A Muslim cleric in Indian-administered Kashmir has issued an edict against the renovation of Islamic mosques and shrines by the Indian army. Grand Mufti Bashiruddin's edict, or fatwa, said only Muslims may carry out such work on holy sites.
India's army says it has spent more than $130,000 on the repair of Muslim holy sites in the region as part of its campaign for "hearts and minds". Indian troops have been fighting militants in Kashmir for 18 years. Several armed groups are fighting Delhi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.
India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the uprising - a charge Islamabad denies.
Grand Mufti Bashiruddin called on Kashmiri Muslims to fight "tooth and nail" against the Indian army's plans to renovate mosques, describing the troops' efforts as "interference". He told the Indian Express newspaper any mosque or shrine that had been "constructed, renovated or inaugurated by non-Muslims lacks Islamic bonafides".
"Muslims should boycott the shrines or mosques built by the army," he is quoted as saying. The mufti also called on Muslims to collect money to repay the Indian army for renovation work it had carried out on local mosques. Indian troops have been rebuilding damaged mosques and shrines as part of a campaign to win affections in Kashmir. Under Operation Sadbhavna or Goodwill, they have also built schools and other facilities in the state's rural areas.
However, the armed forces also occupy many schools and public buildings in Indian-administered Kashmir, using them as barracks.Analysts say the mufti's fatwa is likely to complicate the Indian army's efforts to improve its image in the region.
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