Yesterday, while watching the news coverage of the chemical attacks in Syria; it became almost impossible for me to control my tears. The sight of children lying on the ground, gasping for breath, made realize how compassion is slowly evaporating from this world. Outraged, I felt the urge to share this heartbreaking news on social media platforms and tweet about this brutality, but I couldn’t.
I felt terrified of being judged for my sympathy and with held myself from posting anything online. These days, your apprehension about the ongoing situation can brand you a sympathizer of terrorists or bombard you with abuses and threaten you to leave the country.
It is, indeed the worst time to be a Muslim in the world. Seldom has my religion overpowered my identity, beliefs, nationality, political orientation and social choices. The fear of being judged has made many like us, mute spectators. I’m utterly confused if this silence will resolve issues or increase the suspicion surrounding my religion.
“The country is changing”, they say in the advertorials. I agree it must be changing, after all stagnation is death, and change is inevitable. But it is the direction of change that I fail to comprehend. After the landmark win of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in India, prime minister Modi, who used to be a hardliner, has re-invented his image as a pro-business leader, focusing on development. But his political choices after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, re-affirm that for nationalist parties, ideology is bigger than the leader. The subsequent positioning of a Hindutva firebrand, Yogi Adityanath, who has asked people to exhume the bodies of Muslim women and rape them, gives a clear indication of the government’s current agenda.
On the night of September 28, 2015, in Bisara, Uttar Pradesh, a 52-year-old man was lynched, his family members beaten brutally and his house vandalized for allegedly storing and eating beef. While we unwillingly made peace, thinking this to be as an isolated incident, more such stories started erupting.
Similar incidents are gathering pace in a defined pattern, where men and women have both become targets of cow vigilantes. The instances of organised hatred, isolation and even violence impinge on the process of social and economic inclusion and development of the Muslim community.
The most affected are the unorganised class, which are a major chunk of the Muslim population in India. The rule of a so called secular party for almost 70 years has also done nothing to give us respite. Indian Muslims have been neglected and used as a vote bank. However, the damage done by the community itself, in overlooking the significance of education, has equally pushed it behind.
According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE 2014-15), Muslims comprise 14% of India’s population but account for 4.5% of students enrolled in higher education. The education gap shown by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) study of West Bengal, having a sizeable Muslim population, is glaring. For every 1,000 Muslim boys, only 10 opt for post-graduation; and for Muslim girls the figure is comes down to two. Whereas that of Hindu males is 30 and females is 32.
Education and opportunities both complement each other, and if one is obstructed, wholesome growth of an individual is bound to be affected. If the ongoing situation continues, the community may be confined to ghettos, consequently enhancing this gap.
To clarify, Islam is not about killing people over different choices. It’s about peace, equality and an everyday code of conduct for believers. Sadly, the religion has fallen prey to patriarchal influences, misogynistic authorities and hidden political agendas. The fanatic representation of religion and the subsequent failure of Islamic countries has created a biased opinion about the religion.
From Afghanistan, to Iraq to Syria, the brutality of the West, in the guise of a saviour, has created extreme discontent. These countries are living examples of how common people pay the price of devastation. Critics who brand Muslims as terrorists should see how the war has pitted Muslims against Muslims, and destroyed countries.
The correlation and difference between the two kinds of massacre, one by the terrorists and the other by West needs to be dissected with the help of compassion. A discourse on military interventions in countries and the subsequent social, political and economic after effects, is inevitable to be able to dive into the depths of Islamophobia.
I am certain that there is not a single Muslim, who is comfortable with the ongoing demonisation of Islam, neither do they support fundamentalism or extremism of any kind. The community seeks respite from the burden of misrepresentation of the war on terror as being a war on Islam. This is going to be impossible unless more and more Muslims speak up against stereotypes, and bring forward the real image of an inclusive Islam.
This sacrifice, loss of loved ones, death and misery will be a waste unless Muslims, the world over, unite for a better state of awareness and evolution of identity towards the real essence of Islam. Pertinent issues of women and gender rights, bigotry of clergy, education and employment need to be addressed collectively. In the absence of a leadership, we need to rise and become our own leader. The only way to do this is to ask the right questions, move beyond stereotypes and gain control of our identity.