Kashmir Muslims frustrated by sealed mosque

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Srinagar, November 4, 2016: Friday prayers have been cancelled for 16 weeks at India’s Jammu and Kashmir state’s grand mosque because government authorities, afraid that mass gatherings might lead to marauding violence, have sealed it off.

The Indian government closed the 622-year-old mosque, located in the state’s summer capital Srinagar after four months of violence left about 90 people dead and 11,000 injured. However, frustration at being unable to access their beloved venue has caused more Muslim rallies.

The almost unprecedented closure of the mosque popularly known as Jamia Masjid (Mosque of Assembly) has made locals feel intimidated in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

It’s a suppression of religious freedom, said Syed Ahmad Sayeed Naqshbandi, who has been leading Friday prayers at the mosque since 1963 and is popularly known as Imam-e- Hieh (Grand Imam).

“Even when militants were ruling the roost in Kashmir during the 1990s and there was a large-scale rebellion, Jamia wasn’t sealed for prayers,” he told ucanews.com.

Blocking prayers at Jamia Masjid will have serious ramifications, he said. Jamia Masjid “has been a center of faith for Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslims” who comprise 80 per cent of the 12 million people who live in the state.

Jammu and Kashmir’s head cleric, Mirwaiz Umaf Farooq incited followers to defy the curfew installed to control the restive population and open their mosque by force on Oct. 28. In response, the Indian government deployed thousands of security personnel. Several people were injured in clashes.

“The basic human rights of Kashmiri people are brazenly trampled upon through brute military might. The point is being driven home that we are subjects of an Indian colony and this is how we will be treated,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in a recent statement.

Church leaders have expressed concern over curbing people’s right to pray. “The right to pray is a fundamental right of every individual,” said Father Roy Mathew of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese that covers the entire state.

He told ucanews.com that the government needs to manage this sensitive issue. “There might be some political reasons for sealing off the mosque but no one can stop people from fulfilling their religious obligations. We pray for the restoration of peace in the region,” he said.

Historian Altaf Hussain, who has authored several books on the Kashmir region’s history, said that the grand mosque was sealed for almost 18 months 180-years-ago by the Sikh rulers of the state but has remained open since then.

“That happened under a king-dictator. But today in 2016 we are a democracy following a constitution that stresses people’s fundamental rights,” he said.

A senior police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the mosque was closed because the authorities were afraid that a mass gathering there could turn violent. “It would be impossible for security forces to control the mob. To avoid the loss of life, prayers inside the mosque have temporarily been stopped,” said the official.

Jammu and Kashmir’s prominent religious scholar and social activist Ghulam Ali Gulzar said nothing can justify the closure. “Protests can be managed. Sealing the mosque is unacceptable and reveals government’s intolerance towards Muslims,” he told ucanews.com

Saima Shah, a research scholar at Kashmir University, said the closure will only encourage radicalization. “For local Muslims, closing down the Mosque is tantamount to stopping them from holding prayers; it will only brew anger against the Indian state,” she said.

Jammu and Kashmir’s renowned author and head of International Law at the Central University of Kashmir, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, said the closure reveals the government’s dishonesty.

“On one side, the government goes on saying normalcy has been established in Kashmir, and on the other, they are scared of allowing congregational prayers. This speaks for itself about how normal the situation in Kashmir is,” Showkat said.

Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. In the last 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. Both countries claim the region and each administer part.

The most recent episode of the long-running conflict began when security forces shot dead militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8 and is the worst since 2010 when 100 people were killed in similar clashes.

– ucan

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