Friday prayers were held in Kashmir’s historic main mosque for the first time since India revoked the restive region’s semi-autonomous status in the start of August and imposed a security lock-down, BOL News learnt.
Jamia Masjid is in Kashmir’s main and the most important city of Srinagar, a hotbed of anti-Indian sentiment, with Friday prayers often followed by street protests.
Locals believe the recent closure was the longest the 13th-century mosque had endured since Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan in 1947 after independence from Britain.
“I was sitting at home when I heard the Adhan coming from the Jamia Masjid. I couldn’t believe my ears and came running to offer prayers here for the first time in four-and-a-half months,” Muhammad Iqbal, 55, told AFP.
“It feels like I’m breathing again. No doubt my happiness knows no bounds today, but the saddest thing is that the Kashmir dispute is yet to be resolved.”
Some 70 worshipers were led by Mufti Ghulam Rasool in afternoon prayers inside the sprawling mosque, which can accommodate 30,000 faithful.
Before the crackdown, chief cleric and influential separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered sermons and political messages at the sprawling mosque every Friday.
He is among thousands of people, including separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule, taken into custody by authorities after New Delhi’s decision.
The Indian government shut down Internet and phone lines, and flooded the Muslim-majority region with security forces to back its August 5 move.
Some of the restrictions have been eased in recent days but the area remains tense.
An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged for decades in Kashmir, which has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.