Imported Imams

Kashmir has received a steady influx of Imams from outside since the early 1990s. Apart from slowly displacing the local Imam, the phenomenon is changing the local religious discourse which may have social as well as political consequences. SHAMS IRFAN reminisces.

Looking back at our history, there was a time when Kashmir was at the helm of its intellectual growth. In 2nd century AD, when the rest of the continent was submerged in relative darkness and gloom, Kashmir hosted an International Buddhist Conference [Harwan, Srinagar], which according to historians was attended by some of the greatest scholars of that time.

Till recently, Kashmir was the center of learning for those who used to wander from country to country in search of knowledge and spiritual oneness with the creator.

People of repute would often make tiresome journeys into Kashmir from as far as Persia, Baghdad, Tajikistan to seek spiritual tranquility and knowledge. Even centuries later their footprints are found on the most unusual of places like mountain tops, jungles, isolated and unpopulated areas. They would often immerse themselves in the physical beauty of Kashmir valley so as to find answers to the mysteries surrounding life and death. They would chose celibacy and spend their entire lifetime in search of truth; but never did they get attracted by the material glittering of this ever-elusive world.

But ironic as it may sound, the same Kashmir now has to import religious men from the unfamiliar lands of Bengal, Bihar, U.P, Jharkhand, Mumbai and God knows where. The place that was once buzzing with learned men and intellectuals now seems to have lost its appetite for knowledge and religious enlightenment.

No doubt, one may argue that this is the age of outsourcing. Everything is outsourced if it’s cheap and saves you time and money.

People feel that our once sacred Imams have now lost touch with the masses. They have been following the same format of preaching since ages, while Imams from outside Kashmir know how to engage and attract people towards Mosques.

No doubt, these learned men from outside are well versed with the technicalities of Islam and have in-depth religious knowledge too. But what they lack is the relation that a local Imam had developed with people over the centuries. They [locals Imams] are like our guarding angels, my grandmother used to say. I remember her sitting attentively on the verandah and listen to Friday sermons delivered by aging Hamdani Sahab in pure Kashmiri. Like majority of Kashmiris, she too understood nothing but Kashmiri language.

Now on Friday afternoons, loudspeakers are abuzz with screeching foreign sounds which fail to penetrate ones ear despite being spiritual in context. “We [Kashmiris] get easily influenced by Urdu speaking people; as if they are a superior race,” confided one such local Imam, whom I knew since my childhood and who lost both his job and status as an Imam because of the outsourcing.

This phenomenon denotes a change that has not just religious and social implications but political as well.

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