A woman worshipper waited outside the southern gate of Kashmir’s largest Masjid as she looked at the shut door through the wrought-metallic railing. She looked haplessly with eyes swollen in tears before returning back.
SRINAGAR ‚ÄĒ A women worshipper waited outside the southern gate of the Srinagar‚Äôs Jamia Masjid on Friday as she looked at the shut door through the wrought-metallic railing. She looked haplessly with eyes swollen in tears before returning back.
She was not alone, many devotees like her visit the valley‚Äôs central mosque every Friday despite knowing that the authorities have shut it for over two years now. They still come to look at the mosque, its walls, and Minars with an unrelenting devotion.
The congregational Friday prayers at Kashmir‚Äôs historic mosque have been disallowed for 156 Fridays in the last six years. Today, the mosque again remained out of bounds for the worshippers while scores of them had assembled outside the mosque hoping that it would be open for congregational prayers.
‚ÄúI keep coming to the mosque every Friday hoping against hope that the prayers would be allowed. But every time, I return home hopeless,‚ÄĚ the woman worshipper told Mountain Ink.
In 2016, Kashmir erupted against the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and the valley shut down on the calls of ‚ÄúJoint Resistance Leadership‚ÄĚ led by Syed Ali Geelani, Kashmir‚Äôs head priest Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik, for three months. The government led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the People‚Äôs Democratic Party shut the grand old mosque for 30 Fridays, 18 among them consecutively.
After July 8, 2016, when Burhan Wani was killed, Jamia Masjid saw the longest siege since 1819. The mosque remained under continuous siege for 18 consecutive weeks, the longest since Sikhs ruled Kashmir.
Jamia Masjid, which was built by Sultan Sikandar, father of Zainul Aabideen, popularly known as Budshah, between 1389-1420 has since been an epicentre for religious and political life in Srinagar. The masjid has remained under siege by the government forces many times in the last six years, denying the worshippers the right to religious freedom, Muhammad Shafi Bhat a resident of Gojwara told Mountain Ink.
In the year 2017, the mosque remained shut for at least 18 Fridays, according to the data compiled by the Jamia Auqaf.
The same year, worshipers were denied permission to pray on the occasion of Juma-tul-Vida, the last Friday of Ramadhan, for the first time in Jamia Masjid’s recent history.
‚ÄúFor the first time in living memory #JamaMasjid locked down and people barred from offering Juma-tul-Vida prayers by the authorities!‚ÄĚ Mirwaiz had tweeted, then.
In the years 2018 and 2019, the grand mosque was shut for 16 Fridays. In 2019, the mosque remained shut for 26 Fridays.
According to an Auqaf member, no Friday prayers were allowed in the mosque after August 5, 2019, when the government of India unilaterally abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The curbs continued till December 20, 2019.
In 2020, the congregational prayers were denied at the historic Jamia Masjid for 21 Fridays with authorities claiming the covid-19 protocols as the reason. But according to the local residents, the covid was used as a cover to shut the masjid.
Abdul Gani, a resident of Lal Bazar, who has been visiting Jamia Masjid every Friday hoping that the mosque will be open, said that while the government kept allowing gatherings at other places, it deliberately shut the Jamia Masjid. ‚ÄúIf they allow congregational prayers at Hazratbal and other places, why is Jamia Masjid singled out?‚ÄĚ he asked.
Appealing to the authorities to lift the curbs around the mosque and allow the congregations, many worshippers who had assembled outside the mosque today, said that denying prayers at the mosque is a violation of basic human rights. ‚ÄúThe Jamia is a spiritual centre. People from across the valley have been thronging the masjid to offer prayers but return disappointed every Friday,‚ÄĚ they said.
While the congregational prayers were allowed a couple of times inside the mosque in 2021, the authorities again shut the mosque citing covid protocols. So far the mosque has remained out of bounds for the worshippers for 45 Fridays this year. The worshippers said that the authorities are using covid as a shield to deny religious freedom to the people of Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Anjuman Auqaf Jamia masjid has been repeatedly issuing statements urging the authorities to lift curbs around the grand old mosque.
On December 17, last Friday, the Anjuman Auqaf expressed ‚Äúdeep regret‚ÄĚ over the continuous closure of the historic Jamia Masjid, the spiritual centre and the largest place of worship of Jammu and Kashmir, for the 19th consecutive Friday.
Condemning ‚Äúthis oppressive move‚ÄĚ, the Anjuman Auqaf in a statement said that like previous Fridays, the authorities and police once again today morning stopped the Auqaf employees from opening the doors of the grand mosque. ‚ÄúAs a result, the people having come from parts of the city as well as remote areas were deprived of praying Friday prayers at the Jama Masjid, thereby preventing them from performing their religious obligations and hurting their religious sentiments.‚ÄĚ
The Anjuman said that on December 13, 2021, the leading religious, social, and civil society organisations of Kashmir, from the platform of Jammu and Kashmir Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema, unanimously appealed for reopening the Jamia Masjid for Friday prayers.
Muhammad Raafi is a desk editor at the Mountain Ink. In about eight years of his career, he has reported for FT, Vice News, Al Jazeera English, TRT World, New Frame, The Wire and Article-14 among others.