Kashmir unrest: Split between Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahideen calls for caution to restore peace in Valley

The split between Hurriyat and militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen has emerged on account of the former’s viewpoint on the Kashmir issue being "political" rather than "religious". This accords scrutiny to the substantial standpoint that the Kashmir unrest is not just a law and order problem.

In a video released few days ago, Zakir Musa, former militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, threatened Kashmir’s separatist leadership in these unequivocal and categorical words: "We warn these Hurriyat people not to interfere in our matters and stick to their dirty politics, otherwise we will cut their heads and hang them in Lal Chowk."

 Kashmir unrest: Split between Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahideen calls for caution to restore peace in Valley

A file image of Kashmiri youth. PTI

This accords scrutiny to what the close observers and researchers of the Valley’s state of affairs have proved in their writings and objective research findings. Kashmir is in a "battle over souls" which cannot be fought on television screens or in political galleries.

The most staggering development in the ongoing Kashmir unrest is that radical Islamism has backfired in the valley. Kashmiri journalist Sameer Yasir has candidly exposed the latest episode of the break-up between the Hurriyat separatists and the Hizbul Mujahidin religionists on purely hardcore religious lines in an article on Firstpost. Yasir’s first-hand account depicts how the Hurriyat’s separatist leadership which has been "invoking Islam" to lend moral legitimacy to the armed insurgency against New Delhi is "changing for good".

“A day after Zakir Musa, who took over the reins of Hizbul Mujahideen from Burhan Wani, called for establishing Islamic caliphate in Kashmir, stating that militants were not fighting for 'freedom', the unified Hurriyat Conference, in a strong and indirect rebuttal, said those fighting for the imposition of Islamic rule have nothing to do with the 'freedom movement'" the Kashmir-based journalist reported.

But there is no need to be optimistic about how radical Islamism has backfired in the valley. It will only fuel the religious passions in Kashmiri youths, who are misguided by the preachers of Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah. Salafist jihadism is very active in the valley. Firstpost editors have rightly noted that “the radicalisation that was spawned by Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosques mushrooming in the Valley, only aided the process”.

Clearly, there is no need for the Indian establishment to be optimistic about the fresh split between the Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahidin either. It is not going to augur well by any stretch of political imagination. The gigantic task at hand is to rethink the modalities about countering and dismantling the Salafist-Jihadist influence in the Valley.

This writer has visited Jammu and Kashmir almost seven times studying how the extremist religious rhetoric is catching the imagination of the new Kashmiri generation. During most of these visits, the author encountered the Salafi-occupied madrasas and mosques which were earlier in the hands of Sufi-minded Muslims of Kashmir.

The most virulent texts of extremist literature being taught in the Valley’s Salafi seminaries are part of these books: Ibn Taimiya’s Majmua Fatawa (compilation of his fatwas), Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawheed (book of monotheism), Ismail Shaheed’s Taqwiyatul Iman (Strengthening of the Religion) and Syed Ahmad Shaheed’s Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path). These textbooks are full of exclusivist, Islam-supremacist and extremist thoughts and lacks anything that can help the age-old syncretic Kashmiri tradition to survive in the Valley.

It is not difficult to find how separatism and radicalism are being fed through Salafism into the minds of the misguided Kashmiri youth. Separatists and jihadists, both, are "first and foremost" enemies of the Valley’s age-old Sufi tradition or Kashmiriyat (the philosophy of coexistence), as noted in this Firstpost article.

When the author asked the Salafi trustees of a few mosques as to why a sizeable number of books and daily sermons (khutbah) which castigates the Rishi-Sufi tradition of the valley, are preached after the prayers, especially the afternoon daily prayer (Asr), they bluntly replied: "because it is contaminated with the ‘Mushrikana’ (polytheistic) and Mubtadi’ana (deviant) culture and customs (tahzib-o-rusoom)".

In the age-old Kashmir, both Sunni and Shia Muslims showed a wide embrace for the valley’s syncretic cultural practices, even though they were originally part of Vaishnavism or Shaivism. Subsequently, their Sufi narrative is marked as Rishi-Sufism in the Indian history. Thus, the evident reason why both separatists groups — Hizbul Mujahideen and Hurriyat — abhor Sufism is its call for religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence in place of a religio-fascism and Islam supremacism in the valley.

Not many know that the Kashmiri dargahs like the Sufi mosques and madarasas are now in the acute grip of the well-funded Salafi masters. An ignorance or oblivion to this fact creates a grave misconception about the entire historical role of Rishi-Sufism in the Valley.

Today, both the hardcore philosophers and apologists of radical Islamism in the guise of "liberal thinkers" accuse Sufism, as part of Islam, of playing a "sinister role" in helping the peaceful Kashmiris turn into angry stone pelters. They cite instances of stone pelting which were seen outside a few Sufi shrines in the Valley. But they conveniently hide the fact that the most leading dargahs like the Dargah of Hazratbal in Srinagar are no longer running under the patronage or guidance of the Sufi ideologues.

The Wahhabis have catapulted many Kashmiri dargahs from being the bastion of religious syncretism into a ground of creeping radicalism. This phenomenon is exponentially arising now. A top army official in Kashmir has also authenticated the fact that radicalisation of the Kashmiri youth is rampant on all societal levels. He recently stated: "Public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern,” as reported in The Indian Express.

While the Salafi-jihadist ideologues have penetrated even in the syncretic places of worship and have worked out a completely misguiding theology of religious extremism and exclusivism in Kashmir, the author proposes these five action points, as urgent and long-lasting tasks. They offer a practical and result-oriented solution to the growing radicalisation in the valley:

First, after an ethnographic study and survey of the Kashmiri people and their changing religious ethos and cultural practices, an outreach to the people should be initiated with an all-round campaign to restore the declining Rishi-Sufism.

Second, dargahs and khanqahs (Sufi shrines) in the Valley as well as the mosques should be handed over to Sufi practitioners and spiritual Islam’s followers. It should be ensured that Salafi-oriented imams in the mosques and khadims (servants) in the shrines are replaced by the community’s caretakers with the help of the state. Also, they ought to be well-trained to tackle the onslaught of the Wahhabi trail of Islamism.

Third, Sufi study centres should be established in the Islamic and Arabic departments or as independent study centres in the Kashmiri universities and colleges. Regrettably, even the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, which is a premier university in Jammu and Kashmir, is bereft of the Sufi discourses with its Islamic studies department repleted with Wahhabi literature and influence. Even the Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, named after an eminent Kashmiri Muslim mystic, is lost to the ideological rivals of Sufi Islam.

Fourth, Kashmiri students largely enrolled in the Indian universities and madarasas should be prepared to de-radicalise the militants and the separatists. An instance can be seen in the largest Sunni-Sufi Islamic seminary in Kerala’s Markaz Saqafa Sunniya (Sunni Cultural Centre). It imparts an Islamic curriculum of peace and counter-radicalism to thousands of Kashmiri students of varied ages and has allocated a large separate study centre "Kashmiri Home" or "Emirate House". Starting from Class V to Class XII, scores of Kashmiri students are enrolled at the Calicut-based Sunni Cultural Centre, which runs various institutions, including the Markaz English Medium School at Karanthur. Most of the students come from a destitute and orphaned background following the Kashmir unrest, according to a report in The Hindu.

Fifth, there's a need for increased vigilance about the literature being propagated in the vulnerable Kashmiri society. Youths continue to fall prey to the twisted interpretations of Islamic texts, mostly available in the extremist Urdu and Arabic magazines — monthly, weekly and fortnightly — such as Sada-e-Mujahid (Voice of the Jihadists), Zarb-e-Momin (Fight of the Believers), Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of the Prophet), Rah-e-Wafa (Path of Loyalty), Hateen, Murabetoon, Al-Qalam and several online magazines like Islamic State English magazine Dabiq, Al-Qaeda’s magazine Inspire and Taliban’s Urdu magazine Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad. The government should set up tech-savvy centres to regularly monitor extremist news feeds and the jihadist rhetoric of these Urdu and Arabic media outlets.

These five action points will greatly help to brainstorm on how Kashmiriat can be restored to the Kashmiris.

The author is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies. He tweets as @grdehlvi and can be contacted at grdehlavi@gmail.com

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Updated Date: May 15, 2017 23:49:23 IST