When Qari Sahab defied Amir Jamaat and demolished the podium. This act avoided a violent confrontation between police and the Jamaat. Next morning over two lakh people gathered at Gole Bagh to attend the seerat conference

QARI SAIFUDDIN

He was a man of peace, little believing in confrontation.

By RASHID AHMAD

In 1980, Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba—the student-wing of Jamaat-e-Islami—called an Islamic conference in Srinagar for which Muslim scholars and speakers had been invited from several outside countries including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, America, UK and Turkey. These were the days when Islamic revivalist movement across the world had got a phenomenal momentum by the revolution of Iran. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth, influenced by Iran’s revolutionary father Ayatulla Khumaini, were enthused by the conference, and it looked to end up in a big event.

This perturbed the government, and chief minister Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah imposed ban on the conference.

Shaikh Tajamul Islam, the Jamiat chief, decided to defy the ban, and asked his boys to continue preparations for the conference. Newspapers, which were not many that time, came out with banner headlines over the Jamiat challenging Abdullah’s authority.

Qari Saifuddin was General Secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami. He called me (I was editor of Jamaat’s official organ Azan, then weekly) to his office. “Islam is averse to all sorts of confrontations that would stop an Islamic preacher from spreading the message of God. We are the missionaries, we should not create an atmosphere which could restrict the space for us”, he told me to communicate this to Tajamul Islam. “It is better he abandoned the idea of conference”, he advised in a fatherly tone

Qari Sahab narrated a Quranic incident where Hazrat Aaron (AS), brother of Moses (AS), remained mute spectator to the calf-worship by his people in absence of Moses (AS), on the plea that he did not want confrontation with his own people. Tajamul Islam was arrested before the message could be delivered, and the conference following a massive police crackdown could not happen.

A few months earlier, Qari Sahab had played role of a peacekeeper at another crucial moment.

 Jamaat-e-Islami had called an international Seerat Conference at Gole Bagh (present High Complex and Assembly secretariat) in Srinagar. Imam of Kaa’ba Shaikh Abdullah As Sabeel (late), besides dozens of Islamic scholars of India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim and western countries turned up as guests in the conference. The rostrum was erected at the extreme west of the ground where Assembly secretariat exists now.

The night before, a large posse of policemen swooped on the site and asked to remove the stage to the extreme east of the ground where presently the High Complex lies. It was a quite dusty and dirty area. Around 500 Jamaat and Jamiat functionaries and associates—most of them young and emotional—were present there. They refused to remove the stage and shouted slogans against police. The scene seemed to be preparing for a big confrontation as the police had got orders directly from chief minister Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah’s office. If I remember correctly, Javed Makhdoomi, then deputy superintendent of police (DSP) was leading the police party.

The atmosphere became over-charged with Ameer-e-Jamaat Moulana Saad-Ud-Din, who made a sudden appearance on the scene, challenging the police diktat. Saad Sb was a humble and soft-spoken person, keeping cool even in the most provocative situations. But this time it was a different Saaduddin. He growled like a lion, “giraftar karo hamien, lakdi thanay le jao, lekin stage nahi hatay ga, ho sakay Imam Kaaba ko bhi griftar karo”. I had never seen Saaduddin Sahab so angry and emotional before. There was abrupt silence all around and everybody including policemen stood motionless. In the meanwhile Qari Sahab reached the scene. He said something quietly to Saad Sahab, and accompanied him out of the ground. A few minutes later, Qari Sahab again came and without arguing with policemen asked Jamaat men to remove the stage.   

But nobody listened to him.  It caused a serious resentment against Qari Sahab. Some people even passed disrespectful remarks against him 

 It did not deter him. He remained firm on his word. He used all his wisdom, skills and experience to convince the Jamaat men that it was in the interest of the party to remove the stage, and allow conference took place in peaceful atmosphere. But not a single person agreed with him, and they instead shouted at him.

 He however was a man with vision, and knew how to get things done.

Qari Sahab got to the podium and began to remove it himself. He was joined by police.

 After a few minutes when it appeared that Qari Shab meant business, willy-nilly the Jamaat men also joined and the stage was set at the place where police had sought. Just a few hours later (next morning) when the conference began, around two lakh people gathered to attend the conference.

Those were the days when Jamaat-e-Islami was pushed to a sought of isolation at public front.

The hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan, a few months ago, had generated a strong reaction in Kashmir, and opponents of the Jamaat, more particularly National Conference, had directed this anger against the supporters and leaders of the Jamaat. At least six persons were killed, around 20,000 houses of Jamaat supporters were burnt or damaged in attacks and orchards of hundreds of Jamaat leaders and supporters were cut down in frenzy that swept the valley for five days.

The frenzied mobs were led by National Conference leaders and activists, (in some parts of Kulgam, communists also were also seen in the forefront) with police acting as mute spectator.

The Seerat Conference gave a new public face and image to the Jamaat, and its leaders and cadres came out with their heads high again.

The Jamaat used the occasion to reach out to the people in all quarters of the valley, and in the ensuing days held several other public gatherings with Imam of Kaa’ba as chief guest at various places. Though most people came to see the Imam but Jamaat leadership exploited it to their advantage.

Qari Saifuddin was extraordinarily a multi-facetedpersonality—a visionary preacher, an astute scholar, a good poet, a prolific writer,a far-sighted politician, a bitter critic and, over and above, a fiery orator. Hewas the only Jamaat leader who had friends, acquaintances and contacts withleaders of other political parties like Congress, National Conference, Peoples’Conference, Awami Action Committee besides other individual leaders and parties.He had very friendly relations with Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah and several otherNC or Mahaz leaders. But in 1975 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah abandonedthe Plebiscite Front and went into Accord with Indian Prime Minister IndiraGandhi for power, Qari Saifuddin was the first person to criticize and condemnAbdullah’s surrender. During Baigh-Parthasarthy negotiations Khwaja SanaullahBhat (Aftab), once mocked at Qari Sahab’s opposition to the Accord in his satiricalcolumn Khizar Sochta……as

Before this, Qari Saifuddin was known as a great admirer of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He had written an article in praise of the Abdullah which was published in a special issue of the “Mahaz”—official organ of the Plebiscite Front.

Qari Saifuddin used every public platform to oppose Indira-Abdullah Accord.

But when Sheikh Abdullah assumed power in March 1975, Qari Sahab was not in favor of direct confrontation with him. He had serious reservations when Jamaat decided to take on Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg in the by-elections. Sheikh Abdullah sought election from Ganderbal and Beg from Devsar assembly seats, which were held by the Congress. The Congress members were asked by the party to resign for paving way for Abdullah to enter the state assembly. Jamaat fielded Ashraf Sahrai—now chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, against Sheikh Abdullah and Hakim Ghulam Nabi (late) against Mirza Afzal Beg.

 “I knew Sheikh Abdullah was quite a chicken-hearted and thin-skinned person with a spiteful mind. He will use all his power to crush the Jamaat should we challenge him”, he once told me. According to Qari Sahab, Amir-e-Jamaat Maulana Saaduddin, however, was adamant on ‘not giving Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a walkover in Kashmir politics’. His argument, according to Qari Sahab, was that Jamaat-e-Islami, being the only opposition party, had moral obligation to confront Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah otherwise ‘it would amount to authentication and endorsement of his political stand’.

Though nobody had given any chance to Jamaat candidates but Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah used all the state and street power (muscle and machinery) to ensure the defeat of Jamaat candidates.

But the worst had yet to come.

Just two hours after election results were declared; chief minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah imposed a state-wide ban on the Jamaat. Allits leaders, functionaries, prominent workers and office bearers were arrested.Its offices were sealed and 120 schools run by the Jamaat across the state wereclosed down. 

That proved Qari Sahab right.

The ban on Jamaat remained for 22 months.

Qari Sahab always argued that Makkan life of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) was the best guide for Islamic preachers in Kashmir. “Compromise (in strategy, not in principles) rather than confrontation is the best deal to spread the word of God. You cannot go the Madina way while living in Makka”, he used to say.

The most disappointing moment for Qari Sahab came when Jamaat-e-Islami let a section of its cadres and leaders to join militancy in1989. He virtually dissociated from the Jamaat. His argument was that Islam’s message was universal and there was no concept of “Tahreer-e-Wattan” in Islam.He would at times break down and rue how a party (Jamaat), raised on the principles and values of Islamic polity, has lost its way and went into raw hands. 

In October 1990, when Indian Prime Minister Chander Shakher offered for dialogue with Kashmiri separatist groups, it was under the influence of Qari Saifuddin that Jamaat-e-Islami accepted the offer, and showed its readiness for talks with government of India. The Jamaat put just one condition-release of prisoners—for talks. But government of India backtracked on the offer later.

 Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), opposing the Jamaat initiative, then—in satire—said “Jamaat has to settle the pension case of Qari Saifuddin with government of India”. Qari Sahab was member of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly between 1972 and 1977.

Though Jamaat never went in for talks with government of India but in later years JKLF leadership had dialogue over a cup of tea with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh (in 2005).

In 1992, I had the pleasure of hosting Qari Sahab as my guest at my Raj Bagh residence for three or four days. It was a humbling and grounding experience, both, ritually as also spiritually. “Purification of heart and soul is the real essence of Islam”, he told me. “It never happens that a noble soul shall stay or grow in an unwholesome atmosphere”.

He was open-minded, accommodative who would listen to the opposite view with respect and grace but would stick to his own view with reason and argument.          

Qari Sahab was never impressed by the person and perceptions of then Pakistan Jamaat chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad (late). He would always castigate him as an emotional activist little fit for leadership. In 1990, when Qazi Hussain, in a very emotional speech said that the idea of Pakistan would be complete only when Islamic flag was hoisted at Lal Qilla, Qari Sahab wrote the epitaph of the Pak Jamaat.

This man (Qazi Hussain) does not deserve any place even among the common workers of the Jamaat. It is disgusting to see him at the position of Ameer. I think Pakistan Jamaat has lost the direction and it willno more exist as an ideal Islamic group”, he told me.

Just a month before his death in 2008, I along with two other friends went to see him at his Rawalpora residence. Because of weak eyesight, Qari Sahab could not recognize me. I told him my name. He felt happy. I stayed with him for about an hour. I asked him whether he has any regrets over what overtook the Jamaat in the past 18 years.

“Degradation is a natural process. It is not unusual but I had never thought that it will start during our lifetime”, he said.

Qari Sahab’s death has closed a leading chapter of the Jamaat.He was the last of the first line leaders of the party. May Allah bless his soul,accept his services, and elevate him in Jannat

(Pls note: This is not a life-sketch of Qari Sahab but some of my impressions about him)

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