Indian Muslims’ Identity: A Dilemma?

Paradoxically, while at one level a lot of noise has been made about problems being faced by an Indian Muslim, at home and abroad, at another- confusion prevails about the identity of an Indian Muslim. Of course, Bollywood industry has played its role, through movies such as “My Name is Khan” and also the “Slum-dog Millionaire” in projecting the dilemma faced by Indian Muslim viewed either as a suspect terrorist or miserable conditions the community seems to be caught in. Accepting that such movies do reflect real problems confronting a number of Indian Muslims, they certainly cannot be viewed as representing the entire Indian Muslim community. All Indian Muslims, including the ones who dominate Bollywood do not hail from slums nor do they all suffer from any communication problem. In fact, if they did suffer from a serious communication handicap, success in Bollywood would not have been theirs. In real life, more than elaborate attempts have been made to publicize that “Khan (Shahrukh) is King.” But on screen, role played is of a Khan, who appears to be at lower rung of the social ladder in more ways than one and struggles hard to simply make even his voice heard.

It is a little baffling as to why substantial attention has not been paid to viewing an average Indian Muslim as any other member of the society, a common civilian. What is even more perplexing is that he/she is displayed more often than not as the deprived one. Realistically speaking, the hype raised about pushing the Indian Muslims into a negative corner, actually and on screen, may further contribute to promote primarily a damaging image about them. Yes, it is accepted that there does prevail a communal bias against Muslims across the world and in India is practiced by extremist non-Muslims. Yes, it is imperative to question this and make attempts to change the negative approach of people holding bias against Muslims. Some credit must be given to those who are trying to play their part in changing this image but with reservations.

Nevertheless, there is another side to this issue. It is practically impossible for an ordinary, common Indian Muslim to associate him/herself with negative image painted on screen, through media and other means. The majority of Indian Muslims are carrying on with their routine activities with virtually no inhibitions and/or hang-ups about their religious identity. The Muslim women, with or without burkha/hijab, whether they are housewives, working ladies or both, fall in this category. So do Muslim men, with or without beard, the cap/pugdi, whether suited-booted or dressed in casual clothes, kurta-pyjama and so forth. A glance down a busy, crowded road in the capital city is likely to show a few burkha-clad women and also bearded Muslim men in traditional dress busily moving around just as others. This strongly highlights the manner in which the average Muslims have not just mingled with the rest of Indians, but are also moving along naturally as a part of the mainstream. One wonders as to why hasn’t substantial attention been paid to this identity of the Indian Muslim, their being a natural part of the society, why?

After all, the Muslims falsely labeled as “terrorists,” including the ones shot down as “suspect terrorists,” fall within the same bracket, that of being in reality ordinary members of the Indian society. Definitely, there is no denying that there are quite a number of Muslims, who face discrimination as being falsely labeled as terrorists. The fault is not theirs but of those who have deliberately labeled/targeted them wrongly as terrorists without their being substantial proof of Indian Muslims actually being so. Certainly, from no angle can these innocent Muslims be viewed as the “handicapped” and/or the ones who are unable to project their being ordinary citizens, with no linkage to terrorism from any angle. Yet, if for no fault and/or crime of theirs, they are labeled as “terrorists,” who is to be blamed and/or viewed for making the wrong move? Certainly not the innocent Muslims. The fault, weakness and/or the error lies with those who decide to label them as “terrorists,” wit hout any substantial evidence. In other words, it is high time a little importance was given to not projecting Muslims at the lower rung of the socio-economic ladder and/or labeling them falsely as terrorists. Some attention must also be paid to the very groups responsible for deliberately targeting innocent Muslims as “terrorists.” The weakness and the fault lies in the negative approach of those wrongly projecting certain individuals as “terrorists” simply because of their being Muslims. The dilemma lies not with the identity of those practicing Islam but rests in the erroneous confusion entertained by ones linking Muslims’ religious belief with terrorism. Simply speaking, those who tend to easily link Muslims’ religious identity with terrorism need to correct their negative approach. The weakness/handicap does not exist among innocent Muslims but in mindset of those viewing them needlessly as “terrorists!”

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2010 on page no. 14

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