Political Speech Ban At Kashmir Mosques Draws Ire
28 August 2005
Jammu: Authorities in India's troubled Kashmir state have banned political speeches in Muslim shrines controlled by them, drawing protests from separatists. The Jammu and Kashmir Wakf Board, a state body regulating around 100 mosques and Muslim shrines, said this week it had decided to invoke a rule to enforce the ban. 'We've not invoked anything new. It is already there in the act that the shrines should not be used for political purpose', Naeem Akhtar, an executive member of the board, told Reuters. The decision has been criticised by separatist leaders in the violence-hit region. 'In Islam, religion and politics cannot be practised separately,' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, spiritual leader and chief of the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference told Reuters on Sunday. 'We've to talk about everything that concerns the community. Be it social, political or religious issues, they are all inseparable parts of the Islamic way of life,' he said from Srinagar, the summer capital of the Himalayan region. More than 45,000 people have been killed since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989 in Indian Kashmir, largely Hindu India's only Muslim-majority state. India accuses Pakistan of providing support to the militants, a charge Islamabad denies. Both the south Asian rivals claim Kashmir, the trigger for two of the three wars between the two nations. Violence has continued despite a peace process between the two neighbours since early 2004. Officials say political speeches at Muslim shrines could encourage separatism, particularly among the young. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the Hurriyat's hardline faction also slammed the move. 'The decision is deplorable,' he said. 'Awakening the community members on political developments at religious places is part of the Islamic system. However, implementing the ban may not be easy. 'We've not been able to enforce the decision effectively as some of the leaders still digress from their religious speeches and start political discourses,' a Wakf official, who did not wish to be identified, said.