What My Muslim Countrymen Mean to Me

muslim.jpgRefer to the editorial page in Times of India, April 4 – an article by S.M. Murshed which talks about the prejudice against Muslims. One cannot help but notice that, rather than an article, it is more of a frank outburst of long suppressed and bottled up feelings that prevail in the hearts of perhaps a large population of Muslims in the country, who must be exasperated due to the unfair bias against them. Imagine their indignation at being classified as a separate group by politicians, media and, worst of all, their own countrymen, especially when they are the largest minority group (if I may say ‘minority’) in India. Murshed’s article made me think…and I realized what a huge mistake we are making in classifying them as a separate group of people distinct from an average Indian. Here is how much they are a part of me…

To start with, they have been in India, since as early as the 7 Century AD, when Arab traders came to the coastal regions of India. So, they have been here for over thirteen centuries; is it not high time that we make them feel at home? They may have been foreigners initially, but who does not know of the magnificent period of the Mughal rule, especially under Akbar, when India is supposed to have experienced a “second golden age”. If it were not for Muslims in India, Taj Mahal might not have existed at all and neither would have the legend of Shah Jahan and his beloved Mumtaz.

I look back, I need to strain my neck a little, but I can look far back into the journey they have undertaken in India and their contributions. A lot of Sufi and Qawwali music we enjoy today, which is fused with contemporary music, comes from the Sufi culture, a sort of tributary of Islam. The Kathak dance form reached its peak as a graceful art under the influence of Muslims. The elegant ‘Chudidar Kurta’ is an evolved modification of the dress of Islamic women who were courtesans in palaces. Also not to forget the fascinating architecture of monuments such as the Fatehpur Sikri, Charminar, prominent mosques and thousands of other neglected monuments scattered around the nation.

I look a little further, at the movement for India’s independence struggle. And I see the contributions of people such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. Of Ali Ahmad Siddiqui of Faizabad who planned the Indian Mutiny in Malaya and Burma along with Syed Mujtaba Hussain of Jaunpur and was hanged in 1917. I can see a large number of other unnamed Muslims fighting and and selflessly giving up their lives for the freedom of their motherland, just like any other Hindu, Christian or Sikh revolutionary. Then in 1935, I see Khwaja Abdul Hameid setting up the first Indian owned industry in the colonial period, CIPLA which is now present globally across a hundred and fifty countries and is headed by Yusuf Hameid.

I look at the present. There is Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam – ex and third Muslim President of India; a role model; one of the few politicians looked up at, respected and even missed; an inspiring leader for the youth; a believer; a motivating writer. There must be so many other budding Kalams around me, with the potential to do so much, yet thrust back due to the bias against their religious identity. I see too, Aziz Premji, founder of Wipro, a leading software company and the Padma Bhushan that he has received. The “Birdman of India”, Salim Ali is a Muslim as is the versatile actress Shabana Azmi and the ingenious lyricist and writer Javed Akhtar.

I urge you to look around now – look at the Id celebrations going on and the mouth watering food items that we love to devour during Muslim festivals. Look at the posters of all the latest hit movies starring your favourites : Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan. Can you hear the exhilarating feel of patriotism in AR Rehman’s “Maa Tujhe Salaam”? If you are into theatre, then without a doubt you are a fan of Nassiruddin Shah. Have you heard of the romantic evergreen poetry by Mirza Ghalib or the classic restrains of Mohammad Rafi and Suraiya? Do you use words like ‘Intezaar’, ‘Aasman’, ‘Takleef’, ‘Ishq’ etc in your colloquial language? They have been derived from Urdu. Are you an ardent fan of Zaheer Khan or Mohammad Kaif? Do some of you women refer to the beauty treatments prescribed by Shehnaz Hussein?

Yes, Muslims are very much an inseparable part of India and its citizens and whether you accept it or not, a part of you and me. I firmly believe that they are a significant part of me and I feel that in many ways unknown to me, they influence my life. I do not think, despite the repetitive stress and focus by media, that all terrorists are Muslims, or that Muslims are not as “Indian” as the rest of us. After all, they bring immense peace and warmth to my heart five times a day, when the Muezzin calls out the Azaan, in a mystical yet nostalgic tone that reminds me of the wonderful realization of the diversity that is India; and its beautiful components, one of which is Islam. And I thank my Krishna for making me an Indian, capable of enjoying the beauty of all its peoples and their cultures mingled so deeply with mine.

Sharanya Misra Sharma

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