Ramadan begins in Kashmir on a peculiar note
The late Wednesday night announcement by Pakistan of the start of the fasting month has put the chief cleric of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir in an awkward position, as he had earlier said the region's Islamic scholars did not see the Ramadan crescent and that the first day of fasting will begin on Friday.
Announcements for the commencement of Ramadan were made in the valley's mosques around 10 p.m. local time (1630GMT), only moments after Pakistan's religious council made a similar declaration after sighting the Ramadan crescent.
There was nothing unusual in the declaration of Ramadan beginning in Kashmir following the Pakistani announcement. But what ensued was unusual.
Mufti Nasir, the chief cleric or Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, had already announced that the crescent has not been sighted anywhere in either of the “region’s two provinces, Kashmir and Jammu.” Hence, Friday would be the first day of Ramadan.
During the past 30 years, it was like a running joke in Kashmir that the Kashmir Mufti’s Ramadan moon sighting is actually a repeat of the Pakistani sightings.
Several years ago, one of Kashmir's legendary political cartoonists Bashir Ahmad Bashir's creations featured a radio (captioned Radio Pakistan) in the open mouth of the Mufti (Nasir’s father Mufti Bashir-ud-din) announcing the sighting of the crescent.
Social media memes saying the Mufti “will now see the crescent” after a Pakistani announcement, were common during Ramadan.
But last night, the Mufti had already made the announcement. Mosque announcements, followed by people offering Taraweeh (special night Ramadan prayers), turned the entire situation awkward.
“The banana republic of Pakistan,” one social media user joked about the late announcement, questioning the sighting of the crescent around 10 p.m. He stated that he would go with Mufti Nasir's decision and not keep the fast. Others smelled political pressure, as observing Ramadan and Eid with Pakistan rather than India has political connotations in the conflicted and disputed region claimed by both countries.
Nasir stood his ground. He told the media last night that he stood by this decision as there was no credible report of the sighting.
On Thursday, he told Anadolu Agency, “From 7 to 10 p.m., I was in touch with nearly 400 people from different corners of the state. A lawyer from Poonch (in Jammu) told me about someone sighting the hilal (Ramadan crescent), but he called back to say it was a fabrication.” He said if bad weather in Kashmir could have obstructed the sighting, the weather in Jammu was clear.
He dismissed insinuations of political pressure or parroting the Pakistani line. Rather, he said, several top religious leaders have endorsed his views. India’s religious leaders also announced Friday as the first day of fasting.
Nasir said the Mufti’s office had always relied on its own efforts when it comes to crescent sightings, and that any similarity with past Pakistani announcements were just coincidental. Since the Indian government abrogated the region’s political autonomy in 2019, allegations of state repression and gagging of dissenting voices are rampant.
However, Nasir said even after 2019, he announced the sightings before the Pakistani clerics.
“This means they followed us. Last year, I announced the sighting an hour before they did,” he said.
Concerning the religious validity of the fast observed by Kashmiris on Thursday, he said it would be a day of “nafil roza,” or an optional fast, rather than the obligatory one dictated by scripture.
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