Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Kashmir: Stone-throwing "un-Islamic"

During the past 20 years stone throwing emerged as a common form of protest against Indian forces in Kashmir. But recently a debate has emerged in the region with some Muslim clerics and separatists calling the pelting of police with pebbles un-Islamic. Shahnawaz Khan reports for VOA from Srinigar, in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Nearly every Friday, after noon prayers at the Jamia Masjid, police confront stone-pelting youth. The authorities respond with tear gas and, sometimes, fatal gunfire.

A Muslim cleric and Kashmiri separatist Maulana Showkat cites Islamic oral traditions contained in (Hadith) scripture regarding the act of hurling stones at adversaries. According to the verse, the Prophet Mohammed said pebbles should not be tossed at adversaries because they neither kill game nor defeat enemies.

The cleric's interpretation that stone-throwing is un-Islamic has earned him the wrath of other Kashmiri separatists and clerics. They view the act as a legitimate means of resistance to Indian rule.

Separatist Shakeel Bakshi organized a debate on the issue. He accused those against stone-throwing with quoting scripture out of context. "It (stone pelting) has been always there in Kashmir. In 1931. After Indian occupation in 1947. This is a weapon (of) every resistance. It has been legalized even by international forum. The Hadith is quoted from from the section of manners, from the book of manners. It is not in the section of how to fight," he said.

Showkat says Bakshi and others are confusing the point. He says this is an unnecessary debate over separate issues. One is the political struggle for Kashmiri independence. The other relates to the words uttered by the prophet. And as far as those are concerned, Muslims cannot go against what the prophet said.

Showkat was not the first person in Kashmir to raise the stone-throwing issue.

The influential separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is the chief priest at Jamia Masjid. He also asked people to refrain from tossing stones at authorities, saying it gives them an excuse to respond with gunfire.

The debate itself was initially triggered by Srinagar's senior police superintendent, Afhad-ul-Mujtaba. "My take on this is that when you are enforcing law, more and more people should be on the side of law, and it becomes easier. What is happening is that stone pelting is illegal in any case. What I was trying to tell was that there is no contradiction between the religion and law in this," he said.

While the top police official gained some unexpected supporters, there was criticism as well from various sectors of society, including separatists. Some newspaper columnists criticized the Mujtaba for invoking religion, which they said could boomerang.

While the debate continues, so does stone throwing. Police continue to confront youths armed with rocks on a weekly basis.

The Srinagar police chief contends the debate, at least, has prompted more people in Kashmir to oppose this particular expression of resistance.

By Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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