Life and times of Maulana Showkat (1956-2011)

Moulana Showkat Shah, President, Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith was assassinated today. At about 12.20 pm Shah was heading for Friday congregation when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) placed on a bicycle near a mosque in uptown Maisuma exploded and injured him fatally. Shah was shifted to Valley’s most sophisticated medical facility where doctors declared him brought dead.

In 1999 at the age of 44, Shah became the president of Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith. He succeeded Mohammad Ramzan, who incidentally was also injured in an attack by unidentified persons on 29 January 1999. Ramzan was coming out of a mosque after offering Friday prayers and died seventeens days later in a hospital.

Considered a liberal voice of Kashmir politics, Shah outrightly denounced stone hurling and even issued a fatwa against the form of protest. A vocal supporter of peace, Shah had termed stone hurling during last year’s summer unrest as un-Islamic.

It was his unrelenting courage that insiders say didn’t stop him to take the post of chief one of Kashmir’s largest religious group that follows the sayings of Prophet Muhammad.

His stand to resolve Kashmir peacefully won him both friends and foes. Shah, 55, survived two bids on his life earlier. Unidentified gunmen had earlier fired at his car in 2006 and hurled a grenade at his house in Lal Bazar in outskirts of city in 2008.

Shah’s group is not a member of any of the two Hurriyat Conference groups headed by Syed Ali Geelani or Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Personally, however, Shah had a close relationship with Muhammad Yasin Malik, the chairman of the pro-freedom Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

Shah also engaged with the interlocutors appointed by New Delhi, contrary to the stand taken by both the Hurriyat groups and JKLF.  He had earlier met one of the interlocutors and discussed with him a possible road map for bringing peace in the Valley.

He was among the first to demand a fresh enquiry into the killings of separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Farooq, Abdul Gani Lone and Qazi Nissar. Analysts say following his statement, Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Bhat and Sajjad Lone had openly said that these leaders had been killed by “our own men”.

Known for advocating puritanical Islam, Shah was a tech-savvy individual with a public figure page on social networking site Facebook where thousands of condolence messages were posted as the news of his death spread.

As a young man in early 1980s, Shah worked under prominent Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith leaders in Kashmir including Maulana Noor-ud-Din Noori and Abdul Rashid Tahari, both residents of Srinagar city.

It was Tahari who founded the Ahli Hadith run public school ‘Al Kulyatu Salfia’ in Batmaloo area of Srinagar city in late 1980s.

Today, the group has nearly 1 million members in Kashmir and runs about 600 mosques and religious schools.

Shah believed in the unity of Muslims and also insisted that social and religious organizations should come forward for the social work and the upliftment of society.

He is survived by his wife, son, and a daughter. His  son, Shoaib Shah recently completed his MBA from Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) Awantipora.

Over a week ago, the Imam-e-Kaaba, Sheikh Abdul Rahman As-Sudais prayed for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute at the Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith Complex in New Delhi. Shah’s deepest desire for peace in Kashmir had found a mirror in Imam-e-Kaaba’s prayers that day.