Person: “Are you religious?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Person: “Are you a true Muslim?”
Me: “Erm, I like to believe that I am.”
Person: “Do you pray five times a day?”
Me: “Regrettably, no…but I try to pray as much as I can.”
Person: “Well, you should pray five times a day if you want to be a true Muslim!”
I’ve been asked such questions more times than I care to remember over the last 15 years. You’d think I would be used to them by now but somehow, I find people prying into my religious beliefs VERY unsettling. My faith is between Allah and me (or should be in my opinion). And yet, I find us MUSLIMS making it our life’s mission to instil the teachings of the Quran (often according to our own interpretation) into anyone and everyone’s head. Because well, “Dosroon ka imaan durust karnay se hi tou sawab milta hai!”
I was recently forwarded an article written anonymously by a student of a well-reputed school in Karachi. This student was worried about the repercussions his/her words might have but was conscientious enough to voice what he/she witnessed. According to this student, a bunch of bullies in his/her school incessantly pestered a Sri Lankan Buddhist student to recite the Kalma and convert to Islam. They victimized the student to the point where he slapped one of the bullies, after which he was badly beaten by them. One of the bullies had made a video of the incident and when the school administration found out, they pressurized him to delete the video (to save their own reputation) and expelled him.
Growing up, I never faced or witnessed any religious abuse. As students of Convent of Jesus and Mary, we never identified anyone as Muslim, Hindu, Christian or having any other belief. In fact, we had a more diverse student body than I see in schools today but we never saw each other differently.
RELIGION was never a topic of discussion. Or dissent.
Even in our own household, we were taught how to pray and be good human beings, but under NO circumstances were we preached to spread the word of Islam – especially through force.
Live and let live. Respect others. Religion is a private matter.
These were some of the tenets we were raised by.
So, when I hear or read about such incidents of religious intolerance in renowned SCHOOLS, it strikes fear in my heart! Children are supposed to be pure at heart even if they are teenagers like the ones in this case. The fact that these bullies terrorised this Buddhist student to such an extent shows that their minds and hearts are wrongly influenced. Something they are hearing or watching – in newspapers, on TV, on the internet, in their homes, in school – is corrupting their hearts and minds! It is us, adults, who have to be wary of what our children are exposed to. We are responsible for raising tolerant, accommodating individuals. But sadly, we seem to be failing.
A few months ago, I witnessed a woman feeding a group of poor men and women. But as much as I appreciated her kind gesture, I noticed that a few individuals were sidelined. WHY? Because they were Christians – or ‘Chooray’ as they were being degradingly called. It broke my heart and I asked my driver to give them some money for food.
Where has equality gone? We won’t feed a poor man because of his religion? Have we forgotten what our Quran teaches us?
The Companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) followed his example in how they treated non-Muslims. Umar (RA) set up a permanent stipend for the Jewish family the Prophet used to take care of in his lifetime. He found justification for allotting funds for the People of the Scripture in the following verse of the Quran:
“Alms are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (the funds) and for bringing hearts together, and for freeing captives (or slaves) and for those in debt and for the cause of God, and for the (stranded) traveller – an obligation (imposed) by God. And God is Knowing and Wise.” (Quran 9:60)
I know that I am not a perfect Muslim…far from it. But my parents always taught me two very important traits – tolerance and acceptance. It is these traits that help build empathy and compassion for others; they teach us to be fearful of Allah’s wrath and NOT look down on someone who may not be as privileged as we are.
I hope and pray that I am able to instil these two qualities in my children as well so that they don’t end up forcing some child to recite the Kalma.