Praying in the mild autumn sun, resting against the walls of Srinagar’s century old Jamia Masjid, Shakeela had come all the way from Budgam’s village of Nagrat Khah to offer congregational prayers at Kashmir’s grand mosque.
“When I learnt they will allow Friday prayers at the masjid today, I made up my mind that I will come here for the afternoon prayers,” Shakeela says.
Covering a distance about 30 kilometres, for three long hours, Shakeela had come to Jamia Masjid in the memory of her deceased father who had advised his children to continue the tradition of praying at the masjid even after his passing away.
“I came here and saw the door of the masjid closed. It has shattered my heart,” Shakeela says, sobbing.
Taking in consideration the declining numbers of the COVID cases in Kashmir, on Thursday, the caretaking board of the Masjid, Anjuman Auqaf had announced that the Friday prayers would be allowed in the Masjid today.
In a statement, the board said it has decided that in view of the occasion of the blessed birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the grand mosque will be opened for Friday prayers on October 15, 2021 under strict observance of COVID protocols and guidelines.
To their dismay, the worshippers who were coming to Jamia masjid for Friday prayers had to leave disappointed on seeing all the gates locked.
Unlike the majority, Haleema, an elderly woman who lives in the neighbourhood of Nowhatta made sure that she won’t go back to her home to pray.
Grabbing the hot tin sheets that were used as barricades at the entrance, she threw the tin sheet off, took off her shoes and spread her prayer mat at the porch of the Masjid and started offering her prayers.
“Are they mocking our faith now?” she asked furiously after finishing her prayers.
Seeing Haleema’s act of defiance, other women who had gathered near the masjid, hoping that the door might be unlocked, too started to pray at the porch.
Amongst the few women who protested the restrictions on Friday prayers, was an elderly burqa clad woman, who did not wish to reveal her name.
Fearing the crackdown from the state, the sources often request anonymity, or do not share their names or addresses for the same reason, however, they do put forward their thoughts.
“I have grown up in this neighbourhood, and I was married in Khanqah.”
“If the parks and gardens are open, then why do they keep the masjid closed? Are they scared of our prayers being answered?” the woman said.
Agitated, she shouted at the shopkeepers and told them to shut their shops in protest. Another woman from the group shouted that they might face “police action” if the shops were closed.
Earlier this year, in August, the 5th of the month marked the anniversary of the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s semi-autonomous status, the police had warned shopkeepers in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk of consequences if any of the shops were seen closed.
In the conversations that the worshippers had amongst themselves, women who protested and defied the restriction also acknowledged that if the men had done it, they would have been already arrested by the police.
The Auqaf members told the worshippers that they had opened the gates of the mosque.
“Then the police came and took the keys from the Auqaf,” said an eye witness who was inside the mosque before prayers and was asked to leave by the police.
In their statement issued post-Friday prayers, Auqaf wrote that their employees opened the gates of the mosque but police personnels forced them to close all the gates and no worshippers were allowed inside the mosque for offering Friday prayers.
Nahida, who would come to the masjid every Friday, to listen to the sermon of Kashmir’s religious leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, wailed by the locked gate through the afternoon.
“My son has been arrested. I haven’t seen him for years. Why don’t they release him?” Nahida asked, referring to Mirwaiz Kashmir.
Mirwaiz has been in detention since August 2019, and has been denied visits to Jamia Majid for the traditional Friday sermons.
“Our mosques have been occupied, and they are mocking our religion,” Nahida said.
Free Press Kashmir tried to reach out to the Director General of Police, Kashmir zone, for comments, but the calls went unanswered. The story will be updated with their comments as and when received.
The names of some women mentioned in the story have been changed as per their wishes.