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Muslim religious preacher on mission to revive Sufism to counter radicalization

Muslim religious preacher on mission to revive Sufism to counter radicalization
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Srinagar, Feb 9 (PTI) Undeterred by a terror attack that left him partially disabled in 2018, 51-year-old Moulvi Mohammad Ashraf has dedicated his life to strengthen ‘Sufism’ as he believes it can successfully counter radicalism and ensure peace in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir.

Ashraf, a resident of Guree village in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara township, has been working for the revival of Sufi culture since 1994 and has played a key role in the introduction of ‘Sufi syllabus’ in the University of Kashmir, Islamic University, Awantipora, and the Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri district of Jammu region.

“Sufism is an ideology which believes in co-existence, preaching spirituality, brotherhood and communal harmony and love for all the cornerstone of Kashmiriyat. However, it faced neglect over the years, both from central and state governments, and the lack of focus on the subject in the educational institutions resulted in radicalisation of the society,” Ashraf, who has to use a walking stick now, told PTI.

Ashraf has written two books on Sufism. He organised the first Sufi conference, ‘Back to Paradise’, in the militancy hotbed of Shopian in 2016, which was attended by hundreds of people, including 80 preachers.

Founder of an NGO running 100 madrassas (religious seminaries) that teach Sufism across Jammu and Kashmir, Ashraf said 50 of these are registered with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

“A lot of work needs to be done for the revival of Sufism. When there is a change in the mindset, peace is bound to prevail,” he said, adding, “We have to strengthen the roots of the tree rather than just sprinkling medicines on the branches.”

Ashraf said his family has been one of the worst victims of radicalisation. “I had a narrow escape in a terrorist attack which left me bedridden for two years, while one of my relatives was burnt to death and another critically injured by a mob protesting beef consumption in Udhampur district in 2015,” he said.

“Radicalisation is not restricted to a single community or religion. I am a victim of Muslim radical elements, while my relative fell to radicalised persons from the other religion .all of us, irrespective of religion, creed and caste need to stand up and fight the radicalised elements together,” Ashraf added.

Living in a single-storey house with his parents, wife and three children, Ashraf said no one came forward to provide any kind of assistance to him.

He said he has not received any support from the central or the Jammu and Kashmir government till date, and what he has achieved is because of his faith in Sufism and the support of his people.

“I contested the 1998 Assembly elections from the Bijbehara constituency and ended in third place. I was not inclined towards politics but I jumped into the fray to come close to the echelons of power so that I can project the need for revival of Sufism in all educational institutions.

“Sufism was taken for granted and restricted to musical functions which, though, are part of it. Great saints like Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusrau are founders of Sufism, and their teachings are relevant even today for peace and maintaining communal harmony,” he said.

Ashraf said his efforts saw Kashmir University, Islamic University (Awantipora) and Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University adopting the Sufi curriculum besides over 40 affiliated colleges.

“I personally met the vice-chancellors of these universities and heads of Islamic studies and Arabic departments. I gave representations to the authorities concerned to invite the attention of the government to the need for the revival of tourism to counter radicalisation,” he said.

Ashraf was highly critical of the Waqf boards which manage the important Sufi shrines in Jammu and Kashmir and said, “Politicians in the past always misused the boards for their personal interests rather than using it for the upliftment of the people and spreading the message of Sufism.”

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