Kashmir shrine gutted, probe ordered (Roundup)

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 25, 2012 16:20 hrs

Srinagar, June 25 (IANS) The revered Peer Dastgeer Sahib shrine in Srinagar was gutted Monday, sparking protest by angry youths. An official said the holy relic of the 11th century Muslim saint was safe and a probe has been ordered into the fire.

"The holy relic (a hair of the saint's beard) was kept in a fire/burglary proof vault inside the shrine. The holy relic is safe and has been retrieved," a senior official of the state government told IANS.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered a probe into the incident that destroyed the wooden shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, better known as Peer Dastgeer Sahib.

Addressing a hurriedly convened press conference, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Sagar said Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Asgar Samoon would probe the reasons behind the blaze that destroyed the over 300-year-old shrine in the Khanyar area of the city.

Sagar, a legislator from Khanyar, said no effort would be spared to rebuild and restore the shrine.

Syed Khalid Hussain Jeelani, the custodian of the relics inside the shrine, has confirmed that all relics of the saint are safe.

"The holy relic (a hair of the saint's beard), a historical manuscript of the Holy Quran and other relics are safe and have been retrieved from the shrine," Jeelani said.

Both groups of separatist Hurriyat Conference headed by hardliner Syed Ali Geelani and moderate Mirwaiz Umer Farooq expressed shock at the incident and called for shutdown across the Kashmir Valley to mourn the tragedy.

Governor N.N. Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah besides many other political and religious leaders also expressed regret over the fire incident.

Flames first appeared on the shrine's roof around 6.30 a.m. and engulfed the entire wooden structure within minutes.

Dozens of fire tenders from fire service headquarters and adjoining areas were pressed into service to fight the blaze. But before it could be brought under control, the fire had destroyed the entire structure.

Scores of weeping and wailing devotees, especially women from the old city, gathered around the shrine praying loudly for the protection of the structure and the relics.

Markets in the old city shut down after the incident as police diverted all traffic from the old city to the uptown area.

Immediately after the blaze, youths resorted to heavy stone pelting at the police. A mob also attacked the Khanyar police station.

Police used tear smoke shells and batons to disperse the protestors.

As many as 20 people, including 10 protestors and 10 policemen, were injured in the daylong clashes.

A senior police officer said none of the injured has sustained any life threatening injury.

Interestingly, the saint, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, who was born in the Mazandaran province of Iran in 1077 AD, never visited Kashmir.

An Afghan governor, Sardar Abdullah Khan, brought the relics to the valley 337 years ago and established these at the shrine.

The saint is known as Peer Dastgeer and Ghaus-e-Azam by Muslims and as Kahnoow by Hindus.

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