For the last four consecutive Fridays, Maulana Syed Abid Hussain, who leads prayers in Srinagar’s Hassanabad, has been rigorously discussing New Delhi’s plans of setting up a Shia Waqf board in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to those who offer prayers at the mosque, Hussain has always been anti-establishment but has upped the ante against a separate Waqf board. The formation of a separate Shia Waqf board came into automatic existence following the reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J-K after the abrogation of Article-370.
In an address to the Shias of Kashmir, Hussain has called on the public to be vigilant and reject every move that is aimed at the division of Kashmiris. A video of the speech has gone viral in Kashmir.
Hussain’s pro-unity speeches have gained even more momentum following the visit of a Lucknow-based cleric, Maulana Kalbe Jawad, in November. Jawad, a Shia cleric, has been visiting the Valley for a few years now but this year his visit created a controversy as it came on the heels of his meeting with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Kashmiri Shia Muslims on social media have lashed out at Jawad—questioning his allegiance to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has not only abrogated J-K’s limited-autonomy but also brought in new anti-Muslim laws in India. The laws lead to protests across the country by Muslims of all sects.
Back in November, speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Jawad had denied having any political motive behind his visit. “I am not here with any political motive,” the influential cleric had said. “I am here at the individual level. It is purely a religious visit.”
Later, however, Jawad also met with the Apni Party’s chief Altaf Bukhari. A statement issued by the party said that the meeting lasted for more than an hour, during which Jawad highlighted issues of J-K’s Shia community and sought Bukhari’s intervention in its resolution.
Jawad had noted that there was a “dire need” to establish a separate Shia Waqf Board. He also raised the long-standing issue of an undemocratic blanket ban on the Muharram procession in Kashmir and urged Bukhari to include a holistic socio-economic development of the Shia community in its manifesto.
This lead to a scathing attack from Kashmir’s prominent Shia leaders — both pro-freedom as well as unionists. Among the first to criticise Jawad was the National Conference’s outspoken leader, Ruhullah Mehdi. On Twitter, the former legislator tweeted: “Shia waqf” was kept out of the general waqf act in J-K’s constitution, because of the jurisprudential laws which governs a waqf in shia theology.”
He added: “It’s important to mention here that its status can only be established by jurisprudential laws of Islam, not by RSS’s diktats and their co-conspirators here.”
Mehdi also said that his “focus is not towards this lesser important issue compared to the larger issue of the existence of our entire Kashmiri (J&K) society and our generations to come. Our attention and energy should be focused on saving our existence.”
Jawad, who is also general secretary of Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind, was left red-faced by the reaction of locals and that of Kashmiri Shia leaders prompting him to quickly take his tour to Jammu. However, he was called out in Jammu as well. The Shia Federation of Jammu called upon him to stop dividing Muslims and to not further the BJP’s divisive agenda.
While, Jawad’s relative, the late Maulana Kalbe Sadiq has enjoyed a huge following and commanded respect among the Valley’s Shias, Jawad has been accused of sowing discord and being the BJP’s man. This is not for no reason: not only has he welcomed the abrogation of J-K’s limited-autonomy but has also reserved comments on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens — a law that threatens to render India’s millions of Muslims second-class subjects, if not stateless.
Jawad stayed away from the popular resentment that overtook India before the pandemic broke up the protests. On the other hand, his ailing relative, Sadiq, who passed away last month, participated and showed solidarity with the protesters by visiting a sit-in site in Lucknow.
Experts and observers believe that Jawad’s visit to Kashmir raised eyebrows among the Kashmiri Shias because they were apprehensive about his visit that was formulated by the ruling BJP.
“Kashmir has its own sensitivities, there are issues where Kashmiris irrespective of their sectarian or ideological background have reacted in a particular manner,” said Rashid Maqbool, a media researcher. “Jawad came to Kashmir with a specific agenda, the reaction to his visit was to the agenda with which he had arrived, and people disowned the agenda of his visit.”
Kashmiris have a long history of rejecting state-sponsored Sufi clerics —Kalbe Jawad, and the BJP itself, should have known better.