Published On: Mon, Sep 5th, 2016

Mehbooba’s misplaced outburst against clergy


Mehbooba Mufti’s angry outburst against the clerics for raising issues like Article 370 in their sermons and the reaction from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has pitted the pulpit against the State. Mehbooba clearly wants the preachers to steer clear of controversial political issues, which have a direct bearing on the smooth functioning of her government. With BJP in the coalition, every political issue is bound to have religious undertones in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. As a result, the sermons laden with references to attempts of right-wing RSS to change the demography of J&K through PDP-BJP coalition do not augur well for Mehbooba.

Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba Mufti

In this part of the world, politics evokes unparalleled emotions- from cynicism to outright hatred. Since the decisions and conduct of politicians have a strong bearing on the lives of people, it’s unreasonable to expect religious preachers to keep silent on political issues. After all, they cannot be oblivious to the situation on ground, which is more or less dictated by politics of the mainstream.

Did Mehbboba’s statement imply that imams and khateebs should abandon their political convictions or was it just aimed to point out the selective targeting of her government? Whatever the case may be, there was no reason for the chief minister to react in the way she did. If she thinks that it’s only the prerogative of the MLAs sitting in the Legislative Assembly to debate over Article 370 and civilian killings, her argument is fallacious. In fact, it’s the failure of the “elected representatives” to safeguard the political rights of the people that has prompted the clergy to speak against them from the pulpit.

As far as Mirwaiz’s sermons are concerned, they need to be seen in the context of him being the head priest of the valley and the chairman of his faction of Hurriyat Conference at the same time. The dual role envisages some of the politics getting into his Friday sermons and some part of the religious sermonizing reflecting in his political avatar.

Even otherwise, it’s not possible to distance the pulpit from the politics outside the mosque. The religious faith cannot be divorced from public life. It goes without saying that whatever the preachers say inside the mosque should be based on truth and not one’s political biases. Raising political issues should not be for the sake of sermonizing. It should stem from concern for public good and reflect the ground reality. Preachers should not aim to whip up emotions when it can lead to violence, but rather generate an informed debate on serious issues. Without letting issues of greater import being drowned in trivial political controversies, the imams can play a responsible role in the society. The legislature is known for the mudslinging matches between the parties with each one trying to outdo the other in scoring political points. Such malicious intentions or behaviour cannot be even remotely associated with the pulpit.

In her June 22 statement in the Assembly, the chief minister had remarked that the clerics raise the issue of the Article 370 being in danger without knowing anything about it and that they should rather raise environmental issues in their sermons. “What is Article 370? The Article will be relevant only when our rivers, mountains and forest will remain. I want to ask these people who sermon from pulpits on Fridays, have you ever wondered what has happened to Dal Lake. Have you ever mentioned this in your sermon,” she asked. The fact remains that even if the preachers do talk about environmental degradation, a good part of their sermons would be directed against the failure of the government in this regard.  In other words, the criticism of government is inevitable whether the sermon is about political issues or social concerns.  In fact, the real concern is whether the imams raise such issues at all in their sermons.

There has been an exponential increase in the number of mosques in Kashmir over the years and their role has remained, more or less, limited to prayers. As a result, we have not seen the Masjid emerge as true centres of reformation to combat the challenges facing the Muslims of Kashmir. Imams have to act as change agents, bringing political and social reforms. Back to Mehbooba’s statement, it should serve as a starting point for the debate on the role and jurisdiction of the pulpit and the insecurity of the politicians.


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Suhail Ahmad

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