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Monday, July 23, 2012

Pro-Azadi slogans on Geelani’s arrival at Hazratbal
Separatist hardliner performs prayers on shrine premises after 20 years

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 22: Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani today created an ambience of secessionism at the state government-controlled Hazratbal mosque-cum-shrine complex when he arrived in to perform his prayers---first time in last 20 years---and a gathering of his followers raised pro-Azadi slogans. Freed from his ‘house arrest’, Geelani was actually scheduled to lead the funeral prayers of a professor of the University of Kashmir who had died of cancer earlier today.

Eyewitnesses told Early Times that the octogenarian separatist icon Syed Ali Shah Geelani drove all the way to Naseem Bagh grounds of the University of Kashmir to conduct Namaaz-e-Janazaah of Dr Meraj-ud-din Dar at around 1330 hours. Director of the University’s Centre of Information Technology and Communication, Dr Merajuddin had earlier today died of cancer after prolonged illness. As the preparations for the funeral prayers and the burial were only half way through, Geelani returned and walked straight into the mosque-cum-shrine premises to perform his afternoon prayers.

Police and security deployment communicated Geelani’s arrival to their higher ups, including SP Hazratbal and SSP Srinagar. However, they were advised not to prevent the separatist leader from performing prayers. It was, nevertheless, made clear to all concerned that Geelani should not be permitted to address any gathering. Sources said that he too cooperated with the authorities and did not make any attempt of delivering a speech. Main congregational prayers had concluded over 20 minutes before Geelani’s unscheduled and undeclared entry. He led a small gathering of his followers in the prayers.

However, immediately after Geelani moved out of the protected premises, hundreds of his followers shouted pro-Islam and pro-Azadi slogans. They steered his way amid shouting of slogans back to Naseem Bagh. Geelani later conducted Dr Merajuddin’s funeral prayers and addressed a gathering on the occasion. He described the professor’s death as a loss for the Kashmiri nation. Sources said that hundreds of students, teachers and ministerial staff of the University of Kashmir participated in the funeral prayers.

Significantly, it was after his umpteen calls of ‘Hazratbal Challo’ (March to Hazratbal) in the last four years---which failed all due to prohibitory orders from the government---that Geelani today arrived in and performed his prayers at the historic place of faith and worship.

National Conference founder, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, had got an ambitious programme of reconstruction and beautification executed at Hazratbal before his death in 1982. This most revered shrine complex houses a splendid mosque and repository of Prophet Mohammad’s holy relic. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim devotees gather here on five auspicious occasions every year to participate in special sessions of prayers and have a glimpse of the holy relic. Thousand perform daily prayers five times a day on the lush green lawns and a spacious orchard situated on the banks of world famous Dal Lake.

Undisputed leader of Kashmir’s mass movement against monarchy, Sheikh Abdullah had previously turned this religious centre into his political platform. During his years of struggle, when he got the sobriquet of Sher-e-Kashmir, Sheikh had made historic political speeches at Hazratbal. As per his will, he was laid to rest at a reclaimed park, close to Naseem Bagh as well as Hazratbal shrine. Later, his wife, Begum Akbar Jehan, was also buried close to Sheikh’s magnificent mausoleum, now guarded by Police.

In the first six years of separatist militancy, Hazratbal served as a seat of influence and concentration for the separatists. In October-November 1993, the shrine-cum-mosque complex remained under occupation of separatist militants and a siege of security forces for 31 days. Militants were finally given a safe passage to avoid bloodshed. However, in March 1996, as many as 31 armed militants of JKLF (Amanullah Khan group) were killed by J&K Police in a week of stand-off and gunbattle near the shrine complex.

Thereafter, state government-controlled Muslim Auqaf Trust, which is always headed by Chief Minister, reasserted its control on the complex and no political activity was permitted for years. After he returned to power in October 1996, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah made it a point to occasionally attend prayers at Hazratbal. On one occasion in 1998, he was attacked with shoes by a group of separatists amongst the congregation.

Subsequent Chief Ministers, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad, too visited Hazratbal frequently and strengthened government’s control over it. Mufti introduced several innovations after he created a separate independent trust to manage Wakf properties, including Hazratbal.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too visited Hazratbal on several occasions and performed his prayers in the front row of massive congregations alongwith other family members, including father Farooq Abdullah. However, he could not visit Hazratbal even for a day during the street turbulence of 2010. On the other hand, Geelani called for Hazratbal Challo, in an obvious attempt to gain Hurriyat’s control over the Wakf but he failed as the authorities strictly enforced restrictions and held him in home detention. Hurriyat sources insisted today that it was after 20 years that Geelani succeeded in performing prayers at Hazratbal.


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