Religion has acquired rather negative connotations in recent years. We have seen it becoming the reason for strife and controversy. Now in a heartening development, the Muslim clergy in Kashmir has demonstrated that even in these divisive times, religion can still have a positive influence on society. Confronted with a rising number of suicide cases among people living in the strife-torn state, these religious leaders have come forward to dissuade people from taking their own lives. Suicide has formed the theme of several Friday sermons, with the clergy offering spiritual succour to those in emotional need. At the same time, the grand Mufti of Kashmir, Mufti Bashiruddin, has adopted a harsher route of persuasion, by issuing a fatwa prohibiting funeral prayers for those who end their own lives, with the corollary that this is considered a sin according to Islam.
Religious ethics and morals, and especially the word of religious leaders, create a powerful impression on people. Communities are created around particular faiths, as are their beliefs and the ways of lives derived from them. The Muslim clergy in Kashmir has put to good use the responsibility that this enjoins upon it. This is not the first instance of religious leaders attempting to use their powerful influence to rid society of misconceived beliefs and superstitions. In 2001, the Akal Takht, the highest Sikh body, issued a hukumnama against female foeticide, threatening those practising it with excommunication. In several parts of the world, there are examples of the Muslim clergy promoting the rights of women within their community.
Religion touches a deep chord in believers. So, it is incumbent on the clergy to understand and use its power for the greater common good. For example, despite the Vatican’s stand against the use of condoms, several members of the clergy in Africa have come out with the message that people should practise safe sex in order to protect themselves from becoming infected with HIV. Faith, it is said, can move mountains. If it is used to remove even a fraction of the prejudices and misconceptions that colour society, the world would be that much better to live in for us all.