In the course of my stay in Jammu and nearby towns I visited a number of Sufi shrines and met with shrine custodians and ‘ulama who are associated with the Barelvi school of thought, which advocates a reformed Sufism. Despite the fact that they are not engaged in any organised inter-community dialogue work, all the shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars I met insisted on the need for harmonious relations between the different communities, and bitterly critiqued the violation of human rights in India, including Kashmir, by Muslim and Hindu militants as well as the armed forces. They unanimously insisted that the killing of innocent people, irrespective of religion, was a grave sin in Islam, and argued for the need for a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue. To kill a single innocent person, no matter what his or her religion, they pointed out, is condemned in the Qur’an as tantamount to the slaughter of all humankind. Hence, they stressed, those who loot, rape and kill innocent people cannot be said to be mujahids engaged in a legitimate jihad. Some of them claimed that numerous militants were engaged in such activities. Rather than being Islamically legitimate, they argued that such actions were fitna—strife, chaos or illegitimate rebellion—the very opposite of true jihad. A declaration of jihad can, they pointed out, be made only if Muslims are denied the freedom to practice their faith. Since there is no restriction on the practice of Islam in the state, they said, the conflict cannot be said to be a jihad. One of them, however, claimed that it could be considered a jihad for those militants whose families had been forced to flee Jammu for Pakistan in the Partition violence. To seek to regain lost Muslim land through force, he argued, might also be recognised as a legitimate jihad. This, however, appeared not to be a widely expressed or shared opinion. Some also pointed out that a declaration of jihad cannot be made by just about any Muslim. Rather, a fatwa to this effect must be declared by the accepted imam or leader of the entire community. They argued that since the different militant groups have shown no effort at building unity among themselves they do not have a single imam, who alone could, in theory, might be qualified to issue such a fatwa. Even if they agree on a single imam, his fatwa would not be binding on other Muslims who did not accept him as their imam. On the whole, then, most of the Barelvi scholars and shrine custodians I met felt that the root of the conflict in Kashmir was political, rather than religious. Hence, they argued, it needed a political solution, and they bitterly critiqued the radical Islamists’s claim that it was a war between Islam and ‘infidelity’ that would carry on till the latter had been uprooted.
The shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars I met also stressed the urgent need for better and peaceful relations between different communities, arguing that this was precisely what Islam insisted on, and for which the Sufis had devoted their lives. Some of them claimed that no major Barelvi scholar had characterised the ongoing militant movement in Kashmir as a jihad, and most of them blamed what they called ‘Wahhabis’ (by which they meant a range of such different groups as the Jama‘at-i Islami, the Ahl-i Hadith, the Lashkar-i Tayyeba and the Deobandis, all of whom they regard as having strayed from ‘true’ Islam) for the violence. At the same time they also denounced human rights violations by the Indian Army in Kashmir and the massacre of Muslims by Hindu terrorist groups in other parts of India.
They seemed divided on their own political views, however. All but one opposed Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Some of them thought that the only realistic solution was an independent Kashmir. Among these some also expressed the fear that an independent Jammu and Kashmir might result in the imposition of Kashmiri hegemony on the rest of the people of the state. They also opined that, given the fact that radical Islamist groups (whom they do not consider as representing ‘true’ Islam) wield the power of the gun, in an independent Jammu and Kashmir bloody civil war might break out between different groups of Muslims, each of which claims to represent normative Islam. Several others, however, insisted that since Muslims enjoyed religious freedom in India, and since Pakistan had allegedly been turned into a ‘Wahhabi’ bastion, it was best for the Kashmiris to remain with India rather than join Pakistan or be independent. At the same time, they admitted that they could not say this in public, for fear of being targeted or even physically eliminated by the militants. Yet, they added that by their appeals for peace, tolerance and love, they were, in their own ways, seeking to counter the appeal of the militant groups. While bitterly critical of the militants in Kashmir, they were equally adamant that for peace in Kashmir it was imperative that Hindu fascist groups in India also be countered, arguing that the oppression of Muslims in India by Hindu terror groups provided a powerful propaganda tool to Islamist groups in Kashmir.
Numerous custodians of Sufi shrines and Barelvi scholars whom I met in Jammu disagree with the Islamist political agenda of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Ahl-i Hadith-inspired Lashkar-i Tayyeba that insist on the centrality of an Islamic state. Although, in theory, the Barelvis and many shrine custodians do not deny the normative value of a state ruled in accordance with the shari‘ah, their focus, as in the case of most Sufis, is on individual moral reform, arguing that it is only when Muslims become ‘true’ Muslims in their own daily lives that an Islamic state could become a reality. That, however, is postponed into the indefinite future, since Muslims, like others, are seen as constantly faced with the temptation of the snares of the world. This explains the overwhelming concern on the part of the shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars with the ‘cleansing of the self’, through ritual observance, to the almost complete neglect of political affairs. As many of them see it, political power, in order to establish an Islamic state, is not to be actively sought. Rather, it is a gift that God gives to whomsoever He wills. In the absence of an Islamic state, Muslims are believed to be capable of leading fully Islamic lives, conducting their own personal and social affairs in accordance with Islamic injunctions. This is, of course, in marked contrast to the position of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Lashkar-i Tayyeba.
The opposition of numerous shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars to the ‘Islamic state’ agenda of groups like the Jama‘at-i Islami and the Lashkar-i Tayyeba is also inextricably related to their bitter critique of what they describe as ‘Wahhabism’. The term derives from the movement launched by the eighteenth century Arab puritan, Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, who bitterly critiqued what he saw as the ‘corrupt’ and ‘un-Islamic’ practices and beliefs characteristic of much of popular Islam in his own times. He denied the need to strictly follow one of the four established schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. He also denounced Sufism and popular Sufi practices as ‘un-Islamic’. He also opposed the popular Sufi notion of Muhammad being almost superhuman. Muhammad, he insisted, was a mere mortal, although he was a prophet of God. In contrast to the Sufis, he believed that the Prophet was no longer alive, and that his body had turned to dust in his grave. Likewise, he was vehemently opposed to the notion that the Sufis were alive in their graves and that they could intercede with God to have people’s requests met. He castigated such beliefs as akin to shirk, or associating partners with God, a heinous, unforgivable crime in Islam. He suggested that Muslims who held such beliefs were no different from ‘polytheists’ (mushrikun), and, hence, were actually not Muslim at all. Because of this, the ‘Wahhabis’ are routinely condemned by the Sufis as ‘traducers of the Prophet’ (gustakh-i rasul) and ‘enemies of Islam’ (dushmanan-i din).
The Jama‘at-i Islami, the Ahl-i Hadith, with which the Lashkar-i Tayyeba is associated, and the Deobandis, are, typically, seen in Barelvi discourse as different fronts of the ‘Wahhabis’, who are described as ‘anti-Islamic’ and as created by a range of ‘anti-Islamic’ enemies to destroy Islam from within. Commonly, the ‘Wahhabis’ are described as American- or Zionist-agents. It is thus hardly surprising that numerous Barelvi scholars and shrine custodians I met in Jammu were bitterly critical of the militant groups associated with one of the above mentioned Islamic organisations or movements. While they did not directly deny the importance of an Islamic state, they appeared unanimous that, given what they described as the ‘anti-Islamic’ ideology of the different ‘Wahhabi’ groups, the sort of ‘Islamic state’ that the militant groups were seeking to establish would result in bloodshed on a hitherto unprecedented scale, and would hardly deserve to be called ‘Islamic’ at all. Some of them expressed the fear that if Kahmir joined Pakistan or became independent civil war might break out between the different Muslim sectarian groups, given the ‘Wahhabi’ opposition to the deeply rooted Sufi tradition in Kashmir. Hence, several of them argued, for the Kashmiri Muslims it was better to remain in India, under a secular and democratic state, than to live under a ‘Wahhabi’ state, even in an independent Kashmir or as part of Pakistan. They claimed that if Hindu right-wing forces were effectively countered in India and if the oppression of Muslims in India were to cease, Kashmiri Muslims might themselves prefer to live in India, they claimed. When asked how it was that the militants continued to enjoy considerable support from local Kashmiris, even from those who would not identify themselves with one or the other of what they called ‘Wahhabi’ groups, they replied that this was because the ‘Wahhabis’ had deliberately kept their true beliefs concealed behind the rhetoric of jihad. If at all they came to power, they said, they would ‘reveal their true colours’, and begin to attack the Sufis and their adherents. Hence, they suggested, it was imperative that before this could happen ordinary Kashmiris should be made aware of the actual beliefs of the ‘Wahhabis’.
Linked to these complex political arguments is a bitter critique articulated by several shrine custodians and Barelvi scholars whom I met who insisted that since, by definition, the ‘Wahhabis’ were ‘anti-Islamic’, the so-called jihad that they had launched showed clear signs of being ‘anti-Islamic’ as well. They recounted numerous incidents of militants raping, looting and killing innocent people, and of militant leaders making a lucrative livelihood from donations from abroad in the name of jihad. They also cited instances of militants violently opposing popular Sufi-related practices and even of killing moderate leaders, some of them known for their Sufi piety. All this suggested, as one Barelvi scholar told me, that ‘The Islam that they follow is a fake one’. Because of this, they claimed, many Kashmiri Muslims were now increasingly tired of the ongoing violence and were disillusioned with the jihadist organisations. ‘They yearn for peace and normalcy’, I was told, ‘but they cannot speak out against the oppression of both the armed forces and the militants for fear of being killed’.