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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Buying into the Global Islamic Identity

I found the following comments by Ms. Shabana Azmi rather interesting and insightful. That a liberal Indian Muslim who is proud of her nation and with much accomplishments to her name feels this way is a sad statement. But, more important is her own analysis, I liked her point about what is today considered 'muslim leadership', how only the mullas have been conceded this position and how other Indian politicians have long since moved away from talking for Muslims (I personally feel this is getting true of the Hindus too, with the Hindu leadership space being usurped by the RSS and its chamchas). Her thoughts on the westernized islam image too is important to note. Recently in an interview noted thinker Ashish Nandy mentions how the wearing of hijab was started in Indonesia by those women who returned from the west.
The globalization of islaminc identity with its global centre in UAE and image as that which western nations want it to be stifles many diverse views on Islam. I keep wondering why with a majority of Islamic population between them, Indonesia and India do not command a larger space in the Islamic world? With rich Islamic tradition in both these countries going back centuries, why are image of these countries not used to represent Islam globally? Is it because of their non-proximity to the western world as the Arab countries are?
The culture of an Indian Muslim is as diverse within India itself as that of Hindus in this country. The Muslims in the south eastern parts of Tamilnadu have a different culture from those who are from the north western parts of the state and I am sure it differs significantly from the Hyderabad Muslims and those in the Kerala coast and in Karnataka coast. Just like a Hindu in the eastern coast of Tamilnadu does not want to transform or trade his image to that of the western coast Hindu in Maharashtra or Gujarat, I am sure the Muslims too are glad with their own identities. Yet, the acceptance of 'Muslim' as an unique globalized identity with a global face independent of the local culture is a dangerous trend and Shabna Azmi puts it, 'when you are pushed to the wall', you tend to seek shelter in a false identity of unified image that you know is alien.
Today as a nation, India talks as much for its Muslims as it does for its Hindus. The culture and tradition has a vast mix of Islamic practices and traditions co-existing, co-creating and continuously proving that it is possible to share a space without all the time being at each others' throats. A nation's polity that ignores such culture widely prevalent among its masses must have something fundamentally wrong with it. It is important that this be explored instead of blindly following the western stereotype images and trying to re-cast our own identities based on the western mode.

Recently, I got talking to a friend who had returned after a two year stint in Afghanistan. He mentioned how different is the ordinary life in Afghanistan from what is normally portrayed in the westernized media and how the ordinary people and their lives are so similar to that of India. He told me a popular joke in Afghanistan is about Osama Bin Laden, whenever talk about his presence crops up among ordinary people, the local comment is, "he must have gone back to America, they brought him here to do their job, now that is over, they should have taken him back"! Insightful.

Indian polity is being unfair to Muslims, says Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi
New Delhi: In a stinging attack on the country’s polity, film actress-turned-social activist Shabana Azmi has accused it of being “unfair” to Muslims, rendering only “token gestures,” instead of addressing the real issues.
She also targeted the Muslim leadership, saying it had not bothered to “clear the air about what Islam actually is” and contended that Muslims should change the image of their religion and community.
Asked on Karan Thapar’s ‘Devil’s Advocate’ show on CNN-IBN whether the country’s politics had been “unfair” to Muslims, Ms. Azmi replied, “yes.”
On whether it was individual politicians, the system or political parties that were to blame, she said, “I think there is not enough understanding of the fact that in a democracy how you treat the security of the minority must be an important part of its success.”
“You can’t only make token gestures and actually let them be in the state that they are as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows. So what happens is that token gestures are made, but real issues are never addressed.”
Asked whether she would say that Muslims are “victims of discrimination,” she said she could not buy a flat in Mumbai “because I am a Muslim.” She said she had read that the same had happened to actor Saif Ali Khan.
On what being Muslim meant to her, Ms. Azmi said: “I’ve been raised in a very liberal, bohemian family in which religion has not played any part at all. For me being a Muslim really was about Urdu, about eating biryani and wearing shararas on Id. So the cultural aspect of me was Muslim otherwise, because I am not religious, the religion did not matter. After the riots following the Babri Masjid demolition, I suddenly had people saying, you are a Muslim and hurling it as an accusation … it was a self-consciousness that I have never before experienced … [what] it made me do is say ‘yes, I am Muslim and what do you want to do about it?’ That, I can say, is increasingly happening, particularly in the western world. A lot of young kids today are wearing the burqa, are taking on an identity which really they don’t feel. Just because when you push somebody against the wall that’s what they come up with”. Ms. Azmi, who is a five-time National Film Award winner, emphatically said that Muslims did not need their “own leaders” and to press her point she cited that Jawaharlal Nehru was “a leader for Muslims and that’s the way it should be.”
She accused the politicians of promoting a stereotypical image of the Muslim community and not allowing moderate, liberal Muslim voices to be heard. “You look at all the politicians, whether it is Atal Behari Vajpayee, whether it is Indira Gandhi, whether it is anybody, the minute it is a Muslim question, you will get the ‘dariwaralas’ and only all the Maulvis to speak,” said the former Member of Parliament.
Ms. Azmi observed that the moderate liberal voice was witnessing a resurgence in the country unlike in the past. Ms. Azmi said she viewed “with exasperation, anger, hurt and bewilderment” the way the West looked upon Islam as a threat and treated Muslims as figures of fear and hate.Talking against the backdrop of violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir over the Amarnath land transfer row, she cautioned that it could create differences between Hindus and Muslims elsewhere in the country and said the crisis should be brought to an end. “Yes, and if our politicians haven’t woken up to it yet they really don’t know what’s happening,” she said when asked whether the situation in that State was a challenge to the country’s integrity and future.
She emphasised that “the Indian Muslims were in a safer place because the Indian Muslim has a stake and space in Indian democracy.”
“It’s a very huge thing that we are a part of a democracy and Indian Muslims can aspire to become a Shahrukh Khan or an Irfan Pathan or the President of India and that makes the Muslims far more hopeful and far less in despair than in other parts of the world,” the actor said. — PTI

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