Holy Lives as Texts

Saints and the Fashioning of Kashmir’s Muslim Identity

In: Philological Encounters

The present paper aims to examine some important hagiographies of the Muslim saints of Kashmir to illustrate how these accounts contributed to the creation of a space vital for the emergence of a new religious subjectivity from the fourteenth century onwards. It argues against the tendency, underlying much recent scholarship on medieval Kashmir, to approach these texts as unproblematic historical documents without raising certain important questions regarding the context of their production. It, therefore, argues against the dichotomy of ‘myth’ and ‘history’ assumed by most historians who have engaged with these hagiographies. Questioning this approach, it argues that these texts nevertheless offer insights into how a Muslim subjectivity emerged and consolidated itself in medieval Kashmir. Writing lives of the saints should be seen as a discursive practice constructing ideal images for imitation rather than imitations of real lives. Following certain archetypes of saintliness, these texts created and perpetuated the concept of ideal life among a population experiencing a cultural and religious transition. Basing its argument on the thesis that a life is not how it is lived but how it is told and remembered, the paper argues that the narratives of Sufis and Rishis of Kashmir should be seen as constitutive of the very processes by which the Muslim community perceived itself and hence seminal to the formation of a distinct Muslim identity. It concludes with the argument that the binary opposition posited by certain stake holders between a Sufi/Rishi Islam and ‘scriptural’ Islam is a fallacy with no foundation in the recorded lives and teachings of Kashmiri Muslim saints.

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