Deviating Clergy – A challenge

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Involvement of a number of members from Muslim clergy in passion crimes across Kashmir has brought the highly respected role in Muslim society to a disrepute. P A Mushtaq talks to intellectuals, academicians, and clergy to understand the disturbing trend.

Arrested-MolvesOn October 28, ‘faith-healer’ Manzoor Ahmed Sheikh, a resident of south Kashmir’s Shopian district, was arrested by the police for allegedly kidnapping and raping a girl on the pretext of addressing her problems. The news failed to make it to the big headlines next day in newspapers. The reaction to the incident on the streets was nothing but a muted one.

Repeated involvement of Kashmir’s clergymen and figures donning religions mantle in crimes like murder, molestation, kidnappings and elopements may have benumbed public response it deserves but the indifference to such incidents points towards the larger malice. Is Kashmir’s century-old role model of morality, discipline and devotion turning wayward? What could be the possible reason and remedy to safeguard the institution of priesthood very central to Kashmir’s religious moorings?

The police have its own theory about the increasing rate of crime among the clergymen. It sees migration of people from the far-flung areas into the cities with modern idea of life and relationships as one reason.

“There are a number of cases of murder and elopement, of late, where imams were found responsible. Most imams are not from the city localities. Some would come from remote villages with little exposure. Once exposed to the city life, they fall prey to the temptations,” said senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Bukhari.

The SSP cited the example of Abdul Gani Naik, a resident of Chimmer, Kulgam, an imam at the Masjid Abu-Turab at Band Qamarwari. Naik, according to the police, killed Shah Nawaz Ahmad Dar, a resident of Qamarwari, by pushing him into river Jhelum. The police see the case sensationally dramatic and meticulously planned. The crime, the police concluded, was a passion crime, very rare in Kashmir where priests are looked up to as fatherly figures with great sense of reverence.

“Naik used to visit the house of the in-laws of the victim a number of times a day. The call details of the Moulvi and the wife of the deceased were analyzed. It was noticed he had been in constant touch with the wife of the deceased at the odd hours of the night for a long time,” said SSP Bukhari.

The Moulvi, according to the police, confessed to the crime and admitted that he developed illicit relation with the wife of the victim. “The victim was seen as a hindrance in their relation. He plotted against him,” said the police officer.

On September 29, Dar visited the room of the Moulvi after the Isha prayers and narrated before him the bitter relation between him and his wife.

“The Moulvi advised the deceased to recite some versus of Quran on a flowing river where nobody can see him and provided a beaded chain with directions to recite these verses of Quran 313 times. The moment Dar started reciting the verses on the Cement Bridge, the Moulvi from the behind pushed him into river Jehlum,” said the police report.

The case sent shock waves among the thinking class of the valley. “In our upcoming religious programmes, we will sensitise people on the character of an imam. Ideally, an imam should be a role model and a very serious person. He has to be a respectable person of society,” said JeI spokesman Zahid Ali.

The Jamaat has asked people to verify antecedents and character of an imam before asking him to lead prayers in a mosque.

“It is necessary to know the background and social conduct of a person before having him in the mosque,” said Ali.

Academicians see roots of the malice in failure to modernise our seminaries, which, of late, produces a number of eligible imams for the mosques.

“Madrasa culture is not good the way it is practised. The type of madrassas we have is not in sync with traditional Islamic concepts,” said Professor Sheikh Showkat, who teaches at Central University Kashmir’s Law Department.

Showkat questioned the way seminary culture is evolving in the valley. “Who all admits themselves at seminaries need to be researched. Apparently, the parents forcefully push wards in seminaries without evaluating his mental make-up. So they are not there by choice,” said Showkat.

The academician has a solution to the problem. “There is a need to modernise the seminaries. At every seminary, the Jammu and Kashmir government should come up with ITIs next to it. Two, religious educations should be a specialised programmes. Any person ideally should opt for religious studies like other professional courses after Class 12 or graduation,” said Showkat.

Molves-in-CustodyThere is growing cry among thinkers in Kashmir to bring an end to salaried imamat in the valley. “We have to provide vocational training to people. The salaried imamat should stop,” opined Showkat.

It was in late 1970s that Kashmir saw its first seminary in the shape of Darul Aloom Rahimiya in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

“Islamic seminaries in the continent were in reaction to the Western education. In the process of countering Western system of education, it imbibes more and regimented itself,” said Showkat.

Traditionally, prayers at the Valley mosques would be led by a local respectable person only. Of late, with the mushrooming of Darul Alooms (seminaries), most imams come from there.

“Three decades ago, only those from Peer or Syed dynasties would lead prayers in a mosque. Thereafter, many non-Peer and non-Syed dynasties with a hold on religion and Islamic jurisprudence would lead the prayers. There was no tradition of imams being supplied from seminaries as most would be from the locality itself. People would only allow a person to lead prayers once he has earned the community’s respect,” said Zahid G Muhammad, well-known columnist and author of ‘My city, My dreamland’.

An imam, who refused to be named, too blamed the system. “After devoting 10 years in a seminary, what else can one do? Our degrees should make us eligible for normal jobs. There is need to have a syllabus which lends credentials to our degrees and make us productive,” he said.

Professor Sheikh Showkat cites the examples of imams like Abu Haneefa and Syed Ali Hamdani to take cue from. “Both were successful businessmen. Hamdani reshaped the state’s economy besides being an imam,” he added.

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