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In Kashmir, closed mosque belies India’s non secular freedom

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Jamia Masjid, the grand mosque of Srinagar, dominates its neighborhood with an imposing major gate and big turrets. It will possibly maintain 33,000 worshippers, and on particular events over time a whole lot of 1000’s of Muslims have stuffed close by lanes and roads to supply prayers led from the mosque.

However Indian authorities see the mosque as a bother spot — a nerve heart for protests and clashes that problem India’s sovereignty over the disputed Kashmir area.

For Kashmiri Muslims it’s a sacred venue for Friday prayers and a spot they will increase their voices for political rights.

On this bitter dispute, the mosque in Kashmir’s major metropolis has largely remained closed for the previous two years. The mosque’s chief priest has been detained in his dwelling nearly nonstop all through that point, and the mosque’s major gate is padlocked and blocked with corrugated tin sheets on Fridays.

The closure of the mosque, which is revered by Kashmir’s principally Muslim inhabitants, has deepened their anger.

“There’s a fixed feeling that one thing is lacking in my life,” mentioned Bashir Ahmed, 65, a retired authorities worker who has provided prayers on the mosque over 5 many years.

Indian authorities refused to touch upon the mosque restrictions regardless of repeated queries from The Related Press. Prior to now, officers have mentioned the federal government was compelled to shut the mosque as a result of its administration committee was unable to cease anti-India protests on the premises.

The shutting of the 600-year-old mosque got here amid a clampdown that started in 2019 after the federal government stripped Kashmir of its long-held semiautonomous standing.

Prior to now two years, a number of the area’s different mosques and shrines — additionally closed for months because of the safety crackdown and the following pandemic — have been allowed to supply non secular companies.

Jamia Masjid has remained out of bounds to worshippers for prayers on Friday – the principle day of congregational worship in Islam. Authorities enable the mosque to stay open the opposite six days, however only some hundred worshippers assemble there on these events, in comparison with the tens of 1000’s that usually gathered on Fridays.

“That is the central mosque the place our ancestors, students and religious masters have prayed and meditated for hundreds of years,” mentioned Altaf Ahmad Bhat, one of many officers on the grand mosque.

He dismissed the law-and-order causes cited by the authorities as “absurd,” including that discussions about social, financial and political points affecting Muslims had been a core non secular perform of any grand mosque.

The grand mosque is principally reserved for obligatory Friday congregational prayers and particular companies. Compulsory every day prayers are often held in smaller neighborhood mosques.

For the area’s Muslims, the mosque’s closure brings painful reminiscences of the previous. In 1819, Sikh rulers closed it for 21 years. Over the previous 15 years, it has been topic to periodic bans and lockdowns by successive Indian governments.

However the present restrictions are probably the most extreme for the reason that area was divided between India and Pakistan after the 2 nations gained independence from British colonialism in 1947. Each declare the Himalayan territory in its entirety.

The Indian authorities initially grappled with largely peaceable public protests searching for a united Kashmir, both below Pakistani rule or as an impartial entity. However a crackdown on dissent led to Kashmir’s eruption into an armed rise up in opposition to India in 1989. India has depicted the insurgency as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, a cost Pakistan has denied.

Indian forces largely crushed the rise up about 10 years in the past, although fashionable calls for for “Azadi,” or freedom, remained ingrained within the Kashmiri psyche.

The area made a transition from the armed wrestle to unarmed uprisings, with tens of 1000’s of civilians repeatedly taking to the streets to protest Indian rule, typically resulting in lethal clashes between stone-throwing residents and Indian troops. The grand mosque and its surrounding areas in Srinagar’s coronary heart emerged as central to those protests.

Sermons on the Jamia Masjid would typically tackle the long-simmering battle, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chief priest and one of many area’s prime separatist leaders, giving fiery speeches highlighting Kashmir’s political wrestle.

Authorities typically clamped down, banning prayers on the mosque for prolonged durations. In keeping with official knowledge, the mosque was closed for not less than 250 days in 2008, 2010 and 2016 mixed.

The armed battle once more intensified after Prime Minister Narendra Modi got here to energy in 2014 and gained a landslide re-election in 2019. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Celebration-led authorities toughened its stance each in opposition to Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists amid rising assaults by Hindu hard-liners in opposition to minorities in India, additional deepening frustrations amongst Kashmir’s Muslims.

Quickly a brand new wave of rebels revived Kashmir’s militancy and challenged India’s rule with weapons and efficient use of social media. India responded with typically lethal counterinsurgency operations.

Freedom of faith is enshrined in India’s structure, permitting residents to observe and freely apply faith. The structure additionally says the state is not going to “discriminate, patronize or meddle within the occupation of any faith.”

However even earlier than the present safety operation in Kashmir, consultants say circumstances for India’s Muslims below Modi have worsened.

In Kashmir, the clampdown on probably the most revered mosque has aggravated these fears.

“Jamia Masjid represents the soul of Kashmiri Muslims’ religion and has remained on the heart of calls for for social and political rights since its basis some six centuries again,” mentioned Zareef Ahmed Zareef, a poet and an oral historian. “Its closure is an assault on our religion.”

On particular events just like the final Friday within the fasting month of Ramadan, a whole lot of 1000’s of devoted pray within the mosque, filling its neighborhood’s winding lanes and roads.

For the final two years, such scenes have remained lacking. Muslims say the gag is undermining their constitutional proper to non secular freedom.

Ahmed, the worshipper, on a current Saturday afternoon sat contained in the mosque, a wooden and brick architectural marvel with 378 wood pillars. He mentioned he has by no means seen the mosque shut and desolate for such an prolonged interval.

“I really feel disadvantaged and violated,” Ahmed mentioned as he raised his arms in supplication. “Now we have been subjected to excessive religious struggling.”

Many Kashmiri Muslims have lengthy mentioned New Delhi curbs their non secular freedom on the pretext of legislation and order whereas selling and patronizing the annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave visited by a whole lot of 1000’s of Hindus from throughout India.

The Amarnath pilgrimage lasts for practically two months, though it was canceled for the final two years because of the pandemic.

On a current Friday, because the mosque remained closed, its sprawling market, an in any other case vibrant and bustling neighborhood, wore a abandoned look.

Babull, a mentally challenged man in his 40s who inhabits the place in and across the grand mosque, whirled across the neighborhood. He cautioned shopkeepers of imminent hazard from police raiding the place, as they’ve accomplished previously.

Close by, a gaggle of Indian vacationers went about clicking selfies within the backdrop of the mosque’s barricaded and locked major gate.

Kashmiri onlookers watched them in silence.

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Related Press faith protection receives help from the Lilly Endowment via The Dialog U.S. The AP is solely liable for this content material.

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