Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Yousuf Shah is one of the iconic personalities Kashmir has ever produced. He was born on 13 Shaban in 1311 Hijri at Rajouri Kadal in a highly dignified ‘Mirwaiz family’. His father, Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool Shah was a popular leader who served the cause of Muslims in Kashmir to liberate them from the pit of ignorance and backwardness. He was also known as the Sir Syed of Kashmir for his reformation activities.
As expected, Mirwaiz grew in an educational environment, received primary education from his parents but sadly his father died when he was only 10 years old. Later, he was brought up by his uncles, Moulvi Ahmedullah and Moulvi Attiqullah Shah. Mirwaiz had strong affinity and unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Consequently he left Kashmir with this intention of getting education elsewhere and, along with his close aide Moulana Meerak Shah, took admission in Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, a well-known religious educational institute of the subcontinent. During more than 7 years at Deoband, Mirwaiz had the golden opportunity to dwell in close proximity with the great Kashmiri scholar Moulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri, the most revered teacher in the seminary at that time. His patronage was of paramount importance and also a prestige for Mirwaiz as a result of which Mirwaiz emerged as a young, dynamic fellow of the seminary.
After completing Darse-Nizami course, Mirwaiz left for Lahore wherein he obtained Moulvi Fazil degree from the University of Punjab. During his stay in Deoband, Mirwaiz had voluntarily participated in the Khilafat movement and after returning back to Kashmir in 1924, the passion was still reverberating in his heart and mind. This led him to start a door to door campaign in his hometown Srinagar. The campaign was intended to wipe out ill-customs and other social evils from the society. This was the beginning of a career of a reformer, political and social worker. He discouraged shrine worship and even went against his own brother while demonizing it. He was made General Secretary of an association Anjuman Nusrat ul Islam, established by the late Mirwaiz Ghulam Rasool Shah in 1899, which played a vital role in educating people across the valley. The association also ran a Madrassa in Srinagar.
During the course of time Mirwaiz Moulana Ahmadullah passed away on April 3, 1931 and his brother Moulvi Attiqullah was not physically fit to take the reins as the Mirwaiz and therefore, Moulvi Muhammad Yousuf Shah was formally declared as Mirwaiz-e-Kashmir. From 1924 to 1931, simultaneously on the political horizon of Kashmir history, some important changes took place, which stirred up the anti-Maharaja sentiment. This was soon followed by a state-wide mass movement against autocracy (Dogra regime). Mirwaiz indeed played a key role in galvanizing the rights movement of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who had been facing oppression at the hands of Dogra forces for last several decades. Mirwaiz, at the outset of the rights movement, led the Kashmiri Muslims in a judicious manner. He was the leading person in the list of seven member delegates who were nominated as envoys by the Kashmiri Muslims during a huge public gathering at Khanqah-e-Molla to hold negotiations with Dogra ruler regarding the rights of Kashmiri people. Besides Mirwaiz, the other prominent members of the delegation were Mirwaiz Hamdani, Shahab-u-Din, Ghulam Ahmed Ashai and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
During a historic procession on 21st June 1931 at Khanqah-e-Molla, poignant speeches were delivered by the speakers against Dogra ruler’s anti-people policies. And when the proceedings were about to end, an unknown person who could not control his emotions rushed towards the dais and made a fiery speech against the autocratic ruler. He was immediately arrested by the Dogra forces. The young man was Qadeer Khan, who for his valiant role is being remembered with highest regards in the annals of Kashmir history. A sedition case was registered against this young man, several hearings took place and finally on 13th July 1931 thousands of people gathered in front of the Srinagar Central Jail, demanding right to attend his trial being held inside the jail. As they were not permitted, Dogra forces opened fire on the unarmed crowd and 22 Kashmiris were put to death. This gory episode proved out to be an important milestone in the popular liberation struggle.
Ghulam Abbass, Sheikh Abdullah along with three other leaders and common people were arrested. Despite the Maharaja’s reluctance, the dead bodies of these valiant Kashmiri martyrs were brought to Jamia Masjid, wherein, the Mirwaiz announced that they would be buried with great dignity and honour in the premises of Naqashaband Sahib, the famous Sufi saint of Kashmir. To strengthen the rights movement and to launch a systematic struggle against Dogra regime, the first largest political organization, Muslim Conference, was finally established in 1932. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was named as President and Chaudhry Ghulam Abass as General Secretary of the party. Sheikh was thrust on to the political scene by Mirwaiz only to later denounce the latter.
Being one among the pioneers of the MC, Mirwaiz vehemently opposed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s decision of converting Muslim Conference into National Conference and in mid-30s, he decided to segregate from the party. Chaudhry Ghulam Abbass, the General Secretary of the Party did not oppose Sheik Abdullah’s decision of renaming the organization at that very time. But after some time when Chaudhry became conscious of the gameplan, he approached the Mirwaiz and requested him for revitalizing the Muslim Conference. Thus, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference came into existence on 13th June 1941 with Chaudhry Ghulam Abbass as it’s president.
Following renaissance of the party, in 1943 Mirwaiz was specially invited at the All India Muslim League’s annual session that was held in Karachi. Mirwaiz attended the session thereby heading a 2-member delegation comprising of Moulvi Muhammad Amin, the father of Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq and Moulvi Meerak Shah. In May 1944, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan visited Kashmir valley, Mirwaiz presented a resolution to the visiting leader at Drugjan Srinagar and arranged a grand party in his honour at Mirwaiz Manzil. In 1945, Mirwaiz, while presiding the 13th annual session of Muslim Conference held at Poonch, delivered a historic speech and on 18th June 1946, the MC’s Central Committee meeting, which was chaired by the Mirwaiz, adopted a preliminary resolution regarding “Azad Kashmir” that was formally accepted by the MC chief patron, Chaudhry Ghulam Abbass on 26 July 1946 calling for end to the autocratic government.
In 1946, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah kicked off Quit Kashmir movement against Dogra ruler, awakening the entire the state by launching fierce speeches against the despotic ruler. Consequently, he was arrested and send behind the bars for several years. The MC leadership, particularly Chaudhry Sahib was scared of the political momentum gained by the NC patron and was of the view that his party must follow the same strategy. However, Mirwaiz opposed the idea and finally a meeting of the working committee was summoned in Srinagar wherein majority of the members favoured Abbas’s opinion and a decision was taken unanimously that a public gathering would be called at Muslim Park. As a result, top leadership of the MC including party head Chaudhry Ghulam Abbass, AR Saghar, Agha Showkat Ali and Maulvi Noor-u-Din were arrested as they tried to approach the venue where they were due to address a public rally but to avoid any trouble in the main city, Mirwaiz was not arrested on the occasion. The fall out of this “unwise and hastily” decision was that in 1947 when Pakistan, the newly born Muslim state came into being, the top leadership of All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was in jail.
On 19th July 1947, Muslim Conference adopted the Pakistan Resolution demanding that Kashmir should accede to Pakistan in matters of defense, foreign affairs, and communication while restoring autonomy within itself. Notwithstanding to the wishes and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja of the state resorted to violent means and unleashed terror in the state to suppress the popular sentiment, as a result people were subjected to severe inhuman treatment by the brutal forces of the Dogra Maharaja. The massacre of Jammu is witness to this worst ever human tragedy that more than 200 thousand Muslims of the state were killed and slaughtered mercilessly, while they were on their way to Pakistan. The mass uprising in the state was a big challenge for the autocratic ruler. Being the ring leader and a staunch supporter of Pakistan movement, Mirwaiz and his followers were targeted and subjected to severe mental as well as physical torture. His residence “Mirwaiz Manzil” that had been the epicenter of freedom movement was under severe attack of Dogra forces. When Dogra Raj introduced Devanagri as a medium in the school curriculum, Mirwaiz staunchly stood against it and termed it as “enmity against Islam” and an attempt to “Hinduize” Kashmir. He also opposed attaching Hindu titles to places, such as renaming Islamabad as Anantnag.
On September 06, 1947, Mirwaiz left for Lahore to meet Muhammad Ali Jinnah to apprise him of the worsening political situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir. After having a detailed discussion with Jinnah, Mirwaiz was about to return home when tyrant Maharaja banned his re-entry in the state. This forced exile, led the Mirwaiz-e-Kashmir to live his rest of his life in Pakistan, unlike millions of expatriate Kashmiris and earned him the title Muhajir-e-Millat. In Pakistan, he remained fully engaged in political, religious as well as social activities. In 1949, he was appointed as the Education Minister in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir and in 1952, he was unanimously designated as president of the Muslim Conference. In 1956, Mirwaiz was elected as the president of PaK. He was the president of PaK twice, in 1952 and 1956.
In 1964 a high-level delegation led by Mirwaiz visited some 22 European and Islamic countries, wherein he briefed the EU member countries and the heads of Muslim states about the genesis of Kashmir conflict and the historical struggle of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. In 1965, when Revolutionary Council was established in Indian administered Kashmir against India’s illegal occupation, the Council nominated him the as the spokesperson in Pakistan.
Besides fighting for the Kashmiris’ political rights he was fully engaged in spreading the message of Islam. He was friends with the great Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad who visited him frequently while writing the translation of Sahih al-Bukhari in Srinagar. He was a great religious scholar who had the honor to interpret the Holy Quran in the native language (Kashmiri). Bayan-ul-Furqaan is the Kashmiri translation-cum-interpretation of the Holy Book widely available in markets. Pertinently, in recognition of his scholarly work, the government of Saudi Arabia got his work published and it still graces the libraries of the blessed land. Mirwaiz had this privilege to be the first ever Kashmiri religious scholar who had translated the Holy Quran in the native language.
As is the case there is another narrative built regarding Mirwaiz as a popular leader of Kashmir. Molvi Noorudin Qari even penned a poem lambasting Mirwaiz. A couplet goes like this;
‘No doubt there are many preachers
But their religion is money, not advice’
Molvi Noorudin Qari actually was flabbergasted at the division among Kashmiris which was a result of the animosity among leaders. Sher and Bakra episode is one of the examples how people of a single community could be divided along religious lines. However, it could also be Noorudin’s personal vendetta as he was a Qadiyani and Mirwaiz was verily against them. In the book Language of Belonging: Islam, Identity and Making of Kashmir, Chitralekha Zutshi mentions that in a letter Mirwaiz displayed his sincerity towards the Maharaja and dissociated himself from Sheikh Abdullah’s movement. However, acknowledging that Mirwaiz had a fallout with Sheikh for all acceptable reasons, it is quite unlikely for him to show loyalty towards Dogras considering the fact that he had fought them tooth and nail throughout his life. To do so for enjoying financial patronage from Dogras, as mentioned by Zutshi, is contemptible.
Mirwaiz was one of the standouts among the leaders of Kashmir who used all his strength for the betterment of his countrymen. He passed away on 12th December 1968 in Rawalpindi (As per the Islamic lunar calendar his passing away anniversary is commemorated on the 17th of Ramadan every year). He was buried at Upper Adda graveyard, opposite to the University Campus in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir.