Sufism and Rishism in Kashmir

Book: Sufism and Rishism in Kashmir: The lesser known aspects of some Sufi Orders Author: Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi Publisher: City Book Centre, Budshah Chowk, Srinagar, Kashmir. Year of Publication: 2011 Pages: 173 Price: Rs 1295 ISBN 81-7976-047-2


Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

Spirituality has left an indelible mark on the soil of Kashmir valley. The wise words of the famous poet and historian Kalhana that “Kashmir can never be subdued by the military might but only by the spiritual forces”, still holds as gospel truth for the people of Kashmir because literalist, puritanical, rigid and exclusivist form and interpretation of no religion could take firm root in the valley. The spiritual essence of each religion found the soil of Kashmir conducive for its survival and spread. Islam was no exception to this norm, hence it spread in Kashmir through the selfless efforts of Sufis. Its spread wasn’t a result of fanatic zeal of some sword wielding Muslim conqueror. The spread of Islam in Kashmir and the Islamization process by the Sufis has been deliberated, debated and discussed by various scholars, academics and writers, but the lesser known aspects of various Sufi orders, role of Sufism in promoting pluralistic culture in Kashmir, Sufism as a channel of Inter Faith Dialogue, lessons which Kashmiri Sufism offers to the world to make it a peaceful place to dwell. The serious, and sensitive academic studies of Kashmir Sufism have been rare and even neglected, but the present book under review tries to fill this void.

Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi and his verve for writing, has penned down yet another well researched book depicting these lesser known aspects of Sufism, and its impact on various fields of life, literature and lives of the common man. The book is divided into four chapters each lucidly written and well researched depicting a certain aspect of Sufi- Islam’s impact and its various dimensions. In the Preface to the book, Dr Rafiabadi writes, “The classical features of Islamic ethos in Kashmir are still intact and we find that spiritual moorings of Islam have been attracting Kashmiri Muslims much more than any other dimension of the otherwise holistic weltanschauung of Islam. And Alhamdulillah Kashmiri Muslims are trying to imbibe and assimilate both the spiritual and mundane dimensions of Islam in their lives in a very harmonious equation and eclectically balanced manner”. The influence of Islam also resulted in development of a unique Shivaism philosophy which was an amalgamation of Islamic, Hinduistic and Buddhistic impacts. The Sufism in Kashmir also developed a unique indigenous aspect of its own known as Rishism which then spread through the poetry of Shaikh Nooruddin Noorani and works of his successor rishis. Prof Rafiabadi deliberates about the reconciliation of Sufism with Islam as the great work of Imam Ghazzali of whom Prof. Rafiabadi is an ardent disciple. In the first chapter the role of Sufis belonging to Suharwardi, Naqashbandi and Qadri orders has been elucidated, about whom little academic work has been done. Then he talks about the amalgamation of Sufism with other religious teachings and local culture which gave birth to Rishism whose greatest manifestation is evident in the personality of Shaikh Noorudin Noorani, but the causes of decline of Rishism aren’t discussed by the learned author.

The second chapter is dedicated to the “Religious Thought of Shaikh Noorudin(RA): A Detailed Study”, which initiates a debate about the co-existence of Mysticism and Scientific Knowledge, throws light on the mystic tendencies of other religions, discusses the different stages of mystic experience, explains the definition of Sufism, elaborates the necessity of following Shariah and Path of Prophet Muhammad(SAW) while traversing the mystic path, and deliberates why most of the Sufis regard Shariah as kernel for the elevation to Sufi states of Fana, Baqa, Murifat, Haqeeqat, etc.

Prof Rafiabadi also observes that Islam came to Kashmir much before the arrival of Sufis in the valley while throwing light on the history of Sufism in Kashmir. This chapter is the longest and most awe inspiring one, in the whole volume. The Rishi inspiration and culture owes its popularity to various factors, among them the non proselytizing missionary activities of rishis, little concern towards the establishment of religious madrasas and remaining aloof from the power centres and ruling clique were the characteristics that won the hearts of millions of Kashmiris.

Then Prof. Rafiabadi takes on the job of exposing his readers to the religious thought of Shaikh Noorudin Noorani, and baffles his readers by stating that setting the yardstick for the authenticity of verses of Noorudin Noorani is a difficult job, as most of his verses were transmitted orally from generation to generation before being penned down, hence each verse carries with it an exaggerated story with an invented background which makes it difficult to establish its authenticity. The author then takes on a literary survey of the work done on Shaikh ul Alam Noorudin Noorani, by writers, thinkers, academics and scholars, and while appreciating Prof Ishaq Khan, Asadullah Afaqi and Ghulam Nabi Gowhar for their work on Noorudin Noorani, he criticizes some ideas and formulations of G.N Gowhar as formulated in his book “Kashmir Mystic Thought” about Noorudin Noorani, but he still acknowledges that Gowhar has opened new facets regarding Shaikh Ul Alam studies which will surely provide the beacon for future researchers.

Prof Rafiabadi is aware of the intellectual apathy, dishonesty and renegadism of some writers, academics and thinkers towards Noorudin Noorani’s teachings and life, as they wish to scrap off his Islamic ideals and fervour and project him as some symbol of Hinduism, Buddhism or politically manipulated Kashmiriyat, but Rafiabadi takes such black sheep to task, while introducing to us G.N Adfar’s new book on Shaikh ul Alam titled “The Alchemy of Light or Enlightened Verses of Shaikh Nooruddin(RA)”, which is an English rendering of his verses as  well as comprehensive notes on the same. Prof. Rafiabadi is of the view that like Asadullah Afaqi, G N Adfar too hasn’t betrayed the Islamic Spirit of Shaikh ul Alam’s message and Rafiabadi draws compatibility and parallels between Shaikh ul Alam’s teachings and Qur’an and authentic hadith which are a living testimony to the brutally honest fact that Shaikh ul Alam was inspired over and above by Islam and was also a great scholar of Islam. This chapter debunks many myths surrounding the character of Shaikh ul Alam.    

In the third chapter, Prof Rafiabadi tries to bring about a reconciliation and depicts the impact of Mansur Al Hallaj on Shaikh Nooruddin’s poetry when he writes on this delicate and controversial subject “Nooruddin has made Mansur a symbolic character in his poetry and I think that Nooruddin is the only Muslim poet and mystic who has made Mansur a subject of his various deliberations and has given him representative status so far as Gnostic love is concerned”(P-123). Prof’s writing about these delicate vital issues in the chapter entitled “Mansur Al Hallaj in the Light of Shaikh Nooruddin Poetry” instills and thrills the readers perception and imagination and this chapter is a living testimony of the fact that the author has the spine and nerve to debate, write and express his opinion on an issue and tread over a path where angels fear to tread.

In the present times of material pursuits, cut throat competition and selfishness, and when the clash of civilizations seem imminent, the communal riots, internecine strife’s, sectarian clashes, intolerance towards others point of view, injustices by the elite and the totalitarian stance in the garb of democracy making the world full of wars, strives, battles, chaos, driving it irrational anarchy, Sufism offers a ray of hope. “To start with, I think one of the greatest need of the hour is dialogue between people of different faiths, something that the Sufis of Kashmir also attempted in their own way. There has always been interaction and dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths in Kashmir ever since Islam made its entry into our land.”(P-155). This need for dialogue, tolerance, love for humanity and pluralism is very well depicted in the works, words and life of these Humane godly persons from Lalla Aarifah to Shaikh Nooruddin Noorani who says about communal harmony


Children of the same parents,

When will Hindus and Muslims cut down the tree of dualism?

When will God be pleased with them and grant them his Grace?

We all came into this world as brethren

One lives in a palace, another in a hut

Still as brothers we came here all,

But now we are strangers and foes to each other

O God! When will this ever cease?

 On other occasion he says

We belong to same parents,

Then why this difference?

Let Hindus and Muslims worship God alone.

We came into this world like partners.

We should have shared our joys and sorrows together.


The essence of syncretic culture of Sufism and Rishism runs throughout the book and it is an important addition to the lesser known aspects of endangered and threatened culture, which, still is a distinguishing mark of Kashmiri identity. The author deserves our appreciation for bringing out this timely book, but the shocking price of the book prevents it from being read by everyone, despite the fact that the printing is error free and the cover is quite attractive.

      Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at