A land that was once renowned for its mystic aura; Kashmir was were Lalleshwari, Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, Habba Khatoon, Rupa Bhavani traversed to spread the message of equality, love, and togetherness. It is hence, no wonder that the people of the land have an undying inclination for Sufi culture and passion for the syncretic philosophy of Kashmiriyat.
The element of exotic mysticism contained within the ice-capped mountains dotted by rich verdure and lined with turquoise blue waters has drawn people from lands distant and near to the valley of welcome and warmth.
But since the 4th of August, when the region’s special status was scrapped and basic human rights were clamped down – in an effort to muzzle every voice of dissent, the Kashmiri people’s association with prayer, mystic poetry and faithful congregation has also been reined back by the government.
Hundred Miss The Glimpse Of The Prophet This Year
“For the first time in the history of Kashmir, authorities stopped thousands of devotees from celebrating Milad-un-Nabi, the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. Even the dreaded 90s haven’t seen such ‘religious’ repression of religion”, said Basit Hussain, a senior journalist.
The picturesque Hazratbal Shrine stands on the banks of Dal lake amidst green cover that turns auburn this time of the year.
Unfortunately, the romantic beauty that shrouds the shrine had no solace to offer to the devotees denied their human right of observing their faith.
The shrine, on the day of Milad-un-Nabi, organises night-long and day-long prayers after which the attendees get a glimpse of the relic held within its walls – believed to be the hair strands of Prophet Muhammad.
However, on November 10, several people who were headed to offer prayers for the Prophet’s birth anniversary were turned away by the security forces.
“Both the lawns of (Hazratbal) shrine were covered in snow, there was no place to pray. A canopy we had set up collapsed. So, we accommodated people inside the shrine; we could not allow huge gatherings like previous years – there would have been a stampede if so many people are allowed inside”, a police official speaking to Outlook said.
But, an AltNews report showed that the ‘canopy’ was neither erected nor collapsed as claimed, raising several doubts about the ‘justification’ given for restricting the gathering.
“The prayers at Hazratbal have a religious, spiritual and cultural connotation for the Kashmiri people. It is very important for us and restricting it is causing more alienation. The government is not taking care of the sentiments of the people”, Hussain added.
Trying to make sense of the iron-fisted approach towards his homeland’s traditions, Mohammed Yusuf Khan, a senior journalist cried, “Isse kya fayda hoga? (How will this help). With the sudden abrogation and shutdown of life in the valley (that is in its 107th consecutive day), people are down on hope and faith/religion can give show them some positivity, provide them with some solace. But how will we survive if they are going to ban all religious practices?”
“Aise toh hum phat jayenge. Hum apne Allah par apna gussa nikalte the, usse dua karte the. Dil halka hota tha. Par yeh bhi hume karna mana hogaya? Yeh kahan ki development hai? Kahan ka insaaf hai yeh?“, Hussain rued for his people.
(We will blast internally if such repression ensues. One looks up to the Almighty in such situations and prays to Him. It lightens the heart. But now, even this has been banned? How do such policies align with the ‘development’ agenda that is being promoted? How is this just?)
The Jammu region’s Muslim population is living the same nightmare. “There is a national level event organised every year on Milad-un-Nabi and speakers from many Indian states are invited to it. We have several regular non-Muslim attendees. However, this year, our event was called off owing to the Ayodhya verdict. It has come to my notice that the organisers were pressurised into cancelling it”, said Mehfooz Wani, a retired professional residing in Jammu.
Although the Ayodhya verdict came on Saturday and Milad-un-Nabi was on a Sunday, the authorities did not allow any religious congregation, despite it being an important day for the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. While the rest of the country carried on with its life after facing restrictions on the day of the verdict, Jammu and Kashmir was treated differently – not surprising Basit Hussain, Khan and Wani.
For this year’s Milad-un-Nabi, the security forces blocked all main roads leading to the shrine, thus restricting the devotees from reaching it. What used to be an overwhelming sea of faithful followers was reduced to a small gathering a few hundreds.
“Only those who lived near the location could manage their way to it”, Mohammed Yusuf Khan informed.
Khwaja Digar Halted: First in 400 Years
Every year, on 3rd of the Rabi al Awal (the third month of the Islamic lunar calendar) thousands of Kashmiris gather at the shrine of Khwaja Naqshband in Srinagar’s old city (Downtown) to offer special prayers. This tradition has been kept alive for more than 400 years and the three-day festival ends with a congregational prayer called ‘Khwaja Digar’.
But this year on the day when Khwaja Digar was to be offered, the police locked the gates of the Sufi shrine for the first time in 400 years.
“Every year devotees offer Khwaja Digar for Khwaja Naqshband Sahib’s birth anniversary. The people who follow his ideology belong to the Sufi school of thought and are generally pacifists. Sufism has never had an aggressive policy and the people who believe in its principles aren’t even remotely ‘problematic’ as per the state’s definition”. Mohammed Yusuf Khan said.
As per a report by Outlook, on the 2nd of November 2019, when Kashmir was shut for 89th consecutive day, followers of the Sufi saint from various corners of Srinagar headed to the shrine but found all the routes blocked by barbed wires. Security forces directed them to return to their homes and for the first time in 400 years, Khwaja Digar was not allowed.
“People are getting angrier by such trespassing of their religious rights. After abrogating 370, is it really necessary for the government to block commoners from following their traditions of praying?”, questioned Wani.
“Devotees of Sufi saints are submissive souls. They believe in submitting to the will of Allah. Regardless of what is happening around them, they hold Allah’s will higher than anything. So the Kashmir crisis has never got to them as much as its got to other believers, because they unburden themselves by crying out their woes at such gatherings”, Khan informed.
“But, as traditional religious practices are being restricted in every place and prohibited completely at some, where will people go in these difficult and trying times?”, the Kashmiris we spoke to asked in unison.
The Flagbearer Of Kashmir Has No Visitors
Sufi saint, Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani is called the ‘Flagbearer of the Valley’. Despite the Kashmiri belief that every village is ‘protected’ by a dargah (shrine) of a saint from a particular Sufi order, the people of the region regard him as the caretaker of the entire valley and not just the congested hamlet of Chrar.
The keepers of the dargah have very intriguing tales about the saint and how he is actively standing by the gates of heaven, overlooking every matter in Kashmir.
“This year, it was raining very heavily in the month of July and we were worried that villages on lower altitudes might be inundated. But we overheard the saint saying, ‘abhi sailaab nahi hoga, mere logon ko ek bade toofan ka saamna karna hai’” (there will be no floods this time, my people need to be ready for a storm that’s coming their way), a friend of the keeper told The Logical Indian, hinting that he believed the saint knew of the impending abrogation.
His commemorative shrine – Chrar-e-Sharief, situated in Kashmir’s Chrar town of Budgam district, was deprived of visitors this year on the occasion of Chrar-e-Sharief Urs – which marks his birth anniversary.
The Urs was supposed to be celebrated on October 26 this year. Previously, the Urs in Chrar used to witness tens of thousands of devotees gathering at the dargah and the entire town would be under the spell of spiritual exchange. The market place used to be decorated with stalls selling sweets, locally-made bread, earthen pots and dry fruits. But this time, authorities did not allow people to participate in night-long prayers. Group of devotees from different areas of Kashmir, who had travelled for the occasion, told the media that the police had sealed the place a day before the celebrations were to commence.
Muharram Procession Banned
Muharram is considered as one of the sacred months of the Islamic lunar calendar and Shia Muslims all across the globe mourn the death of Imam Hussain and his family on the 10th day of this month, paying respect to their sacrifice.
In Kashmir, since the 1990s, Muharram processions were restricted and censored as they would culminate in anti-India clashes with the forces but this year, the procession was banned in its entirety.
“It is government propaganda to call Shia Muslims pro-India and anti-Pakistan. If that was the case, why would they ban the procession that is so important to our faith?”, a Kashmiri Shia told The Logical Indian with the condition of anonymity.
As per media reports, the administration which used to allow small local processions for Muharram since the 90s, placed a complete ban on the gathering this time as they believed that allowing any of it could lead to an imbalance of the ‘law and order situation’.
But locals, bitter over how their faith is being interfered with, said that taking out processions has been part of their religious beliefs. “Have the authorities become so incapable that they cannot handle a religious procession of a few men? It is a few of us against a 7-lakh-strong army with loaded AK-47s on the road,” our source said.
— Press TV (@PressTV) September 8, 2019
A Sullen Eid On A Soddy Day
This year, ‘badi’ Eid fell on a Monday – 12th August. It also followed the first Friday after the clampdown, when massive protests broke out in Srinagar over the unilateral reading down of Kashmir’s autonomy.
Every Eid, Fatima Zahoor’s house hosted every relative, distant and close. In what can be called a sad laugh, she reminisced how she would endlessly stock up on bakery goods and never leave her kitchen as she made kebabs for the infinite number of visitors in her home. “There hasn’t been an Eid where I have not stocked more than the previous year but still managed to run out of sweets and savoury items to serve. The number of visitors increased every year”, she recollected.
This year, however, her Eid was a strange one. No one came to her family and neither did her own family see her. What used to a house full of people and boisterous clamour was a deserted scene of three individuals glued to the news unblinkingly.
Even the 14th-century Jamia Masjid, located in Shehr-e-Khas – famously called Downtown, saw prayers being disallowed on Eid as all of the locality was languishing under an imposed curfew on a day of joyous festivities.
“Section 144 implemented across the state and all of Kashmir was under a curfew with over 7 lakh armed men deployed on our roads. Under such circumstances, I understand that my extended family and friends would have found it unimaginable to follow the yearly tradition”, she lamented.
Although prayers at local mosques were permitted under tight security, no congregation was allowed in the summer capital of the former state.
“Bakeries enjoy very high sales this time of the year and even tailors and designers are in high demand. The earnings made around this time make the bulk of the year’s revenue for businesspeople”, Fatima said, being an entrepreneur herself.
But as she concluded her heartbreaking recollection, she let out a sigh of dejection and said: “Iss badi ko Eid hum bahut manate hai. Itna bada karobar hota hai, par sab par paani phir gaya, sare dhandhon ka aur insaano ka bahut nuksaan hua“.
(We celebrate Bakri Eid here with a lot of grandeur and there is a huge market set up each year for its preparations. But this time all hopes of celebration have been watered down and businesses and people have suffered immensely).