I met Naseem at his office in the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Kashmir. After we were introduced I began to explain how Cups of nun chai came into being and Naseem said he was happy to share his opinion, which was informed by Islam.
In 2005 Naseem’s own approach to politics and religion had changed. As a student Naseem had been at the fore, leading protests against the occupation both in Kashmir and outside in New Delhi while studying at Jamia Islamia University. But in 2005 Naseem embarked upon a deeper engagement with Islam, which ultimately shifted his own approach to politics. At this time Naseem had stopped struggling against the occupation directly and inturn shifted his focus towards correcting the ills he believed lay at the heart of his own people. Naseem believed that Kashmir would attain freedom only when its own people embraced Islam wholly.
There was no doubt that the Kashmir Valley was a Muslim majority, but according to Naseem 97% of these people were Muslim in name only. Muslims that he defined by culture not by study. Despite disagreements with his own family regarding this, Naseem continued to follow the path he believed in. From direct political action Naseem had now embarked upon a much slower, long term route of religious reform. But Naseem emphasised that change of this sort could not come about through force, but through free will as it did during the time of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him).
While there were Muslim countries around the world, Naseem told me that there had not been a true Islamic state, a Caliphate, since the time Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) companions, Hazrat Abu Bakr, Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Usman and Hazrat Ali, led the Caliphate for 30 years after Mohammed passed away in the year 632CE. It is this kind of governance that Naseem believed would bring about a free Kashmir. But if his own people did not respond to the study of Islam, he said he would leave and go some place where they would. Naseem happened to mention that he had received offers to teach in America, and it became clear that he was not so much tied to Kashmir but to Islam.
In contrast to the privacy that western secularism accords to religion, according to Naseem, under Islamic secularism each individual would be judged in the public sphere by the laws of their own religion. He spoke of this in relation to how Kashmir’s religious minorities would be treated within a future Islamic state. He added that western forms of democracy would never work in the East – the state of affairs in the world today was proof enough of that.
But there were moments, Naseem explained, when one’s emotions took precedence. He spoke about the day his brother died in 2007. Against what Naseem believed to be Islamically correct, he had joined the streets in protest, fuelled by emotion. The very next day, when his emotions cooled Naseem returned to what he described as ‘his senses’. He asked, When it is your own brother taking bribes, what is the freedom we are fighting for?
Naseem spoke about the burning of Chota Bazaar (small market) in Sopore in 1996. Shopkeepers, who had gone inside their own shops seeking safety, were burnt to death by the army in their attempt to stake out militants. The whole market had been burnt to the ground. One hundred people dead in one day. Naseem lost some of his family in that fire. He said it was a common tale across Kashmir, every town had their own Chota Bazaar. Yet Naseem refused to place blame on India and instead turned in reflection towards his own people.
It was an interesting, and controversial, way of dealing with and responding to the situation. For Naseem the most urgent battle lay with the ills of the self. Once people followed Islam through study and not simply culture, he believed that Kashmir’s freedom would follow, without fuss.
But this idea of religious perfection seems to run incongruously with the imperfections of this world, and the human life within it. And so I find myself sitting with the urgencies of the immediate moment and the shape of my own hands.