Money collected from different sources including tax on liquor sales is used to fund state’s ambitious plan of renovation and repair of religious places for tourism boost. Syed Asma talks to Muslim clerics and scholars to understand the religious validity of the policy
It was the increasing influence – both monetary and non-monetary – of state and centre government, and Indian army in maintaining, repairing, rebuilding and renovating Muslim places of worships that prompted religious scholars to protest against what they called pumping of haraam or liquor money into faith. The debate, that started as a whisper camping initially turned into a full-fledged agitations when peacenik cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq summoned a meeting of scholars cutting across ideologies and school of thoughts to counter what he saw as direct interference in matters related to faith of the majority community in conflict torn Kashmir.
At the end of the meeting both Shia and Sunni clerics agreed unanimously to counter the influence of Indian army in the matters of faith. The matter was then brought to grand mufti’s notice who termed the interference “against the tenants of Islam”.
But by then Indian army, under its operation Sadhbhawna – a ‘goodwill exercise’ started to ‘win hearts and minds’ of the conflict torn populations of Kashmir, has already spent over 50 lakh rupees on renovation of as many as 11 shrines. The most talked about project undertaken by Indian army was shrine of Ayatullah Aga Syed Mehdi in Budgam district which cost them rupees 18 lakh. The renovated shrine was thrown open for public by state’s governor SK Sinha in May 2007.
“There should not be any doubt in any person’s mind regarding such projects. Our religion has given us clear cut instruction that not even a single penny that comes from liquor or any such haraam source can be used for any religious structure. It is totally unacceptable,” said a senior cleric who wished not to be named.
In last fourteen years (from 1998 to 2012) Indian army has spent around rupees 450 crore in Kashmir under operation Sadbhavna, which includes money spent on renovation of shrines and locals places of worships.
“These operations are aimed at portraying the soft face of Indian army and to give healing touch to the people of Kashmir who have suffered during conflict,” says Zareef Ahmed Zareef, a historian, “GOI wants to tell the world, that look we are renovating Muslim shrines and mosques thus we are secular.”
In last 25 years of conflict GOI has tried every possible way to reach out to the people of Kashmir, but failed. Helping renovate and rebuild Shrines and mosques was part of that ‘reach out’ plan that sort of clicked had not Mirwaiz raised the alarm.
“No we cannot use this money on mosques and shrines,” says Molvi Haami. But Haami says there are only a few instances were state or centre has spent its money for maintenance and renovation.
“But the damage is already done,” says Niaz (name changed) a local cleric from district Budgam who has stopped offering prayers at Char-e-Sharief mosque since it was rebuilt.
In 1995, after the shrine of revered Sufi saint Sheikh Noor u Din Noorani was gutted in a standoff between militants and Indian army, the then Indian PM PV Narasima Rao promised rupees 6 crore for its reconstruction. But only rupees 1.5 crore were finally released. “The Centre provided rupees 1.5 crore, while the rest was made available by the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Auqaf Trust (MAT),” a Delhi based newspaper reported.
Part of the money was spent on the reconstruction of the ancient mosque that was adjacent to the revered Saint’s mausoleum, where Niaz used to offer his prayers.
A section of Islamic thinkers and scholars believe that the money given by State or Central government, which is collected as tax from different sources including from sale of liquor, cannot be spent on a mosque or any other religious place related to Muslims. “There is a clear cut consensus that only halal money can be used for building or repair of religious places of worships,” says Niaz.
“By halal, it means the trade as well the techniques should be permissible in Islam,” says Shabir Mujahid Ahmed, an Islamic scholar.
Though, the Islamic scholars are hesitant to talk openly whether the sources of central and state government are halal or not but they maintain that the sources should be halal.
While there is less doubt about the source of central funding, the state government collects more than Rs 400 crore a year as tax on sales of liquor in J&K.
In order to boost state tourism and present Kashmir as a religious tourism destination, the department of tourism is investing huge money into the sector.
“Our department has been investing in religious places from past many years but since last year we have started a new full-fledged wing called pilgrim tourism that deals with up-gradation of the religious structures,” says Talat Ahmed, Director Tourism.
The pilgrim tourism is said to be Minister of Tourism, Ghulam Ahmed Mir’s brain child. He last year had suggested that state should follow the patterns of pilgrim tourism of Delhi and Ajmer.
“We realized that we can attract different sections of people [tourists] belonging to four different faiths – Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism to Jammu and Kashmir,” says Talat adding that tourism department wants to pay homage to all four religions.
Soon the idea was put into practice and state tourism department rigorously started improving the infrastructure of all the Shrines, Temples, Stupas and Ghumpas across J&K.
“In Mosques we at maximum work in peripheries like ablution centre, paths etc,” Talat says.
Like in Jamia Masjid Srinagar, the department of Tourism along with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) – Chapter Kashmir are working on its peripheries besides a library which will house photographs, books and literary material introducing the place, its history and many other factors.
“The library would be helpful in introducing the place to the tourists – both international and domestic. This is the proper way to introduce any historical monument,” says Saleem Beg, managing INTACH-Chapter Kashmir.
INTACH are the consultants of all the heritage sites throughout India. State is working on a few mosques to attract more tourists in the name of faith.
One of the biggest projects among them is of Aali Masjid in Srinagar.
Placed at a corner of Srinagar’s Eid gah, the 600 years old Aali masjid is spread over 14,000 square feet. The ceiling of the structure stands on 156 deodar columns; each column is 16 feet tall and 3 feet in girth. These columns stand erected on stone foundations which are carved with intricate designs.
This second largest mosque in Srinagar is built by Sultan Hassan Shah in 1471 AD – 15 century. Over the centuries it has seen gutted and rebuilt several times.
And in recent past, around late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the mosque was locked, leading to its decay.
In 2007, state government took the project of its renovation. The renovation was taken up by the Department of tourism along with INTACH – Chapter Kashmir.
Renovated at a cost of 1.5 crore the mosque is open for the public now.
“The architectural marvels are to be preserved. Aali Masjid is one of the heritage buildings that we need to preserve and maintain,” says Saleem Beg.
This is not the only religious-architectural-marvel that INTACH is working on to preserve with the help of department of Tourism. State is spending crores of rupees to maintain and preserve the religious structures across state.
The other project that INTACH is handling is a shrine of Sheikh Ibrahim at Habba Kadal and that of Dastgeer Sahib.
Sheikh Ibrahim’s shrine is handled by INTACH along with Prince Claus fund for Culture and development, Belgium.
“These are the buildings which we have to preserve. Come what may, a foreigner’s understand is better than ours, so the project got finalised,” explains Beg.
He adds in Kashmir usually it is local Mohalla committees which are concerned about small mosques in their colonies and not these “ancient heritage structures” which are forgotten.
Similarly, the state government after spending Rs 8.89 crores for the renovation of Dastegeer Sahab’s shrine sanctioned additional Rs 5.50 crores for the restoration of the Shrine as the structure was completely gutted in a fire in 2012.
Besides, the state in collaboration with JKPCC spent Rs 4 crores for face lifting of old shrine at Khawaja Naqeshbad Sahib Shrine. It is said to be one of the dream projects of Ali Mohammed Sagar, the Minister for Rural Development.
Similarly, shrine of Bulbul Shah Sahib was also reconstructed by state government through Department of Roads and Building.
Jamia Masjid Pahalgam is another such example. Spread over 10 kanals, the mosque is run by a local body in Pahalgam. The finances of the mosque are taken care of by dozen of shops run by the same local body.
“Most of the business is done in the yatra season,” says Gul Mohammed Khan, Imaam of the masjid. “Besides, hotel and lodges in Pahalgam also contribute significant amount.”
Pertinently, last year Omar Abdullah while on his visit to Pahalgam had sanctioned Rs 53 lakh for the mosque.
The expenditure on these structures could increase the footfall of tourists in the state but may leave some religious questions unanswered.
Shabir Mujahid says state should come up with a separate department which would take care of the religious structures. The funds of this department should be raised from general public.
“It is not important to build up lavish mosques. Simple and less expensive mosques will also serve the purpose.”