Dictionary of Kashmiri Sufis
KASHMIR’S SUFI TRADITION IS A TREASURE THAT STILL AWAITS FULL EXPLORATION
BOOKREVIEW BY MUHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH
Book : Sufis of Kashmir
Author : Mohammad Ishaq Khan
Publisher : Gulshan Books
Pages : 468
Ishaq Khan, the well known author of Kashmir’s Transition to Islam: The Role of Rishis, History of Srinagar, Experiencing Islam (little known but more original one) and most importantly in the present context Biographical Dictionary of Sufis of South Asia has come up with another important work titled Sufis of Kashmir. I am always interested in new titles on the subject as we have so little quality material available on the subject. Kashmir’s Sufi tradition is a treasure that still awaits full exploration. Our misfortune so far has been that we have not developed humanities departments to such an extent that we could do justice to the subtlety and breadth of Sufism’s immediate historical predecessor – Kashmir Saivism, metaphysics of Reshiyyat, ontology and theology of Syed Ali Hamdani, genius of Sarfi, the mysticism disguised as romanticism of Rusul Mir, complex symbolic universe of Shams Faqir or density and intertextuality in Ahad Zargar. In such an impoverished scenario we must welcome Khan’s work. It is important not only for the great wealth of material on almost all important Sufis of Kashmir (though based on other works) but also for its scholarly treatment of some key issues and debates on the issue. It is sort of abridged hagiographical work on Kashmir Sufism and summarizes the essence of important texts like Hasan’s Tazkira, Deedmiri’s Waqiaat etc. Rendering into English such important sources of hagiography is itself a great service for the cause of Kashmir Sufism.
The book is a compilation of biographical notes on Sufis of Kashmir and lists entries alphabetically in the manner of biographical dictionaries. It will be of help to all students of Sufi tradition. Its scholarly introduction, its explanations of certain Sufi terms, its take on certain controversial issues, its detailed notes on more important Sufis and scattered observations from historical and Islamic perspectives, its distinguishing of legendry from historical material in the account of Rishis preceding the great Alamdar, its take on much of hagiographic material with supernaturalist bias are all of interest and significant. The book shows that Kashmir Sufi tradition is not monolithic and has within it all sorts of points of view represented from intoxicated majzubs and qalanders with antinomian tendencies to sober scholarly Sufis. Although the author is at pains to quickly bring the Sha’riah perspective – the book will be of interest for critics of Kashmir Sufi tradition who mistakenly see it largely divorced from Sha’riah. I count this as an important achievement of the work that it succeeds in foregrounding Sha’ria’s role in the lives of Sufis although I feel at times his reconciliatory endeavour is overstretched and needs to be broadened to accommodate more radical Sufis with their distinctive appropriation of the law.
The problem area of supernatural stories marking much of traditional accounts of Sufis-Rishis has been deftly dealt but still some inconsistencies remain. Baba Nasibudin’s breaking fast with ashes is dubbed as incredible while as more “incredible stories” are seemingly endorsed. The author, as a historian trained in modern methodology of historiography, attributes purely historical-symbolic significance to stories of miracles but takes them literally at places. This is being inconsistent. Such statements as “ he adhered strictly to Sha’ria” appended to certain Sufis gives misleading impression that perhaps others didn’t or displayed certain laxity in this regard. The author occasionally absolutizes epistemic status of Sha’ria without doing necessary theorization. The author has succeeded though not fully in transcending some limitations of predecessor hagiographers – bland descriptions like “ he was Sufi with illuminated soul” “ Sufi of graciousness and piety” “Sufi of intrinsic worth” “beloved of God” that we find in most biographers of Sufis creep in here and there in the present work. These statements indicate certain slackening of analytical and phenomenological rigour that characterizes the author’s other works. The book omits mentioning most of great Sufi poets and 20th century or contemporary Sufis. I think this deserves separate volume or some place in new edition. Period of many Sufis finds no mention and even attempt at speculating it is missing. Some observations of the author like pas-i-anfas is sharply distinguishable from pranayama are debatable as Sufism has always been described as the science of breath and zikr as a mechanism for silencing the clamour of mind/thought thus achieving breath control a goal aspired by pranayama. Phenomenologically Sufi practices are hardly unique in the history of mysticism. The question of class is generally missing, an omission that modern readers would strongly note.
Reading this work gives one a better impression of what Sufis stand for thus appropriating criticisms of modernists and exotericists. A wealth of edifying stories, great illustrations of moral greatness, focus on spiritual rather than occultist dimension are important highlights. Finding great scholars as learning humility by consenting to be cooks in Murshid’s kitchen (Maulana Sufi Ali), refusing of certain Sufis to meet kings, funding public projects like building bridges through the resources of khanqah (Mir Hussain Qadri), knowledge of herbs rather than djinns used to heal patients (Mulla Nurullah Patwari), Sufis as students of psychology and using interpretation of dreams to help people – these are few examples from the great wealth of material on Sufi ethics and spirituality in the book. The book introduces lives of Sufis to English readers and this is a worthy achievement.
Gulshan publishers also deserves our gratitude for publishing a dictionary of Sufis. Hardly any typographic or grammatical errors in the work with which most works written in English abound mean that this is one of the select few works for wider English knowing audience. I wish State and non-State institutions take up more ambitious and comprehensive works like multivolume Encyclopaedia of Sufis/Reshis/ poets of Kashmir and detailed treatment of important theological, metaphysical and other aspects of Reshi-Sufi tradition. We now need an Encyclopaedia of Kashmiri Sufis and Sufi poets who are generally missing in the present work. I hope Prof Khan will find time to work on such a project though it may require a big team of scholars to complete.
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Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 Feb 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 Feb 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 29 Feb 2012 00:00:00 IST
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