I have lost the track of books I have bought on the recommendation of other readers. The most recent, however, I do remember. Mothering A Muslim by Nazia Erum is a vocal tale of woes faced by Muslims all over the country, especially children and students. Having interviewed more than 100 kids for her book, Nazia presents a narrative that opens up the doors to the world of a Muslim child in India.
As a mother to a 3y old, worrying and guilt are my true companions, more than my husband ever would be. The thought of having to send her out in the cruel world that we have made is terrifying, and alone capable of giving me diabetes. I sometimes wonder if it was selfish of me to have brought her into this world, where hate is the new vogue and empathy is lost.
If you identify with what I wrote above and even remotely feel what I feel, then think this. You’re a Muslim, and your child is a Muslim and you live in India. How terrified are you now?
When Nazia had her daughter, her biggest challenge was not how to soothe a newborn or how to get well herself, but which name should she give her tiny little girl, one which proclaims her association with her religion Islam, or one which is ambiguous and not identifiable as a Muslim name immediately. If you’ve birthed a baby, trust me, you will know that naming is the last thing on one’s mind when the pain of childbirth is raw. This reminds me of an anecdote from my parents’ time as new parents. My father loved the movie Noorie, and it was around the same time my sister was born. He loved the movie so much that he decided to name his firstborn after the heroine’s screen name, Noorie. But some outdated sense (or may I say good sense considering what it is like today) prevailed him and he gave her a true blue Hindu name. Her birth certificate though still bears her name as Noorie Khaitan.
I didn’t think twice before choosing a name that I liked for my daughter, and not one which protected her identity as a Hindu. Why did I not? Because I am a majority in a country that is becoming more and more intolerable with each passing day. Because I don’t have to worry about my child being bullied or abused or harassed because of her name. Because I am not a threat to national security (well, maybe I am, but not in the sense a Muslim might be perceived) I am aware of the privileged life that I live, secure in my own bubble, unperturbed about the future (not exactly, but that is a different debate for a different day) But, how many Muslims today could say that? How does a kid prove that he/she is not a Pakistani? That their father doesn’t support the Taliban? That they don’t support the Pakistan cricket team? How do they prove their loyalty to their country India, where they have been living forever?
Discrimination and prejudices have always been a part of human culture. Be it in wealthy modern America, or the conservative Middle East, or the secular Hindutva that India is fast becoming. It has ranged from caste, creed, profession, looks, race, and everything under the sun. As an adult one may or may not be able to process all this, but as a child, this definitely isn’t the best environment.
Having said all of the above, there is no denying that this account written by the author is explicitly one-sided and that one side belongs to the “victims” of abuse. Every tale has two sides, this one doesn’t. But before you take out your big secular guns, hear me out. The twin tale that is missing here is the one that the “abusers” would have to say. Why did they do what they did? What prompted them? Do they feel good after what they did? Do they regret doing it? The over-exposure to “Breaking News” kind of media and paid coverage isn’t helping anyone. And neither is the use of Islam by terrorist groups to explain their actions. I doubt anyone outside the Muslim community would know what the Quran teaches and what Islam actually is about. I also doubt it says to murder innocents and I firmly believe that it doesn’t encourage Jihadi Shaheed for even a single virgin in Heaven, let alone 72. According to the author, even amongst the community radicalization is feared. Mothers fear their sons going to mosques all of a sudden and daughters taking up Hijab or Burqa. There is an ongoing clash between conservative Muslims and liberals Muslims. She also mentions instances where Muslim parents have reprimanded their kids for mingling with Hindus.
This book is not just about Hindus against Muslims or vice versa. This is about the larger factor in play, intolerance. Intolerant of different choices. Intolerant of anything that doesn’t comply with their beliefs. Intolerant of others.
No story can be complete without listening to both the parties involved. But till the time the other side comes forward with an explanation, or not, let’s show some empathy and change ourselves, shall we?