Earliest Tibetan Muslims in Tibet are believed to have settled from Ladakh and Kashmir regions during the 12th century. Historically, Tibetan Muslims led a harmonious life in a Buddhist majority nation, mostly confining to trade and commerce livelihood. Many Tibetan Muslims who resided in Lhasa, Shigatse, and Tsethang have subsequently fled from Tibet in the year 1960 after Chinese takeover of Tibet.
A large number of Tibetans Muslims who fled Tibet are now settled in Kashmir, one of the nearest Islamic regions bordering Tibet. Around 2000 Tibetan Muslims currently reside in the Kashmir valley, the majority of whom live and work around in Srinagar, where the Dalai Lama is currently visiting. The Dalai Lama first met with the Srinagar Tibetan Muslim community in 1975 and later again in 1988 and has continued to keep in touch with the situation of Tibetan Muslims who have a distinct identity as a Kashmiri and Tibetan.
Table Talk invites three Tibetan Muslims to discuss the history, challenges and plight of Tibetan Muslims. Abdul Majid Rabsel, Mohammed Ali and Masoot Bhatt share their story.
Abdul Majid Rabsel's father Hamidullah was an assistant to Robert Ford, a well-known Tibet radio operator and a British diplomat in the late 1940s. Abdul’s father was arrested by the Chinese authorities for assisting the Dalai Lama’s escape to India and for his close connections with Tibetan officials. He was imprisoned and tortured, and later died in prison. Abdul Majid recollects his family’s futile search for his missing father and his distraught upon hearing his tragic death.
May Tibetan muslims students were sent to India to join Islamic institutes of higher learning such as Darul-Uloom in Deoband, Nadwatul-Ulema in Lucknow and Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. Mohammed Ali, who came to India in 1957 joined Darul-U1oom Islamic University, India. According to Mohammed, there were about 60 Tibetan Muslim students in different parts of Indian Islamic centers in the late 1950s. In his own center, he recalls having 12 students. Mohammed shares how the conflicts in Tibet and tragic events of the 1950s deeply impacted his studies and personal life.
Masoot Bhatt was born in Srinagar and went to a Shimla and Mussorie Central School for Tibetan school. After completing his studies, he joined as a Tibetan civil servants and worked in the Dharamsala-based Central Tibetan Administration’s Department of Information and International Relations for 17 years. He speaks about the challenges of the next generation of Tibetan Muslims and the current socio-economic situation of Tibetan Muslims.