For the first time in 250 years ever since the institution of the Mirwaiz was created in Kashmir the state government on Wednesday did not allow present Mirwaiz and moderate Hurriyat chairman Umar Farooq to lead prayers at Eidgah,the Valley’s biggest prayer ground.
Mirwaiz was placed under house arrest,along with his colleagues,to prevent them from taking out a protest march soon after the prayers ended.
The arrest of Mirwaiz is significant. In the 250 years of their history,successive Mirwaizs have led prayers at Eidgah without a break.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq,who is the thirteenth in this lineage,has followed this long tradition by delivering the customary sermon on the day before the prayers. People from all over Srinagar and nearby villages travel to Eidgah to be part of the massive congregation and chiefly to hear Mirwaiz speak.
However,the state government,fearing a repeat of the violence on the previous Eid,did not allow Mirwaiz to lead the prayers. On Eid-ul-Fitr,Mirwaiz had made a dramatic post-prayer decision to march to Lal Chowk where the mob went on rampage and burnt a government building.
Mirwaiz told ‘The Indian Express’: Not allowing me to lead the prayers is an extreme step by the government. This is a blatant intervention in our religious affairs. He said the present state government has achieved the dubious distinction of being the first to deny Mirwaiz the right to perform his religious obligation. The government has to bear in mind that this strategy will not cow us down. We will continue our struggle for a lasting solution to Kashmir, he said.
Though primarily concerned with propagating and preaching the religion,the institution of Mirwaiz has transformed over the last century. Mirwaiz has now acquired a pronounced political role. It was Molvi Yusuf Shah,the grand uncle of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq,who in the early twentieth century was the first to involve himself in the political struggle against the autocratic Dogra rule in the state.
His successor Molvi Farooq,also the father of Mirwaiz,was an influential political leader who floated a party called Awami Action Committee which fought elections and through the eighties emerged as a vaunted opposition to the National Conference.
However,after his assassination in 1990,Umar Farooq became the new Mirwaiz Kashmir and subsequently the first chairman of the separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference. He is now the most influential separatist leader in Kashmir,together with Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Meanwhile,Muttahida Majlis Ulema,a body of religious scholars has condemned the government’s decision not to allow Mirwaiz to lead the prayers. The government should seriously rethink its strategy. It is negative and anti-Islamic, a statement issued by the body said.
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