South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Being a Muslim in India
Book: But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim

Author: Rakhshanda Jalil

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 223; Price: Rs 599

Rakhshanda Jalil’s new book But you don’t look like a Muslim is a collection of 40 essays divided into four sections. The titles of these sections indicate how significant the book is — The politics of identity, The matrix of culture, The mosaic of culture and The rubric of religion — and each section carries 10 essays. India, since time immemorial, has been plural, multi-cultural and is known for its Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb (Syncretic culture). But, of late, mainly because of polarisation and religious politics the society is moving away from its syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture. It is a matter of concern for everyone and especially for the liberals and democrats. The author rightly says, “I have always wondered how one is supposed to look like one’s religion. Save for outward tokens such as a turban or a topi, a beard or a burqa, how can one give instant proof of one’s religious beliefs?”

Author is from Delhi and she narrates her own experience of school, college, jobs, offices etc. She says for many, “Since I don’t look like a Muslim, I am ‘okay’, I am not quite one of ‘them’…By extension, I might even — at a stretch — be considered one of ‘us’.” The sad reality is the demonisation of the Muslims has increased feeling of isolation and victimhood among them.

She talks about Muslims, Hindus, Urdu language and syncretic culture. One need to realise that language has nothing to do with the religion. Over the years Urdu became a language of Muslims and Hindi of the Hindus. The fault lies on both the sides. The Urdu literature stood with the progressive ideas. Urdu writers and poets like Shahryar, Ali Sardar Jafri and Qurratulain Haider were awarded the prestigious Jnanpith awards. Despite unfavourable conditions, Urdu not only survived but flourished. Only sad thing is now very few non-Muslim writes or read Urdu.

The slogan Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution), according to the author, was said to have been coined by the poet Iqbal. Bhagat Singh and his comrades popularised it. Maulana Hasrat Mohani used it at a rally of workers in Calcutta in 1928. It was Maulana Hasrat who unequivocally demanded Poorna Swaraj in 1921. He was a devout Krishna Bhakt who went often to Mathura to celebrate Janmashthami. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Bol ke lab azad hain tere is used even now by people fighting oppressive regimes. The author says, “Urdu has become steadily more Persianised just as Hindi has got more Sanskritised. The schism between the two languages was marked by the Partition, and the decades after 1947 saw a slow erosion of the common space between these two languages, a common space once called Hindustani but now virtually lost in the Babel of linguistic and cultural politics”.

The author says it is believed that there are more than 300 versions of Ram Kathan in Urdu only in Awadh region. Allama Iqbal described Ram as Imam-e-Hind (Spiritual leader of Hindustan). Agha Hashar Kashmiri, wrote a play called Sita Banwas, the fourteen-year exile in the forest, entirely from the point of Sita.

The author correctly said, “The Urdu poet in particular has always been known for his liberalism and eclecticism.” They spoke and wrote on communal harmony and commingling of cultures.


Updated On: 21 July 2019