Tibetan Muslim community forges robust connections in Kashmir

In the picturesque city of Srinagar, located in Jammu and Kashmir, a remarkable community of Tibetan Muslims has found a flourishing home. Accepted as fellow believers in this predominantly Muslim region, around 1,500 Tibetan Muslims have not only preserved their distinct culture and traditions but have also developed strong connections with their Kashmiri neighbors. Through vibrant restaurants and cultural initiatives, they have fostered unity and understanding, showcasing the power of cultural integration.

Unlike many Tibetan refugees who sought refuge in Dharamshala after escaping their homeland six decades ago, these Tibetan Muslims perceive their arrival in Kashmir as a homecoming to their ancestral roots. Centuries ago, their ancestors migrated from Kashmir to Lhasa, where they intermarried with Tibetans, embraced the Tibetan language, and formed a unique community. Their lives in Lhasa were characterized by religious freedom and thriving business endeavors.

Since settling in Kashmir, the Tibetan Muslim community has primarily made Srinagar their home, particularly in the vicinity of the historic Hari Parbat Fort. The neighborhood now thrives with Tibetan restaurants and establishments proudly displaying the cultural heritage of its residents. Among them, the Lhasa Restaurant, managed by Ahmad Kamal Zarief, has become a local favorite. Tibetan delicacies, including the beloved Momos, have gained immense popularity among younger Kashmiris, forging stronger bonds between the communities.

For Zarief, the restaurant holds deep sentimental value as it allowed his father, Abdul Rehman Zarief, to reconnect with his Tibetan heritage. Through the flavors of Tibetan cuisine, Abdul found solace and treasured memories of his ancestral village. The Lhasa Restaurant not only serves as a testament to the preservation of Tibetan traditions but also as a bridge connecting Tibetan Muslims and Kashmiris through shared culinary experiences.

Intercommunity marriages, while not common, have occurred between Tibetan Muslims and Kashmiris, further bringing the communities together. Nighat Qazi, who married a Tibetan man and has three children, initially faced resistance from her family. However, over time, her decision has been appreciated and embraced as an example of greater integration and understanding through cross-community unions.

The younger generation of Tibetan Muslims has gradually let go of their longing for their ancestral homeland, which remains under Chinese control. Consequently, they have embraced Kashmiri customs, language, and preferences, blending seamlessly with their Kashmiri friends. At the Tibetan Public School, where the revered Dalai Lama delivered a speech in 2012, most students are local Kashmiris. The influence of their Kashmiri peers is evident as they share activities and aspirations, forming strong bonds that transcend cultural boundaries.

Despite assimilating into Kashmiri culture, Tibetan Muslims have successfully preserved their native language. Within their homes, they continue to communicate in their language, recognizing it as one of the finest Tibetan dialects. Although they have resided in Kashmir for over six decades, it was only in 2019, when the Indian government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, that Tibetan Muslims received official citizenship and the right to permanent residence. Throughout their time in Kashmir, they have experienced warm hospitality and acceptance from the Kashmiri people, fostering a sense of belonging and community.

The thriving Tibetan Muslim community in Kashmir exemplifies the power of acceptance, cultural exchange, and integration. Through their unique journey, they have not only preserved their heritage but also formed deep bonds with the local Kashmiri population. Embracing their current reality, Tibetan Muslims have found comfort and prosperity in Kashmir, interweaving their rich traditions with the vibrant tapestry of Kashmiri culture.

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