[Reader-list] ‘The Spread of Christianity in Kashmir and Its Unholy Designs'

shivam zest_india at yahoo.co.in
Thu Jul 1 20:24:22 IST 2004

sorry for the formatting....

Book Review

Name of the Book: Wadi-i Kashmir Mai Isaiyat Ka Farogh
Aur Uske Makruh 
Aza‘im: Ek Tafsili-o Tahqiqi Ja’iza  (‘The Spread of
Christianity in 
Kashmir and Its Unholy Designs: A Detailed Survey’)

Editor: Muhammad Saeed ur-Rahman Shams
Publisher: Shaikh Mohammad Usman & Sons, Madina Chowk,
Srinagar, Kashmir (sh_usman at rediffmail.com)
Year: 2004
Price: Rs.10
Pages: 46
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Two years ago a flood of reports suddenly appeared in
the Indian press 
revealing an alarming number of conversions of Muslims
to Christianity 
in Kashmir. Figures of the number of such converts in
the past ten 
years varied greatly, with some putting the total as
high as 20,000. In the 
absence of any detailed research on the subject it is
difficult to make 
a reasonable estimate, but the number is sizeable
enough to have caused 
considerable consternation as well as soul-searching
among Muslim 
religious authorities in Kashmir, as this booklet

This booklet consists of three articles written on the
subject of 
Muslim conversions to Christianity, with an
introduction by the Mirwaiz of 
Kashmir, Maulvi Muhammad Umar Faruq, head of the
Muttahida Majlis-i 
‘Ulama of Jammu and Kashmir (MMUJK), a
recently-established association of 
Kashmiri ‘ulama that is involved in seeking to counter
the threat of 
Christian evangelism in the region. The articles
provide interesting 
glimpses into the social, economic and political
factors behind the spate 
of conversions, the methods used by Christian
missionaries to win 
converts as well as the responses of Kashmiri Muslim
religious organisations. 

In his brief introductory note, Mirwaiz Umar Faruq
describes the work 
of the Christian missionary groups in Kashmir as a
major threat, 
suggesting that the missionaries use material
inducements to win converts, and 
hence claiming that their work can hardly be said to
be sincere. He 
refers, in this regard, to the work of the MMUJK, and
suggests that it 
undertake a range of activities and programmes to
promote Islamic 
awareness among the Kashmiri public, protect Muslim
identity and thereby 
counter the Christian evangelical challenge.

Two articles included in the booklet echo much the
same views, and do 
not go beyond the level of generalities, thus
providing little 
understanding of the exact process and factors for the
conversions in Kashmir. 
In his article, the noted Pakistani Deobandi scholar
Muhammad Taqi 
Usmani describes the Christian evangelical project as
little less than a 
cheap gimmick, accusing the missionaries of using
money, and promises of 
jobs and education to lure unsuspecting, and largely
poor, Muslims into 
the Christian fold. In this the Maulana is probably
correct, and this 
may well be true for some, or even most, Christian
missionary groups. 
Yet, whatever their motives, this ought not to be used
as an argument to 
altogether deny the important contributions that some
institutions and dedicated activists are making in
helping the suffering and 
the needy. What, one must ask, are the Muslim
counterparts of the 
Christian missionaries doing for the poor, and the
victims of the unceasing 
violence in Kashmir and elsewhere? Pretty much nothing
is the answer, 
except for loudly haranguing their enemies and
lamenting their plight, 
and refusing to speak out against the barbarities
perpetrated by 
self-styled Islamists in the name of Islam. Which, in
turn, explains why 
Christian missionaries have moved in to do their own
thing and so can hardly 
be blamed. The Maulana conveniently glosses over this
inconvenient fact, and, instead, goes on to develop an
elaborate and abstruse 
theological argument seeking to prove that
Christianity as it exists today 
is a corruption of, and a major deviation from, the
original teachings 
of Jesus. Roughly the same argument is made by another
Deobandi ‘alim, 
Mufti Arshad Ahmad, whose article also appears in this
book. Titled as 
‘Kashmir Main Isaiyat Ke Badhtey Qadam’ (‘The Growing
Influence of 
Christianity in Kashmir’), it hardly refers to Kashmir
at all and consists 
simply of an angry, although not entirely unmerited,
diatribe against 
the missionaries.

The third article, by the Kashmiri Deobandi scholar
Maulvi Muhammad Mir 
Qasmi, is the book’s saving grace, being well-argued
and informative. 
Titled ‘Kashmir Main Kitney Musalman Isai Bane?’ (‘How
Many Muslims Have 
Become Christians in Kashmir?’), it provides a fairly
detailed account 
of the working of various Christian missionary outfits
in the Valley.  
Qasmi provides varying estimates of the number of
Muslim converts to 
Christianity in Kashmir in the last ten years, from
12,000, as claimed by 
the Srinagar-based newspaper ‘Greater Kashmir’, to
20,000, a figure 
cited by the Kashmiri Urdu paper al-Safa. He then goes
on to provide a 
broad historical overview of the Christian missionary
presence in Kashmir, 
starting with the first European missionary, Robert
Clarke, as early as 
in 1854. Clarke was followed by several other
missionaries, Catholic as 
well as Protestant, some of whom set up educational
catering to the Kashmiri elite, in the hope of winning
them to Christianity, 
and then, through them, hoping to reach out to the
masses as well. Some 
of these schools still exist and are regarded as among
the best 
institutions in the state. Yet, Qasmi notes, these
missionary endeavours were 
not particularly successful, and the number of
Kashmiri Muslim converts 
to Christianity remained meagre.

The situation has drastically changed in the last
fifteen years in the 
state, Qasmi says. Taking advantage of the plight of
the poor and the 
victims of the ongoing strife, he says, numerous
Christian missionary 
groups have established their presence in the Valley.
Most of them are 
generously financed by rightwing, fundamentalist
Christian evangelical 
orgaisations based in America and western Europe.
Qasmi provides a 
detailed account of various missionary organisations
presently working all 
over Kashmir, suggesting a well-organised campaign to
Christianity, often disguised in the garb of helping
hapless Kashmiris. Some of 
them are engaged in some sort of social work, such as
employment, medical assistance and education, details
of which Qasmi provides, 
but these are clearly meant simply as an evangelical

Qasmi speaks about a carefully designed division of
labour between 
various missionary organisations in order to make
their work more 
effective. Thus, for instance, Frontiers works among
the Gujjars of Dar, near 
Srinagar, Agape Mission is based among the Hanjis or
house-boat owners in 
Srinagar, Gospel for Asia focuses on the villages
along the border with 
Pakistan, The Goodway is active in the
Patan-Magam-Tangmarg triangle, 
Campus Crusade for Christ works among students in
Pulwama and Srinagar, 
Eternal Life Ministries among leprosy patients in
Nagin, and Operation 
Agape among surrendered militants. Some missionary
organisations have 
tried to develop culturally more acceptable forms of
communication in 
order to make for more effective communication with
prospective converts. 
This, for instance, is the case with the Noor-i Hayat
Church, the 
al-Bashar Fellowship and the al-Masihi Jama‘at
Fellowship, whose ‘Muslim’ 
names have probably been deliberately chosen in order
to make them seem 
somewhat innocuous and culturally familiar to their
Muslim target 
audience. Some of these groups have also prepared
propaganda material in the 
Kashmiri language, using forms and styles that the
local Muslims can 
easily identify with. Such, for instance, is the case
of an organisation 
that distributes free audiotapes on Christianity at
Batamaloo, located 
in the very heart of Srinagar.

Qasmi argues that for many Muslim converts, conversion
is simply an 
economic choice. He writes that a sizeable number of
the converts adopt 
Christianity simply in order to avail the educational,
medical or 
economic assistance that missionary groups promise to
provide them with. To 
buttress this claim he refers to a number of converts
who, after joining 
one denomination and reaping material benefits of some
sort, then 
choose to join another, rival Christian denomination
if they are promised 
further material gain. For some Kashmiri converts as
well as other Indian 
Christians employment in missionary organisations
based in Kashmir also 
provides a good source of income, far beyond what they
could otherwise 
expect. Such, for instance, is the case of a Manipuri
associated with the American-funded Operation Agape,
who lives in a posh 
locality in Srinagar. Qasmi quotes this missionary as
saying that for him 
his work is simply a job, and that he took it up
because he could find 
no alternate employment in his home-state.  A similar
case that Qasmi 
cites is of a Kashmiri Muslim convert who works with
the US-based German 
Town Baptist Church in Pulwama. An unemployed
graduate, he now receives 
a regular salary and his missionary employers have
promised to send him 
abroad for higher studies.

At the same time, Qasmi also admits that not all
converts to 
Christianity choose to adopt the faith simply out of
economic motives. He refers 
to some converts whose change of faith was motivated
by genuine 
spiritual concern, or as a result of being impressed
with the dedication and 
sincerity of the Christian workers that they came in
touch with. Such, 
for instance, is the case of a certain Sarwan Khan, a
resident of 
Poonch, whom Qasmi describes as the convenor of all
Protestant groups active 
in Jammu and Kashmir. Qasmi writes that Khan chose to
become a convert 
principally out of disgust at what he saw as the local
Muslims’ neglect 
of the plight of their needy co-religionists. Qasmi
refers to some 
other converts, mainly poor people as well as victims
of the ongoing 
violence in Kashmir, who chose to accept Christianity
because their fellow 
Muslims were indifferent to their misery, while the
Christian workers 
whom they came into contact with willingly helped
them. Qasmi refers to 
the case of an old widow, whose only son was killed,
leaving her alone to 
fend for her three daughters. No Muslims offered to
help her, and so 
she was forced to take the assistance of a Christian
Impressed by the missionary’s generosity and
dedication, she decided to convert 
to Christianity. She explains her conversion as a
protest against 
Kashmiri Muslim leaders who, she claims, keep talking
about piety and 
religion, but do nothing to help the poor. 

Qasmi argues that in order to meet the missionary
challenge, Muslim 
organisations need to get their act together and
engage in constructive 
social work among the poor instead of simply fighting
polemical battles. 
He outlines a broad programme for Muslim religious
organisations and 
leaders to adopt, most importantly being promoting
education, not simply 
Islamic but modern as well, among poor Muslims in the
state who are the 
most vulnerable to the blandishments of the
missionaries. Qasmi’s other 
suggestions include starting medical centres,
employment generation 
projects, orphanages and vocational training centres
to help the poor and 
the needy. He stresses that the Jammu and Kashmir
Awqaf Board, which 
controls most Muslim endowments in the state, should
play a leading role 
in this regard, given the vast resources at its
command which have not 
been put to proper use all these years. Qasmi also
recognises that in 
many cases the conversions reflect a growing
disillusionment among many 
Kashmiris with the ongoing violence in the state, as
well as a yearning 
for peace. Unfortunately, he chooses not to elaborate
on this vital 
point. However, it is clear that for at least some
converts the continued 
violence in Kashmir, in which certain radical Islamist
groups are 
deeply implicated, must certainly have been a cause of
leading them to choose to convert to Christianity, a
fact that Qasmi himself 
admits in passing.

As probably the only available book on the subject,
this book provides 
useful insights into the dynamics of Christian
missionary work in a 
politically very sensitive part of the world, although
it lacks sufficient 
ethnographic depth. Given the fact that the American
establishment now 
sees right-wing Christian missionary groups as a major
ally in its 
military involvement in the Muslim world, as
exemplified most clearly in 
Iraq today where missionaries are working in tandem
with the American 
occupation forces, the book points to the urgent need
for more in-depth 
and detailed studies of the political economy of
Christian missionary 
groups, many of them American-funded, working among
Muslims today, 
including in Kashmir.  

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