Islam, culture, and Kashmir

Dr Khan traces Kashmir’s history as an outward looking and culturally self assured society
Islam, culture, and Kashmir
Representational Pic

The book, Islamic and Cultural foundations of Kashmiriyat by Prof.(Dr) Mohammad Ishaq Khan recently published by Primus Books - New Delhi, after eight years from the death of its author in 2013, has hit the market. The author of the book is late Professor Mohammad Ishaq Khan (9 January 1946 - 5 April 2013) a historian of international fame from Kashmir. He was Dean academics, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and head, Department of history at Kashmir University.

After his superannuation in 2005, he was appointed as the Director of newly founded centre for Kashmir Studies and later held the Shaikul-Alam Chair at Kashmir University until August 2008. He had also remained a member of Indian Council of Historical Research. He was awarded the Senior Leverhulme Research Fellowship by the Oxford centre (Oxford University) for Islamic Studies in 1992.

The book with 217 pages, containing 11 chapters caps a life time of research into the history of Kashmir with special emphasis on cultural heritage. The main theme is Kashmiriyat, the essence of Kashmiri culture which can be traced through hundreds years of Kashmir history. The book is based on his research papers presented in the international conferences/Seminars organized by the top universities of world and different centers of Historical and Islamic studies.

He traces Kashmir’s history as an outward looking and culturally self assured society, tied closely to the rest of Indian sub continent but maintaining unique traditions available to both Muslims and non Muslims. In his introduction, he says that 'it was this spiritual and social base of Islam in the valley that stood as a bulwark against the post partition communalist frenzy of mob mentality in some parts on the other side of the valley.'He believes that ‘Kashmiri folk assimilated Sufism through Khanqahs and the social role of peripatetic Muslim Rishis during five centuries of Islamic acculturations militates against designating Kashmiri culture as strictly composite in character. Notwithstanding several similarities in respect of their social customs, ceremonies and ideas, Pandits and Muslim while proud of calling themselves Kashmiris, have through out history struggled to seek inspirations from two directions both geographically and cultural terms.' He lays emphasis on the role of Sufis and Rishis especially Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali (Nund-iReshi) and Lalla a Hindu yogini known as Lal Ded (Lala Isheavery / Lala-Arifa) and their influence on the behavior and acculturation of Kashmiris. The author says that Shiek Nurud-din advocated the value system of humanism, co-existence with men of other religions and culture and a deep commitment to the sanctity of human life and its artistic manifestation on earth. The author further says that ‘the important consequences of the philosophy propounded by these two great sages of medieval Kashmir was the flowering idea of the dignity and the fundamental equality of man. Lalla propagated the fundamental Sufi idea of divine unity in simple language which had a deep and direct appeal to the common man. For her true devotion meant seeking God within oneself and also in the daily routine life. She helped the common man to accept the Sufi ideas of equality and brotherhood. Like Lalla, Nuru’d-Din criticized the forms of social behavior which lead to the exploitation and suffering of other human beings.’

The author finds out that ‘Nuru’d-Din seems to have visited every part of the valley to spread his message of divine love and human brotherhood. Muslim society as it emerged in Sultanate and subsequent period of history bears the deep imprint of Rishi movement.’ ‘The Rishi movement ushered in a period of cultural renaissance in the valley. Lal Ded and Nuru’d-Din asserted the rights of the under privileged as savior of downtrodden.’ The author elucidates that ‘there are many more examples which illustrates the absorption and assimilation of a number of traditions by Islam in Kashmir.’ Islam did not totally destroy the ancient Kashmiri culture but steered it out of the narrow waters of caste ridden society into the broad sea of humanism. The essays take a close look at the range of available historical sources to address the role of saints, rituals in valley, the Persian influence on Kashmir and many other issues. In last chapter he discusses about the evolution of his identity vis-a-vis Islam and Kashmir. The last piece of writing has already been published by Nyla Ali Khan, in her edited book, ‘Parchment of Kashmir, History, society and politics’ in 2012, which contain the articles of renowned authors. The book is worth read particularly the last chapter which also throws light, though briefly, on the political developments that took place during the second half of the twentieth century in Kashmir. His major publications include ‘Perspective on Kashmir: Historical Dimensions(1983); Experiencing Islam( 1997); Kashmir’s Transition to Islam: The role Muslim Rishis (2005); History of Srinagar, 1846-1947; A study in Socio-Cultural Change(2007) and Biographical Dictionary of Sufism in South Asia (2009)

Abdul Rashid Khan is former IGP

Greater Kashmir