Recently, while watching the news coverage of a chemical attack in Syria, it became almost impossible for me to control my tears. The sight of children lying on the ground, gasping for breath, made me realise how compassion is slowly evaporating from this world. With a deep outrage, I felt the urge to comment on the heartbreaking news on social media platforms—but I couldn't. I felt scared. Terrified to be judged for my sympathy, I held myself back. I'm a Muslim after all, and my name alone is enough for some people to brand me as a supporter of terrorism, send me abusive messages and urge me to leave the country.
It is beyond doubt the worst time to be a Muslim, in India and elsewhere. Seldom has my religion overpowered my identity, beliefs, nationality, political orientation and social choices. The fear of being judged has made many like us mere mute spectators. But how helpful is this silence? Will it resolve issues or will it increase the suspicion surrounding my religion?
My name alone is enough for some people to brand me as a supporter of terrorism, send me abusive messages and urge me to leave the country.
"The country is changing," they say in big advertorials. I agree, it must be changing—after all, stagnation is death, and change is inevitable. But it is the direction of change that I fail to comprehend. After the landmark BJP win of the 2014 national elections in India, Mr. Prime Minister, who used to be a Hindutva hardliner, has re-invented his image as a pro-business leader focused on development. Yet, his political choices after the Uttar Pradesh elections—particularly the elevation of Hindutva firebrand Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister—re-affirm that for nationalist parties, ideology is bigger than the leader. A cursory look at Adityanath's rhetoric throws unmistakable light on the government's agenda.
On the night of 28 September 2015 in Bisara village in Uttar Pradesh, a 52-year-old man was lynched, family members beaten brutally and his house vandalised. For what? Allegedly storing and eating beef. While we tried to pass this off as an isolated incident, more such stories have come to the fore since then, with cow vigilantes or "gau rakshaks" targeting men and women who are accused of not treating cows with due reverence. It's a time of fear and apprehension for minorities. The instances of organised hatred, isolation and even violence will impinge on the process of social and economic inclusion and development of the Muslim community.
The most affected are the underprivileged class, which are a major chunk of Muslim population in India. The rule of a so-called secular party for almost 70 years has also done nothing to give respite. Indian Muslims have over the years been seen as little other than vote-banks. But some responsibility lies with the community as well—by overlooking the importance of education they have pushed themselves behind.
The fear of being judged has made us mere mute spectators. But how helpful is this silence? Will it resolve issues or will it increase the suspicion surrounding my religion?
According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (2014-15) Muslims comprise 14% of India's population but account for only 4.4% of students enrolled in higher education. The limited emphasis by the community on education is reflected in the NSSO 2009-10 data, which clearly shows Muslim students to be the highest amongst the out-of-school children from both rural and urban areas.
Education and opportunities both complement each other; if one is restricted so is the other, forming a vicious cycle that obstructs growth. If the ongoing situation continues, the community may confine itself to ghettos, consequently enhancing this gap.
Escalating suspicion world over
From Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria, Western brutality (in the guise of a "saviour") has created extreme discontent and nurtured the rise of terrorist outfits. While Muslims are excoriated en masse for the troubles in these regions, it is often overlooked how common people pay the price of devastation. Critics who brand Muslims as terrorists should see how these conflicts have pitted Muslims against Muslims, and destroyed countries. The correlations and differences between the destruction wrought by terrorists and Western forces need to be dissected with compassion. A discourse on military interventions in countries and the subsequent aftereffects—political, social and economical—is essential, but instead the world has taken recourse in Islamophobia.
Decoding the essence of religion
Islam is not about killing people for their different choices—it's about peace, equality and a code of conduct for believers in everyday life. Sadly, the religion has fallen prey to patriarchal social influences, misogynistic authorities and hidden political agendas. The fanatic representation of religion and subsequent failure of Islamic countries has created a biased opinion of the religion.
Most Muslims are deeply saddened by the demonisation of Islam; they also strongly condemn fundamentalism or extremism of any kind. The community seeks respite from the burden of misrepresentation of the war on terror as being a war on Islam. This is going to be impossible unless more and more Muslims speak up against stereotypes, and bring forward the real image of an inclusive Islam.
This sacrifice, loss of loved ones, death and misery will be wasted unless the Muslims world over unite for a better state of awareness and evolution of identity and the real essence of Islam. Pertinent issues of women's rights, bigotry of clergy, education and employment need to be addressed collectively. In the absence of leadership, we need to rise and become our own leaders. The only escape is to ask the right questions, move beyond stereotypes and gain control of our identity.