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Challenges of Islamism among Shias in Kashmir

Ijtihad: Kashmir has been in the news for atrocities of the Indian state and violence against its Muslim population for a while now. Studies suggest that the Kashmir question is a perplexing issue that needs the attention of activists of international repute and intellectuals. Kashmir issue has multiple dimensions, and each dimension needs a careful examination.  The rising Islamophobia in the world and Shiaphobia within the Muslim world is alarming, and violence under these manifolds is on the rise. Shias are an internal minority within Muslims and face multiple vulnerabilities due to constant othering. Kashmir is a region that has a substantial Shia population and has lived apparently a cordial life along with the Sunni population that dominates the area. With the widespread Islamic awakening during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Shia and Sunnis of the region also developed brotherly relations of mutual respect and tolerance. The brotherhood, reflected in modern politics, aided with the Sufi past of the area.

The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into being after the Amritsar Treaty between The British East India Company and a Hindu Raja, Raja Ghulab Singh, in 1846. After the sub-continent was partitioned into India and Pakistan on religious lines, the then Hindu ruler, Raja Hari Singh, along with other communists, secularists and liberal politicians, acceded the state with India, undermining the majority Muslim population of the region. This unnatural alignment ignited resistance in the region, and the Muslim population broke into various movements influenced by liberal, secularist, and Islamist ideas. The movements were sabotaged from time to time by the oppressors, but they could never extinguish the love for freedom from the people’s hearts.

However, after the success of the Islamic revolution in 1979, a broad resistance movement resurfaced in the Muslim dominated region. The message of Islam that included unity among Muslims became one of the fundamentals of the neo-movement. Though, a substantial presence of nationalist warriors was squelched by the Indian state with iron fist in the 1990s. Consequently, the political forum to advocate for the rights of the people of Kashmir, namely All Parties Hurriyat Conference, was established between 1994-95. Shia organisations, too, became members of the new Political amalgamation that further deepened brotherhood among all Muslims, including Maulana Abbas Ansari and Aga Syed Hassan Mosvi.

The forum captured Imam Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas and considered him one of their ideologies. This initiative widespread Islamic culture and optimism, along with a positive resistance, gave language to the aspirations of the oppressed people of Kashmir. It brought India and Pakistan to the table of negotiations on the Kashmir question. Though the Shia-Sunni unity in the resistance irked the oppressors, a divide and rule project was pushed into the region. The changing scenario at the world level after 9/11 too facilitated branding the nationalist warriors as terrorism, and a fresh chapter of counter-terrorism started taking shape.

The other potential tool that was introduced was to capture prominent Shia faces into the pro-collaborator politics through the electioneering to the government offices. The tool served two purposes: mobilising Shia papulation into the elections by voting for Shia politicians, colouring it as India friendliness and communicating the same to the world community that Shia are not for resistance in Kashmir but support Indian occupation. The strategy worked, and the Shia community became questionable about their role in the ongoing struggle. It was a question on the Shia character, and Shia became vulnerable in a Sunni-dominated and landlocked region.

Contemporary India is taken over by the rise of ultra-nationalist Hindu right-wing forces with the extremist Hindu government. The result was a clampdown on secularists, liberals, leftists, and Indian Muslims. Additionally, the local collaborators in Kashmir who preferred to accede with Hindu India rather than Muslim Pakistan have also snatched all the privileges that the Indian state was giving to them in return for their loyalties. The clampdown was in the shape of abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that claimed to provide special powers to the State of Jammu and Kashmir; nevertheless, the article was already practically lifeless. In this gamut, the resistance leadership was either put into Indian jails or confined to their homes.

Against this backdrop, the substantial Shia papulation too became confronted with various challenges to its identity as Muslims and their Islamic practice that till now was governed by the Shariat law in private matters through the organisations like Anjuman Sharie Shian. The first challenge discussed here is the internal challenge emanating from the Shia secularists or modern university-educated or former government employees. The group actively invents the Hindu right-wing and asks them to marginalise Islamic institutions by taking away the Shia endowments into government supervision. Their flexible correspondence to the divide and rule policy of the regime is the potential of erasing Islamist identity. The flexibility makes them penetrate the Shia community on an anti-clergy narrative and a claim that Islam is regressive. In this project, NGOs and other institutions are structured and funded.

The second challenge is perilous, which comes from the active members of Indian secularist, communist, liberal political parties. The members are a group of Shia faces that hail from prominent Shia religious families. The group is capable of bringing liabilities to the Shia community because they use the Pulpits and sacred spaces to push the abominable and illegitimate agenda. Analysis of some social media posts and statements shows that they are also using the language of resistance to misleading people. Their presence in elections polarises plain papulation into Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict. The group intensely engages with election politics and thus corresponds fruitfully with the divide and rule policy of the oppressor. Close observation has revealed that very few of these election leaders/weapons of the oppressors have formal theological education and either has attended Christian Mission schools or have not attended any education at all. Additionally are involved in numerous severe social and monetary corruptions.

Finally comes the positive challenge that is that of the youth in confusion. In the heat of the political conflict between the mighty state and the local forces, the youth find it hard to stay on a productive track and save their Muslim identity and Shia identity. A close study reveals that this state of affairs is opening new avenues of atheism propagated by the German philosopher Karl Marks among the youth. The negative disillusionment has deteriorated the social fabric within the Shia community to a large extent, increasing social evils. The community building undertaken on the principles of Islam and Islamist worldview is being shaken, and the community is losing its previous binding and centralisation.

About Ali Teymoori

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