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#3726, 15 October 2012
Kashmir: Religious-Extremism on the Rise
Zainab Akhter
Research Officer, IReS, IPCS
email: zainab@ipcs.org

Kashmir is considered to be the land of Sufi saints. It is bestowed with immense religious wealth in the form of numerous shrines and places of worship, enjoying reverence and allegiance of people from different faiths. But slowly a religious trend antagonistic to the Sufi-culture is mushrooming in the valley. What is the role of this group in bringing socio-religious change? How has it come up in the recent years?

Beginning of a change
The most significant factor that stood between the valley of Kashmir and the wave of change is its peculiar geographical isolation. With the establishment of the Dogra rule and construction of the Banihal tunnel the Kashmir valley became fully exposed to influences from the outside world. With this began the migration of huge chunks of people from the valley to other parts of India, thus bringing Kashmir closer to other parts of India.

The Hindus and Muslims of the Valley had lived together for centuries and the influence of both religions on each other could be well observed. For example, Kashmir is the only place in India where Muslims have surnames such as ‘Pandit’ and ‘Bhat’. But this hitherto composite culture and the Sufi way of life came under stress due to the rise of other staunch religious groups led by certain militant groups whose deliberate effort is to alter the nature of Islam in the valley. Due to their preaching a new section amongst the youngsters seems to be interested in ideologies beyond Sufism.

The movement: Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees
Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees has come out as one of the most prominent group among them. The Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees is growing by leaps and bounds since its establishment in 1946 (although it was formally registered as a non-political religious organisation in 1958) and today it manages 700 mosques and 125 schools in the valley. Its ideology is very close to the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia. It believes in the supremacy of Allah, to whom everything else is subordinate and oppose several aspects of Sufi culture. This organisation and its offshoots have been promoting radical ideologies. The Ahlihadees movement in Kashmir has raised a strong voice against tomb-worship, grave worship and over glorification and veneration of Sufi Saints. They have attacked the un-Islamic practices associated with the visiting of shrines in Kashmir. They believe that majority of the people in the valley, though Muslims by faith need to be converted afresh in view of the dichotomy existing between the normative Islam and Islam as practiced in Kashmir.

Mosques which would traditionally be run by people of Hanafi thought, influenced by the Sufi ways of religious practice, are increasingly being overtaken by Wahabi ideologues. This trend makes space for transformation, which over a period of time attains a degree of radicalization, both social and political.

It’s Upsurge
In Kashmir one can witness two different strands of thought amongst the common people. Education is creating a mass of people who are willing to understand, respect and co-exist with people of other faiths, while on the other hand, for some sections, religion remains a key instrument for furthering vested interests and exposure to global political developments evokes sentiments of radicalization. The Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees in particular has been exclusively focusing on religious activities and it is generally believed among its cadre that this school of thought does not permit indulgence in political activities unless these are part of an Islamic state.

The prominent leader and head of this religious faction Moulvi Showkat Ahmad Shah was killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast outside a mosque in Kashmir on 8 April 2011. He was the Valley’s most vocal critic against incidents of stone pelting and had even issued a fatwa against it, earning abuse and death threats for himself. His death is an indication of the divide in the people on religious grounds, and the jostling for religious one-upmanship that is rending the once wholesome fabric of Kashmiri society into tatters.

Changing Dynamics
Religious dynamics within the Valley are currently in a fluid state with rise in radicalisation. While there has been an increase in the construction of mosques, changes in its architecture are to be noted as well. Whereas earlier mosques had stupa-type ceilings, resembling Buddhist or Hindu temples, they now feature domes and minarets. The radical factions have also started to adhere to certain archaic traditions, such as forcing the womenfolk to observe purdah (wearing of the veil). Some places named after Hindu culture, such as Anantnag and Gulshan Nagar, have been renamed as Islamabad and Gulshanabad.The women’s radical Islamic women group DeM (Dukhtatran-e-Millat) has begun to impose strict Islamic practices and is against the celebration of popular youth culture like the Valentine’s Day and other un-Islamic celebrations.

The failure of meaningful political engagement by moderate groups is also a vital cause of radicalization and extremism. Renunciation of armed struggle has not given them any substantive political alternative, thereby strengthening the forces which resort to religious radicalization as the only means to achieve Kashmir’s political objectives, which has further led towards this change in the socio-political structure and dynamics in the valley.

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