As a nation, Kashmiris have been very flexible with religious beliefs. In the past two millennia, its inhabitants have embraced Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. The transition from one faith to another has not been smooth and bitterness of these convulsive processes still persists in various forms. The fact that we have changed religions so often once made a man joke that a people who can dispense with their belief so often cannot be trusted.
Beyond the cliché that Islam was a major transformative force, we have the fact that Kashmiri Muslims, like their co-religionists in Islamic lands across the globe, got divided into various sects over a period of time. In fact, some of them converted to Christianity too. I am not aware of conversions to other religions.
Thus we have Hannafis who, like the Ahl-e-Hadees or Salafis, consider shrines worship as shirk. Then we have Hannafis who worship shrines and fancy themselves as Sufis, but are neither if we go by the codes of these denominations. We have Barelvis who consider the Ahl- e-Hadees as kafirs, and vice versa. We have Shias and Ahmadis.
A dispassionate look at the history of the emergence of these sects and sub-sects will show that one group has often dealt with the other through violence.
In what have come to be known as taaraajs, Shias of Kashmir were persecuted through plunder of their habitations and places of worship across several centuries. Those who inflicted the atrocities were often the followers of the Sunni Hannafi/Barelvi/Sufi thought. Which begs the question: is the Hannafi Sunni/Sufi tradition an inherently intolerant belief? Many a Sufi will jump to answer this question and offer elaborate, nuanced responses.
According to an estimate, there are more than 60,000 Ahmadis in Kashmir. It is by now a well-known fact that they have been declared non-Muslims in Pakistan. What is the attitude of the majority Sunni Hannafi/Sufi population towards this tiny minority in Kashmir? From my own personal experience, they have largely been left alone (barring the killing of a prominent Ahmadi businessman in Batamaloo, Srinagar several years ago). They have been propagating their belief on a low-key basis and because of their achievements – they are literate, ‘progressive’ and have made a name in several professional fields – they don’t face the hostility they are used to in Pakistan.
But in private, a majority of the people considered them as pariahs and kafirs. An Ahmadi has to struggle to find a wife/husband. In most cases, the tormentors are again Sunni Hannafi/Sufi followers. Show me a Naqshbandi/Hamadani/Qadri who is married to an Ahmadi, I will show you what a miracle looks like.
However, the Sufi-Ahl-e-Hadees relationship is a different ball game altogether. An Ahl-e-Hadees Wahabi/Salafi/Takefeeri/Kota (these labels are often pasted in a half-literate stupor on to a particular group) is by definition ultra-conservative while a Sufi who considers Ahmadi/Shia a non-Muslim is moderate.
The roots of the clash between Ahl-e-Hadees and the loosely defined Sufis go back to the early history of Islam. But in accordance with the tropes in vogue, which can earn you instant media and academic assignments, it is a recent phenomenon.
Thus the Ahl-e-Hadees movement, or the Jama’at-e-Islami surge, saw its heyday long before the freedom struggle started in Kashmir. The kangri battles over whether one has to offer eight or twenty raka’ats of taraweeh were raging much before youth picked up guns against Indian rule. But according to some of our own neo-cons, this movement is fed by Saudi petro dollars and needs to be countered even if you have to install people like Farooq Renzu on your heads. These neo-cons, blinded by the reason of their moderation, refuse to take a walk across the city, which would have provided them insight into how this movement has grown.
I am not a supporter of this movement. It is a movement that is as intolerant toward what it considers not to be Islam as a Sufi Kashmiri is intolerant toward a Shia who has a different belief about khilafa. But an understanding that will not lead to sharpening of differences will not come from feather-brained attacks on one or the other group.
Knowing something requires shedding off bias. One has every right to counter or reject something. But does that rejection have to come from ignorance and peddling of lies? It will come as a shock to many moderate young ‘Sufis’ to learn that homes of several Ahl-e-Hadees followers were looted the way homes of Shias used to be looted in the past. By whom? By the so-called moderate Sufis.
The growth of an ideology/sect/religious order often comes at a cost – the foremost being societal discord. But even in the so-called enlightened societies, such divisions are inevitable. Thus a boy who is drawn to Qadyaniyat is sundered from his father who is a Sufi/Wahabi on one plane. But thousands of examples in Kashmir prove that the Kashmiri society has weathered these divisions.
We will help this society a lot if we stop peddling lies.