A Mosque for all

Before a small misunderstanding over praying space between two communities could have escalated into a major crisis, someone came with a novel solution. Four decades later both Shias and Sunnis use the mosque for prayers in tandem, reports Aabid Hussain

In 1974, a small misunderstand over a piece of land in Magam village of Budgam resulted in first major confrontations between Shias and Sunnis.

“It soon turned into a full-fledged war like situation,” remembers Ali Mohammad Mir, the caretaker of the Jamia Masjid in Magam.

The misunderstanding started when Sunnis planned to construct a mosque on a piece of land near Hussain Park in Magam. This led to verbal dual between people from both the communities. “During the heated argument someone used abusive language and it changed everything,” recalls Mir, who was 26 then.

Soon neighbouring villages too became part of the crisis and what started from Magam was now a pan Kashmir problem.

It was only after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Ayatullah Aga Syed Yousuf, then head Anjuman-e-Sharie Shian, visited both the communities, the tempers cooled.

Then with the consensus of both the community members a big Jamia Masjid was constructed by Shias at the spot. It was named Khomeni mosque.

“During those days, even a normal fight over some petty issue would turn communal,” recalls Mir. “Even simple land disputes would take ugly turn and become communal in nature.”

Haji Gulam Hassaan Sofi, a shopkeeper outside the Jamia Masjid who is in his early seventies, recalls there was a small mosque near the disputed spot in 70s.

“Around six hundred men from both the communities were jailed during the crisis,” recalls Sofi. “I couldn’t visit my house for three months because of the tensions in Budgam.”

Sofi recalls how a large number of men would spend nights in paddy fields fearing raids by the police.

Despite Sheikh Abdullah and Aga Syed Yousuf’s visit a large number of grievances still remained unresolved between the two communities. “Every day Shais and Sunnis would fight each other on one pretext or another,” said Sofi.

Then in 1982, a Jamia Masjid was constructed by Shias on the spot where a small mosque stood. This Jamia became epicenter of communal harmony as both the communities started praying in the mosque. Also a few shops were constructed by Idara Jamia Masjid management. This became Jamai’s major source of income.  “After Ayatullah Khomeni sent a team to Jamia in Budgam Shias started offering congregational prayers,” recalls Mir.

Soon the Jamia at Magam became a meeting point for both Shias and Sunnis. “The prayers are offered first by Shias and then Sunnis,” said Mir.  “If someone misses a prayer he joins the next one. There is no animosity between the two communities now as used to be once,” claims Mir.

The Jamia is abuzz with activity especially during Ramdhan when members from both the communities visit it for prayers.

“This mosque is a symbol of Shia-Sunni unity,” said Mir.

Mohammad Yousuf, who lives in Kongadara in Pattan, who sells bedding items outside the mosque said he could feel change in attitude since people started to pray together. “Now we have less fights amongst Shias and Sunnis,” said Yousuf. “Since we follow one Quran and one Prophet, why is there so much of tension.”

Like most people who visit Jamai for prayers on regular basis, Yousuf too was skeptic at first about sharing space with the other community. “I thought Shias do not follow sunna like us, but I was wrong,” said Yousuf. “This mosque has given me opportunity to interact with them on a regular basis. It helps us to understand each other.”

The same was the case with Shias when it comes to Sunnis, said Mir.

In 1987, a small mosque named Khomaini Masjid was built some distance away from the Jamai. This space too was used by both the communities for prayers. “During Ramadan people from both communities recite Quran and rest in the mosque,” said Mir.

Abdul Rashid, a resident of Goam-Ahmadpora, who leads prayers for Sunnis since last three years, says praying together has helped him clear a number of myths about Shias. “I was always confused about why Shias use Sajdigah,” said Rashid. “However, once we started meeting regularly things became clear.”

Rashid feels such multi-community mosques should be everywhere as it helps people to come closer. “We can now resolve our grievances while sitting inside the mosque,” said Rashid.

Once the idea of Jamai Masjid Magam proved to be successful, the management constructed another such mosque in the main market area.

The Jamia, which is located on the Gulmarg-Magam road, is the result of efforts from both community members. “Once the mosque was built people started visiting each other’s families,” said Mir. “We now socialize more often. We visit each other both in pain and happiness.”

This is the only mosque in Kashmir where women take part in the prayers. “There is a partition made of cloth that separates men and women prayer area,” said Junaid Karaar, a local who is studying at Kashmir University.

Because of this inter-faith Jamia the residents of Magam are respected throughout, said Junaid. “When people come to know that I am from Magam, they treat me differently,” said Junaid.

According to Mir, since the construction of Jamia, both the communities have come closer. “We both are dependent of each other, we cannot remain isolated from each other,” feels Mir.

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