January 25, 2022

Arabs in Kashmir: Investors not Missionaries

The government of Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates, recently inked an agreement with India to ramp up infrastructure investment in Jammu and Kashmir.
Keywords: Kashmir, Arabs, Islam, Traditions, Religion, Faith, Conversion, Investment, Conflict, Historical, Culture
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Islamic faith rose in the Arabian Peninsula around 632 CE.  By the time the Arab missionaries arrived in Kashmir, the desert warriors had overrun a vast expanse of the Byzantine Empire (636 CE), Sassanid Empire (637 CE) Egypt, Anatolia, Armenia and Turkestan (Central Asia) by 680 CE).  The task of carrying Islam to Kashmir was left to the Iranian and Turkestan missionaries in the latter half of the 14th century.

The Kashmir-bound Muslim missionaries of those days were essentially of non-Semitic and mostly of the Irano-Aryan stock lately proselytised to Islamic faith under Islam’s mighty sword.

By a strange quirk of history, the converts to a new faith are typically stubborn zealots in comparison to the progeny of the originators of a new faith. This was true of Turkestan, Iran and India. Kashmir, girdled by high Himalayan Mountains and difficult to access, played more loyal than the king in the matter of conversion to the Islamic faith.

Hence the Kashmirian Islamic traditions remained glued to the age-old nucleus of Islamic orthodoxy in vogue in the holiest of the holy lands of the Muslims world over (the Mecca) where tens of millions of pilgrims from all parts of the world come every year to perform the hajj pilgrimage. It has been the loadstar for the ummah (community), guiding it strictly along with the code of conduct laid down by the Quran, the Prophet and his caliphs.

The orthodoxy was conspicuous in the Eastern Iranian province of Khorasan where satraps rose and fell too often. Today’s Iranian province of Khorasan has shrunk to a much smaller because Aryana (Afghanistan), Sapta Sindhu, Badakhshan and Tukharistan (Mawara-an Nahr of Arab historians) have been detached from the ancient Khorasan or the land of the rising Sun. It is from this region that most of the Muslim missionaries came to Kashmir to propagate the new faith and convert the indigenous idol-worshippers.

After the accession of the J&K to the Indian Union in 1947, it was clear to the Indian planners that if the iron grip of entrenched orthodoxy and fanaticism had to be loosened, the way was comprehensive but balanced planning for development and infrastructure building. Evidently, this goal could not be achieved without the investment, technical expertise and sustained monitoring by the investing agency. Numerous reasons are given for the sluggish and almost arrested development of Jammu and Kashmir ever since the accession. Local leadership of Kashmir valley must share the major portion of the blame.  Ambivalence has been the bane of their Kashmir narrative.

Besides waging three wars against India in a bid to grab the entire State through armed force, Pakistan has been using the lethal weapon of disinformation to mislead the world about its perfidy in Kashmir.  Pakistan’s Kashmir propaganda and publicity outlets found takers for their lies not because Pakistani emissaries could convince them about what falsehood they poured out but because the Pakistani deep state has not reconciled to India making steady progress under a democratic and secular dispensation. For the last seven decades and more Pakistan has been struggling hard to build the image of Kashmiri Islam that was moulded in the Iranian Islamic frame by the  missionaries in the 14th -17th centuries.

Swayed by the tirades of the radicals of the Deobandi School of thought and misled by the malicious propaganda of Pakistan, Kashmiris Islamists considered Indian developmental investments a direct challenge to Kashmir’s orthodox Islam. Its rejection was strongly recommended. However, the issue was about enormous investment funds. Keeping this  background in mind, the Modi government has played a masterstroke of really far-reaching consequences as far as the Kashmir conundrum is concerned.

The government of Dubai, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, recently inked an agreement with India to ramp up infrastructure investment in Jammu and Kashmir.   

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said the deal will see Dubai building infrastructure in the region including industrial parks, IT towers, multi-purpose towers, logistics centres, a medical college and a specialized hospital, reported the German Deutsche Welles News of 25 October 2021.

From the Indian point of view, this is a solid achievement with multiple benefits to both the countries but most of all to the people of Kashmir. Investment means opportunities for exposure and employment especially to the technical manpower and reduction of unemployment. It will accelerate the industrialization and modernization of Kashmir without disturbing her ecological balance because the development will be strictly along scientific lines. Modernized Kashmir with state of art IT and road and air connectivity would mean a much needed boost to tourism if it is to be the key industry of Kashmir. Jammu region will also have its share of development particularly in the IT and medical health sectors. Bringing water to the Kandi (dry land area of Jammu) is a priority leading to increased agrarian activities.

Kashmiri youth will get ample opportunities of travelling to UAE and Saudi Arabia as economic relations open for social interaction. The Kashmiris will see how Saudi Arabia, the onetime bastion of orthodoxy and exclusiveness is taking long steps to enter the westernized way of life and say goodbye to entrenched conservatism. Prince Salman is taking the initiative to pull his nation out of backward traditions and walk side by side with the modern world. Especially, the women in Saudi Arabia are especially given freedoms that were denied for a long time. Backward laws not compatible with modern society are being discarded and a new law that makes Arab society all-inclusive are being adopted.

This will have a far-reaching impact on the conservative and tradition-ridden Kashmiri society. Linking up with Dubai means connection with the entire Arab world, something that will change the eight hundred-year-old outlooks of the hitherto secluded locals.

The agreement with Dubai is definitely a rebuff to the OIC that has been befooling Pakistan and Kashmiris for decades on end. Dubai has taken the initiative to expose OIC’s hypocrisy and the simple logic is that other rich Arab countries would like to follow suit. That should augur well for Kashmiris. Business delegations from Kashmir have been visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai since post-J&K Reorganization Act 2019 and have participated in a number of gatherings facilitated by Indian business associations.

Finally, it has to be noted that reacting to the abrogation of Article 370/35-A of the Indian Constitution, UAE had said that it was an internal matter of India and they would not comment on it. UAE had also offered good offices during the aftermath of the Balakot surgical attack by the IAF. Indian and UAE navies have been conducting joint exercises on the Indian Ocean and the UAE has permitted Indian expatriates in the UAE to build a huge temple in Dubai.  It can safely be assumed that once Dubai establishes trade relations with Kashmir, other Arab investing sources will make a beeline to the region and J&K will develop a huge and strong economy to become Naya Kashmir.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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