I started learning Arabic and Urdu in the name of Allah in a madrasa, when I was just three years old.
Six months later, I was sent to a Catholic convent school (St. Joseph’s), where I started reciting morning prayers: “Our Father in heaven/ Holy be your name…” I became aware of the church, Father Joseph, and Mother Mary. Gradually, these gained a larger significance in my life.
There were barely three or four Muslim students among the 80-odd students. The rest were Hindus, Christians, Jains and Buddhists.
I became best friends with a Muslim and a Brahmin in the school which I attended. We shared food, water, books and even family banter.
We remained close till the onset of high school. Then the dynamics of our relationship changed.
In high school, I became friends with others. I became especially close to some Marwari Hindu classmates of mine. We went out, ate together, visited each other’s places and shared our thoughts and love for each other and our families.
After the 10th standard, I came to Delhi and attended Kendriya Vidyalaya. Now, I had to stay at a hostel, far away from my family. Here, my roommates were Hindus from Patna and Asansol. The others in the hostel were also non-Muslim. In fact, I was the only Muslim in the entire building.
However, not for a single day did I feel the dearth of compassion or love in my life. My roommates and my seniors in the hostel took care of me just like my family would. I was sick, I was broken, I was sad – but I was never alone. My companions were the strongest pillars in my life. In fact, every festival was celebrated with equal fervour, irrespective of the religion.
When I was in school, my day used to start with the Gayatri Mantra: “Om bhoor bhuvah svah/ Tat savitur varenyam/ Bhargo devasya deemahi/ Dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat.” This is why even though I am a Muslim, whenever I hear this chant, the melody starts playing on rewind within me.
I have never faced any discrimination on the basis of my religion or my religious beliefs. In fact, during different times of my life, my best friends have been Hindus from different parts of India. We have been different – yet we have also been one. Religion has never broken the camaraderie that I have shared with my many friends.
Things didn’t change even after I joined college. In fact, these people became larger than my family.
For my friends and me, religion has never been the criteria of judging what is right, wrong, moral or immoral. In fact, there have been Muslim people who have broken my trust, while others from different faiths have restored my confidence. It is always about the person, and not his faith.
I have rarely lived in the midst of one specific community. In fact, I have learned to respect each of the diverse individuals I have met or lived with, irrespective of their religion, race, caste or creed. I also respect every religion in the form they exist – without discriminating or hating them for their practices, rituals or choices.
Today, when I see relationships between people disintegrating in the name of religion, choices and preferences, it breaks my heart. My ‘religion’ is the way in which I express my faith in Allah – just like others would do in their own ways. After all, religion should not be the basis of the political principles of such a unique, diverse and democratic country like India.