Imams in the Kashmir Valley played a vital role in scaling down protests during the recent unrest.
When the fresh round of protests began in June, virtually every mosque in the Valley had turned into a rallying point where young boys would assemble and use public address systems installed for 'Azaan' (call to prayers) to play provocative speeches of militant leaders.
"Initially, it was boys in the age group of 12 to 15 years, who would assemble in the mosque after the night prayers and raise slogans," a senior state intelligence official said.
However, as the civilian killings during the clashes increased, the separatist elements got organised and started calling on youth and elderly to join the protests, he said.
That is when the state machinery decided to rope in the Imams (Muslim prayer leaders) for ensuring that the high-pitch sloganeering from the mosques comes to an end.
A significant number of the prayer leaders agreed that the mosques were being misused for "political purposes" and played an important role in convincing the local elders that the practice should stop.
"We do not agree with what is going on in Kashmir in terms of civilian killings but mosques are sacred places and there is a sanctity which has to be observed even by the Muslims," said an Imam, who identified himself as Nazir Ahmad.
He said most of the boys, who would come to his mosque in the civil lines area of the city for protests, did not join the regular prayers.
"I joined the peaceful protests in my locality many times against the excesses and innocent killings but I am not for using the loudspeakers or for pelting stones," he said.
According to another Imam in the city, locals had urged him to intervene in ensuring that protests were not held in the mosque as "they had suffered at the hands of security forces".
"Every time a protest was taken out from the mosque, it would lead to stone pelting at the main road. The police and CRPF personnel would then smash window panes of every house by the roadside while chasing the youth away," he said.
The persuasive role played by the Imams in the Kashmiri society has been used by the state administration in other fields as well.
In the first experiment of its kind, the Imams were roped in by the Jammu and Kashmir AIDS Control Society in 2006 to eradicate the epidemic from the society.
The results were encouraging as for the first in 2008 all the parameters for prevalence of HIV infection in the Valley showed a substantial decline.
The services of the Imams were also used during the recent outbreak of epidemic in Budgam, Doda and Kupwara districts of the Valley. The prayer leaders would create awareness during Friday prayer sermons about need for hygiene and necessary steps to be taken to control the spread of the diseases.