Muslim Icons of India: A Brief Dialogue

india muslims

Sagarika Ghosh congratulated  poet Javed Akhtar  and Shabana Azmi for being the voices of  progressive democratic liberal Muslims, (without trying to be Sarkari tokens for Hindu Rashtra), lighting the path for Indian Muslims and adding as if an afterthought, in fact for all citizens.

Someone countered; Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi can’t be taken as representative Muslims for they have diluted their Muslim identity to appease their  masters and needed a lesson or two on Islamic education.

Mr.Javed , a self-proclaimed atheist asked  his attacker to confirm to an Indian identity first, while accusing him of ‘borrowing’ his Islamic identity from Saudi Arab, where Muslims don’t even have basic rights.

Why don’t Muslims believe in Ashoka, his chakra and own Tulsi Das!?

He asked!

The mistrust on both the sides was jarring. The insinuation of Muslims not believing in the emblems of the country was harsh. If even ‘democrat liberal voices’ feel that Muslims’ don’t respect and love the most important of national emblems on our tricolor, then what about the people in general?  Is it true that for the liberals, you are acceptable, only if you fulfill a certain criteria?

Our religious identity is derived from Islam born in Hijaz and which later became Saudi Arab.  Wonder how on earth anyone in his sane mind, could link Muslims to Saudis,  for seeking our identity. May be it’s because some of us try to emulate our Ps as they do with their Bs and Pepsi becomes Bebsi; which also means helplessness, in Urdu.

Bhakts are always eager to send us to Pakistan and the liberals equate us with the House of Sauds. Mind you, it’s damn tricky to come out clean out of this trap.  Go to Pakistan, means, “ You do not belong here; the forever Malechcha “ 1000 years after in Hindostan and, by accusing us of identifying with the Sauds, we are dismissed from the scene altogether; leaving us huffing and puffing, to comprehend who actually we are and where we belong to?

Why am I not Indian enough?

My childhood was spent in a place, where every home was Hindu except two, ours and the Johns. Perfect Amar,Akbar Anthony ambiance. A moderately broad alley led to the homes spread on the uncooked earth, shaped like an elongated rectangle. Right in the middle we had the taps and an earthen tank. It was the main culprit in fostering communal harmony. The women would come with their pots and problems, waited for their turn and would fill up the cisterns of their hearts with well meaning advice, patient hearing and of course, water. Life was astonishingly simple and disciplined in the absence of television; radio being the main entertainment.  Angat-pangat would have us kids, sit in a big circle, and eat. Ganpati festival was longingly awaited. Listening to night long Ram Kathas was a norm. Most importantly, we never felt we were doing something different.

Today it would be thought of as quite extraordinary a happening; looked on suspiciously by the Hindus and frowned upon by the Muslims. Back then, it was normal. Muslim dervishes were sought after; Hindu metaphors had long found their way, into the everyday vocabulary of Muslims. A girl born beautiful was akin to a Devi. Ramayana and Mahabharat offered us some of our everyday proverbs. Icons and iconic figures from history got assimilated so beautifully in our ethos, there remained no distinction of religion. Hence when it’s claimed, Muslims don’t own Tulsi Das the great poet from the times of Emperor Akbar and do not take Ashoka and Ashok Chakra  as part of  their heritage, it betrays  their arrogant ignorance.

Coming to the icons, can we have different sets of icons for us,  that do not cross out each other, while being at the same place?

More importantly, who decides these icons for us? Do we have a say in this regard?

Do I need to follow only a particular line of emblems, as are   ’prescribed’ for me? How should I feel when figures I revere do not find a mention anywhere, even though, they were born and had put up their struggles in this very land of ancient history and heritage?

Why is it that the moment I try to claim back my Indian Islamic roots , I am deemed a fanatic Malechha, not belonging to this country?

You haven’t heard names of; Shaikh Chishti Ajmeri, Nizamuddin Awliya , Bakhtiyar Kaki, Baba Fareed, Saints from Maharashtra, prominent Sikh  Gurus; some of the greatest spiritual figures from India,  given to some reputed institutions?  Ghalib, the unparalleled poet,  something for him in his own Dilli? Female icon Razia Sultan suffers in obscurity. Wajid Ali Shah? Oh, he was the morally corrupt vagabond last Nawab of Lucknow. If this is your answer, then you must brush up on your history. We don’t find any history museums, educational institutions, airports named after these icons. Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan is sorely missed. Perhaps Moulana Azad is the only one to escape this fate.  Most of ‘our’ icons are conveniently forgotten, among them a significantly large number of freedom fighters. Rulers like Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan have been rendered controversial. Every November for the latter and round the year for the former, we helplessly watch the spectacle, surrounding them. Aurangzeb has become a ready-made, all time villain, for Congress, Kejriwal and BJP. Want to insult someone brutally, beyond repair? Call him Aurangzeb; more potent than even Hitler. That Aurangzeb had donated hugely for the temples, that his feuds were, ‘political’ in nature,  even with his own progeny; that he had  even suppressed some schools of thought of Islam he didn’t agree with, fall on proverbial deaf ears. Clueless if India would be a better place with Darashukoh after Shahjahan, but it alerts us to never utter a word in support of his younger brother, lest I get lynched cyberally. I can’t talk about how progressive Tipu Sultan was, but  have to hear about his cruel ways with some of the rebels. Almost all the time we have to tip toe around some of these icons, for I do not want to be wrong politically. Bali Raja is the famed King from the South, and Dalits have no compunction in asserting their faith in him. Muslims dare not imagine anything like this.

That brings me back to the sinister insinuation that Muslims do not believe in Ashoka etc. Muslims respect the flag with Ashok Chakra on it and sing the national anthem just like others. If you haven’t seen them doing so, then you are wearing the wrong kind of shades. Their darkness of doubts is being broadcasted in the evidence of sunlight. These frozen minds are selectively blind.

India is a country of many faiths. Different regions in the country have their own set of heroes and sheroes and our emblems must be representative of it all.

I would try to understand, if you don’t want to name any thing after Aurangzeb but can’t we have a Shahjahan airport, museum, an art gallery, and/or such like, when he has given us the most beautiful monument in the world? Why isn’t a  significant landmark be named after Emperor Jahangir known for his justice? Even a religiously neutral Emperor Akbar is dismissed outright as a role model.  Sher Shah Soori was a pioneer of sorts, but even the road he rebuilt; is without his good name. The Sufis, a long array of them; have played such a humongous role in the formation of a composite harmonious culture in India, the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.  Yet they remain buried in some obscure books.

The national emblems become our identities, unify us and represent our collective national conscious and should preferably be an inclusive whole. Hence with Ashoka,Tulsidas;  can the Sikh Gurus, regional saints, Akbars , Shahjahans, Chishtis,Kakis, Razia Sultans,  Ghalibs and Meers, be our icons and also get a wider acceptance?

And I can mention only a few.

Would we not like to have a Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan airport? A Ghalib museum? A Shahjahan School of Architecture or Arts? A Sher Shah Suri Research Institute? A Razia Sultan University for women, an Akbar Centre for Composite Cultural Dialogue.

Jai Hind.

Dr. Asma Anjum Khan from Maharashtra teaches English, a motivational speaker, has written for  prestigious national and international publications and websites on social, ethical, and gender related issues. FEEL (Foundation for English and Ethical Learning) is her NGO that wants to bring change by equipping people with the language of English. Twitter: @AsmaAnjumKhan


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