A Fate Divided by Faith

Posted on June 18, 2010 in Society

Arastu Zakia Jowher:

Who is a Muslim? Who is an Indian? Is a Muslim just as Indian as other citizens or is a Muslim’s Indian-ness always under doubt? Does a Muslim deserve equal rights? Does a Muslim actually have to bear more than other Indians? Are Muslims actually as bad as they are assumed to be nowadays? If the world had its way, I would be told that my opinion on these issues is unimportant or that I just shouldn’t have an opinion. Maybe because I am too inexperienced or too immature or maybe I am just too young. Even if for a while I concede that all these accusations may be true, still I am human and I too have a heart that feels and a brain that thinks just as much as someone experienced, mature and old.

When I was even younger than I am now, my heart asked me why my friends left me the moment they discovered that their friend who displayed no visible or audible signs of belonging to a particular religion is actually a Muslim? My heart wondered why I used to be so scared of filling up the ‘Religion’ field in all school papers and forms? My heart dreaded the next question that was usually posed after people heard my uncommonly unreligious name. My heart mourned when it saw my Muslim friends being scanned by glances full of disdain and contempt whenever they dared to venture into non-muslim areas wearing a traditional kurta-pyjama after the Friday namaz. My heart was torn into pieces when we had to run for survival to an entirely Muslim occupied ghetto during the 2002 massacre in Gujarat because the locality we lived in was too cosmopolitan to not get burnt.

Having existed through the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in the fourteenth year of my life, one night I saw my mother unexpectedly waking up from her sleep, standing on the bed and shouting hysterically assuming that a mob of rioters had come to burn her. As shocked as I was then and as amusing as it may sound now, that incident moved me. It told me what my otherwise silently enduring mother was passing through. It brought me face to face with the emotions playing havoc within the person I valued the most — my mother. The chain of thoughts that started within me after the initial shock subsided caused me to think — Is this what every single mother goes through? Is this what every single Muslim goes through? Does a Muslim or any human for that matter deserve this extent of fear, hatred and brutality for no apparent fault of theirs?

After repeated attempts at being secular and cosmopolitan were disallowed, I tried to seek solace within people socially assumed to be my own — Muslims. To my utter disbelief, they too ostracized me because their beards were at least a few inches long as compared to my clean shaven face. Because when we kids played on the streets and their parents came out shouting at them to rush to the masjid to offer namaz, they hid in their parking lots to make it appear as if they were busy praying and I continued to play. Because I wore shorts and they wore pants. Because when the maulana from the nearby mosque passed through our neighbourhood while all of us were playing, all my friends hid inside their houses and I refused to hide and defiantly continued to stand right there. Because when my friends told me that the maulana had told them to stop watching television, I fought against them. Because when my Muslim neighbours got into discussions of apne waale (our people) against unke waale (other people), I refused to add my red pepper to their already boiling and overflowing chutney. Because they offered namaz five times a day and my formally Muslim, habitually non-practicing and mentally unreligious family never forced or asked me to pray.

I felt like how a child would feel getting abandoned by his parents, then getting adopted by foster parents and then being abandoned again. I could go neither here nor there. My guardians refused to accept me and my own disowned me. If being Muslim was a crime in the Indian uncivil code, then being a questioning and non-practicing Muslim was a crime in the Muslim uncivil code.

These days, a lot of voices are being raised over the want of a progressive voice of Muslims. To me, such a voice would include two aspects:

1. The want for treatment of Muslims as equal citizens and an immediate end to all injustice against them and all others on religious lines

2. The development of a greater degree of tolerance amongst Muslims and an urge to give at least equal, if not more importance to education, knowledge, exposure and logic as compared to the practice and interpretation of religion.

Let me try to evaluate and compare the Indian Muslim Youth’s perspective with the above two points taking references from the ‘Study on the Mindsets of the Youth’ by a Youth group of which I am a member — ‘The Difference’. Out of the 832 18-25 year old respondents interviewed in Ahmedabad and Delhi under this Study, more than 11% were Muslims. Questions on issues like Religion, Gender, Politics & Governance, Stereotypes and Youth’s contribution to Society were put forth to the young respondents and a range of interesting responses were received.

When arguably the most debated topic of today’s times — Terrorism — was touched upon, a surprising outcome was seen. In ranking terrorism in order of priority with other issues like corruption, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, gender bias and communalism as threats to the nation, Hindu respondents ranked terrorism 5th whereas Muslim respondents ranked it first followed by communalism. This could indicate that Muslims are equally or probably more concerned about terrorism thanks to the kind of stereotyping that has risen in recent times. Also 17% of all respondents except Muslims said that terrorists are always Muslims. When asked if they feel safe, a much higher number of Muslim respondents answered negatively as compared to respondents from other religions. During discussions on the topic of marriages, quite a few respondents said that they wouldn’t mind marrying people belonging to other religions except Islam. Although not very major, but still a reasonably substantial prevalence of injustice against the Muslim community was evident from the outcomes of this Study.

On the flip side, when another highly discussed issue — Marriages — was put under the limelight, the Muslim community was the only one where a majority of both males and females desired to have an arranged marriage. Muslim females occupied the most major chunk of respondents out of those who refused to get married to someone of another caste, religion or someone younger to them. Also, while most other respondents were comparatively more open to the idea, 92.31% Muslim female respondents refused to marry against their parents’ wishes. These results implied a degree of intolerance and fundamentalism within the Muslim community.

But the fact that quite a few Muslim Youth now want to change and grow for the better was clearly visible too with quite a few of them conceding that the practices they have seen so far have been far too orthodox and they feel a need for change. Most of the Muslim respondents expressed a desire to get educated and supported reservation for women, SCs/STs, minorities and for the economically backward. The number of Muslim respondents was also the highest when asked if they would want to take up social work as an occupation.

At the cost of sounding authoritative and asking forgiveness for any misrepresentations, I would say that by and large the Indian Muslim Youth of today too hope to see their country India evolve into a nation free of injustice and their community full of tolerance, growth and free of fundamentalism. Whether the experienced, mature and the old make this happen or allow us — the inexperienced, immature and young to help remains to be seen…

The writer is a correspondent with Youth Ki Awaaz.

Youth Ki Awaaz

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Milesh

@Arastu

Arastu, Radhika has only asked what any person of this country would have easily answered. Instead you have taken us to the history.History might not have borders, but today we have,and these borders, though differ us, but also they make us unique. They make us a part of the giant family. I know this is a big and unending debatable topic but Leave the world at one side and if we put someone in an unknown place, what the first thing will he ask or anybody will ask him or what the first thought he will have in his mind? Will it be the RELIGION? NO. It will be his home,his family, that is, his country, which makes him unique and familiar. So is it wrong if someone ask him to be patriotic, to be at his country’s side in daily life as well as when his home is at stake(when his family is doing right thing)? What the family wants to hear, you know, ‘I am an Indian First, then after whatever I am.’,and this is obvious for any educated person. Religions divide us brother, and this new religion called Indianness unite us , binds us, makes us one,no matter what we are. Only this the country wants to hear to feel familiar and close. (In the context of the whole world, this new religion takes the form of Humanity, brotherhood for all the humans on this planet.)
Regarding what all people like you ,have suffered, I condemn not this violence acts, but I condemn the passivity of the government and the waking people like us, who could not forecast the events, I don’t know why the secular government and judiciary of India, the ASI, and all other organization wasted their valuable time in declaring the ownership of the debated Masjid and the Ayodhya land, why didn’t they throw out all the Gods from the Masjid or would have put all the Gods inside the Masjid and declare the unique architecture of Babri Masjid as the National Monument and Museum and the debated land as the Union Territory and open to all Indian communities? They would have done this rather than wasting their time and the crisis could have been averted.
There are always some miscreants who are narrow minded and lack the sensitivity , and our political parties are full of these people. It has been the habit of the people to blame ones background for the deeds of one sharing the same background. And so for the deed of one, all the innocents sharing the same background suffers. The question is why the one who is hurt go for the revenge against the one who had hurt him? Is it the result of the slackness of the internal security maintenance departments that the public has understood their incompetence and are willing to take the laws in their hands? General public doesn’t understand how the food is cooked, they only know what is put before them in their plate. So, for the minor and useless gains of someone, these general public are killed and are divided. Why isn’t there any law which prohibits the formation and the promotion and propagation of any political party on regional and religion grounds when the constitution of this country declares itself as the united, democratic and secular state of India? Why these miscreants are allowed to roam freely while the secular people of this country hide in fear? I condemn this silence of the secular and the progressive people!
What I have stated in my personal experiences, they are PERSONAL. and they do not apply to all, neither they prove someone anti-nationalist or disloyal. I have only stated that there are still some people like what I have stated in my personal accounts, who are not only miscreants, orthodox, rigidly religious and are not progressive and they exist in all religion. They still acknowledge this land of India as the land of their RELIGION AND ONLY THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO OWN IT.So naturally for them, Religion comes before their Nation. I don’t understand why we bother for who come first and who come late for claiming this country. I don’t understand why the scholars of this country do not remove the mentioning of freedom fighters names by their religion out of the textbooks? I don’t understand why the media of this country don’t mention the victim’s name as only by his name, why it mentions his caste, religion and else, if they call themselves as secular and free?
I accept if the minorities have been pushed through but don’t they know they have equal rights to development and self progress, I accept if verna system have devastated the life of the millions innocent,but those millions are the ones who had once accepted this divisions.(History says they are the rebellers of the verna monopoly,but like all the wars the loser always suffers, but question is didn’t the sufferers know they are in majority? Definitely this is unjust , but This shows, majority of them have accepted the verna system,so this system still today survived.)
Regarding loyalty, I don’t want any Indian communities to prove their loyalty.
But the violence in the name of Jihad, terrorism, and the media depicting the involvement of mostly muslim people, have spoiled the image of the holy Quran. The thing is again the same, few does and the large sharing the same background have to pay for them. I am not talking about the this country, but this is about the world. The people are not spoiled brother, the religion image has been spoiled. People don’t care or worry about you, they are worry about this religion which has been casted as dangerous because of some few miscreants. I am not talking about the restoring of the faith for yourself among other communities, I am talking about the restoring of the faith for Islam among other communities and the same restoring of faith for other communities among Islam followers. Unless this amalgamation and the truly secularisation of Indian state happens, no matter how hard and what we try, the things will not change.
Arastu, this is what I think, and I do not want to sympathize with you.
I don’t think you need it.
Nobody need sympathies.
All men; whatever they are victims of , need justice.
Justice, so that every men in this world, can live freely, individualistically. Right to Justice and Right to Freedom must not be said, but to be executed.
Everybody needs this assurance.

Milesh

@born_atheist
You rightly pointed out, right education and awareness has always been the powerful tools to bring down such pathetic situations. But most importantly, this things must reach everyone, has to be ensured, which again depends on its sound and fair maintenance and governing system.

Atiya

Hello Arastu,
You write well I must say. And you don’t need me to tell you that.
I attended this youth convention some time back and among other things they made us see this movie about the Gujrat pogrom. It was made by a man who went door to door to get the first hand story of what actually happened there. There were no sets, no lights, just a camera and a lot of honesty.The movie was so gruesome that many people walked out mid-way, unable to watch, hear more.I stayed through.I’am not exceptionally strong, I just couldn’t turn away from reality.I saw charred bodies of women and children and children inside women.I was shaken by seeing a movie.You lived through the whole ordeal.I cannot begin to imagine what you and your family went through.But I know that this must have made you stronger.

Though I like what you have written and can understand the dilemma you went through, I slightly disagree with some that has been said

a)I don’t think there is an either-or situation between being religious and being uhm modern, forward and tolerant.You see I’am fairly religious myself and as forward and tolerant as they are nowadays.I try my best to offer namaz five times a day, even tahajjud.And after I’am done with my prayers, I sit on the ja-namaz and I talk to the Universal Energy that created me and you and everything else that breathes and feels and is beautiful.And in those few moments I feel like I’am one with this Universal Light, and I become at peace with myself, with the world and I’am strengthened and rejuvenated and healed.
I think if everyone followed their respective religious faiths, it would be an end to all the problems that we face.All religions basically preach the same thing. To be a good,compassionate human being. And if everyone righteously followed their faiths, their holy texts, not the religion propagandized by the pandits and the mullahs, but the real thing, then this world would be a much more peaceful place.

b)Correct me if I’am wrong but it comes across as if you think that if Muslim females do not prefer to get married against their parent’s wishes they are being intolerant and fundamentalists.I’am sorry but aren’t your parents the only two people in this whole wide world who love you unconditionally.You might be the slimiest vermin on planet Earth, but they’ll still love you.unselfishly, unconditionally.So it is so bad if you wish you’d rather get married with their best wishes?
Nice name by the way, what does it mean.

    Arastu

    Dear Atiya,

    First of all thanks a lot for your comment and also for your appreciation.

    To respond to your disagreements:

    1. I never said there is an ‘either/or’ situation between being religious and being modern. I only referred to the undeniable over-reliance and focus on interpretation of religion within Islam and the unchallenged and often fundamental religious leadership of the community. That is why I clearly wrote “The development of a greater degree of tolerance amongst Muslims and an urge to give at least equal, if not more importance to education, knowledge, exposure and logic as compared to the practice and interpretation of religion.”

    2. What you wrote here is a topic I’ve debated on more than a hundred times :-). If you are on Facebook, please check the YKA page on Facebook and search for a similar debate on one of the posts there. Lots and lots of people have commented on it. The point I made here is not about romanticizing our affection for our parents or the other way round. It is simply a sociological concept that states on the basis of global research that “in Societies that have higher empowerment for women, selection of one’s spouse is solely the choice of oneself and divorce rates too are much higher”.

    And my name means ‘Aristotle’ in the Indian script :-). What does your name mean?

    Thanks again.

    Keep writing and commenting :-)

Atiya

“and divorce rates too are much higher”.
I wonder why 😛
Atiya means Gift of God in Arabic. And one of my north-eastern friends recently told me that Atiya in Manipuri means the Sky.

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