The Jammu and Kashmir administration on April 14 disallowed congregational noon prayers on the occasion of Jummat-ul-Vida at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
The move attracted protests from locals and criticism from the regional parties, including the National Conference (NC), the J&K Apni Party and the Hurriyat.
Worshippers alleged they were evicted early in the morning. Several shopkeepers said they were asked to close their shops and move out of the mosque premises in the Nowhatta area of Srinagar. “We have been peacefully praying in the mosque this Ramzan, seeking forgiveness and an end to the crisis Kashmir is in. Our sentiments are hurt by such moves. We are pained by the government’s move,” a worshipper said on the condition of anonymity.
Several women worshippers alleged that the security forces did not allow them to enter the mosque premises. Additional security personnel were deployed in and around the mosque. The gates were also locked. The J&K police did not issue any statement over the move to close the mosque.
The caretakers of the mosque said they were expecting over one lakh devotees to offer congregational prayers as per the practice on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramzan.
“A large number of people visited Jama Masjid to offer Friday prayers for the first three Fridays of the holy month. Today around 9.30 a.m., the administration and police personnel came to Jama Masjid and asked the Auqaf to close down the mosque and lock its gates. One fails to understand the reason behind this abrupt and arbitrary restriction,” a spokesman of the Anjuman Auqaf Jama Masjid, a caretaker body, said.
The Auqaf said people from all the districts and towns of the Valley visit the mosque “to seek forgiveness from Allah Almighty and listen to the soul-stirring sermon of Mirwaiz-e-Kashmir”.
Several religious leaders also expressed anger over the prolonged “illegal and arbitrary detention” of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The Mirwaiz, also chairman of the Hurriyat, has been under house arrest since August 5, 2019.
A spokesman of the Hurriyat said barring the Mirwaiz from his religious obligations “is greatly regrettable”.
“It defies the authorities’ claim that ‘all is well now’ in ‘Naya Kashmir’. Denying prayers is a direct violation of peoples’ fundamental right to practice their religion. Such measures are a reminder that things on the ground in Kashmir are not what is being propagated outside the world by a strictly controlled narrative,” the Hurriyat said.
NC president Farooq Abdullah demanded that the Mirwaiz should be released. “The Mirwaiz has been in detention for a long time. Time has come to release him, so that he leads the prayers and delivers sermons. He has a role to play in bringing people closer to Allah,” Dr. Abdullah said.
Tweeting a picture of the locked gates of the Jamia Masjid, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah said, “We are constantly treated to claims of normalcy in J&K and yet the administration betrays its own claims when it resorts to locking up one of our holiest mosques thus denying people the chance to offer prayers on the last Friday of Ramzan.”
J&K Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari also expressed deep regret over the closure of the Jamia Masjid. “It’s a brazen violation of religious freedom. It is unfortunate and deeply regrettable that the authorities yet again have barred Muslims from offering prayers in Jamia Masjid even on this most auspicious day of Jummat-ul-Vida.”
He said the practice of repeatedly disallowing people from offering prayers at the grand mosque, which has been a spiritual centre for the Muslims of Kashmir for centuries, “is hurting the religious sentiments of the masses and it causes great distress to lakhs of Muslims”.
He urged the administration to revisit such decisions and ensure the practice of closing the mosque is not repeated on the upcoming occasions of Shab-e-Qadr and Id-ul-Fitr.
Meanwhile, hundreds of locals participated in Friday prayers at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar.