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Sufism fostering communal harmony in Jammu and Kashmir

Arif Mohammed Khan, Governor of Kerala presided over the conference organised by Cluster University of Srinagar in collaboration with J&K Academy of Arts, Culture and Languages…reports Asian Lite News

During a conference on Sufism in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir LG Manoj Sinha expressed that Sufism embodies a way of life that promotes and advocates for communal harmony, love, and peace among individuals. The event, organized by Cluster University of Srinagar in collaboration with J&K Academy of Arts, Culture and Languages, was presided over by Governor of Kerala, Arif Mohammed Khan. In his speech, Khan acknowledged the significant contributions of Lal Ded, Nund Rishi, Sufis, and Saints from Jammu and Kashmir in enhancing the sense of unity and togetherness.

“Our ancient heritage teaches us peace, love and humanity. The people of all religions, all sects are one family. The continuity of our culture, values, traditions is the biggest power of India that empowers our great nation to flourish,” Khan said.

Sinha highlighted the influence of Sufism in the culture and traditions of Jammu Kashmir.

“Harmonious relationship among all sects, individuals and relationship with the whole existence without distinction is real Sufism. It is way of life that promotes and propagates ideals of communal harmony, love and peace among the people.

“J&K is the land of Rishis and Sufis. It is the land which respects all spiritual and religious streams. Those who had created trouble in this paradise have been decimated, and supporters of terrorism and separatism have been neutralised to establish peace and harmony in the society,” Sinha said.

LG shared the transformational journey of UT of J&K towards peace, prosperity and inclusive development.

“Earlier, shutdown calls were a regular feature in the valley by a handful of people for their vested interests. However, it was common man who used to bear the brunt. Those days are gone now,” he said.

“Peace is prevailing, nightlife has returned and people are living freely. Today is also a historic occasion when Muharram procession was taken out peacefully in Srinagar after a gap of over 30 years,” Sinha said.

Sinha also congratulated the Cluster University of Srinagar and the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages for their endeavour to promote the Sufi traditions.

He called upon the people to embrace the Rishi-Sufi traditions and eliminate all traces of communal divide to strengthen unity.

ALSO READ-Impact of Sufism in the social fabric of Kashmir

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Impact of Sufism in the social fabric of Kashmir

It promotes universal values, such as love, compassion, and humanity. The positive impact of Sufism on communities cannot be overstated. Sufi orders have acted as centers of social and spiritual cohesion…reports Dr Shehnaz Ganai

In the contemporary society, characterized by conflicts and tensions, there is no doubt that the teachings and practices of Sufism still remain relevant. Sufism, also known as tasawwuf, constitutes the mystical and spiritual dimension of Islam, which aims to forge a closer relationship with God through love and devotion.

At the heart of Sufism lies the conviction that spiritual enlightenment is the ultimate goal of human life. In this regard, one can only achieve profound insight and knowledge of God by undergoing a process of spiritual refinement, known as tazkiya al-nafs.

Through this practice, Sufis emphasise the crucial importance of encountering the divine directly, drawing from Islamic theology, philosophy, and mysticism. Sufism teaches us that God represents the ultimate reality, and that everything in this materialistic world reflects divine attributes.

As such, the goal of Sufis entails purifying the heart from all impurities in order to attain a state of spiritual enlightenment and divine love. It is crucial to note that Sufism is not limited to Islam but practiced by people from different religions and cultures.

It promotes universal values, such as love, compassion, and humanity. The positive impact of Sufism on communities cannot be overstated. Sufi orders have acted as centers of social and spiritual cohesion.

They have provided support for the poor and marginalised, emphasising the importance of compassion, kindness, and generosity as integral components of Islamic ethics.

Unlike that of today’s intolerant world, it encourages the development of interfaith dialogue and tolerance. Sufis have always remained open to the spiritual insights of other religions and have often collaborated with non-Muslims in promoting the values of love, peace, and harmony.

The teachings of Sufism have inspired and transformed individuals and communities, reminding them of the power of love and devotion in overcoming the difficulties and challenges of life. Sufi poetry and music continue to inspire people worldwide and serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of Sufism.

In Kashmir, the tradition of Sufism is centuries-old, characterised by numerous leading Sufi saints who have resided in the region. The teachings of Sufism have had an Immense impact on the culture and social fabric of Kashmir.

The tradition of Sufi poetry, music, and art has significantly enriched the cultural heritage of the region, playing a pivotal role in promoting social cohesion and inclusiveness.

Many Sufi shrines function as centers of learning, disseminating knowledge, and enabling individuals to make positive contributions to society. Various Sufi luminaries and poets have employed their spiritual insights to advocate peace and harmony among different faiths and cultures.

In the medieval era, Sufi scholars and poets played a pivotal role in reconciling Muslims and non-Muslim communities in Kashmir, promoting the transcendence of religious boundaries.

The teachings of Sufism stimulated transformational change in interpersonal relationships, and Sufi orders played an instrumental role in bridging differences between different communities.

The unique blend of Sufism and Kashmiri folklore has produced a rich and nuanced cultural heritage that transcends borders and cultures.

From the soulful melodies of Sufianay Kalaam to the passionate poetry of Amir Khusru, Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah, Sheikh ul Aalam, Habba Khatoon, Rasool Mir, Wahab Khaar to name a few, have played a significant role in the religious and cultural history of Kashmir.

Their patterns or the themes include the importance of love and devotion to the Divine, the need to transcend the ego and worldly desires, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment through a direct experience of the Divine.

Sufi poetry and culture are deeply rooted in Islamic traditions and have played a significant role in shaping the religious and cultural heritage of the Islamic world. The way Baba Bulleh Shah expressed his feeling in lines has a deep meaning and a clear path for all of us to follow irrespective of religion.

“Padh padh ilm hazar kitabaan, apne aap na padhiya” by Baba Bulleh Shah, “Mere gaining knowledge without acting over it is like becoming a donkey that carries load of books without getting any benefit from it. And those who gain knowledge with the aim of acting over it, gets to go to their Lord with grace and favour.”

In the grand tapestry of human history, Sufism, as an expression of divine love, serves as a beacon of peace and harmony. With the arrival of the 12th century, the majestic land of Kashmir became a conduit for Sufism, as the message of divine love and beauty swept through the valley. Sufi icon Sheikh Nuruddin Noorani—known as Nund Rishi—left an indelible mark on Kashmir’s spiritual and cultural landscape by introducing Rishism, a Kashmiri variant of Sufism. His teachings emphasized the unity of God, love for all creation, and harmonious coexistence amidst religious diversity. The timeless wisdom of Sufism moulding the cultural DNA of Kashmir, has left a lasting imprint that emits an aura of tranquillity.

One cannot forget the deep spiritual insights and commitment of Lal Ded to the principles of Sufism quite visible in her famous poems, “I am a drop of the sea,” and “I have realized the truth within myself.” Habba Khatoon, known for her beautiful and lyrical poetry include “O nightingale, sing the song of my heart,” and “I have become a slave of love.” Be it Rupa Bhawani, Mehjoor, or others, all poets have used their poetry to promote the values of Sufism and spread its teachings among the people of Kashmir. Through their poetry, they have expressed their deep devotion to God and their commitment to the principles of spiritual purification and inner peace. These poets continue to be celebrated in Kashmir today, and their legacy remains an important part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Whether nestled in the picturesque valleys of Kashmir or reverberating in the alleys of modern metropolis, the enduring beauty of Sufism offers solace and transcendent wonder to all who seek comfort. As Kabir, the legendary Sufi poet, profoundly states:

“Kabira khada bazaar mein, maange sabki khair, Na kahu se dosti, na kahu se bair.” “Standing in the marketplace, Kabir wishes for everyone’s well-being; he is not friends with anyone but has no animosity either.”

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READ MORE- Kashmir youth forum organises Sufism conference

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Women in the divine

Someone who continues to be fascinated by live performances, Kalra feels the energy of the audience and the intimate relationship one can create with them –individually and collectively is possible only during a live performance…reports Asian Lite News

Invited in 2022 to join the US Grammy Recording Academy as a voting member, singer Sonam Kalra has been on a roll post Pandemic. As she gets to release several new tracks this year, Kalra tells, “I have been performing a series of ‘Women in the Divine’ concerts which explores the feminine in Sufism. And there are lots of new ideas constantly brewing.”

The singer, part of the ongoing 12th Jashn-e-Adab Art, Culture and Literature Festival being held in the Capital has been trained in both Indian music and Western traditions of music like Gospel, Jazz, and Opera, and has performed in over 30 countries at festivals and venues around the world including the Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids of Gaza.

Her ‘process’ is to deep dive which usually starts with researching poetry. “It is always the lyrics for me first that move and inspire me – and then I figure how I want to interpret, structure, arrange, and compose it. I start focussing on it completely – even when I am not working on it, it is always in the back of my mind. Considering my diverse training, my music always tends to have influences of all diverse styles- sometimes subtle and sometimes more obvious. I like to create and then revisit the composition after a while to take a fresh look at it and add more layers and nuances,” she says.

Kalra, who will be will be singing a mix of poetry and kalams of both well and lesser-known poets who wrote in Urdu, Farsi, and Punjabi- ranging from Hazrat Zaheen Shah Taji to Baba Bulleh Shah during Jashn-e-Adab, says it is praiseworthy not just owing to its format and the fact that it honours Urdu literature and its richness, but also how accessible it is. “It gives many diverse voices a chance to share their art,” she says.

This former advertising professional says that the period of Pandemic induced lockdowns taught her several things. “The fact that music and creativity continue to flow – everything we go through makes us grow in ways we did not even know we were capable of… So, despite what felt like a pause in so many ways – I worked around that pause to keep moving,” she adds.

And when it comes to music platforms in India, she laments there are not enough in India, and feels an urgent need for more funding for festivals, both from the government and the corporate sector.

“Jahan-e-Khusrau is held every year at the Humayun’s tomb and the Mahindra Kabira Festival, which takes place on the banks of the Ganga in Benares are excellent, but we have so many beautiful historic venues and public spaces that can be used to make art accessible to everyone- and not just confine it to auditoriums and festivals,” says Kalra who feels independent musicians continue to face challenges of funding and enough platforms.

Someone who continues to be fascinated by live performances, Kalra feels the energy of the audience and the intimate relationship one can create with them –individually and collectively is possible only during a live performance.

“Music touches people deeply and each person interprets it in his/her own peculiar way. Knowing how you can carry the audience through their own personal journey is equal parts spiritual and emotional for me,” says the singer who is finding time to get into the studio to finish unfinished tracks. “There are also some collaborations in the pipeline,” she concludes.

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Islam to Indonesia via Indian Sufis?

Interestingly while most of the modern European ethenographers and historians conclude that Islam has reached Indonesia through Gujarat, many Arab scholars claimed that Islam has reached directly from Arab…reports Asian Lite News

Many of the historians and Islamic scholars believe that Islam in Indonesia was spread by Indians, and not Arabs like in many other parts of the world. One of the main reasons supporting this belief is the existence of tombs like that of Sultan Malik al-Saleh, in Java and Sumatra, which bear striking similarities with those found in Gujarat of India. Apart from it, Snouck Hurgronje, a well known dutch scholar of Islam, also argues that several practices of Gujarati Muslims are similar to those found among Indonesian Muslims.

Several other medieval travellers believed that earliest Muslims to reach Sumatra were from Gujarat and Malabar. Also, it is claimed that tombstone used at the grave of Malik al-Saleh is from Cambay in Gujarat.

Interestingly while most of the modern European ethnographers and historians conclude that Islam has reached Indonesia through Gujarat, many Arab scholars claimed that Islam has reached directly from Arab.

According to one popular theory, it was Sufi from Rander in Surat (Gujarat), Sheikh Randeri, who travelled to Indonesia in the 13th century and brought Islam there. Ibn Batuta also noted that Islam in the region had several similarities with what he had witnessed in India. The ruler of Samudera Pasai (Sumatra), according to him, was a zealous Muslim who performed his religious duties with customs similar to those found in India.

The significant part was played by the Sufi missionaries who came substantially from Gujarat and Bengal in India. Unlike Islam in the Middle East and India, Indonesia wasn’t conquered by force. The Sufis came not only as preceptors but as dealers and politician who entered the courts of autocrats, the diggings of merchandisers, and the townlets of the country. Sufism is the wisdom of the direct knowledge of God; its doctrines and styles decide from the Quran and Islamic disclosure. Sufism freely makes use of paradigms and generalities deduced from Greek and indeed Hindu sources.

The Sufis communicate their religious ideas in a form compatible with beliefs formerly held in Indonesia. For case, pantheistic doctrines were fluently understood because of Hindu training extant in the archipelago. The resemblance between the Sufi outlook and Hinduism was great.

The Sufis stressed religious retreats and minimized the significance of praying at mosques; they emphasized a belief in saintliness verging on hagiolatry; and, of course, centered their belief on the individual mystical experience of God. On the other hand, Indonesian Islam is frequently portrayed as being naturally moderate by virtue of the part that mystical Sufism played in shaping it traditions.

Apart from Sufi missionaries, merchants from the Western coasts of India also dealt with Java and Sumatra in the mediaval times. Their influence also led to conversion of large number of merchants, rich nobility and ruling class to Islam. This was a slow process, which over the centuries expanded the Muslim population in archipelago.

There is this reason that Indonesian Islam, like the one followed in India, belives in syncreticism, tolerance and co-existence. We find a cultural synthesis while keeping an independent religious identity. People pray, fast and travel for Haj as piously as any Muslim should go and yet embrace Indonesian culture shared by Hindus and Buddhists.

ALSO READ-Kashmir:  An alcove of Sufis and Saints

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Kashmiris back to their roots

At the end of the 9th century, Sufism was introduced as a ‘softer’ version of Islam which promoted the idea of ‘religious humanism’…reports Asian Lite News.

Sufism, or Tasawwuf, is an ideological belief system of the Islam mysticism that took off in the 7th century by mystics from the Central Asia who avowed that they had discovered the way to obtain knowledge of Allah. The term Sufi (meaning the “man of wool” in Arabic) was coined for these ascetics who wore coarse woollen garments known as ‘sufu’.

Sufism is a corridor to expansion of consciousness and realization of self and the universe as a whole. It unlocks the innate spiritual and intuitive abilities of the practitioner while bringing about a holy communion with God through a personal relationship with the Divine. They emphasized on seven stages to be one with God: Repentance, Abstinence, Renunciation, Poverty, Patience, Trust in God, and Submission to the will of God.

The unsteady economic conditions along with unrivalled social domination of the Brahmin class created space for a culture based on the doctrine of love, compassion, common identity, and submission to God regardless of caste and financial position. It introduced new arts that gave everyone an equal chance to earn livelihood, fight poverty, and social upliftment.

The prominent orders (silsilas) of Sufism in Kashmir are the Naqshbandi, the Qadris, the Suhrawardi, the Kubrawi and the Rishis. Besides the order of Rishis which have local origins, the other orders were brought in from Iran and Central Asia. Sufi saints quickly gained popularity on account of their devoutness and sincerity. Kashmiris initially converted to this brand of Islam under the guidance of Sufis and further at the point of the sword by the Muslim invaders who ruled the region for five centuries thereafter; although it is noteworthy to mention that Islam could never gain its true dogmatic form in the valley, rather it formed a new face taking up local beliefs, a synthesis of Advaita and Sufism. Its counterparts in Central and South Asia are world apart. Kashmiri Sufism has a certain disposition, an amalgamation of reasoning of Islamic lessons and tantric methods of Hindu Shaivism.

At the end of the 9th century, Sufism was introduced as a ‘softer’ version of Islam which promoted the idea of ‘religious humanism’. It entered Kashmir with Hazrat Bulbul Shah of the Suhrawadi order who visited the valley during the rule of King Suhadev in the thirteenth century. After him, the mission was carried forward by Sufis like Sayyed Jalal-ud-din of Bukhara and Sayyed Taj-ud-din, who propagated it in the reign of Sultan Shihab-ud-din (1354-73).

But the most influential of the Sufis was Mir Sayyed Ali Hamadani. He travelled to the valley with 700 disciples for a longer stay in 1372 spreading Islam and principles of Kubrawi Sufi order and with his academic and spiritual aura attracted masses. He contributed to fields of philosophy, jurisprudence and ethics, and crafts as a means of livelihood. The common man was persuaded by Hamadani’s simple but comprehensive code of conduct to help him earn a virtuous life and achieve salvation. His teachings were based on the idea of Tawheed (oneness of God), Ikhlas (purity), Taqwa (God-fearing piety), and Unity, and such logical and undemanding concepts earned him popularity and acceptation by the both peasants and upper classes. He suggested ways to improve the irrigation system of the valley, introduced the shawl workmanship craft, and urged the Sultan to open small-scale craft industries.

The Mongol invasion crumbled the economy and the socio-political structure of Kashmir and created a void in the region. Hamdani’s teachings kick-started development in the valley and reintroduced an indigenous religious order, Rishism or Rishi request a Hindu-Muslim syncretic custom made Sufism which acquired Kashmir the title of ‘Rish Vaer’ and ‘Pir Vaer’ (the abode of Rishis and Pirs). The origin of Rishi order goes back to pre-Islamic ancient Vedic period when hermits would renounce material earthly pleasures, retire to mountains, caves, and forests, and dedicate their lives to God. The Rishi movement was started by Nund-Rishi(1377-1440), fondly known as Sahazanand (The blissful one). He moulded this pre-historic practice with the contemporary Sufi order stressing upon universal values of peace, harmony, and fraternity between all creatures of God irrespective of religion. He considered the fourteenth century revolutionary Shaivite female mystic of Kashmir, Lal Ded (The Realized One), his guru. This potpourri of mixed and borrowed principles and practices of the two ideologies of Shaivism (Hinduism) and Sufism (Islam) bridged the gap between people of different castes and faiths contributing to the collective identity of people referred to as ‘Kashmiriyat’, a representation of religious tolerance never known before.

The philosophy of Kashmiri Sufis and Rishis built this Kashmiri ethnic identity. Both Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims share common customs and beliefs and Sufi and Hindu shrines attract crowd from both communities. The thin lines between religious boundaries and the pluralistic cultural order of Kashmir are cornerstone of the unique concept of Kashmiriyat.

Kashmiriyat had faced a major setback since the 1989 outbreak of Pakistan sponsored terrorism, the beginning of political and ideological movement of fundamentalist Islamic reign that led to mass killings of innocents and exodus of the Kashmiri Hindu community, tearing through the secular, inter-faith harmony of the two religious communities, stirring religious extremism. But today when the people of Kashmir are overcoming the side effects of extremist Islamic character unleashed upon them and the subsequent identity crisis, people are reminded of the metaphysical and mystical Rishis and Sufi saints of the valley who brought solace in times of hardships, spreading the message of oneness and collective identity, with the focus of being One with the Creator.

Sufism is indeed panacea to all kinds of present day ills in the valley and needs to be practised at all levels in the society. It is knocking the Kashmiris to return to their roots.

ALSO READ-Kashmir youth forum organises Sufism conference

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Kashmir youth forum organises Sufism conference

The Jammu and Kashmir Youth development Forum has organised one day conference on “Philosophy of Sufism” at Town Hall Budgam which was attended by people from all walks of life.

Dr Sajid Ahmad wani appreciated JKYDF for promoting literature of love and high valued knowledge among the masses and selecting Budgam for holding such a prestigious conference on Sufiyat.


He said that Sufiyat has hundreds of years of roots in Kashmir and the time has come to revive this ideology of love and mutual brotherhood.

ALSO READ – The story of peace and development in Kashmir

Dr Sajid was highly impressed with the Sufi Content of Sufi books of Hundreds of Authors and called them true Glittering stars of Knowledge of Kashmir.

He said that unfortunately during the last 70 years Sufi literature was the biggest casualty and more than 72 lakh books were either destroyed in series of fire incidents in various khankah’s or deliberately kept out of circulations which gave free space to most unwanted literature causing a sense of disunity and divisions in the society.

Senior journalists, Ajaz Ahmad said that Kashmiris have always set an example of communal amity and brotherhood even during the worst of times and the reasons for that was they believed in Sufism. “

“The mainstay of Kashmir’s tolerance and co-existence has been our Sufism. Unless Sufism is restored to its centuries old glory, we cannot have a peaceful, tolerant and progressive society,” he said.

“Sufism is a path of spiritual advancements, an expansion of consciousness, leading to awareness of self and the universe. The substance of Sufism is selfless experiencing and actualization of the truth. The practice of Sufism leads to the development of innate spiritual and intuitive abilities,” Ajaz added.

Speaking on the occasion, the JKYDF founder, Farooq Ganderbali said that JKYDF plans to hold such conferences in every educational institutions of Kashmir valley in the coming months.

Among others, Dr Mohd Yaqoob Khan, Dr Rasheed former director, Abdul Ahad Yatoo, Naseer Ahmad ,Riyaz Fazili, DDC members of district  were present on the occasion.

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