The J-K government-patronized grand priest, Mufti Basheer-ud-Din, is fast emerging as Kashmir's fatwa machine.
In his late seventies, Basheer-ud-Din, who has a masters degree in Arabic from Aligarh Muslim University, was a government's face to announce moon sightings ahead of Eid
celebrations till recent times.
In 2011, the mufti coined a new name for his position, self-styled Supreme Court of Islamic Shariat, and declared his clean-shaven son Nasir-ul-Islam as his successor.
Islam's wife Dr Neelofar Ali is a senior scientist with the Abu Dhabi government, while his two sons are studying abroad. Elder son has a graduation degree from Switzerland and masters from Canada. Younger too studies in Abu Dhabi.
Former governor Girish Chander Saxena ensured a job for the Mufti's other son in 1990s at Delhi's Kashmir House.
The mufti was first recognized by former Kashmir prime minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who provided a state patronage to him. Abdullah is a grand father of present chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Otherwise living a life in oblivion, the mufti made it to the headlines with a fatwa against former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2007. The fatwa came in the wake of Azad's speech asking people to emulate Gandhi in their daily affairs and the mufti described it as "anti-Islamic".
Ironically, the mufti himself invited no fatwa for meeting communist Saddam Hussain, Iraq's former president, in 80s and being his guest.
Since 2007, the mufti started issuing controversial fatwas at the drop of hat. In 2011, the father-son duo issued fatwa calling for extermination of four Christian pastors allegedly involved in converting Muslim youth in the valley. Recently, he also issued fatwa against negligible population of Ahmadis.
"The sharia courts in Kashmir ended with the Muslim Sultans' period. Since 1947, there were no such courts. Any such court has to be recognized by the state," said law professor Dr Sheikh Showkat.
Peoples Democratic Party spokesman Naeem Akhtar said a mufti's opinion, traditionally, was sought in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance. "The recent fatwa was unsolicited," said Akhtar.
Basheer-ud-Din is third generation mufti and his father Mufti Kawam-ud-Din and grandfather Jala-ud-Din were respected and revered muftis who never issued any fatwas, which is non-binding on Muslims till a Qazi, a judge, endorses it.
"We only have the seat of mufti azam (grand priest) who would issue riwayat (religious backdrop of issues) and not decrees," said Saleem Beg, who heads Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.
With his fatwas, the mufti is putting a question mark on the centuries old revered and respected institution of Muzfi Azam.
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