Kashmir Scan, May 2014
The First Family of Kashmir
By Daanish Bin Nabi
Kashmir has a number of atypical institutions. One of them is the seat of Mirwaiz—which literally means head-preacher. In contemporary Islamic world this seat of “power” does not exist nor does it exercise so much influence as in Kashmir. Mirwaiz is the title given to the religious leaders of the millions Muslims of the Valley. This “Seat of Power” is almost seven hundred years old and was recognized soon after the Muslim rule was established in Valley.
There are no authentic sources during whose rule “title Mirwaiz” was officially introduced. Though many imminent contemporary Kashmiri historian are of the view that the title was introduced during Afghan regime.
Conversely, the term Mirwaizes origin is not mentioned in Sir Walter Lawrence’s Classic, “The Valley of Kashmir” published in 1895, which is considered to be one of the authentic sources on modern Kashmir history. On other hand noted writer Zareef Ahmad Zareef claims that, “Mirwaiz ancestors travelled to Kashmir with caravan of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (he travelled to the Valley from Hamadan Iran and is commonly know in Kashmir as Amir Kabir, the famous spiritual saint) in the 13th century. Mirwaiz family ancestors settled in Tral area of Kashmir. It’s basically from Tral that Mirwaiz family first migrated to FatehKadal and then settled down in RazeKadal or RajouriKadal (both are interiors of Srinagar city) and starting preaching Islam to common people.”
There are two main Mirwaiz lineages in the valley. The better known lineage is based in Srinagar with its seat at the historic Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. The other lineage head of the Muslims is in South Kashmir. Each lineage is traditionally the preserve of a single family that traces its roots to an ancestor with Amir Kabir. Only one or two members of the family can attain this title at a time after achieving a thorough and complete knowledge in the Quran and Sunnah from a University or an Islamic institute. In early days Mirwaiz were trained by special teachers or parents until proper Islamic Institutes and universities came into being.
With its historic seat at Jamia Masjid Srinagar, the grand mosque is situated at Nohwhatta, in the middle of the old city which extends up to an area of 384 feet by 381 feet. The mosque is an important political place of the turbulent history of Kashmir. Built by Sultan Sikander in around 1400 AD, Jamia was later on extended by his son during the golden period of Zain-ul-Abidin known as Budshah. On every Friday, to offer prayers thousands of Muslims from every walk of life assemble at the grand mosque and the sermon is delivered by the Mirwaiz. This spacious mosque holds a capacity to accommodate more than 33,000 people offering prayer at a time.
The oldest and most authentic record on Mirwaiz family can be found in a book written in 1910 AD by Mohammad Din Fauq namely Tehreek-i-Kashmir. The author briefly at the end of the book writes that, “The first Mirwaiz who migrated with Shah-e-Hamdan in 13th century was commonly known as Las Bab. His actual name was Ghulam Rasool who died in 1261 AD leaving behind a son Mohammad Yahya who became Mirwaiz after the death of Mirwaiz GhulamRasool. Las Bab father was Molvi Abdul Salam and his early childhood’s teacher’s was Akhundzada Mohammad Rafique. Sheikh Arif and Sheikh Amanullah Pampori were his other two teachers who taught him Islamic jurisprudence and other Islamic teachings.
The chain of Mirwaiz family continued from this time, but no authentic record can be found of the chain of Mirwaiz till Afghan rule. As most contemporary Kashmiri’s historians are of the view that it was during Afghan rule that the post or title of Mirwaiz was officially declared. However, the incumbent Mirwaiz Umar Farooq confirms that it was in 1812-13, during the Afghan rule that the title was officially declared. The Mirwaiz of the time was Molvi Abdul Salaam. Though another noted Kashmiri historian Fida Hasnain is of the view that it was Molvi Sideeq Ullah who was officially declared Mirwaiz of Kashmir by the Afghan regime. Though some of Kashmir historians believe that it was Choudary Khushi Mohammad Naazir, Minister of State, in Pratap Singh (18 July 1848 to 23 September 1925) regime that the title Mirwaiz was actually declared.
MriduRai in her book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects also supports this view and writes, “The title of Mirwaiz had been used at least since 1901.” However, every contemporary historian have consensus that no permanent grant from the Central Afghan regime was provided to the chair of Mirwaiz. From Afghan regime to Dogra regime, there is again missing links about who succeeded after whom in the chain of Mirwaizship. A period of almost 128 years from 1752 to 1880 has no authentic source about the succession of Mirwaiz.
The dastarbandi (succession ceremony when a turban is tied on to the new incumbent of any office or position) ceremony of Molvi Ghulam Rasool (13 Sep 1855 to 30 July 1909) came about in 1880’s. It was Mirwaiz GhulamRasool who founded Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-Islamin 1899 which was a learning center for Muslims. It was a revolutionary step because till then only Aligharh Muslim University had come into being as there was no other educational institution was in entire South Asia for Muslims. Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-Islam flourished greatly till Ghulam Mohammad Baskhi time. It had five Middle, eight Primary Schools and three High Schools under its belt. Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool founded Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-Islam to counter the Biscoe School which only provided western education and only elite family was able to afford its expensive dues. That is why he was given the title of Sarsayyid-e-Kashmir.
According to Zareef Ahamed Zareef, “There were two branches of Mirwaiz dynasty. One was known as MirwaizKalan and another as MirwaizKhord. MirwaizKalan’s sect was preaching pure doctrine of Islam while MirwaizKhord’s sect was preaching traditional Islam which had mixed traditions with Buddhist and Hinduism religions. Both the branches of Mirwaiz family were paternally related.” While giving the details of the era after 1901 AD, Sir Walter Lawrence writes, “Kashmiri Muslims were increasingly divided along loyalties owed to one of the two Mirwaizes prominent in Srinagar: the Mirwaiz of the JamiaMasjid or the Mirwaiz of Khanqah-i-Mualla (also known as the Shah-i-Hamadan Shrine), more broadly representatives of the Sufi path.”
Molvi Ahmed-Ullah (1867AD to 1931AD) succeeded his second brother Molvi Ghulam Rasool in 1909 and became Mirwaiz-i-Kashmir. The Khilafat Movement from 1919 onwards began to play a role in the Muslim agitation in India. It had a huge impact in Kashmir as well. Mirwaiz Ahmad Ullah Shah supported the movement. He also tried his best to persuade the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir to support the leaders and masses in every way possible. But all his efforts were put off by brute repression and arbitrary arrest and tortures. Zareef Ahmad says, “Mirwaiz and his family supported the Khilafat movement overwhelmingly without doubt. Gandhi being a Hindu started and supported the movement, so it was also duty of every Muslim and of entire Kashmir to support the movement and Mirwaiz was the vanguard of the movement in Kashmir.”
One of the sermons mentioned in Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, Rai writes, “in 1923, on the occasion of the Juma-al-Vida, when nearly 20,000 Muslims had gathered at the JamaMasjid in Srinagar for their prayers, the Mirwaiz Molvi Ahmed-Ullah talked about the dissension caused by the Arya Samajis who, he suggested with no small degree of exaggeration, were even digging up the dead for the purpose of converting them from Islam. He urged the Muslims to unite in order to combat the ‘Arya threat’ and support the movement.”
Till 1930, Mirwaiz Ahmed-Ullah did not make it a political seat but with the political upheaval in late 1930’s and with death of Mirwaiz Ahmed-Ullah in 1930, this pious seat also became political. The dastarbandi of Molvi Attiqulla soon followed after his death in 1931 (1872AD to 1962AD). Molvi Attiqulla was the most incompetent in the lineage of Mirwaiz family. He also did not deliver the sermons on Fridays at JamiaMasjid Srinagar as he was not a good orator and had very little knowledge as well.
In 1925, a young boy from the lineage of Mirwaiz family, Mohammad Yusuf Shah (1892AD to 1968 AD) was studying at the highest Muslim educational institute namely Dar-ul-Ullom Deoband. He had gained exposure of both International politics and Islam as well. At Deoband Molvi Yusuf Shah was tutored by Anwar Shah Kashmiri the imminent scholar of Islam. It was Anwar Shah who taught him Islamic Hadith and other Islamic teaching for almost 10 years. With the teaching and national exposure Molvi Yusuf Shah was set to take the seat of Mirwaiz in Kashmir.
In 1931, Molvi Attiqulla quietly steps down from Mirwaiz seat and dastarbandi of Molvi Yusuf Shah took place on the same day. Yusuf a fierce oratory, he worked to purify the society from evils which had been mixed to Islam from other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Mirwaiz Yusuf was also the first Kashmiri who did translation and Tafseer(interpretation) of Quran in Kashmiri language. This translated and Tafseer Quran was sent to Saudi Arabia for authentication as Kashmiri language was not comprehensive. The translation was approved by Saudi scholars and was published in Saudi Arabia.
By that time, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – a young schoolmaster with a post-graduate degree in Chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University – started emerging on the political scene in Kashmir. In the beginning he was a protégé of Molvi Yusuf Shah. It was Mirwaiz Yusuf who introduced young Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah at JamiaMasjid to the masses of Kashmir. Both of them served terms in the Maharaja’s prisons. In 1932, both of them with some other youngsters established the All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference, which became the main platform for opposition to the Maharaja. Soon after, they fell apart and the Muslim Conference faced internal discord.
By the middle of 1932 there developed an active, and at times, violent, political rivalry in Muslim ranks in Srinagar between supporters of Sheikh Abdullah, the Shers or ‘Lions’ (after Sheikh Abdullah, who used to be referred to by his admirers as the ‘Lion of Kashmir’), on the one hand and the followers of Mirwaiz Mohammad Yusuf Shah, the Bakras or ‘Goats’ (after the beards sported by Islamic clergy), on the other hand.
In 1939, the Muslim Conference was formally dissolved. It was replaced by the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, which was a body concerned with social and political issues, such as land reform, than with matters of Islamic theology.
In Blazing Chinar autobiography of Sheikh Abdullah, he mentions that it was on instruction from Sir Mohammad Iqbal that Sheikh dissolved the Muslim Conference to National conference. The claim by Sheikh Sahib is strongly refuted by a Kashmiri author and aide of incumbent Mirwaiz Umar Shamas Rahman.
ShamasRahman in his book Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Ke Teen Kirdar mentions that Sir Iqbal was the main ideologue of Two-Nation theory and he would have never given such an idea to Sheikh Sahib as Muslim Conference was for the Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.
In 1941, Molvi Yusuf Shah with other revived the Muslim Conference. According to Shamas Rahman, “in 1946 Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah went to Pakistan to meet Mohammad Ali Jinnah to discuss the future of Kashmir.
When he tried to return from Pakistan he was not allowed to enter back to valley by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s agents and certain conditions were set for his return. One of conditions was to accept Kashmir’s accession with India which Mirwaiz Yusuf never accepted.” In Pak Administered Kashmir, he rose to become the third President of Azad Kashmir.
In Kashmir, from 1947 to 1961, the post of Mirwaiz was not that strong and effective. MolviAtiqullah, the uncle of Molvi Yusuf Shah was appointed as the Mirwaiz by Sheikh Abdullah. Molvi Atiqullah remained ill during maximum time. Mirwaiz Manzil (Mirwaiz House) was also locked down for entire 14 years.
According to Shamas Rahman, “this was the period when the Mirwaiz family had to face a lot of hardships to meet their daily needs. During this time JamiaMasjid was also kept under check from authorities and no Friday sermons were allowed during this period.”
After the death of Molvi Atiqullah in 1961, at the age of 18, Molvi Mohammad Farooq (14 December 1944 to 21 may 1990) was officially appointed as Naib Mirwaiz by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad—the then Prime Minister of J&K because Molvi Yusuf Shah was still alive in Azad Kashmir.In a traditional way dastarbandi of Molvi Farooq took place at JamiaMasjid. Till 1968, Molvi Mohammad Farooq acted as Naib Mirwaiz, it was only after the death of his uncle Molvi Yusuf Shah that Molvi Mohammad Farooq became Mirwaiz-i-Kashmir.
It can be said as Mughul dynasty prospered under Emperor Akbar. It was Molvi Mohammad Farooq which cemented the Mirwaiz family in Kashmir. He was the vanguard of every secessionist movement in Kashmir. All his activities came to a sudden end with his assassination at his Nigeen residence in early hours of 21st May1990’s.
Soon after Molvi Mohammad Farooq took charge as Naib Mirwaiz, he had to face his first challenge. The crisis over the theft of the Moe-i-Muqaddas made the young Mirwaiz Farooq a focal figure in Kashmir. However, the old feud between the families of Mirwaiz and the Sheikh continued. The young Mirwaiz Farooq was arrested on October 10, 1965 when he became vocal in support of plebiscite in Kashmir.
In 1963, the Mirwaiz family regained its political significance when Mirwaiz Farooq became leader of Awami Action Committee during the Moi-Muqudas agitation. He was the one who dominated Kashmir political scene during this agitation and became a rallying point for masses in the absence of a viable leadership.
When the crisis over the theft of the Moe-i-Muqaddas was put off by Indian intelligence, soon there was another chance provided to young Mirwaiz Farooq to prove his credentials when Sheikh signed Kashmir accord with Indira Gandhi. He overwhelmingly opposed the Sheikh’s accord with Mrs.Gandhi and accused the former of selling Kashmir for the sake of power.
He was once a foe of India because he believed that New Delhi was propping up the National Conference and its leaders in total disregard of his own importance as a Muslim leader but Mirwaiz Farooq in 1977 entered into an alliance with the Janata Party to negate the influence of Sheikh over masses. Soon Mirwaiz Farooq entered into an alliance with Dr. Farooq Abdullah who inherited power from his father Sheikh Abdullah. The accord, which was a brief one, came to be known as Double-Farooq Accord which ended the Sher—Bakar rivalry.
The Mirwaiz Farooq sent his son and daughter to schools run by Christian missionaries, once, when this was pointed out, he retorted: “If I sent my children to Anjuman-i-Nusrat-ul-Islam, teachers there would not guide them properly as they love and have soft corner for them. I teach Quran and other religious books to my son and daughters at home.”
Every Friday, after noon prayers, he used to deliver ‘khutba‘ (a discourse on current religious and political happenings). With the political scenario vastly changing in Kashmir and separatists parties were choked of their political space by the Indian authorities in Kashmir. The Separatists for the first and last time came under one party and named it Muslim United Front (MUF). Mirwaiz Yusuf also supported and took active part in MUF.
Mirwaiz Manzil played its role as headquarters for the MUF activists and some of the major meetings of the MUF were also held in Manzil. As there was covert and overt support for MUF from every corner of Kashmir, Indian government feared and rigged the elections of 1987 in a big way. Rigging changed the political scenario of Kashmir once and for all. Members of MUF were arrested and tortured in various army and police camps of the valley. Was Mirwaiz Farooq also arrested and tortured? Again there are different views on this point between the contemporary historians of Kashmir, while some support the argument and other oppose it.
Molvi Mohammed Farooq was assassinated on 21st May 1990 at the hands of Kashmiri’s who suspected his bona-fides. Soon after his assassination the following Friday his incumbent son Umar Farooq’s (23rd March 1973 – present)dastarbandi took place at JamiaMasjid Srinagar. Like his father Mirwaiz Umar was also 17 years of age. He follows his father’s footsteps in politics and on Kashmir issue as well. Sometimes by being neutral and soft on Kashmir issue while sometimes taking tough stand like he did during 2010 agitation on the vexed issue of Kashmir.
Dr. Sheikh Showkat writes, “Crowd receptions and preoccupation with overseas trips are not an answer to this demand. Neither Kashmiris society can afford this extravagance nor are these ventures going to add anything to the stature of Umar Farooq. Proper response on the other hand can make Mirwaiz family a decisive factory of twenty first century Kashmir politics.”
In the age of technology and social networking only time will decide is he capable of achieving anything for Kashmir or like his father would only engage in unproductive political somersaults.
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