Sajjad Haider (Ansari) is a senior journalist and political commentator based in Srinagar, Kashmir. He is the editor of Kashmir Observer and Trans Asia News Service and has contributed to international media organizations like BBC, Deutsche Welle and IRIB from Kashmir
1. With the scourge of sectarianism and neo-Salafism spreading like wild fire across the world, what needs to be done to defeat the forces that seek to sow discord among Muslims?
For me they are neo-Kharjites who too could easily muster sufficient support base during their time. More so these groups are off shoots of takfiri thought propounded by well organised and powerful institutions patronised by certain countries who are out to obfuscate the reflection of the Muhammadan Reality as that remains a threat to their very existence.
2. Holy Quran strongly emphasises the importance of preserving and promoting Islamic unity, solidarity and brotherhood? Have we understand the message in letter and spirit?
Unfortunately majority of people whether Sunni or Shia disregard this key Qura’nic injunction. Sectarian prejudices supersede vital Islamic interests. And this disease is more chronic in places where various sects live in close proximity.
3. In Kashmir, many desperate attempts are being made by vested interests to sow seeds of discord and hatred between Shias and Sunnis. How can such sinister designs be defeated?
Islam in Kashmir was, in my view, truly Muhammadi Islam till some time back. A unique model for rest of the Muslim world. For example Islam was introduced unlike other places not by invaders not by merchants but by preachers and most of them Sayeds. The founders of Islam in Kashmir first Syed Sharafudin Musawi alias Bulbul Sahab, a descendant of seventh Shia Imam Musa Kazim came from Ardabil followed by Ameer-e-Kabeer Mir Syed Ali Hussaini who came from Hamadan. The shrines of these two noble Sayeds and of those who came after them are revered by both Shias and Sunnis. They remained symbols of Muslim unity till successive ruling elites succeeded in creating a wedge between the members of two sects and Muslims allowed it to happen.
4. Looking at the contemporary history, what has been the role of Muslim clergy – both Shias and Sunnis – in promoting Islamic unity and brotherhood in Kashmir?
Genuine Muslim clergy on both sides have all along played a tireless role in bridging the wedge created by pseudo Mullas and ‘Durbari historians’ especially during 500 years of alien rule.
Unfortunately the trend has started a new and these pseudo Mullas and paid writers are doing a great disservice to Islam and Kashmir.
5. Terrorist groups like Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS have brought bad name to Islam and Muslims. Today they are killing Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan and calling them heretics. How important is it for Muslims to not play into their hands?
Well the question is not what is important. Question is how ordinary Muslims will differentiate between right and wrong when even after the passage of 1500 years majority Muslims remain in darkness about certain vital historical events. These groups may have been founded by imperialist powers but the fact is they have willing volunteers.
6. Today our political leadership is also divided, in both Arab and non-Arab world. How far do you see it responsible for the degeneration of Muslims across the world?
When were they united in the first place? Only difference now is that Muslims politicians are increasingly becoming irrelevant and ordinary Muslim relies more on social media for guidance and there lies the bigger danger.
7. What is the role of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) and how far has it been successful in its stated objectives?
It is a toothless tiger. Even member states do not take it seriously. It’s an extension of Saudi foreign office.
8. Do you see the possibility of takfiri groups succeeding in their evil designs in Kashmir? What should Muslims
do to preserve the syncretic Sufi culture of Kashmir in which radical brand of Islam has no place?
They may not be able to establish a strategic presence but certainly they have a sympathetic base albeit very small. Moreover vested interests who want to perpetuate turmoil in Kashmir may make the young people, pushed to wall by circumstances, vulnerable for exploitation by such forces.
9. How do you see the role of Muslim youth in advocating and advancing the narrative of unity and brotherhood, in the context of Kashmir and the region?
Let me cite an example. In 2005 I got a call from Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten while I was on a Bangalore trip. The reporter on the other side was enquiring if there were any protests in Kashmir during the day overs caricatures of the Prophet of Islam that had appeared in the said newspaper on the day. When I called my office and found out that no one in Kashmir was aware of such cartoons. The news gradually made it to headlines and all hell broke lose. What I learnt the newspaper was anticipating protests in places like Kashmir before bringing out such offensive cartoons. So the point is gullible Muslims are playing into the hands of such mischief mongers. Some times it is cartoons and sometimes burning of Quran or another distorted image of Islam in a film. Muslim response has to be measured and intelligent.
10. Since we just observed ‘Hafte Wahdat’, an idea proposed by Imam Khomeini in 1980s, what needs to be done to bring the two communities closer and how do you see the role of clergy in it?
I wish our leaders along with their followers make it a point to visit shrines controlled by either side. Conscious Shia Muslims should offer Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid and Hazratbal and conscious Sunni Muslims should attend Hussaini Majalis.
The interview appeared in ‘The Witness’, a monthly journal based Srinagar.
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