While the players were walking back to the dressing room in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, on August 30, Ahmed Shehzad was caught on camera telling Tillakaratne Dilshan, ‘If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.’
It is said that Muslims believe in female genital mutilation, the surgical removal of all or part of a girl’s clitoris. Yet I have never, in my 41 years, had a conversation with someone who described themselves as Muslim and believed this practice to be anything other than a despicably inhuman abomination. Until I first read about it in a newspaper, probably in my 20s, I would have thought it impossible that such a ritual could even exist.
Similarly, many millions of Muslims apparently believe that women should have no role in politics. But many millions more have had no qualms electing women prime ministers in Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indeed, this month’s Pakistani elections witnessed a record 448 women running for seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
Two of my great-grandparents sent all of their daughters to university. One of them, my grandmother, was the chairperson of the All Pakistan Women’s Association and dedicated her life to the advancement of women’s rights in the country. But among those descended from the same line are women who do not work and who refuse to meet men who are not their blood relatives. I have female relatives my age who cover their heads, others who wear mini-skirts, some who are university professors or run businesses, others who choose rarely to leave their homes. I suspect if you were to ask them their religion, all would say “Islam”. But if you were to use that term to define their politics, careers, or social values, you would struggle to come up with a coherent, unified view.
It’s time for India to update its national conversation about Islam. This month alone saw the arrest of an Indian-born bomb maker for the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, and moves by India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, to earmark a fifth of welfare spending for Muslims.
But the bland secularist pieties of the ruling Congress Party and assorted regional administrations do little to suggest that they’ve understood the problem. If anything, by encouraging a culture of grievance and deepening a sense of separateness among India’s 176 million Muslims, they may end up doing more harm than good.
The Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) typically fare little better in advancing the debate over Islam’s future in India. The party claims it wants to reach out to Muslim voters. But to do so, India’s right wing needs a new way to speak about Islam.
In line with our brethrens in Quetta who are with the bodies of their loved ones in this freezing weather waiting for the State to act, we here in Karachi and people across the country are staging such sit-ins.
We’re told everyday by the media about violence between ethnicities in India, about militant Jihadi groups, about the rise of Hindu nationalism, and so many other headline-hungry stories, that some truly heart-warming examples of unity get sidelined. Stories like that never find prominence through media cycles. We’re only told of “pseudo-secularism” and of other doom-saying prophecies that threaten to tear us apart.
Every Indian has learnt about India’s “Unity in Diversity” (Anekta mein Ekta) concept. Well, this is my attempt to show that it’s not just a social studies class for us. We live in it every. single. day. And sometimes, don’t even realize it. I think we have it in our blood to tolerate our religious and cultural differences. Way more than we think. And way more than our media thinks.
This blog is to remind them that we are ONE people.Here are a few examples that are iconic of this concept of unity amidst impossible diversity:
1. The nationwide slogan for Queer-pride marches (meaning: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Heterosexuals, Homosexuals, .. are all brothers).
2. A Hindu temple in Bihar, set up with help from Muslims (land, money and labor):
3. The world’s only Temple-Church!:
4. A Sikh rebuilds a Mosque for Muslims, that was destroyed during the partition:
5. Muslim children in India play Holi (a Hindu festival) with their neighbors:
6. A Muslim (Yusuf Pathan), a Hindu (Virat Kohli) and a Sikh (Harbhajan Singh) carry the world’s greatest batsman (Sachin Tendulkar), on their shoulders after winning the World Cup:
7. A Hindu father adopts a Muslim son in Lucknow, and raises him in Islamic faith:
8. Hindus help Muslims break their fast by sharing their food in flood hit Bihar, Muslims help Hindus by offering shelter during their pilgrimages:
9. The old Parle-G “Crack jack” ad-campaigns!:
10. A Muslim family takes their son dressed as Krishna (a Hindu God), for his fancy-dress competition at school:
The day is not far off when we unite as one people, stand together against injustice, and fight to bring our capsized brothers into prosperity.
Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow.
California employers face new restrictions against shunting Sikh and Muslim workers to backroom jobs out of public view based on their wearing of turbans, beards and hijabs, under a law signed Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
“This bill, AB 1964, makes it very clear that wearing any type of religious clothing or hairstyle, particularly such as Sikhs do, that that is protected by law and nobody can discriminate against you because of that,” Brown told some 400 Sikhs and supporters at a rally of the North American Punjabi Assn. on the steps of the Capitol.
Brown also signed SB 1540, which requires the state Board of Education to consider a new history framework for schools that the governor said will include “the role and contributions of the Sikh community in California.”
Four of my favorite links on South Asian history, issues and debates
I often receive questions from you lovely folks about how should one start reading up on issues and intellectual discourse related to South Asian affairs of all sorts including our history, politics, ideology(s), economy, rift(s) and a lot more. Since it’s an extremely rich history, it can get (quite naturally) tough to know where to start from. You don’t need to worry for now because I’ve brought four of my personal favorite South Asian history/information links. Let’s see what we got:
- Columbia’s archive of South Asian history under the title of Indian Routes consists of a timeline of events throughout the region with interesting commentary and analysis. Just ignore the horrible font chosen: Comic Sans.
- Another great link is offered by Berkeley under the title of Colonial India. This is one aspect of South Asian history that is constantly discussed by those attempting to instill stability in a post-colonial region. Offered in the form of extensive chapters, this website has been a great source of knowledge for me and the students I’ve taught. Best part? It’s not in Comic Sans.
- Then we have - oh, this is a great treat for righteously angry brown discourse - Sepia Mutiny. Recently ended, SM still maintains an active Twitter account where you can send questions and comments regarding contemporary South Asian political, cultural, social debates. Sepia Mutiny offers one of the best slam downs on racism, discrimination, immigrant issues among other important issues.
- Last but certainly not the least, Chapati Mystery. Maintained by Manan Ahmed (whom I’ve met off Twitter and become friends with - thanks for the book by Frantz Fanon, Manan!) who “holds a Ph.D in the history of Islam in South Asia from the University of Chicago, blogs under the sobriquet sepoy. He can also be found hanging out at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment: Global Affairs.” Chapati Mystery tackles the subjects of neo-orientalism, Islamophobia, political ideologies in South Asian history, Jinnah and Gandhi’s swag, Pakistan’s terribly brutal history with Bangladesh and much more. It’s one of the many e-libraries I love spending hours in.
That’s one, two, three and four. Four links on South Asian history, political dynamics, various religions and modern day issues for you to browse through. I’ll share more next time. Till then, happy uncolonized learning!
Adding SAMAJ to this list: “The South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ) is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to social science research on South Asia. It specializes in the publication of comparative thematic issues as well as individual research articles, review essays, and book reviews. Committed to disseminating rigorous scientific research to the widest possible audience, SAMAJ is fully and freely accessible online.”