The foremost saint/ preacher among the preachers of Islam in Kashmir is believed to be Hazrat Syed Sharaf-ud- DIN Abdul Rahman (RA), popularly known as Syed Bulbul Shah (RA). He is believed to have touched the threshold of Kashmir during the reign of Suhadeva (1301-20). He was an extensively travelled preacher. It appears that the Syed had/ has deeply impressed the people of Kashmir by his manner of preaching and persuasion at a time when the fortunes of the ruling dynasty were in the liquefying progression and people were passing through a period of political instability, heavy taxation and crushing burdens of feudalism. All the historians are united upon the fact that Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) was the first saint who sowed the seeds of Islam in Kashmir. The historians have been reserved over the pedigree of the saint and some believe that he had come from Samarqand and some state that he was from Bukhara. But the majority of them believe that he was from Turkistan. They believe that Hazrat Sharaf- ud- Din (RA) was neither a king nor a soldier, nor a businessman but he was only a virtuous and great saint who possessed spiritual prowess and holiness. He came to Kashmir with the instructive power of Prophet (SAW) and enlightened the whole milieu. Different beliefs about the actual birth of Hazrat Abdul Rahman or Sharaf –ud- Din (RA) alias Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) have been promulgated. Some schools of thought believe that he belonged to Samarqand and some believe that he was a saintly celeb from Bukhara. There are also others who believe that he belonged to Turkistani or Central Asia. But the majority of people are united on the idea that he emerged from Turkistan and that is why the suffix of ‘Turkistani’ is found with the name of the great saint. Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) has been given several names and titles by the Kashmiri authors. Jonaraja, the historian, is reserved about the name of the saint. The author of the “Baharistan-i- Shahi “ states that on asking the name by the King or others, the holy saint introduced his name as Bulbul Qalandar and uttered that he was a Muslim. Mohammad Azam in his “Tarikh-i- Kashmir” has introduced him as Baba Bulbul Shah (RA). Another author Rafi-ud- Din in his “Nawadir-ul- Akhbar” calls him as Sayed Sharaf-ud- Din. Baba Dawood Mishkati in his “Asrar-ul- Abrar” mentions him as Hazrat Baba Bilal. Peer Ghulam Hassan Khuihami in his “Tarikh-i- Kashmir” claims that his real name was Hazrat Sayed Sharaf-ud- Din (RA). Some other writers mention him as Sayed Sharaf-ud- Din Abdur Rahman Turkistani.
In the land of Kashmir he became much popular as Bulbul Shah (RA) because it is believed by different writers and spiritual scholars particularly by Baba Ali Raina of Tujar Sharief, the brother and special disciple of Sheikh Hamza Makhdom (RA), who writes in his book Tazkarat- ul- Aarifeen that “One day Hazrat Syed Sharaf- ud- Din (RA) was about to make ablution on the bank of a stream or canal. All of sudden he sighted a Bulbul (Bird) on the branch of a tree singing beautifully and impressively and then suddenly the bird flew towards the sky. Hazrat Bulbul Shah also flew after the bird and caught hold of the bird and flew down into his cottage and then the bird got was vanished in his august hands. One acquaintance present at the time, asked the saint about the whole episode and the saint replied that the bird was not a bird but it was his soul which was flying towards the sky and he followed it and caught hold of his own soul.” This episode with the saint got publicized and therefore, he came to be known as Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA). Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) was a descendent of Hazrat Imam Moosa Kazim, the 7th Imam. His genealogy has been traced in the “Shajra-tul- Taiba” The Moosawi dynasty is spread vastly and is famously known as Moosawi descendancy. There is no united opinion as to which Silsila of the Sufis Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) belonged to. Baba Dawood Mishkati in his “Asrar-al- Abrar”, while naming him as Sayed Abdul Rahman, asserts that he was a direct disciple of Sheikh Shihab Suharwadi (RA) (1144-1234), the successor of the founder of the Suharwadi Order. Haji Ghulam Mohi-ud- Din Miskin is of the opinion that Hazrat Bulbul Shah was a disciple of Mulla Ahmad Alama (RA) who accompanied Bulbul Shah. It is believed that Sayed Safi- uddin Ishaq, the brother of Sayed Sharaf- ud- Din’s, founded his own Sufi Silsila, which is known as Saifi Sufi Order. His tomb exists in Ardabli in Azerbaijan. It is most possible that Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) belonged to the Sufi Order established by his brother. The historians opine that Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) appeared like a shinning Sun on the glorious natural land of Kashmir during 1324 AD, the period when India was ruled by Sultan Mohammad Shah, the son of Gayas- ud- Din Taghuluq. It was also the time when Kashmir was being ruled by the Buddhist King Lha Chen Gyalbu Rinchena who had obtained the throne only by the dint of his hard work and valour. At the time of his coronation, he married Kota Devi, the daughter of his fallen enemy. She was granted the title of Rani or queen and was now called as Kota Rani instead of Kota Devi. Since Rinchena was a Buddhist and his wife a Brahmin by faith, a tussle would be daily between the couple to adopt the faith or religion of either of the two. The king Rinchena started to make enquiries to adopt the right path, and therefore, he decided that he would embrace the religion of the first man he would sight after coming out of his palace. The couple decided to follow the religion of the first person whom they would sight early in the morning. It was perhaps already decided by the All Mighty Allah that the seeds of Islam are to be sown in the fertile land of Kashmir and therefore, the great saint had been commanded to reach to the soil of Kashmir to create a miracle by converting the King Rinchena of Kashmir and strengthen the grip or hold of the spread of Islam here. Next morning, the king came out of his palace and sighted a Dervish/ Saint offering Nimaz with full devotion and humility. The king asked his councilors to invite the Dervish/ Saint to his palace. When enquired, the Dervish told the king that his name was Bulbul Qalandar and his religion was Islam. The saint related the miracles of Prophet (SAW) and the virtues and the superb qualities of the great personalities of Islam particularly the Companions (RA). On hearing the saint, the king Rinchena’s heart moved which was previously blackened by the false beliefs. He wanted to follow the right path which would lead him to salvation and therefore, he accepted the religion of Islam with sincerity and conviction.
Rinchena’s embracing of Islam as his religion was a turning point in the history of Kashmir. The foundation of Islam in Kashmir became strong as the King was himself in its fold now. The king’s queen Kota Rani, his councilors, security personnel, nobles and officers of the Government accepted Islam as their religion at the hands of Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA). Some castes among Hindus like the Shudras and the Vaishahs embraced Islam to unchain themselves from the shackles of Brahmanical system. The whole process of conversion took place not by any force but by gradual conversion. This was a great miracle created by the great saint and it was not less than a revolution because it was from here that Islam spread its roots everywhere in the Valley and moreover, it was a blending of cultures like Buddhism, Shaivism and Islam into one culture which latter came to be known as Kashmiriat. After the King Rinchena embraced Islam as his religion, his mentor and guide entitled him as Shaha and he became prominent as Sultan Rinchena Shah, the first Muslim King of Kashmir. Since the King was influenced by the spiritual powers of the saint Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA), he got constructed a Khankah or a cloister for his convertor near his palace in Srinagar. In order to keep other followers or Dervishes at ease, the King constructed quarters, where the food was served to them. The place at which the Khankah of Bulbul Shah (RA) was built came to be known as Bulbul Lankar during the rule of Chak dynasty, which endowed the spiritual followers and other disciples with free ration and other necessary items. The Sultan Rinchena Shah also constructed a mosque for the great saint and would present himself on Fridays before him for moral and spiritual salvation. It is important to mention that due to the much conversions among the Hindus, there grew a terrible animosity against the King Rinchena Shah. A conspiracy was hatched against him under the command of Udayanadeva in the royal palace. Fortunately, the Ladakhi security guards of the Sultan repulsed their attack on the King and made them to flee. Some of the conspirators were killed and some were imprisoned and punished. In 1323, Sultan Rinchena Shah fell ill and passed away after ruling for more than three years. Hazrat Bulbul Shah (RA) took the heavenly flight from this world in 727 AH e.g, in 1327 AD. The saint is remembered as one of the most prominent saints of Kashmir, who marshaled an Islamic revolution in Kashmir.
(The author is Director Academics at J&K Board Of School Education-J&K BOSE. Views are his own email@example.com)