His year of birth is disputed. Some say it was 779 Hijri while others hold it as 757 Hijri. It is futile to go into the discussion here but under modern research the year 779 is more probable.
Place of Birth
This too is a matter of dispute. People generally believe that he was born at Kemoh Kolgan but his poetic works don’t corroborate it and assert that his place of birth was Khi-Jogipura in the Kulgam tehsil.
“There, at Khi-Jogipura I was born because of His kindness. I am Nands Sanz Muslim.”
From both sides (mother and father) he came down from the royal family of Kishtwar which descended from Maharaja Vikramajit. Sheikh-Ul-Alam himself, mentions his lineage in his verse:
My Father and mother belonged to the Sanz family. Ogra Sanz and his son Durpita Sanz were my ancestors. His son Zanga Sanz who was killed in a battle succeeded Durpita Sanz. He left behind a son: Hambar Sanz. The later had two sons: Salar and Salu. I am the son of Salar Sanz.”
Some hold that Sheikh-Ul-Alma’s father Salar Sanz paid allegiance to Yasmin Rishi, embraced Islam, and assumed the name Sheikh Salar but the Sheikh contradicts the tradition in his verses. His father’s spiritual guide and teacher were Syed Husain Samnani.
Sheikh-Ul-Alma’s mother was ‘Sidrah’ who was en-trusted to be brought up by the village chowkidar according to the custom. Her parents died in the meantime and the Chowkidar married her away to a young man of the village who died in a short while. After this on the advice of Yasmin Rishi or Syed Husain Samnani she was remarried to the neo-Muslim, Sheikh Salar Uddin.
Noor Uddin is remembered by the titles: Sheikh-Ul-Alam, The Savior of Kashmir, Nanda Rishi and Suneha Nand.
Birth and Bringing-up
According to a tradition Lalla Arifa used to visit his mother during her pregnancy and took care of her. For the first three days he did not take a feed of milk. Lalla Arifa then fed him on her breasts saying; “You never hesitated in coming to this world then, why do you hesitate in taking the milk?”
The historians on Kashmir unanimously believe that he belonged to Owaisia Order but Hasan refers to Vaqa’eh Kashmir, that he drew spiritual sustenance from Hazrat Amir-e-Kabir Shah-e-Hamdan, Syed Husain Samnani, and Mir Muhammad Hamdani. It is also said that Hazrat Amir-e-Kabir entrusted him to Syed Husain Samnani at an early age. The letter, kept in the Khanqah-e-Mullah, indicates that Mir Muhammad Hamdani admitted him to his guidance for training and education in spiritual meditation and divine rites.
Sheikh-Ul-Alam was, in fact, the source of all knowledge, intrinsic as well as exterior. He was never educated or trained at a seminary or a monastery but whatever he attained was the result of his sincere, and severe attempts in pursuing meditation and prayers, although he was not literate, yet he was a poet, a philosopher, a Rishi. A saintly mystic, the flag bearer of Kashmir, and the protector of the Kashmiri culture all combined in one.
His early life
Symptoms at the time of his birth: Averse to taking milk for the first three days, the first feed of milk on Lalla Arifa’s breasts and reforming his step brothers. Drawing copiously from Syed Husain Samnani and Mir Muhammad Hamdani, great and perfect saints of his time indicated that he would attain the lofty sainthood in future.
Prayers and Meditation
He was deeply involved in his love that he renounced the conjugal life. The mother persuaded him, requested him, reminded him of her milk, and finally frightened him; the wife beseeched him with tearful eyes, but nothing worked with him. Upon the demand of milk from his mother, God so willed that it flowed out of a stone. When the wife so insisted, he laid the baboon thorns on the floor of the cave and rested on them and asked her to do the same. She left her two children who were found dead the following morning.
Being removed of all marital connections, he busied himself completely to intense practices, rites, meditations and prayers in order to subdue the self, renounced all material interests pertaining to body and mined, in order to strengthen the spiritual powers.
He severely practiced meditation in a cave for twelve years and lived on vegetation from the woods; spent sometimes on travels, and then went to live in isolation at Vichar-naag. Later, he traveled about in Kashmir, reached Vargam, and lastly came to Charar-Sharif to spend the remaining period of his life. Here he met Mir Muhammad Hamdani, and after some discussion received the letter of guidance from him.
Sheikh-Ul-Alam and Rishiyat
Rishi is a person who immerses himself into the Divine self.
Prior to the advent of Islam in Kashmir the rishis enjoyed great influence on the life of the people. The early preachers of Islam followed the conduct and manners of the yogis and rishis in the propagation of the religion. The reason being that in-spite of their embracing Islam, they still followed ways and practices of their former times and the lay men wished to see the holy-men in the models of rishis. The preachers who came form outside, were the Syeds and nearer to the rulers whereas the Muslim rishis were natives of Kashmir. The collisions resulted in the progress of the Rishiyat or in order to propagate Islam they had to rely on the Rishiyat extensively.
The Rishiyat was deeply rooted in the psyche of the natives of Kashmir and the preaching of Islam was almost impossible without its help. The Chistia order adopted profitably listening to music for the purpose, similarly Sheikh-Ul-Alam employed the Rishiyat. Letter of guidance issued by Mir Muhammad Hamdani is the testimony, which allows him living in isolation and meditation (for a certain period of time). With him the Rishiyat transformed into a movement and he looked for such captains as to spread Islam in Kashmir. He contacted all men of intelligence, power, and character and impressed them with his spiritual powers, revelations, miracles, and discussions and won them over for the mission. His followers came to be known as rishis. Baba Bam Uddin, Baba Zam Uddin, Baba Nasir Uddin and Baba Payam Uddin were the rishis of the Rishiyat movement. He not only limited it to the men only but extended it to women also. This included Shinga Bibi, Shyan Bibi, Bahet Bibi, Dih Bibi, Datta Bibi, and Salar Bibi, both elder and younger ones. Spiritual heirs of the Sheikh-Ul-Islam of the Rishiyat movement to mention a few, were: Sangrama Gunai, Sangrama Ved, Baba-Qutab-Uddin, Baba-Qayam-Uddin, Maulana-Mank-Nayak, Sozan Rishi, Khati Rishi, Lachcham Rishi I, Machchi Rishi II, Roya Rishi, Sidrah Rishi, Bab-Yazd-Rishi, Baba-Gulab-Rishi, Sidh-Sher-Kanth, Baba-Badar-Uddin, Baba-Sadr-Uddin, and Vati Rishi.
Revelations and Miracles
Shingar Bibi was the most beautiful woman and an expert dancer of her time. She had mastered the art of enamouring the people and could entrap the pious ones in her amorous ways. She broke the forty-year-old piety of Sozan Rishi. Some evil-minded persons persuaded her to detract Hazrat Sheikh Ul Alam; She went to him in all her beauty. The Saint cast awesome look at her and turned her into an ugly old woman. She fell at his feet and begged to pardon her. Hazrat Noor Uddin pardoned her, prayed for her, and she regained her youth and beauty. Shinga Bibi became his follower, embraced Islam, sought admission into the Rishiyat movement, spent her life in the service of the faith, in prayers, and led a pure and pious life.
Propagation of Islam
In the manner of the rishis of Kashmir, he propagated Islam, spoke to the people in the Kashmiri language as against the Persian, the foreign preachers spoke to and for the reason their reach was limited. Besides, he employed verse as an effective instrument, which popularized Islam among the common people, and the Rishiyat emerged as people’s movement.
He was a great poet and had a flair for prosody, used similes, metaphors, hyperbolas and other forms of expression, rich and effective with aplomb. To express Islamic philosophy and ideals through poetic forms is an art effectively practiced by poets like Sheikh Sa’adi and Iqbal only. Sheikh-Ul-Alam stands equal to them in it. Muhammad Asad Ullah Wani regards it the holy Qu’Oran in the Kashmiri language similar to Maulana Jalal Uddin’s Roomi’s masnavi, the Qu’Oran in Persian.
He gives precedence to the following in his verse.
- Good deeds, to control ones wishes, to remove ignorance, to avoid greed and avarice, religious tolerance, fraternity, national integration, and liberalism.
- You enjoy in telling lies but while speaking truth you shiver like a leaf.
- It is futile to give knowledge to a fool.
- To feed an ass on jugglery is to waste time.
- There is no use to sow in a desert; and to fry a cake of chaff is to waste oil.
- Speech is Silver; silence is Gold.
Abdul Ahad Azad summarizes: “The essence of the teaching of Sheikh-Ul-Alam is living in isolation, dependence on God, total surrender to Him, and belittling the world.”
Sheikh-Ul-Alam left a deep effect on the people from his speeches and actions and indirectly moved the other mystic-saints not belonging to the Rishiyat Order. The cultural and social life of Kashmir bears his imprint. He was the precursor of the mystic poets of Kashmir who drew heavily form him. His couplets are very popular with the people even today.
Rishi-Nama and Noor-Nama are collections of his teachings and anecdotes.
The year of his death similar to the year of birth is a matter of dispute with the chroniclers and biographers. It varies from 808 Hijri, to 820 Hijri to 825 Hijri, and to 842 Hijri but the year 842 Hijri (1438 AD.) is probable. His tomb stands at Charar-Sharif in the district of Badgam in Kashmir and draws large crowds.