Sajjad presents a comprehensive history of Shia faith in Kashmir, noting that it too has suffered as a minority
(Mr. Sajjad Haider, 45, was born in Srinagar. He completed his high school and college education in Srinagar, graduating from the Sri Pratap College. He received his engineering degree from the University of Tamilnadu, and subsequently studied journalism at the Tehran University. During the gulf war, he was partly stationed in Iraq as a correspondent for the Tehran Times. He subsequently took up an assignment for the Iranian news agency in New Delhi and moved back to Kashmir in 1994. Two years later, he co-founded the daily Kashmir Observer of which he became the chief editor. As an expert on south asian and middle eastern affairs, his views have been aired by the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and the CBS. He rejoined the Iranian news agency as the head of J&K bureau in 2003. In 2006, Mr. Haider was awarded the prestigious Chevening Fellowship by Great Britain.)
Shias of Kashmir: Socio-Political Dilemmas
Come Muharram, the month of mourning, Kashmir’s Shia-dominated areas come alive with black banners, and now increasingly, with portraits of religio-political revolutionary leaders from Iran and beyond.
The banners of modern day Shia icons from Iran to Lebanon in Kashmir illustrate how the Shia* resurgence has spilled over borders, into places like Kashmir with small Shia populations with their own troubled history.
This new assertiveness from a community which till recently would observe Taqyah(1), or dissimulation, for fear of being persecuted merely for observing rituals like in Muharram, is demonstrative of the urge of the new generation Shia to assert as a community.
They see in the victory of the Shia in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Iran their own triumph. Relief after 1500 years of subjugation, denial of what they see as their fundamental right to mourn their greatest loss, their heroes in the deserts of Kerbala. The urge to overcome the fear psychosis they have been living with as a community ever since.
An attempt to put up a bold face amidst the shadows of lurking fears.
Driven from one place to another. Minority within a minority. Devoid of heroes in their own midst they look beyond borders. The Shia awakening elsewhere is infusing new vigour, new enthusiasm in the youth in Srinagar, Baramulla, Budgam and even in far flung places like Kargil.
There is a bold statement. ‘Big brother’ you can cow us down or take us for granted at your own peril!
SHIAS OF KASHMIR:
Although there has been no official census on sectarian lines in Kashmir, a conservative estimate puts the Shia population of the whole of erstwhile Kashmir state at around 1.5 million.
A rough estimate puts the Shia population of Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir state at around one million, 10 percent of the total population. Shias are a majority in the northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan currently under Pakistani federal control.
Ninety- eight percent in Baltistan and 60 percent in Gilgit and adjoining areas are Shia even though successive governments in Islamabad have attempted to alter the demographic composition of the region to suit their long term political interests.
Very few Shia Muslim habitations can be found in southern parts of Kashmir and they virtually do not exist in the Chinab valley where as in other frontier and mountainous belts situated on the approach roads to Kashmir, the community was virtually decimated by the marauding Moghal and Pathan invaders during 16th -18th century.
History tells us that Moghal governor Mirza Haider Dughlat Kashgari (1540-51-)in order to stem the Kashmiri resistance and to perpetuate his rule brazenly adopted the policy of divide and rule and let loose a reign of terror upon the restive Shia population.
Though the brief period of Shia glory in Kashmir ended after the Mughal treachery that led to the fall of the Chak dynasty, (The last Kashmiri sultanate 1561-1587) the community’s aversion to foreign rule ran supreme.
It had been during the mid 16th century when the Moghal power was at its zenith in India, that a few Kashmiri nobles had invited the army from Delhi to get rid of the local Chak rulers.
And when in middle of the 18th century, the Mughal Empire had begun its decline, a few Sunni Muslim Kashmiri nobles invited Ahmed Shah Abdali, the brutal ruler of Afghanistan, to ‘liberate’ their country. Pathans, like Moghals obliged and over ran Kashmir in 1752. In order to maintain their stranglehold over Kashmir Abdali’s satraps not only doubled taxes of their impoverished subjects but persecuted the Shia minority with a fanatical vigour as they, like Moghuls, saw in them a perpetual threat for their stubborn beliefs. Fifty years of Afghan rule were rife with suppression of Shia Muslims.
With Kashgari sowing the seeds of hatred among the Muslim community for political ends Shia’s in Kashmir in subsequent years had to pass through the most atrocious period of their history. Plunder, loot and massacres which came to be known as ‘Taarajs’ virtually devastated the community.
History records 10 such Taarajs also known as ‘Taraj-e-Shia’ in 1548, 1585, 1635, 1686, 1719, 1741, 1762, 1801, 1830, 1872 during which the Shia habitations were plundered, people slaughtered, libraries burnt and their sacred sites desecrated. (2)
Such was the reign of terror during this period that the community widely went into the practice of Taqya in order to preserve their lives and the honour of their womenfolk. Village after village disappeared, with community members either migrating to safety further north or dissolving in the majority faith.
The community has yet to recover fully from the shocks of these Taarajs, the last one suffered more than a century ago, and the fear of hidden lurking dangers continues to haunt it to date.
The revival of sectarian based politics in Pakistan during mid eighties and dramatic resurgence of anti-Shia forces there reinforced the fears of the community. The fears actually worsened after the outbreak of the armed uprising in Kashmir in the late eighties with some militant groups, actively supported by the Pakistani state and perceived by the community to be influenced by anti-Shia hate propaganda that was tearing Pakistan of their dreams apart, at the fore front.
This perhaps can explain the reluctance of the community to actively throw in their lot with the separatist movement. This was unlike in the past when the community was in the vanguard of the pro-Pakistan movement in Kashmir.
It was because of this fear that during the past two decades Kashmir, particularly Srinagar, saw emergence of Shia enclaves, now increasingly taking the shape of ghettos.
Zadibal, Bagwanpur, Shalimar and Bemina, the Shia dominated areas of the city absorbed a heavy influx of community members from smaller pockets of downtown Srinagar like Kamangarpora, Shamswari, Fateh Kadal, Chinkral Mohalla, Habba Kadal, Rainawari, Khanyar, Nowpura, Khankah-e-Sokhta, Chattabal etc where Shias alongside Sunni Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, had been living for centuries, creating a composite setting. This relocation, which had brought them temporary security, has spawned complications of its own, with dangers of breakdown of established social order.
And with this the small Shia pockets spread out in predominantly Sunni areas of the city are gradually disappearing.
The persecution suffered by Shias in Kashmir during the successive foreign rules was not new for the community. Many of the standard bearers of Shia’ism, like Sa’adaat or the descendents of the Prophet (pbuh) and other missionaries who played a key role in spread of the faith in Kashmir, had left their home lands forced by similar situations.
IRAN CONNECTION: During the reign of the Umayads and Abbasids (661-1258) the persecution of the Shia was so severe that they continued to migrate from one place to another in search of a peaceful habitat.(3)
Many later-age Sa’adat and other Shia missionaries, either to escape persecution at the hands of rulers of their time or for the purpose of spreading their faith, traveled to distant lands. Kashmir embraced them in her bosom and the valley soon became one of their favourite destinations.
First to arrive was Syed Sharafudin alias Bul Bul Shah from Ardebil followed by Mir Syed Ali from Hamedan.
Shrines of these missionaries, revered by people irrespective of their religious or sectarian allegiance, dot every part of the Kashmir state.
Thus the families who still post-fix their names with the city of their forefathers’ origin can be found in abundance across Kashmir.
Hamadani, Semnani, Kashani, Kirmani, Geelani, Mazandarani, Shirazi, Isfahani, Qazvini, Araki they came from all parts of Iran and made Kashmir their home. Interestingly overwhelming majority of those who arrived in Kashmir either for missionary activity or for refuge where from Shia Iran and rarely do we find any missionary of Arab origin buried in Kashmir.
Noted Shia families like Ansari, Safavi, Jalali, Razavi, Hakim all trace their roots to Iran.
They till date hold sway over politico-religious life of the Shia community.
Even artisans, craftsmen, physicians (Hakims) and scholars who accompanied the missionaries or came later on bore the Persian surnames. This is cited as one of the reasons for monopoly over arts trade by the Shia community until recently.
As the Indian awakening movement began in the early 19th century, Shia nobles like Mir Syed Hussain Shah Jalali were championing the cause of the community at the forums in and outside of the state.
In 1885, he established the Anjuman-e-Imamiya, first politico-religious organization of Shias of Kashmir and subsequently founded the first ever educational institution alongside that of Mirwaiz Rasool Shah, by name of Imamiya High School where students from all sects including Kashmiri Pandits studied.
Jalali, who was a landlord and later was nominated to the legislative assembly by Maharaja Hari Singh, strived tirelessly for the cause of the community and it was due to his efforts that Shias for the first time in 300 years (after the Chak era) took out the Muharram procession during daytime.
Jalali family’s influence however waned with the death of Syed Muhammad Jalali, son of Mir Hussain Shah Jalali, who was the first Muslim from Kashmir to be nominated to the upper house of the Indian parliament as a Muslim representative.
Short lived was the influence of Mir’s cotemporary in politics Munshi Muhammad Ishaq who rose to prominence in the early stages of the plebiscite movement. He was one of the founding members of the Plebiscite Front.
However two families who have left a profound impact on the community in religio-political and social spheres and continue to do so are the Safavi dynasty of Budgam and the Ansari family of Srinagar. Both had produced some outstanding ulema in the past and since the clergy exerts enormous authority in the Shi’a communities the world over, Kashmir was no exception.
Such was the widespread devotion towards these two families that the Shia community of Kashmir had a vertical split with the community divided between two new groups which came to be known as Firqas or sub-sects.
Those following the Ansari family came to be known as Firqa-e-Qadimi (The older sect) while those following the Safavi family of Budgam are known as Firqa-e-Jadidor the new sect.
For many, this dominance of the two select clans has been the bane of the Shia community in Kashmir, as successive governments have cultivated the top figures in order to suborn the entire community. This has not only perpetuated the influence of the clans but also made it near impossible for a common Shia to make his mark on the political stage.
Ever since Mulla Aalim Ansari, a scholar of repute and the founder of the Ansari dynasty here, arrived in Kashmir accompanying Mir Syed Hussain Razavi Qumi during the reign of Sultan Zainul Aabidin Budshah (1420-1470) Ansaris have wielded enormous influence over the vast majority of Shias of Kashmir.
Ansari dynasty which has produced outstanding scholars and theologians, most of them alumni of the great seat of Shia learning at Najaf in Iraq faced a major split in 1962 when some influential members of the community chose teenager Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari as the successor of his father and the then head of the Ansari family, Moulvi Muhammad Jawad, on his death instead of Moulvi Muhammad Abbas Ansari, grandson of his brother the noted theologian Moulvi Fazal Ali Ansari.
Abbas who had said goodbye some six years earlier to Kashmir and settled in Najaf was made to reconsider his decision by a stream of letters urging him to return and lead the community, the invite he later accepted in 1961 albeit reluctantly.(4)
A bitter feud ensued and it continues to dog the community till date.
The Qadimis were split between Abbasis and Iftikharis both sides taking up diametrically opposite sides in the Kashmir politics. Iftikhar was anointed as heir to Maulvi Muhammd Jawad and took over not only the reigns of his party the Shia Association including powerful endowment (Auqaf) that controlled Qadimi Imambargahs and allied assets but whole of the ancestral property. It is widely believed that Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, Sheikh Abdullah’s bete noire, played a key role in Iftikhar’s succession.
Abbas who found himself ditched took shelter in mainstream movement for plebiscite, then led by Sheikh Abdullah, where he quickly rose to a star position thanks to his oratory skills and Najaf background.
This followed the formation of Anjuman-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimin which he aimed as a platform of all Muslims, but the party remained confined within the Shia community despite his strenuous efforts to make it otherwise.
Both parties have ever since remained on the opposing sides in Kashmir politics with Ittehadul Muslimin in the camp advocating Right of Self Determination for Kashmiris and Shia Association toeing a pro-establishment line.
Be it voting in elections or holding of frequent religious services or grand Muharram processions, both parties maintain their separate identity.
Since the Abbas faction had lost Auqaf assets early to Iftikhar, it strived to establish their own institutions.
The Ittehadul Muslimin established a trust by name Al-Abbas Trust in mid-nineties which runs a dozen government recognized English medium schools including one of the level of higher secondary in different impoverished Shia villages.
Safeena, the organ of Ittehadul Muslim remained in print till the mid-seventies, and later resumed publication in 2002 only to close down again in 2007.
The writer of repute Ansari dynasty ever produced preferred seclusion to the lure of dynasty politics. After a brief stint, when he had been chosen as a candidate by the Muslim United Front in 1987, Maulana Mustafa Ansari, till his death in 2006, devoted his time to research and learning leaving behind 31 monumental books, including Urdu and Kashmiri commentary of the Qur’an, thus upholding the family legacy and reviving the dying tradition of scholarship.
The journal Sadaqat, published by the Shia Association, closed down in the early seventies. The Association, however, continues to run scores of Madrasas named Muarif al-Uloom in various Shia dominated villages.
While the Ittehadul Muslimin has a party structure with an elected president and secretary general, hereditary rule still prevails in the Shia Association.
Both Abbas and Iftikhar run parallel Sharia courts to provide quick justice to their petitioners in the matters of personal law in accordance with the Sharia.
Iftikhar, however, has gradually pulled himself away from his clerical duties and rarely dons the religious robes. He is a sitting member of the state Legislative Assembly, and belongs to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed which he joined after quitting NC following formers rise to power.
Yet he became the first separatist leader whose effigy was torched in Kashmir in 2009 for stating that the Hurriyat should stay away from electoral politics, and neither support nor oppose the exercise.
Since his colleagues backtracked on the collective decision following hardliners’ pressure, he was marginalized in the multi party forum. Abbas has since nominated his son, Masroor, an alumnus of famous Qum Seminary, as his replacement in the Hurriyat.
JADIDIS: Jadidis or the followers of Agha family of Budgam became the largest of Shia sub sect following the split in the Qadimis.
Aghas, unlike Ansaris are Syeds, a title they flaunt by wearing black turbans. They are the descendants of Mir Shamsudin Araki (1481-1526) a highly revered Sufi saint of Noorbakhshia order who arrived in Kashmir from an Iranian town called Arak and was instrumental in spreading the Shia faith in most parts of Kashmir notably Baltistan.
Agha sahab was renowned for his charisma and he enjoyed fanatical following among a section of Shia community. His Sharie Adalat or Sharia Court was popular with even non-Muslims who would take their cases to him for speedy justice.
Following the death of Agha Syed Yusuf, a bitter feud erupted in the Safvi dynasty with his son Agha Fazlulah staking claim on the mantle. The claim was rejected by Yusuf’s deputy, cousin and son-in-law, Agha Syed Mustafa, with a majority of followers declaring him as the legitimate leader of the Jadidis. Congress and NC both played key role in the split with the former backing Mustafa faction and National Conference supporting Fazlullah.(5)
Anjuman-e-Sharie Shiayan, the party primarily formed to provide speedy justice based on the principles of Sharia to followers, also got split.
Further divisions soon surfaced in the party after Agha Mustafa’s two sons joined opposite political camps, with elder son Agha Syed Hassan becoming part of separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference, and the younger son, Agha Mehdi, jumping in the poll bandwagon on the ticket of Congress party in 1996.
Agha Hassan himself had earlier unsuccessfully contested elections on Janata Party ticket in 1977.
Syed Mehdi contested several Assembly and Lok Sabha election as a Congress nominee and as an Independent candidate but lost every time. He was killed by militants in a landmine blast in November 2000 near Magam town sending the party rank and file in to grief. The then chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, upon his visit to the family to pay condolences, offered the NC membership to Mehdi’s teenage son, Ruhullah, now a minister in Omar Abdullah cabinet.
Fazlullah, who himself stayed away from electoral politics, left the job to his younger brother, Mehmood who was minister twice in the National Conference government and later joined the PDP. He quit the party after being denied the election ticket, and is now back in the NC.
Anjuman-e-Sharie weakened after the split, but continues to wield influence among a major section of the community. It runs a number of schools, the major one being the Babul-Ilm at Budgam.
One person who still upholds the intellectual legacy of the dynasty is Agha Syed Baqir. Baqir shuns publicity and confines himself to the spiritual pursuits. He rarely leads traditional services in Imambargahs, even though many of Jadids look to him for guidance in the matters of religion.
The profound influence the clergy wields over the community is more starkly visible in Shia dominated Kargil, a geographically isolated area , 205 Kms north of Srinagar.
Here clergy continues to shape the destiny of people.
The spectacular rise of the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT), a voluntary organisation comprising mostly youth had created an upheaval of sorts for the socio-political order of the desolate and impoverished district of Kashmir nestled in Himalayas.
Influenced by the Islamic Revolution of Iran, IKMT embarked on an ambitious plan to intervene in the socio- economic life of the people by introducing variety of programmes ranging from water shed management to modern education and even an Islamic bank.
It also became active in the local politics.
2001 census threw up a new reality. Ladakh known as Buddhist land the world over suddenly was transformed into a Muslim majority area with 52 percent population subscribing to Islam. With eighty five percent of Muslims in Kargil adhering to the Shia faith, the community now had a decisive say in the political affairs of the whole of Ladakh region.
The rise of Buddhist movement in Leh and adjoining areas demanding separation from Muslim Kashmir kindled a political awakening in an otherwise docile population of Kargil further strengthening the support base for the IKMT. IKMT dominated the first Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Council created by the government for running the regions affairs.
The traditional clergy, increasingly marginalised by this new and seemingly revolutionary fervor gripping the local youth, saw it as a challenge to its established hegemony over the community and began opposing it.
Their hold over the populace to steer it in a particular direction, for example at an election time, began to slip and the course of events began increasingly to be determined by the youth influenced by the revolution.
This signified a major divide in the Shia community in Kargil already deeply entrenched over doctrinal matters like on the issue of Taqleed (6). While Imam Khomeini Trust, comprising of Iranian educated young clerics, followed Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini on the issue of jurisprudence, 40 year old Islamia School Trust followed Iraq based Ayatollah Abol Kasim al Khoe, Khomeni’s contemporary who opposed the concept of Vilayat-e-Faqih, (Rule of Islamic Jurists) as propounded by the latter.
There have been consistent efforts from well meaning people to bring the warring factions together but only with limited success.
The divisions on religio-political basis are exploited to the hilt by interested national and regional political parties, negating the benefits of new demographic realities.
The district’s proximity to the Line of Control that divides Kargil from its parent region, Baltistan now in Pakistani control, is another major reason for the regions backwardness.
The population is outnumbered by the military as the district lies on the strategic fault line between India and Pakistan thus mired in political uncertainty.
As it is, the Shia community in Kashmir had been suffering discrimination on innumerable counts including on account of its pro-Pakistan leanings in the post 1947 period.
Any advances made by the community can be attributed to universalizing of state-sponsored education, a less discriminatory recruitment system to government services, and the individual efforts of artisans and craftsmen who have struggled hard for a semblance of economic well-being.
The socio-economic condition of the community can best be gauged by the backwardness and misery in Bemina and around the Dal Lake, predominantly Shia areas in the middle of a bustling growing city.
Though a gradual change is discernable now, the residue of the past, where the community, particularly in the rural areas, bore the brunt of government neglect, is still starkly visible.
(1) Taqiyah means to hide your real belief for the sake of your safety.
An eminent Shia authority, Ayatollah Hussain Ali Sistani describes the concept of Taqiyah as follows:
a)Taqiyah is done for safety reasons. For example, a person fears that he might be killed or harmed, if he does not observe Taqiyah. In this case, it is obligatory to observe Taqiyah.
b) Reconciliatory Taqiyah. This type of Taqiyah is done when a person intends to reconcile with the other side or when he intends to soften their hearts. This kind of Taqiyah is permissible but not obligatory.
c) Sometimes, Taqiyah may cause a more important obligation to be lost or missed, if so it is forbidden. For example, when I know that silence would cause oppression and
infidelity to spread and will make people go astray, in such a situation it is not permissible to be silent and to dissimulate.
d) Sometimes, Taqiyah may lead to the death of an innocent person. If so, it is not permissible. It is therefore haram (forbidden) to kill a human being to save your own life.– Tarikhush Shi’ah, p.230
According to the Shia scholar Muhammad Husain Jafari, Shi’ism would not have spread if it wasn’t forTaqiyah.
(*) In Islam there are five recognized schools of Divine Law: 1) Hanafi; 2) Shafi; 3) Maliki; 4) Hambali and 5) Jafari all named after their Imams.
The first four are called Sunni, and the fifth one is known as Shia.
The first four schools have many major theological differences among themselves as well as with Jafaris.
Jafar-as-Sadiq was the sixth in lineage of Shia Imams and founder of Shia fiqh or Jafari jurisprudence.
Imam Jafar happened to be teacher of Imam Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi school, dominant among the Sunni sects worldwide including in Kashmir.
(2) Hassan Koihami: Tarikh-e-Hassan, Vol 1; Syed Baqir Shah, Subh-e-Taleh (2008)
(3) A careful study of Islam takes us through its blood soaked history. The day noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) departed from this world political feuds surfaced in the newly born Islamic state resulting in many fratricidal wars.
The tragic events began unfolding one after other in quick succession, instigators chiefly being the neo-Muslims of Mecca who had embraced the new faith following their defeats in the battle fields and not by its appeal.
When Ali, the trustworthy lieutenant of Prophet was chosen for the post of Caliph in the most anarchic situation following the murder of third caliph Usman he chose to migrate from the Prophets city, Medina, which by now had become a centre of intrigue and conspiracy.
He had kept a low profile eversince the demise of Prophet and despised the pomp of the world and submitted to the will of God. He was Imam for his followers some of them renowned companions of Prophret like Salman al Farsi and Abu Zar Ghafari.
He however accepted the position albeit reluctantly in order to save the fledgling state from extinction.
But Muawiyah, son of Abu Sufyan, a Meccan chieftain, who was posted as governor of Damascus by the third caliph, revolted and refused to accept Ali as Caliph of Muslims.
In 660 CE most heroic chapter in the early history of Islam came to an end when most notable of the Prophets clan, Ali, husband of his beloved daughter, Fatima and father of Hassan and Hussain was murdered inside the mosque of his capital city Kufa while in prayer.
Twenty years later Prophets entire family some as young as 6 months, were butchered in the most gruesome manner in the plains of Kerbala (680 CE) not far from Kufa. Noble women of the Prophets family, including his grand daughter Zainab, were imprisoned, paraded in chains and taken to the Omayad court in Damascus. Damascus was ruled by the son of Muawya, Yazeed (645–683) the architect of the tragedy.
If this was the fate of Prophets kin one can imagine that of their followers who call
themselves Shia, during those times.
Shia’s never really recuperated since.
Lone male survivor of the Karbala massacre, young and ailing son of Hussain, Zainul Aabideen became the new Imam, fourth in the lineage (680 CE).
It was grandson of Zainul Aabideen, Imam Jafar Sadeq (702-765 C.E.), 6th in the lineage, who founded the Shia fiqh or Jafari Jurisprudence
(4) Moulvi Abbas Ansari: Ayena-e-Haq Numa (1961)
(5) After the Founder-president of Anjuman-e-Sharee Shia’an, Aga Syed Yusuf Al-Moosavi Al-Safavi, passed away in August 1982, the Aga family of Budgam got divided into two factions. The pro-Congress faction installed Aga Syed Yusuf’’s deputy, cousin and son-in-law, Aga Syed Mustafa, as the president of Anjuman-e-Sharee Shia’an in presence of then Prime Minister of India Mrs Indira Gandhi. The pro-NC faction broke away and accepted Aga Syed Yusuf’s eldest son, Aga Syed Mohammad Fazalullah as the president of the Anjuman. Daily Excelsior, Jammu August 23, 2002
(6) Taqleed means following an acknowledged religious authority, a Mujtahid or Marj’a, in matters of religious laws and commandments. Shias believe Imamate followed Prophethood as Ummah can not be without an Imam at any point of time. So in absence of an Imam as 12th (Imam Mehdi), last in the line of Imam’s, went into occultation his successor is the most learned of Marj’a, or Mujtahid. Clergy acts as the representatives of Marj’a in their respective places.
This article was originally published in the Border Affairs, New Delhi, Vol X No IV-Oct-Dec 2009