A few months ago, just after the Paris attacks in November 2015, my beautician Shabana who comes to my home in a burqa and whose care I have been under for more than a decade, told me with fear in her eyes that the head of her Majlis had informed those in her community that the heinous Paris attacks had been carried out by Christians and Hindus disguised as Muslims under their burqas.
“It’s a worldwide conspiracy against Islam,” she gasped.
I informed her that the ISIS (Islamic State) had itself claimed responsibility for the attacks and it is a matter of public knowledge. The terrorists were not hidden under burqas during the massacre.
Photographs of the attacks and attackers were released worldwide and there were no Hindus, Jews or Christians disguised as Muslim ladies playing “Bang bang you’re dead”.
“No didi”, Shabana said emotionally, “people are trying to spoil the name of Islam. We Muslims are not so violent. This is a conspiracy to ruin the reputation of Muslims.”
Now Shabana is a very sweet lady and often chants verses and quotes from the Quran to me when I am in pain or injured. I ask her to do the same for my daughter Kaveri. “There is power in your dua, please recite to me,” I have often told her but that day I found myself getting a bit annoyed and told her that if this is the information the head of your Majlis is spreading, he is very ignorant or a deliberate liar and politically motivated to keep vote bank politics alive.
“So if indeed, by any bizarre chance, what the head of your Majlis is saying is true and people are indeed misusing the burqa in this fashion”, I asked, wondering if she was even listening to me anymore, “isn’t it correct for some countries like France to ban the burqa? I mean men of terrorist organisations dressed as women to gun down innocent people in public places to spread terror is a very dangerous thing, no?”
To this, Shabana answered very simply, “I don’t know about that. But I hope they don’t ban the burqa in India didi. It’s a safety measure against the dirty gaze of men. We feel safer in our locality in a burqa, it’s nothing to do with religion.”
Yet yesterday, this same sweet lady Shabana on watching Asaduddin Owaisi’s inflammatory speech on rather having his throat cut off than being forced to say “Bharat Mata ki jai” reacted with extreme irritation. “What’s the harm in an Indian saying ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’? It’s these politicians who are spoiling the name of Islam.”
I couldn’t agree more. It is similar to the politicians and rabid spokespersons of political parties and organisations spoiling the name of the Hindus. People like Sadhvi Prachi or Yogi blah blah are as toxic to our national spirit as the likes of the Owaisi brothers who spew venom and hate in the name of religion.
“How is showing loyalty to India anti-Islamic?” Shabana continued. “In fact we feel proud to be Indians because India allows us to practise our religion the way we want. We are not stoned to death for adultery or forced to do namaz like in some other counties like Saudi Arabia.”
Yes I agreed again. Showing loyalty to India certainly cannot be unIslamic. But as a corollary to that, how is chanting “Bharat Mata ki jai” or not doing so a sign of patriotism or anti-nationalism respectively? What if I or anyone else wanted to express our love for our country with the choice of other words?
Like “Vande Mataram” or “I love India” or “Jai Bharat” or “Jai Hind”? Why has it suddenly become mandatory to follow the diktat of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat? Why are we becoming increasingly fragmented, divisive, abusive and violent in the name of religion? What ever happened to our ideologies of secularism and democracy? Why is religious identity being placed above national identity? Why are laws in our country so ambiguous and malleable that anyone can impose any puerile personal or political agenda on our lives and get away with blasphemy?
Religious beliefs are a delicate matter. It can be as misinterpreted by the ignorant. Rogues and zealots are welcome to fight their greedy wars amongst themselves under the guise of politics. But please, in the name of all gods – Jesus, Allah, Ram or Buddha – let religion not sweep our streets and terrorise our homes.
Let us not give in to the bullies who hardly know how to govern a land as diverse as ours. Let us not succumb to their ignorance and hate. Let us continue to foster the spirit of equality, friendship and debate. Let religious allegiance be undecipherable under the pride of simply “Being Indian”.