by Yoginder Sikand
Media and academic writings on Islam and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir focus almost entirely on the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, who are depicted as somehow standing for or representing all the Muslims of the state. This is, to an extent, understandable, since they form the single largest Muslim community in the state and are also the most politically powerful and vocal. What is, however, generally overlooked is the fact that the Kashmiri Muslims form less than half of the total Muslim population of the state. In addition to the Kashmiri Muslims, there are large numbers of Muslims in other parts of the state, who are quite distinct, in terms of language, ethnicity, sectarian affiliation and historical experiences, from the dominant Sunni Muslims of the Valley. These include the Sunni Argons, Nurbakshis and Shi‘a Baltis of Ladakh, the Gujjar and Bakkarwals of Poonch and Rajouri and diverse Muslim communities in the Jammu province. These communities are generally ignored in writings about the ‘Kashmir problem’. Yet, it is crucial to highlight their voices, not only because, collectively, they are more numerous than the Kashmiri Muslims, but also because the ways in which they see the ‘Kashmir problem’ and its possible solution are often in contrast to the dominant Kashmiri Muslim perspective.
This essay seeks to provide a broad overview of diverse understandings and expressions of Islam among Muslims of Jammu. It focuses, in particular, on the vexed issues of peace and jihad and inter-community relations. Highlighting alternative ways of understanding these issues it seeks to uncover theological resources contained in the Islam or ‘ordinary’ people that can help interrogate and challenge the claims of radical Islamists to represent Islam and the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir.
Muslims in Jammu
Jammu is popularly known as the ‘City of Temples’, owing to its large number of Hindu shrines. Most of the inhabitants of the town are, of course, Hindus, but the town also has a fairly substantial Muslim population. Although there are a few local Dogri-speaking Muslims in the town, most of them appear to be fairly recent settlers, from Poonch, Doda, Rajouri and from the Kashmir Valley.
In the 1947 Partition riots, Jammu witnessed a large-scale slaughter of Muslims, with thousands killed and many more forced to flee to Pakistan. Jammu town was almost completely depleted of its Muslim population. The violence in Jammu was in contrast to the situation in the Kashmir Valley at this time, which remained largely peaceful and did not witness any communal violence directed against the small non-Muslim minority. It was only from the 1950s onwards that small numbers of Muslims began settling in Jammu, mainly from other parts of the state.
Despite its recent history of communal antagonisms, which is further reinforced by the strong presence of right-wing Hindu organisations in the town, Jammu has not witnessed any large-scale communal riots in recent years. This is remarkable, given the situation in the Kashmir Valley. There have been minor clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups in Jammu town, generally in the wake of massacres of Hindus in Kashmir, but the local administration has been able to prevent these from breaking out into full-fledged communal riots.
The Muslims of Jammu town lead a somewhat ghettoised existence. Most of them live in the town’s two almost entirely Muslim localities. Living together provides them a sense of safety. There is, however, considerable interaction between the Muslims and the local Hindus and Sikhs, at the personal as economic and professional levels. Despite this, there are few, if any, organised efforts to promote any sort of inter-religious or inter-community dialogue. Communal stereotypes remain deeply-entrenched. Few, if any, of the several NGOs in the town are engaged in actively promoting communal harmony. When asked why this is so, the typical reply is that community, including religious, leaders are simply not interested in such work. This complaint generally goes along with a routine denunciation of religious leaders, who are alleged to use religion simply as a means of self-aggrandizement and are, therefore, not interested in dialogue. They have, so it is often claimed, a vested interest in preserving and promoting communal differences. This fits in with a certain image of many religious leaders of being not ‘really religious’ at all. Another reason that is often put forward to explain the absence of any organised work to promote inter-community dialogue is that although some religious leaders do feel the need for this, they do not have the contacts and the resources to do such work. Since there is little or no interaction between religious leaders of the different communities it is not surprising that even those who are interested in promoting dialogue are unable to do so.
On the whole, therefore, it would be safe to say that in Jammu, as elsewhere, most people have little understanding of the religious beliefs of other communities. The university of Jammu does not have a department of religious studies. Scholars associated with the university have done little research on local religious belief systems and nothing at all on inter-community relations and perceptions in the region. There is no literature available on the subject, and none of the several Hindu and Muslim bookshops in Jammu stocks any such literature. The local press also displays little interest or no in the issue.
Local Religious Mechanisms for Inter-Community Interaction: The Sufi Shrines of Jammu
Despite the lack of organised efforts to promote inter-faith dialogue in the town, there are local mechanisms that work, in their own limited ways, to promote a certain interaction and ecumenism between the different communities. For instance, it is not rare to find shops and buses displaying pictures of images associated with the different religious traditions. This might be construed, in some cases, as simply good business sense, but in other cases it does reflect a sincerely-held belief of all religions being valid in their own ways. They have an important symbolic importance, especially if they are displayed, as they often are, in public spaces. It is, however, important not to exaggerate the prevalence of this sort of attitude. It is not very common, and is rather the exception than the rule. Then again, such images and associated beliefs are generally confined, not surprisingly, to some Hindus, and it is rare for them to be seen in Muslim, Sikh or Christian shops and vehicles.
The single most important and influential local religious institution for promoting inter-community in Jammu town, as almost everywhere else in India, are the town’s numerous Sufi shrines or dargahs. Dargahs are mausoleums that house deceased Sufi saints or Muslim mystics. The general belief is that the saints are still alive, in a spiritual sense, and, being close to God, can sometimes intercede with Him to have people’s requests met. The analogy with a government department is often used to explain this belief. Just as one cannot approach the head of the department without going through a clerk, so, too, it is said, it is sometimes difficult to approach God directly. One is, so it is believed by many, more likely to have one’s requests met if one approaches God through the mediation of the saint. This is especially the case since one recognises oneself as a sinner, and hence acknowledges that one is unlikely to have one’s requests met if one acts on one’s own.
This belief transcends community boundaries and unites believers in the powers of the Sufis in a shared sacred tradition. This is not to say that people from different communities view the Sufis in an identical way. Muslims, typically, see the Sufis as true Muslims, sometimes as missionaries of Islam, and as awliya or ‘friends of God’. Hindus who flock to Sufi shrines tend to see them as pious beings, in the same rank as genuine sadhus and mendicants who have renounced the world, although, strictly speaking, not all the Sufis were world-renouncers. Some Hindus even think of the Sufis as incarnations of God or as deities (devta). Needless to say, this is a view that Muslims do not agree with.
Jammu is home to a number of Sufi shrines, many of them being centuries-old. Interestingly, the vast majority of those who visit the shrines are Hindus, from different castes. The shrines provide the only arena where people of different communities participate together in common worship and devotion. As such, then, they are a unique institution for promoting inter-community interaction at the religious level. Hindus who visit the shrines sometimes prostrate before the graves of the Sufis, a practice not common among Muslim visitors who believe that prostration must be made only to God. Hindu devotees also sometimes touch the feet of the shrine custodians in reverence. They take oil from the clay lamps placed in the shrines, which they believe to be blessed, and apply it on their foreheads or wipe their hair with it. Some of them even press the graves of the Sufis as if massaging the tired bodies of the saints.
People from different communities offer prayers together at the graves, and there is no set format for this. Generally, the visitors pray silently, cupping their hands in front of them or holding them up, in Muslim fashion, in supplication. Sometimes, the custodians of the shrines, almost all of whom are Muslims, recite some verses from the Qur’an and then offer a prayer in Dogri or Urdu for the welfare of all the devotees present. After the prayer is over, people accept little drops of sugar as prashad or tabarruk, which may be offered by the custodian or by a person he appoints, who may be a Hindu or a Muslim.
Thursday evenings are special occasions for the shrines, when large numbers of people visit them. Another popular occasion for visiting the shrines is during the ‘urs celebrations of the buried saints. ‘Urs, in Arabic, means ‘marriage’, and marks the death anniversary of the saint, whose death is commemorated as his symbolic meeting with God. Some people visit the shrines simply out of devotion and reverence. Many, however, come in the hope that they would have their requests met through the mediation of the saint. It is common for Hindus who visit the dargahs to also visit Hindu shrines in order to have their prayers granted. In this sense, the dargahs are seen as seats of invisible power that one can, through proper devotion, access, and not necessarily as specifically ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ shrines in a narrow sense. The saint is believed to help everybody, irrespective of caste and creed, for, it is argued by many Hindu devotees, true saints are, in a sense, beyond religious and caste boundaries.
The mediation of the saint, some believe, can be more efficacious through the agency of the custodian of the shrine, the mutawalli or sajjada nashin. Usually, though not always, the custodian is a lineal descendant of the saint. He is often believed to have inherited some of the powers of his saintly ancestor. This explains why, in several dargahs, people, Hindus as well as Muslims, wait upon the custodian with their requests. In one dargah in Jammu that I have visited on numerous occasions, most of these supplicants are Hindu women from middle-class, and presumably ‘upper’ caste families. The custodian sits on a raised platform, while the supplicants sit below him. They approach him in turn and relate their problems, and he offers them solace and advice. In the case of some people who are said to be troubled by evil spirits, he runs an iron implement (chimta) on their heads and back while uttering a silent prayer. He tells his supplicants that he himself cannot do anything because he is simply a ‘slave of God’ (rabb da banda). They should, instead, pray to God and abstain from sin, and God might then be moved to grant them their requests or solve their problems. In case their requests are met, he says, they should come back to the shrine and offer incense and oil in honour of the saint. He jokes with his supplicants and speaks to them as something like a father figure, which helps create a certain charisma around him as a true man of God. In line with this, he does not accept any payment, and he says that he does this work simply out of service to God. However, some other custodians are said to accept donations, a practice which has, unfortunately, led to the entire class of sajjada nashins being viewed by many people as corrupt and as no different, in this regard, from charlatan babas and sadhus.
The dargahs of Jammu all have a distinctly ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ look about them. The graves that they house are all in Muslim style, and are covered with green silk sheets, often with verses from the Qu’ran embossed on them. The structures of the buildings are also ‘Islamic’, with domes and minarets, and sometimes with a small mosque attached to them as well. Inside, the shrines are also often decorated with pictures of Sufi saints or of the Ka‘ba in Mecca and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina and posters that bear verses from the Qur’an in Arabic calligraphy. Yet, they are open to people of all communities for worship, this being in contrast to both Hindu temples as well as mosques. The ecumenical appeal of the shrines is enhanced by the fact that, although a few of the rituals are distinctly ‘Islamic’, most of them are not seen as being associated with one particular religion or community, being more in the nature of local traditions that are followed across community boundaries.
The stories that are told about several of the shrines in the town—their ‘foundational myths’, one could call them—reflect a fascinating historical process of negotiation of inter-community relations in a harmonious way. These stories are often invoked to stress the point that people of different religions should live together in peace, that God is one, that all humans, at a certain level, are basically the same, and so on. A few examples may be cited here to illustrate this point:
The Dargah of Pir Raushan ‘Ali Shah
The first major Sufi to come to the Jammu region is said to have Pir Raushan ‘Ali Shah, whose dargah is located at Gumat, near the famous Raghunath Mandir, in the heart of Jammu town. The pir is said to have been very tall, which explains why his grave is some 20 feet (or nine gaz) long, and hence the shrine’s popular name of Maqbara Naugazan. Some believe the pir to have been one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, but, clearly, this is wrong. A more reliable claim is that he arrived in Jammu in the 13th century, before Timur’s invasion of North India. He is said to have performed many miracles, which, so it is claimed, so impressed the Hindu Raja of Jammu that he became his devotee and requested him to settle in his city. When the pir died, the Raja laid him to rest with full honours and had a grave constructed for him.
The Dargah of Pir Lakhdata
The name lakhdata literally means ‘the giver of hundreds of thousands’. It could signify belief in this pir’s status as a giver of Sufi wisdom or as a helper to people in distress and need. The small dargah of Pir Lakhdata is located in a bazaar named after him in Jammu. The life of the pir is shrouded in mystery, although he is said to have been a close associate of Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikhs. The cult of Pir Lakhdata is particularly popular among the agriculturist castes of Punjab and Rajasthan, both Hindu as well as Muslim. This tradition is linked with the cult of Guga Pir, said to be a Rajput chieftain who converted to Islam. In some versions of the account of Guga Pir’s life, he and Pir Lakhdata are presented as one and the same person. According to local tradition, after his death, half of Guga Pir’s body was taken by his Muslim followers and buried according to Muslim rites, and to them he is known as Zahir Pir. The other half of his body was cremated by his Hindu followers, who revere him as Pir Lakhdata.
The Dargah of Baba Budhan ‘Ali Shah
Another noted Sufi whose shrine is located in Jammu and who is associated with Guru Nanak is Baba Budhan ‘Ali Shah. His real name is said to have been Sayyed Shamsuddin, but he is known more popularly as Baba Budhan (‘The Old Baba’) because he was blessed with a very long life. Baba Budhan was born near Lahore in the village of Talwandi, the birthplace of Guru Nanak. Tradition has it that he was a very close friend of Guru Nanak, and the two would often meet to discuss spiritual matters.
The Dargah of Pir Mitha
Pir Mitha’s dargah is located on the banks of the river Tawi, not far from the Jammu palace. According to local tradition, he came to Jammu from Iran in 1462 during the reign of Raja Ajab Dev. It is possible that Pir Mitha was a Isma‘ili Shi‘a, although today there are no Isma‘ilis left in Jammu.
One day, so a version of the local legend has it, the Raja’s wife fell seriously ill. The pir is said to have cured the queen by performing a miracle, as a result of which the king and many of his subjects became his disciples. A large section of the Bhishtis or water-carriers, considered to be a ‘low’ Hindu caste, accepted him as their spiritual preceptor. Soon, the pir’s fame spread far and wide, and many began converting to Islam at his hands. Because of this, the pir was faced with stiff opposition from some Hindu priests. His most vehement opponent was Siddh Garib Nath, a Shaivite Gorakhnathi yogi. However, as the story goes, the two soon became friends and, consequently, the pir is said to have ceased his missionary work. The pir and the yogi became, so it is said, so close that they decided to settle down together in the cave where the pir lived. This cave is known as Pir Khoh or the ‘Cave of the Pir’.
Legend has it that the yogi entered the cave and travelled all the way to Matan in Kashmir, never to return again. After he disappeared, his disciples came to Pir Mitha and requested him to accept them as his followers. The pir declined, and told them that they should be faithful to their own guru. When this failed to satisfy them, the pir relented somewhat and told them that they could, if they wanted, take his title of pir, generally associated with Muslim mystics. That is why the cave is today called as Pir Khoh and the heads of the Nath yogis who reside there are known as pirs.
A sizeable number of devotees of Pir Mitha today belong to the Jheer community. The Jheers identify themselves as Hindus, and although they are of ‘low’ caste background (their ancestral profession consisted of drawing water and cleaning utensils for the ‘upper’ castes) they now claim to be Rajputs. One branch of the Jheers, who are known as Kashps, revere Pir Mitha as their patron saint. It is customary for many Kashps who live in Jammu to visit the dargah every morning after having a bath. All their auspicious ceremonies are conducted only after paying respects at the shrine. Many Kashps are migrants or descendants of migrants from Sialkot, now in Pakistan, who fled to Jammu in the wake of the Partition riots in 1947. Several Kashps claim that they managed to flee their homes to Jammu unscathed because of the blessings of their pir.
The Dargah of Baba Jiwan Shah
Baba Jiwan Shah was born in 1852 in the Sialkot district of Punjab in a family known for its piety. At the age of 23, upon the advice of his preceptor, the Chishti Sufi Sain Baqr ‘Ali Shah, he left his village, spending 12 years in meditation and austerities at Akhnoor on the banks of the river Chenab. He then headed for Jammu, where he took up residence in a graveyard, meditating near the grave of the Sufi Sher Shah Wali for 12 years. After this, he spent the rest of his life in the region around Jammu, preaching and making disciples, who included Hindus as well as Muslims. Among these are said to have been Maharaja Pratap Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir (1885-1925) and his brother Amar Singh. The king fixed a regular monthly stipend (wazifa) for him and would often invite him to the royal palace. Another disciple of the Baba was a certain ‘low’ caste man from the Chamar caste, who is buried in a small shrine near the dargah of the Baba in the Mohalla Jeewan Shah in the heart of Jammu town.
The Dargah of the Panj Pir
At Ramnagar, in the outskirts of Jammu town, is the shrine of the panj pirs, the five Muslim saints. The panj pir cult is widespread all over northern India and Pakistan. The composition of the panj pirs varies from place to place, and in some cases, it includes both Muslim as well as Hindu figures. The origins of the cult have been traced back to the Hindu cult of the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, as well as to the Shi‘a Muslim tradition of revering the five members of the ahl ul-bayt, the ‘holy family’ consisting of the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, her husband ‘Ali and their sons Hasan and Husain.
Little is known about the history of the panj pir shrine in Jammu. Legend has it that five brothers of a Muslim family spent many years there in meditation and austerities and then they all left to go their own ways. One day the five pirs appeared in a dream to the Maharaja and admonished him for sleeping with his feet pointing to their chillah, the placed where they used to meditate. The next morning, the Maharaja ordered the spot to be excavated, and an umbrella and five kettledrums were found. Believing this to be a holy place, he ordered the construction of a dargah there. He then appointed his royal charioteer, Alif Shah, and a Muslim woman, Khurshid Begum, as custodians of the shrine.
The great popularity of the panj pir shrine, especially among the local Hindus, is believed to be a largely post-1947 phenomenon. It is said that following the Partition riots some Hindus attempted to take over the shrine, claiming that it was actually a temple of the five Pandavas. They went so far as to forcibly install a Shiva linga on top of the grave-like structure inside the dargah. However, so the story goes, the next morning people discovered that the linga had cracked into pieces on its own. The Hindus took this as a sign that the shrine was actually a Muslim dargah and so withdrew their claims.
At present, the dargah is looked after by a Hindu Rajput, Kuldip Singh Charak. He is the husband of a Muslim woman, Shamim Akhtar, the daughter of Khurshid Begum, the first custodian of the shrine. He took over this responsibility following Khurshid Begum’s death in 1986.
The participation of people from different religious and caste communities in the Sufi shrines of the town helps, in its own ways, in breaking down barriers between them. Sometimes, it provides a means for people to build friendships across community boundaries. In a way it also helps challenge, or at least question, deeply-rooted social hierarchies. Thus, while ordinarily many high caste Hindus may not eat food cooked by Muslims, in the shrines they accept the sweets prepared by Muslims or so-called low caste Hindus. It is also not rare for Muslim Sufi shrine custodians who are practising Sufis themselves to accept Hindu disciples, while not asking them to renounce their own religion. In one shrine that I visited, a Punjabi Hindu is a disciple of the Muslim custodian. He regularly attends the shrine, where he dons a Muslim-style cap and sits in the courtyard to distribute sweets to the visitors as prashad. This he does on his own volition and has not been told to do so by his spiritual master (pir). But he still identifies himself as a Hindu and goes to temples as well, and this his Sufi preceptor does not forbid. In this and several other cases, the categories of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’, while in a sense still valid, do not denote the radical separation, difference or conflict that, unfortunately, they often seem to.
It is important, however, not to exaggerate the ecumenical potential of the Sufi shrines. For many Muslims who attend the shrines the Sufis are seen, above all, as pious Muslim and often as missionaries of Islam. At the same time, they also taught, so their Muslim devotees would stress, love for all creatures of God, irrespective of religion and caste, but their Islamic identity is not in doubt. Another phenomenon that must be taken into account when assessing the possible role of the shrines in promoting interfaith dialogue and interaction is the declining influence of popular Sufism in some sections of the Muslim community. Several educated Muslims in Jammu, as elsewhere, see the cults centred on the shrines as ‘un-Islamic’. The opposition to the cults of the shrines is articulated in what are presented as ‘Islamic’ terms. Thus, it is argued that these cults are a later development, and thus are an ‘innovation’ (bid‘at) from the path of the Prophet. A tradition attributed to the Prophet is routinely cited, according to which the Prophet declared that every bid‘at leads to hell. Hence, several practices associated with the cults of the shrines, such as singing qawwalis or belief in the intermediary powers of buried saints or the belief that the saints are still alive and can hear one’s requests, are branded as ‘un-Islamic’ and as leading those who are involved in them to hell. Furthermore, these beliefs are said to be shirk or akin to polytheism, as they allegedly set up helpers in addition to God. Several of the practices and beliefs associated with the shrines (such as, for instance, offering flowers and sweets at the graves) are also branded as ‘Hinduistic’ (hinduana), and are thus condemned as ‘un-Islamic’. In this form of Islamic discourse, criticism of the cults of the shrines is also associated with a critique of the shrine custodians, who are said to have a vested interest in promoting ‘un-Islamic’ beliefs (such as faith in the miraculous powers of the saints) in order to fleece the credulous. In turn, they come to be seen as working to promote Muslim backwardness, including political marginalisation.
Opposition to the cults of the saints is one of the major focuses of some Islamic groups active in the Jammu region, as elsewhere in India. These include the Hanafi Deobandis, the Islamist Jama‘at-i Islami as well as the vehemently anti-Sufi Ahl-i Hadith, all of whom have established a limited presence in Jammu in recent decades.
The Deobandis have a large madrasa in Jammu town, and the imam of the largest mosque in Jammu is also a Deobandi. Besides, there are several Deobandi mosques and madrasas elsewhere in the Jammu province. The Deobandi cause has been further facilitated by the growth of the Tablighi Jama‘at, a Deobandi-inspired movement that seeks to purge Muslim society of what it sees as ‘un-Islamic’ accretions. The movement is said to have started working in the area from the 1970s onwards. As elsewhere, differences between Deobandis and the shrine custodians are intense. Several ‘ulama or Islamic scholars who are attached to the shrines whom I met denounce the Deobandis as hidden fronts of the Saudi ‘Wahhabis’ and as being agents of what they call the ‘enemies of Islam’. They see other Muslim groups, such as the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Ahl-i Hadith in a similar light. Some of the ‘ulama attached to the shrines identify themselves with the Barelvi school of thought, which is associated with the late nineteenth century Imam Ahmad Raza Khan of the town of Bareilly, in present-day Uttar Pradesh, who ardently defended the Sufi tradition from its detractors. Others identify themselves simply as dargah wale or ‘people of the Sufi shrines’.
In assessing the ecumenical potential of the Sufi shrines it must also be borne in mind that for many Hindus who attend the shrines the Sufis might be seen as pious men of God, but this does not necessarily or always translate into positive perceptions of or closer interactions with Muslims, although this sometimes does happen. It is possible for a Hindu to hold deeply-rooted negative stereotypical notions of the Muslim as the religious ‘other’ at the same time as he or she regularly visits a Sufi shrine. Often, this is because, for many people, the shrines are visited only in the hope of getting requests met or problems solved, and not necessarily simply out of devotion and faith or a quest for religious truth. In fact, at the shrines there is no overt discussion of religious doctrines in any great detail, these being often limited in their expression only to brief prayers, mainly silent and undertaken individually. Hence, although there is certainly an encounter and exchange between people of different communities, as such there is very little inter-religious dialogue at the theological level at the shrines. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of the Hindus who visit the shrines would learn little about Islam or the doctrines of the Sufis since this is hardly discussed, except perhaps in a very general way when the custodian might refer to these when talking about the need for proper ethical behaviour to people to come to him for assistance. It is likely that since Jammu is a ‘communally-sensitive’ town and since Muslims live here as a small minority, the custodians think it pragmatic not to overtly stress the Islamic aspect identity of the shrines for fear of being looked at with suspicion. It is pragmatic, possibly, in another way for some custodians who accept donations, because an overtly Islamic identity would possibly mean less Hindu visitors and, hence, a decline in their incomes.
Given the ways in which the histories of the Sufis associated with several of the shrines are framed and remembered, and given the fact that people from different communities visit the shrines in sizeable numbers, the dargahs could, it might be thought, be motivated to play a more interventionist role in promoting greater understanding between the different communities at the religious level. There are several constraints, however, in this regard. To begin with, each shrine is an independent entity and there are few formal links between them, and so they do not operate as a group. Secondly, the shrine custodians might appear not to wish to overtly stress the Islamic identity of the shrines in a more explicit way, for reasons mentioned earlier, which limits their own interest in inter-religious dialogue initiatives. Thirdly, many of the custodians do not have the ‘right’ sort contacts, funds and cultural capital that might be needed to organise dialogue initiatives with religious leaders of other communities. Fourthly, in some cases there is simply no interest in the issue since for some shrine custodians their primary consideration is earning a livelihood through the shrines rather than social reform or activism. There is also the simple fact of inertia, and the feeling that since Muslims are in a minority in the town they should maintain a low profile. To add to this is the general perception that such efforts would make little or no difference at all in promoting communal harmony in the region in the absence of a political solution of the Kashmir issue.
Alternative Voices on Peace, Inter-Community Relations and Jihad
In the course of my stay in Jammu and nearby towns I visited a number of Sufi shrines and met with shrine custodians and ‘ulama who are associated with the Barelvi school of thought, which advocates a reformed Sufism. Despite the fact that they are not engaged in any organised inter-community dialogue work, all the shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars I met insisted on the need for harmonious relations between the different communities, and bitterly critiqued the violation of human rights in India, including Kashmir, by Muslim and Hindu militants as well as the armed forces. They unanimously insisted that the killing of innocent people, irrespective of religion, was a grave sin in Islam, and argued for the need for a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue. To kill a single innocent person, no matter what his or her religion, they pointed out, is condemned in the Qur’an as tantamount to the slaughter of all humankind. Hence, they stressed, those who loot, rape and kill innocent people cannot be said to be mujahids engaged in a legitimate jihad. Some of them claimed that numerous militants were engaged in such activities. Rather than being Islamically legitimate, they argued that such actions were fitna—strife, chaos or illegitimate rebellion—the very opposite of true jihad. A declaration of jihad can, they pointed out, be made only if Muslims are denied the freedom to practice their faith. Since there is no restriction on the practice of Islam in the state, they said, the conflict cannot be said to be a jihad. One of them, however, claimed that it could be considered a jihad for those militants whose families had been forced to flee Jammu for Pakistan in the Partition violence. To seek to regain lost Muslim land through force, he argued, might also be recognised as a legitimate jihad. This, however, appeared not to be a widely expressed or shared opinion. Some also pointed out that a declaration of jihad cannot be made by just about any Muslim. Rather, a fatwa to this effect must be declared by the accepted imam or leader of the entire community. They argued that since the different militant groups have shown no effort at building unity among themselves they do not have a single imam, who alone could, in theory, might be qualified to issue such a fatwa. Even if they agree on a single imam, his fatwa would not be binding on other Muslims who did not accept him as their imam. On the whole, then, most of the Barelvi scholars and shrine custodians I met felt that the root of the conflict in Kashmir was political, rather than religious. Hence, they argued, it needed a political solution, and they bitterly critiqued the radical Islamists’s claim that it was a war between Islam and ‘infidelity’ that would carry on till the latter had been uprooted.
The shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars I met also stressed the urgent need for better and peaceful relations between different communities, arguing that this was precisely what Islam insisted on, and for which the Sufis had devoted their lives. Some of them claimed that no major Barelvi scholar had characterised the ongoing militant movement in Kashmir as a jihad, and most of them blamed what they called ‘Wahhabis’ (by which they meant a range of such different groups as the Jama‘at-i Islami, the Ahl-i Hadith, the Lashkar-i Tayyeba and the Deobandis, all of whom they regard as having strayed from ‘true’ Islam) for the violence. At the same time they also denounced human rights violations by the Indian Army in Kashmir and the massacre of Muslims by Hindu terrorist groups in other parts of India.
They seemed divided on their own political views, however. All but one opposed Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Some of them thought that the only realistic solution was an independent Kashmir. Among these some also expressed the fear that an independent Jammu and Kashmir might result in the imposition of Kashmiri hegemony on the rest of the people of the state. They also opined that, given the fact that radical Islamist groups (whom they do not consider as representing ‘true’ Islam) wield the power of the gun, in an independent Jammu and Kashmir bloody civil war might break out between different groups of Muslims, each of which claims to represent normative Islam. Several others, however, insisted that since Muslims enjoyed religious freedom in India, and since Pakistan had allegedly been turned into a ‘Wahhabi’ bastion, it was best for the Kashmiris to remain with India rather than join Pakistan or be independent. At the same time, they admitted that they could not say this in public, for fear of being targeted or even physically eliminated by the militants. Yet, they added that by their appeals for peace, tolerance and love, they were, in their own ways, seeking to counter the appeal of the militant groups. While bitterly critical of the militants in Kashmir, they were equally adamant that for peace in Kashmir it was imperative that Hindu fascist groups in India also be countered, arguing that the oppression of Muslims in India by Hindu terror groups provided a powerful propaganda tool to Islamist groups in Kashmir.
Numerous custodians of Sufi shrines and Barelvi scholars whom I met in Jammu disagree with the Islamist political agenda of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Ahl-i Hadith-inspired Lashkar-i Tayyeba that insist on the centrality of an Islamic state. Although, in theory, the Barelvis and many shrine custodians do not deny the normative value of a state ruled in accordance with the shari‘ah, their focus, as in the case of most Sufis, is on individual moral reform, arguing that it is only when Muslims become ‘true’ Muslims in their own daily lives that an Islamic state could become a reality. That, however, is postponed into the indefinite future, since Muslims, like others, are seen as constantly faced with the temptation of the snares of the world. This explains the overwhelming concern on the part of the shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars with the ‘cleansing of the self’, through ritual observance, to the almost complete neglect of political affairs. As many of them see it, political power, in order to establish an Islamic state, is not to be actively sought. Rather, it is a gift that God gives to whomsoever He wills. In the absence of an Islamic state, Muslims are believed to be capable of leading fully Islamic lives, conducting their own personal and social affairs in accordance with Islamic injunctions. This is, of course, in marked contrast to the position of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Lashkar-i Tayyeba.
The opposition of numerous shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars to the ‘Islamic state’ agenda of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Lashkar-i Tayyeba is also inextricably related to their bitter critique of what they describe as ‘Wahhabism’. The term derives from the movement launched by the eighteenth century Arab puritan, Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, who bitterly critiqued what he saw as the ‘corrupt’ and ‘un-Islamic’ practices and beliefs characteristic of much of popular Islam in his own times. He denied the need to strictly follow one of the four established schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. He also denounced Sufism and popular Sufi practices as ‘un-Islamic’. He also opposed the popular Sufi notion of Muhammad being almost superhuman. Muhammad, he insisted, was a mere mortal, although he was a prophet of God. In contrast to the Sufis, he believed that the Prophet was no longer alive, and that his body had turned to dust in his grave. Likewise, he was vehemently opposed to the notion that the Sufis were alive in their graves and that they could intercede with God to have people’s requests met. He castigated such beliefs as akin to shirk, or associating partners with God, a heinous, unforgivable crime in Islam. He suggested that Muslims who held such beliefs were no different from ‘polytheists’ (mushrikun), and, hence, were actually not Muslim at all. Because of this, the ‘Wahhabis’ are routinely condemned by the Sufis as ‘traducers of the Prophet’ (gustakh-i rasul) and ‘enemies of Islam’ (dushmanan-i din).
The Jama‘at-i Islami, the Ahl-i Hadith, with which the Lashkar-i Tayyeba is associated, and the Deobandis, are, typically, seen in Barelvi discourse as different fronts of the ‘Wahhabis’, who are described as ‘anti-Islamic’ and as created by a range of ‘anti-Islamic’ enemies to destroy Islam from within. Commonly, the ‘Wahhabis’ are described as American- or Zionist-agents. It is thus hardly surprising that numerous Barelvi scholars and shrine custodians I met in Jammu were bitterly critical of the militant groups associated with one of the above mentioned Islamic organisations or movements. While they did not directly deny the importance of an Islamic state, they appeared unanimous that, given what they described as the ‘anti-Islamic’ ideology of the different ‘Wahhabi’ groups, the sort of ‘Islamic state’ that the militant groups were seeking to establish would result in bloodshed on a hitherto unprecedented scale, and would hardly deserve to be called ‘Islamic’ at all. Some of them expressed the fear that if Kahmir joined Pakistan or became independent civil war might break out between the different Muslim sectarian groups, given the ‘Wahhabi’ opposition to the deeply rooted Sufi tradition in Kashmir. Hence, several of them argued, for the Kashmiri Muslims it was better to remain in India, under a secular and democratic state, than to live under a ‘Wahhabi’ state, even in an independent Kashmir or as part of Pakistan. They claimed that if Hindu right-wing forces were effectively countered in India and if the oppression of Muslims in India were to cease, Kashmiri Muslims might themselves prefer to live in India, they claimed. When asked how it was that the militants continued to enjoy considerable support from local Kashmiris, even from those who would not identify themselves with one or the other of what they called ‘Wahhabi’ groups, they replied that this was because the ‘Wahhabis’ had deliberately kept their true beliefs concealed behind the rhetoric of jihad. If at all they came to power, they said, they would ‘reveal their true colours’, and begin to attack the Sufis and their adherents. Hence, they suggested, it was imperative that before this could happen ordinary Kashmiris should be made aware of the actual beliefs of the ‘Wahhabis’.
Linked to these complex political arguments is a bitter critique articulated by several shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars whom I met who insisted that since, by definition, the ‘Wahhabis’ were ‘anti-Islamic’, the so-called jihad that they had launched showed clear signs of being ‘anti-Islamic’ as well. They recounted numerous incidents of militants raping, looting and killing innocent people, and of militant leaders making a lucrative livelihood from donations from abroad in the name of jihad. They also cited instances of militants violently opposing popular Sufi-related practices and even of killing moderate leaders, some of them known for their Sufi piety. All this suggested, as one Barelvi scholar told me, that ‘The Islam that they follow is a fake one’. Because of this, they claimed, many Kashmiri Muslims were now increasingly tired of the ongoing violence and were disillusioned with the jihadist organisations. ‘They yearn for peace and normalcy’, I was told, ‘but they cannot speak out against the oppression of both the armed forces and the militants for fear of being killed’.
T is an Islamic scholar belonging to the Barelvi maslak and is the imam of a mosque near Jammu. I first met him in his simple, sparsely furnished room adjacent to the mosque, where he was surrounded by a group of Muslim peasants. ‘Killing an innocent Hindu just because he isn’t a Muslim is certainly not a jihad’, he tells me in response to my query about what he feels about the ongoing violence in Kashmir. He explains that in a legitimate Islamic jihad non-combatant non-Muslims must not be harmed. Rather, he says, they must be protected. Yet, he laments, many of those who claim to be waging a jihad in Kashmir do not abide by this basic Islamic principle. He recounts the case of a fellow Barelvi maulana who made this point at a public meeting and was later threatened with death by activists from the dreaded Lashkar-i Tayyeba.
T is loathe to discuss politics. ‘I am a religious man’, he says, but he does insist that violence is not the way to solve the Kashmir issue. Rather than directly discuss Kashmiri politics, he prefers to dwell on what he believes is the correct Islamic notion of jihad. He argues that physical violence for the defence of Islam, when Islam or its adherents are under threat, is legitimate, but war for worldly advancement, for land or for power, is not. He tells me that the conflict in Kashmir is simply over the land—both India and Pakistan want to grab it, and they are not really concerned about the people as such—and hence it is not a real jihad. He does not hesitate to condemn the excesses of both the Indian armed forces and certain Pakistan-based militant groups. He recounts cases of killings of innocents by both, describing their actions as unambiguously ‘anti-Islamic’. He fears that such violence might exacerbate in the future, with rival Islamic groups, representing different sectarian formations, fighting each other. ‘The gun culture has become so deeply ingrained that, who knows, Kashmir might go the Pakistan or Afghanistan way, with Shi‘as and Sunnis and Wahhabis training their guns on each other’.
As a traditional Islamic scholar, T’s interaction with the local Hindus is somewhat limited. Yet, he insists on the need for harmonious relations with the Hindus, and laments that in the course of the ongoing violence in Kashmir Hindu-Muslim relations have drastically deteriorated. Yet, he believes that ‘ordinary’ Hindus and Muslims simply want to live in peace and carry on with their lives. He tells me about his experiences of living in a largely Hindu town, where there are few Muslims. In the years that he has lived not once was he targeted by the local Hindus or made to feel unsafe. ‘Given what has been happening in Kashmir’, he says, ‘they might have been expected to hate me, to create trouble for me, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, they treat me with respect’.
H is a Muslim college student in Jammu. His family are, as he puts it, ‘staunch Barelvis’, and he counts himself as an ardent Barelvi as well. He has not had a formal Islamic education, but through books and personal meetings with scholars associated with a particular Barelvi organization he has received a fairly good knowledge of his faith.
We talk about this Barelvi organization, and he tells me about how, in its own way, it is trying to promote peace in Kashmir. The organization has arranged numerous public meetings in different parts of Jammu and Kashmir, where Barelvi ‘ulama, including many from other parts of India, deliver lectures on various aspects of the Prophet’s life and teachings. The focus of these lectures is often on social issues, particularly issues of contemporary concern. H names a number of such issues, from female infanticide and dowry to inter-communal amity and the need for peace. ‘We cannot directly speak out the militants or they will kill us’, he says. ‘So we hold out the model of the Prophet as a way to counter their propaganda’.
H insists that Islam, as he sees it, and peace between the different communities, are indivisible. When the Prophet was born, his mother, Amina, saw angels planting white flags, symbolising peace, he tells me. Hence, Muslims must struggle for peace and against the misuse of religion to promote violence against innocent people. One of the meanings of ‘Islam’ in Arabic is peace, he notes, but adds that this does not mean a passive acceptance of things as they are, but, rather, also struggling, through morally justifiable means, for an end to all forms of oppression. This includes working for the rights of non-Muslims as well. To illustrate the point he tells me the story of a property dispute between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. They appeared before the Prophet, who decided in favour of the latter, although the Muslim had expected that he would rule in his favour simply because he was a Muslim. ‘The Prophet stressed the rights of one’s neighbours, and these include non-Muslims, and said that he who gives unnecessary sorrow to his neighbour would go to hell’, H says gravely.
H stresses the importance of personal behaviour and morality, arguing that calls for jihad and an Islamic state are meaningless if their advocates do not practise genuine spirituality themselves. ‘Your behaviour with others should be such that people think that it is because of Islam that you are good, not, as now, that you are bad because of Islam’, he says. He critiques certain radical Islamist groups in Kashmir, whom he describes as ‘Wahhabis’ and who, he says, are really political and not religious outfits, although they assume an ‘Islamic’ garb. ‘They walk in the path of money, not of Islam’, he says. In the name of jihad, he laments, ‘they have finished us off’. In contrast to their actions, he says, the ‘real jihad’ is to ‘develop a proper Islamic character and to convey the message of Islam to others’. He cites the example of the widely revered Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, as a ‘true mujahid’. Through his message of love and peace, he says, scores of people were attracted to Islam. In contrast to the Khwaja, the activities of several radical Islamist outfits have only succeeded in further repelling non-Muslims from Islam, as a result of which they see Muslims as ‘terrorists’. Rather than their activities being a genuine jihad, they are, he says, a ‘great strife’ or fitna, that has no legitimacy in Islam at all.
Like most other Muslims, believes that Islam alone is the way to salvation, but, at the same time, he insists that Islamic missionary work has no room for violence. Rather, he argues that it is only through promoting love and peace that others can be receptive to the message of Islam, adding that this is precisely what the Prophet also sought to do. Non-Muslims are free to accept or reject Islam, and in no case should they be forced to do so.
H tells me that he has ‘nothing to do with politics’, but he believes that a solution to the issue of Kashmir must have the consent of all the various communities in the state. Perhaps, he says, joint rule by India and Pakistan for a few years is a possible solution. He thinks that many Kashmiris might prefer independence, rather than being ruled by Delhi or Islamabad, but says that this option is not without its dangers. In an independent Kashmir, he warns, there is a likelihood of civil war breaking out and sectarian violence spearheaded by ‘Wahhabis’, whom he describes, echoing the views of many other Barelvi scholars, as ‘blasphemers against the Prophet’ (gustakh-i rasul), accusing them of being imperialist creations in order to set Muslims against each other.
R is a practising Sufi, and is the custodian of a large dargah in Jammu. Like many other Barelvi scholars in Jammu, he, too, thinks that the Kashmir issue is political, and not religious as such.
‘No religion, properly interpreted, allows for killing innocent people’, R explains as I settle down on the mattress on the floor of his room, declining a chair that he offers me. In Islam, he tells me, one is allowed to take to arms only in self-defence, when one’s life or faith are under threat. Prior to the outbreak of the militant movement, the Kashmiri Muslims enjoyed freedom of both, he says and pauses, leaving me free to draw my own conclusion. ‘Yes, there have been human rights violations by the armed forces as well’, he admits when I point this out, ‘but the trouble started with the militants, so it’s not entirely the fault of the army’.
R is decidedly opposed to the Islamists, including the Lashkar-i Tayyeba and the Jama‘at-i Islami, groups whom he describes as ‘Wahhabis’. He denies that they are Islamic at all, and says that their demand for an Islamic state in Kashmir is untenable. ‘If Muslims demand an Islamic state in Kashmir of the sort that the Wahhabis want’, he says, ‘how can one deny Hindu groups the same right in India?’. He points out that the ‘Wahhabis’ and the Hindu right-wing feed on each other, both being ‘thoroughly anti-religious’ while claiming to be the greatest defenders of their respective faiths and communities. He also tells me that the Islamist militants in Kashmir have no concern about the grave consequences Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan or becoming independent might have for the Muslims living in the rest of India, who, he says, number 14 times the Kashmiri Muslim population. It is bound to lead to a strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces, he points out, who might wreak further havoc on the Indian Muslims.
R recognises that the actions of the militants has had a tremendously negative impact on non-Muslim perceptions of Islam and its adherents. ‘Ordinary people cannot distinguish us from the Wahhabis and so they now think that all Muslims are terrorists’, he says in despair. Yet, despite the what he calls the relentless ‘un-Islamic’ propaganda of ‘Wahhabi’ groups, he believes that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslims continue to deeply revere the Sufis. The ‘Wahhabis’ recognise this, and that is why, he claims, they do not openly reveal their beliefs or preach their views, such as their opposition to Sufism and the cults associated with their shrines. Were they to reveal their true beliefs, he says, they would be stiffly opposed by the Kashmiri Muslims themselves.
As R sees it, the ‘Wahhabi’ militants lack true piety, despite their claims of being true mujahids. Several of them are involved in militancy just to make money, he says. And some of them, particularly the leaders of militant groups in Pakistan, have raked in millions in the name of jihad, he assures me. ‘Their politics are totally against the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. They say, no matter what happens, even if innocent people are raped or killed, we want to set up our own government. Surely, the Prophet did not act in this way!’. He refers to Pakistan as an example of a failed state, despite its claims of being a model Islamic country. ‘You can’t impose an Islamic system by force like that’, he says.
It is not easy for people like him to take on the militants directly, says R. Some, including moderate Muslim leaders (he cites the late Qazi Nisar, the Mirwaiz of south Kashmir as an example), who dared to do so have even paid for this with their lives. Rather, R says, he tries to do this indirectly, by telling Muslims about the Prophet and the Sufis and their message of love and tolerance and the meaning of the ‘true jihad’. ‘I point out that we must follow the Prophet alone in all matters, and behave as he did’, he explains. ‘That means that we must work for love and peace. That is precisely what the Sufis, who brought Islam to Kashmir, did, and we should walk in their path’.
R insists on the need for Muslim scholars to reach out to people of other communities. ‘We live in a multi-religious society and so must have good relations with each other. It is only through love and in a peaceful environment that we can disabuse others of the misunderstandings that they have of Islam’, he says. He admits the need for organised work for promoting inter-religious harmony, noting that hardly any efforts have been made in this regard in Jammu. ‘Each of us seems to obsessed with our own communities that we just do not think beyond’, he bemoans.
Every Thursday evening crowds mill around the dargah of Baba Jeewan Shah in the heart of Jammu. From their dress, most visitors seem to be Hindus, the vast majority being women. Many of them look middle-class and probably ‘upper’ caste as well, although some seem from more humble families. Pilgrims stream into the shrine, which is draped with a green cloth and surrounded by a marble screen. In the courtyard, a Hindu lad wearing a Muslim-style cap, a disciple of the Muslim custodian of the shrine, distributes sweetened puffed rice, while a group of Hindu and Muslim women sit around and chat. In a small room that opens out into the courtyard Aslam Sahib, the custodian, sits on a mattress, surrounded by a crowd of women and a few young men. They approach him in turn, explain to him their requests or problems, and he responds with a prayer and instruction.
P is a regular visitor to the shrine. She is a Punjabi Hindu, and her family migrated to Jammu from Lahore in the wake of the Partition. She teaches at a government school is also involved in a local Gandhian welfare organisation. She first heard about the shrine from her aunt, and after visiting the first time felt solace and comfort which drew her back to it. She visits temples as well, and argues that for her God is not restricted to only one sort of place of worship. ‘He is everywhere, even inside your own heart, so you don’t need to go to a temple or shrine or mosque to find Him’, she explains, although she continues to visit the shrine because she experiences a deep sense of peace there.
P believes that the Sufi saints incarnations (avatar) of God. She sees Baba Jiwan Shah as a powerful, yet loving, being. But more than providing access to a source of power, the dargah also affords her a release from the tensions of the day-to-day world. When she feels depressed, she says, she visits the dargah, where she pours out her woes to the buried saint. There she also seeks the advice of Aslam, the custodian, whom she regards as an ‘uncle’. Aslam speaks to her as a friend, and there is nothing specifically ‘Islamic’ in the advice or suggestions that he provides her. ‘He tells me to be good, to refrain from bad things, to lead a pure life. He never seeks to impose his religion or to denigrate other religions’, she says.
P identifies herself as a Hindu, but is critical of Hindu groups that preach hatred for other communities. ‘There is no difference between the RSS and the Jama‘at-i Islami’, she says. ‘Both preach hatred and intolerance’. As she sees it, one need not restrict oneself exclusively to the religion one is born in. ‘There’s no harm at all in taking good things from other religions as well’, she explains. And for this, she says, dargahs provide the ideal platform. It is only in dargahs, she points out, that people of different communities gather together to worship. She speaks about the several Muslim friends she has made whom she first met at the dargah of Baba Jeewan Shah. She also refers to the practice of ‘high’ caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims eating together in the langar or the dargah’s community kitchen. ‘It’s such a wonderful feeling—us worshipping together in the shrine’, she says, contrasting this with the deeply held negative stereotypes that many Hindus and Muslims share of each other.
Her husband, P tells me, is a staunch BJP supporter. In his younger days he also used to attend the RSS shakha. They keep squabbling, she says, about politics. Yet, she says, whenever he comes to pick her up from the dargah he also goes inside to pay his respects to Baba Jeewan Shah. ‘True men of God have no religion or caste’, she opines as I try to figure out her husband’s rather inexplicable behaviour.
A is a Muslim school teacher from a village near Kishtwar, in the mountainous Doda district. I met him one afternoon at a tea stall outside the Jami‘a mosque in the largely Muslim locality of Mohalla Khatikan in Jammu. He looked plainly tired and harried as he sipped his tea and read out a newspaper story about the killing of a young man in Doda. Apparently, the youth had been kidnapped by a group of militants belonging to the dreaded Deobandi Harkat ul-Mujahidin, who kept him with them for a month. He was then killed by them because he had opposed the marriage of his relative with a Harkat militant.
‘We simply cannot do anything because we are poor people’, A says with an immense sigh. ‘On the one hand the army terrorises us, and on the other hand the militants. We can’t afford to speak up against either of the two’.
It is not just the Hindus who were being targeted by the militants, he explains. In fact, most of those killed in his area, by both the militants and the army, are Muslims. ‘And that means’, he declares emphatically, ‘that this is not a jihad at all’. ‘In a true jihad’, he says, ‘innocents cannot be targeted, women cannot be raped, you cannot steal other’s money or property, but this is precisely what is happening’.
A’s father is said to have been a practising Sufi, and A has inherited from him a passionate commitment to the Sufi way. This explains his strident opposition to the Islamist militants. ‘I used to firmly support the cause of Kashmiri independence’, he tells me, ‘but seeing what these so-called mujahids have done, murdering and looting in God’s name, I have come to the firm conclusion that it is best for us to be with India’. ‘If ever Kashmir becomes independent or joins Pakistan we will descend into civil war’, he warns. Denouncing Islamist radicals, he argues, ‘They claim to be working for an Islamic state, but that’s all hot air. We’ve seen what their agenda is from their actions’. And this includes what he sees as the Islamists’ fierce hostility to Sufism, or what A defines as ‘true’ Islam. ‘Although the militants don’t openly say so for fear of losing public support, we know that they see Sufism as un-Islamic and regard us as little better than polytheists. How can we trust or support such people?’, he asks.
As a devout Muslim, A sees as his primary task the mission of tabligh or communicating the message of Islam to others. That, he says, was the Prophet’s mission in life, not the capture of political power. The best and most effective way to convey Islam to others, he says, is through one’s own character. ‘If people see how noble and kind you are because you are a good Muslim, they would automatically be attracted to the faith’, he argues. He sees the militants as not only having no interest whatsoever in tabligh and, in fact, as actually working to defeat all possibilities for attracting others to Islam. ‘The militants have created such a hatred in the minds of the Hindus here about Islam that no Hindu would at all be interested in, leave alone attracted to, Islam’, he rues. He refers to Islamist ideologues and militant activists as endlessly proclaiming that Islam has the answer to all the ills of humankind, but then hurriedly adds that obviously no Hindu would ever accept this claim since the militants themselves refuse to act according to Islamic principles. ‘The Hindus answer, and rightly so, that all these wonderful things about Islam should first be practised by the militants themselves, and only then would they care to lend a ear to their propaganda’, he says.
Z is a Shi‘a Muslim and works in a government department in Jammu. He tells me about the small Shi‘a community in the town, which comprises of some 40-odd families. Most of them are Kashmiris and Ladakhis, there being very few local Shi‘as.
Most Shi‘as in Jammu and Kashmir, Z says, think that remaining with India is the best option for them. If Kashmir joins Pakistan, they feel, the Kashmiri Shi‘as are bound to be targeted by militant Islamist groups, as is the case in Pakistan today. ‘In Pakistan Shi‘as worshipping in mosques and imambaras are gunned down in cold blood’, Z tells me. ‘Radical Deobandi and other such groups there are even calling for them to be declared as non-Muslims like the Ahmadis’. ‘On the other hand’, he says, ‘no such thing happens in India, where Shi‘as have complete freedom of religion’.
I ask him if the recent massacre of Muslims in Gujarat does not disprove his point.
‘In Gujarat’, he replies, ‘Muslims were killed indiscriminately, and these included Shi‘as and Sunnis. But in Pakistan, Shi‘as are being singled out for attack, which, in a sense, is probably worse from the Shi‘a point of view’.
No religion, Z argues, gives permission to oppress others, but that is precisely what some Islamists are doing in Kashmir and the RSS is doing in the rest of India. The conflict in Kashmir, therefore, is not a jihad but simply instigated by politicians and ‘pseudo-religious’ leaders to promote their own gains. For this they deliberately give a ‘wrong’ interpretation of the Islamic concept of jihad. According to the Shi‘a faith, Z explains, jihad can only be declared by a leading Shi‘a scholar (maraja or mujtahid). No Shi‘a mujtahid, he adds, has so far blessed the struggle in Kashmir as a jihad. Yet, Shi‘as in Kashmir fear to speak out against the militants for fear of being killed. Yet, Z says thoughtfully, if the ‘Wahhabis’ are not countered they might unleash a wave of killings against the Shi‘as if Kashmir joins Pakistan or becomes independent, as the Taliban did when it captured Afghanistan or as some radical groups in Pakistan are presently doing. He tells me of how the Shi‘as have for long been oppressed in Saudi Arabia by the Wahhabi ‘ulama, who consider them as heretics.
Z says that Shi‘a-Sunni relations in Kashmir have historically been tension-ridden but are now generally peaceful, although suspicions remain. He refers to several hardliner Islamist outfits that are vehemently anti-Shi‘a. He singles out, in particular, what he call as the ‘Wahhabis’, groups, funded, so he claims, by the Saudis, who preach anti-Shi‘a hatred. This propaganda may not have been as successful as was intended, he says, but ordinary Sunnis in many places are said to continue to hold virulently anti-Shi‘a views. ‘Many Sunnis, particularly in the Kashmir valley, believe that Shi‘as spit into the food that they offer Sunnis and pronounce ritual curses, because of which Sunnis refuse to eat their food’. ‘The intention in spreading such baseless rumours’, he explains, ‘is probably to ensure that ordinary Sunnis do not befriend Shi‘as’.
Anti-Shi‘a propaganda has, Z says, not impacted much on Sunni-Shi‘a relations in Jammu, and there have been no violent clashes between them so far. However, in the course of the last several years, primarily as a result of the growing Deobandi, and to a lesser extent, Ahl-i Hadith, influence among the Sunnis of Jammu, Sunni attendance at Shi‘a majalis (religious gatherings) and azadari (mourning rituals commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) has markedly declined. The Deobandis and the Ahl-i Hadith (in contrast to the Barelvis) castigate these practices as ‘un-Islamic’. Z hastens to add, however, that the local Sunnis and Shi‘as both wish to ensure peaceful relations in Jammu, and suggests the need for the ‘ulama and other leaders of both communities to work together to combat sectarian hatred. He admits that little has been done on this front, however, although he does mention to efforts of a certain Barelvi organisation headed by Haji Abdul Majid, a local community leader, that organises a public meeting every year to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet. This annual ‘Shahid-i Azam Conference’, organised in the month of Muharram, is attended by Shi‘a and Barelvi ‘ulama from Jammu and Kashmir and other states, who travel around the Jammu province addressing lectures devoted to the Imam’s life and teachings.
N runs a small store in a town in the Jammu district. He has been an acquaintance of mine for several years now. Each time I travel from Jammu to Srinagar or Doda I make it a point to stop in his town and look him up. It is not that I am fond of him at all. To be frank, he repels me with his smug over-confidence, but I find his views interesting in a way. After all, he is an ardent supporter of the Jama‘at-i Islami, and it is not often that one can befriend a hardcore Jama‘ati.
‘I’ve heard that the government is deliberately promoting the Qadiani sect in Kashmir’, N tells me almost as soon as I enter his shop. Before I can react he hurriedly adds, ‘I’ve also heard that Israeli soldiers are going around villages in Kashmir at night dressed as ghosts to scare people’. I think he’s joking, but he is dead serious. ‘Yes’, he seeks to assure me, ‘This is what I heard, that the government of India has employed these Jewish agents to frighten our people’.
N then launches into a loud, aggressive harangue against the Indian government, the Americans, the Jews and other such ‘enemies of Islam’ as he calls them. A small crowd gathers in the shop to listen to his speech. He asks me what brings me to his town this time, and I tell him that I want to meet a certain man, who is said to be a Sufi of sorts.
‘Oh, that man!’, N exclaims with disdain. Probably since the man in question is widely respected N changes his tone somewhat and says, ‘You can buy all other groups with money and sweet talk but there’s only one group that can never be bought’. Predictably, the one group he is referring to is his very own Jama‘at-i Islami.
‘The Jama‘at’, N boasts, ‘can never waver from the path of Islam’. ‘You will not find such dedicated servants of Islam in any other group’, he asserts. Several other groups that call themselves Muslim, he says, are actually ‘creations’ of the ‘Jews’ and other such ‘enemies of Islam’ or else work, knowingly or unwittingly, to serve their interests. These, according to him, include the Barelvis, the Shi‘as and the Ahmadis. The Shi‘as, he alleges, abuse the companions of the Prophet; the Barelvis supported the British Raj; and the Ahmadis were propped up by the British to divide the Muslims and to destroy the spirit of jihad.
I tell N about the research project I am working on, on peace and religion in Jammu and Kashmir. ‘All this is useless’, he tells me flatly. ‘True peace and justice can only be established if India accepts the Qur’an as its constitution and if its rulers become Muslim’. He offers Saudi Arabia as a model for India to emulate. His father, he says, once visited Saudi Arabia, and came back with stories of ‘true Islamic justice’ strictly followed there. He saw, for instance, a thief’s hand being chopped off, much to the glee of the large crowd gathered to witness the spectacle. N tells me that India should follow the example of Umar, the second Sunni Caliph, who, when he heard that his own son had committed a crime, ordered that he should be flogged with 70 stripes. When, after the thirtieth whipping; his son died, Umar ordered that the remaining forty stripes be inflicted on his grave. In the ‘true’ Islamic dispensation that he dreams of, N tells me that Muslims who refuse to say their prayers shall be treated as apostates and shall be killed, and if a man, even if driven by hunger and poverty, steals food his hand shall be chopped off. I express my alarm, but N defends himself by saying that in the ideal Islamic state that he aspires for the state would provide for the basic needs of all its citizens through the public treasury (ba‘it ul-mal), and, that, therefore, only a habitual or congenital criminal would ever resort to robbery. ‘It is not like in your India where criminals roam freely’, he says with evident disgust.
Not a single Muslim state in the world, I tell N, is the sort of Islamic utopia that he hungers for, not even Pakistan, which I know he passionately supports. ‘Let Pakistan go to hell’, he answers. ‘Every Muslim, no matter where he or she lives, should work to establish an Islamic state, the system of the Prophet (nizam-i mustafa)’. Islam, he tells me, has come to ‘conquer the world’ (ghalib hone ke liye), not to be dominated (maghlub) by other ideologies or religions. This is why, he says, the ‘enemies of Islam’ (here he specifically names the Jews, Christians and Hindus) are ‘mortally afraid’ of Islam and have been consistently ‘conspiring’ to eliminate it. It is because of this, he says, that Muslims all over the world are being cruelly oppressed.
I venture to ask him if his claim is true how is it he can speak so freely in his town, which has only a very small Muslim population, almost all its inhabitants being Hindus. It is with great difficulty that I repress the urge to tell him that if he spoke so assertively in many Muslim countries he could be sure that he would have been marched off at once to the gallows.
N tells me that Muslims in Kashmir and in India must struggle to establish a state on the model of that of the Prophet in Medina more than 1400 years ago. For this purpose they must also engage in missionary work among the Hindus, to bring them to Islam, because, he claims, Islam is the only way to salvation in this world and the world after death. I tell him that his aggressive ways and his championing of violence is surely no way to convince others of the claims that he makes on behalf of Islam. The Qu’ran, I point out, tells Muslims that they should preach their faith with ‘gentle words’. N, however, rudely cuts me short and blurts, ‘Islam tells us that it is our duty to speak the truth boldly before others even if it hurts them’.
I decide that I must have my say now. I simply cannot let N go on. I tell him that if he thinks missionary work is a principle duty incumbent upon all Muslims, the seemingly most vocal champions of Islam in Kashmir, the Islamist militants, seem to have completely forgotten this task. Surely, I say, the killings of innocent people by the militants would only further repel people from Islam rather than attract them towards it. But before I can complete my sentence, N retorts, ‘Nowhere in Kashmir have the militants killed any innocent people. You have been fed on wrong propaganda in the newspapers spread by the enemies of Islam’.
When I say that he is talking arrant nonsense he relents somewhat and says, ‘It may be that one or two people have disguised themselves as militants and killed others to settle personal scores but they are not true militants’.
The conversation is, of course, getting nowhere, and I decide to leave. N grabs my hand and gives it a firm shake. ‘I pray to Allah that the next time we meet you will have the Qur’an in this hand of yours and you will be a brave soldier of Islam’, he says with a supercilious smile.
I do not conceal my anger, but I bid him farewell.
As I walk down from N’s shop I am followed by a group of cheerful school boys who have witnessed my heated encounter with N. ‘Uncle ji’, one of them, a Muslim lad, tells me, ‘Please do not mind what that man said. He is notorious for being a stupid loud-mouth’. Another boy, who also happens to be a Muslim, chirps in, ‘Yes, he is a little mad’.
I cannot suppress my laughter and the children join me in shrieking out in delight.
As these diverse voices so strikingly suggest, Islam, like any other religion, can be understood and interpreted in a variety of ways, often mutually opposed. They point to the obvious, although often overlooked, fact of the fractured and fiercely contested nature of Islamic discourse. The notion of there being a singular, monolithic understanding of Islam, so deeply cherished by radical Islamists and their opponents alike, is, therefore, obviously misleading. The Muslim monolith is a mythical creation. Different Muslim groups offer different understandings of normative Islam, which, in turn, can go along with different political agendas which are sought to be legitimised as ‘Islamic’. This diversity of opinion offers room for promoting alternative ways of imagining inter-community relations in ‘Islamic’ terms.
The voices highlighted here point to the theological resources contained within a broadly defined ‘Islamic’ paradigm that can be used to critique the exclusivist and hostile notions of the non-Muslim ‘other’ that are so deeply ingrained in Islamist discourse, and which are routinely employed by those who see themselves engaged in what they describe as a jihad in Kashmir. Even the belief, held by many people highlighted here, that Islam represents the absolute truth, can be used to counter the arguments of the radical Islamists. Thus, for instance, the stress on the need for peaceful missionary work, and the belief that violence in the name of jihad would gravely hamper the prospects for tabligh, only further alienating Hindus from Islam, is a powerful critique of what the radical Islamists consider as a jihad.
These alternative voices that, in their own ways, critique both the radical Islamists as well as rightwing Hindu groups, cry out to be heard. They can serve as crucial resources in countering the appeals of both Islamist as well as Hindutva extremists and in developing alternative ways of conceiving of inter-community relations in Jammu and Kashmir. In turn, highlighting and promoting such voices could, in its own limited way, help promote efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict, one that does justice to all the various communities inhabiting the state.
Filed under: Clash of Civilizations, Hinduism, Indian Muslims, Islam, Kashmir | Tagged: Hindu Muslim Relations in Jammu, Hinduism, Human Rights, India, Indian Muslims, Islam, Jammu, Kashmir | Leave a Comment »