The complex of the Jama Masjid, Delhi, a symbol of one of the most glorious times witnessed by the Indian civilization houses the grave of a heretic. The alleged Jewish priest who read half the qalma and got executed by Aurangzeb, the alleged Muslim bigot, Sa’id Sarmad, lies beneath the sacred earth of the great congregational mosque, listening to and crying at, the enormous amount of pain and prayers hurled at him every day, coming from all faiths and none. Saint Sarmad is remembered as one of the intellectual companions of another heretic, Dara Shikoh, the could-have-been philosopher king of India. Though it is well known that Dara had serious leanings towards comparative study in religions yet what is little known is that a Jewish priest who went about naked had a role in the formation of his intellectual imagination.
It is claimed by scholars that Sarmad was an atheist and agnostic of sorts who didn’t believe in God and went about naked dismantling the social set up of his times. Ones’ mind wanders to what the “Saint” would have felt at being classified with atheists and at becoming the object of being prayed at and to, the collection of his verses which are known to the world by the name of Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (1949) gives a slight peek into the working of the mind of this intriguing man. To stay true to the spirit of the time, it would be unjust to take his words literally when Sarmad claims to be a Sufi, a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Jewish rabbi, an infidel, and a Muslim at the same time. This might also suggest that the man belonged to all religions and none. And it can be agreed too that the naked fakir was a critical thinker of the highest order. He, when presented before the court of the newly enthroned Aurangzeb, and asked to read the Kalma to save his life, read half of it. La Ilaha, meaning, there is no god. And left it at that and when further questioned about it he claimed that he had till then reached only that stage of knowing god that he knows none and once he knows It he would recite the entire Kalma. This kind of critical spirit was the most dangerous weapon that could have existed, and it still is the most dangerous one to those who want to maintain the status quo and who feed off the ignorance of the minds of the people, be it the political establishment or the religious superstructures, nothing troubles them more than a man who could dare to think on his own without intermediaries. Thus execution of Sarmad was necessary. It would be unjust to not mention how Sarmad writes about his relation with God, his attitude towards God, seems definitely of the order of one of a Sufi in real search of truth, he claims that his poor heart desires nothing but union with the God. But his idea of God, wasn’t the idea that was being shoved down his throat by the orthodoxy.
On reading Sarmad it clearly surfaces that his battle was with the great bearded obnoxious orthodox Mullas who had caused the decay of the innocent minds, he says it clearly, “He who understands the secrets of the Truth, became vaster than the vast heaven; Mulla says, Ahmad went to heaven; Sarmad says, ‘Nay heaven came down to Ahmad”’. In these verses, giving his apparently heretical remark about the contested issue of Prophet Muhammad’s Miraj, he clearly seems disillusioned from the Mullas who do not really as much worry to seek the truth but to gain on their personal level from political establishment and the common ignorant folks.
He also comes close to the stand of Mansur Al Hallaj’s ‘I am the truth’ (An’al Haq) in his quest, he claims, that if your faith is pure than the entire world would be in your control. Thus execution of Sarmad becomes even more necessary than had been the execution of Mansur Al Hallaj, the 10th century mystic who was killed on the grounds that he claimed himself to be the God, because the latter had already found the answer, An’al Haq, and that answer didn’t match the established idea of truth, with Sarmad however the issue is even more dangerous he hadn’t found the truth, he was looking for it. He was looking for answers to believe in the remaining half of the Qalma and that was to come through, through a critical evaluation of every established structure around him, including the political one.
Thus for the survival of the establishment, Sarmad had to die and he was executed in 1660. Sarmad died a death where he was lost also because of the meager amount of information left behind about him; his ideas have been lately rediscovered and rethought about.
The question whether Sarmad was an example of a Saint which wanted to find the God and Truth in it through his own way or if he was a heretic anarchist who aimed at disrupting the established social and political order is a question that needs to be asked, thought and rethought again and again till one can come to a conclusion, but there are serious reasons to believe that he was a man who had had enough of the religious and even spiritual deterioration that had set in during the 17th century India and that is why though he speaks more or less the same things that the great sufi mystics of earlier times say yet he leaves no reason to be associated with them, he claims, “Whether an ascetic or anything else, I’m concerned with the Beloved only(God); Really I have no business with rosary or sacred thread. This woollen cloak (suf) which conceals hundreds of evils under it, I shall never put it on, as it is a disgrace”.
To sum up it needs to be said in defense of the saint who read half the Kalma that his actions were probably motivated by the most serious issue that ruins any society, the decay and rotting of its intellectual class. Sarmad was probably closer to the true idea of God than the idea the people who killed him had, people who killed him claiming he believed in none.