By Artika Raj:
It is one of the biggest ironies of this world that religion, a system of belief that is meant to unite this world, has today become one of the biggest causes of its division. And if religions across the world have anyone to blame for their misuse, it is those who are its gatekeepers. Whether it be Brahmin priests who held/hold onto Vedic knowledge to establish caste superiority amongst Hindus, or Maulvis and Ulemas who offer an interpretation of Islam that is not meant to be questioned; religion in the wrong hands has been a roadblock to peace and progress.
In India particularly, it was just in November 2017, that the Kerala Police confirmed that 6 more youth had left to join the ISIS in Syria. Led down a violent path by an extremist philosophy that misuses religion, Muslim youth in India and the world over stand vulnerable to selfish propaganda.
Even as the world looks for solutions to curb this radicalisation of Muslim youth, in India, Delhi-born Basit Jamal has made remarkable headway. Through a powerful storytelling platform, Jamal, who calls himself a ‘storyteller’, has created a space within conservative Muslim circles to promote a non-violent and inclusive interpretation of the Quran. Conducting workshops, he has been traveling in areas of UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir among others.
Through his transformative work using stories of the Quran, Jamal, has reached out to over 10,000 youth so far and has enabled each one of them to become ambassadors of change within their communities. With a plan to achieve grassroots change by working with the madarsa and mosque networks, he is working on building a curriculum of his work that can be used readily by anyone anywhere to counter the extremist philosophy. One of his ongoing works is a carefully articulated 30 point takedown of the very pillars extremist philosophy rests on, which he has titled – ‘If You Are About to Become a Terrorist, You Might Not Have Been Told’.
But if you think that he sounds like any other preacher of the faith, you’ll be surprised to know of his own personal journey and struggle with Islam. A star athlete who passed out of one of Delhi’s top-schools, and with a father whose belief system shifted from Communism to Sufism, Islam didn’t really come into his life in a big way till much later. Introduced to an unquestioning version of Islam, Jamal, because of his critical thinking bent of mind soon enough saw differences between what the Quran said and what he was being told it said. It is then that he took off on this journey of self-exploration and discovery that helped him find and share Islam through the Quran as it truly is, a faith of peace and inclusion.
And today, using the powers of critical thinking and empathy, he is helping other Muslim youth find and discover their own meaning of Islam, in a way that is transforming and bringing forward the true beauty of this faith.