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'Dad, Are Muslims Our Enemies?'

08/07/2015 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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In this photo taken Monday, March 24, 2014, a mural created by the students who reside at the school is seen on the wall of the cafeteria at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village near Rwamagana, in Rwanda. Most of the kids in a Rwandan school set amid the lush green, rolling hills of eastern Rwanda don’t identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi. That’s a positive sign for Rwanda, which is now observing the 20th anniversary of its genocide, a three-month killing spree that, according to the official Rwandan count, left more than 1 million people dead, most of them Tutsis killed by Hutus. The teenagers attending the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a school with dorms that creates tight-knit student families, say the ethnic slaughter that their parents or grandparents were a part of either as victims or perpetrators won’t be repeated. The school director echoes the sentiment. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

"Dad, are Muslims our enemies?"

I dropped my book on my lap and looked up with my best WTF look on my face.

My 8-year-old son was standing in the front of me, his hands on his hips.

"Why do you ask that?" I said.

He frowned, "We have this guy Altaf in our class and everyone says he is our enemy because he is a Muslim. No one sits with him anymore and we are going to beat him up tomorrow in the recess."

Okay then. This was more serious than I thought, and rather scary coming from the mouth of an 8-year-old.

"But why do you think that Muslims are our enemies?" I asked him as calmly as I could.

"Dad, we are reading Shivaji Maharaj's history in class. Muslims came to our country and killed a lot of our people, so Shivaji Maharaj fought against them. That makes Muslims our enemies, no?"

Hmm, this was going to be a tough one. "Well, Shivaji Maharaj also had a lot of Muslims in his own army, who fought against the Mughals. Just like there are a lot of Muslims in our Indian Army fighting for our protection against Pakistan," I told him.

He was quiet as he mulled over what I had said. Sensing an opportunity, I continued. "You know that the British invaded our country and killed a lot of our people, so are all British people our enemies too?"

He made a face, "No, I like Martin Uncle (a friend of mine from the UK who visits often). He is nice. He is not my enemy."

I smiled at him. "So what do you think now?"

He grinned. "Okay bye bye," he said and started walking off.

"Whoa Whoa Whoa! Wait up! What about Altaf? Are you and your friends still going to beat him up tomorrow?"

He turned, "Nah! Plan cancelled. I am going to sit with him tomorrow."

My smile grew wider. "But, what about your friends? They will think you are their enemy because you are sitting with a Muslim."

He replied in a heartbeat, "When I was born, I didn't have those guys as my friends. I didn't have Altaf as my enemy either. I think I will choose my friends and my enemies according to what I like."

He turned and went to play. And I smiled a rather proud smile.

Innocent minds can think the most rationally perhaps.

Maybe tomorrow he will come back with a broken nose. But at least he is going to stand up for what he believes in instead of bending to something fed to him.

I wonder how many people here have friends or enemies just because of who they were born as. Me? I like making them as I grow based on my experiences with an individual. And it appears, so does my son.

This incident made me think yet again of how much kids can teach us grown-ups. Perhaps we should have all remained innocent, loving kids than growing up into adults filled with hate.

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