Islam in Kashmir deals with Kashmir's history from 14th to 16th Centuries, when the social fabric of the place changed.
Islam in Kashmir (Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century), Muhammad Ashraf Wani, Oriental Publishing House, 2005, paperback, p.338, Rs. 500. MUHAMMAD ASHRAF WANI'S Islam in Kashmir is yet another addition to a long list of books on the advent of Islam in Kashmir. But, it is not simply an addition but a significant work because it opens new directions for understanding Islam in Kashmir, from a completely different perspective. For policy makers, keen Kashmir watchers, researchers and scholars it may be a bit confusing at the beginning to go through but it demolishes many theories including the much talked about "Kashmiriyat", which has become a political slogan. Departing from modernist and traditional ways of narrating history, the book has been written using an inter-disciplinary approach. Dr. Wani's book seems to be the first full-length history about mass conversion to Islam in Kashmir. It deals at length with the Kashmir's history from 14th to 16th Centuries, when the entire social fabric of the place changed.
The beauty of the book is that it is dependent upon non-conventional sources. A complete chapter, "Search for New Sources", has magnificent details. The author has benefited from an endless stock of unconventional sources like legends, myths, memories, beliefs, practices, language, proverbs, idioms, personal names, surnames and names of places. The role of miracles in conversion has been highlighted in detail, which is actually missing from the other accounts. This has been done to supplement the traditional sources, usually derived from books and research papers. The author has also laid stress on how Muslims started appearing in Kashmir for the first time. A common notion is that it was the great Muslim saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, popularly known as Shahe-e-Hamdan in Kashmir, who changed lives in Kashmir. But before him was Abdur Rehman Bulbul who descended from Central Asia and made successful conversion in Kashmir, starting with King Rinchen Shah. The earliest records, such as the Chachnama, says that an Arab General of Raja Dahir of Sindh, Muhammad Alafi, had taken asylum in Kashmir after the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim. Alafi was granted estate by Raja Chandrapida, where the first mosques were built in the 8th Century for the Muslim soldiers of Arab generals. According to another account, Hallaj, a great mystic of Islam, visited Kashmir in 895 A.D.
There was no invasion by any Muslim ruler to force the conversions that happened in Kashmir. It simply was the result of spiritual influence. Hindu Rajas continued to rule even after the adjoining territories had been conquered by Muslims in the 11th Century. The author has strongly discounted the theory that Islam in Kashmir was influenced by Hinduism. He says it derived its variations from the syncretism and the traditions prevalent in Central Asia. He explains that what makes Islam in Kashmir a little different from how it was practised elsewhere had nothing to do with the influence of Hinduism. But he agrees that it came here with new variations. Recitations of the Quran loudly in mosques, the author says, was similar to "Group Zikr" (recitation), prevalent in Central Asia. He also points out that Shah-e-Hamdan himself was a follower of "Zikr-e-Khafi" (recitation in secret). He also makes it clear that there was Institutional Sufism in Central Asia. The most important argument, which comes in the last chapter, is that the much talked about "Kashmiriyat" was not in practice on the ground as it is directly linked to relations between two communities, Muslims and Hindus (essentially Kashmiri Pandits), in Kashmir. Though they had been maintaining excellent social relations, the author toes the line of noted social anthropologist T.N. Madan in asserting that these two communities have always been two separate entities as for as practices were concerned. From cuisine to last rites, the communities had entirely different ways of life. The two religious identities continued even after conversion. Dr. Wani, who teaches history at Kashmir University, believes that "there is, however, no need to labour the argument that the most important fact that keeps two communities mutually exclusive is their belief system". The book has, in fact, thrown up opportunities for an academic discussion but so far it has not been picked up by others.