Kashmir society: second transition

By K.N. Pandita

It will be rewarding to outline the contours of Islam brought to Kashmir by the first missionary, Sayyid Ali Hamadani (Shah Hamadan) in the second half of 14th century.

Irano-Aryan peoples had resisted Arab cultural imperialism in the beginning. Sassanian Empire fell and Irano-Aryan civilization lost state support. Arab civilization enforced its supremacy.  

Out of this long socio-cultural logjam in Irano-Aryan lands a new concoction emerged. It carried in its bosom streaks of indigenous traditions — Zoroastrian, Manichean, Mazdakian, Shamanean etc. but the more strident Shia’ and Sufi streaks of later period.

Polarization of Iranian-Khurasanian society was the jurisprudence of this synthesis: ultra nationalism versus dogmatic Muhammadanism. Cosmopolitan indigenous ideology came into conflict with rigid Islamic doctrine. Liberal versus conservative stand spat remained the under-current of post-Islamic history of this region.

Controversy rages on Hamadani’s ideological thrust. His son, Mir Muhamamd defied his father’s creed and demystified the controversy. Doctrinaire Islam had gained upper hand in Khurasan.

Mir Muhammad’s patron, Sultan Sikandar must have been tormented by the polarized Islam of Irano-Aryan peoples before he finally opted to take to iconoclasm, more to please his patron than to follow his conviction.  The first sweep of conversions and Islamization over, things gradually swung back to near equilibrium in Kashmir.

Significant development appearing in this formative period was gradual resurgence of indigenous Reshiism now in the avatar of Sufism.

Reshiism did not oppose shrine worship. The type of Sufism brought by Iranian-Khurasanian missionaries, including Mir Sayyid, too, carried this baggage from the traditions of Shia sect that venerated the Imams and paid obeisance at their shrines,

Kashmir reconciled to moderate Islam with profuse sprinkling of Sufism. Moderate Islam meant acceptance of fulsome compendium of such traditions as had been willingly retained by Islamic Iran.

This was facilitated by Farsi (Iranian), the official language of the Kashmir Muslim rulers. For five centuries, Iranian cultural specificity held Kashmirian society in tight embrace.

In 1979, Khumeini successfully ousted monarchy and introduced radical Islam of his school. Surprisingly, he found the Islam of his model dragged into conflict with a far more intrepid adversary than the “Great Satan”
It collided with Wahhabi-ism, the creed of Abdul Wahhab, who had supported Saudi monarchy. Whhabis trivialized Khumeini’s anti-monarchy rhetoric.

Cautioned by initial success of over-ambitious Khumeinites, Saudi monarchy countered them through powerful propaganda machine and colossal funding at the disposal of its secret service.

Kashmir had special significance in Khumeini-Wahhabi ideological conundrum. Saudi interests in Kashmir deepened for two reasons viz. good spadework done by Pak sponsored proxy war under the rubric of “freedom struggle”, and Sunni Hanafi predominance in Indian ruled Kashmir.

By intervening to douse the flames of ideological divide which viciously visited Kashmir in the aftermath of Z.A. Bhutto’s execution, Saudis made the first successful dent in the Lesser Iran (Iran-i-saghir).

Kashmir armed insurgency was double pronged. It embattled Indian presence and it set radicalization process of Kashmiri Muslim society in motion.
Saudi Arabia opened doors on Kashmiri professionals and non-professionals. Wahhabis and Salafis were most welcome. Stock of Kashmiri Sunni Muslims clergy increased. They were facilitated to attain proficiency in orthodox Wahhabi theology in Saudi seminaries. Back home, they used the pulpit to preach Arabicised radical Islam.

In their idiom Kashmiri Islam still bore five centuries old stamp of pre-Islamic Iranian socio-cultural traits. These had to be replaced with what Wahhabi-Salafi orthodoxy permitted. “Khuda hafiz” changed into “Allah hafiz” because “khuda” etymologically traceable to”khotaay” of Avestic origin was Iranian whereas Allah was Arab and hence the true God as against Khuda the contaminated one.

A massive campaign for shift to Arabicised Islam is underway in Kashmir. All personal, social, economic and transactional symbols receive Arabicised nomenclature. Arabic dress regime, namely white overalls, skull caps, head-cum-shoulder gear, rosary, long beard and short trousers for men and burqa for women pass them for good Musulman.

Kashmiri idiom is fast getting replaced with Arabic idiom. Even body language, postures and mannerism all have shifted. Salafi religious preachers like Al Kindi in Srinagar mosques vehemently plead for replacement of Islam of Iranian orientation. Shrine worship is declared un-Islamic. Frequent visits to and long stays in Saudi Arabia have helped many Kashmiris pick up fluent spoken and written Arabic. Acquaintance with Farsi is no more a matter of pride rather a discredit.

Kashmiri Diaspora has carved a niche for it in Saudi administrative structure and to a considerable extent influences the formulation of Saudi Arabia’s Kashmir policy. Foreign remittances from Kashmiri Diaspora in Saudi Arabia have made the recipient families prosperous. A good chunk of hawala remittances finds its way into the pockets of militants.

Saudi Arabia has walked long distance to oust Iranian Islam from Kashmir. This is a significant shift rather the second major shift in Kashmirian society after the advent of Islam. It remains to be seen whether the Islam of Wahhabi-Salafi orientation so vigorously propagated in Kashmir today will also bring in its train the medieval code of conduct and penalty of sharia dispensation to the Arabicised Muslims of the valley?

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