On the 30th death anniversary of the supreme leader of the Iranian Revolution, many conversations renewed Ayatollah Khomeini’s Kashmir connection. In this six-part series, Free Press Kashmir recreates the largely unknown sway that the mystic held over the vale.
In the February of 1982, in the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war and a looming economic crisis, Iran celebrated the third anniversary of the Iranian revolution.
Religious and national fervor merged into an encompassing roar that hummed through the undercurrents of the steadily reclaiming land from the invasion of Iraqi forces. Iran was moving slowly, but steadily towards progress, scrubbing away at the past footsteps of the dead Shah and the emerging spots of the West.
A deep imprint of resistance sprouted on the minds and bodies of the citizens, as they gulped the slogans dancing around with narrowed eyes and renewed vigor.
Among the masses and government officials that were clad in varying degrees of dastars and ties, seated as onlookers in the ‘Maidan-e-Azaadi’ (Land of Freedom) at the three wings of the Iranian Army who performed their stunts in unison was a bespectacled man from Kashmir.
With a mysterious air hovering around him, he craned his neck toward the right side of the field. In that moment, that man was photographed in a memory that would guide him to the most potent development of the light in his soul.
Aga Syed Baqir, hailing from a then small village in Kashmir called Budgam, was invited to the ‘Dah Fajr Azaadi’ festivities of the anniversary that took place in the capital city of Tehran. His late uncle, Aga Syed Yusuf, who had established and maintained contact with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Mosawi Khomeini, had entrusted his last letter to his nephew, in which he had stated, on Aga Syed Baqir’s suggestion, that the latter would be attending the celebrations on his behalf.
In his book, “Tajalliyat”, published in 2014, detailing the intimate relationship his ancestry had enjoyed with Iran, including the events closely linked with Ayatollah Khomeini, Aga Syed Baqir wrote:
“Adopting such a stance and method before visiting Iran only betrayed my reverence and passion, rather than any political motive.”
Upon his arrival, Aga Syed Baqir’s first audience in Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini occurred during the leader’s speech on the occasion of the anniversary on 10th February, in a mosque in Jamaran.
Later, a few days following his return to Kashmir, while providing a brief summary of the speech in an interview with a respected representative of the Molvi Mufakkireen Forum of Srinagar, Molvi Ghulam Ali Gulzar, Aga stated:
“The Imam spoke on the current fabric of Muslim nations, with implied signals towards Palestine and the Iran and Iraq war. Furthermore, verbally gesturing toward the offspring of the martyred in Lebanon present among the audience, he asked whether their position shown in a practical manner to the Muslim world would be able to garner any response from the Muslims.”
His second audience, Aga revealed during the interview, eventually transpired after a month of repeated tries, and was a brief one.
Observing him in his presence in his home, Aga noted, with a twinge of delight and awe, the Ayatollah’s ‘extremely plain and humble abode’. His room contained no traces of luxury or formality and gave a first impression of a farmer’s or daily wage laborer’s house.
“It felt as if there was a walking, breathing picture of the attributes and qualities that Islam advocated in front of me,” he reminisced in the book, which had published the interview. “Immediately, upon casting a glance at the Imam did Dr. Iqbal’s verse leave my lips:
A King is he but a shack is his home
All he owns is a sword and an armor for battle.
“The verse and the Ayatollah’s way of life took me back to eons ago to a man like Imam Ali who had perfectly embraced the essence of the King mentioned in the poem. I felt my mind wander around Imam Ali’s existence, whose personality and way of life this man in front of me had perfectly capitulated.”
Wrought by the ethereal demeanor of the Ayatollah, Aga Baqir, wasting no little time that had been spared to him, asked that the leader pray for an increase in his spirituality. Immediately, Ayatollah Khomeini murmured a short prayer and gently blew on his face, which, the Aga narrated, calmed his heart and opened the doors to profound transcendence that grew steadily every day.
Having heard from esteemed seers about the effect that the Imam’s prayers contained, Aga confirmed the authenticity of their narration through his short, yet deeply satisfying experience.
According to him, the Ayatollah’s personality that combined his vast knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, reason and philosophy, politics and governance and pragmatism towards the revolution placed him on a level equal to guardianship.
However, as quickly and decidedly as the moment had come, the time to bid adieu loomed sorrowfully close. Aga Baqir, in the unforgettable presence of the Ayatollah, sought his permission in leaving for Kashmir and was given the last letter of communication between the Imam and Aga Syed Yusuf.
In the letter, Ayatollah Khomeini transferred full religious authority to Aga Yusuf on matters pertaining to the legal expenditure of khums, stating that his competence was abundant without the Imam’s constant guidance. He was, however, welcome to place any queries of advice regarding their legal dealings.
A few days after Aga Syed Baqir returned to Kashmir, his uncle requested for his presence in the Imambara to recount his experiences in Iran and share it with the masses. When Aga Baqir positioned himself in front of the mike and began to speak passionately without any caution or inhibitions, the room dissolved in a resounding ocean of tears, betraying their longing and immense joy toward the Imam who had arrested their hearts in his path toward God.
The next day, Aga Baqir gave the letter written by Imam Khomeini to his uncle, who kissed it reverentially and read it with great care.
A few months later, Aga Syed Yusuf Kashmiri passed away, leaving a legacy of awareness and renewed faith. His wise sermons and notable actions are eulogized by the common folk of today with a conscious reverence.
His death, however, created discord among the members of the Aga family, ultimately, coming under the notice of Iranian representatives in Kashmir.
Consequently, on orders of the Ayatollah, a handful of members were invited to the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi by the then Iranian ambassador Aga Syed Mohammad Mukhtari Sabzwari to administer the situation under control.
In a speech, he warned against the dangers of enemies dividing educated and intellectual Muslims within their own households, advising that it was an attempt to dissolve unanimous resolutions and to weaken the source of the institutions of Islam.
In due time, to neutralize such an event from occurring within the family, an agreement was written and drawn, referred to as the ‘Delhi Agreement’. It underlined the responsibility of the clerics on a number of topics including the nature of the Islamic lectures, unity among different scholarly Shia families, working for the betterment of the society and practically applying the philosophy of Islam.
Consequently, a year and forty days before the revered cleric’s death, Ayatollah Khomeini, in a letter to the former, had proposed the commencement of Friday Jum’ah (congregation) prayers in the Valley. A staple and visible presence in the region, the prayers had, over time, attracted criticism by the participants for its intolerable length.
This was due to the fact that the prayers fell in between two extensive khutbahs (sermons). The completion of the khutbahs would lead toward the afternoon prayers, following which a majlis or vaaz would take place. As a consequence, common folk were slated to spend their whole day inside a mosque, while waiting for the completion of the sermons and prayers.
Additionally, congregational prayers were not obligatory to attend or perform in practice, due to which not a lot of thought or importance was put into its application. Soon enough, the prayers eventually died down and remained absent for an undisclosed period of time.
Following the overwhelming success of the Iranian Revolution and the establishment of an Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini’s lectures regarding the importance and standing of these prayers began to trickle down and circulate inside Kashmir, culminating into the congregational prayers being resumed, initially in Budgam, with Aga Baqir leading the prayers.
Moreover, in late 1980 or early 1981, the present Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, then a man sporting a black jet beard and large spectacles, walked toward the stage set in Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta on Friday to deliver a 15-minute speech that would be heralded as one of the most pioneer speeches calling for unity among the different sects in the Valley.
The speech further cemented the importance of such weekly congregations on infusing an intimate sense of togetherness and brotherhood.
The late Qalbi Hussain Rizvi, a revolutionary activist from Kashmir, recollected the memories of the historic day that ‘effortlessly uprooted conflict between the two major sects of Islam, Shias and Sunnis’ that had existed up till that moment.
“The Leader visited Kashmir in late 1980 or early 1981. One week in advance, I was already thrilled and I was so busy making arrangements for welcoming Ayatollah Khamenei that I totally forgot to officially take a few days off since I was an employee; so I missed a few working days without asking for leave.
“On the eve of the day when we were expecting the Leader to arrive, we rented a taxi and installed a loudspeaker on it. While in taxi, I took the microphone to announce to the whole city of Srinagar that the Leader would arrive the next day. When the Leader arrived, the people flocked the airport. The Shias had taken buses, taxis, pickups, trucks or just any means of transportation available to reach the airport.
“The Leader also joined Sunni Friday prayers and prayed while standing before Mir-Vaez Maulawi Farouq and delivered a 15-minute speech there. The effects of this 15-minute speech on the history of Kashmir could be collected in tens of books and months of lectures. Throughout the history of Kashmir, it was the first time that a Shia cleric who was a global figure delivered a speech at a Sunni mosque.
“Until that day, Shias and Sunnis had intense discords; if a Shia visited a Sunni mosque, they would even cleanse the mosque, saying that a heretic had entered and thus defiled the mosque. But after the Leader’s speech, it was common for Shias to pray at Sunni mosques and would pray before Sunni prayer leaders with no fear.
“Sunnis would pray at Shia mosques, too. This unity was an outcome of that 15-minute speech made by Ayatollah Khamenei,” he recollected.
Interestingly, a general consensus among the Muslims of the world reigned and still exists over the belief that the phenomenon and essence of the Iranian revolution was and is Shi’ite in nature. In the interview with Molvi Gulzar, Aga Baqir mused that the Muslims understood it to be a revolution exclusive to a particular sect and nation.
“Although, during my time in Iran, I did not find that to be such a case,” he stated. “The two most popular and powerful slogans resonating among the Iranian people around me were without a doubt, ‘Islam and Muslims’.”
Accordingly, Aga observed, the Iranian revolution was not the first Islamic revolution to have shaken the Valley from deep slumber. Much before the illuminary shovel of the Ayatollah, a path marred by the tedious toil of the Sufi saints had been paved for the eventual re-awakening of Kashmir to the white-bearded mystic’s resonating call.
The consistency and receptivity of this path among the Kashmiri people would ultimately lead to a birth of a unique and intimate relationship between Iran and Kashmir, a relationship etched within the hearts of both inhabitants even today.
To be continued.