A Muslim Missionary in Medieval Kashmir

A Muslim Missionary in Medieval Kashmir
(English translation of Tohfatu’l-Ahbab)
Translation and Annotation by Kashinath Pandit
Aditya Prkashan, 2/18, Ansari Raod, New Delhi
Hard bund , pp.294+lxx, price Rs.700.00 Published December 2009


Revised final review of  March 2, 2010:

A translation of the Farsi work written by Mohammad Ali Kashmiri in 1642, A Muslim Missionary in Mediaeval Kashmir is about Shamsudin Araki and his mission in Kashmir. Araki came to Kashmir twice, and stayed in it for nearly twenty years. The writer knew him well because his father Maulana Khaleel Ahmed and his maternal uncle were his devotees; the details that he provides about Araki’s activities in Kashmir, especially the ones pertaining to his second visit, suggest that he must have been a witness to most of them.

Right from his childhood, Araki took active interest in the Nurbakshiya order because of his personal acquaintance with Sayyid Nurbaksh.  On his advice, Araki spent his early years with his family.

Then he went through the rigours of service and discipline for nearly two decades with distinguished dervishes of his times: Shaykh Mahmud, Maulana Husaya, Shaykh Asiri Lahiji, and Shah Qasim, who was instrumental in sending him to Kashmir.  His first visit was ostensibly occasioned by the sickness of Sultan Hasayn Mirza, in whose service he stayed with Shah Qasim.  Because the medicines needed by the king were available only in the mountains of Kashmir, Araki was sent to procure them for him.

Araki arrived in Kashmir during the reign of Hasan Shah, as an emissary of the King of Herat. Though critical of the manner in which he was received, he was settled in a lodge and provided generously.  During a royal picnic to the Wular lake, under the influence of the music played by the known musicians of their time, he stood up in “spiritual dance and ecstasy,” in the manner of sufis, and won a number of influential followers. After the death of Hasan Shah, he shifted to Mazar-e-Salatin in Srinagar, and began taking active interest in the religious affairs of the people.  He publicly voiced his displeasure of the local mullas, some of whom became his enemies, because he found them corrupt and depraved: their rituals, festivities, feasts, even their routine activities were an imitation of the ones followed by infidels. Araki extended his influence by entering into debates with the known ulema of the city and showing them in a poor light.  Thus he created a proper setting to “raise high the banner of Islam, demolish the customs and traditions of idol-worshippers, and eradicate all symptoms of infidelity and ignorance (about Islamic religion) from the misguided people of this land.”  The account clearly states that Zainu’l-‘Abidin was responsible for leading people into the ways of infidelity by allowing converts to the new faith to go back to heresy and despicable innovation, and thus undoing the good work done by Sultan Sikandar and Sayyid ‘Ali Hamadani and his son Sayyid Muhammad Hamadani. The king built a mosque for Araki, and with the help of a number of dedicated followers, Araki established the Nurbhakshiyah way of life, and went back to Khurasan to be in the service of Shah Qasim.

That Araki stayed in Kashmir for eight years, took active interest in the religious life of its people and created a solid base for his work, shows that procuring medicinal herbs for the King back home was only a diplomatic ploy.  This explains why, after spending many years in his service, his preceptor, Shah Qasim, sent him back to Kashmir to “provide guidance to people there.”   This time, he was well received and given a new house.  He immediately took stock of the situation, and recognized that the state was riven by factionalism, where chieftains schemed against each other to have kings of their choice.  Araki won the favour of Malik Musa Raina, one of the strong warlords of the times, who donated all his land and wealth and old houses to him and prompted all his relatives and friends, and even his womenfolk and servants, to do the same.  The reigning monarch Muhammad Shah issued a royal decree to give him the stewardship of the Hamadaniyyah hospice.  Araki got emboldened in his designs, became aggressive in his ways, and started taking punitive action against those who did not follow his orders.  Because of this, he incurred the wrath of Mian Muhamad Baihaqi, a staunch Sunni, the governor of the land, and was promptly served marching orders.  Araki went to Skardu, where he worked to win supporters and to raise mosques and hospices on the ruins of temples and idol houses.

When Musa Raina came back to power because of the support he gave to Fatah Shah, who replaced the earlier king, Araki was recalled.  Taking full advantage of this new support base, he resorted to a concerted program of demolishing Hindu temples in a systematic manner, raising mosques and hospices on their ruins, and appointing mullas and muezzins to take care of them.  Nearly seventy pages of the book provide a blow-by-blow account of the temples and how they were destroyed.  The writer’s father, Maulana Khaleel Ahmed, was nominated by Araki as the Shaykh of one of the hospices.  At one place, Islampur, he appointed Qadi Muhammad Qudsi to take care of the new hospice and to impart training to his disciples.  Qadi composed a Mathnawi in praise of Araki for his demolition drive.  The book provides extracts from the mathnawi, which states that

In short in this ancient valley
With the efforts of this spiritual guide
Every idol house that was laid waste
Became the site for a hospice
Today instead of each fire-temple
There is either a garden or a paradise

After completing the task of destroying what he called the traces of infidelity and urging people to follow the ways of the faith, Araki left Kashmir for good.

The translator has enriched the text by his scholarly “Introduction,” which runs into more than eighty pages, and copious footnotes, in which he writes  glosses on important terms, identifies people and places, and provides interesting and valuable cross references. In the introduction, he discusses the appropriateness of calling Araki Araki and not Iraqi. For a perspective on the biography of Araki, he gives relevant details about the key people in his life, such as Sayyid Nurbaksh, the makers of Kubravi order of Sufis, Shamsu’d-Din Lahiji and Sultan Husayn Bayaqara of Herat.  He also sketches the social and political conditions of the times, the sectarian contours of the society in which Araki grew up, and provides revealing details about the various orders of sufis and dervishes and differences in their practices.  Some sufis formed a part of the royal guard of Safavi kings who tore a person to “pieces … trampled him under their feet, or kicked him to death.  At times, they ate him up alive.”

It would be no exaggeration to say that the labour put in by the translator is of immense value to all kinds of readers. In his readable translation of the Farsi text, he provides access to one of the several well known sources of medieval Kashmir that have either been understated or ignored, though these are of particular importance for understanding the social and cultural transformations in Kashmiri society.  Though the book is principally about Araki, it also tells us about court intrigues and rivalries among powerful courtiers and commanders of Kashmir for securing political power, and the beginning of a new conflict between locals and non-locals. The book should be of particular interest to all those readers and researchers who are interested in the medieval history of Kashmir.

Tej N Dhar.

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