Arrival of the legendary Islamic scholars, preachers in Kashmir
Sayyid Sharafuddin Abdul Rehman Bulbul (R.A)
There is consensus among scholars that the people of Kashmir were familiar with the Islam before the arrival of Sayyid Sharafuddin Abdul Rehman alias Bulbul Shah and Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani in this mountain bound valley. Prior to these two historical personalities, Muslim travellers, soldiers’, traders and scholars who landed in Kashmir on occasions with different purposes introduced Islam to Kashmiris. Since their influence was limited, there is no extraordinary achievement to their credit regarding the spread of Islam. However; the role of Sayyid Sharafuddin has been momentous. There is no denying that he prepared the ground for the successful missionary activity of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, who came to the valley almost 50 years after him.
Sayyid’s date of birth is not known. Also, there is no unanimity among hagiographers about his birthplace. According to some, Sayyid was born in Samarqand, others believe him to be a native of Bukhara, however; the majority of writers opine that he was from Turkistan. In history, Sayyid has been mentioned by multiple names viz; Shah Bilal, Sayyid Sharafuddin, Sayyid Abdul Rehman Turkistani, Sayyid Abdul Rehman Bilal Qalander, and Bulbul Shah. Among these, Bulbul Shah has attracted the interest of scholars and different opinions exist about it. Some write that ‘Bulbul’ is a distortion of ‘Bilal’, which resulted due to its frequent use.
But, this view has been rejected. There is also a myth that Sayyid was so absorbed and engrossed in meditation that a nightingale (bulbul) would sit on his head undisturbed and this led to the name ‘Bulbul Shah’. Notwithstanding, the reason for this title mentioned by Baba Ali Raina (disciple of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoomi R.a) in Tazkirat-ul-Aarifeen has more acceptance. Baba Ali Raina writes; once Sayyid was having ablution on the river bank. He saw a nightingale (bulbul) on a tree producing enchanting sounds. In the meantime, the nightingale flew upwards toward the sky.
However, Sayyid grabbed hold of it and in his hands, the bird disappeared. On being enquired about this incident, Sayyid said that the nightingale was not a bird, but my soul that attempted to ascend to the skies, but I brought it back. This miraculous event became so popular among the masses that Sayyid came to be known as ‘Bulbul Shah’.
Sayyid was a descendant of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) through Imam Musa Kazim (R.A) and is thus referred to as ‘Musvi Sayyid’. Because of this, the prefix ‘Sayyid’ is used for him. Sayyid was the son of Sayyid Ameen-u-din Jibraeel (R.a), who has been described as ‘Qutb-ul-Aktaab’ (Chief of Saints) by many authors. This tells volumes about the milieu in which Sayyid would have been fostered. And its impact was quite noticeable in Sayyid. His famous quote, ‘following Sunnah of Prophet (pbuh) is far better than thousands of miracles (Karamaat) and other worship’ is convincing evidence of his piety.
Similarly, he is reported to have said; ‘Allah has bestowed me with such a strength that I can live without food, I can successfully manage the affairs of both the worlds, but that is against Sunnah. Such an attachment of a Person to (non-obligatory) Sunnah is enough to predict his attitude towards obligatory prayers and other religious affairs.
Sayyid was a Sufi of the Suharwardi Order and a disciple of Hazrat Shah Nimatullah Farsi, who himself was the spiritual successor of Sheikh Sihabbudin Suharwardi (R.a). Sayyid was well-informed about Islamic Studies and was an expert in both exoteric and esoteric knowledge. He had left the materialistic comforts and led a secluded life. He was well-known for his asceticism. Almost all historians, irrespective of their religion, have placed him among the top Sufi saints.
According to Tarikh-i-Hassan of Hassan Shah Khuehami, Sayyid visited Kashmir twice. The first visit was during the reign of King Suhadev (1301-1320). It was, however, brief, because of the prevailing anarchy in the valley. Sayyid arrived in Kashmir again in the tenure of Rinchana (1320 to 1323). Rinchana, originally a prince of Ladakh, had come to the valley during Suhadev’s rule, but he seized the power after taking advantage of the valley’s political instability. He was dissatisfied with his ancestral religion- Buddhism and was fond of taking part in religious discussions. Historians write that due to the spiritual pretensions and caste-consciousness of the Brahmans, Rinchana was reluctant to accept Saivism and was constantly in the quest for truth. Soon after, he met Sayyid and was greatly influenced by him. Sayyid removed all his doubts, responded to all his questions, and explained to him the simplicity and perfection of Islam. Rinchana embraced Islam and renamed himself Sultan Saddruddin. This was a watershed moment in Kashmir’s history.
As a saint, Sayyid performed many miracles, however bringing the Kashmiri King – Rinchana into the fold of Islam, followed by the conversion of Rinchanas’ brother-in-law, wife, other nobles, soldiers’ and then common masses is considered one of his greatest miracles. According to one tradition, thousands of people embraced Islam in a day. Prof. Dr. Inayatullah Baba in his booklet Awzah-ul-Bayaan dar’ Manaqib Sayyid Sharfuddin Abdul Rehman (R.a) cites Mullah Baha-Uddin Matoo’s verse about this decisive event, which says; Az Dam’e Fajr taa ba’waqt’e Asr: Shud ba Islam dah Hazaar Nafar – From Fajr (dawn prayers) to Asr (evening prayers) about ten thousand people converted to Islam at the hands of Sayyid. It would not be imprecise to say that Sayyid pioneered the ‘Sufi movement’ and laid the foundation of Islam and Sufism in Kashmir. And set the scene for Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani; the final missionary who left an everlasting impact on Kashmiris and emerged as ‘bani-e-Islam fil Kashmir’: the real founder of Islam in Kashmir.
The convert Sultan Saddruddin established a Hospice (Khanqah) for Sayyid on the bank of river Jhelum, wherein he started preaching Islam and teaching Muslims. At this place, Sayyid started langar (Community Kitchen) to feed dervishes, the destitute, travelers, the poor, and others regardless of their caste and faith. Many villages were allocated to manage and contribute necessary commodities to this langar. This historically significant location that lies between two bridges Aali Kadal and Nawakadal (Srinagar) is presently known as Bulbul Langar/Lankar.
After discharging his responsibilities as a Spiritual leader and prominent Muslim missionary, Sayyid breathed his last on the 7th Rajab 727 Hijri (1326) and was entombed in the yard of his Khanqah (Bulbul Langar). His shrine is deemed to be hallowed and is a centre of attraction for Muslims, Sufis, researchers, and tourists. The annual Urs (Anniversary) of this great religio-spiritual leader is celebrated on the 7th Rajab every year, in which people from all parts of the valley participate to express their respect, love, and gratitude for Saint.