Zakir Musa’s Islamist Credo Finds Traction With Many Kashmiri Boys

Zakir Musa Bhat had said that the Kashmiri movement was not political – it was to establish an Islamist regime.

Updated24 May 2017, 05:58 AM IST
3 min read

Zafar* is twenty-two. I have known him for six years. As a teenager, he was a relatively shy, clean-shaven boy, but has grown in confidence since last year.

When he heard I was visiting his neighbour’s home the other day, he came over. While chatting, he said something that surprised me: ‘Sahi toh kaha usne’ (what he said was right). The reason this surprised me was that he was talking of the recent statements from leading militant Zakir ‘Musa’ Bhat.

Bhat had said that the Kashmiri movement was not political, meant for Pakistani or any other sort of nationalism, but rather to establish an Islamist regime based on shariat law, Zafar repeated with a tone of approval.

What would happen to me then, I asked Zafar. What sort of law would apply to non-Muslims? There are provisions for non-Muslims too in shariat, he told me.

Think It, But Don’t Say It Out Loud

Zafar’s discourse is not uncommon. In fact, friends who stay at Kashmir University say that the common response there when controversy erupted over Musa’s statement was that he had erred in saying it openly; it had given opponents of the movement a handle.

As to the content of Musa’s statement, the consensus apparently was that he had spoken the truth.

Conversations with friends in rural areas indicate that Musa’s statement has increased his popularity among many boys, not only across south Kashmir but across much of the Valley.

The issue has been discussed at formal conferences in some areas. At one such, in the Tral area, the popular fundamentalist preacher Ashiq Salafi openly backed Musa’s point. That would indicate that the Ahle-Hadith backs the idea. Current indications suggest that the Jamaat-e-Islami cadre backs it too.

Sidelined by Hurriyat, Admired by Kashmiri Boys

Musa succeeded Burhan Wani as Hizb-ul Mujahideen’s divisional commander for south Kashmir after Burhan was killed by security forces last July. However, he has never had Burhan’s charisma or popularity. In south Kashmir, he was more feared than loved.

Musa had to leave Hizb-ul Mujahideen after the outfit’s leading lights such as Syed Salahuddin, their handlers in the Pakistan Army, and the Hurriyat kicked into action to sideline him almost immediately after his audio statement castigating the Hurriyat went viral on the internet. In fact, some in Kashmir predict that he has so angered his handlers that his days are numbered.

Nevertheless, the important point on the ground is that his stature has generally risen among young Kashmiri boys.

Reactionary Religiosity

It has become commonplace to say that Kashmiri youth have been ‘radicalised.’ Recent conversations such as the one with Zafar indicate that the hold of religion-based rhetoric, terms and narratives has indeed increased tremendously over the past decade.

Yet, one needs to take a nuanced view of this trend. A survey I conducted earlier in this decade showed that, generally speaking, young people have not thought through the implications of this popular discourse. For example, in answer to separate questions, many of the respondents who wrote that they wanted shariat law also wrote that they did not want adulterers to be stoned or thieves’ hands to be cut.

Dispassionate reasoning – indeed, education in general – has been a severe casualty of the unsettled situation in Kashmir since the late 1980s.

Millennial Support

This generation was born during the period of violence in Kashmir which began in 1988. Most of Burhan’s, and now Musa’s, fans are millennials, born around 2000. Through their childhoods, they have heard of the oppression of Muslims, and of a global war.

Over the past decade, they have been exposed to a barrage of sermons and messages via the net and SMS. Social media and televangelism channels have played key roles.

Hindutva and Islamism Conspire

This ‘radicalisation’ has taken a quantum leap in reaction to Hindutva-based discourses and violence (particularly beef vigilantism) since the current Union government came to power. It is since then that the extremely challenging trend of stone-pelting at encounter sites has come to the fore. Those who want to spur trouble in the Valley are having a field day.

The polarised discourses on several shrill television channels and in the messages of radical militants such as Musa complement and sustain each other. On the ground in Kashmir, it is almost as if both conspire together to push young Kashmiris like Zafar to back Musa’s agenda.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at@david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 24 May 2017, 03:29 AM IST
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