Srinagar, Feb. 9 (AP): An Islamic procession on Thursday in the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir turned into a protest against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and 25 people were arrested as police beat back angry demonstrators, an officer said.
Separately, the state’s highest Islamic leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, appealed to clerics and prayer leaders across the region to hold “forceful” but peaceful protests against the cartoons at mosques during Friday prayers, calling the drawings part of a long-running conspiracy against Islam.
Senior Superintendent of Police Muneer Khan, said officers were trying to enforce a federal law that bans gatherings in Jammu-Kashmir when about 200 people tried to mark the Muharram holiday with a procession through the central part of Srinagar, the state’s summer capital.
Police hit the Shiite Muslim marchers with batons after they tried to break past barricades, as the protesters hurled stones at the officers and shouted “Down with Denmark” and “Down with Israel.”
“For a long time, enemies of Islam and Muslims are conspiring against us and now under the garb of the freedom of press, the enemies are casting slurs against the prophet himself, which is intolerable for the Muslims and the community,” Farooq said.
“This is my humble request to you that … during Friday prayers, please raise your collective voices against the insulting and provocative caricatures of the prophet and condemn them forcefully in your mosques and congregations,” he said in a message to Kashmir’s clerics. “I urge that the protests should be peaceful.”
The federal law against gatherings, aimed at preventing rioting, was imposed because of a 16-year-old insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir by separatist Islamic militants.
More than 67,000 people have been killed in the violence since 1989. Kashmir is also the focus of a six-decade-old territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, both of which control parts of the region and claim all of it.
Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in Hindu-majority India, has a small but influential community of Shiite Muslims. Sunnis, the largest sect in Islam, are also the majority in Kashmir.
The Muharram holiday commemorates the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in a battle in the Iraqi town of Karbala. The 10-day holiday is marked by prayers, processions and mourning plays recounting the battle.