Decolonising Sheikh-ul-Alam


Professor G M Shad’s Collection Attempts to Present the Essence of the Saint’s Poetry

Book Review

By Professor Muhammad Aslam     2 Jul 2012

Book: Kalam-I-Sheikh-Ul-Alam (Poetry of Sheikh-ul-Alam)
Editor-Translator: Professor Ghulam Muhammad Shad
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher: Ali Muhammad &Sons
Pages: 408
Price: 200/-

Kalam-i-Sheikh-ul-Alam (Poetry of Sheikh-u-Alam) is a collection of 300 shruks of  Sheikhul Alam, the famous saint-poet of Kashmir. It provides an explanation of the shruks in Urdu. The most striking feature of the collection is its categorising the shruks according to their thematic concerns. There are twenty-seven themes into which shruks have been divided, all of them are related to the fundamental principles of Islam. For instance, the first category of shruks is about the Oneness of God, the second about the teachings of the Quran, the third about the last apostle, the fourth about Muslims, and so on. This division enables the reader to gauge the translator’s intentions in presenting what he calls ‘a bouquet of three hundred mystic shruks of Sheikh-ul-alam’: decolonizing the poet and presenting the essence of his poetry.   

Why did Professor G M Shad (a noted historian) feel it necessary to publish the shruks of the Sheikh with explanatory notes in Urdu. The translator says nothing explicitly about it but one can understand his intentions well when we look at the design of the book in question. As mentioned above, Professor Shad has categorized the shruks into 27 themes, all of which have a direct bearing on the teaching of Islam and the lessons from the Quran. The translator’s message is clear: Sheikh-ul-alam was a true Muslim and in his poetry he has presented the teachings of Islam, lessons from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet in the local language. Unfortunately, his poetry has been interpreted by different scholars in a manner that satisfies the colonial mindset—secularism is the only theme which has become predominant. Many India-centering scholars (non-Muslims, especially) have presented the Sheikh as a representative of secular ideology. They have deliberately tried to interpret the shruks to suit their vested interest. For instance, Professor RL Shant has (in “Bhakti Movement and Sheikk Noor-ud-in Wali”, Kashmir Insight 5, 5 (May 2012), pp. 17-22) tried to link the Sheikh with a movement (Bhakti) that has nothing to do with Islamic tenets. This is being done deliberately to project the Sheikh as a secular saint who “is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim…but a pure human being” (Shant, ibid). The truth is that the Sheikh was only a true Muslim who had studied the Quran and the Hadith deeply and which he asked the Muslims to follow.

Attempts have also made to show the Sheikh  as a disciple, or teacher, of  Lalla Ded, great mystic poet of Kashmir.  There is no denying the fact that Lalla’s poetry contains axioms of great value, most of which can be understood only by those who have a great knowledge of Hindu mythology and the Sanskrit language (her name is significant in the Kashmir culture; her poetry is hardly understood by the commoners in the same manner in which shrukh are recited and remembered by many). It is a fact also that both she and the Sheikh were contemporaries, but it is not clear that she was the Sheikh’s teacher, or he of hers. I am not here to discuss who was the teacher and who the disciple, or whether or not they ever met with each other. Ignoring these important aspects of the saints’ life, Kashmir scholars have remained confined to presenting a commentary on the Sheikh’s shruks  in either Kashmiri or Urdu. 

Professor G M Shad’s Poetry of Sheikh-ul-Alam is, like any other translation of the shruks, an interpretation of them in Urdu done with an implicit purpose of presenting the Sheikh as a true muslamaan and de-secularise him and present him to the world as a preacher of Islam and a reformist of spiritual ailments. It is ironic that a person who had dedicated his entire life to the propagation of Islam and in upholding the teaching of the last Prophet of Islam should be dubbed as a secular in the Indian sense of the term. Islam is itself secular for it enjoins Muslims to respect other religions, but, at the same time, it makes them conscious of the basic principles of Islam. Idol worship is against Islam and the Sheikh clearly says so when he tells Muslims not to follow the Hindu’s path but the path of Allah (haq). He tells them, “Don’t forget Prophet Muhammad. If we go to hell for our wrong doings, it would grieve the Prophet” (SAW). The entire shrukh collection of Professor Shad is replete with admonitions, suggestions and lessons for Muslims to follow Allah, His Apostle and the Quran, leaving no room for doubt that the Sheikh was ONLY a Muslim.

Ali Mohammad & Sons has done a commendable work in bringing out the book in nice getup and quality printing. It is a must read for lovers of the Sheikh.  


Author teaches in the English Department, Central University of Kashmir.


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