MEET THE KASHMIRIS
Islamic Kashmiri People Are Unique
It is important to understand that the people of Kashmir, despite the majority being Islamic are very
distinct in culture and in values from the people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
However, this year, for the first time ever, Ajata and Virginia came across Jains in Kashmir, so even
Kashmir is becoming more multicultural, despite many Hindu families having left under duress.
More than Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the spiritual psyche of most villagers and many
city dwellers has been and continues to be integrated with the Sufi community. In fact, it appears
that despite the long duration of visitations of very conservative missionaries (even in 1982 when
the Embrace Founders were first there), the proliferation of Sufis has increased throughout many
villages. It appears that there are few villages nowadays without a Pir. (It needs to be noted
however, that villagers give the appellation of “Pir” to village healers and people they revere who
may not indeed be people trained in any Sufi tradition, whether initiated, as apprentice to an elder
Sufi (one-on-one) or part of a larger Sufi order, some which extend all over Asia, the Middle East,
North Africa and now in Western countries.) However, some sufis seem to originate out of nowhere,
just as some Hindu saints, such as Ramana Maharishi and Sri Ramakrishna were never part of any
organized religious tradition.
The Sufi community worldwide has never made a distinction between Shi'ah and Sunnis or any
other Islamic divisions, so they have a palliative effect on geographical areas encompassing various
In addition, Kashmir has for some reason produced an amazing nurturing environment for mystics
known as Madzubs. Madzubs are considered “God-Intoxicated” individuals that have lost their
sense of individual identity and ego in the “Divine.” These people are known far and wide for the
miracles that follow in their wake. (Such Beings are known as Avadhutas in the Hindu tradition.)
The Kashmiris are notable for having a long history of appreciation for beauty in all forms, a talent to
create beauty and a strong desire to live in the midst of beauty; which has been evidenced in
intricate woodwork, large pieces of crewel (embroidery), beautiful paper mache, naqash
(silversmithing), pashmina shawls and fully handmade carpets among many other arts. Prior to the
political upheaval, Kashmiris also took pride in commercial (gardens in front of businesses), private
gardens, including lush floating gardens on Dal Lake and in construction design (charming
houseboats among their inventory.) Many of these arts are attributed to Sufi Sheikh Shah I Hamdan
who brought knowledge of many crafts to the Kashmiris from Hamdan, Iran.
Saudi Influence & Defiance
Street Apparel & Beards
You will see nowadays a minority of women in black abayas rather than the flowered Kashmiri kurda
and pajamas, or shalwar kamiz. It can be a sign of defiance, (just as the many large black beards
worn by most young Islamic men) or it can be due to the male military presence everywhere. The
military being what it is in areas of conflict, can present a safety problem for local women. Some
women no doubt feel that if they do not draw attention to themselves, they can feel safer traveling
A certain amount of Saudi government influence (not Saudi grassroots people) exists as a
possible violent counterpoint to the violence that has occurred against Kashmiri civilians.
Virginia flew to Srinagar seated next to a gentle, unassuming young man (an empty seat between
them) with a black beard probably twice as large as his thin neck, who had just returned from Umrah
(Hajj - Pilgrimage undertaken at a time other than the month of Dhul Hajj) in Saudi Arabia. He had
spent a year in the country. Virginia asked him if he had attended a Madrassa or was becoming an
Iman. “No” he said and then he used the Sanskrit word for scholar, he was becoming a “Pundit.”
The Founders later concluded he was probably studying Islamic jurisprudence - usul al-fiqh.
The young man was proud to show photos on his mobile phone of his family, his family home, his
girlfriend and the incredible snow surrounding their town this year. In the process, Virginia saw a
photo of something like a person with a disease and she asked what it was. It was a photo of a
human back with dozens of what looked like red bullet holes. It turned out it was a back that had
been sprayed with pellets. It was then the young man said that nearly 138 people in his area had
been blinded or had eye damage from pellet guns shot into crowds of civilians. This was only the
beginning of an odyssey of hearing stories unprompted from young men with large black beards.
Kashmiri Merchants & the Desire for Business
The Founders heard over and over again from merchants along Dal Lake how the Indian
(Hindustan) media has exaggerated the terrorist threat and has literally destroyed the
tourist industry, beginning in 2001 due to 9/11. They felt they had been unjustly punished and
continue to be punished for fears attached to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In point of fact, the Indian media say that (for instance) the Bandipur area is one of the most
troubled areas. Yet, for the Founders, waiting for a van in Bandipur, after the initial slight suspicion,
once the locals understood that they were on their way to meet a rural Pir, were offered a ride by
young men at a little corner shop willing to stop everything they were doing to take both Founders
on a small motor cycle along a rough dirt road of over 10 miles.(!) The generosity of the Kashmiri
people can be staggering.
In Kashmir just about everyone wants the tourist industry back. But it is not so easy. Even in
1982 some (not all) young unmarried men had a difficult adjustment in seeing European girls in
bathing suits swimming in Dal Lake. Women in many Kashmiri Islamic families would never expose
anything more than their ankles, feet, necks, hands and faces (and traditionally in Kashmir, ears
show.) On the other hand, the many Hindu honeymooners from India, although not as wealthy as
Westerners, were culturally much closer to and very comfortable with the more conservative
members of Kashmir’s Islamic community in dress and behavior.
As Westerners are getting poorer and less and less of them are traveling to non-Western nations, it
appears any hope of getting large numbers of them as tourists again seems unlikely. Yet the
increasingly mobile Indian middle class to the South and people from all of Southeast Asia would be
the perfect match. As it is now, numerous Indians to the South adore traveling to Kashmir during the
Can the Indian Government Do Anything to Improve the Situation?
What About Low Interest Loans:
Helping business men (and women) renovate and upgrade Kashmir’s tourist destinations by giving
low interest loans from the State Bank of India to help get the tourist and crafts economy going
again and defray the cost of advertising?
The people in a small village told the Founders how the Indian government had promised 25 years
ago to assist them in developing a fishing and trekking center for tourists. Absolutely nothing has
been done despite their successful fish farm. The people in this small village want trekkers and
campers. They want to earn a living. The villagers had been promised by politicians again and
again yet nothing in 25 years has ever happened. The area is stunning and many people both
from lower India and elsewhere would love it.
Possibilities: Thinking in New ways
Intellectual & Learning Opportunities
The Kashmiri general public is isolated from much of the technological and scientific excitement
going on in the rest of India. Free learning events that include new ideas for both youngsters and
adults could greatly benefit the city of Srinagar. Srinagar needs some ways that people can also
have social outings and exchange ideas with the India that lies south of them.
1.) Could a cultural arts exchange program between people in Kashmir and some of India’s cities
be created? Could Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan design a venue?
2.) Could scientists from ISRO produce a special program exhibiting new Mars photos and
showing a video on footage from MOM and other prob travels in Srinagar, inviting the general public
3.) What about some researchers from IIT? Is anyone doing some interesting projects that the
general public in Srinagar would find exciting? Could IIT staff show an exhibit or video and speak
on the research?
4.) What about scholarships offered to low income Kashmiri students to intern at ISRO or audit
summer classes at IIT?
Where Are the Pakistanis?
Kargil - Shi'ahs, sufis and Illegal Pakistanis (Ladakh Region)
The Indian media is always in an uproar over the Pakistani ISI (intelligence agency) involvement in
Kashmir but who is it that is that is really behind Pakistan with regard to weapons and
assistance in Kashmir?
The Embrace Founders did not encounter any Pakistanis in Srinagar or outlaying Kashmir areas (no
doubt they are there.) However, while on our way to Leh, Ladakh by car the Founders stopped over
night in Kargil. From Kargil through Leh it is primarily Shi'ah. Surprisingly while walking up the Main
Street which has been dubbed Khomeini Street, the Founders saw many newly arrived Pakistanis
(who appear to be Sunni.) They seem to be poor rural people, sort of in shock.
If they were planning any terrorist trouble in Kargil, dominated in no small way by Shi'ahs, Kargil
would not be the place to land.
On the way back down Khomeini Street after dinner, Virginia heard some one calling her. She
thought that it could not possibly be the case, as no one knew the Founders would be going to
Kargil, except their wonderful driver. None-the-less, she turned around and behind her was a kindly
gentleman. He explained that he was of the Chistiya Sufi Order and wanted to know how long the
Founders would be in town and wished to invite them for a visit and zikr (dhikr). She told Mohamed
that she and Ajata would be leaving in the morning. After asking her a few questions, he said he
was so pleased to have met her, shook her hand and thanked her.
(The Embrace Network of websites seem to have found their way to Kargil.)
After returning to the inn, Virginia encountered another guest who was a forensic doctor from
Srinagar. He was in town to investigate some suspicious deaths. (Though unfamiliar with the
incident, the deaths were evidently well known and publicized.) In the course of the conversation,
she mentioned to the doctor that there are so many Pakistanis in Kargil. The doctor said, “Yes”
nodding his head and guided her to a window and pointed to a cleavage high in the mountains
saying; “That is where they come from.”
If keeping possible terrorists out of Kashmir and Ladakh is a priority, it seems that the army bases
located all along the road between Srinagar and Leh could be largely abandoned and rebuilt along
the base of mountain ranges. Having less military standing on streets with rifles would definitely
begin to normalize Srinagar. From the limited observation of two non-military, non-strategists, it
appears that once anyone hikes over any number of accessible points in the mountains, they can
easily disappear into Kashmir as well as Ladakh. However, from the point of view of terrorism, it is
unlikely that Sunni militants would ever opt to place themselves in the overwhelming majority of
Shi'ah found from approximately Kargil through Leh.
Not only are Kashmiris afraid of the soldiers, the soldiers are afraid of the Kashmiris. “Terrorists”
have killed innocents and it seems to be generally understood that most terrorists operate on a
small scale gangster level, having little or a distorted knowledge of Islam and the Holy
Prophet, a lot of energy tied up in ignorance, revenge, sometimes drugs, arms dealing and
money. Again, one has to consider who is actually funding and arming these small groups.
It should be noted that Dr. Inamullah Khan, the General Secretary of the Muslim World Congress
in Pakistan, who had close relations with members of the Saudi religious community and was not
a Sufi was a colleague of Virginia’s. They met at international conferences and corresponded
frequently for a number of years before his retirement. Embrace does not and never has favored
any sects, denominations or traditions.
For further information on how Islamic women began wearing full covering and how the Sunni and
Shi'ah sects developed, please read: "After the Prophet" by Leslie Hazelton