Myth of Islamisation in Kashmir

'Radicalisation' is being used as a smokescreen to take a hard line

Myth of Islamisation in Kashmir
For the last few months a new narrative is being parroted on Kashmir to give the impression that whatever has been happening on the ground is the direct result of so-called Islamisation. When these experts qualify this, they make sweeping assertions saying that Kashmir is under the thrall of ‘Wahhabisation’, which is synonymous with Salafi thought and is known in Kashmir through a section of Muslims who are identified as the Ahle Hadith. The “experts”, especially those on TV channels, are conveniently using it to paint a political problem as one connected with Islam. When the odd ISIS flag is held by some delinquent boys after Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid it becomes the headline of the day.

There is no denying that Ahle Hadith’s popularity has grown in the past few years and that this is the consequence of changes taking place the world over. But has this section of society taken the lead role in a political struggle that has been going on for over 27 years? No. Kashmir’s armed struggle was pioneered by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the late 1980s and it declared itself secular as it aimed to unite the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in 1947. And then it was propelled forward in 1990 with the introduction of the Hizbul Mujahideen and other outfits that linked Kashmir’s struggle to Islam and Pakistan. The number of these organisations ran into the dozens as many sections of society who felt marginalized in the new political reality joined the armed rebellion. The Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen was one outfit that was apparently the armed wing of Ahle Hadith but the latter never owned it. It was a well-known fact that some smaller outfits were launched to ensure its political survival and safeguard its cadre.

The Ahle Hadith movement is not new to Kashmir; it is believed that the number of mosques it runs has increased from 500 in 1990 to 900 in 2017 and this is mainly accomplished with funding from Saudi Arabia that is being monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs as the institutions connected with Ahle Hadith are among the few that have been granted Foreign Contribution Regulation Act certificates.

This movement in the Kashmir Valley is 120 years old. The first Ahle Hadith mosque was set up in Srinagar in 1897 by Anwar Shah Shopiani, who hailed from Shopian. He was influenced by the Salafi movement in the then-undivided Punjab. Those who nurtured Ahle Hadith in Kashmir have been influenced by scholars like Moulana Sanaullah Amritsari, Abul Qasim Banarasi, Abdul Aziz Rahimabadi. In fact the main Islamic movements such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahle Hadith and Barelvi have been influenced by their peers in India. Ahle Hadith in Kashmir have not played much of a role in the separatist movement though it was part of the joint Hurriyat Conference until it was split in 2003. After that, though, it did not join any other factions. In fact, after the assassination of one of its vibrant presidents, Moulana Showkat, it preferred to keep a low profile and has not been seen in a leading role in the political movement since.

But the way this narrative is now being weaved, it seems to be part of a greater strategy to pursue a hard line on Kashmir and then justify it. Sushil Pandit, one of the Kashmiri Pandit political commentators, told a panelist from Srinagar recently that “much more was yet to come”. Similarly, one is amused to hear to a BJP spokesperson concerned about “Kashmir’s Azadi movement”. “Where is your Azadi movement? It has been hijacked by Salafi Islam,” this spokesperson told another panelist from Srinagar. In other words this would mean that the BJP had no issues with an “independence movement” if it were kept aloof from Pakistan and Islam?

Kashmir’s political disempowerment dates to 1586 when Mughal Emperor Akbar dethroned the last sovereign ruler Yusuf Shah Chak and banished him. People have been struggling since then and they have not differentiated between a Muslim or a Hindu ruler who invaded. Even today none in the joint resistance leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik ascribes to the Salafi or Wahabi ideology. Geelani is a known pro-Pakistan leader but he was the first to denounce ISIS and Al Qaeda and has always maintained that the wishes of the people is the ultimate motivator. That is because Kashmiris have refrained from mixing politics with religion. Their outright disapproval for Hizb commander Zakir Musa’s assertions about an “Islamic Caliphate” make this evident.

Kashmiris take pride in their past, even their Hindu past. Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat describes the fight in Kashmir between the Brahmins of India and Brahmins of Kashmir. “We Kashmiris are saraswati Brahmins, Indian Brahmins are Lakshmi Brahmins. We shall prevail,” he says. When Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah supported Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India against the prevailing two-nation theory that would have made J&K part of Pakistan, people were behind him but the truth soon emerged. When he was humiliated and dethroned in 1953, people realized that New Delhi’s intention was not based on sincerity.

Even if one goes by the theory of “Islamisation” why have only 100 Kashmiris become militants in the last four years compared to 15,000 in 1990? The radicalization is political. Most Kashmiris argue that if there is religious indoctrination in Kashmir, it is justified in view of what is happening in the rest of India under the BJP. The concern is that there is an effort being made by the government and supported by TV channels to push Kashmir towards this kind of radicalization only to posit it as a justification to say no to political settlement.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at