Like every year since the nineties, the state government refused to allow the Muharram procession and imposed curfew in downtown Srinagar to foil any such attempt. The barbed wires were strung across the major road intersections and the various entry and the exit points in the city sealed to prevent assembly of the people. Fewer times, however, the people were able to carry out the small processions despite the stringent security restrictions. And it was heartening to see Shias and Sunnis participating and chant the slogans like ‘Shia-Sunni Bhai Bhai’. It once again attested to the sectarian harmony that Kashmir has largely been witness to as against the deepening social discord in wide swathes of the Muslim world, including in our immediate neighbourhood including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only last week, around fourteen people were killed in an attack on a shrine in the Afghan capital, Kabul as Shia Muslims prepared for a religious day of mourning. A crowd had gathered at the Karte Sakhi shrine for Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
True, Kashmir has not been entirely innocent of sectarian discord but the clashes of this nature have for the most part been a rare phenomenon. Two years ago some sporadic incidents of group clashes broke out in downtown city just before Muharram procession. And the incidents like these and the fear of these processions turning into Azadi rallies have made it all the more easy for the government to ban the Ashura activities in the city.
But through it all, what is important is that the sectarian harmony in Kashmir has by and large withstood the tensions that have strained the sectarian harmony in other parts of the world. Iraq and Syria have witnessed the worst sectarian bloodletting in recent years. Though Iraq is far from stable, Syria has become a festering wound in the world of Islam. The continuing war in the country has only deepened the Shia-Sunni rupture, with profound implications for the religious harmony in the Islamic world. Similarly, the war in Yemen and the involvement of Saudi Arabia in it has further complicated the matters. True, the ongoing implosion of the large swathes of Muslim world is not essentially of sectarian nature, but the creeping sectarianism, much of it politically motivated has changed the nature of the conflict. And if at all the Muslim world has to come to grips with its current turmoil, the sectarian discord is a factor, it can no longer ignore.
Ashura is a sacred occasion which unites Muslims across their sectarian affiliations. The martyrdom of Imam Hussain and its profound religious significance for every Muslim provides a common ground where differences on some theological issues melt away. What should be a matter of pride for the Muslims in Kashmir is that even the violent conflict over the past 27 years hasn’t divided us – albeit barring some very minor exceptions. And the slogans of harmony in downtown city only further strengthens our belief in the collective wisdom of our people.
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