Naseeruddin Shah’s views on being an Indian Muslim cannot be dismissed

What his writing did in its imperfection was perhaps greater than what a perfect piece would have been able to achieve.

 |  5-minute read |   04-06-2017
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After two days of constant "angry rebuttals" I too got angry - at the rebuttals to Naseeruddin Shah’s Hindustan Timespiece. On June 3, the fine actor wrote a long piece on being Muslim in India today. It starts with stating that he is not a practising Muslim, inspite of that in the middle he talks about the fear of being persecuted for being seen as a Muslim today and ends with calling for reforms within the community.

While admitting to not being a practising Muslim, Naseer in the same breath admits to have performed "the rite" of reading out the Kalma in the ears of his children at their birth.For the uninitiated, the Kalma — 'lā ilāha illā -llāh, muḥammadur rasūlu -llāh — is the proclamation that there is only one God and Mohammad is his messenger. This proclamation forms the bedrock of the Muslim belief and is evidence enough of being a Muslim.

Naseer goes on to share some experiences of Muslimhood, that we often hear from people around us. The celebration of Diwali and Eid, limited world views of many maulanas, empathy towards non-Muslim friends, etc are issues one is familiar with and Naseer builds his case for distancing himself from religion. Then Naseer states, “But over the past few years, the nightmarish possibility of my children being someday confronted by a mob demanding to know their religion could be inching closer to reality.”

Naseeruddin Shah traces the growth of hatred in society to the Partition and its aftermath.

ns-690_060417034423.gifThe "stop trying to speak for us", "you are not even a Muslim" to "privileged" — all kinds of stuff is doing the social media rounds. I wonder what called for so much anger? Photo: India Today Group

“The hatred spawned by Partition taking seventy years to unleash itself is probably evidence that the longer the pot brewed the more potent the venom got,” he writes. While briefly touching upon the politics behind the hate, Naseer turns to look within the community itself.

Without mincing words he calls out the "victimisation" and the need "to take matters into our own hands" for development to benefit the economically-weaker sections. He talked of taking up a true reading of the Quran and disposing off the self-appointed spokespersons.

It is easier to call out one’s own than the majority at large. See how Aamir or Shah Rukh have long been silenced. But little did Naseeruddin Shah know that he would be at the end of the ire of Muslims themselves.

Not even the maulanas need issue fatwas this time. Yes, his piece did merit discussions as it was not a perfect piece that would do justice to everything under the sun to being a Muslim in today’s times. But the matter being so vast and layered, I doubt if such a piece is even possible.

What Naseeruddin Shah’s writing did in its imperfection was perhaps greater than what a perfect piece would have been able to achieve. HT had been running the series with efforts at bringing out voices from all corners and spectrums of the Muslim society. Did any other of the rather well researched articles trend on Twitter? No, but they generated a lot of applause from the same Muslim clique who showed resentment at this last of the series. Naseeruddin Shah did trend on Twitter. And in the end got what the whole series deserved - attention and discussions and yes, rebuttals. Yes his star status helped as did the absence of political juggernauts in his imperfect piece.

“To my mind, its the same as the backlash about the movie Haider,” says Meera Rizvi, writer and researcher. “True the film may have had some flaws and did not do justice to the Kashmiri Muslim position. But as a non-Kashmiri, I was shocked with the sense of sadness and hopelessness that engulfs Kashmir. It brought home the barbed wires, the desolation of a beautiful state. Similarly, In the Naseeruddin Shah piece, hopefully some of the people we are trying to win over may have glimpsed the terror ordinary Muslims are experiencing right now. Yes, Naseeruddin Shah disavows his Muslimness but maybe that is needed for some people to pay heed to him. We must not forget that the battle right now is for the hearts and minds of the majority. Some of them may respond to the long missing Najeeb’s mother, some to intellectuals and some to people like Naseeruddin Shah. So no voices should be shut down. Anyone and everyone who speaks against this senseless violence is an ally.”

Every write-up has an audience. And not every write up needs to cater to all audiences. As important as Naseer’s voice is, so are the vibrant rebuttals. Both are important to keep the conversation going, for the fire to continue burning. This fire will lit up the path ahead.

The rebuttals do have some valid grounds. But some of the hysteric response is akin to "go to Pakistan" statements. The "stop trying to speak for us", "you are not even a Muslim" to "privileged" — all kinds of stuff is doing the social media rounds. I wonder what called for so much anger?

Is critiquing the self not as important as critiquing the state? Will only critiquing one of them all the time not make us cry babies oblivious to the rot within?

Both the self and state form a vicious circle; they feed off each other. And both need to be called out.

What Naseer wrote was his truth. There should be space for everyone’s truth. For every kind of Muslim — practising or non-practising. After all, when a non practising, elite, privileged’s door gets knocked by fear, it tells us how pervasive the epidemic is.

It cannot be dismissed. It must not be dismissed.

Also read: An Indian Muslim on why Naseeruddin Shah’s piece filled him with rage

Writer

Nazia Erum Nazia Erum @nazia_e

Nazia Erum is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling book, 'Mothering A Muslim'. She writes on the intersections of gender, faith and politics.

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