Seven Muslim Reformers in Kashmir History

Umer BeighArticles, Sevens Comments

Often portrayed as the ‘peer-e-waer’ or ‘the alcove of Sufis and saints,’ the Kashmir valley throughout its history has been residency to personalities, who were much ahead of their times and played a significant role in churning the present socio-economic religious ethos of the valley. The Himalayan region has been shaped by these intellectuals, poets, social reformers and philosophers, whose influence has immensely affected its culture, politics and traditions. Introducing the seven Muslim reformers, whose legacy natives continue to cherish after centuries and are likely for ages to come.

1. Sharief-ud-din Abdur Rehman

In 1324 AD, the first Muslim saint who visited Kashmir from Central Asia was the Sharief-ud-din alias Bulbul Shah. At that time, Buddhist ruler Richana was ruling Kashmir. Many historians are of the opinion that Abdur Rehman had migrated from Turkistan. It was under Abdur Rehman’s influence Richana converted to Islam, and later attained the title of Sultan Saddrudin to pave way for the first Muslim rule in Kashmir. Shah Mir, his minister from Swat overpowered Rinchana’s successors and laid the foundation of his own dynasty in Kashmir.

In the local folklore, it is said that Abdur Rehman was so devotional that a ‘Brownbuls’ once built a nest on the saint’s head turban as he stood still concentrating in pray. Hence was given the title Bulbul Shah. He dedicated much of his time in praying and would sit in a building in Srinagar’s old city, which later became the valley’s first mosque. He passed away in 1327.

2. Syed Ali Hamdani

Known as The Architect of  Kashmir, Syed Ali Hamdami aka Ameer-e-Kabeer arrived in the Himalayan region at a time when anarchy prevailed in every sphere of our life. Major religions that were followed in the region like Buddhism and Hinduism were tangling in between caste system and social change.

He visited Kashmir thrice in his entire life roughly from 1373-1384. If the population of Kashmir are Muslim majority, most of the credit goes to him and his successors, who worked tiresomely spreading the message of Islam across the region.

Besides being a reformist, Ameer-e-Kabeer brought with himself all that what Kashmir is famous for: shawls, embroidery, woodwork, and paper-machie. The concept of self-sustainable source of trade and economy owes its origin to his arrival in Kashmir.

Among his writings that are still popular remains: Awrat-e-Fateeha and Zakeerat-ul-Muluk. While the former book deals with spiritual relationship between God and creation, the latter emphasis on the relationship between the ruler and its subjects.

3. Nooruddin Wali

Born in South Kashmir’s Kulgam in 1377. Nooruddin Wali alias Alaamdar-e-Kashmir joined Kubrawi Silsila at the hands of Mir Mohammad Hamdani, the illustrious son of Syed Ali Hamdani. Nooruddin is credited to be the torchbearer or Alaamdar of Kashmir who rendered the teaching of Islam in a local linguistic frame and propagated them into masses.

Despite being a saint, he identified himself with the masses who took the lead in propagating Islam in Kashmir and subsequently succeed as reformist. He was an exceptional poet, people cherish his legacy even centuries later in the form of mystic poetry. He died in 1448. Ata Mohammad Khan, the Afghan governor who constructed upper portion of the Hari Parbat (Koh-e-Maraan) Fort, in 1880s has struck coins in his name honoring him years after his death.

4. Yaqoob Sarfi

Under Chak rule, a tribe from northern Kashmir that replaced Shahmeer dynasty in Kashmir in 1555. State oppression, killings and fanaticism was common. Yaqoob sarfi, a student of Ibn Hajir Maki (famous theologian), rescued people from the Chak despotism by securing a Charter while approaching Mughal Emperor Akbar.

The Charter of great significance guaranteed Kashmir populace freedom of religion, freedom from torture and freedom in trade and commerce. Besides it degraded inhuman treatment, and forced labor. It was also provided in a Charter that those who were responsible for oppression of Kashmir will not be associated with the administration.

Yaqoob Sarfi was seven years old when he memorized Quran. In pursuit of gaining knowledge has traveled across central Asia and Middle East. Moreover he has scores of books to his credited with having written several books, both in prose as well as in poetry form, on Sufism, the Traditions of the Prophet, Islamic rituals and on the lives of various saints. He was regarded as one of the leading Islamic scholars of his time, earning the title of Ishan Sahib, or ‘guide’or ‘master’. He died at the age of 71.

5. Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah

During the Afghan rule, Kashmir society was bereft of religious understanding. The need to educate masses was felt by one Afghan governor who availed responsibilities on a young speaker from South Kashmir’s Tral area to deliver sermons before Friday prayers in Jamia Masjid. The speaker himself was probably influenced by the movement of Shah Wali-ullah. Once appointed, he soon gained popularity and became spokesman of purist Islam in the Valley.

However, such decision formulated competency within Kashmir, provoking rival priest of Srinagar’s Pampore area to start parallel platform at Khanqa-e-Moula mosque. By the time Dogra rule, this rivalry had developed into a ‘law and order’ problem. The Mirwaiz family, however, soon assumed the importance of a central leadership of Muslim affairs in the valley, and the family also played an important role in the elevation of Muslim masses. It was Mirwaiz Moulana Ghulam Rasool of this family who established Islamia High School in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal, the first institution of modern education for Muslims of Kashmir.

Later, Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah played a big role in Kashmir’s contemporary history. He patronized Young Men’s Associated with Sheikh Abdullah, the rising political figure of that time, against the Dogra dynastic rule. But soon after 1931 mass agitation, he parted ways and formed the Azaad Muslim Conference which hadn’t had such a great influence.

Shah proceeded to Pakistan, before the advent of Indian army in Kashmir. He was offered position of president of Azad Kashmir but he refused for the fear of retaliation against his family in Srinagar. Moreover, according to historians he played a historical role while establishing the foundation of the present freedom struggle in Kashmir. His biggest contribution is the translation of Quran in Kashmiri language.

6. Sir Mohammad Iqbal

Modern time’s Muslim figure of the East, a revolutionary poet, philosopher, thinker, academician and inspiration behind the concept of Pakistan, Mohammad Iqbal aka Allama Iqbal was born in 1877 AD in Punjab where his grandfather who was from Kashmir had migrated for exploring better avenues of living.

Allama Iqbal started his education in a maktab, shifting later to Scotch Mission School from where he went to Government College, Lahore before heading to UK where he obtained a degree in Philosophy and later, a qualification in Law.

It was in 1921, he first visited and stayed for a month in Kashmir. Many historian claim he played a significant role for the establishing association: “Anjuman Kashmiri Massalmanane Lahore”, which later on served as a launching pad for the freedom Struggle of Kashmir. It is mentioned in Rozgar-e-Fiqar, Allama Iqbal prayed to God to “bring revolution in the hearts of Kashmiris so that they can live with honor in this world…”

It was under his influence of mobilizing public opinion, The “Kashmir Day” on August 14, 1931, was observed in Subcontinent and in Rangoon – capital of modern day Myanmar.

Some couplets he wrote describing Kashmir are :

“Aaj Woh Kashmir Hai Mehkoom-O-Majboor-O-Faqeer
Kal Jise Ahl-E-Nazar Kehte Thay Iran-E-Sagheer”

“That land of Kashmir, today, is under the heels of the enemy, has become weak,
helpless and poor; Once known among the wise as little Iran.”

“Aah ! Ye Qoum-E-Najeeb-O-Charab Dast-O-Tar Damagh
Hai Kahan Roz-E-Makafaat Ae Khuda’ay Deer Geer?”

“So skillful of hands, so rich in mind, these people, alas, or pure breed,
O God! your justice, so long delayed, must come at last as a retribution ”

7. Saad-ud-din



A humble educationist who was neither an outstanding orator nor an exceptional argumentator, but Saad-ud-din went on to establish and organize Jamaat-e-Islami in the entire Kashmir.

He created a network of schools in every part of the region. It was through these schools, he managed to forward his message to remotest villages of Kashmir. In aspect of influence of organization in far-flung areas, Saad-ud-din excelled his mentor Abu-al Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Credited to be the social engineer of transforming the society into a vibrant revolutionary, he started his career as teacher – before he was expelled by Sheikh Abdullah government. He was lately reinstalled in Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad government, but he didn’t prefer to continue and went on choosing Jamaat-e-Islami’s membership.

Saad-ud-din parted away with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (part of organization running in India) on political terms. As Jam’aat-e-Islami Hind wasn’t ready to allow its Kashmir unit to become proactive for the cause of right to self-determination.

However, in 1984, he was relieved from the leadership of the organization. Reason: probably because of his inability to respond to the societal and organizational changes that had taken place out of his own efforts. Later, he had a paralytic attack and remained in seclusion until his death in 1999.

About the Author

Umer Beigh