by Sameer Yasir
Srinagar: Five months after he declared the all-female teenage rock band Pragaash’s music un-Islamic, forcing the three teenage girls to shun music, Kashmir’s self-styled Grand Mufti Basheer-ud-Din Ahmad, was seen in a video enjoying music inside a houseboat. The video has since gone viral on social networking sites.
The video shows the Mufti Basheer-ud-Din Ahmad sitting next to former Doordarshan director Shehzadi Siman, while Kashmiri singer Qaiser Nizami sang Urdu ghazals and played a harmonium.
The government-backed mufti is Jammu and Kashmir’s official priest, who announces the appearance of moon on occasions like Eid on state television.
The musical function, which was organized by Radio Kashmir Srinagar in memory of Urdu poet Akbar Japiuri, was held in the second week of July.
"The evening commenced with a popular ghazal sung by Mehdi Hassan, 'Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhaane ke liye aa', followed by 'Chaap Tilak' (Punjabi ghazal). Everybody was visibly transported to an another world," Kalpana Tikoo, a socialite, wrote in her column for a local daily.
"And before I forget to mention, it was a pleasure to watch the grand mufti of J&K, Mufti Azam Bashir-ud-din Ahmad, listening appreciatively, with rapt attention to the musical treat with a smile on his face." she added.
However, after the video did the rounds of social networking sites, people began raising questions and abusing the religious leader over his double standards.
The grand mufti, however, defended his presence at the musical evening by dismissing the video as “a prank to taint his image and falsify actual events.”
“It was not a musical event. It was a seminar on life of noted literary person Akbar Haideri which was organized by Aziz Hajini and Rukhsana Jabeen (Director AIR Srinagar)," said the grand mufti.
The Grand Mufti also described the romantic ghazals as "devotional songs" and said an attempt was being made to “tarnish his image”. He also threatened legal action.
"Why should I acknowledge any mistake? Is harmonium a wrong thing?" he said.
However, many Kashmiri singers said that this highlighted the double standards of the self appointed mufti, who is also head of the government-backed Islamic Sharia Court.
“Mufti Sahib can be seen enjoying the music with smile - the same activity for which he imposed a ban on teenaged girls. It’s high time he apologized to those girls,” Waheed Jeelani, singer and chairman of Kashmir Music Club told Firstpost.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, also criticised the Grand Mufti over the incident.
“Double speak of mufti of J&K exposed on issue of music being un-Islamic. All religious fundamentalists are experts of double speak," Singh tweeted.
Pragaash, the all-girl rock band that hung up their musical instruments on account of the religious leader's criticism, had received support from across the country, including Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who termed the attack on them as 'shameless'.
"Shame on those who claim freedom of speech via social media & then use that freedom to threaten girls who have the right to choose to sing," Omar had tweeted.
The state government-backed Grand Mufti is not new to controversy. Earlier, his “Sharia court” had decreed that the state government must involve it in the running of missionary schools in Kashmir valley. The matter was resolved only when hardliner separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani supported the missionaries and their schools.
In an earlier decree he had asked US nationals to leave Kashmir immediately as their safety wasn't guaranteed in the wake of an anti-Islam film. The US embassy in New Delhi had at the time asked its citizens to avoid Kashmir.
Last month the magazine Kashmir Walla, which first broke the story about Pragaash wrote about despite the absence of any legal basis of his authority, the Grand Mufti has been running a self-styled parallel judicial system.
“For decades he has been giving diktats from his court and has used it for his personal interests to raise huge funds, solve land disputes, demand money for fatwas, and also to threaten people or force them to do his work.” the article stated.
Noted human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, is all set to file a case against Bashir-ud-Din. Imroz said that the Grand Mufti had no legal status and hadn't be elected by the spectrum of the religious scholars in Kashmir.
“It is evident by his fatwas which demonise Kashmiri people, why government is allowing and encouraging him to function in a manner where he has been allowed to run a parallel judicial system. We have been working to collect important documents which would enable us to file a case against him,” he told the Kashmir Walla.