Kashmir: After 3 Years, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq Likely to Lead Friday Prayers at Jamia Masjid

After Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said the Mirwaiz was 'free' and not under any restrictions, the mosque committee was "hopeful" that the administration will allow him to lead the prayers.

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Srinagar: After being under curbs for more than three years, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is expected to lead the congregational Friday prayers on August 26 at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar’s downtown.

“Mirwaiz saheb will leave his residence on Friday morning (August 26) and proceed to Jamia Masjid where he will deliver the khutba (sermon) and also lead the congregational prayers,” said a source in Anjuman Auqaf Jamia Masjid (AAJM), the managing body of the 14th-century Jamia Masjid in Srinagar’s Nowhatta locality.

In a statement, the AAJM said on Thursday, August 25, that all the preparations had been made for Mirwaiz to deliver the Friday sermon, and it was “hopeful” that the Jammu and Kashmir administration will allow him to come to Jamia Masjid.

“For the last three years, the pulpit of Jama Masjid has fallen silent due to Mirwaiz sahab’s house arrest. Despite repeated appeals from all sections for his release, he was forcibly detained at home, causing grief to people (who are)….eagerly awaiting his release and looking forward to seeing and hearing him,” the statement said.

The J&K administration had claimed that Mirwaiz was a “free man” and the security forces deployed at his residence were “meant for his protection”.

In an interview, J&K’s lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha rejected the charges that Mirwaiz was put under house arrest. “He is neither arrested nor detained. He must decide what he wants to do,” Sinha had told BBC Hindi.

Sinha also referred in the interview to the killing of Mirwaiz’s father on May 21, 1990 and the lynching of a middle-rung undercover police officer, Ayub Pandith, by a mob outside the shrine on June 23, 2017 to underscore the security concerns of the administration in allowing the Mirwaiz to move freely.

However, contrary to Sinha’s claims, the Srinagar residence of the Hurriyat leader continues to remain out of bounds for journalists, religious bodies and commoners who come to seek the counsel of Mirwaiz as Kashmir’s chief cleric on religious matters.

Earlier this week, The Wire was denied entry to the triple-storied residence situated in the Nigeen locality of Srinagar where Mirwaiz lives with his ageing mother, wife and two children. In a phone conversation, Mirwaiz said that he was being prevented by security forces from leaving the house.

Mirwaiz had also told The Wire that the police van parked right in front of the main gate to his house since he was allegedly put under detention on August 4, 2019 had been moved some 20 metres away after Sinha’s interview.

More than a dozen police and paramilitary personnel are permanently deployed at Mirwaiz’s residence in Srinagar. Citing security reasons, they asked not to be photographed. Photo: The Wire

However, it is not clear whether the administration will allow him to lead the prayers at the grand mosque in Nowhatta, which has been one of the epicentres of anti-India and pro-freedom protests in Srinagar. The mosque is sparingly opened since the Union government read down Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.

Situated in the heart of Srinagar’s old city, Jamia Masjid was commissioned by Sikandar Shah, the sixth emperor of the Shahmiri dynasty which ruled Kashmir from 1339 to 1561. It was during this time that Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a Persian scholar and Sufi mystic, visited Kashmir with his followers and laid the foundation for Islam in the region.

The mosque was built on the orders of Mir Mohmmad Hamadani, son of Sayyid.

A senior member of AAJM said that the Friday prayers had been sparingly allowed at the grand mosque since 2016 when the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing set off a vicious wave of violent protests in Kashmir.

“The congregation prayers were banned on 30 Fridays in 2016, 18 in 2017, 16 in 2018, 26 in 2019 (which includes ban for five months in a row), 21 in 2020, 42 in 2021 and 14 in 2022,” the AAJM member said, adding that the management was stopped since 2020 from hosting the congregational night prayers on Shab-e-Baraat and Shab-e-Qadr, when Muslims pray from dusk to dawn.

“The mosque has also not hosted any Eid prayers since the Eid-ul-Azha of 2019 which is deeply offensive to the sentiments of Muslims across Kashmir. The government should end all the curbs and allow Mirwaiz saheb to perform his religious duties,” said the AAJM member.

Anjuman Auqaf said that Mirwaiz was intermittently put under “illegal house arrest” for more than four years since 2016 which includes 78 days in 2017, 200 days in 2017, 120 days in 2018, 174 in 2019, and all the subsequent days of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

During this time, the separatist leader, who was part of the Track-II dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, also spent two months at a sub-jail in Srinagar.