Srinagar: Amid talk of tension between Kashmir Valley`s predominant Barelvi Muslims and the fast spreading Ahle Hadith school of thought, their leaders have dismissed it as "false propaganda" and say Kashmiris can ill afford sectarian strife after two decades of bloodbath.
There have been news reports that some central agencies are propping up the Barelvis to oppose the influence of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which is generally perceived as less tolerant of the Sufi ethos of the majority of Kashmiri Muslims.
But Abdul Rehman Bhat, general secretary of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith here, said his organisation does not believe in sectarian conflict and does not concern itself with what others do.
"The Jamiat Ahle Hadith has been growing by leaps and bounds since its establishment. A decade back we had 150 mosques and 30 schools. The total membership of the organisation was 2,000 to 3,000 then. Today we manage 700 mosques and 125 schools and the membership has gone up to over 1,500,000," Bhat said.
The Jamiat Ahle Hadith, ideologically close to the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia, was established in the valley in 1946 although it was formally registered as a non-political religious organisation in 1958.
"We are running two trusts - the Salfia Muslim Educational and Research Trust, which manages educational programmes, and the Waqf Tanzeen Trust that looks after the mosques of the organisation."
Asked about an ideological wedge between the Jamiat teachings and those of the Barelvi sect, Bhat said, "We believe in the supremacy of Allah and that everything else is subordinate to Him. I do not think any Muslim should have any issues with this fundamental belief."
But is it true that Jamiat Ahle Hadith followers are disrespectful of the Sufis and saints who are held in high esteem by Kashmiri Muslims?
Bhat dismissed the belief. "How can any Muslim be disrespectful to those who spent all their lives in prayer and penance? This is absolutely false propaganda. Yes, we believe like all Muslims of the world that everything is subservient to Allah who is the sole dispenser of destiny."
Prominent leaders of the Barelvi sect also strongly hold that any attempt to play the followers of one school of thought against the other would be fraught with serious consequences.
One such leader is Peer Jallauddin of the Batmaloo area of Srinagar city who was attacked by some unknown assailants but miraculously escaped alive.
"We have no enmity with any group, including the Jamiat Ahle Hadith or the Jamaat-e-Islami. We say everyone is right in his place as long as the goal is to serve humankind as ordained by Islam and its Prophet," Jallauddin said.
"When I was attacked, people who subscribe to the Ahle Hadith school came to sympathise with me. Leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Shabir Shah and Muhammad Nayeem Khan came to see me and wished me well."
Jallauddin said he failed to understand who could be responsible for attacking him.
"It is the responsibility of police to identify the culprits. I am doing `Khidmat-e-Khalq` (service to humankind); why should anybody be my enemy?" he asserted.
Asked about the reported funding of the Barelvi sect in the valley by some Indian agencies, Jallauddin said, "This could create confusion among people. It could also undermine our services to religion and people.
"If anybody wants to convey an impression that relations between us and the Jamiat Ahle Hadith have reached a flashpoint, they are totally wrong."
The lifestyles of some senior Barelvi leaders who have become proactive in recent months as well as the fast spreading influence of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, especially among educated youths of the valley, definitely indicate there is no paucity of funds for either the Barelvi sect or the Jamiat Ahle Hadith in the valley.
Whether these funds are coming from authorised donations and charities or from some unknown quarters with intention of igniting passions between the followers of the two sects, the fact remains that Kashmiris have suffered enough during the last two decades and cannot now afford to fight each other in the name of religion.