What frenzy is this?

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

What frenzy is this? Who is setting our revered shrines on fire?  Who is targeting our Imam baargahs? Who is desecrating our Holy Book? Who is burning our religious relics? Who is bashing up our leaders in full public glare? Who is trying to divide us on sectarian lines? Who is hell bent on crushing our freedom movement? Who stands to benefit from such dastardly desperate acts? Who will unmask this hydra-headed monster? Who will plug this juggernaut?

Just when people in Kashmir were coming to terms with the Pir Dastgeer Sahib shrine tragedy, another shocking incident in Gund Hassi Bhat Lavaypora, where some ‘shadowy’ miscreants burnt Holy Book and Alam Sharif (a sacred relic for Shia Muslims), has raised many thorny questions.  The sequence of these events is not just tragic but deeply disturbing. These are very worrying times and volatile too. In Kashmir, people across communities and sects have lived together in amity and harmony since ages. There have been many such desperate attempts by vested interests, the trouble-mongers wearing masks, to play the spoilsport. But much to their dismay, their sinister machinations and designs have never yielded any results.

They are back in business. Again they are trying hard to whip up the passions and sentiments. They think by targeting khaanqahs and imambargahs they will be able to browbeat us, coerce us and silence us into submission. They don’t realize such gut-wrenching tragedies only bring us together, closer and firmer. We will continue to defy them, resist them, and someday defeat them. The flames from the gutted shrine of Dastgeer sahib have only re-ignited the fire within us. The sight of the burnt Holy Book and Alam Shareef has brought back the images from Karbala, 1400 years after. This is also a tussle between right and might, truth and falsehood. Our numbers might be inadequate, our powers might be negligible, but might always vanishes and right always survives.

There is certainly a method to this madness. These are covert attempts by those ‘hydra-headed monsters’ who have always wanted to see people from different communities and sects in Kashmir bay for each other’s blood.  But like in the past, we shall not cave in. We will stand up, and speak out in one voice, against these invisible and shadowy monsters. We are not Shias and Sunnis in this battle. We are Kashmiris. We are Muslims. We are one.

We don’t expect government-appointed inquiry commissions to come out with the findings. We don’t even expect them to be unbiased and fair. This is a theater of absurd and this whole exercise of ordering inquiries and submitting voluminous reports is mere eyewash. But we will unmask and punish our tormentors. We the people. We will not let them get away with it, once again. However the best response this time is to stand united and strong.

The last week or so has brought back the horrifying memories of 2010 summer. The scenes of angry youth pelting stones at police. Hordes of woman protesting on the streets. But, how does one react when enemies kill you, plunder you, burn your shrines, torch your sacred relics, and then easily get away with it.

When the popular movement poses an ominous and existential threat to the ruling class, they resort to such dastardly acts, creating a nonexistent conflict between peoples and communities and pitting them against each other. It is clearly aimed at creating a wedge among people to divert their attention from the bigger issues and bigger struggles.

However it is utterly heartening to see people, cutting across political, social and ideological divide, condemn the tragic incidents in both Khanyar and Gund Hassi Bhat. The official theory on the ‘mysterious’ fire that engulfed the Dastgeer Sahib shrine claimed it was result of short-circuit but the shrine officials were quick to rubbish the claim, saying there was no electricity when the devastating fire started from nowhere. In the case of Gund Hassi Baht, they don’t even use such hollow theories. The miscreants have subtly sneaked inside the shrine and set ablaze the Holy Quran and Alam Shareef.

It is a time of reckoning for our religious leaders and clerics to act wisely and keep people informed about the maneuverings and machinations of the enemies. It is not the time to take out daggers and indulge in blame games against each other. It’s a crucial juncture in our troubled history. We have to be on our toes, lest enemy stabs us on our back.

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Hopes dashed, dreams shattered

 

 Syed Zafar Mehdi

I can vividly recall that bright summer day many years back when I dropped in at this enchantingly statuesque shrine with my mother. I was a small boorish kid – running, jumping and frolicking inside the shrine. My mother held my hand and helped me tie a sacred thread on the beautifully hand-carved wooden pillar inside in the main hall. That was my maiden rendezvous with Pir Dastgeer Sahib and thereafter I became a regular visitor. Every time, that exquisitely garnished wooden pillar would solicit my attention. Somehow I was never able to spot the Arabic word ‘Allah’ inscribed on the pillar or on the wall. Perhaps I never was godly enough to eye-witness such a marvel. But I must confess the mere touch of the pillar would give me goose bumps. I would sit inside the shrine, against that pillar, for hours and feel rejuvenated.  That pillar was reduced to ashes in the massive embers that engulfed the majestic shrine few days back. The small thread I had tied many years back was also consigned to flames and smoke.

Speculations are abuzz about how the fire erupted. Official version claims it was short-circuit but the shrine officials have already rubbished the claim, saying there was no electricity when the devastating fire started from nowhere. There are some reports suggesting a foul play by trouble-mongering vested interests, which cannot be ruled out. The fire tenders arrived on the scene late when the shrine was already gutted and devastated. Some trigger-happy supporters of local MLA raised lot of hue and cry, after the cavalcade of MLA was attacked by angry mob. A bunch of youth even bashed up a prominent separatist leader Shabbir Shah. The veteran freedom crusader often compared to Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who has spent over two dozen years behind bars, certainly did not deserve such reprehensible treatment in public.

Pir Dastgeer Sahib’s shrine, constructed in 1806 and housing the rare relics of this world-famous Sufi saint, was more than an architectural wonder and 200-year heritage site for the people in Kashmir. It was a silent and powerful witness to our turbulent history. It was a beautiful castle of our hopes. It was a symbol of our resistance. Those hordes of forlorn lovers, students appearing in examinations, desperate job seekers, newlyweds, and small-time business entrepreneurs, all of them took refuge in this shrine. Now, the shrine has been decimated to rubble. Our hopes are dashed. Our dreams are shattered.

As tweeted by the techno-savvy CM Omar Abdullah, State Wakf Board will come up with a brand new, state-of-the-art structure soon. In all likelihood, the foundation-laying ceremony would be attended among others by top cops, white-collar babus, and perhaps some influence-peddling netas from New Delhi. The work of course would be completed on war-footing and the structure would be dedicated to the ‘peace-loving’ people of Kashmir, with a sugar-coated appeal to forgive, forget and move on.

But nothing can compensate for this monumental loss. No amount of engineering can return us our shattered dreams. Nothing can give us back our abode of hope. How did the fire erupt? Why did the fire tenders arrive late? Why did government sleep over warnings on vulnerability of wooden shrines, and failed to put up fire extinguishers at these shrines? Why was the senior separatist leader beaten up and injured? There are many more uncomfortable questions for government to answer.

For New Delhi based run-of-the-mill news channels, this was not news. A child stuck in well for 86 hours on the outskirts of Delhi was discussed by loud-mouthed Arnab Goswami with a familiar panel on prime time show. The fire that broke out at the Mantralaya office in Mumbai kept news channels engaged round the clock. The news about eco-friendly toilets launched in Orissa was splashed across the newspapers. But the burning down of the shrine was treated like a routine incident of violence. Skimming through the posts on Facebook was again atrocious. A journalist friend from Delhi termed it a ‘handiwork of separatists’ who wanted to cash in on the tragedy. What a senile bizarre argument. But, nobody is astonished.

It will take a long time for us to come to terms with this catastrophic loss. It is hard to imagine Khanyar chowk without Dastgeer sahab’s shrine. I always used to anxiously wait for winter break to go home while studying at a boarding school in Aligarh and later at a university in Delhi. A visit to the shrine was something I never missed. Now it feels a part of me has died. The world will never be same again.

Connecting sentiments

 

By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

Iranian envoy Syed Mehdi Nabizadeh’s maiden visit to Kashmir assumes significance in more ways than one. His cosy rendezvous with top-notch leaders from across the political spectrum hogged the headlines in local media. Steering clear from the conventionally ambivalent stand of Iran on Kashmir, envoy in no unequivocal terms assured his country’s support to the people of Kashmir in their struggle against the tyrany and militarism. To strike the balance of sorts, from diplomatic standpoint perhaps, envoy also called on Chief Minister and Governor. What transpired in those meetings is best known to two Ministers in Omar government, Aga Ruhullah and Qamar Ali Akhoon. We were told that they discussed ‘bilateral issues’ and the ‘age-old cultural and civilisational ties’. 

The envoy addressed many social gatherings and functions organized to mark the 23rd death anniversary of the architect of Iranian revolution Ayatullah Khomeini. At a seminar hosted by a prominent Hurriyat leader Aga Syed Hasan in Hotel Jehangir, the envoy spoke at length about the life and times of Khomeini and his relentless struggle towards the establishment of the rule of law in Iran. APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq exhorted Iran to use its good offices to help in finding the lasting political settlement of this longstanding imbroglio.

“We share 200-year-old relations with Iran and the central Asia. Kashmir is also known as Iran-e-Saghir”, said Mirwaiz. Speaking on the occasion, Patron of Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Maulana Abbas Ansari said Khomeini was always sensitive to the sacrifices of the Kashmiris. “Imam Khomeini once made it emphatically clear to a visiting Indian delegation that the relations between the two countries cannot improve until the killing of people of Kashmir doesn’t stop.” JKLF supremo Yasin Malik appealed to Iranian regime to break their silence over Kashmir. “Iranian revolution was an inspiration for us to demand our right to self determination.”

Many delegations from across the state also called on the Iranian envoy during his two day stay in Kashmir, which included a contingent of Jammu Kashmir Peoples’ Freedom League leaders who met him at a religious function at Lawaypora on city outskirts. The envoy also went to Kargil, where he addressed a huge gathering of youth in the premises of Islamia School Kargil and Public Park Kargil.

Nabizadeh, who has been the Iranian envoy in India for the past four years, was on his first visit to Kashmir. However this was not the first time he was meeting Kashmiri leaders. In February this year, a Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq held parleys with him in New Delhi, as part of their series of interactions with foreign diplomats and emissaries.

In another seminar at Hotel Lalit (Grand Palace), the envoy stressed upon the need for greater cooperation between India and Iran and said the bilateral trade has leapfrogged to 16 billion dollars from mere $ 9 billion when he took over four years ago. This drew sharp reaction from some political quarters, including JKLF leader Yasin Malik. “Iran cannot afford to annoy India just to please Kashmiris. We recognize this fact so we never asked them to snap ties with India. But that does not mean they will come all the way to Kashmir to glamorize Indian growth,” Malik said while speaking at the seminar titled “Imam Khomeini’s Political Thought”.  To this, the envoy said Iran was not oblivious of her responsibilities and firmly believes that the movements of the suppressed nations cannot be crushed by sheer militarism. He even invited Malik, besides Mirwaiz, to Iran.

Contrary to the widespread perception, Iran has always helped the Kashmir cause overwhelmingly. The youth in Kashmir draw moral inspiration from the Iranian revolution and the revolution has tremendously influenced their psyche.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatullah Khamenie makes it a point to mention Kashmir and Palestine at every Friday prayer in Tehran University. One such remark recently led to shock and outrage in India. In a message to Haj pilgrims, Khamenie spoke of the oppression and injustices meted out to people in many conflict-torn zones of world under occupational forces. “Today the major duties of the elite of the Islamic Ummah are to provide help to the Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the United States and the Zionist regime.” This infuriated the hawks in New Delhi who felt Iran was “questioning India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”. Khamenei had visited Kashmir in the early 1980s and delivered a sermon at Srinagar’s historic Jama Masjid.

Iranian firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad also created a flutter recently during his visit to Pakistan, saying the “enemy of Pakistan will be considered as enemy of Iran”, which was seen as an apparent dig at India. However he has so far refrained from issuing a statement or taking a position on Kashmir, owing to political compulsions.

This historic visit of the senior Iranian envoy to Kashmir, his meeting with separatist leadership and expression of solidarity for the movement is significant since it has connected the sentiments. It has brought Iran back into the picture, since the death of Ayatullah Khomeini. It will send the strong message across to policy wonks in New Delhi that Iran is not here to be a mute spectator to gory whirlphool of state-backed terror. Iran will not let Kashmiris down, and they should not. After all, Iranians and Kashmiris have lot more than culture and heritage in common. Will our Khomeini please stand up.

Remembering the Ayatollah

By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

Imam’s socio-political ideology was deeply rooted in Islam. While condemning the hard-nosed policies of the Shah regime, he always stood by the oppressed people of Iran

As world observes the 23rd death anniversary of the architect of the Islamic revolution of Iran, the charismatic leader, champion of Islamic revival, Ruhullah Musavi Khomeini, his life remains a beacon of inspiration. As a western journalist Philip Shenon once observed, “Even from the grave, Ayatollah Khomeini — so reviled and feared in the west, still so beloved by millions of the faithful here — is continuing to command influence in the nation that he led as its supreme spiritual leader for nearly 10 years.” (‘Khomeini’s Tomb Attracts Pilgrims’, The New York Times, July8, 1990).

 

On September 24, 1902, Imam, as he was called by his admirers, was born into a family in Khumayn province of Iran with a long tradition of religious scholarship. Noted biographer, writer, Hamid Algar in a biography of the Imam traces his roots to India. He notes, “His ancestors, the descendants of Imam Musa Kazim (as) had migrated towards the end of 18th century from their original home in Nishapur to Lucknow. There they settled in the small town of Kintur and devoted themselves to the religious instruction and guidance of the region’s predominant Jafariya population.” Olivier Roy and Antoine Sfeir also note in The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism’; so does Baqir Moin in his book, Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah. Algar says that his grandfather Syed Ahmad had left Lucknow sometime in the middle of the19th century on a pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Hazrat Ali (as) in Najaf, where he made acquaintance with Yusuf Khan, a prominent citizen of Khumayn. On his invitation, he decided to settle there to assume responsibility of the religious needs of people there.

However, Imam’s Kashmir connection also cannot be ruled out. Imam once penned down a letter to the highly revered Shia cleric of that time, Aga Syed Yusuf Almosvi, expressing his strong desire to visit his ‘ancestral land’ (with reference to Kashmir).The letter is still preserved with late the Aga’s son and noted cleric Aga Syed Fazlullah.

Imam had a turbulent childhood; he faced some adversities early in life, having lost his father in infancy, and bereaved of his mother and aunt, who raised him, at the tender age of 15. Being an exceptionally gifted child, he received his elementary education in Arabic grammar, logic and rudiments of other subjects from his elder brother, Ayatullah Pasandedah. Later, he joined the Centre for Theological Studies in Araaqand to study literature. Gradually, Imam acquired great depth of knowledge in key disciplines like philosophy, mysticism, and astronomy, becoming an authority on theological and canon law, besides being well versed in intellectual and traditional sciences. He began teaching philosophy at the young age of 27and wrote books on various religious subjects. He married the daughter of a prominent clergyman at 30 and had two sons and three daughters.

Imam’s socio-political ideology was deeply rooted in Islam. In Kashaf-ul-Asrar, he writes, “Religion is the only thing that dissuades mankind from treachery and crime. Unfortunately, those who take the helm of state in Iran have either a false faith or no faith at all (referring to Shah’s regime of that time). These demagogues who speak fervently of safeguarding the interests of country really look after their own interests.” While condemning the hard-nosed policies of the Shah regime, he always stood by the oppressed people of Iran.

In 1960s, the despotic ruler of Iran, Raza Shah Pahlevi embarked on a mission to ‘westernise’ the country. He was hell-bent on wiping off the distinct identity of Iranian Muslims and implementing designs of western forces. His increasing dependence on SAVAK (secret police) was to control and suppress the resistance movement that criticised his activities.

In 1962, a controversial bill was approved by Shah’s council of ministers, calling for ‘omitting’ the ‘stipulation of Islam’ clause in country’s constitution, even though it ordained all to believe in it. People who opposed the move were tortured, imprisoned and executed in to safeguard the interests of enemy powers. Imam fought against it and managed to mobilise people for an intense opposition to Shah’s west-sponsored move, a plot designed by the Kennedy regime to make Iran subservient to the US.

Imam in his historic address at Qom, in 1963, exhorted people to “stand firm against the illegal measures of the regime, never fear any showdown, if government resorts to force, don’t yield to it…we in the garb of Muslim clergy will fight for the cause of Islam. No force, however great, can silence us.”

Imam’s massive popularity among masses was an eyesore to the Shah’s regime. The SAVAK threatened him to stop delivering speeches at Fareiyyah School, but he kept defying the warnings. The angry ruler soon ordered his troops to arrest Imam. Next day, streams of people marched to streets and demanded, “Either death or Khomeini”. In these protest marches, some 2,000 people were killed on the streets of Tehran and Qom alone. After Imam was released, he again delivered a historic speech at Azam Mosque. “They call us reactionary people. The mullahs oppose the adversity of people suffering here. We wish they were not humble servants of others. We do not, nor does Islam oppose civilisation. You (government) have violated all laws, whether divine or human. You have here military experts from Israel. You send Iranian students to Israel. This we oppose. Your educational system is at the service of aliens.”

On the night of November 4, 1964 Imam was detained and sent into exile to Turkey. Imam’s son Mustafa Khomeini was imprisoned, and later exiled to Turkey. The Turkish government acted tough on Imam, extraditing him to Iraq. In Iraq, he resumed his activities. From Iraq, he continuously sent messages to people of Iran and the Muslim world, enjoining them to practise Islam in letter and spirit, and stand firm against machinations of imperialist forces.

During Imam’s exile, his son Mustafa Khomeini, 48, was poisoned to death. While these repressive measures adopted by the despotic regime reached its peak in Iran, mass demonstrations persisted across the country. Imam left Iraq for Kuwait, but the government in Kuwait refused to accept him. He then left for France. Protest movements back home intensified. On September 8, 1978, indiscriminate firing by Shah’s troops led to a massacre at Jaleh Square, leaving around 5,000 dead. The said square was later named as the ‘Square of Martyrs.’ This followed an unprecedented reaction from people. A resolution was passed, demanding return of Imam Khomeini, and the dethronement of Shah, forcing him to flee the country. Imam returned to Iran on February 1, 1979, amidst grand reception. Imam hence paved way through a movement that picked up in 1963 and culminated in a great revolution in September 1979.

 

The great Iranian scholar and Khomeini’s contemporary, Ustad Murtaza Mutahhiri in his book Islamic Movements in the Last 100 Years, writes, “His name, memory, words, ardor of spirit, adamant will, firmness, clear-sightedness, and deep faith is spoken highly of by all people of all classes. He is the greatest and dearest of all heroes and pride of the Iranian nation.”

 

Imam was modest to core. Notwithstanding the fact that he was the chief architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran, he considered himself merely ‘a simple theologian’ all his life. To be simple is to be great. Perhaps that is the best tribute of the man who fought and won.