Sufis under attack in Kashmir

The Times of India reported June 22:

SRINAGAR: Terrorists on Thursday tossed a grenade at the house of a holy man in Sopore, north Kashmir, killing two of his devotees and injuring 15, even as the saint escaped unhurt.

This was the second attack on the ‘darvaish’, Abdul Ahad, alias Ahad Bab, from the time militancy took root in the state. The ascetic lives a simple life and sits in an iron cage, clad in rags, while his devotees, who belong to different faiths, sit around him.

No terrorist outfit has claimed the responsibility for the attack. According to a senior police officer, radical Muslim terrorists are believed to be behind the attack. “The saint was attacked earlier too, but the terrorists failed to harm him,” added the officer.

Former cabinet minister and Tangmarg MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir condemned the attack. Mir said Ahad Bab is revered saint not only in Sopore but in the entire state and to attack such a personality is the assault on humanity.

The Hindu reported June 25 that witnesses had identified the attacker as local Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Qayoom Nassar. The report also noted widespread attacks on Sufi targets in Kashmir recently:

Islamists here have long opposed the influence of Ahad Sa’ab Sopore, a one-time policeman who left his job and became a mystic after undergoing what he describes as a spiritual experience three decades ago. As early as 1991, the Hizb ul-Mujahideen carried out a near-successful assassination attempt on the mystic. However, he escaped unhurt.

While mystics like Ahad Sa’ab Sopore have enormous religious and temporal power — their followers include several prominent politicians, bureaucrats and police and military officers — Islamists have repeatedly attacked their authority. Ahad Sa’ab Sopore, notably, has been criticised for appearing naked in public, a practice the mystic defends by asserting that the world, not he, needs to feel ashamed for its behaviour.

Battle over faith

At the core of the conflict are ideological disputes between folk religion and Islamist groups, which believe that practices such as veneration of holy relics and belief in intercession between humans and god through mystics are heretical. Both the Jamaat-e-Islami, from which the Hizb ul-Mujahideen emerged, and the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadith, the Lashkar’s patron, have long been locked in battle with Sufis for the best part of a century.

Terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir have long targeted Sufi shrines, which they assert are antithetical to Islam. As early as June 1994, Lashkar terrorists stormed the historic Baba Reshi shrine at Tangmarg and fired on pilgrims.

Dozens of similar attacks took place through the Kashmir valley as part of an Islamist campaign to stamp out folk Islam.

Perhaps, the most prominent incident in the campaign was the October 1995 siege of the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, which houses a relic claimed to be a hair of Prophet Mohammad.

The terrorists threatened to blow up the shrine unless troops, who had surrounded them, were withdrawn.

A similar siege at Chrar-e-Sharif in May 1996 led to the destruction of the town’s famous 700-year-old shrine.

While the scale of such attacks has diminished in recent years, they none the less continue. In 2000, Lashkar terrorists destroyed sacramental tapestries Bafliaz residents had offered at the shrine of Sayyed Noor, one of the most venerated Sufi saints in the region.

Last year, in June, Lashkar operative Bilal Magray threw a grenade at a Sufi congregation in Bijbehara, injuring 15 persons.

Lashkar cadres are also thought to be responsible for a May 2005 arson that led to the destruction of the 14th century shrine of saint Zainuddin Wali at Ashmuqam in south Kashmir. It was set on fire after the armed men chased away guards. Earlier Ashmuqam was subjected to several grenade attacks, leading to disruption of festive days there for several years.

See our last posts on Kashmir and the struggle within Islam.

See also our in-depth report, Sufism and the Struggle within Islam.

  1. Sufi honored in Delhi
    From Indo-Asian News Service:

    New Delhi, July 6 (IANS) It was an evening teeming with secrets of the past, celebrating the life and times of a Sufi spy princess who fought for the British and died at the hands of the Gestapo during World War II.

    ‘It’s more than a spy story. It’s real history,’ said British High Commissioner Michael Arthur as he launched London-based journalist Shrabani Basu’s ‘Spy Princess’, a biography of Noor Inayat Khan, a descendant of the legendary Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore who challenged the British and died at their hands.

    Noor was the first woman radio operator of Indian origin sent into Nazi-occupied France as a British secret agent.

    The audience listened in a hush at the British Council auditorium Wednesday evening as the author read out extracts from ‘Spy Princess’ (published by Roli Books) that reflected this beautiful courageous woman’s extraordinary heroism and sheer grit in the face of life-threatening torture by the dreaded Gestapo inquisitors.

    Arthur commended the author for bringing alive the story of this ‘remarkable woman who was trying to destroy forces of totalitarianism’.

    In a conversation with the author, Pavan K. Varma, director-general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), quizzed the author on the intriguing aspects of Noor’s personality – her hidden motivations for spying, her loves and hates – that made her life vivid to even those who are yet to read the book.

    Varma also remarked on the irony inherent in the life of Noor, the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, ending up as martyr for the British cause in the World War II. In many ways, Noor’s story is a tribute to nearly two-and-a-half million Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British during the war.

    Noor was posthumously awarded a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. She was also awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battlefield.

    Basu called her ‘a citizen of the world’ and said she was inspired by her ‘amazing sense of determination, courage and her deep belief in what she was doing’ to write this comprehensive biography of the woman who has been the subject of much romantic myth-making in the past.

    Noor’s pedigree is as interesting as her career as a spy. She was born in Moscow of a Muslim Indian father (Hazrat Inayat Khan) and an American mother (Ora Meena Ray Baker Noor), was a Sufi Muslim princess (she was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore). Her life took a fateful turn when she was recruited as a radio operator by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

    The recent declassification of personal files that unravelled murky deeds of SOE and its ‘F Section’ agents who spied (and died) in France helped Basu a great deal in attempting a more comprehensive biography of the spy princess.