Traditionally known as “Rishi Vatika” (Abode of Rishis) and “Pir-i Vaer” (Valley of Saints) Kashmir has produced mystics of different hues. The deep penetration of the Rishi mystics in the Kashmir society can be gauged from the fact that A’in-i Akbari has estimated some 2000 active Rishis in Kashmir in the Mughal Period. The number of Sufi mystics, who entered Kashmir from different regions, especially from Persia and Central Asia also runs in thousands. As such, the mystic thought continued to play a vital role in shaping and reshaping the socio-religious ethos of Kashmir.
Since Kashmir could not be divorced from or it cannot part ways with its mystic past, the mystic tendencies have continued to influence the society of Kashmir. As such, there have emerged some new trends, besides the traditional ones, in the scholarly landscape of Kashmir which are trying to explore the yet unexplored dimensions of this mystic ethos. And, to widen and expand the canvas of the mystic scholarship by unearthing the related facts, women are also making their best efforts to be a part of this scholarly enterprise.
To this there has been an important addition of women scholarship by a budding woman scholar, Shahida Bilqies who has come up with a book entitled Mystic Icons of Kashmir (18th–19th Centuries) published by one of the emerging publishing houses of Kashmir, Kitab Mahal, Srinagar. The author is Ph. D. in Islamic Studies, pursued under Prof. Hameed Naseem Rafiabadi who, besides being ‘the teacher of our teachers’ (ustadh al-asatidhah) is one of the internationally acclaimed teachers of the subject(s), Islamic Studies and Philosophy, from the sub-continent!
The book begins with a thorough “Prologue” by Prof. Hameed Naseem Rafiabadi in which he has presented briefly the genesis of Islam in Kashmir and the emergence of different mystic trends, both Rishi and Sufi, in the Valley. In the brief “Introduction” the author has talked about “her interest in spiritual[ity] of Kashmir.” (p. 15). The author is also of the opinion that the Wujudiyyah (pertaining to the Unity of Being) trend has remained predominant in Kashmir and different Sufi orders together with Rishi Brotherhood have existed there side by side. (p. 16) She has then mentioned Mirza Muhammad Murad Tang and Sheikh Ahmad Tarbali (pp. 16-17) who constitute the content of Chapter 3 and 4 respectively.
As the book actually explores Spirituality/Sufism/Mysticism, therefore, the author in Chapter 1, entitled “Islamic Spirituality: An Overview”, has made an effort to explain what Spirituality in Islam is all about. In this regard, the author has tried to explain the terms, such as soul, qalb, ruh, ‘aql, nafs (and its different aspects), etc. (pp. 20-24) Here, the author seems to have given a blend to what is generally meant by Spirituality and how the basic sources of Islam (Qur’an and Hadith) expound it. That is why the terms like tafakkur, tadabbur, tawassum, tazkiyyah, dhikr, khulq, sidq, khawf, etc. have been elaborated. (pp. 27-35)
Chapter 2, “Development of Sufism in Kashmir”, while giving space to the genesis of Sufism in Kashmir gives an exhaustive treatment to the historical role of Mir Sayyid ‘Ali Hamadani after the brief mention of Sayyid Sharafuddin ‘Abd al-Rahman (Bulbul Shah). (pp. 74-80) This chapter also provides a brief account of different other Sufi orders which flourished in Kashmir. (pp. 80-92)
Next Chapter has been exclusively devoted to the Sufi, Sheikh Muhammad Murad Tang and, as such, it is one of the two main chapters of the book. As has been the practice observed by different Sufis while transforming their course of life, Muhammad Murad Tang, initially being fond of luxurious traits of life because of his enormous wealth, is said to have renounced it and became an ascetic on the advice of his teacher. (p. 99) No wonder then, that he was conferred with the title of ‘Mujaddad’ (the Reviver) by his teacher and mentor, Sheikh Abdul Ahad Faruqi Sirhindi. (p. 95) This chapter also deals with the disciples and works of Sheikh Muhammad Murad Tang. (pp. 103-121)
Following Chapter elaborates the role of another Sufi, Sheikh Ahmad Tarbali and is thus a main chapter of the book. The chapter not only discusses the upbringing of this Sufi on the path of Tasawwuf (pp. 121-126) but mentions his impact (pp. 126-127) as well as his Mystical Thought (127-128). A good part of this chapter also highlights the active role of this Sufi amid different spheres of his society. (pp. 128-145)
In Chapter 5, the author has tried to highlight the “outlook of the ‘Ulama’ (Religious Scholars) vis-à-vis the Sufis and Rishis” as can be inferred from the title of the chapter. (p. 148) Here, some of the stalwarts of the Ahl-i Hadith Movement of Kashmir, such as Maulana Anwar Shah Shopiani, etc. (pp. 152-158) have also been given some space, naturally to highlight their contribution.
Then there follows the “Conclusion” of the book (pp. 173-180) which sums up the main content (Mysticism/Spirituality) of the book. However, “Rishism in Kashmir” has been added as Part-II to the book. This Section after giving the definition of the term talks about its origin. (pp. 181-183) In this backdrop, while discussing the role of Shaikh Nuruudin, Lall Daed and other local mystics, as introduced by Shaikh Nuruddin, have been given space. (183-189) The Section ends with the elaboration of different Islamic themes as presented by the Shaikh. (pp. 189-205)
The book thus makes a fair addition to the Sufi Studies of Kashmir. This contribution could have been made more fruitful had the author taken care of both the Research Methodology as well as the language! After all Islamic Mysticism (Tasawwuf/Sufism) is said to have emerged from the Islamic world-view of Ihsan which means “excellence” in intention, word and deed.
(The author is Assistant Professor Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: email@example.com)