rules lax in matters of defence especially in giving entry to persons of unknown credentials. Having frustrated sinister designs of invading hordes led by Mohmud Gaznavi must have certainly bolstered up confidence graph of rulers by many notches. Not cognizing the subversive changes in religious complexion of the immediate neighbourhoods as effected by Mohmud Gaznavi Hindu rulers struck to a high moral ground of granting generosity and compassion to fleeing men in distress.  As they breathed an ethos of liberalism, tolerance and mutual accommodation the idea of putting curbs on the foreigners of any variety never crossed their mind. Shah Mir, though an alien Muslim, was allowed unrestricted to come to the top perch of the administrative apparatus of the land. Rinchin, despite a feuding background, had free access to the garrisoned quarters of the army chief of the kingdom. He was granted even a jagir for sustenance. Sharf-ud-din from a hazy land was allowed to inter-mingle and commerce with natives freely and flaunt his religion through signs and symbols.

    Sharf-ud-din, a musavi Sayyid and a sufi in robes, but an Islamist missionary in his innards, a suspect and security risk in his native place, was a Suharwardian in matters of allegiance and practice. The sect was known as Suharwardy as it was founded by Sheikh Zia-ud-din Abul Suharwardy. One of his prominent disciples Nimat Ullah Farsi had initiated Sharf-ud-din in the rudimentary formalities and ritualistic modes of the sect. After being forcibly hounded out of his birth-land he is extolled for having founded the sect in Kashmir after being granted asylum by Suha Dev. Many other Sayyid Sufis of the same sect had arrived in Kashmir much before him but they had to march out of the land in frustration for want of patronage. As an integral part of the whole canvas of Indian civilization Kashmir had achieved a remarkable name in the domain of religion and science (Alberuni) and as such had riveted the glaring attention of religious zealots. The Brahman-monks from Kashmir had sanskritised the borders deep down to the vast-swathes of Central Asia, Tibet , China and Mongol lands. After devastation of these lands by Muslims, the potential invaders and missionaries listed Kashmir as their prime target. Sharf-ud-din had the same urgent motivation of reducing Kashmir as a colony of Imperial Arabs and thus get recompensed as per the religious promise.

     The Suharwardy sect had a prominent political character. It actively    participated in politics of the countries where it had registered its minimal presence. It sought aligment and proximity with rulers amirs and elitist classes of Muslim societies and urged their active involvement for effacement of infidelity and conversion of heretics. In conflict with the authorities for non-implementation of Muslim law and precedent the Suharwardis were detested and generally hounded out of their native places. In India Hindus were the target of their hatred. They established contact with the Muslim notables and shenanigans in corridors of power through letters and hatefully urged them to insult and humiliate Hindus. Having a high-brow face to impress the highs they duped the gullibles through their assumed and feigned asceticism. The Suhrawardies had amassed baffling properties including agricultural lands and orchards and cash.  As feudal land-owners they were oppressors of poor peasants and never showed them any mercy. They reinforced their status in Muslim societies by seeking and establishing their lineage to the revered names in Islam.

   In Kashmir the Suharwardy sect had limited reach and minimal recognition. The reason, perhaps, was the belated patronage that the sect got at the hands of Rinchin, a convert who had a short stint in power. The ritualistic practices that the sect made current were apparently borrowed from Hindus and flaunted them impressively as its own evolved ideograph. The spiritual goods that the sect peddled were stale and already rooted in the native soil. Repetition of Gods name as a spiritual practice has a Hindu history. In fact, ‘jap and tap’ are so closely hyphenated that no aspirant can achieve unison with God without practising them as spiritual for thousands of years. Such practices appropriated by foreign Sayyid-sufis for purposes of granting sanctity to conversions had to suffer extinction of their vibrating spirit.

    During his stay in Kashmir Sharf-ud-din was unhesitantly allowed space and comfortably lived almost as incognito among confident Hindus of Kashmir. For a period of long 17 years from 1903 AD to 1920 AD he lived on the good will and munificence of local devout Hindus.

As, his popularity is being trumpted about, the fact remains that he had not evoked much of interest among the indigenous people except that he was seen as a curio from a hazy distant land. He could not have dared convert people to his faith as he was more than conscious of living in an alien land where he had no protection and state support. Being on the margins of Kashmiri society he continued waiting patiently for an historical accident to occur that might catapult him from a state of obscurity to the lime-light of proximation to the seat of power. In the meantime Kashmir was plunged into a messy chaos and turmoil when Zulju invaded Kashmir with an army of 60,000 soldiers, mostly Turks and Mongols and reduced it through unprecedented loot, plunder and  slaughter. In the words of Jonraj, ‘ Kashmir presented a pitiful spectacle. Father pitilessly wailed and moaned when sundered from his son. Brother separating from his brother lost him forever. Depopulated, uncultivated, grainless and gramineous, the country of Kashmir offered, as it were, the scenario of primal chaos’.

     Zulju, cruel and heartless, massacred thousands of Kashmiri Hindus and put them to cruelties and atrocities. Having looted and destroyed the last bit of grains. Hindus painfully died from starvation and poverty. There was so much of horrifying blood-shed that, all went gory with the blood of Hindus. Corpses could be seen littering over large spaces of Kashmir . He was no pitiless and tyrannical that he got even wild grass burnt down as it might sustain the blighted Hindus. Fifty thousand Hindus, men, women and children, perished in a blizzard at the foot-hills of Bannihal when Zulju was lashing them long for their sale in the slave market of Turkistan .

    In the wake of devastating havoc wrought by Zulju and his huge army, Ram Chander played a commendable role in repulsing the raid launched by the Gaddies of Kishtawar. Taking advantage of chaos and political instability, Rinchin, who had enjoyed full shelter and succour, resorted to a sordid stratagem of getting Ram Chander, the army chief of Kashmir , murdered through his accomplices from his native place and captured the throne. Thus Kashmir fell into the hands of one who had sought refuge in Kashmir and enjoyed its magnanimity. 

    Capturing the throne through deceit and murder, Rinchen, a moral wreck, though diffident and unsteady on his feet – yet keen to consolidate his position, begged of Deva-Swami, a Shaivite saint and scholar, to allow him prompt admittance into the Hindu-fold. As Hindus detest conversions and have no history of conversions, he was flatly refused admittance in faith. But, keenly desirous of identifying himself with a cluster of people, no matter howsoever small the group, he was led to Sharf-ud-din, historians say, by another outsider, Shah Mir, for conversion to the faith. Having waited for a protracted period for such a happening, Sharf-ud-din seeing his future brightening up in a moment’s time granted him admittance into Islam without any formal baptisations. It was at a later date that Persian chroniclers assigned him the name of Sadrud-din. But to Jonraj, a native historian, he was Rinchin who was obstinately refused entrance into Hindu fold. He failed to be long in power as indigenous people through a revolt inflicted a wound on his head killing him.

      The Persian chroniclers have deliberately woven a myth that Rinchen had spiritual restlessness which he yearned to be calmed down through expert spiritual guidance at the hands of preceptor. It is also recorded that Deva Swami a Shaivite saint and scholar, failed to satisfy his spiritual yearnings and urges. How was it that his chance meeting with sharf-ud-din satisfied all his spiritual yearnings and answered all his questions, which, in fact, he had none. The bitter fact is that Rinchin had no spiritual cultivation and had no spiritual aspirations and yearnings. Showing external allegiance to Islam was his political need.  As evidenced by Jonraj, he was savagely brutal as he ripped open the soft bellies of pregnant-women of Ladakhis who were his sworn enemies. There can be much of pith in the statement, if it be said that Islam in Kashmir was in dire need of one like Rinchen who would serve its ends through qahranva jabran (Baharistan) and Sharf-ud-din worked the miracle.

    Sharf-ud-din popularly known as Bulbul Shah in Kashmir made the best use of Rinchen as a paranoid convert. In his state he found the fruition of his plans as a Muslim missionary. It was at his pertsistent proddings that Rinchen constructed the first ever mosque in Kashmir . Mosque, in the words of V.S. Naipaul, is the colonial imposition on the subjugated people. The process of forcible conversions were heralded. To shelter sharf-ud-din a hospice was built and for its up keep revenues of a number of villages were assigned to it. A langer-khanna trumpted as a great service to the Kashmiris was established for the poor with tax-money extracted from the vast population of Hindus. The charity-house attracting the poor had its agents whose sole job was to force them to join the ranks of Muslims. It was simple exploitation of poverty of the beggars, paupers and extremely poor people.

       Sharf-ud-din could work out his plans only after he was in a position to manipulate the Muslim ruler. Prior to Rinchen’s conversion, he was practically in a state of oblivion. He could not build a mosque nor a hospice, nor could be establish a langar-khanna. It is pertinent that Islamic expressions of imposition came only after Islam was flaunted as a state religion. It is well known that Islam does not accept the divorce of state from religion and Suharwardies went by the same inviolable dictum or call it ordinance.

      Sharf-ud-din was no Muslim Plato who had tremendous intellectual abilities and horizons. He is not known even by traditions as to have given hints and lessons on thorny problems of life and death and mystery shrouding the vital existential issues. He was no philosopher. Had he been one he would have made history for Islam, first in his own native land and then in Kashmir . He was not even a great spiritualist. Could he compete with the inheritors of titanic spiritual, theoretical and practical, inheritance that was abundantly enriched by six schools of Indian philosophy and more than most Kashmir philosophy of Shiva-non-dualism? The spiritual goods that he peddled in Kashmir, overtly or covertly, were stale as they were so popular in Kashmir that they had lost their sheen and lustre. He can be said to have worked miracles. But, then Kashmir was a land infested with miracle-purbeyars. What special was in his bag that could have attracted the Kashmiris?

    Conversion of ‘heretical & polytheistic,’ ‘depraved and misguided’ Hindus was his consuming life-ambition. When he just converted Rinchen, he was motivated to convert vast population of Hindus by wielding power by proxy. It never bothered him if conversions as an Islamic therapy was in any manner efficacious to mould converts, unhinged from their roots and heritage into good human beings, morally upright and sound. In the Muslim terminology if he shone in the light

of God, or was a saint, a realized soul, a kamil what made him to sell his religion like a commodity? Realised souls, in absolute union with God, as per the indigenous axiology, offer eternal knowledge gratuitously to lift the seeker from body-mind consciousness to a new liberating consciousness of bliss. There is no give and take, no commerce. It is sheer bigotry if it peddled that paradise or blissful state of one-ness with God is the monopoly of Muslims or Hindus.

    Sharf-ud-din as a cog in the wheel of Suharwardian brotherhood could be held responsible for the introduction of Shia-Sunni strife in Kashmir . The Suharwardis have inducted the seeds of this virus everywhere they had their operative centres. Such proclivities and ideological orientation is a pointer specifically to their limited range of human empathies and sensibilities and the type of bigoted sectarianism they were deeply mired in. Sayyed Ahmed Kirmani and Baba Masud,

two of his principal followers, were anti-shia. Sheikh Hamza Makhdum, a local convert and follower of the same sect, was an inveterate anti-shia. As a dabbler in politics as per the Suharwardian technology and axiology, he despatched two of his lieutenants, Baba Dawood Khaki and Sheikh Yaqub Sarfi, to Jalal-ud-din’s court with the specific mission of dismantling Chak rule, a euphemism for Shia rule, in Kashmir . The protracted history of Shia-Sunni strife in Kashmir was flag shipped by the foreign Sayyed-Sufis of the Suharwardian brand.

    In the end, a scholar on the foreign Sayyed-Sufis and their role in Kashmir suggested in a seminar that Renchin, the convert, was the proper person to be crowned with sainthood as he served the interests of Islam in Kashmir the best. What Sharf-ud-din could not achieve in twenty years, Rinchen did in a trice.



  1.  Alberuni – Al India

  2.  Second Rajtarangini – Jonraj

  3.  The Wonder that was India – Riziwi

  4.  Sufism in Kashmir – Dr. Qayoom Rafiqi

  5.  Kashmir – Past & Present – Prof. M.L. Koul 

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati