Kashmiri Sufism, Islam and Hinduism

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Kashmiriyat is a Prototype for Hindustaniyat - II

By: Sultan Shahin

Islam and Hinduism – spiritual symbiosis

In order to fully appreciate the depth of Kashmiri Sufis’ commitment to both Islamic and pre-Islamic Buddhist and Vedantic ideas, it is necessary to study the perspective in which their interaction with the two great religions took place. Islam and Hinduism have lived together in this land for almost fourteen centuries -the first thirteen as very good neighbours.  ‘Love thy neighbour, for he is yourself’, said the Vedas. The Holy Quran agreed. It is this spiritual symbiosis that kept the followers of the two religions in near-perfect harmony for such a long time.

Islam’s encounter with other religions was quite violent. The history of crusades launched by Christian powers is well known. It was Hinduism alone that provided Islam with a fertile ground for natural growth. Muslims’ treatment of Hindus, too, was quite considerate. As Hindus had the reputation of being polytheists and idolaters, Muslims could have treated them as Kuffar (non-believers) and Mushrekeen (polytheists). Instead, the very first Muslim to conquer parts of India – Sindh and Multan in 711 A.D. – Mohammad bin Qasim, accorded them the special status of Ahl-e-Kitab that was supposed to be meant for Christians and Jews alone. Even the Central Asian bandits who invaded and looted India could not disturb the growing ties. A number of Sufi saints spent their lifetime in India, spreading Islam’s message of peace. Prophet Mohammad, too, is believed to have felt attraction for India. Allama Iqbal had put it in these unforgettable words:

Meer-e-Arab ko aai thandi hawa jahan se;

Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai.

(From where the Prophet received a cool breeze; that is my land, that is my land)

Some primordial spiritual connection must have been at work. For, only recently have Muslim scholars learnt that Hindus indeed constitute the fourth group of Ahl-e-Kitab. For some mysterious reason, the Holy Quran had left this question vague. It mentioned a major religious group called ‘Sabeieen’, as the ummah (followers) of a Prophet who had brought a Divine book to the world. It also mentioned Hazrat Nooh (Noah) as a major prophet ranking with prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (p.b.u.h.). But who the followers of Hazrat Nooh are was always a mystery.

Painstaking research has been going on seeking the fourth Ahl-e-Kitab. From Hazrat Shah Waliullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi to Maulana Shams Navaid Usmani, a number of scholars from the sub-continent, too, contributed to this effort. It is now clear to many Muslim ulema that Hindus are indeed the lost umma of Prophet Nooh whom they know as Maha Nuwo. Evidence from Markandaya Puran and several Vedas, and their description of ‘Jal Pralaya’ (Devastation caused by the Flood) has been most helpful in this research.

The findings of this research have still not percolated down to the Muslim masses. But this information has been welcomed as an intellectual confirmation of what Muslims have known intuitively for centuries. It also satisfies the students of comparative religion who have been amazed to find passages in Vedas, Puranas, the Holy Quran, the Hadees, and the Old and New Testament that correspond to each other almost word for word.

Beginning with the term they employed to describe themselves, Dharma and Deen (both meaning ways of life), and an emphatic assertion of the Oneness of God (Ekam Sat: La Ilaha Illallah), Islam and Hinduism share the vision of a moral order prevailing in the universe. Both dharmas inform us of cosmic agencies keeping an account of all our deeds for which we will be made accountable.

Both talk about life after death.

Despite the philosophy of advaita (non-duality), the Sanskrit term for Oneness of God preached so strongly in the Vedas, the vast majority of Hindus worship images of a multiplicity of gods. This naturally raises questions about Hinduism’s real commitment. But it is only natural for an ancient religion to have allowed idol-worship to its followers who were not intellectually mature enough thousands of years ago to grasp the Rigveda idea of ‘One Being, neither male nor female, above all conditions and limitations of personality and of human nature’.  As the latest religion, Islam bans idol-worship, for in its view, humanity has grown mature enough to do without the crutches of idols. But even today, many Muslims look for similar crutches in Dargahs and Khanqahs of various sorts. Kashmiri Sufis’ oft-expressed love of idols can be seen in this context.

While their perception of humanity’s intellectual level is understandably different, both Islamic and Hindu scriptures accord the highest value to intelligence, reason, buddhi. The Holy Quran’s repeated emphasis on reason and education is well known. No wonder the advent of Islam had heralded a period of great intellectual and scientific achievements that was also instrumental in propelling the Europeans from Dark Ages to Enlightenment. The use of reason is regarded as one of the ten principles of Hindu Dharma as well. The greatest prayer in Vedas asks inspiration for intelligence. Even the Gayatri mantra calls for ‘an unerring guidance to our intellects.’ In Yogavasistha, the redoubtable sage Vasistha exhorts Sri Ram Chandra to “discard irrationality even if it comes from the creator himself.” No wonder our ancient Hindu ancestors had led the world in nearly all disciplines of scientific and artistic endeavour for several millennia.

Hinduism has been likened to a vast sponge, absorbing all that it can. As an ancient Deen it has to do that in order to stay modern. (The Vedas claim to predate Creation. This is confirmed by the Bible: ‘In the beginning was the word’. Hinduism has gracefully accepted a modified version of Islamic laws of divorce and property rights to women. Indian Constitution, largely prepared by Hindus, is based on the Hindu-Muslim ideal of equal respect for all religions. It gracefully accepts the Islamic ideal of human and gender equality. Similarly Islam teaches us to practice Ijtihad, that is accepting new ideas in order to keep up with changing times.

Islam also enjoins upon its followers to respect and learn from all the previous prophets. The Holy Quran, for instance, does not go into a detailed discussion of the Oneness of God. It does not teach techniques of meditation and concentration on God, though these are vital elements of prayer. There is no need. The Hindu scriptures, our Adi-granth, had done that much earlier. They tackle the question of the unity of God from all possible angles and teach such a variety of techniques of meditation so much so that the world is flocking to India to learn them. Our philosophies are complimentary, not contradictory. In any case the richness of Hindu philosophy and its openness to all competing ideas themselves ensure that it treats all new ideas as complimentary rather than contradictory. The spiritual symbiosis is an obvious fact. We only need to study and reflect with an open mind.

Kashmiri Sufism is primarily Islamic in spirit

The most widespread of the chief sects of Islam is the Sufi, or Mystical. The orthodox divines, following the Quran, taught from the first that the nature of man was utterly unlike that of God, and hence the idea of a divine incarnation was, and is, abhorrent to Islam. Yet there have always been Moslem seekers after a Way by which man could attain real communion with God. They taught that by meditation, mystical rites and asceticism, following the example of illuminated teachers, it was possible for the believer to have direct touch with Allah, such as the mere observance of the law of religion could not give. In their teaching about God and the creature some of them confused the two and fell into pantheism, and for a long time they were considered heretics. But about A.D. 1000 the great doctor Al Ghazzali, who had been brought back from scepticism by a vision of inner enlightenment, established the position of the Sufis as a legitimate sect in orthodox Islam.

Kashmiriyat and indeed Sufism in general are under attack today from a political and fundamentalist version of Islam that considers them a deviation from Islam. A fundamentalist scholar Mr. Yusuf Hejazi, for instance, wrote in a long essay recently: “Both the terms Sufi and Sufism and Sufi beliefs have no basis from the traditional Islamic sources of the Quran and Sunnah, a fact even admitted by them. Rather, Sufism is in essence a conglomerate consisting of extracts from a multitude of other religions with which Sufi’s interacted. Although it began as a move towards excessive Ibaadah (prayer), such practices were doomed to lead to corruption, since their basis did not come from authentic religious doctrines, but rather from exaggerated human emotions. By examining the mystic doctrines of Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism and other religions, it becomes clear how closer Sufism is to these religions than to Islam.”

One of the main fundamentalist grouse against Sufism is what Hejazi mentions as Corruption of Tawheed in Allah’s Attributes.  He says: Sufis totally deny all of Allah’s Attributes, such as His Face, His Hands, His Istawaa etc, using metaphorical meanings to explain His Attributes. Although the Companions and Tabi’een believed in them without any resemblance to His creation, the Sufi’s deem His Attributes to be a part of His creation.”

It would be clear to any one with a modicum of knowledge of Islam that it is Hejazi’s version of fundamentalist Islam that is indeed a deviation from Islam and not the Sufi beliefs and practices. Talking about Allah’s face and hands and other attributes is clearly a deviation, indeed a major deviation from the concept of a formless God that even Muslim children are aware of as an integral part of Islam.

Much is also made of the Kashmiri Sufi’s belief in reincarnation. That reincarnation is a Hindu belief is well known. But it is not known that the Quran refers as Kafir (non-believer) any one who doesn’t believe in the possibility of rebirth. Most notable in this context are the verses of the great mystic, Hazrat Jalal-ud-Deen Rumi, describing the process of evolution through reincarnation – from mineral and plant to animal and man and then to angelhood and beyond.

Another great mystic Mansur al-Hallaj, famous for his formulation, Anal Haq (I am The Truth: Aham Brahmo Asmi) had written:

“Like the herbage I have sprung up many a time on the banks of flowing rivers.

For a hundred thousand years I have lived and worked in every sort of body.”

The Quran itself seems quite clear: ”And you were dead, and He brought you back to life. And He shall cause you to die, and shall bring you back to life, and in the end shall gather you unto Himself.”

The words ‘you were dead’ can only mean that they had lived before becoming dead. And the words “in the end shall gather you unto Himself” could very well mean the attainment of moksha rather than what is usually interpreted as an eternal life in Heaven or Hell.

Some other verses frpm the Quran are also relevant, using the translation of Dr. Abdi:

As the rains turn the dry earth into green thereby yielding fruits, similarly God brings the dead into life so that thou mayest learn.

And He sent down rains from above in proper quantity and He brings back to life the dead earth, similarly ye shall be reborn.

Dr. Abdi remarks that “commentator Ayashi on the authority of Imam Baqer says that the ultimate referred to in the foregoing verse really mean Rajat (reincarnation), or going up and down, and …that Rajat means rebirth in this world of great Holy Beings as well as of well known kafirs before Qiyamat (resurrection) …Kafir means the perverse.” In this relation Abdi again quotes from the Koran: The Kafirs “have sworn by the strongest oath that one who dies shall not be reborn. Surely they will be reborn and this law is perfect but people who do not possess wisdom do not comprehend it.”

“Commentator Qummi quoting Imam Jafer, the well-known authority in the Islamic world, say that (this) mean rebirth to be undergone before entering the Heaven world.”

In a series of articles, “Reincarnation––Islamic Conceptions,” M.H. Abdi, a Moslem scholar, expresses some interesting thoughts on how rebirth gradually lost popularity in Islam:

“The position adopted by the successive luminaries who followed (Mohammed) was to affirm the belief in reincarnation but not to propagate it as a teaching for the masses. The attitude was due to psychological reasons. The emphasis in Islamic teachings has throughout been on the purity of action.

“Another factor to remember is that the defensive wars, which have been described as Jihad or holy wars, which the Muslims fought in the early days and the wars of conquests (therefore not holy) which the Muslims fought in later days…gave a different shift to Islamic teachings. Philosophical, mystical and ethical teachings received an impetus in the first phase but they had subdued existence in the later phase. During this phase the republican character of the State was changed into monarchy and the supremacy no more belonged to the saints and philosophers.

“A subject like reincarnation demands a subtle mental attitude. It entails understanding of the higher planes of consciousness, the laws of cause and effect and the working of the laws of evolution. The monarchs had no interest in such subjects. Like so many other teachings, reincarnation was confined to the study and attention of the outer and inner students of Sufism…(However,) there is no danger for a Muslim being called a heretic if he believes and expresses himself in favour of reincarnation.”

Many Muslims look at the concept of rebirth in the context of resurrection on the Day of Judgement alone. But it needs to be remembered that the concept of Day is derived from the concept of Time and our concept of Time is an entirely earthly concept. As the Holy Quran is the word of God, the concept of Time contained there must be a Divine concept. The Divine, let us remember is eternal, Timeless. For all we know, we may already be going through the Day of Judgement.

Scholars like Reynold A Nicholson have studied the subject of Islamic mysticism objectively and in detail. His conclusion is clearly that there is a basis for Sufism in orthodox Islam itself. Mohammedan orthodoxy in its present shape owes much to Ghazali, and Ghazali himself was a Sufi.

Nicholson says: His (Prophet Mohammad’s) deeper instinct craved a direct revelation from God to the soul. There are no contradictions in the logic of feeling. Mohammed, who had in him something of the mystic, felt God both as far and near, both as transcendent and immanent. In the latter respect, Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth, a Being who works in the world and in the soul of man.

“If My servant ask thee about Me, lo, I am near”;

“We (God) are nearer to him than his own neck-vein”; “And in the earth are signs to those of real faith, and in yourselves. What! Do ye not see?”

“It was a long time ere they saw. The Moslem consciousness, haunted by terrible visions of the wrath to come, slowly and painfully awoke to the significance of those liberating ideas.

“The verses which I have quoted do not stand alone, and however unfavourable to mysticism the Koran as a whole may be, I cannot assent to the view that it supplies no basis for a mystical interpretation of Islam. This was worked out in detail by the Sufis, who dealt with the Koran in very much the same way as Philo treated the Pentateuch. But they would not have succeeded so thoroughly in bringing over the mass of religious Moslems to their side, unless the champions of orthodoxy had set about constructing a system of scholastic philosophy that reduced the divine nature to a purely formal, changeless, and absolute unity, a bare will devoid of all affections and emotions, a tremendous and incalculable power with which no human creature could have any communion or personal intercourse whatsoever. That is the God of Mohammedan theology. That was the alternative to Sufism. Therefore, “all thinking, religious Moslems are mystics,” as Professor D B Macdonald, one of our best authorities on the subject, has remarked. And he adds: “All, too, are pantheists, but some do not know it.”

Nicholson goes on to study the similarities and differences in Sufi, Buddhist and Hindu thoughts. The Sufis learned the use of rosaries from Buddhist monks, and, without entering into details, it may be safely asserted that the method of Sufism, so far as it is one of ethical self-culture, ascetic meditation, and intellectual abstraction, owes a good deal to Buddhism. But the features, which the two systems have in common, only accentuate the fundamental difference between them. In spirit they are poles apart. The Buddhist moralizes himself; the Sufi becomes moral only through knowing and loving God.

Nicholosn concludes that mysticism has its origins within Islam itself, no matter how much it may have gained from its interactions from Christianity, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Buddhism and Hinduism. The receptivity of Islam to foreign ideas has been recognized by every unbiased inquirer, and the history of Sufism is only a single instance of the general rule…Even if Islam had been miraculously shut off from contact with foreign religions and philosophies, some form of mysticism would have arisen within it, for the seeds were already there. Of course, we cannot isolate the internal forces working in this direction, since they were subject to the law of spiritual gravitation. The powerful currents of thought discharged through the Mohammedan world by the great non-Islamic systems above mentioned gave a stimulus to various tendencies within Islam which affected Sufism either positively or negatively. As we have seen, its oldest type is an ascetic revolt against luxury and worldliness; later on the prevailing rationalism and scepticism provoked counter movements toward intuitive knowledge and emotional faith, and also an orthodox reaction which in its turn drove many earnest Moslems into the ranks of mystics.

How, it may be asked, could a religion founded on the simple and austere monotheism of Mohammed tolerate these new doctrines, much less make terms with them? It would seem impossible to reconcile the transcendent personality of Allah with an immanent Reality which is the very life and soul of the universe. Yet Islam has accepted Sufism, The Sufis, instead of being excommunicated, are securely established in the Mohammedan church, and the Legend of the Moslem Saints records the wildest excesses of oriental pantheism.


Kashmiriyat represents the best fruit of centuries of interaction between ancient Indian traditions and Islam. It is a synthesis of various religious traditions that has evolved over the centuries. But this could not have been possible without a spiritual symbiosis that exists between Islam and pre-Islamic religions, philosophies and traditions. Kashmiriyat is under attack now from fundamentalist Islam that calls Sufism a deviation from Islam. A continued peaceful co-existence of the Hindu and Muslim communities in South Asia is essential for the further evolution of Kashmiriyat. This demands that we rediscover the spiritual symbiosis between Islam and pre-Islamic traditions. It also needs to be remembered that though Kashmiri Sufism has evolved through an interaction with pre-Islamic ideas, in essence it remains primarily an Islamic movement. Above all, we must remember that Prophet Mohammed has himself affirmed that the Holy Quran has an esoteric foundation:

It was “sent in seven dialects; and in every one of its sentences there is an external and an internal meaning…I received from the messenger of God two kinds of knowledge: One of these I taught… (but) if I had taught them the other it would have broken their throats.” (The Sayings of Mohammed, Quoted in Reincarnation and Islam, pp. 4-5). CONCLUDED

  • The author is founding editor of New Age Islam. www.newageislam.com
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