The land of Kashmir has seen some great personalities many of whom left an everlasting influence. But none perhaps compare to the cultural, religious and political impact of Syed Sharf Ud din Abdur Rehman popularly known in lore as ‘Bulbul Shah’, the man who spread Islam in Kashmir.
While there is some dispute about the place of his birth there is no argument in the fact that he was the first Muslim missionary to visit Kashmir. Islam which was on the periphery in Kashmir since 7th or 8th century would become the focal point during his time.
According to various historical sources Syed Sharf Ud din was from Turkistan. It is argued by some historians that he was originally from ancient Iran, while others pinpoint his homeland as Baghdad.
He belonged to the order Suhrawardi Order and studied under the guidance of Shah Nimat-Ullah Farisi Shiraz, a saint of great repute.
He was given the title of ‘Bilal’, which later transitioned into Bulbul, the name by which he is popularly known in the valley.
EDUCATION AND TRAVELS:
Sharf Ud din was a prominent scholar and a much lettered man. His personality resonated with people as he gave them teachings of a simple life free from the shackles of the world.
He focused on praying and submitting oneself completely to faith in the Almighty.
He was an extensive traveler as well. In his time he travelled to different places far from his homeland and educating people in religious matters. He travelled to a lot of parts of Central Asia, before arriving in Kashmir.
VISIT TO KASHMIR:
There is a strong opinion among historians that Bulbul Shah visited Kashmir twice.
The first time he arrived was when Kashmir was under the reign of Hindu King Suha Deva (1295-). During this time Suha Deva’s rule was seriously in trouble. After a brief stay however, Bulbul Shah left, returning almost 30 years later to a changed landscape.
THE SITUATION IN KASHMIR:
When Bulbul Shah came back to Kashmir a second time, the Brahmin rule in Kashmir had crumbled. In the events preceding his arrival, Suha Deva had taken two notable figures under his command Rinchana, a Buddhist and Shah Mir a Hindu, both of whom would play huge role in establishing Islamic rule in the valley.
During this time Mongol ruler Zulchu attacked Kashmir (1319) leaving the land in tatters. The reign of Suha Deva was over as he fled to Kishtawar. The Mongols then left Kashmir during the winter and when the smoke cleared, Rinchana emerged as a leader with strong support, becoming the first Buddhist ruler of Kashmir. This was the time when Bulbul Shah arrived in Kashmir.
INFLUENCE OF BULBUL SHAH AND CONVERSION OF RINCHAN TO ISLAM:
Rinchan was ‘fond of the company of learned men’. He had an inquisitive nature and was a seeker of truth. He would spend hours in the presence of scholars but remained unsatisfied and couldn’t quench his thirst for knowledge. A chance meeting with Bulbul Shah would change that forever.
Impressed by his presence, Rinchan began learning about Islam and soon grew fond of the religion. He would then convert to Islam in 1323 with the name Malik Sadr ud din, becoming the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir. This would prove pivotal as thousand others would follow suit and accept Islam.
The people now heavily influenced by Bulbul Shah and his teachings, began to flock to Islam in numbers, breaking free from the shackles of the casteism that had plagued the life of people.
Rinchan’s conversion under Bulbul Shah would lay the foundation of Islamic rule in Kashmir for centuries to come.
Rinchan, after his conversion built a Khanqah for Bulbul Shah( a learning centre), where he would preach his teachings. Years later many of his disciples would further propagate Islam in the valley and beyond. He advocated a simple living for the people and abstaining from things forbidden in the religion. Along side this he also laid emphasis on earning a legal livelihood as per Islam.
He would depart for the heavenly abode around 1327 AD, although the exact date is argued.
His work though laid foundations for other scholars like Sayyid Ali Hamdani to propagate Islam in the valley.
Hazrat Sharf ud din (RA) had a profound social impact as well helped people develop high thinking and devotion. One that went beyond social evils like casteism, that plague our society to this day. His legacy will forever be etched in the history of Kashmir and his name synonymous with spread on Islam in the valley.