International Congress on “Islamic History, Culture and Heritage of Kashmir”

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The International Congress on “Islamic History, Culture and Heritage of Kashmir” was organized jointly by IRCICA, the National History and Literary Heritage Division of the Government of Pakistan, and the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, in Islamabad, on 4-5 April 2019.

H.E. Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Chief Guest of the congress, delivered a comprehensive address at the opening.
The congress was attended by scholars and experts from within and outside Pakistan and international organizations.

The opening ceremony started with the opening remarks of Eng. Mr. Aamer Hasan, Secretary of the National History and Literary Heritage Division, Government of Pakistan. Mr. Hasan outlined the main objective of the congress, to promote and increase awareness about the Islamic history and cultural heritage of Kashmir by bringing together international and national scholars specializing on different aspects of the theme and issue recommendations for safeguarding this cultural heritage.

Then IRCICA Director General Prof. Dr. Halit Eren gave his address in which he underlined the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of Kashmir with scholarly and practical works. Director General said that the congress organized through a joint diplomatic and academic effort reflected the common concern of the Member States of OIC and IRCICA over the issue of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It would project a learned message to the world on the cultural heritage of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Prof. Eren outlined the activities of IRCICA on the preservation of cultural heritage, particularly those related to heritage in conflict areas. He emphasized the direct linkage between the challenges facing cultural heritage and the problems of inter-faith relations.

In his address, H.E. Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, Federal Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training and Federal Minister for National History and Literary Heritage, Pakistan, underlined that a very important context of the conference was the recent wave of Islamophobia. It is even more important in this day and age that there are instances like the one in New Zealand that are driven by hate; people are killing Muslims because the hate is so much in there. This hate can get reflected in other areas also; it is known that priceless artifacts, Islamic historical artifacts have been stolen and taken away from Muslim countries. This is a big challenge and everything has to be done to protect Islamic heritage. The other important context of this conference is the historical linkages between Pakistan and Kashmir. What is happening in Kashmir today is that a very brutal regime has unleashed terrible atrocities against people of Jammu and Kashmir. Thousands and thousands of people have been killed. All this has been done to suppress the people but they are failing. So the congress is very important because in its context the shared history and heritage is so evident and therefore the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is so obvious. Heritage is reflective of history. For a very long time the greatest impact in this region has been that of Islamic civilization. Therefore, many of the sites belong to the Islamic civilization.

Ambassador Ahmet Sareer, Special Advisor to the Secretary General of OIC H.E. Yousef b. Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, read the address of the Secretary General to the congress. The address pointed to the problem of growing Islamophobia and underlined the need to protect Islamic cultural heritage. The Secretary General congratulated the congress organizers in Pakistan for highlighting the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir in these difficult times.

H.E. Mr. Sardar Masood Khan, President of the State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, delivered a comprehensive address in which he said that Islam spread in Kashmir not through conquests but by words and deeds of mystics and saints, whose piety, righteousness, spirituality and care for humanity impressed the local population to convert to Islam. As a result, a rich heritage and architecture was brought to and developed in Kashmir, with a legacy of matchless and unique arts, crafts and industries, including carpet, shawl and textile weaving, paper-mache, wood carving, calligraphy, embroidery and other trades. Azad Kashmir boasts very unique archaeological and historical sites including ancient sited like Sharda University, Bagsar Fort, Mangla Fort, Mughal Mosque, Ramkot, Red Fort of Muzaffarabad and also famous Sufi shrines like Pir Chinasi, Khari Sharif, Darbar Baba Shadi Shaheed, Haji Pir and Sain Saheli Sarkar. The President apprised the audience of the efforts being made by their Government to help preserve the local architecture, culture and heritage. The President concluding his remarks with the hope that a similar meeting be held in Muzaffarabad in future.

H.E. Dr. Arif Alvi, President of Pakistan, underlined Pakistan’s struggle against all forms of extremism and violence and its efforts to preserve cultural heritage in an atmosphere of peace and tolerance. The President said that the history of Kashmir spans over five thousand years and that Islamic arts and calligraphy have been a beauty of the region. This conference would give the participants a glimpse of the beautiful and peaceful culture and civilization of Kashmir. The President said that Kashmir and Palestine issues seek attention of world community and the United Nations must play its role to resolve them for world peace. He expressed satisfaction that the Muslim Ummah stands together on the Kashmir dispute. Azad Kashmir is the most peaceful region of Pakistan but the Indian occupied Kashmir is in deep pain. On the cultural heritage, the President said the rich heritage including languages and music instruments must be preserved and promoted. Azad Kashmir Government is actively working to revive and showcase its cultural heritage to the outside world.

At the end of the opening session, IRCICA Director General Prof. Halit Eren presented H.E. Arif Alvi, President of Pakistan, with the facsimile edition published by IRCICA, of the copy of the Holy Quran which is attributed to the period of Caliph Othman bin AffanR.A. and located at Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul.

Five academic sessions were held on the following themes, on 4 and 5 April 2019: History of Kashmir; Architectural Heritage of Kashmir; Cultural heritage of Kashmir; Literary Heritage of Kashmir; Archeological Assets of Kashmir. 25 leading scholars and experts specializing on the history, culture and heritage of Kashmir and the region participated in the congress from Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Authors, specialists, academics, artists and media circles from the region attended the congress.

The closing ceremony of the congress was held on 5 April 2019 with the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir H.E. Raja Farooq Haider as Chief Guest, with the participation of the scholars and dignitaries, and an audience of 200 people. Eng. Aamir Hasan, Secretary, National History and Literary Heritage Division of the Government of Pakistan, started the closing ceremony with his final remarks. Then the Director General of IRCICA Prof. Halit Eren delivered his closing speech and thanked the local hosts and the participants for their contributions for the successful completion of the congress. Afterwards H.E. Raja Farooq Haider, the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir addressed the participants and underlined the importance of such international academic events in making known the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir to world community. He said their government has been looking after the historical sites in the region and uplifting some sites and called for efforts to promote this heritage at international level. Ms. Ghazala Saifi, Parliamentary Secretary of National History and Literary Heritage, said that the Government is committed to preserve the national heritage of the country.

At the end of the closing ceremony, Director General of IRCICA Prof. Halit Eren presented Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider with a copy of the Album of Historical Photographs of Makkah al-Mukaramah and Madina al-Munawara which was published by IRCICA.

The Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir organized an exhibition of handicrafts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir which aroused great interest. The event was covered widely by the press and electronic media.

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