In the din of post-Friday protests on May 25, the desperate calls for help from the Jamia Masjid raised an alarm in the Old City. It was the muezzin—known for his resounding Azan—pleading for the bleeding and fainting persons inside the attacked mosque. Hours later he was on a different task, which saved the day for the faithful during the holy Ramzan at Jamia Masjid.
As Muezzins, the one who calls to prayer, announce the end of Sehri, the meal at dawn, with resounding Azans, some faithful—both men and women—from the Old City take heavy steps toward the Jamia Masjid. It’s little over 4am; and in this hour of freshness, the assault gas shot in the locality yesterday still hangs in the air. On their way to implore, the faithful keep coughing, clearing their throats — some even rubbing their eyes to overcome a burning sensation.
The pathway leading to the main entrance is littered with smashed bricks, hollow gas canisters and concertina wire. Just a walk inside, and the ambiance of the grand mosque turns sullen, mournful.
The faithful shudder walking on the blood-stained floor.
Till afternoon yesterday, the floor was covered by a carpet, now caked with blood and rolled at the side.
Such was the offensive that dripped blood from the wounded persons had seeped through the thick carpet, smearing the mosque floor crimson.
Despite the floor being washed last evening following the thawed protests, the blood strains are still there.
Inside devotees wear long faces. Some sit in small groups, discussing the yesterday’s attack. The young appear enraged. The usual pre-dawn praying assembly is quiet, patiently waiting for clock to strike 4:15am—the praying time.
As time comes, the Jamia Masjid Muezzin and a revered figure in Old City circles, Molvi Muhammad Yasin stands up. Only two rows of worshipers have turned up for the dawn prayers.
Some 15 minutes later, as the prayer ends, the Muezzin stands up, leaving the post-Salah supplication midway. He hurriedly walks toward the fountain, sited in the centre of the mosque.
Three men are cleaning the base of the empty fountain with wipers. The muezzin has come to enquire about the status of the work.
Almost done, they reply.
“The fountain was full of blood yesterday,” Molvi Yasin tells me, as he guides the young volunteers. “We had to empty it, wash the floor and make the mosque available for the faithful, on this auspicious Ramzan, once again.”
Sporting a snow-white beard and thoughtful stance, the Muezzin struggles to recount the yesterday’s situation.
“They had come with an evil intent,” he says. “That’s why they were deployed around the mosque, well before the congregational prayers.”
And the moment the usual Friday protest broke out, the cops and CRPF chased the protesters inside the mosque. The main entrance where many of these protesters take shelter is an apparent borderline in the weekly clashes at Nowhatta. The forces usually retreat from that point.
“But yesterday,” Molvi Yasin says, “they crossed the line and fired inside the mosque without regarding the sanctity of the place and the worshippers, including elderly persons, women, children.”
The mosque, he continues, had suddenly become some emergency hospital ward, where the wounded persons were either crying for help or withering in pain after being hit by pellets.
“While women were fainting, the injured men—some shot with pellets in eyes—were falling down on the floor,” he says. “I’ve never seen such a bloody attack on this revered mosque in my 58 years of being a muezzin here.”
The entire mosque space got filled with smoke — making it some kind of a gas chamber, where the devotees were desperately running to breathe some fresh air. It was then that Molvi Yasin dished out an emergency help call from Jamia Masjid’s public addressing system: Somebody please call ambulances! The mosque is filled with injured. They need immediate medical care. Please!
The call didn’t end there.
As forces sealed the exit gates, the Muezzin had to repeatedly raise the pitch for help. He was later joined by others, calling the locals from the adjoining areas to come to the rescue of the devotees inside.
“I’m witness to some terrible times, when this entire area would be turned into a mini-fortress—especially during the early nineties, when our young men were either being slaughtered on the streets or subjected to enforced disappearance,” the Muezzin says. “Even then, the mosque was spared from the larger assault. That distinction has sadly been blurred now. And it pains me when I think how Kashmiri police men were at forefront of yesterday’s attack on this mosque.”
A barrage of pellets fired inside has even bored the towering pillars of the mosque.
“At the time of the assault,” Molvi Yasin says, “the mosque was filled with devotees from the city and countryside. Will this government ever explain, what did those fasting worshippers did to deserve such an assault? Is this their idea of Ramzan ceasefire?”
Before sundown, the police shot a statement on the incident, blaming some “miscreants” for the situation.
However, the statement was silent over many questions, which people like Yasin are now asking: Why were the forces deployed around the mosque before the prayers? Why did they gas and let loose those controversial duck-hunting guns on the faithful inside? And importantly, why the mosque was bathed in fasting Muslims’ blood during the Ramzan?
By twilight, another statement shot by the head priest Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Hurriyat faction had called for immediate closure of the grand mosque, for some time, as “blood stains are all over the floor”.
But even before the announcement could disappoint many Jamia Masjid regulars, Yasin had turned up inside the mosque, leading the local volunteers to clean the mosque on war-footing.
It was because of their efforts that Jamia Masjid was once again thrown open for the last prayers of the same day.
The mosque might need another round of cleaning to wash off blood stains from its floor, but the Muezzin’s proactive role has already saved the auspicious occasion of Ramzan for thousands of devotees at Jamia Masjid.
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