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Islam and Pluralism ( 21 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Kashmir: Ah, good old tolerance!

By Shyam Kaul


From ancient times the people of Kashmir have enjoyed the reputation of being liberal, tolerant and open-minded. History tells us that in the matter of religious faith and belief, the ancient Kashmiris were not only tolerant, but also accepted other people's freedom, including that of their adversaries, to hold their religious and other views and propagate them.


This trait of ancient Kashmiris manifests itself time and again during the early eras. When, for instance, Naga worship, gave place to early Brahminical faith, there was nothing like an ill-feeling, leave alone any violence. Then again, when Buddhism, which held sway over the valley, was supplanted by Brahminical religion, it happened imperceptibly and peacefully.


 In all matters, including religious faiths, Kashmiris have always been vociferous debaters, but they would never come to blows, nor would ever look for weapons to drive home their point.

Throughout, Kashmir's early history we see kings, queens and ministers building houses of worship for the people of other faiths. That was how Hindu temples and Buddhist Viharas mushroomed together in the valley, and flourished for ages, as is still testified by ancient ruins.


When Islam entered the valley, it faced no resistance nor any violent opposition from the population here, which was entirely Hindu. This is a characteristic strikingly peculiar to Hinduism, not only here in Kashmir.


In spite of many ups and downs of Kashmir history, and some of its agonising spells, with painful, deadly and persecutory turns and twists, we find Hinduism and Islam interweaving constantly, and producing a composite culture, the like of which one does not come across anywhere else. This still continues to be true, if not wholly but symbolically, even though the turbulent times since 1989-90 have turned the Kashmiri ethos topsy turvey.


History also tells us that even after Kashmir came under Muslim rule from early fourteenth century, it was the traditional Brahmin class that managed and ran the administration, with Sanskrit as the court language for as long as two hundred years.


Sultan Shihabuddin (1354-73) had a passion for military campaigns, and most of his ministers, commanders and other high officials were Hindus. The chronicler of the day, Jonaraja, relates and interesting anecdote, that has a lesson for leaders and rulers of today also. Jonaraja records that the Sultan, whose treasury would often run empty due to his expeditions, once fell short of money. One of his ministers, Udaya Shri, suggested that a huge brass image of Buddha be melted for the coinage. The Sultan reacted with disgust, telling his minister that the past generations had created images to obtain fame and earn merit. How, he asked, could Udayashri think of melting the image? "How great is the enormity of such a deed?" he remarked indignantly.


Of Sultan Qutub-U-Din (1373-89) it is recorded that he and his Muslim subjects used to pay regular visits to the famous Hindu temple at Allaudinpura in Srinagar.


Sultan Zainul Abidin Bud Shah (1420-70) is indisputably acknowledged as the real model of religious tolerance and harmony. Jonaraja and his contemporary, Srivara, record, that among the host of measures the Sultan took to alleviate the plight and sufferings of the Hindus, ruthlessly persecuted during the preceding regime, was the building of two temples near Ishbar and grant of rent free lands for their maintenance. Bud Shah made strict rules against cow slaughter and abstained from eating meat on holy Hindu festivals. He ordered the rebuilding of a number of temples, destroyed during the earlier regime. He forbade killing of fish in several springs, sacred for Hindus, a practice which, more or less, continues till this day. Jonaraja records that Bud Shah paid a visit to the "sacred site" of Amarnath while he was the Sultan.

In deference to the religious faith of his Hindu subjects, Bud Shah's noble deeds of rebuilding destroyed temples and building new ones, and granting rent free land to them, inevitably and instantly brings one closer to the turbulent scenario today here at home.


Agitation, violence and killings have turned our state into a live volcano. The issue at the root of the prolonged tumult, is just a stretch of land, perhaps not larger in area than a large cricket stadium. On paper the land was transferred to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for putting up temporary structures, for two months in a year, for the convenience of Amarnath pilgrims. The order on paper threw a section of Kashmiri leaders into tantrums of ire, sparking off a widespread and violent agitation, that unnerved the government, which had already bungled the issue right from the beginning, forcing it to revoke the order. The revocation, in turn, led to an upsurge in Jammu, and now again in Kashmir, creating a deadlock that seems to have no way of getting unlocked.


Amarnath pilgrimage has an ancient origin, perhaps being one of the most ancient pilgrimage centres in India. We find its mention, though very briefly, in Nilamata Purana, which was composed in sixth or seventh century AD. Evidently the shrine, mentioned as Amaresvara, must have already been a pilgrimage destination long before that. The shrine and the stages of pilgrimage to reach it, have also been elaborately explained in the Mahatmaya literature of 12th and 13th centuries.


Amarnath finds mention during the Mughal rule over Kashmir, when Aurangzeb was the emperor in Delhi. One of his subedars in Kashmir, Iftikhar Khan (1671-75) had unleaded tyranny against the Brahmins, asking them to convert to Islam. About 500 Brahmins assembled at Amarnath, under the leadership of one Kirpa Ram Datt of Mattan and decided to approach the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur. They travelled to Anandpur in Punjab and sought the Guru's intervention with the emperor to end their sufferings. The Guru obliged but this ultimately led to his martyrdom, and subsequently to the conversion of the Sikh community into a fighting force, renamed Khalsa, under the leadership of his illustrious son, Guru Gobind Singh.


During the Afghan rule in Kashmir, characterised by ruthless persecution of Hindus, and sometimes of Shias also, the Amarnath yatra practically ceased with the rulers imposing restrictions on it, and partly also because the Pandits did not want to risk their lives. The Afghan rule lasted for 67 years, till 1819. Out of this period there was no Amarnath yatra for forty years and the mountain track fell in disuse and wast lost. It was only during the early years of Dogra rule over Kashmir, commencing in 1847, when a Malik shepherd of Batakot, while grazing his flock high up in the mountain meadows came upon the holy cave of Amarnath, thus "rediscovering" it. From then onwards the yatra has been going on every year without hinderance.


With the advent of Sikh rule over Kashmir in 1919, an overzealous commander, Phula Singh, decided to demolish the Shah Hamadan mosque in Srinagar arguing that a famous temple at the site had been pulled down to build a mosque there. A deputation of Muslims, led by Sayyid Hasan Shah Khanyari, sought the intervention of the influential Pandit noble, Birbal Dhar, who moved promptly to dissuade the commander, and thus saved the mosque for the posterity. It was during the Sikh rule that a benevolent governor, Gulam Mohiuddin, repaired the Shiva temple atop Shankaracharya hill, that had suffered neglect and dilapidation during the earlier regimes. He also installed a new Lingam in the temple.


Amarnath is among the most revered shrines of Jammu and Kashmir. It is our common spiritual heritage, as Muslims have not only been actively associated with it for ages, but have been serving as a perfect complement to it, by taking care of most of the needs of the pilgrims.


Normally, one would, therefore, have expected that in keeping with the spirit of this ancient legacy, the majority community and its leaders would come forward, on their own to help in providing a stretch of land for putting up a temporary facility centre for the pilgrims, only for a brief period of two months in a year. But alas, it has not happened. Instead we are caught up in agitations, violence and killings on an issue connected with a secluded, harmless religious and spiritual destination, high up on freezing heights, and far away from the din and bustle of the mundane world.


Kashmir will never have another Budshah. But we have the immortal words of our great saints, like Lal Ded and Nund Rishi, always reminding us of our heritage of tolerance, peace and brotherhood of man.


Didn't Nund Rishi say:

We belong to the same parents.

Then why this difference?

Let Hindus and Muslims (together) workship God alone.

We came to his world like partners.

We should have shared our joys and sorrows together.

But here we are, holding on to our trivial prejudices and refusing to behave like "partners" and "share our joys and sorrows" together. And all these distressing goings-on regarding a stretch of land, sought to be used for temporary facilities for pilgrims, of a heritage shrine of our land of birth. The piece of land is neither yours nor mine. It is of God's good earth and its use for a godly pilgrimage should have been ungrudgingly made possible. It was not, and look how we have dragged down ourselves into an intractable muddle.