Saturday, April 9, 2011

Death of a Cleric

IN a small lane inside Maisuma, hundreds of people walked over glass smithereens to the mosque’s back entrance. It was a Friday afternoon and almost as many people would walk the narrow alley to pray at Kashmir’s oldest Ahl e Hadith mosque every Friday. Today though, everyone stopped just at the entrance, jostling for a look at a skeleton of a bicycle and broken tinted glass scattered around. It wasn’t enough to tell what had happened here. At 12.15 in the noon, President of Jamiat e Ahl e Hadith and a well known Islamic scholar, Moulvi Showkat Ahmad Shah, was assassinated by an IED blast planted in a bag on the ripped apart bicycle. It was a low intensity bomb intended to kill Shah alone but with his death, the blast resounded across political landscapes quiet far from this Maisuma neighborhood.

Moulvi Showkat was a moderate man heading the Jamiat e Ahl Hadith, the Salafi order of Islam, in Kashmir for the seventh year in his third term as President. Showkat lead the prayers every Friday at the Maisuma Ahl e Hadith mosque and always used the back entrance and yesterday, leaving behind his mother, nephew and two security guards in the car, he walked a few paces towards the mosque but death was lurking just outside the small mosque door. “His one foot was in the mosque when the blast happened and I don’t remember clearly after that. He was lying there in blood,” says Yasmeena, who watched the blast from her window.

Showkat’s Khutba (sermon) for the week on Prophet’s humility remained unread in his pocket and a friend carried his broken glasses and cell phone around. He was rushed to the hospital immediately but the doctors declared him dead and then was immediately brought back to Maisuma, to his mosque, his office and the stronghold of his friend and ally Yasin Malik, the JKLF chief.

Showkat was killed few lanes away from Yasin’s home and Yasin later walked the lanes like a hurt man, too distraught to mourn the death of a friend. Every Eid, Yasin prayed behind Showkat in the TRC Ground and during the Lal Chowk rally last Eid, Yasin and Showkat stood next to each other trying to control the crowds. Now Yasin, surrounded by many people, looked a little lonely.

It did not take long for the news to reach the JAH district headquarters all across the valley and the lanes in Maisuma, already full with people, began swelling with more people entering to look at Showkat’s dead body, pay homage and join the slogans.

Tum kitne Showkat maro ge, har ghar se Showkat niklega (How many Showkats will you kill, every home give birth to a Showkat). “Hum kya chahtay- Azadi” (We want freedom). With the police and CRPF far away at the opening of the lane, waiting quietly of nothing to happen, the angry slogans this time seemed to be addressed for somewhere else.

Moulvi Showkat headed JAH with its more than 15 lakh members in the valley. It is the only religious organization whose members are spread all around- in mainstream parties like Congress and BJP, in J-K Police, in Judiciary, in Bureaucracy and almost everywhere and that makes it quiet powerful. JAH has 814 mosques in Kashmir (1200 in J-K) spread all over the districts which gives them a huge presence and an immense power to organize people and events. The Ahlihadith school of thought is highly puritanical in its religious approach and draws its influence from the Wahabi movement started inSaudi Arabia by a Muslim theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th century. Kashmir’s Ahlihadith movement began in south Kashmir's Shopian district 150 years ago and its most prominent leader was Maulana Anwar Shopiyani, a poet and a religious preacher.

Moulvi Showkat belonged to a Ahl e HAdith family and his uncle, Maulana Noor u din, was a renowned Ahl Hadith preacher of the valley. Showkat had almost always been a member of the organization- as a student as a trader selling shawls in Kolkata, where he was known for his honesty. In 2004, he was elected as the JAH president for the first time. For his contributions, Showkat was elected president thrice, the last time in 2010.

Showkat was the first Jamiat Chief who did not remain confined to religion only and was political, talking about political issues and taking political stances. Before he took over as Jamiat Chief, the organization refrained from open politics, concentrating only on propogating the Salafi order. Showkat not only was openly seen as separatist but also supported secular politics and freedom for Kashmir and was against the religion based merger of Kashmir to Pakistan. Showkat was a close and key ally of pro independence leader Yasin Malik. He was arrested several times for his association with JKLF. In 2008 he was arrested and was lodged in jail after authorities booked him under PSA. Many people within JAH thought that he was not doing right by using his post for political ideology but he seemed not to care.

Showkat was seen by many as a ‘Sufi’ heading a Salafi group, unmindful of differences and working towards peace and unity. He was seen as a non sectarian religious leader mourning with Shias during Muharram and always making efforts to unite the Kashmiri Muslims.

When Yasin and Mirwaiz addressed the mourners, it was the first time that on the funeral of an assassinated separatist leader in Kashmir, India was not mentioned. Instead, both Mirwaiz Umar and Yasin Malik, talked about the killer’s right no more to call himself a Muslim and called the act an attack on unity and Kashmir’s freedom movement.

“We would not remain silent. Shah Sahab has always worked for the unity of sectarian and political unity. Since 1990 there have been conspiracies hatched against Kashmiris,” Mirwaiz told the gatherings. “There have been deliberate attempts to deprive our nation of intellectuals, doctors and professors. There is a conspiracy to render the movement leaderless,” Mirwaiz sid in his address to people.

Yasin pledged in front of the people that he will not be silent and unveil the killers. “His death has broken our back and Kashmiri people will not remain silent spectators to the killing.” “Anyone who kills a scholar on the doorsteps of a mosque, can he call himself a Muslim? This is cowardice. This is savagery. Is this type of an act allowed by Islam even if you are doing Jihad,” Malik said in his emotional speech on the funeral. The finger pointed the other way straight. Showkat was a controversial figure esp. after he denounced stone throwing and cited Quranic references to justify his stand. Other religious leaders accused him of quoting Quran out of context and, some even accused him of speaking for the Government. Shah was seen close to certain quarters in the government. There were internal factions in Jamiat and strong frictions too. But most of all, it was slogan of Azadi that was not liked by many people and not certainly by those who saw a strong religious organization not speaking for Pakistan as detrimental to their interests.

“Pakistan killed him. They got him killed. No one else did,” said a close friend of Showkat, who knew him for years and stood by him each time he was attacked. Twice, he had been lucky to surive- first in 2007 when his car was targeted with bullets near Barbar Shah and then in 2008 when a grenade was hurled at his house. This time, Moulvi Showkat fell to a meticulous planning that seems to have been well recced to have minimum damage but eliminate the target.

Showkat preached a middle ground and was not connected with Lashkar, whose every cadre is from Salafi order. And as Showkat preached Islam and advocated freedom for Kashmir, he, in a way, went away from religion based politics and in a way not subscribing to the two nation theory.

Showkat was known for his philanthropic work and vision. He established a diagnostic centre that worked on no profit- no loss basis and was working hard to get a Trans-World Muslim Universityapproved from the government. Under his leadership, the JAH had set up a University and several High schools and Higher Secondary schools. After Showkat’s death, Condemnations rushed from all around- from CM Omar Abdullah to LeT. Yasin, Mirwaiz, and Syed Ali Geelani all called for a strike.

The new President of JAH, Ghulam Rasool Malik, is said be a man who thinks on similar political lines as Moulvi Showkat and he takes over at an acutely tense time. Showkat’s assassination by an IED outside a mosque before Friday prayers might not have an immediate reaction in Kashmir but it will, in long term, mark a shift in the very dynamics of politics in Kashmir.

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