If Kashmiri ulema learn the advanced Software skills, they can identify and rescue those falling prey to the extremist religious rhetoric prevailing online

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Editor, WordForPeace.com

In order to candidly expose and correct the misinterpreted teachings of Islam, the Kashmiri ulema need to learn the advanced Software skills so that they can identify and rescue the victims of the extremist websites and other channels……..

The plight of Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims is widely believed and reported to be worse from bad in terms of internal security, peace and tranquility. But in fact, there is also an optimism that if the concrete steps are taken to check and control this key issue, the conflict can be mitigated to a large extent. Apart from the fragile socio-political atmosphere, the chaos in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir has deep roots in an ideological underpinning.

This writer has visited Jammu & Kashmir almost seven times in order to carry out an empirical research on the extremist religious rhetoric catching the imagination of the new Kashmiri generation.

In 2014, I visited a few districts in Jammu & Kashmir for the first time. I was invited to address a public conference on “Islam, Peace and Non-Muslims” organised by a Poonch-based moderate Muslim NGO, Al-Huda Educational & Welfare Society. Dwelling on this theme, I emphesised the essential messages of Islam for the Kashmiri Muslims such as brotherhood of mankind (Ukhuwat-e-Insani), inclusiveness (Shumuliat) and Prophet Muhammad’s wide embrace of religious pluralism and multiculturalism, as detailed in this report by Varsha Sharma. (Source: islamicvoice.com/bringing-together-muslims-and-non-muslims-of-jammu-kashmir/)

In November, 2016, I visited the valley last time with a Malaysian Sufi delegation “Pertubuhan Rahmatan Lil Alamin” in an outreach to the J&K people with the message of reclaiming the peaceful ethos of spiritual Islam in order to combat the extremist philosophies growing in the valley. After we visited several districts in Jammu like the Gujjar Basti near the village of Chack Bagla in Ramgarh Tehsil, Dargah of Ghulam Shah Badshah in Rajauri, the Jamia Masjid in Vijaypur of district Samba and several other mosques and madrasas in Punch, we travelled to Srinagar and interacted at length with the valley’s common Muslims.

On this occasion, we also met with the Chief Minister Mahbuba Mufti who wished that the spiritual delegation from Malaysia carried forward the true message of Islam and called for promotion of such interactions to help restore peace and tranquility, as reported here: timesheadline.com/india/kashmir/blessed-rehmatul-lil-aalameen-blessings-mankind-malaysian-humanitarians-jammu-kashmir-5694.html.

During the visits to the J&K districts, I encountered the Salafi-occupied madrasas and mosques which were earlier in the hands of Sufi-minded Muslims of Kashmir. Most deplorably, the virulent texts of extremist literature being taught in the valley’s Salafi seminaries are part of these books: Ibn Taimiya’s Majmua Fatawa (compilation of his fatwas), Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawheed (book of monotheism), Ismail Shaheed’s Taqwiyatul Iman (strengthening of the religion) and Syed Ahmad Shaheed’s Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (the straight path). These text books are full of exclusivist, Islam-supremacist and extremist thoughts and shorn of anything that can help the age-old syncretic Kashmiri tradition to survive in the valley.

When asked as to why a sizable literature castigating the Rishi-Sufi tradition of the valley is part of the curricula, the trustees of a few Salafi seminaries bluntly replied:  “because this tradition is contaminated with the ‘Mushrikana’ (polytheistic) and Mubtadi’ana (deviant) culture and customs (tahzib-o-rusoom):.

In the age-old Kashmir, both Sunni and Shia Muslims showed a wide embrace for the valley’s syncretic cultural practices, even though they were originally part of Vaishnavism or Shaivism. Subsequently, their Sufi narrative is marked as Rishi-Sufism in the Indian history. Thus, the evident reason why both groups of separatism—Hizbul Mujahidin and Hurriyat—abhor Sufism in Kashmir is its call for religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence in place of religious bigotry and supremacism in the valley.

Not many know that the Kashmiri dargahs like the Sufi mosques and madrasas are now in the acute grip of the well-funded Salafi masters. An ignorance or oblivion to this fact creates a grave misconception about the entire historical role of Rishi-Sufism in the valley.

Today, both the hardcore philosophers and apologists of Islamist radicalism in the guise of ‘liberal thinkers’ accuse Sufism, as part of Islam, of playing a ‘sinister role’ in helping the peaceful Kashmiris to turn into the angry stone pelters. They cite the instances of stone pelting which were seen outside a few Sufi shrines in the valley. But they conveniently hide the fact that the most leading dargahs like the Dargah of Hazratbal in Srinagar are no longer running under the patronage or guidance of the Sufi ideologues.

Wahhabis have catapulted many Kashmiri dargahs from being the bastion of religious syncretism into a ground of creeping radicalism. This phenomenon is exponentially arising now. A top army official in Kashmir has also authenticated the fact that radicalisation of the Kashmiri youth is rampant on all societal levels. He recently stated: “public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern”, as reported in The Indian Express.

While the Salafi-jihadist ideologues have penetrated even in the seyncretic places of worship and have worked out a completely misguiding theology of religious extremism and exclusivism in Kashmir, I propose these five action points, as urgent and long-lasting tasks to achieve. They offer the practical and result-oriented solutions to the growing Islamist radicalization in the valley:

First, after an ethnographic study and survey of the Kashmir people and their changing religious ethos and cultural practices, an outreach to the people is initiated with an all-round campaign to restore the declining Rishi-Sufism.

Second, dargahs and khanqahs (Sufi shrines) in the valley as well as the mosques will have to be restored to the Sufi practitioners and spiritual Islam’s followers. It is ensured that Salafi-oriented Imams in the mosques and Khadims (servants) in the shrines need are replaced by the community’s care-takers with the help of the state. Also, they ought to be well-trained to tackle the onslaught of the Wahhabi trail of Islamism.

Third, Sufi study centres should be established in the Islamic and Arabic departments or as independent study centres in the Kashmiri universities and colleges. But regrettably, even the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, which is a premier university in J&K, is bereft of the Sufi discourses with its Islamic studies department replete with the Wahhabi literature and influence. Even the J&K’s Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, named after an eminent Kashmiri Muslim mystic, is lost to the ideological rivals of Sufi Islam.

Fourth, Kashmiri students largely enrolled in the Indian universities and madrasas can be best prepared to de-radicalise the militants and the separatists. An instance can be seen in the largest Sunni-Sufi Islamic seminary in Kerala’s Markaz Saqafa Sunniya (Sunni Cultural Centre). It imparts an Islamic curriculum of peace counter-radicalism to thousands of Kashmiri students of varied ages and has allocated a large separate study centre ‘Kashmiri Home’ or ‘Emirate House’. Starting from the Grade 5 to 10+2, scores of Kashmiri students are enrolled at the Calicut-based Sunni Cultural Centre, which runs various institutions, including the Markaz English Medium School at Karanthur. Most of the students come from the destitute and orphaned background following the Kashmir unrest.

Fifth, vigilance about the literature being propagated in the vulnerable Kashmiri society is a long overdue. Youths continue to fall prey to the twisted interpretations of Islamic texts, mostly available in the extremist  Urdu and Arabic magazines —monthly, weekly and fortnightly—such as “Allah Ki Pukar” (call from Allah), “Sada-e-Mujahid” (voice of the jihadists), “Zarb-e-Momin”, (fight of the believers), “Jaish-e-Muhammad” (army of the Prophet), “Rah-e-Wafa” (path of loyalty), “Hateen”, “Murabetoon”, “Al-Qalam” and several online magazines like ISIS English magazine “Dabiq”, Al-Qaida’s  magazine “Inspire” and Taliban’s Urdu magazine “Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad”.

There are a lot more Islamic magazines and online channels whose extremist ideas must be challenged and rebutted, as an urgent task in tackling the onslaught of radicalization in Kashmir. Youths continue to get influenced by the twisted interpretations of Islamic texts through these magazines and extremist literature. But only well-versed Islamic scholars or ulema can search and dismantle all such devastative material which catches the impressionable minds of Muslim youths joining the Hizbul Mujahidin, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Sipah-e-Sahaba or the modules of ISIS and other terror outfits.

The government should set up the tech-savvy centres for such Islamic experts to regularly monitor the extremist news feeds of these Urdu and Arabic media outlets. In order to candidly expose and correct the misinterpreted teachings of Islam, the Kashmiri ulema need to learn the advanced Software skills so that they can identify and rescue the victims of the extremist websites and other channels.

First, they will have to encounter the visitors with their counter-narrative against fanaticism to prevent them from falling prey to the indoctrination of extremist thoughts. Then, they should pervade those channels with progressive, pluralistic and peaceful content to replace the extremist, exclusivist and intolerant material.

In this gigantic task, it is necessary to put out accurate and verifiable facts, contents and videos drawn from authentic scholars and recognized positive thinkers from around the world.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Editor, WordForPeace.com is a scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia. Reach him at grdehlavi@gmail.com

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