By Ismat Ara
SRINAGAR — Despite every second person advising me against visiting Jamia Masjid on a Friday for Jumma prayers, I decided to take a plunge and offer namaz in Srinagar’s iconic Grand Mosque last week. Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar is a majestic mosque unfortunately not known as much for its grandeur as the stone pelting outside Kashmir.
One often reads about the clashes between young men and the armed police in the newspapers. Here in the sprawling square outside the 16th century mosque youngsters pelt armed forces with stones resulting in ding dong battlers minutes after devout come out of the mosque after weekly prayers. With this weekly ritual becoming a national headline in news hungry media an otherwise a must see tourist attraction has become a no go area for tourists.
As much as I was scared, I was also excited to hear the sermon of the youthful Mirwaiz to the multitude of worshippers in this unique architectural marvel. Currently, Umar Farooq is the head priest or the Mirwaiz of Kashmir and custodian of the Jamia Masjid.
Author at Jamia Masjid
After reaching Nowhatta at about 11:30 am, I thought of asking some of the locals about whether or not it is safe to offer namaz there. Almost every person was uncomfortable with the idea and suggested I avoid it, if possible. I sat down at a shop for lemon tea, and got into a conversation about the same with the shopkeeper who told me that he goes to the other mosque to offer Friday namaz, despite the Jamia Masjid just being adjacent to the shop. He suggested I quickly offer “Farz”, the mandatory part of the namaz and come out of the mosque without offering sunnah. Even though I told him okay, in my heart I didn’t budge. I was told the shops in the area would be closed, there would be a lot of security men and stone-pelting could begin at any time and that the environment would be unusually charged.
It was not that I wanted to be thrilled- but I saw it as an essential thing to do as a journalist in a conflicted space.
So I entered the mosque at 12 noon, and the Friday prayer was to happen at about 2 pm. I had two silent hours inside a mosque with nothing to do. One would think that nobody else would be naïve enough to come two hours before but to my pleasant surprise there were already a large number of women worshippers supplicating with their hands folded, some in tears.
It was a photo moment and I took out my phone at once but was chided by an elderly woman in Kashmiri asking me to keep it inside. One woman came to me and fixed my dupatta, another came and asked me to join the Jama’at just in time for the Friday namaz. This is to say- nothing out of the ordinary was happening around me.
The sermon of Mirwaiz had already started when I reached. Since it was in Kashmiri, all I could do was sit and appreciate his bold voice and the charged environment he had created, echoing with “Ameen” after every line. I had brought along two trusted friends with me to the mosque, one of whom was Kashmiri, and I made a pact with him to explain to me his speech verbatim later on. About 200 women came to offer the Friday namaz, and I offered the full prayer with them.
After namaz, I came out of the mosque and immediately called my mother to inform her about my safety, as she had demanded after I insisted I come here for namaz.
Then I asked my friend about Mirwaiz’s sermon. What he told me was at best unexpectedly disappointing and contrary to my presumptions. All Mirwaiz had done was talk about growing drug and liquor abuse in Kashmir Valley among the Kashmiri youth. There was no stone-pelting that day.
Contrary to my expectations- he didn’t talk about ‘Azadi’, or what we usually refer to as the ‘Kashmir issue’. The speech actually highlighted the deeper problems of Kashmir – and the social and political aspects of working out a solution for it.
Maybe I was there on a dull day. Maybe it wasn’t provocative in nature only on that particular day. In any case, it’s high time we see Kashmir as something more than stone-pelting and Azadi issue.