In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Kashmir – The Struggle for Self-Determination
Claremont Main Road Masjid
21st Dhu al-Hijjah 1440
Eighteen-days ago on the 5 August 2019, the Indian government unexpectedly revoked the 70-year old special constitutional status that granted semi-autonomy to the region known as Jammu and Kashmir. The government order executed by the Indian President, Narendra Modi, immediately abrogated the semi-autonomy previously granted to the region and put Jammu and Kashmir under the direct rule of the central Indian government in New Delhi. Following the controversial revocation, Indian troops were almost immediately dispatched to Kashmir to assert central government control and contain any resistance to the move. Furthermore, a telecommunications blackout was decreed, restricting media access to the region and effectively cutting Kashmiri communities off from the rest of the world.
In a statement issued three days later on the 8 August by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, he called for “maximum restraint” and recalled the 1972 so-called Simla Agreement, which states that “the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means”, in accordance with the UN Charter. Last Friday 16 August the UN Security Council considered the volatile situation surrounding Kashmir but failed to reach an agreement.
More encouragingly, however, is a statement issued on the 15 August by more than 250 renowned Indian scholars, artists and activists, including Veena Das and Partha Chatterjee, expressing their solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The statement decried the Indian governments lack of respect for constitutionalism, secularism, and democratic values. In every major Indian city as well as small rural villages, civil society groups, trade unions, women’s and youth groups and the National Alliance of People’s Movements have been protesting their governments actions. They have defied their government and dispatched Kashmir Solidarity Teams to visit the region and provide reports on the situation. One such report described the current mood of the Kashmiri people as follows: “Even as people expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India, they freely extended warmth and unstinting hospitality to us. We are deeply moved by this.” (‘Civil Society activists find Kashmiris angry after abrogation of Article 370’ by Asiaville Desk, 14 August 2019. See: https://www.asiavillenews.com/article/civil-society-activists-find-kashmiris-angry-after-abrogation-of-article-11742 Accessed 20 August 2019).
Notwithstanding the global and national protests, the current situation in Kashmir remains tense and volatile, with Indian troops on the ground in every major city and village. Not surprisingly, Kashmiri communities are rising up to resist the militarization of the region, their loss of autonomy and forced allegiance to the central Indian government. In my khutbah today I would like to provide some historical background to help us understand the current crisis and make some modest proposals on how we as conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens should respond.
History of the Conflict
As is the case with all historical narratives, the history of Kashmir is highly contested. The dominant narrative espoused by both Indian nationalist as well as Pakistani nationalist historians is that the conflict over Kashmir is essentially a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. These dominant narratives erase the context and perspective of indigenous Kashmiris. You may recall, that we heard about this contested history and the struggles of indigenous Kashmiris from Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal, when she delivered a pre-khutbah talk here in January 2018. Hafsa Kanjwal is a Kashmiri-American Professor of History at Lafayette College in the United States of America.
Hafsa made it clear that according to indigenous Kashmiri people, which comprises of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, the root cause of the conflict is not whether Kashmir belongs to India or to Pakistan, but in denying the people of Kashmir their legitimate right to self-determination. From this standpoint the conflict did not suddenly arise in 1947 with the British partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan but goes back much further to 1931 with the emergence of a Kashmiri movement that struggled to liberate themselves from an oppressive princely regime known as the Doghra Maharaja. The Kashmiri struggle for freedom and democracy was escalated by the event of the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The struggle of the Kashmiri people was recognized by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in a 1948 resolution which called for a plebiscite on the future of the region to be convened “as soon as possible” i.e. a referendum to allow the Kashmiri people to determine their own future. However, such a referendum was never held and this has been the ongoing struggle of the Kashmiri people.
After attempting a number of peaceful methods to govern themselves, including the formation of the All Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Party, to persuade the Indian government to fulfill its commitment to conduct a referendum in Kashmir, a small group of mainly young Kashmiri’s have resorted to an armed struggle. Their armed struggle against Indian forces has flared up at various times, especially since 2016, with hundreds of Kashmiris losing their lives amidst increasing suppression from the Indian government. This has provided the Indian government with an opportunity to discredit the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination by framing the conflict as a struggle against Muslim extremists who are intent on establishing a bigoted Islamic state which would eradicate indigenous Hindu and Buddhist Kashmiri’s, destabilize India and threaten world peace. This is some of the historical context within which the Indian government decided on 5 August 2019 to revoke the 70-year old special status that gave Jammu and Kashmir semi-autonomy within the country’s constitution. The region has now firmly been placed under central Indian control.
How are conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens to respond to the current crisis in Kashmir?
First and foremost, as conscientious Muslims, we are obliged to stand for justice as is mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah al-Nisa’, chapter 4 verse 135, where Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice proclaims:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ
وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ
إِنْ يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَى بِهِمَا
فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَى أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا
وَإِنْ تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
Believers! Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for Allah alone, even if it means testifying against your own selves, or your parents and relatives. Whether it is against the rich or the poor, Allah is nearer to all of them in compassion. Do not follow your own desires lest you distort or decline to do justice. If you twist or turn away, Allah is all-aware of what you do. (Q4:135)
Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) has advised that:
مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي تَوَادِّهِمْ وَتَرَاحُمِهِمْ وَتَعَاطُفِهِمْ مَثَلُ
الْجَسَدِ إِذَا اشْتَكَى مِنْهُ عُضْوٌ تَدَاعَى لَهُ سَائِرُ الْجَسَدِ بِالسَّهَرِ وَالْحُمَّى
The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.
(Sahih al-Bukhārī and Sahih Muslim)
From the guidance of the Qur’an on witnessing for justice and the parable in the above hadith we understand that if any part of humanity is suffering injustice we should all be feeling their pain. As conscientious Muslims, therefore, it is our duty to stand up for justice in the face of human suffering, no matter who the victims are or who the perpetrators are, and call for solidarity with all people of the world whose human rights and dignity are violated by oppressive regimes.
Second, we should inform ourselves about the history of Kashmir and the social and political context regarding the current crisis faced by the people of Kashmir. In this regard it is critical not to be misled by the propaganda campaigns from Indian and Pakistani Nationalists nor that of Muslim or Hindu extremists. Fortunately, there are some excellent reading materials, teach-ins and documentaries on Kashmir written and produced by Kashmiri academics and public intellectuals. Their voices should be amplified in raising awareness about the struggle of Kashmiris.
Third, we need to speak out about the crisis in Kashmir. We can do so by arranging discussion forums where we could invite experts on Kashmir to share their perspectives and engage in critical debate concerning the best strategies for resolving the conflict. We should also publish articles and write letters to newspapers informing the public about the crisis in Kashmir and amplify our call for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Fourth, we should call on our South African government to pressurize the Indian government to defuse the current situation in Kashmir and to work with the United Nations to resolve the Kashmiri conflict peacefully. Our government should also be pressurized to question the silence of the international community and highlight the Kashmir issue at every international forum.
Last but not least, we should remember the dire plight of the Kashmiri people in our supplications and du`as. Prayer is the consciousness of spirit and it is a powerful tool that can be used to influence social change. At this sacred hour of jumu`ah I call on you to join me in making a special du`a for the people of Kashmir:
O Allah, our prayer for the people of Kashmir is full of hope.
We ask for Your help to bring lasting peace in Pakistan and India.
O Allah, we pray for the turmoil to end, for the dispossessed to return to their lost homes
and for Muslims and Pandits to embrace each other irrespective of their opinions,
affiliations and ideologies.
O Allah our hearts go out to the innocent children who were maimed and blinded due to pellet injuries, and to those who are away from their families – unsure of whether they
will live to see another day.
May Allah give the innocent strength to deal with the oppression they encounter.
May Allah guide our leaders and activists and change the hearts of those who harm innocent civilians.
We pray for the dignity and freedom of the Kashmiri people and for peace and
normality to be restored.
We pray for all those who dedicate their lives to fighting oppression and
striving towards justice and peace.
Allahumma anta al-Salam – O God Thou art peace
Wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee,
Fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace