Islam in Contemporary Kashmir

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AS the world becomes apprehensive about the nature, direction and trajectory of Islam and as political Islam has been gradually replaced by strident militancy across the Muslim world- which has led to war within and without-, Kashmir , despite being a conflict zone, perhaps offers a template of /for co-existence and tolerance.  This assertion may sound counterintuitive to some. The criticism that would be launched would point out to the “exodus” of Kashmiri Pandits and the ostensible religiosity of many young Kashmiris to rubbish my claim. I would, however, maintain that Islam in Kashmir or Islam in contemporary Kashmir remains wedded to the ethos of tolerance and co-existence-despite militancy and insurgency. My claim would not be in the nature of truculent denial or mere latching onto a belief that I hold. It would be intuitive as well as empirical and it would also be inferential. The inferences that I would draw would be predicated on a brief comparison of conditions that obtain in many parts of the Muslim world.
 First, I will make a conceptual point. A society’s consciousness, ethical, moral and social compass is largely determined by the super and substructure of ideas which become institutionalized over years or even centuries. The sub and super structure of Kashmiri consciousness and moral compass is determined by the character and nature of Sufi Islam.(  This is not to imply here that Sufi Islam is a different Islam; the prefix Sufi is meant to connote the very spiritual aspect of Islam). By its very nature, Sufism, by seeking esoteric knowledge and “nearness” to the Ultimate Divine has a more expansive view of everything. Of course, it is only the initiated few than can reach this stage but its essence, in a different combination and permutation, reaches others too. The Sufi Masters who brought Islam to Kashmir thereby revolutionizing the socio- economic, spiritual and mental landscape of Kashmiris were the initiated ones and the “laity” , so to speak, became enthusiastic and willing adherents. Many centuries have elapsed since the arrival of Sufi Master’s in Kashmir but they have left an indelible imprimatur on the Kashmiri consciousness and psycho-emotional landscape. This can neither be wished nor washed away – no matter the contextual conditions. Yes: it may become diluted but is unlikely to disappear.  The intense phase of insurgency and its impact on peoples’ consciousness and its impact on Kashmiris’  sensibility may constitute an example here. The violence – structural and other forms- induced by the conditions obtaining in Kashmir- should have brutalized Kashmiris but it has not. Yes: we have become smug, complacent , insensitive and even callous but surely not brutal.
First, I will make a conceptual point. A society’s consciousness, ethical, moral and social compass is largely determined by the super and substructure of ideas which become institutionalized over years or even centuries. The sub and super structure of Kashmiri consciousness and moral compass is determined by the character and nature of Sufi Islam.(  This is not to imply here that Sufi Islam is a different Islam; the prefix Sufi is meant to connote the very spiritual aspect of Islam). By its very nature, Sufism, by seeking esoteric knowledge and “nearness” to the Ultimate Divine has a more expansive view of everything. Of course, it is only the initiated few than can reach this stage but its essence, in a different combination and permutation, reaches others too. The Sufi Masters who brought Islam to Kashmir thereby revolutionizing the socio- economic, spiritual and mental landscape of Kashmiris were the initiated ones and the “laity” , so to speak, became enthusiastic and willing adherents. Many centuries have elapsed since the arrival of Sufi Master’s in Kashmir but they have left an indelible imprimatur on the Kashmiri consciousness and psycho-emotional landscape. This can neither be wished nor washed away – no matter the contextual conditions. Yes: it may become diluted but is unlikely to disappear.  The intense phase of insurgency and its impact on peoples’ consciousness and its impact on Kashmiris’  sensibility may constitute an example here. The violence – structural and other forms- induced by the conditions obtaining in Kashmir- should have brutalized Kashmiris but it has not. Yes: we have become smug, complacent , insensitive and even callous but surely not brutal.
By and large, after discounting aberrant instances of violent crime, for example, Kashmiris still recoil at violent crime. The nature of crime in Kashmir is of a petty nature: social, economic, and cultural reasons preclude petty crime from morphing into uglier and more deadly forms.  A Kashmiri might sneer at a fellow Kashmiri during/in a fit of road rage, call him names or even become foul mouthed, but rarely this devolves into an ugly , violent incident.( At worst, mild fisticuffs might be employed). By and large, most Kashmiris would recoil at the sight of an animal trampled upon by a vehicle). Most Kashmiris would offer water or even food to a complete stranger. All this is not to gloss over our real and existing problems and issues- self absorption, self centred materialism and at times, petty behaviour. These maladies are alarming   and need urgent redressal and remedy but a fundamental change in consciousness may not be inferred from these.
There is another factual to consider. Across the length and breadth of the Middle East, sectarian fault lines have come out in the open in a violent idiom and manifestation. The major faultiness- the Shia- Sunni divide- now has the backings of states like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Arguments of differences in opinion are now increasingly arbitered by violence in the region. But , while there are sects in Kashmir, violence is not employed to resolve differences. What, the question is, explains this?
The answer is obvious. It is the Sufi bred consciousness and ethical plus moral compass that acts as a major factor in preventing arguments or difference of opinion from turning violent.  And this Sufi consciousness and the orientation emanating from it is like to endure despite the various stresses and strains.  All this then goes onto to suggest if not prove that Islam is neither inherently violent nor it is a bleak religion which privileges the later over the now. Islam or the spirit of Islam as I understand it is struggle to go beyond time and space to reorient oneself with the Divine. The disciplines of Islam- the practical , prosaic, spiritual and the corporeal- all appear to be aimed to reorienting the Self to the Divine. Given that the Divine is pure, perfect and sublime, “nearness” to the Divine can only be a cathartic, spiritually uplifting and enlightening experience. In the schemata, Unity becomes  the centre piece of the spiritual experience.  Given that this is the essence of Sufism, gratuitous violence other than against injustice would be naturally foresworn.
If this is the ultimate in the Sufi experience or quest, then it is highly unlikely that the Kashmiri consciousness and ethical and moral compass will evolve into something else. This then is something to celebrate and cherish. Yet while Kashmiris’ Sufi ethos will endure and we will remain wedded to it, there is no scope or room for complacency or smugness.  We, Kashmiris, have to and we must hold the values, the world view and orientation accruing from our religion defined by a Sufi ingress as cardinal and dear. We don’t have to renounce the world but we have to balance the spiritual and the temporal(worldly) in a way that we have equilibrium and equipoise in our lives. This is what Islam enjoins and suggests. Let’s introspect and think deep, expunge negative influences from ourselves and get re-inspired by the teachings and practices of Sufi masters. It is here that redemption  and even power lies.

 

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