A Non-believing Muslim’s Experience of Islamophobia

Guest post by SARAH ATHER

My life has revolved around the concept of God. I have been a Muslim, a theist, an agnostic and an atheist in all types of phases of my life. I am sure, I am still just growing and my perceptions will mature as I grow. My Muslim identity slowly faded when I picked Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in my late teens. To put it simply I was a perpetually angry Muslim. Angry at Islam, angry at Wahabism, angry at imposed patriarchy in Islam. I believed religion was so bad for the world, so unscientific. And so I wrote and I discussed with my fellow Hindu friends. They opened their hearts out. A lot of them told me how Muslims were always cruel and misogynistic. And they told me how I was different to see the truth. I felt a sense of moral superiority, I felt I was so unbiased and rational that I could see faults in my own religion.
A bookworm that I was, I read from Deepak Chopra to Reza Aslan, from Sam Harris to Stephen Hawkings, from Carl Sagan to Joseph Goldstein, from Plato to Nietzsche. I tried understanding paganism, Sufism, Spiritualism, Buddhism everything that came my way.I was surprised to find how I missed all the beauty the Sufis had to offer to the world, I found their philosophy strikingly similar to what the Buddha taught, for which I have immense respect. And every time I saw a search for the truth in the writings of a physicist or a philosopher or a saint or Sufi, I only saw humility in the awe of whatever it is that has made us. Call it God, call it entropy driving random bits of matter to generate complexity, or just complex biological matter dancing to the tunes of nature’s laws, but to me, this relationship is something very personal and to associate a person’s identity with mere religion is outright ridiculous.
Some time back, I met a charismatic Muslim woman. She wore a hijab and she was studying medicine. She was highly intellectual and in her conversation, open to concepts I hadn’t even heard of. I was impressed and loved the conversation with her. She also told me no one ever forced the hijab on her and that it was her own choice, she felt closer to God that way. And at that moment, I saw a hypocrite in me. I remembered mocking hijab-wearing women and considering them backward. I thought to myself, maybe, what is just a piece of cloth to me, maybe is an identity to her, maybe she has an attachment to it, just like one may have with a ring they wear. This is not to deny the horrific patriarchal history associated with forced covering of bodies of women, but why do we forget every human is different and everyone perceives things differently. Why should we just presume that how we imagine a person should dress up is the only appropriate way? I want to emphasize here I do not support the forceful imposition of any kinds of clothing, and to me, the concept of modesty is different as well. But I am writing this story to emphasize that there is a latent hate culture associated with Hijab which is very explicitly visible today. Many women who identify themselves as feminists mock hijabis and feel a sense of moral superiority. I want to bring forth two points to explain why it’s futile and hypocritical:
1. The message of feminism in this respect is ‘Stop dictating me what to wear.’ And it should stand for Hijab as well. But what if those who wear it do so as their choice?
2. And for those who are forced to wear, when you mock a burkha clad woman, you are speaking the language of their oppressor. Stand for the true cause of feminism if you want to, which is solidarity to fellow women. Telling her that she is powerless will ultimately increase the feeling of alienation they have towards us.If you want to help her, try empowering her, help her in ways that will actually improve her condition instead of passing smirks.
Recent events in my country have opened my eyes. The same friends who applauded me when I wrote against the burkha, suddenly turned hostile when I spoke for Akhlaq. Wasn’t it hideous my friends? Shouldn’t our souls have shuddered at the thought of a man being killed by a mob for the suspicion of the type of meat he has in his fridge? Shouldn’t we weep at the applause the killers were receiving? And there have been numerous such incidents that have followed. And  all we get to hear by way of response is ‘Media is just sensationalizing it!’ Really? And you can call yourself a human after saying that? We are talking about a loss of life! And what is more baffling is the ‘whataboutery’ that follows, which goes like this – but what about the bombs ISIS threw there in that country that day?’ The self-proclaimed nationalists unapologetically defended these violent acts by saying how the liberal Muslims are themselves responsible for their plight because they don’t criticize the extremists enough? Really? Do you know it’s actually Muslims who are most severely affected by Islamic terrorism? And it is ridiculous to expect Muslims to behave as a united, homogenous entity. We would never think of referring to Christians or Hindus in a similar way because we are aware that the catch-all description is virtually meaningless.
And it is appalling to see how every time I speak about the violence unleashed by RSS or VHP, I am told to royally leave for Pakistan. I am told ‘so what they are not as bad as ISIS’. I mean, really? Is that is your benchmark of morality? Won’t you speak up until they really become ISIS? Or you secretly want your mini ISIS here?
I dug up more and more about religions and their history. I was surprised to see how many of my Hindu friends don’t even know that what’s being sold to them in the name of Hinduism is actually ‘Hindutva’, which is the toxic equivalent of Nazism to say the least. Hinduism, on the other hand, I found to be a beautiful religion. I was dumbstruck at the intellectual complexity the Gita has to offer. People like Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley have expressed their utmost respect for Gita. I want to ask those saffron clad rioters ‘Do you even know what you are fighting for? You are no different from the Jihadis you hate.The anger that has been sold to you is poison for you only.’ Remember what Krishna said “Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. The reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down from the right path when reasoning is destroyed.”
‘I want to tell those Muslim hating Indians, ‘You don’t love India, you don’t even understand a fragment of the plurality it is known for, you are not Hindus, you are just haters, ego stricken Muslim haters.’ Don’t forget that that Indian Independence struggle was a plural project. Look at where we are standing today after 70 years of independence, open up a news channel and listen to the issues our country is investing all the time in the world to. Are our issues really Ram Mandir and Cow protection? Is this what our country needs? Stop feeding your egos and wake up! Our power lies in our unity not in that petty sense of victory that you feel after shouting on someone following a different faith. Remember ‘together we stand, divided we fall’

Sarah Ather is an architect and freelance writer based in New Delhi

7 thoughts on “A Non-believing Muslim’s Experience of Islamophobia”

  1. I enjoyed reading this article.Although I enjoy Richard Dawkin’s talks, I am not an Aethist. I believe, God (= Life force) is within us. But He or She (whatever gender we impose on this “Life force”) is hidden inside a bag of desire. Therefore, desire-free life force is God.Some desires are bad, some are not so bad and some are good. We all will have to work hard to remove the three-layered bag of desire. I like Buddha’s and Kabir’s teachings very much. Kabir said, God is neither in the temple nor in the mosk, neither in Gaya/Mathura/Kashi nor in Macca/Madina but He is within us. By the way, many people misinterpret Kabir as “Rama Bhakt”. He specifically mentioned that he never believed Dasharatha’s son Rama but “AtmaRama” (i.e.Life force). This Atma/Prana/Life force is actually the Infinite Source of power, knowledge, wisdom, etc.
    I better stop here. Anyway, I like any article that says logical stuffs. That’s why, I liked your article also.


  2. The life of atheist is similar in every religion..while bloggers were killed in Bangladesh or atheists in Pakistan by blasphemy laws, the likes of Kalburgi or Dhabolkar or Pansare were murdered by Hindu fanatics. Still, the struggle will continue ..as Faiz said :
    ” Bas naam rahega Allah ka
    Jo ghayab hai aur hazir bhi …


  3. I sometimes marvel as those who appear to self-deprecate in the open, showing their heart. There is something vulnerable and touchy about it such that might warm the hearts of sympathizers and make some fall in love. So I think. Having said that, the message itself is so simple – that as we grow and think, we think and grow with seasons, until we get seasoned. Sarah’s journey is courageous and fills one with hope and promise. Yet, if the substance of it all is a cry for unity for power (“Our power lies in our unity not in that petty sense of victory that you feel after shouting on someone following a different faith. Remember ‘together we stand, divided we fall’”), it seems so unambitious. What’s unity? Just the thing ISIS and hindutva et al. seek. Let’s celebrate diversity and richness of thoughts, actions and lives.


    1. I believe that is precisely what Sarah’s message is. That we need not try to narrow ourselves down in the basis of caste, creed or religion. Instead celebrate/focus on our “plurality”, our diversity AND unify as a country to stand up against religioisly-biased terrorism.


  4. I have nothing but the deepest respect for the feelings the “official” minorities have in this country, my feeling is that more and more “Hindu minority” groups will become visible once the darkest extent of the ambitions of the Hindutva mob becomes evident.

    That said it is clear that Muslims are in a no-win situation here: defend the triple Talaq (as a muslim way of life which cannot be touched by secular courts) then you are a misogynist, oppose it then you are a traitor to your community. Same goes for the Burkha and any/all such cultural symbols (I have seen even nursery children dressed in a hijab….different colours marking out different sects).

    Since “liberal hindus” will carefully mind their lakshman-rekhas out of (justified) feelings of minority solidarity, the vacuum is occupied by Hindutva. If (when) the courts rule for women to be free to reject or accept community rules it will be Hindutva which will take pride in having stood up for muslim sisters. I, for one, will applaud the message and ignore the messenger.

    Gandhi was correct when he said that the health of a society is measured in terms of the protections afforded to the very weakest sections. That has to be (young) women of all stripes…. undoubtedly. There can be NO excuse for affording them increased protections, not even for cultural reasons.

    If for example, it is clinically proven that Burkha wearage leads to Vitamin-D defficiency* then the answer is not (in my opinion) just to provide injections (fine as a temporary measure), but to mobilize the society against the practice. The same principle applies for vaccinations which some conservative Hindu/Jains avoid due to concerns about (vegetarian) content and some Muslims avoid because they are paranoid about population control (understandable in India but indefensible in Pakistan).

    warm regards

    *see for example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27651580


  5. Perceptions build over long period of time by sustained and systematic behavior of masses who for some reason behave same way. People try to identify this reason and they find this reason. A susbstantial minority will always be there that will not adhere to this pattern behavior and feel victim like you. You are just on wrong side of the table in this case. However without perceiving its impossible for human beings to behave.


  6. One last point. What is written in book , is to ignite some pattern behavior. Muslims follow the book more than others. Dont expect that other people are taking inspiration from Gita to behave. They are mainly reacting to a certain kind of behavior of majority muslims. You will not find this hateful hindu behavior in places like Himachal, remote parts of country where muslims are not significant nos. and hindus are not aware of this pattern behavior. However this hostile and insensitive pattern behavior of muslims exist even in places like Pakistan, Arab world, OIC, Kashmir and parts of Meerut and Lucknow


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