There is a particular category of personages in human history who always remain relevant. They are the distinguished sons of mankind who establish a contact with the Ultimate Reality, Allah (SWT) who is Timeless and Universal in the absolute sense. Those who are able to establish a spiritual contact with Allah acquire a relative type of timelessness and universality and never cease to become relevant. It is in this sense that we speak of them as men who never die but always remain alive.
Of course ordinary men like us discover the relevance of these great souls in relation to our own time and space. Looking around us in the second decade of the twenty-first century and then looking back at Hazrat Shah Hamadan's revolutionary achievements we find that he is immediately relevant to us in three main ways.
First he was one of the distinguished heirs of what I call Islam's unifying and unified vision. What is this vision? Islam regards the whole of the human life as an organic unity and considers it unrealistic and unscientific to divide it into different compartments and seek guidance from different heterogeneous, and sometimes even opposing, sources for these compartments. That spells anarchy in individual and collective life and deprives it of all peace and tranquility. In Islam the same source of guidance regulates the private as well as the public life.
This unifying and organic vision of Islam was implemented in its most ideal form in the age of our beloved Prophet (SAW) and his rightly guided Caliphs. In that glorious period the same person who led the prayers in the mosque also administered the societal affairs. During the Caliphate of the second Caliph of Islam, Umar bin Khattab the Iranians suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Muslims apparently far inferior to them in armaments and numerical strength. It was difficult for them to find a plausible explanation for this baffling phenomenon. To know the truth, the Iranian commander-in-chief deputed some spies to find out the real source of Muslim strength. After spending a few days with the Muslims in disguise, these spies came back to report:
Hum ruhbanum bi-llail wa fursanum bi-nnahar
They are hermits by night and horsemen by day.
In our age, Iqbal was the best exponent of this unified vision of Islam. His whole work is pivoted around this central preoccupation. For illustration we refer to two impressive examples from his poetry. In Bal-i Jibril there is a short but highly significant poem entitled Deen-u-Siyasat
Which reads in translation:
The (Pauline) Church was essentially founded on renunciation,
How could renunciation reconcile with owning and mastering the world?
Power and escapism contradict each other:
Holding one's head high is not the same as bowing it low.
Politics then got rid of the control of religion;
The church father failed to stem the tide.
Once religion and statecraft were separated,
Positions of power were occupied by avarice and desire.
Duality is perdition alike to state and religion;
Duality denotes the sightlessness of civilization's eye.
It is a desert-dweller's living miracle.
That Basheeri reflects and is combined with the exercise of power.
Humanity's security and salvation lies in this
That the saintliness of Juniad and the stateliness of Ardsher are rolled into one.
My second illustration comes from Mathnavi Pes Chi Bayed Kard where Iqbal pays the most perceptive and most comprehensive tribute to the historic achievement of the Prophet (SAW). Here are the relevant lines of this tribute in translation:
With the vital and rejuvenating breath of the Prophet al-Ummi
Tulips sprang forth from the desert sands of Arabia.
The movement of the freedom of thought and action was nursed in his lap;
Thus the today of modern nations is there because of his yesterday.
He planted a heart in the body of man
And lifted the veil from his resplendent face.
Each god of yore he overthrew and broke;
Each dry old branch got a fresh sap and bud through him.
All these – :
The heat of the turbulent battle-fields of Badr and Hunain,
Haider, Umar al-Farooq, Siddique and Husain
The grandeur of the call of adhan in the battle-ground,
The recitation of al-Safat in the thick of fighting,
The sword of (Salah-ud-Din) Ayyubi and the mystic sight of Bayazid (Bistami),
Key to open the treasures of both the worlds;
Both reason and heart inebriated by the self-same goblet –
The combination of the dhikr of Rumi and fikr of Razi,
Knowledge and wisdom, law and religion and administering the affairs
Even as hearts in the breasts would beat restless (for God),
The world-ravishing beauty of Alhambra and the Taj
Which elicits homage even from heaven's angels –
All these are an instant in his endless times,
Just one illumination in his endless illuminations.
His outer dimension (zahir) these heart-illuming sights;
His inward dimension (batin) hid even from men of gnosis.
This unified vision of Islam suffered a fatal split when the Caliphate was converted into hereditary monarchy after the first years of early Islam. It is a pity that during the last 1400 years Islam has never been able to recover fully from this split although not a single period has passed when pious individuals and groups did not try to restore the vision. Hazrat Shah Hamadan belongs to this category of dedicated souls. An heir to the unified vision of Islam, he reflects in his person and achievement the unity of this vision. Symbolic of this great achievement is his book Minhaj al-'Aarfeen (the Pathway of the Gnostics) on one end and Dhakhirah al-Muluk (Treasure-house of Guidance for the Kings) on the other. Once gain it is Iqbal who has summed up his achievement most perceptively. In his tribute to Shah Hamadan, Iqbal wrote:
That lord of the Paradise-like land,
Advisor alike to the chief, the saint and the Kings.
To the region that liberal handed master
Gave knowledge, craft, culture and religion.
Knowledge, craft, culture and religion covers the whole gamut of life and leaves nothing out.
The second way in which Shah Hamadan is immediately relevant to us is the pattern he has set for us of how to avoid the pitfalls of temptation to political power. In the century that has gone by, we have been sad witnesses to some tragic failures of attempts to revive Islam. Although failure and success from the Islamic point of view is not counted in this-worldly terms, yet the fact remains that these failures – both in the Middle East and the Subcontinent – were due to a serious misconstruction and fallacy. Reformers at the head of these movements saw that the modern state had become monolithic and controlled everything including means of communication and education. It was felt that without controlling the state machinery no reform would be possible. It was fallacious firstly because all desire for power is inherently so corrupting that it unconsciously distorts the thinking and behavior of the power-seekers. Secondly to think that any spiritually-oriented system can be put in place through Western democratic system is not merely fallacious but utterly self-defeating. Western democracy with the electoral system associated with it, is the political garb that Materialism has devised to fulfil its ends. Materialism is therefore ingrained in every nerve and pore of it. The first step on this path is the first step away from Islam. Islam, for instance, says that positions of power should not be given to those who seek after them whereas democratic process begins with seeking power by filling up of nomination papers. Unfortunately our thinkers were led to believe that they could revive Islam through this process. Such efforts failed because they were bound to fail; you cannot extinguish fire with fire. No doubt Allah (SWT) will reward those who made these efforts because their intentions were pious and noble. Facts, however, are and would remain facts. Hazrat Shah Hamadan's example teaches us that like him we should concentrate on inner purification and character building of men including those in positions of power. Everything else will follow under Allah's permission and in accord with His wisdom. What is required is sincere faith, selflessness and dedication.
The third ground of Harzrat Shah Hamadan's relevance to us is his total disregard of the maslaki differences. Like a genuine reformer and dedicated servant of Islam he knew that people owing allegiance to different schools of fiqh had no difference of opinion as far as the fundamentals of Islam are concerned. On peripheral issues of detail there are minor differences which have no bearing on Islam as a system of belief and action. It was therefore sheer stupidity to attach any importance to these differences. As long as salat is performed in the spirit of the Quranic injunction aqim as-salata li dhikri (establish salat to remember Me), it is of no consequence whether a person places his hands on his breast while praying or keeps them hanging down. Hazrat Shah Hamadan himself followed the Shafie maslak but in Kashmir, where converts generally followed the Hanafi fiqh, he did not interfere in the least, as he carried forward the mission of Islam. Indeed he does not even care to refer to the maslaki differences. Fortunately until Shah Hamadan's day the commonwealth of Islam had not been so sharply torn by sectarian dissensions. Even the Shia-Sunni divide was not so acute as it became later mainly for political reasons. Today when conspiracies are being hatched to divide us on sectarian lines, Shah Hamadan's example seems to cry out to us:
Hold fast, all of you together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided. (Quran 3:103)
(Formerly Professor and Head Department of English, Kashmir University, Internationally known scholar of contemporary literature. Author of books on Iqbal, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, Contemporary Literature and Kashmir Culture)