Kashmir valley’s grand mosque of Jamia Masjid in Srinagar was shut for congregational prayers on the Muslim festival of Eid on May 3. In recent years, the mosque has witnessed frequent closure, with 2021 witnessing the highest number of restrictions on Friday prayers at the historic mosque as it remained shut for at least 47 Fridays. We explain why this grand mosque located in the heart of downtown Srinagar is frequently shut down by authorities.
Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net
SRINAGAR — The historic Jamia Masjid located in Srinagar, Jammu Kashmir Union Territory has once again become the centre of controversy as the authorities didn’t allow Eid-ul-Fitr prayers in the mosque on May 3.
Earlier on April 28, the authorities disallowed Jumat-ul-Vida as well as Shab-e-Qadr prayers at the mosque. The decision caused a massive uproar in Kashmir with people and regional political parties proclaiming that the move was deliberately taken to hurt the religious sentiments of people in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region.
A large number of people arrived to hold the special prayers on Eid at the historic mosque but returned heartbroken after finding that the mosque was locked.
Anjuman Auqaf Jamia Masjid Srinagar, which manages the affairs of the mosque, expressed resentment over the decision and claimed that the authorities imposed conditions for holding the prayers in the mosque.
“The managing body of the grand mosque was asked to conduct the prayers at 7 a.m and give the undertaking for the peaceful conduct of Eid prayers,” the Auqaf said.
On the other hand, a police official said that the “Auqaaf failed to reach any consensus among its members on the request of the administration to schedule the prayers at 7:00 am on the day of Eid Ul Fitr to handle the situation efficiently in case of any Law & Order problems and to ensure public safety and security.”
Why the restrictions?
Jamia Masjid is situated in the Nowhatta area of Srinagar city—which has witnessed frequent clashes between security forces and locals over the years. However, the area has remained calm and hardly witnessed any stone-pelting clashes post abrogation of Article 370.
The 14th-century old mosque is one of the few major places of worship in the valley. The mosque has been an important place in the history of Kashmir’s politics. Every Friday, top Hurriyat leader and Mirwaiz Kashmir Dr Umar Farooq would deliver speeches from the pulpit regarding the situation in Kashmir.
It may be noted that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been under house arrest since the abrogation of J&K’s special status.
During the civilian unrest in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016 the area witnessed deadly protests and clashes and as a result, the authorities would disallow the Friday prayers and shut the mosque. However, restrictions were tightened after a mob lynched a Deputy Superintendent (DSP) of Jammu and Kashmir Police Mohammad Ayub Pandit near Jamia Masjid on the night of Shab-e-Qadar in 2017.
According to Police, the DSP was posted at the access control of the mosque to prevent “miscreants” from vitiating the atmosphere so that people can offer prayers in peace.
As the mosque has mostly remained shut for the congregational prayers since the abrogation of Article 370, the government justifies the ban and maintains that disallowing prayers at Jamia has met the government’s objective to prevent a “law and order” situation.
Miscreants want to disturb peace: Police
A police official told TwoCircles.net that some miscreants are vying to disturb the peaceful atmosphere inside the mosque by raising anti-Indian slogans. “This won’t be tolerated at all,” the official said.
“When the anti-national slogans were raised a few weeks ago by the miscreants in the mosque, the people including the Masjid Intazimia Committee resisted it and disallowed them to do so. That means only a handful of people are doing it,” the police official said.
The authorities reopened the mosque for Friday prayers on March 4 this year after a meeting between the mosque management and a team of government officials led by Divisional Commissioner Pole Pandurang K. Pole and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Vijay Kumar.
On April 9 when pro-freedom slogans were raised inside the grand mosque by a group of people following Friday prayers, it prompted the police to act strictly. A day later, police arrested and booked 13 youth in the case, including under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA)—a law that allows the detention of a person for up to two years.
Criticising the frequent closure of the mosque, people alleged that frequent closure of the mosque indicates that the government is interfering in the free practice of their religion—especially when religious places of other faiths don’t face any such restriction.
Security of people important: Div Com
Talking to TwoCircles.net, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Pandurang K. Pole said the safety and security of the public are foremost and important for the government and they will take every measure to ensure it.
“The decisions are being taken in view of the security inputs,” Pole told TwoCircles.net.
To a query that people are alleging that their religious sentiments are hurt by not allowing the prayers, Pole said, “I respect the sentiments but ultimately the safety and security is important for the government.”
Spurt in violent incidents during Ramadan
A police official told a news agency that violent incidents have usually increased in Ramadan. As per the official, “From 2016 to 2019, eleven cases of stone-pelting incidents took place on Fridays during the month of Ramadan, that emanated from Jamia Masjid and these stand registered in Police Station Nowhatta.”
In these incidents, hundreds of civilians and twenty-seven security forces personnel got injured, he added.
The official, however, noted that the situation has been under control in the past few years except for a few incidents.
“On the eve of Eid ul Fitr in 2018 and 2019, when prayers were held in Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta—both occasions witnessed violence by the miscreants, that resulted into injuries to around 50 civilians and many security forces personnel,” he said.
The Jamia Masjid has been opened post-Covid pandemic for regular prayers which are being held smoothly, he said. However, given the “tumultuous past of violent incidents” during major congregational prayers in Jamia, he said, “Law enforcement agencies fear threat to human life, devotees and property.” The official added that controlling the “violent situation” many times results in collateral damage to innocent lives.
Auqib Javeed is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed