by Khalid Bashir Gura
The major argument that is being discussed in Kashmir, right now is that how somebody can issue a virtual fatwa on Kashmir’s hospitality when commentators are necessarily scattered across the globe.
Soon after social media reports that Mufti Menk, a globally followed motivational speaker and Islamic scholar has arrived in Kashmir, his followers turned delirious. His brief stay, and a statement later, created a storm in a teacup, which refuses to die down after his office projected him to be a victim of trolling and virtual badmouthing.
Soon after his departure, his office issued a statement based on comments critical of his visit. It was seen as a harsh statement to virtual commentary on his visit and an attempt to berate the real hospitality and love that Mufti Menk received in Srinagar. His hosts refused all kinds of meetings and had to be extra-vigilant to ensure a trespass. In spite of all these precautions, as his office’s statement said, he interacted with 350 Ulema.
During his one and a half-day visit, as many people wished to meet him, very few could who later said, it was a dream come true.
Mufti Menk’s words, which preach righteous universal values like forgiveness, kindness, fortitude and profoundness to his millions of followers on virtual media faced a litmus test when he was riled with barbs by netizens.
His aide’s statement has left many of his followers in Kashmir disheartened.
Mufti Menk was on a private visit to Kashmir to solemnise the Nikkah of Mursleen Pirzada and Yawer Mir. Mursleem is the daughter of a Kashmiri businessman Feroz Peerzada and Yawar Mir, son of Apni Party politician Dilawar Mir. When Mufti’s images with Kashmir’s mainstream leaders went viral, he found himself in the crossfire.
On October 7, the newsbreak of his arrival kept excited Kashmiris on tenterhooks and secretly they wished it to be true. Mufti Menk created a storm of excitement among his followers on social media when he uploaded a photograph holding a cup of coffee with the location tag showing Srinagar, Kashmir.
“Is Mufti Menk in Kashmir?” Kashmiris virtual world pleaded affirmation and his presence on ground as they wanted to have his glimpse and listen to his words that can bring solace to hearts.
Once assured of the global motivational speaker’s presence in Kashmir, everyone wanted to host him and have a glimpse.
Apparently oblivious to the place he was visiting and people on whose request he flew to Srinagar, Mufti was caught in a crisis, in the virtual world. It was the photos that went viral on social media and created a storm in a teacup.
A Hurt Mufti
Mufti Menk is hurt as any other person would and we as Kashmiris can understand it better. However, can it be generalized? Is it justified and sensible to paint everyone with the same brush? Is it tolerance to hit a destination with such an adverse commentary that has more than five per cent of its SGDP coming from tourism?
In his letter, Menk’s aides have argued for his ignorance about Kashmir, and detailed his busy schedule during his visit to Kashmir. They said they were not aware of the finer details of Kashmiri politics and Mufti Menk did not have a close relationship with any Kashmiris before his visit. He had simply come to solemnize a Nikah. Furthermore, he immediately thought it would be a good opportunity to meet with Ulama and Muslims of Kashmir and get to know more about the conditions etc.
The Social Media
Social media platforms offer an option for everybody to comment on any content. In times like these, as the ideological, political, economic, social and religious polarities are deepening, one gets tempted too easily into hateful argumentative rigmarole to assert one’s identity and maintain a filter bubble. After all, the virtual world is apparently the only real world that many think they live in.
The social media has become a place for discussion and debate on controversial topics and, thus, providing an opportunity to influence public opinion. This possibility has given rise to a specific behaviour known as trolling, which can be found in almost every discussion that includes emotionally appealing topics.
Mufti Menk was also trolled by some online netizens. Egregious though, but these are inevitable and unavoidable consequences of public life. The majority of people, however, are giving the benefit of doubt to Menk but another debated has been stirred.
The major argument that is being discussed in Kashmir, right now is that how somebody can issue a virtual fatwa on Kashmir’s hospitality when commentators are necessarily scattered across the globe. To many, real tension was that Mufti was caught in the virtual world, a space that he is dominating because of his following.
Social inhibitions are loosened because of the anonymity social media offers as there is a notion, which has gained credence that people are not talking to real humans, just characters that are defined by a user name, Twitter handles, sometimes a small picture and their messages. There is a joke about social media that men prefer choosing female pictures to attract more people! Hence, there is a feeling that the conversation is just a game and that anything can be said, without harm and consequences. This explains why the internet is an environment where trolls are likely to surface.
The New Debate
And then, there is another debate.
Are Muslim mainstream politicians of Kashmir not Muslims? Does their political ideology strip them of being a Muslim?
Why should the netizens make Mufti Menk a distinction when the larger reality is that all the high profile Muslim preachers that have ever come to Kashmir stayed with the government? It was true with the Imam of Kaaba before militancy as it was true with Dr Zakir Naik when he stayed as an official guest during his visit before he left India.
What is the harm if Mufti Menk visited Kashmir to solemnize the nikkah? Has a political ideology prevented any politician from anywhere from inviting a known and popular preacher? Do not atheists in India also have a nikkah?
A Tourist Destination
Credit must go to Mufti Menk for creating a platform and an image that he is followed by millions across the globe. To Kashmir, he was a respected guest.
From the point of view of Kashmir being a tourist destination with hospitality as the key identity, people like Mufti Menk need to be seen as social influencers as well. A happy-flying-home Menk should have gone as a satisfied visitor, not an angry man. This was all the more important at a time when Kashmir society was trying to rope in high-end tourists.
As he was trolled for meeting “wrong people,” the online keyboard warriors need to assess their tolerance capacity and an open mind to different ideas and people.
Does meeting and listening to people anybody may dislike make them equal?
Mufti has pleaded for his ignorance of politics and people. “We still don’t know what the internal squabble is among the Muslims and definitely don’t know names of every politician and what he or she is accused of. Had he known in advance that Kashmiri Muslims are so divided within, he would never have visited,” the statement said.
But do these words not contradict what Mufti professes to his followers?
His pinned tweet reads: “At times, we condemn good people because we disagree with them over a few issues. We refuse to see the good they’re doing. Disagreements do not automatically make a person extreme, bad or evil. Learn to distinguish between the one who respectfully disagrees & the one who is evil!”
“With the type of comments, abuse and threats received, I doubt he would ever consider visiting Kashmir again,” reads his statement. But does he not profess in his tweets: “Be kind and good-hearted wherever life takes you. It’s not your job to change someone. You can lead by example and show them the best behaviour, but remember, at the end of the day, guidance comes from the Almighty. Your job is to spread love and goodness. Pray for them.”
The statement is in a way demonizing Kashmiris: “May Allah Almighty protect us from Kashmiri gatherings. You never know who might be sitting next to you and the whole of Kashmir will begin to swear at you.”
In one of his tweets, Menk teaches us to be careful what we say. “Don’t let your words wound people’s hearts. Be selective in your choice. Use words that encourage, empower and motivate. Use your words to invest in all that’s good. We need that now more than ever. Keep negativity far away.” His statement has done more damage to the hospitable nature of Kashmiris and defamed them for no fault of theirs.
However, Mufti Menk can read one of his tweets for himself and suggest it to his online virtual community, “Quit over-thinking. It will rob you of your peace and sleep. You’ll end up miserable and frustrated with life. Don’t do this to yourself. ”
(Author works for Kashmir Life. The opinion is personal.)