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Battle of the Pulpit
Political patronage to radical groups is a dangerous game
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
A new breed of puritan Muslims are emerging in Kashmir. They are young, often educated, wear regular clothes (not ankle revealing trousers), no skull caps and hardly wear beard. They stand apart from the regular Salafis in terms of both appearance as well as conduct. They rarely proselytise openly and detest drawing attention to themselves. A retired police officer of the J&K cadre calls them ‘ultra radicals’ or the ‘secret radicals’.

“They are more Wahhabi than the Wahhabis,” he says. While a large number of them are members of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis, what makes them a reason to worry is that they do not believe in the separation of religion and politics to the extent that they are convinced that as faithful Muslims, it is their job to work towards the creation of a land for the Muslims. Given Maulana Shaukat’s — the recently assassinated president of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis — tentative forays in politics, which he frequently tempered with his all-placating, moderate beliefs, a large number of young members were getting impatient with him. “At one time, the Maulana was very popular in his organisation, both in Kashmir as well as the rest of the country,” says the unnamed bureaucrat. “But once he started hobnobbing with the Hurriyat a few years ago, he was ticked off by the national executive of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis in Delhi, which did not want the organisation, otherwise focussed on religion and education, to be dragged into politics.”
In Kashmir, while a segment within Ahl-e-Hadis wanted the organisation to show more commitment to the cause of Kashmir, another group wanted it to retain its core competency. For a long while, Maulana Shaukat struggled to strike a balance between the two. Distancing himself gradually from politics, despite his close association with JKLF’s Yasin Malik, Maulana Shaukat was focussing on building an Islamic university in Kashmir for which he had got funding from Saudi Arabia. The university itself was going to be affiliated with the Medina university of Saudi, which specialises in Islamic studies offering Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses. Though talking to FORCE on 10 October 2010, Maulana Shaukat said, “Our Islamic university will also teach secular subjects like science and mathematics. Our focus will not be religion alone. We want to give quality education to our children so that they are able to compete with the best in the world.” Maulana Shaukat also claimed that he was already in talks with several educationists in Delhi for creating a superior faculty for the Islamic university. Interestingly, the Kashmir chapter of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis claims to have a cadre base of 15 lakh and runs 150 schools all over the state. It also does charity work.

According to a senior government official, most of this consolidation of assets and creation of a network of educational institutions happened during Maulana Shaukat’s tenure, who became the president in 2001. “In the beginning, Maulana was very popular and he won the elections for the president thrice by overwhelming majority. But in the last elections, he just about managed to get enough votes,” says the government official. “The younger lot within the Jamiat were not happy with him. Moreover, he controlled lot of funds, ostensibly for the religious and educational purposes.”
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