Book Review Born a Muslim bookspoetryandmore

Why I picked this book?

For the past six seven years there is lot which has been written, debated, discussed about Muslims and Islam in India. Most of it is to malign the religion and show Muslims in a bad light. With the rise in hyper nationalism, the attacks on Muslims have increased, be it on mainstream media, social media or in public. Generally, it comes in the form of fake news, false historical citation, deliberate misquoting about the religious texts and practices of Muslims and sometimes it is due to sheer ignorance and prejudice that we tend to believe the myths surrounding Muslims and Islam. So, to know and demystify the prevailing mainstream narrative about the Muslims, I decided to read this book.

The Book

The book is a personal memoir combined with the history of the origin of Islam and its entry into the Indian subcontinent. How Islam came into being and spread all over the world. How and when Islam first came to India, what was the purpose of coming to India. The first Islamic invaders and the first rulers who stayed back in India and made it their home. The various sects of Islam and the difference between them, the Islam in India and how its various sects. The general perception about Muslims post-independence and based on those perception and real events the insecurities of Indian Muslims. The position of women in the Islam, what it was and what it is now. This book will give you a very good idea about Islam and Indian Muslims.

The book starts with a long introduction by the author, where she talks about her family starting from the early 20th century. Her life and childhood in Agra, till she moved out from there for studies. The memories of childhood, her grandfather, the trip she made to Ajmer Sharif, the 90s when the Babri Masjid – Ram Janambhumi agitation and the riots and violence after the demolition of Masjid. After that Mumbai riots and its effect on the Muslims. How things changed  from December 1992 to February  2020, when the communal riots happened in the capital city of Delhi.

The book then takes you to the journey of Islam, how it came into being, you get to know about Prophet and the caliph after the death of Prophet. With some historical anecdotes she tells you about the spread of Islam around the world, and how it came to India. There are many things which are interesting and new to you as a reader.  From taking you through the genesis of Islam as a religion, the author elaborates on how and when Islam came to India and then took a shape which is unique to Indian subcontinent. With sects like Barelvi and Deobandi came into being and the influence of Saudi Wahabi Islam on the Indian Muslims and how it affected them. The influence of Sufism and its role in people of India converting to Islam.

Consequently, the first Muslims that came to India were Arabs. They came as early as 636 CE during the term of second caliph, Umar – Just for years after the death of the Prophet. Following the trail of pre-Islamic Arab traders, the Muslim fleet landed on the cost of Malabar – this time not only to trade but also preach the newly-revealed religion.

The author dwells upon the place and role of women in Islam in general and in Indian context, the liberal and the conservative practices. She also, throws light on the controversial triple talaq which was made into a religious and political issue by the BJP. There are many facts that will clear the fog around many misconceptions and myths around the religious practices and beliefs of Muslims. She also calls out the regressive practices followed in Islam.

So, should a Muslim women exercise her free will to wear a hijab? By all means. But while doing so she should be aware that there is no ‘free will’ in Islam. In addition, the veil adds nothing to one’s faith. It is merely an item of clothing, which has its roots in culture rather than religion. Wear it as a sign of piety, a sign of defiance, or a tactic to win your freedom to step out of your house for education or work. Whatever be the motivation, wearing a hijab adds nothing to one’s faith; and not wearing one takes nothing away from it.

As a result of the othering that is systematically done by the state, the Muslims are also asserting their identity, which otherwise many have not even cared about. This happens with every community, society, or religion. The author tells how the recent attacks physical, verbal, and psychological made some Muslims to take notice and raise their voice against it and others, who just do not flaunt their Muslim identity, for they may be singled out for it and face prejudice and economic boycott.

Looking uncomfortable, Mohammed Islam looks around before answering. ‘It is not that I am not a devout Muslim. I am a Haji (One who has undertaken hajj to Mecca),’ he says, a bit indignantly. ‘My younger son is studying to be hafiz. But security is also important. It is not just about my life alone, but my family too.’ After a pause, he adds, ‘It is about my business also. If I have a Hindu name, no one will bother that I work with cattle skin. But as a Muslim, I worry every moment.’

A very well written book giving the readers an insight and understanding about Islam and what it means to be an Indian Muslim.

About the Author

GHAZALA WAHAB is executive editor, FORCE, where she writes on homeland security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, left-wing extremism, and religious extremism, and contributes a column, First Person. She is the author of Dragon on Our Doorstep: Managing China through Military Power with Pravin Sawhney. She contributed a chapter on the changing profile of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir in the book Operation Parakram: The War Unfinished. A career journalist, Ghazala has worked with The Telegraph and Asian Age.

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