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SRINAGAR, India (Reuters Life!) - Who is buried at a small shrine in Kashmir? Jesus or medieval Muslim scholars?
Renewed debate over whose remains are actually in the Rozabal shrine, which attracts hundreds of tourists to the capital of lndia's only Muslim-dominated region, has led caretakers to close it to visitors after allowing access for several years.
A decades-old theory that Jesus survived the crucifixion and spent his remaining years in Kashmir had drawn many people to Rozabal, a single-storey shrine with a traditional sloping roof located in a congested residential area of the capital Srinagar.
But most locals believe the shrine is the final resting place of Muslim preachers and scholars Youza Asif and Syed Naseer-ud-Din, who lived in the area centuries ago. The increasing traffic has angered them, prompting security fears in a region that has seen its fair share of violence.
"Some Christians from the West claim it is the grave of Jesus and they had approached us with a request to exhume the remains for carbon dating and DNA testing. But we refused," Mohammad Amin Ringshawl, the shrine's caretaker, told Reuters.
"By claiming Rozabal is Jesus' tomb the foreigners are hurting Muslim sentiments, so to avoid any trouble we have locked the sanctum sanctorum."
Close to one of Kashmir's holiest shrines, the Rozabal consists of a wooden chamber placed over a gravestone. It is covered with a green cloth embroidered with verses from the Koran and Muslims often stop to say prayers as they pass by.
The idea that Jesus survived crucifixion and visited Kashmir was first raised in the 1973 book "Christ in Kashmir," by local journalist Aziz Kashmiri. Several other books followed it.
"Jesus Christ, after crucifixion, migrated from his native land, reached and settled in Kashmir, completed his mission, passed away, and was laid to eternal rest," Kashmiri writes in his book.
Local Muslim scholars and historians, however, ridicule Kashmiri's theory. Muslims revere Jesus as one of God's prophets, but they do not believe he died during his crucifixion.
"If Isa (Jesus) visited Kashmir and settled here, we would have all become Christians. But that is not the case in the valley," said Irshad Ahmad, a Muslim scholar.
Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Miral Fahmy