The Mirwaiz Kashmir Institution: Its importance as Socio-Religious Organization

Mirwaiz Kashmir Institution

Like Chris, a French writer and filmmaker, “What I’m passionate about is History; politics interests me only insofar as it is the cross-section of History in the present.” Looking, at the contemporary scenario at our own place, I was thinking how past three centuries have shaped our contemporary narrative, in this column I may not venture courage to write how this narrative is potent enough to demolish the ‘dominant discourse’, nonetheless it would be of interest for students  contemporary history to know how events during 19th and 20th centuries dovetailed and shaped the modern Kashmir story.

Kashmir fell to the Durrani Empire in 1752, after a commander sent by Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated the Moghuls. For sixty-seven years, the governors posted by Durranis ruled Kashmir through intimidation and terror and exacted taxes from people irrespective of their religion and social status through the meanest methods imaginable.Nevertheless, they did not interfere with the faith of people and also did not impose any taboos on religious practices. Irrespective of their belief Kashmiris nursed deep-seated resentment against the Durranis and their proxies in Kashmir theircruel tax system and misgovernment, nevertheless it did not find an organized expression or a revolt. Five years after Sardar Mohammad Azim Khan Governor of Kashmir had repelled the Maharaja Ranjit Singh and pursued him up to Kotli pass in Mirpur the soldiers of Ranjit Singh entered into Kashmir. On their entering into Srinagar, they started writing the ‘story of lawlessness’  by attacking religious freedom of the ninety-sevenpercent population of the land of saints. During twenty-seven years of the Sikh rule till the death of Ranjit Singh, religious freedom largely remained suspended for the Muslims; it was to an extent restored after SheikhMohi-u-Din was appointed Governor of Kashmir by the rulers in Punjab.The resentment was so deep that even Dervishes, detached from worldly comforts had so much hatred against the brutal rulers that they did not grant even interview to the Governors of Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh had appointed ‘twenty thousand musketeers as the army of occupation’ to prevent any uprising.Nonetheless, various forces on the peripheries of the Valley Khakha and Bomba tribes started a movement against the occupation of Kashmir by the Sikh Ruler. In their fight against the Singh’s troop, the Khakhas and the Bomba tribes that inhabited areas beyond Rampur in Baramulla district were joined by neighbouring warrior Pathan tribes, Afridis, Waziris, Gilzaris, Masudi’s, and Yusuf Zai’s.’

For securing their geostrategic interests, the British passed on Kashmir in 1846 to Gulab Singh and created Jammu and Kashmir State, outside British India. Many historians including Dr Abdul Ahad have documented that Kashmiris in unison had fiercely opposed the occupation of their land and rose fought the Dogra soldiers on their entering into Kashmir,because of large contingents of British army coming to their support, Gulab Singh’s soldiers gate-crashed into the Valley. Mridu Rai, the author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, a magnum opus on the Dogra Rule in Kashmir, has quite eloquently detailed how after 1857 the British vassal zealously announced themselves as Hindu Rulers and established Kashmir as a “Hindu State” and marginalized the overwhelming majority. ‘Hindu-ness was made the basis of the rule.’ The brutal and bigotry tax system introduced is the worst ever tax system in the annals of the Elysian land. The flesh trade was prompted as an industry, and it was taxes. Huge taxes were exacted from Muslims even for the Dharmarth and construction of the temples and historical masjids of great heritage value were converted into arsenals and granaries. The Dogra continued many diktats on religious freedom imposed by the Sikh and introduced more harsher laws for punishing the Muslims.

The resentment in Muslims against the Dogra rule  first manifested in 1865 against increasing brutal  taxes ‘frequently extorted by using army’ was  also against explicit   threats to their faith and religious beliefs.In this bizarre scene, some Hindu religious organizations from neighbouring states established their branches in both Jammu and Kashmir besides proselytizing started attacking other faiths and converting people from other religions to their faith. The Dogra rulers besides Pandits had exempted some Muslim cleric from revenue assessment and other taxes the state levied on Muslims- cultivators and artisans. Furthermore, for their services they received revenue-free land grants from rulers in return for services rendered by them. In this dismal and threatening scenario a humble family of clerics that had migrated from a small town in South Kashmir into Srinagar city. And   over a period of time graduated into an institution of social reforms, preaching of Islam, and working for the empowerment of Muslims- this institution came to be known as the Mirwaiz institution.

Sadi Baiyuor Molvi Sadiq-u-Allah Trali as the family chroniclers prefer to call him arrived into the city in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century;it was his sonMolvi Abdul Salam who made Srinagar as his permanent abode and started delivering sermons in local Masjids.But it was a couple of generation later Hafiz Rasool Shah, popularly called  Lassa Baba  (1783 A.D- 1845 A.D),  respected for his scholarship,   exposition of the Holy Quran and Hadith, besides committing himself to religious preaching had earned a place of distinction for waging war against un-Islamic practices, superstitions, social evils and promoting brotherhood in people.  Most of the chronicles recognize him as the founder of the  Mirwaiz institution in Kashmir.He was first in the Mirwaiz family to deliver sermons from the Jamia Masjid. For seventeen years during the Durrani rule, he gave sermons from the Pulpit of the Jamia Masjid, for his eloquence he attracted huge gatherings. Unlike many other preachers of the times that exhibited their scholarship lacing their religious discourse with Persian he chose chaste Kashmiri as his medium to reach to general masses- thus created an impact on the devotes that thronged the Jamia Masjid.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Institution graduated to another missionary level of empowering the ninety per cent disempowered Muslim population of Kashmir. Mirwaiz Rasool Shah succeeded his father Molvi Mohammad Yahya after his death in 1890. For his extraordinary role for the development of Kashmir society in general and Muslims, in particular,Mirwaiz Rasool Shah’s name will be written in golden letters in the history of Kashmir. Through his eloquent discourses, he fought age-old social evils in the society and revolutionized the thinking of the subjugated people. Moreover, with the establishment of the Anjuman Nusrat-e-Islam, the first association of the Muslims of Kashmir and founding Islamia High School he laid first stone towards empowering the Muslims disempowered to submission for over a century.In 1916, the Anjuman, joined by the first batches of alumni from Islamia High School after getting higher education emerged as the first rights organization for representing to the Viceroy of India for giving equal rights to Muslims for getting modern higher education- that was denied to them.The move had prompted the appointment of Sharp Committee to look into backwardness of Muslims in education. This report subsequently had a pioneering role to play  in taking Muslim children from darkness to light. The founding of the Anjuman inspired the birth of many other socio-religious organizations such as Anjuman-I-Hamdard, Srinagar and Anjuman-i-Thaffuz-i-Namaz.

The role of the Institution of Mirwaiz was not limited only to socio-religious reforms,but it had its role for establishing democratic institutions and safeguarding democratic rights. Memorandum presented to Lord Reading in 1924 on his arrival in Kashmir by people of Kashmir demanding the restoration of democratic rights was signed by Mirwaiz Ahmadullah and other elite- this 17 point memorandum emerged as the bible for the people to struggle for ending the feudal autocratic rule in the state- that found boldest manifestation on 13 July 1931, with Dogra soldiers piercing chest twenty three persons outside the Srinagar Central Jail. But for the active support and lead of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah, an alumni of  Darul Uloom Deoband, who had succed Molvi Ahmadullah as Mirwaiz   the 1931 Freedom Movement would not have picked up so fast and with such zest.

Unmindful of the impediments even after 1947, and exile of Mirwaiz Yousf Shah to Pakistan the institution of Mirwaiz, with Molvi Attiquallah as head   has pursued its mission of spreading education and standing for the rights of people – and immensely contributed to the Kashmir Society.

Columnist and Writer


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