JAMIA MASJID SIEGE: Moti Ram’s legacy revived
Historic Mosque First Closed For Prayers In 1819
Srinagar, Oct 30: The recurring disallowance of prayers in the historic Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta here is not new, if the recent past and history was an indicator. What is striking is that the centuries-old practice, understood to be the ‘direct interference in the religious affairs of people’ is still continuing, much to the disappointment of lakhs of devotees who would normally offer the congregational Friday prayers there.
Intriguingly, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of concern for the Jammu and Kashmir government, which has, of late, earned an ignominious distinction of having developed a custom of sealing the Grand Masjid on Fridays to bar the devotees from assembling there, even as the move evokes sharp condemnation by one and all.
Observers, well-versed with the history of Jamia Masjid, believe the practice to disallow prayers there began in 1819. “It first happened during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when then Governor Moti Ram put curbs on offering prayers in Jamia Masjid,” said Shams-ur-Rehman, who has written a booklet pertaining to the history of Jamia Masjid. “That time, no prayers were offered and no call for prayers was given from the Masjid. The curbs remained in force for over two decades.”
In 1842, Shams-ur-Rehman said, the Masjid was reopened. “But for 11 years then rulers allowed prayers only on Fridays. The Masjid would be opened for just few hours on Fridays and closed again,” he told Greater Kashmir.
After 1898, the Masjid remained open, though closed occasionally. “But it is a regular feature since 2008, when the Amarnath land row erupted. And one can only lament that even in the 21st century such curbs are being put in place on almost every Friday to bar people from offering prayers in the Masjid. This is a direct interference in the religious affairs of people, aimed at breaking the unity of Muslims,” Shams-ur-Rehman said.
Noted historian Prof Muhammad Ishaq Khan said that Jamia Masjid remained closed for most part of the Sikh rule. “Toward the end of the Sikh rule, it was reopened by Shiekh Imam-ud-Din, the last governor during that rule,” he said.
Jamia Masjid was constructed by Sultan Sikandar, father of Zainul Aabideen alias Budshah between 1389-1420.
“Jamia Masjid has primarily played a significant part in imparting religious education. However, with the spread of modern education among Kashmiri Muslims, thanks to the efforts of Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasul Shah, the Masjid began to play a seminal role in the growth of political consciousness. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was, in fact, initiated into what I would call the mysteries of Kashmiri Muslim politics at Jamia Masjid by Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah. In spite of his avowed secular credentials, Sheikh Abdullah never severed his mysterious political ties with the Masjids and shrines till his death,” he said.
“The decision of the Omar Abdullah government in preventing people from offering Friday prayers for weeks together is, therefore, unfortunate and unjustifiable given the historical fact that NC, until the 1980s, made the Dargah of Hazratbal subservient to its ideology. And if presently the Mirwaiz is using the Jamia Masjid for political purposes, he cannot be expected to discredit the legacy that he has inherited from both his forefathers and Sheikh Abdullah.”
Therefore, Prof Khan said, “I don’t look at the virtual ban on Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid imposed by the present government from a religious angle given the strange admixture of politics and religion characterizing Kashmiri Muslim politics since 1931.” “In a specific socio-historical context of Kashmir’s modern history, Masjids have served as ready-made platforms for Kashmiri Muslim leaders. In my opinion, therein lies the strength as well as weakness of Kashmiri Muslim politics,” he said.
According to political analysts, there is more to the issue of Jamia Masjid siege than meets the eye. “As far as the Jamia Masjid is concern it is a politico-religious space and it has remained so before and after 1947. It has remained a centre of comprehensive power, alternative politics and alternative political discourse. This is demonstrated by certain post 1947 political events like 1953, 1964 theft of Holy Relic from Hazratbal shrine, and Indra-Abdullah Accord of 1975. Late Mirwaiz led a demonstration against the Accord from Jamia to Lal Chowk,” said noted political analyst, Dr Gul Muhammad Wani, who teaches Political Science at the University of Kashmir.
He said there are many reasons for why Jamia is put under siege, time and again. “First, the state is cautious and conscious not to allow security situation deteriorate in city to a point where it becomes difficult to recapture it. Srinagar is a place of prime political importance, focused by media at national and international levels. Dargah, being centre of mainstream politics, doesn’t have the potential to create type of a situation which gives rise to trouble. Jamia has that potential as it is the bastion of an important separatist leader. The state is having that thing in mind that let it not be a spot where from we can have Srinagar becoming the focus of attention,” Wani said.
“Second thing is that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for a long time represented the middle ground in separatist politics. There used to be a lot of, sometimes low and sometimes high, contestation between Mirwaiz group and Geelani group. We have seen this at Khanqah in recent times. So what has happened during the last four months is that Mirwaiz has hardened his stance. He is playing second fiddle to Geelani which probably the state doesn’t like. The state seems to be denying space to Mirwaiz to reach out to people, particularly his followers.”
Dr Wani said there is also the issue of Jamia Masjid being a “permanent institutionalized place.” “It has the importance as a political platform which no other Masjid in the Valley has. So naturally people go there. Apart from delivering a religious sermon, leaders send political messages across from there. If you don’t allow prayers in Shopian Jamia Masjid or Islamabad Jamia Masjid, it doesn’t send so many shock waves as Jamia Masjid Srinagar does. The state seems to put a halt on those political messages,” he said, adding, the siege around the Masjid was “of course injuring the religious sentiments of the people.”
The state’s oft-repeated argument that Jamia was put under siege to avoid ‘law and order problem’ doesn’t seem to convince anyone. Apart from observers and historians, the public has begun to raise serious questions over the frequent curbs on prayers in the Masjid. “If the state believes that it is doing it to maintain law and order, then the issues backfires on it. Because the recurring siege around the Masjid demonstrates that the police have failed to maintain law and order in the area,” said Ghulam Qadir, a shopkeeper in Nowhatta. “And for petty law and order problem, it can’t bar lakhs of devotees from offering prayers in the Masjid. Protests have been taking place in Nowhatta in the past as well, but the Jamia wasn’t closed this way.”
Qadir believes that ‘law and order argument’ was not convincing. “Law and order problem was there during the annual Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage as well, but was the Yatra ever called off? It went smoothly. Law and order is no argument. Law and order can be tackled alongside allowing people to offer prayers in Jamia Masjid,” he said.
I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY: OMAR
There is nobody in the government to say why it bans people from offering prayers at Jamia Masjid, even as some MLAs recently raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly and the Grand Mufti and separatist leaders regularly raise their voice against the curbs. It has been 8th continuous Friday yesterday that police didn’t allow prayers at Jamia Masjid.
When contacted, the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah declined to comment on the issue. “I have nothing to say,” he told Greater Kashmir, when asked why his government was putting Jamia Masjid under siege every Friday.
The Deputy Chief Minister, Tara Chand, didn’t respond to repeated calls from this newspaper.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Oct 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 31 Oct 2010 00:00:00 IST
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