Jamia Masjid (The grand mosque) of Srinagar is at Nowhatta, in the middle of the old city. It was built by Sultan Sikander Shah in 1398 AD. Later, according to the historian G.M.D Sofi, the mosque was rebuilt by Sultan Hassan Shah, the grandson of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin and that it was finally so shaped by Ibrahim and Ahmad Magre. The measurement of Masjid is 381 ft by 384 ft built in area of 1,46,000 sqf. The attraction of the Jamia Masjid is its unique architecture, majestic courtyard and wooden Deodar pillars supporting wooden ceiling with pillars of majestic height and wide girth. The special facet of the mosque is the peace and calmness inside it. The Masjid has a fountain/cascade measuring 33 feet by 34 feet which is also used for wadu (ablution). Thousands of Muslims assemble at the mosque every Friday to offer their prayers. The Jama Masjid of Kashmir has seen a number of disasters. It got wrecked thrice in fire and was reconstructed every time.
The Jamia Masjid during the last twenty seven years of turmoil in the valley has been a hot spot but this year it has been all the more in news for the fact that no congregational prayers were allowed for nineteen weeks after Burhan Wani’s death. No Eid prayers were offered at the mosque for the first time in nearly two centuries and to mention it was closed for Eid prayers way back in 1821. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who usually delivers sermon before the Friday prayers, was under house arrest and not allowed to visit the mosque.
The frequent stopping of prayers in the historic Jamia Masjid is not new-fangled. The centuries-old tradition is still continuing, much to the disenchantment of lakhs of devotees who would like to offer the congregational Friday prayers regularly in the Mosque. The practice to disallow prayers at Jamia Masjid began in 1819. It first happened during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when then Governor Moti Ram put restrictions on offering prayers in Jamia Masjid. The restrictions remained in force for a long period of two decades. In 1842, the Masjid was reopened but for 11 years then rulers allowed prayers only on Fridays. The Masjid would be reopened for a few hours on Fridays. After 1898, the Masjid remained open, though closed sporadically. At present it is a regular attribute and feature since 2008.
It is this mosque where Quiad-e-Azam of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah attended the annual session of the Muslim Conference on Saturday 17th June, 1944. The president of the historical session was Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas Khan. It is said that roads leading to Jamia Masjid were filled with people and hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri Muslims came to hear the Voice of Quiad-e-Azam where slogans reverberated through the walls of the Jamia Masjid. It is learnt that Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Maulana Sayed were watching the proceedings from the vicinity. It took twenty minutes for Jinnah to begin the proceedings of his speech amidst the huge sloganeering and cheering.
The Jamia Masjid has primarily played a significant role in imparting religious education. However, with the spread of modern education among Kashmiri Muslims, and with the efforts of Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool Shah, the Masjid began to play a determining role in the growth of political consciousness. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was, in fact, initiated into Kashmiri Muslim politics at Jamia Masjid by Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah.
Jamia Masjid is a politico-religious space and it has remained so before and after 1947. It has remained a centre of inclusive power, alternative politics and different political discourse. This is demonstrated by certain post 1947 political events like 1953, theft of Holy Relic from Hazratbal shrine in 1964, and Indra-Abdullah accord in 1975 It has the magnitude of a political platform which no other mosque in the Valley possesses. Apart from delivering religious sermons, leaders send political messages across from it. The mosque thus remains a unique synthesis of religion and politics. It has an inimitable history, a symbolic position, a position that has made it important in the political background and turmoil of Kashmir. Closure of this Mosque is seen as an attack not only on the religious freedom of Kashmiri Muslims, but also has political connotations attached to it.
The mosque is the pride of Kashmir. The Kashmiris have been attached to this mosque for far too long. The generations after generations have visited this place to pray in solitude and for their peace of mind. The mosque has to be treasured and its beautiful history has to be protected for the generations to come.