The predominantly Muslim region has been under an unprecedented lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. While the lockdown restrictions have gradually been lifted, people in the region alleged that the authorities, under the pretext of implementing the Covid-19 guidelines, are disallowing ‘free practice of religion.’
Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net
SRINAGAR – After congregational prayers were disallowed at major mosques of Kashmir on past Friday, people in the Muslim majority region have expressed resentment against the authorities for allegedly “not allowing them to practice their religion.”
The right to practice religion is guaranteed by the Indian constitution. However, people in Jammu Kashmir Union Territory maintain that it is being “violated” in the region under the pretext of implementation of Covid-19 guidelines.
The predominantly Muslim region has been under an unprecedented lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. While the lockdown restrictions have gradually been lifted, and parks and public events have been allowed, people in the region alleged that the authorities, under the pretext of implementing the Covid-19 guidelines, are disallowing ‘free practice of religion.’
During the lockdown, all the major mosques and shrines were closed for any gathering along with other institutions, however, with the significant decline in the coronavirus graph, tourists were allowed to come, and musical events, public parks, and other institutions were allowed to operate while the major mosques and shrines remained closed in Srinagar – the summer capital of the Himalayan region.
On August 29, Srinagar International Airport witnessed the highest ever passenger footfall in a single day in the history of the airport.
According to a report, 78 to and fro flights operated at the airport on Saturday in which 10,944 passengers travelled.
On August 20, Mutahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU) – an amalgam of various religious organisations in Jammu and Kashmir said the closure of major places of worship in the Valley on Fridays has “hurt the religious sentiments” of the people.
The statement came after congregational prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid in the Nowhatta area of the summer capital Srinagar and other major mosques and shrines were not allowed on Friday.
On August 6, congregational prayers were offered on Friday in Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid after a gap of 16 months since the outbreak of the pandemic. The prayers were held in strict adherence to Covid protocols. However, it was closed for the prayers again.
The MMU, which is headed by Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in a statement, expressed strong reservation and condemned the repeated closure of all major places of worship in Kashmir.
“If by next Friday, all major places of worship are not opened for worshippers, we will hold a meeting to deliberate on this grave matter, where the future course of action will be decided and people will be informed accordingly,” the MMU said.
According to reports, major mosques and shrines which remained shut on Friday included the Jamia Masjid Srinagar, Asar Sharief Dargah Hazratbal, Khanqah-e-Maula, Astane Aliya Dastgeer sahab, Astane Aaliya Makhdoom sahab, Aastane Aliya Naqshband sahab and others.
MMU said despite all Covid-19 prevention protocols being in place and complete adherence to SOPs, authorities were not allowing people to offer Friday prayers at these key religious places.
“This is causing anguish and anger among the people as it hurts their religious sentiments and comes in the way of fulfilling their religious obligations,” it said.
“Restrictions are being imposed deliberately to prevent people from exercising their basic religious rights,” it said.
The people expressed their anguish against the authorities for what they say is a “dual policy” adopted by the administration for allowing tourists, musical events, public parks, and other institutions to operate while closing down mosques and shrines.
Last Friday, dozens of devotees who arrived at Dargah Hazratbal in Srinagar held a strong protest against the repeated closing down of the shrine.
People alleged that the administration is directly interfering with their religious activities since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
“I came to Dargah after travelling 30 kilometres but was very disappointed to see the gates locked once again,” a devote, Mohammad Ramzan, who had come from Ganderbal told TwoCircles.net.
Ramzan said the shrine has remained closed for over four months. “ We would spend the rest of our week peacefully after offering Friday prayers in Dargah but unfortunately the government has closed only religious places while the rest remains open,” he said.
Another devotee said that “Even if the administration had to close down the shrine, they should have informed the people a day before so that they won’t come.”
“Devotees from several districts like Anantnag, Sopore, Budgam and Baramulla had arrived but the gates were locked, leaving them fuming,” he said.
He said the closure of the shrine has also hit the economy of the area where dozens of street vendors would sell different household items, generating a source of livelihood for themselves.
Anjuman Auqaf Jama Masjid Srinagar said that a senior official of the administration informed the Khateeb and Imam of the Central Jama Masjid Moulana Ahmad Sayeed Naqshbandi that Friday prayers would not be allowed in the grand mosque.
In this regard, a formal notice has also been posted on the gate of the Jama Masjid by the administration, they said.
The Anjuman lamented that despite the worshippers fully adhering to Covid-19 SOPs, the prayers at the largest place of worship in Kashmir were not being allowed for the last three Fridays.
“This is extremely sad and painful for the people especially those coming for prayers at the Jama Masjid Srinagar,” the statement added.