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Rishiyat is in no way a philosophy or ideology but a mode of conduct: Sheikh ul-Alam (RA)

By Binish Qadri

October 10, 2018

Kashmir has a history of and is defined by Sufism. The patron Sufi saint of Kashmir is Nund Rishi, also known as Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani, and widely known as Sheikh ul-Alam. He was the 14th-century Sufi saint who, through his poetry spoke about the connection between man and God, conservation of the environment, in general, and forests , in particular. According to Sheikh ul Alam, forests are sustainers of life and we must protect it. His poetry touched every aspect of the life of mankind. His poetry teaches us great principles of the economy and environment which is why he deserves to be in the category of an economist and an environmentalist. He laid thrust on production and distribution of goods and services for which natural resources and forests play a great role. He took no interest in worldly undertakings. At a very young age of 30, Sheikh ul Alam felt a repulsion and an intense dislike for the ordinary material business life and superannuated to live in the lap of nature. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are highly indebted and grateful to the great Sheikh as far as development of art and culture, in the first place, and an environment-friendly outlook is concerned.

Baba Dawood Khaki defined poetically the great Sheikh of Kashmir in the following manner:

Shaykh Nuruddin Rishi

Peer-e-jama’ rishan

Zahid-e-khush bood ba Haqq

dasht bisyar ishtighal

Boob ba tahjreed wa tajreed ahl-e-sawm-e-dahr neez

Tarik-e-lahm-o-basal sheer-o-asal bisyaar saal (Ikram, 1991)

According to the Sheikh, Rishiyat is in no way a philosophy or ideology but a mode of conduct or way of life which comprises selfless deeds to mankind and belief in self-respect and dignity of life (Maroof Shah, 2009).He characteristics his Rishism to the Believer of Allah himself (Zargar, 2009).:

It was Sheikh ul-Alam(RA) who revitalized and Islamized Sufism in an exceptionalachievement of unconditional ijtihad in divinity and mysticism in the history of Islam:

Oh God You are all Pervading

You are The Self in our body.

When man’s heart lights up with the flame of love,

Then shall he reach La-Makaan.

First I forgot myself and yearned after God then I reached La-Makaan (Amin, 2008)

His poetry has been greatly valued and loved by medieval chroniclers. Many historians and translators endeavored to transform his versus but failed to a great extent. Dawud Mishkati who desired to translate his verses into Persian writes:

‘I Dawud Mishkati, wished to translate the Kashmiri poetry of the Sheikh into Persian. But I could not experience what the Sheikh experienced. Without this state of inner experience (hal) I could not get the sweetness of this Kalam. Whatever the Sheikh said was uttered in a state of hal. Since I am devoid of that hal this is why I could not dare translate his poetry.’

The crux of the Sheikh’s lessons through his poetry is that environment should be protected, cared for, nurtured and not devastated or destroyed. He never tolerated any destruction in the direction of environment and mankind. He said:

Extensively I toured in jungles through kail trees,

The warmth of June touched adversely

the delicacy of jasmine,

Distinct are not the pearls (dew drops) to the moisture,

Mere touch shall damage delicacy of diamond,

Sooner the flame of tulips shall extinguish,

The evening occasions but the drowsiness of slumber (Gowhar, 2009)

Sheikh ul Alam did not tolerate any exploitation of human beings and protested against extravagances and excesses that are root causes for the moral degradation of mankind. Rishis used to tame wild beasts and animals. They underwent great hardships to feed animals. The Sheikh was well versed with the livestock sector and even carried the head load of salt from Poonch area to pastures and nourished the livestock with indispensable dozes of salt so that they may prevent from diseases. He, through his better understanding of the Creator and the creation, rendered it possible to tell people about the advantages of natural resources, particularly forests through his poetry using metaphors, similes, personification, and symbols.

The great Sheikh used his poetry as a tool to highlight the importance of religion in the life of a man and the role of religion in the conservation of the environment. His poetry commonly known as Shrukhs reflect his religious devotion to Allah and his concern over nature and mankind. Tawhid, Risala, Ma’ad, and human lust are the main themes of his poetry. He has symbolically used nature to express basic and higher message of morality, justice, equality, and environmental conservation. There is no stanza of him which doesn’t convey social, religious, historical, cultural, environmental, moral and ethical messages and lessons. One of his most well-known and celebrated verses reflect the most important economic and environmental fact. He quotes: ‘Ann Poshi Teli Yeli Wann Poshi’ meaning ‘Food will last as long as forests last’.


There is a need for the understanding of Sheikh ul-Alam’s (RA) moral philosophy for he is not only the person who advocated moral values but practiced them as well by way of his austerity in practicing Islam and its principles and simple way of life. He followed a natural system of ethics coupled with the Islamic system (Fazili, 2009). Therefore, there should be a paradigm shift from logical based approach to nature-based approach for understanding Sufism and their philosophy which has its roots in religion. We need to reexamine the religious texts of Sufis and Rishis. And, we need to make our faith very strong enough by understanding the metaphysical outlook of different religions which Sufism and Rishiyat had to come across in its path of growth and development (Shah, 2009).


• Amin, M. (2008). Gleanings from Shaikh-ul Alam (A selection of Ninety-Nine Shruks). Markaz-i-Nur, Shaikh-ul Alam Chair.

• Gowhar, G.N. (2009).Kashmir Mystic Thought. Srinagar: Gulshan BooksPrint.

• Shaykh, Muhammad Ikram. (1991). Ab-i- Kawhar. Delhi.

• Shah M.M. (2009).Shaikh-ul AlamRA and Perennial Philosophy. Alamdar: A Journal of Kashmiri Society and Culture, Mehak Printing Press Naid Kadal Srinagar,VoI.III (3): 112.

• Zargar, A,N. Shah M.M. (2009).Understanding Shaikh-ul Alam: A Sufi Perspective. Alamdar: A Journal of Kashmiri Society and Culture, Mehak Printing Press Naid Kadal Srinagar,VoI.III (3): 97.

• Khan Mohammad Ishaq (2005) Kashmiri’s Transition To Islam: The Role of Muslim Rishis, (15th-18th century) Gulshan Books Srinagar,(1994): 232-233

—The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir, an Academic Counsellor, IGNOU STUDY CENTRE 1209,S.P. College, Srinagar and an Editor in EPH – International Journal of Business and Management Science & Asian Journal of Managerial Science. She is also an Ezine Articles Expert Author; IJRULA title awards, 2018 winner (Best Researcher, 2018) and can be reached at: