In Ghulam Nabi Bhat’s family, the schism is clear. Bhat and his elder son Mehraj-ud-din call themselves “khosh aitiqaid” (good believers) and their rivals “bad aitiqaid” (bad believers).
They believe in Kashmir’s mainstream Sufi Islam, go to shrines that exist all across the state, invoke the help of Sufi saints buried there and participate in the annual Urs and congregations associated with them.
“Our Kashmir is a Piri wair (courtyard of Sufi saints) but bad aitiqadis have no faith in them. They have deviated from the religion,’’ said Mehraj-ud-din, who distributes amulets to crowds that visit his home at Buchwara for his blessings.
Mufti Bashir-ud-din, Kashmir’s grand mufti and an advocate of Sufi Islam, said Sufism is well-entrenched here.
“We call them (Sufis) rishis and they include our great men like Shiekh-ul Alam, Lal Ded, Baba Payam-ud-din and Hazrat Makhdoom Sahib. Much of their emphasis was on the spiritual side of Islam and we believe they can perform miracles.”
Their rivals see most of these practices as grave sins — shirk (taking partners to God) and bidah (innovations). Strangely, these rebels crop up mostly from the traditional Sufi families.
Bhat’s younger son Mukhtar Ahmad, a bank employee, is a rebel who believes that tauhid (belief in one God) is the fundamental tenet of Islam.
“We have great respect for auliyas (godly figures) but believe God alone is worthy of worship,’’ avowed Ahmad. “My brother does not follow the true religion and I do not participate in any of his practices.”
The rest of the family is on one or the other side of the fence.
The divide runs through almost every second or third family here, a growing pointer to how Sufism, the traditional religion of most Muslims in Kashmir, is losing ground.
“I think more and more youth are catching the westernisation bug and religious values are getting eroded. But many others go to religion, and this is primarily a reaction to the ongoing anti-Muslim onslaught,’’ said Hameed Naseem Rafiabadi, senior faculty member at Kashmir University’s Islamic studies department.
“There has been some influence of Hinduism and Buddhism, the religion of our ancestors, on our (Islamic) religious practices. But the youth who go to religion now do not want to blindly follow their parents and prefer to study the scriptures to learn about Islam.”
“Go back to the scriptures” is largely the call of the Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees (JA), Jamat-e-Islami (JI), the Tableegi Jamaat (TJ) and a string of Deobandi madarsas, all regarded as puritanical Islamic groups who pose a major challenge to Sufi Islam.
Ahlihadees president Molvi Showkat Ahmad calls such divisions a difference of opinion. “This difference exists in almost every family here, but the great thing is that this does not strain their relations and everything is debated coolly,” he said.
But relations have never been strain-free, particularly in the past when these rebel groups met with fierce resistance. Although established decades ago, from the 1920s to the 1940s, most of their success is recent.
“We were treated as untouchables. Even marriages with each other would take place with great difficulty,’’ said Molvi Manzoor Ahmad, son of JA ideologue Molvi Noor-ud-din. “Now the relations have largely improved.”
A Tableegi member recalled an incident at the Hazratbal shrine. “It was before the militancy. When we started to deliver speeches there, the local imam opposed it tooth and nail and we were expelled from the complex. There were violent clashes.”
Their opponents, however, lost much of their teeth after the armed insurgency broke out in 1989, largely because of “the need to forge unity in the face of a crisis’’ and also because “many advocates of Sufi thought preferred to keep mum because of the adverse situation’’.
The Ahlihadees chief, however, says awareness has been the key.
“People are more educated now and they study the Holy Quran and other religious scriptures, the reason they join our fold,” he said, claiming that eight lakh Muslims were enlisted in a 2004 membership drive (excluding children) across the state.
Jammu and Kashmir has around 80 lakh Muslims, mostly Sunnis. After the birth of militancy, their propagation activities received a setback when the bearded youth, irrespective of their affiliations, became the prime target of security forces.
Their reaction to the militancy also differed. While JI was at first reluctant to support the militants, it later declared the Hizb-ul Mujahideen as its armed wing.
It lost hundreds of its men, mostly killed by pro-government militias. With much difficulty the moderates in the group regained control over it and disassociated it from the Hizb. The group, however, continues to support the “freedom struggle’’.
A militant group, Tehreek-ul Mujahideen, on the other hand, claimed association with JA, whose leadership tried hard and eventually succeeded in steering clear of the involvement.
TJ struck a different route. It remained largely apolitical, went into hibernation in the initial years and then bounced back with vigour. It combined its activities with a string of Deobandi madarsas, which have sprung all over the state.
Differences exist within these orthodox Islamic sects, too, the reason many mosques have come to be identified with Hanafi and Ahlihadees sects.
“At times they fought each other in courts over ownership of the mosques. Often, they would hold separate prayers in the same mosque,” said an Ahlihadees member. Despite the differences, they generally find a unity of cause.
“Ahlihadees men are our helpers and we have no differences with them except taqleed (following the four schools of Muslim thought),’’ said Mushtaq Ahmad Thokar, who works at the Saw-us-Sabeel seminary in Kulgam.
“We and the Tableegis are one and our only differences are with the Barelvis because they engage in shirk.”
Barelvis are the latest entrants to the fray. They subscribe to Sufi thought and, finding erosion among its adherents, are trying to give intellectual and educational back-up to this philosophy by opening madarsas and setting up organisations.
“The Barelvis propound love for our auliyas and they have set up several organisations that propagate their love. Others also say they love them, but by their tongues and not hearts,” said Mufti Bashir-ud-din.
While the rival groups mostly debate their differences, sometimes their tensions take a violent form, particularly when some militant group takes sides.
One of the great proponents of Barelvi thought was Qazi Nissar who spearheaded an alliance against the National Conference and the Congress in the 1987 elections and was killed, allegedly by Hizb militants.
In one recent attack in November 2006, a Hizb man allegedly targeted a Sufi preacher, Abdul Rasheed Dawoodi, injuring him and killing seven others.
All the groups were quick to condemn the act. They have forged an alliance to counter the trend.