January 2008 News

Moharram: Valley awash with banners of Shia leaders, Sunnis uneasy

16 January 2008
The Indian Express
Riyaz Wani

SRINAGAR: Banners in Srinagar’s Shia-dominated areas have moved this Moharram beyond displaying images of Iran’s Ayatollahs as spiritual symbols of the Shia sectarian identity. Giving the Ayatollahs’ company now are controversial Iraqi clergyman Muqtada-al-Sadr, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and even Iran’s mercurial anti-US President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though the ritualistic mourning procession is still some days away, the images send out a potent political message. Sadr’s image is particularly divisive. More so, after the execution of former Iraq president Saddam Hussein. In fact, last year, after the posters of the Iraqi clergyman came up at Moharram, the Sunni neighbourhoods saw protests against the hanging of Saddam. Prominent Shia cleric Agha Syed Hassan believes there is nothing wrong with the posters. “It is our way of expressing our solidarity with the great work they have done in standing up to the West,” he says. However, among some Sunni sections, the significance of the Shia leaders’ images is beyond their immediate import for the sectarian relations in Kashmir. At a time when President Bush travels around the Arab world rallying the support of Sunni countries against a Shia Iran, the banners of Shia leaders in Kashmir illustrates how the Shia assertion has spilled over borders, even in places like Kashmir with small Shia populations and their own troubled political history. On the other hand, the Valley’s Sunni population, except on some occasions like the hanging of Saddam, has never looked to Arab Sunni leaders for inspiration. While among them too there is general admiration for Ahmadinejad, Sadr and Nasrallah as the Muslim leaders who stood up to the US and Israel, they are not comfortable with the new Shia assertion. Many are apprehensive that the new developments might jolt the Shia-Sunni balance in Kashmir, which has ensured that the Valley never sees any violence during Moharram unlike some states.

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