The Mirwaiz Institution

The contribution to Kashmir society has been significant
The Mirwaiz Institution
File Photo

Like Chris, a French writer and filmmaker, "What I'm passionate about is History; politics interests me only insofar as it is the cross-section of History in the present." Looking, at the contemporary scenario at our own place, I was thinking how past three centuries have shaped our contemporary narrative, in this column I may not venture courage to write this narrative is potent enough to demolish the 'dominant discourse', nonetheless it would be of interest for students  of contemporary history to know how events during 19th and 20th centuries dovetailed and shaped the modern Kashmir story.

Kashmir fell to the Durrani Empire in 1752, after a commander sent by Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated the Moghuls. For sixty-seven years, the governors posted by Durranis ruled Kashmir through intimidation and terror and exacted taxes from people irrespective of their religion and social status through the meanest methods imaginable. Nevertheless, they did not interfere with the faith of people and also did not impose any taboos on religious practices. Irrespective of belief Kashmiris nursed deep-seated resentment against the Durranis and their proxies in Kashmir against the cruel tax system and misgovernment nevertheless it did not find an organized expression or revolt. Five years after Sardar Mohammad Azim Khan Governor of Kashmir had repelled the Maharaja Ranjit Singh and pursued him up to Kotli pass in Mirpur the soldiers of Ranjit Singh entered into Kashmir.

On their entering into Srinagar, they started writing the 'story of lawlessness'   by attacking religious freedom of the ninety-seven per cent population of Kashmir. During twenty-seven years of the Sikh rule till the death of Ranjit Singh, religious freedom largely remained suspended for the Muslims; it was to an extent Sheikh after Mohi-u-Din was appointed Governor of Kashmir by the rulers in Punjab.

The resentment was so deep that even Dervishes, detached from worldly comforts had so much hatred against the brutal rulers that they did not grant even interview to the Governors of Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh had appointed 'twenty thousand musketeers as the army of occupation' to prevent any uprising. Nonetheless, various forces on the peripheries of the Valley Khakha and Bomba tribes started a movement against the occupation of Kashmir by the Sikh Ruler. In their fight against the Singh's troop, the Khakhas and the Bomba tribes that inhabited areas beyond Rampur in Baramulla district were joined by neighbouring warrior Pathan tribes, Afridis, Waziris, Gilzaris, Masudi's, and Yusuf Zai's.'

For securing their geostrategic interests, the British passed on Kashmir in 1846 to Gulab Singh and created Jammu and Kashmir State, outside British India. Many historians including Dr Abdul Ahad has documented that Kashmiris in unison had fiercely opposed the occupation of their land and rose against the Dogra soldiers on their entering into Kashmir, but for large contingents of British army coming to their sport, Gulab Singh's soldiers gate-crashed into the Valley. Mridu Rai, the author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, a magnum opus on the Dogra Rule in Kashmir, has quite eloquently detailed how after 1857 the  zealously announced themselves as Hindu Rulers and established Kashmir as a "Hindu State" and marginalized the overwhelming majority. 'Hindu-ness was made the basis of the rule.'

The resentment in Muslims against the Dogra rule  first manifested in 1865  against increasing brutal  taxes 'frequently extorted by using army' was  also against explicit   threats to their faith and religious beliefs.  In this bizarre scene, some Hindu religious organizations from neighbouring states established their branches in both Jammu and Kashmir besides proselytizing started attacking other faiths and converting people from other religions to their faith.

The Dogra rulers besides Pandits had exempted some Muslim cleric from revenue assessment and other taxes the state levied on Muslims- cultivators and artisans. Furthermore, for their services they received revenue-free land grants from rulers in return for services rendered by them. It was in this bizarre scenario that a humble family of clerics that moved from a small town in South Kashmir into Srinagar city and over a period of time had graduated into an institution of social reforms, preaching of Islam, and working for the empowerment of Muslims- this institution came to be known as the institution of Mirwaiz.

Sadi Baiyu or  Molvi Sadiq-u-Allah Trali as the family chroniclers prefer to call him arrived into the city in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century; it was his son Molvi Abdul Salam who made Srinagar as he permanent abode and started delivering sermons in local Masjids. But it was a couple of generation later Hafiz Rasool Shah, Lassa Bab (1783 A.D- 1845 A.D),  the Molvi respected  for his scholarship, exposition of the Holy Quran and Hadith, besides committing himself to religious preaching had earned a place of distinction for waging war against un-Islamic practices, superstitions, social evils and promoting brotherhood in people.  Most of the chronicles recognize him as the founder of the institution of Mirwaiz in Kashmir.

He was first in the Mirwaiz family to deliver sermons from the Jamia Masjid. For seventeen years during the Durrani rule, he gave sermons from the Pulpit of the Jamia Masjid, for his eloquence he attracted huge gatherings. Unlike many other preachers of the times that exhibited their scholarship lacing their religious discourse with Persian he chose chaste Kashmiri to reach to general masses- thus created an impact on the devotes that thronged the Jamia Masjid.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Institution of Mirwaiz graduated to another missionary level- empowering the ninety per cent disempowered Muslim population of Kashmir.   Mirwaiz Rasool Shah succeeded his father Molvi Mohammad Yahya after his death in 1890. For his extraordinary role for  the development of Kashmir society in general and Muslims, in particular, Mirwaiz Rasool Shah's  name will be written in golden letters in the history of Kashmir.

Through his eloquent discourses, he fought age-old social evils in the society and revolutionized the thinking of subjugated people. Moreover, with the establishment of the Anjuman Nusrat-e-Islam, the first association of the Muslims of Kashmir and founding Islamia High School he laid first stone towards empowering the disempowered Muslim society. In 1916, the Anjuman, joined by the first batches of alumni from Islamia School after getting higher education emerged as the first rights organization for representing to the Viceroy of India for giving equal rights for education to the Muslim.

The move had prompted the appointment of Sharp Committee to look into backwardness of Muslims in education. This report subsequently had a pioneering role in taking Muslim children from darkness to light. The founding of the Anjuman inspired the birth of many other socio-religious organizations such as Anjuman-I-Hamdard, Srinagar and Anjuman-i-Thaffuz-i-Namaz.

The role of the Institution of Mirwaiz was not limited only to socio-religious reforms, but it had its role for establishing democratic institutions and safeguarding democratic rights.   Memorandum presented Lord Reading in 1924 by people of Kashmir demanding the restoration of democratic rights   was signed by Mirwaiz Ahmadullah and other elite.  But, for the active support and lead of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah, the 1931 Freedom Movement would not have picked up so fast and with such zest.

Unmindful of the impediments even after 1947, the institution of Mirwaiz has pursued its mission of spreading education and standing for the rights of people – and contributed to the Kashmir Society.

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