A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Islamís many children|
|06/21/02 at 01:03:50|
|A salam to Kalam for demolishing the stereotype |
Islamís many children
Heaven knows a lot could have been said about Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalamís elevation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but considering that he is almost our president, deference to the office dictates that we set aside such observations that he may be some sort of an Islamic hippie.
Even reservations on his hairstyle can be held back. In fact, the great bonus one can extract from his elevation is this: his persona will go a considerable distance in demolishing stereotypes about Muslims on the subcontinent. In popular perception, the Muslim is an Urdu-speaking qasai or a butcher ó as opposed to a Punjabi-speaking jhatka meat seller ó dangerously prone to misusing the weapons of his trade; marries several times; multiplies like a rabbit and bathes only on Fridays because he is unclean in direct proportion to his distance from Brahminism.
The other image is of an Urdu-spewing, paan-chewing, hubble-bubble smoking, decadent nawab, leaning against a brocade sausage cushion, listening to B-grade Urdu poetry with a mujra dancer in attendance.
In recent years a third stereotype has swum into our ken. He is bearded, wears a skull cap, his pyjamas is pulled above the ankles and his outsized shirt almost touching them. He breeds in madrassas where he plots against the state.
These indigenous stereotypes have been reinforced globally by the much more powerful paraphernalia at the disposal of the international media obsessed with the Muslim image ever since the Palestinian-Israeli issue dominated western consciousness ó a trend that has been aided greatly by the events of September 11.
There are those frightful clips, inserted repeatedly, ad nauseam, of armed Muslim militants doing the drill in obscure forests, or Muslims bowing down in prayer in perfect unison, like some Stalinist drill, in huge intimidating numbers. This stereotype of the global Muslim umma on the march, as projected by the media, brings into the blazing spotlight the third Indian category mentioned above, the so-called madrassa variety.
In this maze of exaggerations, caricatures, stereotypes, where is the real Indian Muslim? Well, this question is flawed once again because it presupposes a monolithic Muslim presence lurking somewhere behind the stereotypes.
It is in this context that the A.J.P Abdul Kalam phenomenon, and its potential to demolish some some universal as well as Indian distortions, must be viewed.
An Indian Muslim from Rameswaram at the southern tip of the country, is as different ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and civilisationally from his Kashmiri brethren as, say, Indonesian Muslims are distinct from Iranians.
The Iranian civilisation, its Shia content refined during the Sefavid period, nevertheless retained some of its pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions like Nau-roz. In Indonesia, the entire Islamic practice is an overlay on very durable Hindu motifs.
While we know that the Mousetrap has been playing at Londonís Westend for 40 years, we are lamentably short on knowledge about the Ramayana ballet, performance by 150 namaz-saying Muslims under the shadow of Yog Jakartaís magnificent temples for the past 27 years without a break.
Have you ever perceived this exquisite elasticity in Islamic practice in the current projection of Islam worldwide?
We have grown so accustomed to the cliche, the broad-brush generalisation, that the sudden emergence of a veena-playing, Bhagawat Gita-reciting, Rameswaram-born A.P.J Abdul Kalam strikes us as an unreal happening, something at total variance with the images we have been bombarded with, ranging from Osama bin Laden to Ahmad Bukhari.
The Indian Muslim, like any other Indian, is a creature of his village, district, state, in very possible way ó language, lifestyle, dress, food, above all, the indigenous culture of comedy, joke-making and satire.
The late Mohammad Koya of the Muslim League in Kerala, invited me once for dinner when he became chief minister for a few weeks. He knew no Urdu or English and I was totally ignorant of Malayalam of which he was the best speaker in the Assembly ó in fact, he was so funny, he would keep his audiences in stitches.
At the end of the meal, Koya produced seven different varieties of bananas by way of dessert, even as I looked on, agape. Here was a civilisational clash between two Indian Muslims that Huntington would have to work hard to decipher.
In fact, within districts there are Muslims and Muslims. For instance, the Labbais or the Tamil-speaking Muslims who settled in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Ramanathanpuram, are today among the more prosperous in the state, controlling the leather industry, hotel chains and the dubious blackmarket in Southeast Asia.
In days of dollar control in the past, it was a Kilakrai Muslim who facilitated hawala transactions in the south. Every southern politician knows this.
Abdul Kalam, being from Rameshwaram, clearly came more under the spell of Saraswati unlike the other Labbais, who remained primarily in the domain of Lakshmi. Too much should not be made of his Rameswarm connection. After all, you do know the most prominent citizen of the holy city of Varanasi, donít you? Ustad Bismillah Khan, of course.
As for Kalamís familiarity with Hindu scriptures, was not Justice Ismail in Chennai the countryís leading authority on the Kambar Ramayanam? And Kalam, for all his devotion to Rama, still has to catch up with Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khanaís verses in Sanskrit dedicated to Dasrathís son.
Yes, Kalam knows no Urdu. But then Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka have written literature in the local languages just as Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote powerful revolutionary poetry, replete with images of Kali, in incomparable Bengali.
Salbeg did likewise in Oriya, and so on. The list of non-Urdu giants in literature from among the Muslims is unfortunately not part of the popular perception in the Hindi-Urdu belt.
Abdul Kalam is part of a continuing tradition which exists but about which we have developed an amnesia because of the obsession of the global media ó and that of our own ó with painting the Muslim in a monochromatic shade.
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board