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Kalam, a Muslim at peace with Hinduism - Samachar, India

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  • Zafar Khan
    Kalam, a Muslim at peace with Hinduism By M.V. Kamath Source: Free Press Journal July 4, 2002 http://www.samachar.com/features/040702-fpj.html Anyone who has
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2002
      Kalam, a Muslim at peace with Hinduism

      By M.V. Kamath
      Source: Free Press Journal
      July 4, 2002


      Anyone who has lived in Mumbai in the twenties,
      thirties and even forties would be able to relate how
      citizens stayed true to stereotypes. The Parsi male
      wore his trousers and long coat and his headgear was
      typical of his community. The Parsi lady wore her
      sari, yes, in the typical Parsi way. The
      Maharashtrian, the Marwadi, the Gujarati businessman,
      the Goan Christian not to speak of the South Indian -
      male and female - were easily identifiable by their
      dress. In the last half a century there has been a
      sartorial revolution. Ethnic styles have all but
      disappeared. Among young women, the salwar-kameez is
      the in-thing.

      The sari is fast becoming a memento from the past. On
      the roads few men wearing the 'dhoti' are noticeable.
      The 'dhoti' has given way to the bush shirt and
      trousers. Time has become the great leveller. And yet
      certain images persist, especially of the Muslim. As
      Saed Naqvi, a well-known columnist, recently noted, in
      popular perception the Muslim stands in any company.
      He would be expected to wear his skull cap, a
      noticeable beard and a Pathani dress, consisting of an
      outsize shirt almost reaching down to his ankles,
      covering a puffed up pair of pyjamas, that are hidden,
      under the flowing upper garment. He would be speaking
      Urdu as a matter of course, would have at least two
      wives if he cannot afford more - he is entitled to
      have four at a time, isn't he?- and for dinner there
      would be the inevitable cut of beef. To these
      stereotypes Naqvi has one more to add: that of the
      "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 popularised by Bollwood films of
      another era.

      Now, overnight as it were a wholly different kind of
      Muslim is being projected in the Indian media: A.P.J.
      Abdul Kalam. Kalam reportedly knows no Urdu. Judged by
      his dress he could be mistaken for a hippie affiliated
      to no particular religion. He is apparently most
      fluent in his own mother tongue Tamil; plays the rudra
      veena, is a confirmed bachelor and God help him!, he
      is a vegetarian. No beef-eater, he. And to add to it
      all, he is familiar as much with the Bhagavad Gita as
      he is with the Quran and can quote from both with
      relative ease. And he was born not in Lucknow or
      Moradabad or even in the former Nizam's dominion, but,
      in, of all places, Rameshwaram. What kind of Muslim
      can he possibly be? Judging from what has been
      appearing in the Urdu press, the average Muslim is
      appalled. And Muslims in Pakistan, one can be assured,
      have been shocked out of their wits.

      But hasn't time come for Indians, especially, to look
      beyond stereotypes and look for humanism that goes
      beyond symbols and forms? Does one have to be a
      polygamist, a paan-chewer, a hater of Hindus, an eater
      of beef and a lover 'only' of Urdu to be a true Muslim
      in India? Can't a Muslim in India be true to his
      ethnic origins and revel in it? There are Muslim
      writers in Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, to
      identify a few of the many Indian languages. Justice
      Ismail in Chennai has long been acknowledged as Tamil
      Nadu's leading authority on the 'Kambha Ramayana.'
      Kazi Nazzrul Islam is known for his powerful
      revolutionary poetry, replete with images of Kali, in
      incomparable Bengali. At least half a dozen Muslims in
      Karnataka have distinguished themselves as reputed
      writers in Kannada. And Ustad Bismillah Khan never had
      any difficulty in paying his homage to the goddess
      Saraswati. It is difficult to think of Banaras without
      simultaneously remembering the soul - stirring music
      of the great Ustad. Do we always have to identify a
      Muslim with the Urdu-speaking, meat-eating Muslim from
      North India? What have we come to?

      One therefore has to be grateful to Abdul Kalam for
      once and for all or breaking the stereotype and
      bringing us down to earth. There are Muslims and
      Muslims. It came as a pleasant shock to me to see, in
      Sunni Iraq, Muslim women dressed in western clothes
      who could have been mistaken for a sun-tanned European
      from the Mediterranean. Think of the Islam of
      Indonesia. Indonesia has no qualms to name its
      Air-line after Garuda. Its currency note has the image
      of Ganesh, none else! Naqvi himself reminds us of the
      performance of the Ramayana ballet by 150 namaz-saying
      Muslims under the shadow of Jakarta's magnificent
      temples, continuously for 27 years, without a break!
      The Indonesians are as much proud of their religion-
      Islam - as of their culture - Hindu! The current
      president of Indonesia bears the beautiful name of
      Meghavati Sukarnoputri.

      How much more Sanskritised can one get? A visitor to
      Jakarta once told me that the former President Wahid's
      daughter is named Saraswati and one of his security
      men bore the name Krishnamurti! And the latter was a
      very proper Muslim! If only some of our fundamentalist
      Muslims would take note of these facts, how much
      better off and happy we all would be! Muslims in India
      are Indians, just as Christians in India are
      Christians. Time was when Christians inIndia bore only
      Hebraic names. May it be pointed out, even in passing,
      that there are no such things as 'Hindu', 'Muslim' or
      'Christian' names.

      There surely was a Peter and a Paul long before Christ
      was born, a Mohammad and an Ali long before the
      Prophet (Peace be on him) preached Islam? What we have
      are not 'Hindu' but Sanskrit names, Arabic, or Persian
      or Turkish but not 'Muslim' names and Hebraic and not
      (Christian) names, and one can be Dilip Kumar and
      still be a good Muslim, a Lalita and still remain a
      good Christian. Religion and culture are two entirely
      different categories. One suspects, though, that
      things are slowly changing. The 'Deccan Herald' June 3
      reported from Srinagar that "those who preach
      religious intolerance and hatred may well learn
      alesson or two" from there. And why? It would seem
      that "some Kashmiri Muslims are rebuilding a
      100-year-old Narayan temple at Bulbul Lankar in
      downtown Srinagar. Ten years ago that temple had been
      burnt and razed to the ground by extremists forcing
      the local Pundits, barring an old couple, to migrate
      to Jammu. Subsequently the temple had become a
      breeding ground for dogs and other stray animals. Says
      the Herald report: "After a decade, the Pandit couple,
      along with Muslim neighbours, met Works Minister Ali
      Mohammad Sagar and pleaded for finances to rebuild the

      Funds were immediately granted and reconstruction work
      was started. Muslims in the area shouldered the
      responsibility of supervising the work". All the
      workers - labourers, carpenters, masons - were
      Muslims. Can it be - can it 'just' be that
      Kashmiriyat, the common culture of all Kashmiris
      irrespective of their religion, is finally asserting
      itself? Then there is the almost unbelievable story of
      over 15,000 Kashmiri Pundits returning to Central
      Kashmir to offer puja at a famous temple with local
      Muslims giving all the necessary support, like
      providing flowers and milk to the Hindu devotees.
      Reportedly they also participated in a 'yajna' to
      invoke peace in the violence-stricken valley. Not so
      long ago, a Muslim columnist, Sultan Shahin was to
      write: "Kashmiri Islam is renowned for its
      broad-mindedness, its deep commitment to tolerance of
      all streams of thought. It is known to be firmly
      anchored in the Indian soil".

      Sultan Shahin attributed it to Kashmiriyat, that
      special approach to religion which was all-embracing
      and took into account the life-styles of Hindu rishis,
      and Buddhist and Jain monks.

      One suspects that ordinary Kashmiris are fed up with
      the fundamentalists from across the border and want to
      returnto their ancient ways of living. If nobody else
      would, they, at least, would understand and appreciate
      A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a true Indian.

      Abdul Kalam, from all accounts is a religious man in
      the best senses of the term. But Kalam, reportedly,
      sees religion in a light vastly different from how
      fundamentalists see it. Once, addressing Sri
      Ramakrishna Vidyashala in August 2001 he recounted how
      hewas rejected, on grounds of health, from admission
      to a Technical Institute. The interview had taken
      place in Dehra Dun. He told the students: "Very
      dejected and disappointed, I returned via Rishikesh. I
      took a bath in the Ganges there and was wearing a
      dhoti. There was a beautiful ashram nearby, Swami
      Shivananda Ashram. I was tempted to enter that Ashram
      and I entered. There was a lecture going on, on the
      Bhagavad Gita. This swami used to select a person
      among the audience for discussion every day, after
      bhajan and prayer. It was my chance that day. The
      swami noticed that there was a feeling of sorrow on my
      face. I told him the details. He consoled me, taking
      an instance from the Gita. Lord Krishna revealed his
      Vishwaroopa to Arjuna who was fear-stricken. Krishna's
      message to him was to 'defeat defeatism'. This became
      a message to me even".

      Is this an example of syncretism? Are the Gita and the
      Quran really out of tune with each other? One hopes
      not. Which is why Kalam seems to be an ideal choice to
      be India's president. A Muslim at peace with Hinduism.
      A true Indian, all said.

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