SRINAGAR: Before the assassination of the late Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, his son Umar Farooq was a shy and quiet boy. His dream was to become a computer engineer, a choice agreed to by his father. His destiny, however, was to take the place of his father as the Mirwaiz, religious leader, of Kashmir, and as one of the main leaders of Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule.
“During my childhood I never imagined that I would become a leader, or a politician, or the Mirwaiz. I was a studious, quiet and shy boy. I had thought of becoming a computer engineer,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Kashmir Reader on the anniversary of his father’s assassination by unknown gunmen on May 21, 1990. “But the death of my father shattered our family. My mother, however, did not give up. She played the role of the father as well, providing education to all her children.”
The slain Muhammad Farooq left behind three children – two daughters and a son – and his wife. Mirwaiz was 16, the second-eldest son at that time. Two months before the death of his father, he had passed his Class 10 examinations. He was preparing for a career in computer engineering.
The slain Mirwaiz’s wife shouldered multiple responsibilities at home. She had to get her children educated, and make a decision for her son Umar: whether he would take up his father’s place, or pursue a career in engineering. Her perseverance made her younger daughter a psychiatrist, who is now married to a Kashmiri doctor in London, where they both practise. Her eldest daughter has done a master’s in English Literature. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has a doctorate in Arabic Studies.
“She allowed me to take over the responsibility of the institution of Mirwaiz, but she was initially reluctant to allow me to join politics,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said. “The unconditional love of people, their support and respect changed her will. It induced a sense of responsibility within me to take up what my father had left behind. I had no reason to put the people down. My uncles, relatives and acquaintances came forward to support us, and to guide us.”
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq gave his first public speech at his father’s funeral, a brief one. A week later, he delivered his public sermon from the pulpit of the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on a Friday. Then he never looked back. In 1993, the 19-year-old Mirwaiz became the uncontested chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of pro-resistance political parties. He began to represent Kashmir at international forums such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the United Nations, and many others.
“Today I don’t have any regrets of joining resistance politics, though it has been only pain and suffering. But nothing is worth more than being on the side of oppressed people and leading them,” he said.