Islam was introduced in the Valley of Kashmir not by conquest but by gradual conversion effected by Muslim Missionaries. Islam is essentially a missionary religion and the Muslim Missionary, be he a Pir (a spiritual guide) or a preacher, carries with him the Message of Islam to the people of the Land he enters. A Missionary has the spirit of truth in his heart which cannot rest till it manifests itself in thought, word, and deed. The Muslim Missionary who had entered the Valley in the spirit of truth influenced its people by his example, his personal methods of preaching, and his persuasion. The first missionary to visit Kashmir in the time of Raja Suhadeva was Bilal Shah or Bulbul Shah; a well travelled Musavi Sayyid from Turkistan. G.M.D.Sufi in his history of Kashmir, “Kashir”, mentions that the original name of Bulbul Shah was Sharaf-ud-Din Syed Abdur Rahman Turkistani and he was a spiritual disciple of Shah NimatullahWali Farsi, a Khalifa of the Suhrawardi School of Sufis founded by Shaikh-ush-Shuyukh Shaikh Shihab-ud-Din Suhrawardi. The simplicity of faith of Bulbul Shah impressed Rinchan, (the ruler of Kashmir who was originally a Ladakhi); so much that he converted to Islam and became the first Muslim Ruler of Kashmir as Sultan Sadar-ud-Din. After the conversion of Rinchan, his brother-in-law who was the Commander-in-Chief and according to one tradition, ten thousand Kashmiris adopted Islam. For new converts a place of gathering was set up on the banks of River Jehlum called Bulbul Lankar ( a distortion of word Langar) and a mosque was constructed which is probably in ruins now. The arrival of a host of other Sayyids gave a big boost to conversion of people of Kashmir to Islam. The prominent among these were Sayyid Jalal-ud-Din of Bukhara, Sayyid Taj-ud-Din (cousin of Shah-i-Hamadan), and Sayyid Hussain Simanani. Sufi’s “Kashir” gives a very detailed account of the spread of Islam in Kashmir as well as mentions about the arrival of various Muslim Missionaries. However, according to Sufi, the greatest missionary whose personality wielded the most extraordinary influence in the spread of Islam in Kashmir was Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani also known as Amir-I-Kabir or Ali-I-Sani and popularly called Shah-i-Hamadan. He belonged to the Kubrawi order of Sufis founded by Shaikh Najm-ud-Din Kubra of Khwarizm who died in 618 A.H (1221 A.D.). The Kubrawis are a branch of the Suhrawardi Sufis. The great Sayyid Ali Hamadani was born on 12th Rajab 714 (1314 A.D.) in Hamadan, Iran. He was son of Sayyid Shihab-ud-Din bin Mir Sayyid Muhammad Hussaini and his mother’s name was Fatima. His genealogy can be traced to Hazrat Ali through Imam Hussain, he being sixteenth in direct descent from Ali Bin Abi Talib. Sayyid Ali Hamadani became Hafiz-I-Qur’an in his very early boyhood and studied Islamic Theology. His maternal uncle Sayyid Alala-ud-Din Simnani taught him Tasawwuf or Sufi Mysticism. He became a disciple of Shaikh Abul Barakat Taqi-ud-Din Ali Dusti and after his death of Shaikh Sharaf-ud-Din Mahmud Muzdaqani who desired him to complete his education by extensive travel in the world. In pursuance to the desire of Sayyid Muzdaqani, he journeyed for 21 years and visited several countries. According to Amin Ahmad Razi, Shah-i-Hamadan travelled three times all over the world and met 1,400 saints with whose association he gained extensive knowledge. After completing these travels he returned to Hamadan but the rise of Timur made him to leave for the valley of Kashmir with 700 Sayyids in the reign of Sultan Shihab-ud-Din 774 A.H. (1374 A.D.). The Sultan had gone on an expedition against the ruler of Ohind (near Attock) and his brother Sultan Qutub-ud-Din was acting for him. Shah-i-Hamadan stayed for four months and then went to the scene of the battle and persuaded the belligerents to come to peace. Shah-i-Hamadan then left for Makkah and came back to the valley in 781 A.H. (1379 A.D.) and stayed for two and a half years. He then went to Turkistan via Ladakh in 783 A.H. (Near Leh in Shey there is a mosque attributed to him where he had prayed.) The third visit of Shah-i-Hamadan took place in 785 A.H. (1383 A.D.) but he had to leave Kashmir on account of ill health and stayed with the ruler of Pakhli, Sultan Muhammad at his personal request for ten days. He then retired to the vicinity of Kunar where after a short stay he had a relapse on 1st Zilhijja 786 (1384 A.D.) and ate nothing for five days. On Tuesday, the 5th of Zilhijja, he drank water several times, and on the night of the same day he breathed his last at the age of 72. On his death-bed Bismilla-hir-Rahim Nir Raheem was on his lips, and this, strangely enough, gives the date of his demise. The Sultan of Pakhli wished to bury the Sufi Saint there but his disciples wanted to carry him to Khatlan for burial. To decide the issue they invited the Sultan to move the bier with the corpse over it. However, he could not even stir it from its place. But a single disciple of his was able to lift it and bear it away on his head. A shrine was erected at the honoured place of his death which now falls in Tehsil Mansera of District Hazara of North West Frontier Province. (The actual burial place of Shah-i-Hamadan is a popular Shrine in the Khatlan province of Tajikistan. Last year a colleague had gone there from Kashmir. At the moment there is no direct flight from India to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. One has to fly to Sharjah and then take a flight to Dushanbe. The other alternative is to fly to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and then go by road. From Dushanbe it is a three hour drive to the town of Koolab where the Shrine is located. It is quite well maintained and well kept. Once Srinagar Airport starts functioning as an International Airport, it will be possible to visit the Shrine of Shah-i-Hamadan in a matter of few hours.)
The presence of Shah-i-Hamadan was a major factor in the spread of Islam in the valley of Kashmir. His co-workers included Mir Sayyid Haidar, Sayyid Jamal-ud-Din, Sayyid Kamal-i-Sani, Sayyid Jamal-ud-Din Alai, Sayyid Rukn-ud-Din, Sayyid Muhammad and Sayyid Azizullah. These Sayyids established Shrines with lodging and langar at many places in the valleywhich served as centres for propogation of Islam. The local Hindu ascetics are said to have challenged Shah-i-Hamadan for trying their supernatural powers and after being humbled by him accepted Islam. The present Ziyarat of Shah-i-Hamadan also known as Khanka Maula is the Chillah-Khana built by Sultan Qutub-ud-Din for the Sayyid at the place where the contest of supernatural powers was held and is not his tomb, which is in Khatlan, Tajikistan. Sultan had great admiration for the Sayyid and at his instance divorced one of his two wives who were sisters as marriage to two sisters is against Shariat. He adopted Islamic dress and always wore a cap given by the Sayyid, under his crown. The cap was passed on to succeeding Sultans and was buried with the body of Sultan Fateh Shah as per his request. Some one had prophesied that the burial of the cap would end the dynasty and curiously the dynasty came to an end with the rise of Chaks.
Shah-i-Hamadan was the author of several books and was also a poet. Two of his works are very well known, Zakhiratul Muluk and Muwwadatul Quraba. Zakhiratul Muluk is based on his political ideas. It is in itself significant that a Sufi should write a book on the nature of the Islamic State, the duties of rulers and the rights and obligations of the people. There are a number of other books written by him on different religious and spiritual aspects. AWRAAD-UL-FATHIYAH, gives a conception of the unity of God and His attributes. Shah Hamadan was also a poet. His Ghazals or odes are naturally Sufistic. The Chahlul Asraar, is a small collection of religious and mystical poems. Shah-i-Hamadan laid emphasis on justice and fought against the rigidities of the caste system and prepared the people to work. The preaching Institutions (Khankas and Mosque) associated with him are situated in different countries i.e. Yarkand (China), Kunar (Afganistan), Bukhara, Samarkand (Uzbekistan), Island of Philippines, Sarai Kaubchou (Russia), Iskardu (Baltistan), Ladakh (Jamia Masjid), Khanka Maula (Srinagar, Kashmir). He also introduced the different handicrafts besides teaching of Islam. As a result the handicraft industry received a fillip in Kashmir. He laid greater emphasis on earning legal livelihood and so rejected all the means available for the support of the Sufis. He earned his livelihood by cap making. This impact of Shah-i-Hamadan continues to be felt after six hundred years of his death. In fact, the modern Kashmir has the spiritual inputs of Shah-i-Hamadan but unfortunately we have drifted away from the spirit of truth in thought, word, and deed, which was his basic philosophy. The so called “Kashmiriyat” does not represent the true and the realistic Kashmir but the spirit of Shah-i-Hamadan does! Kashmir is at present in the utmost need of the revival of the spirit and teachings of this greatest missionary and saint who can be truly termed to be the “Apostle of Kashmir”!