Kashmir: From Sufi to Salafi

Kashmir: From Sufi to Salafi


The jihadi campaign in Kashmir appears to be on its last legs, but it has left behind a troubling legacy in the shape of a rising Salafism that is in conflict with the state’s centuries-old Sufi traditions.

One sunny afternoon in April last year, Maulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah, controversial head of Jamiat-e-ahle Hadith, local moniker for hardline Salafis in Jammu and Kashmir, was walking along a crowded bazaar of Islamic bookstores, automobile spare parts, barbecue and electrical goods in an old and dilapidated locality of Srinagar, the capital.

The drains overflowing with human waste, mounds of garbage and a jumble of tightly crammed box-like houses with rusty tin roofs were as wretched as the snow-topped ridges of the Himalayas surrounding it were majestic. Its maze of narrow alleys was the place where nearly 50 people were killed in January 1990 when state troops fired on demonstrators demanding that Indians leave Kashmir.

More than two decades later, the sense of siege was still strong. Sandbagged bunkers, loops of barbed wire and armoured vehicles mounted with machine guns ringed the neighbourhood as if it was a prison camp.

On this Friday, as he had done for nearly ten years, Shah, a wiry and mild-mannered man in the mid-fifties, wearing a frizzy beard, fur cap and long tunic over baggy trousers strode past the soldiers, stopping on occasion to shake hands with deferential traders shutting their businesses for his Friday sermon. As loudspeakers atop the minarets of mosques in the area hummed with the voices of worshippers at prayer, Shah, leaving his two armed guards behind, turned into an alleyway towards the back door of a Salafi mosque, a route he had always followed.

A bicycle placed near the door didn’t seem to trouble him, much less warn him of impending danger. As he took his first step into the doorway, a heavy explosion from a remote-controlled bomb rigged to the bicycle knocked him down, shrapnel shredding his body. Shah, a survivor of earlier assassination bids, died on the way to a city hospital.


For the natives of Kashmir, no strangers to bloodshed, the murder of the head of a growing religious movement was a step too far, an “unholy deed” made all the more unconscionable by the spilling of blood at the mosque door on the Muslim Sabbath.

Condemnation of the murder was fast and wide. In an atmosphere of anger and suspicion, the authorities—already besieged by allegations of complicity in the killing—announced the arrests of six men, estranged comrades of Shah in the Salafi movement. According to police, the detained men, in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani jihadi group active in Kashmir for the last two decades and blamed for the Mumbai carnage in 2008, plotted the murder of the cleric. Lashkar, whose cadres follow Salafi Islam, said its own probe found “the killers within us” murdered Shah. Many viewed this not as a public apology or admission of guilt but a blunt warning that betrayal of the Islamist struggle in Kashmir would be met with force.

Shah, a scion of one of the notable Salafi families in Kashmir, was in the eyes of some Salafis responsible for an act of unforgivable perfidy: he forswore his loyalty to the fight for liberating Kashmir from “idolatrous” India, and made peace. He changed from fiery Salafi orator and jihadi commander in the early 1990s to head, ten years later, of a more than one-million-strong group aiming to cut its ties to the resistance.

Shah, a scion of one of the notable Salafi families in Kashmir, was in the eyes of some Salafis responsible for an act of unforgivable perfidy: he forswore his loyalty to the fight for liberating Kashmir from India, and made peace. He changed from fiery Salafi orator and jihadi commander in the early 1990s to head, ten years later, of a more than one-million-strong group aiming to cut its ties to the resistance.[quoteclose]

Shah was sitting astride a divide that few in Kashmir’s bloody history have succeeded in navigating. The explosive combination of politics and a militant Islam that he encouraged fuelled a radical movement infused with jihad, intolerance, radicalism and a contemptuous disregard for Kashmir’s nearly 700-yearold tradition of Sufi Islam, whose practices are offensive to the puritans.

The introduction of the Salafi school in Kashmir goes back nearly a hundred years but such was the belief in the local traditions of Sufi Islam that the puritans remained on the remote fringes of Kashmir’s religious and cultural life. That began to change as the insurgency gathered force from 1989. A struggle for a separate homeland featuring mass protests, acts of sabotage, hit and run attacks against military units and Kashmiri Pandits was met with force.

Soon, hordes of Pakistan-trained jihadi groups, fresh from their success against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, hijacked the local sentiment for aazadi (freedom), transforming the struggle into a continuation of their holy war for an Islamic caliphate. Local Islamists like Maulvi Showkat helped, playing on the fears of the people on how the massive army presence was fast erasing Kashmir’s Muslim identity, and how their only hope lay in joining the holy war for establishing a universal community of believers. They found wide acceptance for this kind of radical Islam, unheard of before in Kashmir.

For decades now, Kashmiris have harboured this existential fear of becoming culturally homogenised into a larger India, a fear that stemmed from its lost political autonomy that successive governments in New Delhi undermined after it joined India at Partition.

By 2002 and the years that followed, New Delhi through a combination of force and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to stop its covert support of jihadis in Kashmir, had quelled the insurgency, killing and arresting many. But militant Islam took root in the cultural landscape. Shah, sensing the change and eager to preserve the theological creed of his sect focused on preaching conservative values, building hundreds of madarsas and mosques, setting up social welfare centres but stopping short of rebuilding ties to the jihadi groups. All this was possible thanks to the petrodollars that Saudi Arabia, the home of Salafi Islam, was pouring into Kashmir while New Delhi looked the other way.

The material assistance was complemented by training hundreds of young men in the Islamist discourse in many universities of Saudi Arabia and sending tons of free Islamist literature. All this while a suspicion that Shah was a pawn in the hands of Indian security agencies was gaining ground, a political transgression which was reason enough for Salafi extremists to plot his assassination.


The rise of this doctrinaire sect has raised a host of questions. Is Kashmir making a cultural shift toward a more hardline Islam at a time when the larger region is so convulsed by Islamic radicalism? What will become of its cultural traditions that for centuries have defined Kashmir’s unique identity in the region? Has the Central government’s refusal to offer political concessions brightened the appeal of militant Islam? How might unorganised believers of Sufi Islam wrestle with foreign cultural practices in an age of satellite television, free media and travel? Or will Sufism soften this hard faith as well, serving as a lesson to the larger region riven by Islamic extremism?

Is Kashmir making a cultural shift toward a more hardline Islam? What will become of its cultural traditions that for centuries have defined Kashmir’s unique identity in the region? How might unorganised believers of Sufi Islam wrestle with foreign cultural practices in an age of satellite television, free media and travel? Or will Sufism soften this hard faith as well.[quoteclose]

Noorbagh is a suburb in the northeastern corner of Srinagar—a few miles from where Shah was killed—spread out along the willowy banks of the Jhelum. A narrow, broken alley leads to the gates of an outsize Salafi mosque with a large dome and minaret soaring over the rooftops of houses whose open windows look on its fenced-in compound. The structure, grey and all concrete, is among nearly 700 places of worship Salafis have built in neighbourhoods like Noorbagh all over Kashmir.

In a typical old Kashmiri neighbourhood, your association with a particular mosque was scarcely a measure of your sectarian belief.

But that was before the Salafis.

In their world the purity of the faith cannot be tainted by impure polytheistic practices of Sufi Islam, so only a separate place of worship can secure this puritan sensibility.

One warm Friday last fall, the three floors of the mosque were packed with mostly young worshippers of varied social backgrounds.They awaited in silence the arrival of Abdul Lateef al-Kindi, Kashmir’s Salafi poster boy. A plump and priggish man of 46, al-Kindi has a thick salt-and-pepper beard, and a reputation for controversy with his deeply polarising views. His popularity comes from having lived and studied in Saudi Arabia for 18 years, where he earned a PhD in Islamic studies.

Like many graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, he goes by his nickname, al–Kindi. It’s a growing trend; young Salafis in Kashmir adopt an Arabic-sounding moniker to show their proximity to Islam’s birthplace. Al-Kindi is the lone doctor of divinity, but about 200 other graduates from the university help him reinforce the puritan creed. They not only preach in their mosques but are also schooling a new generation of students in a narrow interpretation of the faith at a madarsa in Srinagar.
In days gone by, religious instruction was invested in a hereditary pir, a religious figure endowed with holiness, either by his lineage traced to the Prophet Muhammad or because of his interpretations of the religious text. In the new socio-religious order, though, al-Kindi is instructing his followers to interpret the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet for themselves. This, in the view of many, is shaping new attitudes that challenge the traditional and is making the ground fertile for sectarian divisions.

A mile or so north of al-Kindi’s mosque an ugly brawl broke out in Palpora in October last year. A few families who had adopted Salafi ways in recent years were beginning to assert the primacy of their creed in the locality. Young men bustling with the zeal of new converts and encouraged by their clerics were questioning the authenticity of certain traditions followed by the majority of worshippers of the Hanafi school, a tradition compatible with Sufi Islam. The irony lay in the fact that that a few years earlier, these Salafis saw nothing wrong in the practices they were railing against now.

Police stepped in to defuse tensions and many separatist leaders went to the area to restore calm.
The Salafis broke away from the community, setting up a makeshift mosque in a nearby apple orchard.

Al-Kindi strides past the rows of men to the recess in the front wall, mounting the pulpit behind the carved lectern. He loses no time laying out his vision of Islam for Kashmir: a total break with the past is a religious imperative to build a pious society of believers evoking the spirit of Islam observed 14 centuries ago in the Prophet’s time.

The Salafi worldview that the centuries-old Kashmiri tradition of venerating the tombs and relics of saints is outside the pale of Islam, belonging instead to Greek and Hindu mythologies, is the sort of iconoclasm that is typical of a Salafi in Kashmir. To become a “real Muslim” both the body and the soul have to be cleansed of the sins of the past before it is imbued with the true and pure faith. It matters little that traditions are intertwined in the tapestry of social and cultural life.

The exquisitely built mausoleums and shrines were not just a place of contemplation, they served as centres of craftsmanship and community centres in times of economic trouble, a sanctuary in times of political persecution. More importantly, they were monuments to the memory of the saints whose spiritual powers had healed people in distress and formed the bonds of brotherhood.

Al-Kindi’s sermon is a measure of the boundaries of acceptable behaviour that a Salafi cleric can violate. It’s all right to ridicule the local tradition of visiting the mausoleum of a saint, whip worshippers into a frenzy over Western aggression in Muslim lands, decry the acceptance of Western values, and blast Palestinians for living like Jews.

Yet he isn’t willing to take talk of home. He cleverly skirts the problems in his backyard, as if life is but a long dream in Kashmir. A few months earlier the head of their movement was killed in a bomb explosion by his cohorts; less than a year before, more than 100 young men died in demonstrations against the security forces, when troops fired at stone-throwing protestors in a six-month-long standoff in the summer of 2010.

A few of the dead came from the area where al-Kindi delivers his Friday sermon. For many Salafi adherents it is like an act of treachery—talking about everything under the sun but remaining silent on Kashmir’s travails.

Many feel it is a glaring contradiction in a movement that for years openly confronted the Centre. In return for their silence, the Salafis are free to preach their sectarian theology, benefiting from an unrestricted flow of Saudi petrodollars.

While researching this story, I kept meeting young Salafis complaining how a police official, posing as a Salafi, was being used to keep tabs on the “internal workings” of the movement. I received a telephone call myself one morning from one of the top office-bearers of Jamiat ahle-e-Hadith suggesting I meet a police officer, a Salafi follower.

On a cool October morning, I meet Mohammad Irshad, a 38-old police officer wearing a striped blue shirt and denims. He has a self-possessed manner. Clean-shaven Irshad, an oddity for a Salafi who as a trademark wear long beards, is part of the security apparatus fighting the Pakistan-supported jihadis in Kashmir. He is a self-confessed Salafi. He doesn’t see a contradiction in this; he believes that the “extremist elements” within the movement are encouraging a political confrontation but the current leadership is concentrating on preaching their puritan faith.

To him, jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba are a “perversion of the Salafi school of thought.” It was the political aspect of his beliefs that put him at odds with others in the Islamist movement.

For some Salafis, it isn’t just doctrinal primacy that is alluring, but also the chances of social mobility. Al-Kindi’s ascent is a testament to it. He was raised in a remote and poor area of southeastern Kashmir. Transport, healthcare, safe drinking water and electricity were scarce. For him it must have opened up a world of opportunities when, after madarsa in Srinagar, he was recommended by the Salafi leadership for higher religious education to Saudi Arabia.

In the five years since his return, he’s been a star attraction at large gatherings held to recruit fresh members, a permanent fixture on television discussions of Islamic theology, a popular teacher at a Salafi college in Srinagar, where nearly 200 students from low income families are studying to be clerics.

In the afternoon we drive to al-Kindi’s rented apartment in a relatively prosperous locality of big houses with fenced-in compounds, stretching along the barbed wire-topped boundary wall of a sprawling army camp smack in the centre of the city. The three-room flat is temporary accommodation for his family; he is building a house in a new suburb of Srinagar.

In Kashmir, families prefer a spacious house with a walled garden and a small kitchen garden at the back. Apartment blocks have never met with approval. But constructing even a modest house is becoming difficult as the price of real estate in Srinagar explodes. But al-Kindi is managing well.

We sit on plastic garden chairs inside his makeshift library of Islamic jurisprudence and history. A book on the Saudi royal family is displayed proudly on a shelf. Al-Kindi does not hide his admiration for the custodians of the Salafi school. I ask why the sect is gaining in popularity.

“Then, we didn’t have the support we have now,” he says fingering his two cell phones. He is referring not just to the free Saudi printed literature available to anyone who cares to read, but tools of modern technology, the Internet, mobile telephone, satellite television, popular carriers of their message for the masses. A short video clip of Tauseef-u-Rehman, a popular Salafi cleric in Pakistan—calling for the implementation of Islamic law in all Muslim societies—features on the cell phone of devotees, a perfect synthesis of religion and modern technology.

As we talk late into the afternoon, I hear children giggling in the nearby courtyard. Al-Kindi excuses himself and returns after a few moments, irritated. The neighbourhood boys were playing with his children, he complains. He shooed them away, reprimanding them for spoiling his children.

“I don’t want my children to be spoilt by outside influences. I forbade them from playing with these boys,” he exclaims.

Clearly, al-Kindi is as much a strict enforcer of the dogma among his children as among his followers. Finally, I ask why he mentioned the Palestinian political dispute with Israel in his sermon but avoided speaking about Kashmir.

“You know under how much pressure we’re working in Kashmir. You have to be careful about what you say in sermons, speeches. We have been instructed by our leadership not to talk politics.” Laying out a guideline for a devotee that makes Islam simple and easy to follow is his contribution to a society traumatised by living in a militarised zone.

Kashmiris have been described as a peaceable people inhabiting a land called Pir Vaar (the garden of saints) in a turbulent region surrounded by powerful neighbours. It was their reputation for offering little resistance to successive foreign invaders in the last nearly 450 years that became, in the view of so many natives, the bane of their existence.

An already weak sense of identity was further undermined after 1947 and union with India. For some it was the combination a of loss of identity and frustration with the political status quo that made the appeal of militant Islam hard to resist.

The mid-September breeze is refreshing. The ripening rice fields, apple, pear and walnut trees abundant with fruit form a lovely tableau of the pastoral life against the lofty ridges of the Himalayas. I’m driving to the village of Boniyar, northwestern Kashmir, on a smooth, tarred highway. It’s about ten miles short of the Line of Control. The army is everywhere, heavily fortified military camps, checkpoints, olive-green armoured vehicles, army convoys, and tall, strapping soldiers clutching automatic rifles.

Farooq Ahmad Bhat, a 29-year-old MPhil student is a former guerrilla fighter who lives in an area where for generations a moderate version of Islam flourished, a part of which was the annual commemoration of the birth anniversary of a Muslim saint. The day featured a visit to the tomb for blessings and a special meal at home for friends and relatives.

A bachelor, Bhat comes from a family that reveres mausoleums and shrines and believes them to be a part of Kashmir’s cultural history.

A stout man with an easy manner, a small beard and a head of slicked back black hair, Bhat is a rebel in many ways. He feels the mere act of visiting a mausoleum and venerating it is a sign of weak Muslim identity, which should be jettisoned for something that emphasises an Islamic identity.

His explanation, like many among the young in Kashmir, is that identifying Islam with shrines and mausoleums is portraying an image of tolerance, pacifism and meekness. This, he feels, encouraged foreign invaders to occupy Kashmir. A hard faith, in his view, is needed to save not only Kashmir’s Muslim identity but to liberate it from the “infidels”. His transformation, though, happened at the unlikeliest of the places: a high security Indian prison.

On a cold night in the winter of 2002, up a steep path to the pine forest not far from his home, soldiers laid siege to his hideaway, an abandoned shack of rotting timber and mud. He and his comrades kept firing for two hours; they were captured when their ammunition was exhausted. Bhat was tortured for two months at an interrogation centre.

“They gave electric shocks to my genitals, inserted a rod laced with the red hot chili up my backside. A big wooden roller with two people sitting on either side was rolled on my thighs and I wasn’t allowed to sleep for days,” he remembers.

Bhat feels the mere act of visiting a mausoleum and venerating it is a sign of weak Muslim identity. Identifying Islam with shrines and mausoleums is portraying an image of tolerance, pacifism and meekness. This, he feels, encouraged foreign invaders to occupy Kashmir. A hard faith, in his view, is needed to save not only Kashmir’s Muslim identity but to liberate it from the “infidels”

It was a Salafi legend in Kashmir that Pakistani jihadis captured in the first years of the campaign and lodged in high security prisons outside Kashmir, played a key role in evangelising local youth imprisoned at the same time for political activities against the government. Bhat was one such case.
After the two-month stretch at various interrogation centres, he was shifted to a prison in Jammu.

Fahadullah Rabbani, a Pakistani seized in a firefight, was held in the same prison. Rabbani—deported to Pakistan in 2009 after 16 years—already had a reputation as a pious man. A month after Bhat was brought into the prison they ran into each other while collecting their rations. Rabbani invited him to join his “lectures on Islam” which he held three times a week. Piles of Salafi literature were available inside the prison. Bhat was amazed at how prison officials would dispatch a list of books to be ordered from shops in the city whenever jihadists asked.

At first their iconoclasm infuriated Bhat but slowly Rabbani’s emphasis on Tawhid (the oneness of God), piety and Islamic brotherhood began to have an effect. Bhat began to see in Salafi doctrine a means not just of purifying Islam of its centuries-old eclectic influences but evolving a brand of Islam in Kashmir that would rid it of the taint of meekness and pacifism.

For about two years he read from the works of the greatest Salafi Islam’s icons, Ibn Tammiyah and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and then engaged in debate with jihadists about the finer nuances of the Salafi doctrine.

Seven years after he was set free, Bhat represents the intersection of politics and religion within the Salafi movement in Kashmir, advocating an uncompromising anti-India stand and the imposition of puritan values in a place where religion was always a relaxed affair. His hard-line outlook is influenced as much by his encounter with jihadists as by the experience of government oppression.

We take a walk to a clearing on a hillside where he points out nearly 70 “unmarked graves”. Further north, more graves dot the landscape. A Kashmir-based human rights group has discovered nearly 2,000 such graves in the last few years. Some of the nearly 8,000 men who, in their words, “disappeared” in captivity might have ended in them.

“This was how India responded to our demands for political rights. By killing our innocent people,” he says. As a 10-year-old boy he watched security men bringing in the bodies of “terrorists” shot, as they said, in skirmishes at the LoC, telling the local population to bury them. The disfigured faces of the dead still haunt him.

If al-Kindi represents the side of Salafism that espouses conservative values and the Islamic spirit, Bhat exemplifies the face of political Islam within the movement. These are the two differing views fracturing the puritan agenda in Kashmir. For many followers, apart from the divisions in their ranks, it is the gradual acceptance of the extremist doctrine of takfir, (a heretical belief held by some Salafis calling for excommunication and, in extreme cases, the killing of a Muslim thought to have deviated from the path) that alarms them. It was extremists from this group that plotted the assassination of Maulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah.

Discussions in the sitting rooms of Kashmir are now are no longer just about the intractability of their dispute and the hardships of life in a militarised zone. The fear of sectarian strife breaking out is voiced as clearly.

What fuels the anxiety is a constant stream of news about the bombings of religious places by rival sectarian militias in Pakistan. Kashmir may not take that fratricidal step but the conditions that led to the violence in Pakistan are not absent from Kashmir: vocal sectarian groups with access to funds from dubious sources are engaging in mutual vilification campaigns and gaining increasing sway in matters of social importance.

Looking back on the days he spent with the Salafi priest Purra concluded that it was a dogma with no spirituality. ‘To retain our identity we have to ground our political movement in our cultural traditions and customs. It is all the more important now for us to stand united. All these ideological forces wanting to fight on our behalf have no role in this and we should not encourage them’

According to Shahid Yusuf Gilkar, a post-graduate student of linguistics in Srinagar, the conversation among his friends earlier used to be politics involving Kashmir, India and Pakistan, but in the last few years the debates are increasingly polarised on sectarian lines about which sect is theologically superior.

I have detected a wariness among locals about talking openly about this polarisation. They talk freely, though, in private about the fear that disagreements among various sects only strengthen their political opponents. But very few will speak out.

Even the local English language and regional newspapers hardly reported the public spat in Palpora. All they did was to report the statements of various religious and separatist leaders calling for people to beware of the “paid army of maulanas” inciting hatred among the people.

G N Gowhar, a 73-year-old retired judge and writer, is one of the few brave ones. “It is not just one sect but students from other seminaries, too, who are coming here and sowing discord. In this they have been helped both by India and Pakistan for many years,” he says, sitting on an overstuffed chair in his living room in Srinagar.

“Pakistan Islamised the dispute to woo the jihadis and India depicted the struggle of Kashmiris as part of a pan-Islamic movement for a caliphate to weaken Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination.” For him, protecting Kashmir’s cultural identity, its old shrines and mausoleums, is key to keeping the dream of a separate homeland alive.

For a community living in the one of the world’s most militarised zones with a political status they question, to be at odds with itself is a nightmare for a leadership that represent its aspirations for political autonomy. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, blames New Delhi for sowing division in Kashmir.

“India wants to project that religious division is a bigger problem in Kashmir than the political problem. It’s creating chaos,” he told Friday worshippers at Jamia mosque in Srinagar earlier this year.
He said millions of rupees were being spent on promoting a particular sect. “Sufism in Kashmir has its icons and roots in Central Asia, not in India. The attempt to Indianise Kashmiri Sufism and Islam is fraught with danger and we will oppose it tooth and nail,” he said.

Al-Kindi’s rants against Sufi Islam have galvanised its devotees to show off their strength in the land of saints and mystics. Last year, hundreds of men in green turbans gathered at a park in Srinagar for a rally organised by the Barelvi school. People were bussed in from various parts of Kashmir for the gathering. The ambassador of a Central Asian country was among the speakers. Nobody knows who paid for the event.

The Barelvis represent a syncretic form of Islam closest to Kashmiri Sufism. In the last few years the Barelvis placed themselves at the vanguard of Sufi Islam in Kashmir. The doubters point to its proximity to the political establishment in New Delhi. Many believers of Sufi Islam see them as “outsiders with a hidden political agenda”.

Syed Gulzar Qalandar is a mystic who, his disciples say, has slept only on a few rare occasions in the last 20 years of self-absorbed meditation and prayer. A small, slender man with a long beard and serene face, Syed Gulzar appears all the more otherworldly in a white scarf held in place by a striking blue bandana tied around his head. He speaks with a soft voice so low one has to strain to hear him speak in reverence of the Creator and His love for the people who do good deeds and help ease the suffering of the poor and needy.

The mystic, who renounced the affairs of life at a very young age to spend time in contemplation, is the antithesis of the aggressive, priggish, and iconoclastic Salafi adherent whose bruising mockery of the mysticism Qalandar espouses—a tradition going back nearly 700 years when Islam came to Kashmir preached by saints and mystics from the Central Asia—was encouraging young and well read students into the open to defend a respected tradition. Almost a dozen young men with knitted skullcaps over long black hair that fell to their shoulders were close followers of the mystic.

Sameer Purra, a 22-year-old studying to be a doctor, is among them. Purra, a mild-mannered man who, unlike his friends, wears his hair short, grew up in an old part of Srinagar. He went to a local mosque in the neighbourhood for his prayers. There, he came under the influence of a priest who turned out to be a Salafi.

For a time Purra was fascinated by his discourse on Islamic history and the need for taking Islam back to its pure past. But he grew irritated each time the priest spoke disrespectfully about the local belief in mystics and their spiritual powers. Purra could not tolerate the tirade and decided it was time to cut off ties with the priest.

Looking back on the days he spent with the Salafi priest he concluded that it was “a dogma with no spirituality” and was apprehensive about the rise of what he described as foreign ideologies spewing sectarian hatred and intolerance.

“To retain our identity we have to ground our political movement in our cultural traditions and customs. It is all the more important now for us to stand united as a people to struggle for our political rights. All these ideological forces wanting to fight on our behalf have no role in this and we should not encourage them,” he says, reflecting a belief antithetical to Bhat’s.

The town of Chrar-i-Sharif is tucked away in the hills of southwestern Kashmir, about 20 miles from Srinagar. There’s a sweeping panorama of apple and pear orchards and maize and rice fields. A pagoda style ochre roof indicates the 15th century mausoleum of Kashmir’s patron saint, Sheikh Nur-u-din, popularly called Alamdar. It’s shining in a warm fall afternoon sun. The smell of incense hangs in the air. Men and women sit in quiet contemplation on a soft green carpet around the saint’s tomb.

For hundreds of years, people of all the faiths have made their pilgrimage here, some praying for a cure to their ills, a few seeking a blessing for a better future, a couple coming to offer thanks for a wish that came true.

The prayers are not just a display of individual faith in the spiritual powers of the saint; they are equally a renewal of the message of tolerance that the saint propagated in his teachings. It didn’t matter to the devotees that in the summer of 1995 the shrine was burned down in a firefight between jihadis, who had turned it into a sanctuary and the military, who laid siege to the mausoleum; their devotion remained the same.

The prayers are not just a display of individual faith in the spiritual powers
of the saint; they are equally a renewal of the message of tolerance that the saint
propagated in his teachings. The belief in the spiritual powers of the saint is so strong that they expect miracles for ills for which there is no cure outside

The belief in the spiritual powers of the saint is so strong that they expect miracles for ills for which there is no cure outside. Abdul Gaffar, a 47-year-old farmer, comes from the village of Tral in southern Kashmir. Seven years before, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Doctors said it was at a stage where chemotherapy would be of no use. A neighbour pleaded with Gaffar to visit Alamdar.

“I had never been here before,” he says. But I began visiting every week, feeling some change in myself. My body, almost finished by the disease, began feeling stronger.”

Gaffar outlived the time he had been given by the doctors at a hospital in Srinagar. Two years after he began visiting the shrine, he visited the doctor again. He was stumped. Gaffar told him the story about the miracle. He said the doctor, never a believer in miracles, comes to the shrine from Srinagar to pray.
Gaffar’s miracle cure has no medical explanation. Yet his belief in the healing powers of the saint fits in with age-old practice of turning to the mausoleums in the times of personal distress and suffering.

At a time of fast moving ideas and doctrines backed by tools of modern technology, foreign donations and the encouragement of state actors, can this practice survive?

Sufi Islam’s greatest strength in Kashmir was its ability to absorb cultural influences of other traditions and retain its appeal among peoples of all faiths and sects, giving rise in time to a culture of diversity and mutual tolerance.

But there’s been little tolerance on display in the last few month of shrine and mosque burnings. Some six places of worship have been either completely or partially burnt in mysterious fires.

The most tragic was the destruction of the Dastageer sahib shrine in Srinagar, a splendid nearly 200-year-old structure of carved wood and papier mâché. Men and women mourned outside as it went up in flames.

At first, it was thought faulty wiring caused the fire but that was ruled out as power to the area had been cut off at the time. Most people believe this is an act of arson but investigations have so far have revealed nothing of the sort.

As mourners outside the burning shrine cursed the Salafis for creating an atmosphere of hate, some Salafis began posting incendiary messages on Facebook, terming the destruction of the shrine a “divine act of God”.

Sectarian tensions are no stranger to Kashmir. Sunni-Shia divisions have flared up in the past but with the intervention of community heads of either side, passions would invariably cool.

Today, however, the voices calling for tolerance and moderation are drowned out by a torrent of religious rhetoric encouraging hatred against each other.

Many feel it’s a bomb waiting to explode. Given the high levels of security prevalent here, Kashmir may not go down the path of Pakistan’s fratricidal strife. But there’s a dangerous likelihood of ever-present resentment between entrenched religious groups, one that would emasculate Kashmir politically.

Back in the narrow, twisting alleys of Gawkadal, where Maulvi Showkat was killed in a bomb explosion, the neighbourhood and the rest of Kashmir was commemorating the hanging of Maqbool Bhat in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984.

Bhat, a Kashmiri nationalist, was persecuted both in India and Pakistan for his fight for an independent homeland. Hundreds of policemen were deployed in the locality to thwart protests in a neighbourhood long used to protests against New Delhi.

Twenty-eight years after his hanging Kashmir still simmers with restlessness and hope for a better political future. This constant political ferment has made the ground in Kashmir conducive for foreign ideologies.

The demand for azaadi is unwavering but so is the commitment of the jihadis to mould this struggle into their extremist vision for a common Islamist bloc in the region. New Delhi’s refusal to concede further ground is only brightening the appeal of these ideologies.

(Tariq Mir is a Persephone Miel fellow at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, filing from Kashmir.
Abid Bhat is a photojournalist based in Srinagar.)

Kashmir Kya Chahta – Azaadi!

Kashmir Kya Chahta – Azaadi!


Just read one desperate ‘address to nation’ by someone whose misplaced sense of self-importance appears to be clouding his judgement and memory. The latter could be failing as he is cruising the eighth decade of his life, no doubt, extended by the excellent medical care that Indian taxpayers have provided him with, all these years!

The press release portrays a frustrated individual reduced to coaxing, begging and plain threatening the very people he claims to lead! It is clear as daylight that the only local stooge in Kashmir is this Hurriyat Hawk and his collaborating puppets of our enemy state – a state that was carved out of India to supposedly house the pure but that has since turned out to be so Napaq in its thoughts,words and deeds that the very name is now used as a slur across the globe! If this is the future they wish for the valley, then they are on the right track to get run over!

The dying embers of, what these rogues funnily refer to as, ‘the freedom struggle’ have rattled these imposters enough to clutch at the straws. Repeatedly claiming that theirs is a non-violent movement, does not make it one! Vainglorious pronouncements comparing themselves with Gandhi and the latest Don Quixote vision about a kill-list  are simply the Deg calling the Samovar black! Quite ironic to see them projecting their own sins onto our valiant faces. The forces who unflinchingly protect them even in the face of their sick anti-India exhortations. The forces who ensure that the valley does not go up in flames and that civilians are protected from these hounds baying for innocent blood. And the very same forces who extend medical aid to the locals, take schools kids on educational tours and provide assistance during floods, only to be vilified later!

How they wish to conveniently whitewash their past filled with gory details of walls plastered with posters and handbills asking all Kashmiris to strictly follow the Islamic dress code, prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks and imposing a ban on video parlours and cinemas! Where masked men with Kalashnikovs forced people to re-set their watches and clocks to Pakistan Standard Time or face death! Where people were advised to start keeping Pakistani currency with them as Azadi was round the corner! Where Kashmiri Pandit men were forced to lead processions to be the first line of defence against any casualties! Where notices were pasted on the doors of Pandit houses, peremptorily asking the occupants to leave Kashmir within 24 hours or face death and worse! Where shops, business establishments and homes of Kashmiri Pandits were marked out for loot and arson! Where Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of the valley with a recorded cultural and civilisational history dating back 5,000 years, were subject to sustained torture such as through strangulation by steel wires, hanging, impaling, branding with hot iron, burning alive, lynching, gouging of eyes while still alive, drowning, slicing, dismemberment of limbs, dragging to death, draining of blood, putting burning cigarette against the victims’ bare flesh, pouring boiling wax on highly sensitive body parts, driving nails into the foreheads, chopping off tongues, cutting off or opening up genitals, private parts and breasts of women after their gang rape,sawing them into two and in many cases, slaughtering the victim. [1] [2] [3]

The so called freedom fighters are frustrated and understandably so, as nothing is nuanced anymore! The sheen and veneer of sacrifice, these evil men and women, cloaked themselves in, during the last 27 years, has worn off in one stroke! The entire world (now) knows that they thrive on the corpses of innocent Kashmiris and shamelessly enjoy perks off Indian taxpayers! The world has realised that they have no compunction in sending young kids out to pelt stones (in exchange for money to their poor parents) even as their kith and kin enjoy the most luxurious lives across the globe. Their claims about support to their movement from across the world is so outrightly silly that one cannot but laugh! How they wish the world gets amnesia and their genocide targeted at the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from the valley gets obliterated from History! Their comical allusion to some imaginary fascist Hindu forcesis getting called out now, for, despite their concerted efforts,the Kashmiri Pandit community is still not extinct. The community whose members somehow escaped alive, only to have lived the horrifying seventh Kashmiri Pandit Exodus physically, mentally and emotionally with enough scars on their psyche to last a lifetime! It is these members who have made it a mission to call these evil-doers’ bluff and that is why you see them trying to discredit the  Pandit community through overt and covert means!

It is amusing to see Abdullahs, Muftis and Lones being categorised into one group by these rabid, radicalising, fundamentalists who have even killed their own people for talking or trying to broker peace. One wonders if they could so easily do away with their own comrades, would they ever shy away from selling Kashmir and Kashmiris at the behest of their political masters! One of these Jihadis is the murderer of four Indian Air Force personnel, including Squadron Leader Ravi Khanna and has no qualms about sermoning even as he travels across the world at Indian taxpayers’ expense. Their evil actions in the past did not get them serious repercussions and that is why they are emboldened to send out such pompous missives as the recent one.[4] [5] [6] [7]

What they fail to realise is that the relationship between Kashmir and India is centuries-old and pre-dates those ancestors of theirs who accepted the religion of peace either under duress or for voluntary gains. This is the year 2016 and true followers of peace across the globe are disowning radicalisation.They  cannot fool the world by calling their naked quest for establishing Sharia rule in Kashmir as the aspiration of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. How dare they include anyone other than the handful of people, from few districts of the valley who they have left with no option, in their anti-national charade! Jammu and Ladakh abhors these  traitors and rightly so!

Now that their money, threats and sentimental gibberish have all stopped working, it is their relevance and survival that are at stake. Government employees might stay indoors and inadvertently end up supporting them, for, their salary is assured. But why should businesses stay closed and shops stay shuttered? Why should labourers, masons, transporters, shikarawallas, ponywallas, carpenters, weavers and others not be busy in earning their livelihood, securing their future? Why should these leaders get to live lavish lives while the masses languish in poverty? They are now openly threatening the brave officers of Jammu and Kashmir Police which points at their complicity in the incident where a Jammu and Kashmir Police officer who was thrown into the Jhelum. These Jihadis have ruined Kashmir and what is left of its economy.They seem hellbent on on reducing the once booming valley to the same state as that part of Jammu and Kashmir which is forcibly occupied by our enemy state.

The separatists are now playing victim, claiming negative media portrayal. But this is as far from truth as Hurriyat is from peace! In the last 27 years, Indian Mainstream media has largely been romanticising the Jihadi movement and, in some instances, acting as the public relations cell of these terrorists. There is hardly any media house that has talked about the slogans raised by these fundamentalists. The slogans that would leave nobody in doubt as to the nature of the movement. Naara-e-taqbeer, Allah ho Akbar(Shout out loud. Allah is Great),Ely Zalimo, eiy Kafiro, Kashmir harmara chod do (O! Merciless, O! Kafirs leave our Kashmir),Assi gauche panu’nuyPakistan, Bataw rostuy,Batneiw saan (We want our own Pakistan without Kashmiri Pandit men, with  Kashmiri Pandit women), Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-O-Akbar/ convert to Islam), Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa (What will work here ? Rule of Shariah); La Sharqia la gharbia, Islamia! Islamia (From East to West, there will be only Islam), Musalmano jago, Kafiro bhago (O! Muslims, Arise, O! Kafirs, scoot) , Islam hamara maqsad hai, Quran hamara dastur hai, Jehad hamara Rasta hai(Islam is our objective, Q’uran is our constitution, Jehad is our way of our life), Azadi ka matlab kya – La ilaha illalha (What is the meaning of Independence? There is no one  worthy of worship but Allah Alone), Dil mein rakho Allah ka khauf; Hath mein rakho Kalashnikov (With fear of Allah ruling your hearts,wield a Kalashnikov) – are some of the  slogans for Freedom that were raised but the nation was never informed about it. [1] [2] For 27 years, the government of India has managed to live in denial and parroted the tripe phrase of Insaniyat,Jamoohriyat, Kashmiriyat . Even if one were to ignore the heart-rending account of the innumerable killings of innocent Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, and (Nationalist) Muslims, these slogans should have been enough to move a nation to empathy and change viz., its Kashmir Policy. But that never happened, thanks to the Media which has continued to peddle the Jihadi narrative to such an extent that a Terrorist was recently overwhelmed into thanking one of these journalists publicly! What more proof does one need to show how the Indian media has been covering up their sins, so far. What is hurting these faux freedom fighters is the sudden lack of control on the media narrative as their favourite channels are no longer generating eyeballs. [8] [9]

The truth is that common Kashmiris yearn for peace and the chance for a normal life. Separatists’ lies about everyone wanting Azadi (which actually means an Islamic state) are coming undone as this is no longer the 90s. Gone are the days when they could get away with painting the seventh Kashmiri Pandit exodus as Jagmohan ki sazish! Their back is broken and this latest press release is nothing but a whimpering old man bemoaning a lost cause. This man has no compassion for ordinary Kashmiris who are sick and tired of him and call him names. They question his credentials to act as their sargana and sarparast? They cannot remember when he and his henchmen got elected as their leaders! They wonder that if he is such a powerful, popular leader of the masses, why is he never out in the streets of Srinagar without security! They detest his pretence of ruling their minds and hearts and count days as to the end of coercion by Mullahs and compulsion of  Moolah! While the world might be misled into believing that the place is under siege, people know how things work there. Marriages and other celebrations continue unabated even as people work according to a time-table for everything, right from hartal to grocery shopping.

The youth of Kashmir wants education, employment, progress and access to the kind of life it aspires for. On the contrary, children of separatists have always had a life of comfort! The youngsters from the valley are willing to learn, grow, explore and utilise their talent to eke out a life of dignity and comfort. Their talent is not in stone pelting! Shaken by the current Government’s stance (still not considered strong by the rest of India), these fake leaders have  once again started their blackmailing tactics to divert attention from the fact that people are disenchanted by them and their self-serving movement.

It would be prudent if these Azadi Jihadis stop this farce before the movement start imploding. It may well happen that the very same people, who they have forced into toeing their line, upon finding an entire nation supporting them in their quest for peace, finally find their voice and shout out aloud what the really want – Azaadi fromGurbat , from Jahalat and (most importantly) from Hurriyat!

Picture Credit:  zeenews.india.com


Article by Dimple Kaul (@dimple_kaul) is a citizen of the free world who believes in living and letting live and loves her nation unabashedly. She does not have a preferred form or style of writing and uses poetry and/or prose based on what she wants to communicate. Some of her work is available atwww.dimplehere.com(https://www.facebook.com/dimpleherelive)


[1] Tej K. Tikoo, “Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus’’, Published by Lancer Publishers LLC

[2] Rahul Pandita, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits’’ Published by Random House India

[3] “Advent of Jehadi Islam in Kashmir” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azeOD22TkSA

[4] Outlook, “Our Own Killed Lone, Maulvi Farooq, Not India: Bhat”http://www.outlookindia.com/newswire/story/our-own-killed-lone-maulvi-farooq-not-india-bhat/707116

[5] PTI, “ We, not India, killed ‘our own people’: Hurriyat leader“http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/We-not-India-killed-our-own-people-Hurriyat-leader/articleshow/7210759.cms

[6] Kashmir News Network , “Kashmir Terrorist Visits New York”,http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kashmir-terrorist-visits-new-york-says-knn-74341697.html

[7] Nancy Kaul, “ In defence of my country undeterred I stand, in return I get betrayal – II“ http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=1472

[8] Greater Kashmir,“Hafiz Saeed praises Barkha Dutt for criticising state violence in Kashmir” http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/hafiz-saeed-praises-barkha-dutt-for-criticising-state-violence-in-kashmir/224218.html

[9] India.com News Desk,“Hafiz Saeed praises Barkha Dutt and Congress party on Kashmir issue (Watch Video) “http://www.india.com/news/india/hafiz-saeed-praises-barkha-dutt-and-congress-party-on-kashmir-issue-watch-video-1358832/

We, not India, killed ‘our own people’: Hurriyat leader

A senior Hurriyat leader has created a flutter by saying that two separatist leaders and his brother were killed by “our own people” and not security agencies, prompting J&K government to term it as a “late admission” and a call for a probe to fix responsibility.

“No police was involved (in the killings)…. It was our own people who killed them,” former Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said.

He said time had come to speak the truth about the killers of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, who were shot dead in 2002, and his own brother Mohammad Sultan Bhat, who was murdered in 1995.

Asked to identify the killers, Bhat said, “What is the need to identify them…. they are already identified.”

Farooq, father of the present chairman of moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was shot dead at his residence on May 21, 1990 while Lone, father of Hurriyat executive member Bilal Lone, was gunned down during a commemorative rally for the senior Mirwaiz on the same day in 2002.

The separatist leaders had earlier blamed the security forces for the killings.

Bhat said that his brother Mohammad Sultan Bhat also fell to the bullets of those espousing the separatist cause.

“I had said this then and I am saying it now. There is no ambiguity or confusion in my mind,” he said.

Other moderate Hurriyat leaders chose to maintain a studied silence on Bhat’s remarks.

The state government has held that then Hizbul Mujahideen commander Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo had killed Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq while a commander of Al-Umar Mujahideen had shot dead senior Lone.

Hizbul Mujahideen is considered to be ideologically inclined towards hardline Hurriyat faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani while Al Umar is believed to be the militant-wing of Awami Action Committee headed by the Mirwaiz.

Geelani refused to comment on the statements made by the former Chairman of the undivided Hurriyat Conference.

“I have nothing to say about their remarks,” Geelani said.

CPM state secretary M Y Tarigami said Bhat’s statement was “revealing” and the incidents need credible investigation.

“A credible investigation should be carried out so that responsibility for the killings is fixed,” Tarigami said.

Sajjad Gani Lone, the youngest son of the slain leader, had blamed Geelani for the killing but retracted his statement few years later.

Jammu and Kashmir’s DGP Kuldeep Khoda said that “the person involved in the killing of Mirwaiz Farooq is also buried in the same ‘martyrs’ graveyard’ where the senior Mirwaiz was laid to rest”.

When “Khuda” became “Allah”

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Muhammad_Zia-ul-Haq,_Ronald_Reagan_and_William_Clark_1982 Published on September 2nd, 2016 | by Guest
Islam’s Lesser Muslims: When “Khuda” became “Allah”
by Alia P. Ahmed

In 1985 a curious thing happened: a prominent Pakistani talk-show host bid her audience farewell with the words Allah Hafiz. It was an awkward substitution. The Urdu word for goodbye was actually Khuda Hafiz (meaning God be with you), using the Persian word for God, Khuda, not the Arabic one, Allah. The new term was pushed on the populace in the midst of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization campaign of the late 1970s and 1980s, the extremes of which Pakistani society had never before witnessed. Zia overhauled large swathes of the Pakistan Penal Code to resemble Saudi-style justice, leaving human rights activists and religious minorities aghast. Even the national language, revered for its poetry, would not be spared. And yet, though bars and cabarets shut down overnight and women were told to cover up, it would take two decades for the stubborn Khuda to decisively die off, and let Allah reign.

In more recent times, the language wars break out every year during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Before the early 2000s, Pakistanis used a Persianized pronunciation of the word, Ramzan. Slowly, however, the Arabic Ramadan came to take hold – in television commercials and on billboards advertising restaurant deals for the best eateries to break the fast, in magazines and newspapers, in sermons, on talk shows and of course, from the lips of neighbors. Now, Pakistanis were supposed to wish each other Ramadan Kareem instead of Ramzan Mubarak. They no longer performed wuzu, the ablutions required before offering prayer, but wudu. Then, two years ago, the federal minister for religious affairs announced his intentions to make Arabic a compulsory language in school curriculums.

Pakistan has long been torn between its Indo-Persian roots and the cultural imperialism of a much darker strain of Sunni Islam imported from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. Though it was Zia who, with US and Saudi support, set up madrassahs, or Islamic schools, to fund and train puritanical warriors in preparation for a “jihad” against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the cultural ramifications of his policies polarize the society to this day.

Badar Alam, veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s foremost investigative news magazine, The Herald, notes, “As Muslim societies in the post-cold war era are increasingly viewing themselves in terms of very literal interpretations of Muslim history and theology, anything that offers a culturally different point of view is shunned and discarded. Language purification is part of a larger purification. Even in Bangladesh, where pride in the Bangla language is part of the national identity, Allah Hafiz is now a common way of saying goodbye. And Persian, after all, is the language of Shia Iran. In a contest between Shia and Sunni Islam, the Sunnis must prefer Arabic over Persian.”

And of course, Pakistan depends heavily on remittances from Saudi Arabia. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, remittances from the kingdom amounted to $5.9 billion, according to a State Bank of Pakistan report quoted in local newspapers, greater than inflows from any other nation. The UAE followed closely behind at $4.3 billion. What is religion without the money to enforce it?

The intelligentsia, largely, loathe Allah Hafiz. They cling to the vanquished Khuda Hafiz even though it is no longer heard in the streets. They write obituaries for it in the opinion pages. When two such speakers exchange a Khuda Hafiz, an instant understanding is forged: aha, you are also one of the last remaining few. In fact, a proponent of Allah Hafiz once complained in Dawn, the country’s oldest newspaper, “If you dare say “Ramadan Kareem” in front of them, that’s a dead give away to them that you’ve frequented Saudi Arabia a bit too much or you are on [your] way to becoming a “fundo”. They are offended by the “Al” and “Bin” prefixes that we see on the names of roadside [restaurants]…” Take, for example, a roadside juice vendor in Karachi, who runs a stall named “Al-Makkah Juice Center.”

Two years ago, the Arabic obsession took a turn for the ridiculous. On the streets of Lahore, people were noticing vehicles with number plates that read “Al-Bakistan.” And therein lies the absurdity of this linguistic imperialism – the letter P does not even exist in Arabic. (Pepsi Cola, for instance, is spelled “Bebsi” when advertised in the local script in Arab countries.) Later, even the province of Punjab, where Lahore is located, was sacrificed when “Al-Bunjab” number plates reportedly began cropping up. Punjab means “land of the five rivers.” What Bunjab means is anyone’s guess. (Indeed, even Allah Hafiz isn’t properly Arabized – really, it should be Allah Hafidh.) Distinguished Pakistani linguist and academic Tariq Rahman, referencing Pakistan’s founder, commented on the phenomenon, “Plain Mr Jinnah, as he called himself, would be turning in his grave…In fact, I wonder why /p/ and /ch/ are not being abandoned altogether. We may lose our moon (chaand), but we will be better Arabs. Anyone for it?” It is also worth noting that the Pakistani national anthem is written in Farsi. If Pakistan is to truly become a colony of the Arabs, this will have to change.

Yet, in Pakistan’s sad history, none of this is unique. The Arabization of Pakistan is only the latest form of social engineering that it must suffer. In 1947, when Pakistan was born, its leaders inherited an essentially alien land, comprised of a diverse population of ethnic Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtos and Bengalis, each with their own language, customs, culture, and, after Partition, nationalist leanings. Moreover, millions of Mohajirs, or Urdu-speaking migrants from India, spilled into the newly created urban centers, especially in the southern province of Sindh and its capital city, Karachi. Disparate peoples had come together to form a new nation. But while the call for a separate Muslim homeland had been a compelling one before Partition, once realized it proved impossible to govern. Moreover, West and East Pakistan were divided by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Unity had to be forced on the young country, and its various cultures had to be erased to form a governable monoculture.

Thus, in 1947, Urdu was imposed as the sole national language of Pakistan, disenfranchising its ethnically and linguistically varied population. As Pakistan’s founder, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, famously declared, “one nation, one language, one culture.” All state documents such as currency notes, tickets, money order forms and official documents were printed either in English or Urdu. Not surprisingly, the policy provoked extreme discontent, especially amongst Bengalis, who constituted 56% of Pakistan’s population. In the 1950s, language riots, spearheaded by the Bengalis, broke out across Pakistan, demanding that Bengali be recognized as a national language alongside Urdu. The seeds of ethnic discontent had been sown, and culminated in the civil war that led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. As such, not only the fracturing of Pakistani identity (a tenuous concept at best) but the literal fracturing of the country can be linked to language.

Today, Pakistan’s crisis of identity is chronic. A legacy of top-down cultural strangulation has left the national psyche utterly bewildered and deeply scarred. It has also given Pakistanis an inferiority complex – because we are South Asians and not Arabs, we are lesser Muslims. We must compensate. We must try our hardest to become Bakistanis.

Author Mohamed Hanif, in his celebrated debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, says it best: “…All God’s names were slowly deleted from the national memory as if a wind had swept the land and blown them away. Innocuous, intimate names: Persian Khuda which had always been handy for ghazal poets as it rhymed with most of the operative verbs; Rab, which poor people invoked in their hour of distress; Maula, which Sufis shouted in their hashish sessions. Allah had given Himself ninety-nine names. His people had improvised many more. But all these names slowly started to disappear: from official stationary, from Friday sermons, from newspaper editorials, from mothers’ prayers, from greeting cards, from official memos, from the lips of television quiz show hosts, from children’s storybooks, from lovers’ songs, from court orders, from habeas corpus applications, from inter-school debating competitions, from road inauguration speeches, from memorial services, from cricket players’ curses; even from beggars’ begging pleas.”

Photo: Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (C) meeting with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and William Clark in 1982 (Source: Reagan Library via Wikipedia)

Alia P. Ahmed is a journalist based in Karachi and New York. She recently completed her MFA at Columbia University.

True face of Geelani’s Hurriyat – To make Kashmir an Islamic State



he radical elements in the state have no other motive than making Kashmir an independent Islamic state. This was said by the General Secretary of Hurriyat Conference Ghulam Nabi Sumji. This is not the first time when he has made such statements in the Kashmir valley. The true face of the Geelani’s Hurriyat Conference has come out finally. Their sole objective is to make Kashmir an Islmaic state. This truth was told by Ghulam Nabi Sumjii, a close associate of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The statements were confirmed by their spokesperson Ayaz Akhbar. The campaign for Kashmir’s independence cannot be separated from the idea of Islam as it is the foundation of it. He said that if youth have picked up guns, it is only because they were influenced by Islamic doctrines. Further Sumji said,” It surprises me when people say that these young boys who are fighting for their freedom are not influenced by Islamic beliefs. The lectures given in the mosques are meant to enlighten our youth about our sufferings and the atrocities faced by our people because of Indian soldiers.” Pro-Pakistani separatist Asiya Andrabi supported Sumji and said that the only motive of Kashmiri separatist groups is to free Kashmir from India and to impose Shariat Law. J&K Democratic Freedom Party’s chairman Shabir Shah, National Front’s chairman Naeem Akhtar Khan also supported this concept of freedom. Inputs from Jagran