Don’t tell me I am only Muslim
We as Indian Muslims are struggling to remain who we are — Indian Muslims. I am sorry to see so many people treat the term “Indian-Muslim” as the greatest oxymoron of our time. Don’t tell me that I am ‘only Muslim’. I am ‘also a Muslim’. I am also sorry to hear that we only wear our religion on our sleeves; that we fail to integrate and mainstream ourselves; and that we are not loyal enough. That’s done and over. We only have to look at our society with blinkers off. Mainstreaming is done. Assimilation is over. Loyalty is established.
However, what we are witnessing are post-assimilation issues, like millions of migrant Muslims in Europe. We are finding it difficult to find decent housing, jobs and above all goodwill. Like European Muslims, we are looked upon with a degree of suspicion and demonised for terrorism-related crimes that affect us in equal measure.
There are differences however: Unlike European Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, we did not come here to escape theocratic tyrannies or in search of a better life.
Unlike European Muslims who are still evolving into their European identities, our Indian identities are no less evolved than any other community, and still evolving. Unlike European Muslims, we did not come here to reap the benefits of progress we were not part of.
Unlike European Muslims, who nonetheless have spent enough time to perfectly reconcile themselves to secular European principles, racial integration is not our problem at all. We come largely from the same stock, having converted roughly between 700 and 900 years ago.
Those of us who chose to stay put after the Partition, did so not to ‘colonise’ or ‘Islamise’ India but to continue remaining who they are: Indian Muslims. Yet, post-assimilation issues are cropping up. (For instance, young Muslim jobseekers have become appropriate objects for extra scrutiny.)
The fundamental problem has to do with the perception that if you are a Muslim, you are a potential terrorist. It is through the prism of this prejudice that every prospective Muslim tenant is seen, as Muslim youths storm new cities in search of jobs as if they were another Bastille. This is not acceptable because this is not the truth. In the Muslim psyche, there is no contradiction between being an Indian and being Muslim.
While we only talk about a few on the fringes of Muslim society who have set out on the path of wanton violence, we ignore the vast majority of perfectly law-abiding Muslims. It is for them that I stand up.
Many fallacious presumptions have taken roots:
(a) Sometime ago, an egregious text message did the rounds. All Muslims aren’t terrorists, it stated, but all terrorists are Muslims. With this, I disagree, for we only have to look at history.
(b) Large Muslim households are the consequence of an express ambition to Islamise India. With this, I disagree. Large families are not unique to Muslims. A former President of our country had 14 children and he was not a Muslim. A sitting non-Muslim Union minister has nine children, while I am the only issue of my parents. We have to stop judging Muslims on the basis of very personal decisions they take, like the number of children they wish to have and the choice of their attire. Family planning however remains a national priority.
(c) Full loyalty is not possible because Muslims in themselves form a political community that over-rides national loyalty. With this, I disagree. Political Islam is not an immutable Islamic concept and Muslims in India have never, ever dreamt of a theocratic state.
Indian Muslims fully recognise that the diversity of our society is a permanent reality and not something to be ultimately overcome by a future Muslim majority. I am critical of what a narrow understanding of loyalty often demands of Muslims like me. There should be no problem, in a democratic country like ours, to accommodate all Islamic religious sensibilities that don’t infringe on our basic constitutional principles. Those that do are not immutable Islamic concepts and we shall talk about them in another blog.
Nonetheless, I have my own demands to make of Muslims like me. We are dealing with a crisis here and we are to blame as well. Going by the strides that the two communities have made, let’s for a moment, see how Hindu India has fared versus the Muslim India. The Hindu India has been far more synchronised to the emerging global order and has treated modernity as opportunity: the language of Bollywood is more like that of Hollywood and our fashion more Paris, etc. The vast majority of Muslim India has however resisted modernity, treating it as a threat.
One reason for this is the leadership crisis gripping Muslims. The Muslim religious leadership overlaps the religious leadership. As far as business role models are concerned, we have none, save Azim Premji. The worst thing our clergy-dominated political leadership has done is to instil fear. We have only been told to be cynical; transforming us into a community that has never realised that there indeed may be a level playing field out there for some of us.
One way to tackle the crisis, and ameliorate our lot, is by exuding a positive and creative presence wherever we go. No matter what, we have to deepen, not weaken, our stake in the system. Nobody looks upon AR Rehman as “only a Muslim”. Shah Rukh Khan is seldom looked upon as a Muslim movie star. Successful Muslims no longer remain ‘only Muslim’. That’s how the cookie crumbles.
Yet, whenever I am asked if I am a Muslim or an Indian first, then I my answer is I don’t answer stupid questions.