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Passion Islam I February 2009 SPECIAL FEATURE I 25
with Tibet. However, there was community of Muslims flourished Tibetan Muslims have unique
little proselytisation among the in Lhasa working there mainly as architectural styles, and this is most
missionaries at first, although many butchers. notable among the Ladakhi. Mosques,
of them decided to settle in Tibet However, with the influx of for instance, are built in a quaint blend
and marry Tibetan women. In 710- Kashmiri immigrants to Ladakh and of Persian and Tibetan styles. This is
720,during the reign of Mes-ag- forced conversions of Buddhists to evidenced in its beautifully decorated
tshoms the Arabs, who now had more Islam, isolated conflicts between walls, sloping walls designed to
of a presence in China, started to the Buddhists and Muslims were withstand earthquakes, and even
appear in Tibet and were allied with frequent, especially in Leh. There Kada scarfs being hanged at the
them along with the Eastern Turks were even cases when members of doorway of the mosques.
against the Chinese. During the reign the Soma Gompa and Jama Masjid Another interesting feature of
of the Sadnalegs (799-815), under came out to fight, thus resulting in Tibetan Muslim architecture is that their
Tride Songtsän (Khri lde srong brtsan tensions between Buddhist and mosques encompass the Imambara,
- generally known as Sadnalegs) there Muslim members of the same family. a small artefact surmounted on the
was a protracted war with Arab powers After the invasion of Tibet in 1959 domes of metal sheets.
to the West. It appears that Tibetans a group of Tibetan Muslims made a
captured a number of Arab troops case for Indian nationality based on Special privileges
and pressed them into service on the their historic roots to Kashmir and before Communist rule
Eastern frontier in 801. Tibetans were the Indian government declared all The Tibetan Muslims had their own
active as far West as Samarkand and Tibetan Muslims Indian citizens later mosques in Lhasa and Shigatse, and
Kabul. Arab forces began to gain the on that year. plots of land were given to bury their
upper hand, and the Tibetan governor ancestors.
of Kabul submitted to the Arabs and Today They were also exempted from
became a Muslim about 812 or 815. As of today, most of the 99% of Tibetan taking vegetarian meals, on Buddha’s
The 12th century witnessed a Muslims are followers of the Sunni birthday, which is mandatory for all
large scale migration of Muslim denomination. Despite the factor of followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and
traders from Kashmir and the Persian their religion, the Tibetan Muslims this practice upon the followers of
Empire to Tibet, most notable was the have comfortably assimilated into the Bön was not excluded. A Ponj (from
community that they established in Tibetan community, while following Urdu/Hindi Pancch meaning village
Lhasa. Like their Arab predecessors, Islamic traditions. On the other hand, committee or Panchayat) was elected
these men settled down and married the Balti and Burig have partially to take care of the affairs within the
Tibetan women, who followed their adopted Afghan customs. The Balti Tibetan Muslim community.
husbands’ religion. Proselytisation of and Burig peoples mostly follow In addition, Muslims were even
Islam first took place in Baltistan and Shi’ism and/or Sufism. exempted from removing their caps to
the Suru Valley from the 14th to the Especially in music, the Tibetan Lamas during a period in a year, when
16th centuries, which converted the Muslims have made contributions to the Iron pole Lamas held sway over
vast majority of the Tibetan Burig and Tibetan culture. The Nangma, also the town. Muslims were also granted
Balti communities. known as Naghma in Urdu which the Mina Dronbo, a status that invited
Especially under the reign of means melody, are high-pitched all Tibetans, irrespective of religion,
Lozang Gyatso, the Tibetan Muslims tilting songs that have been popular to commemorate the assumption of
led a relatively carefree life, and among all Tibetans. They have also spiritual and temporal authority by
were given special privileges, in the adopted Tibetan customs, especially Lozang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama.
sense that they were exempted from in the field of marriage, although they However, these special privileges
observing certain Buddhist religious have strictly maintained their Islamic ended with the beginning of the
customs. In the 17th century a small customs at the same time. Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959.
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