Ethnicity and religion

Published: August 10, 2012
Email
The writer is a consultant and a freelance writer based in New Delhi, where she writes for Business Standard and blogs for The Times of India

The writer is a consultant and a freelance writer based in New Delhi, where she writes for Business Standard and blogs for The Times of India

At the Olympic stadium in London, where the 5,000-metre heats were being run on August 8, the crowd burst into a deafening roar when they announced Mohamed Farah’s name. It didn’t matter that the lean, young man, sometimes called the ‘nicest man in athletics’ was of Somalian origin because he is now a British citizen. And the British were hungering for a gold medal in the 5,000m.

Farah qualified in the heats and will run the final when it is held on August 11. Certainly, all of Britain is holding its breath until then. Certainly, or at least in my mind, the question boiled over to the top: is Farah first a Briton or a Muslim?

That question, or its variants, is as old as history, of course. India was divided on the basis of religion, not ethnicity or political ideology or just plain common sense. But, of course, we can legitimately argue why the Congress party, if it was always in the right all the time, couldn’t get the Muslim League to look at Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ policy the way it perceived it.

On a recent trip to Srinagar, I wondered at the stupendous architecture of the Jama Masjid and noted that the monument did not have a dome that we take for granted in mosques and Sikh gurdwaras. The Srinagar Jama Masjid, in the heart of the old city and the most favoured place of worship for thousands of Kashmiris, including Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was last restored by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after it was burnt down in a fire in the 17th century, and it reflects the austerity of the man. There are several hundred pillars of the deodar tree that hold the massive monument aloft, but instead of a dome, there exists a spire very much influenced by Tibetan architecture.

In fact, the lack of the dome at Srinagar’s Jama Masjid or at the Shahedan Masjid — the man who brought Islam to Kashmir, and very much in the spirit of the Sufi, believed that Kashmiri Hindus must continue to practise their own relgion alongside — also in the city, reminded me of the brilliant sparkling marble mosques built by the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

I was there in June when Nazarbayev inaugurated the mosque, supposedly the largest in Central Asia. I haven’t seen so many young girls in short skirts and make-up, cheek-by-jowl with other girls in Burberry scarves in a mosque ever before.

The experimenting with religion, with Islam in this case, is fascinating. The Kazakhs, like the rest of the Central Asians, are still emerging from their 75-year-old merger with the former communist Soviet Union and rediscovering both their ethnicities and their religious inheritance.

So, even as Syria burns and the Middle East takes sides on the conflict between its Sunni majority and its Alawite rulers — an offshoot of Shia Islam — I wonder what the real reason is behind the recent focus on the maltreatment of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Question is, should the Myanmar generals and Aung San Suu Kyi be reprimanded because they have failed to adequately protect the Rohingyas because they are Myanmarese citizens or Muslims? I would certainly vote for the former.

But why travel the world when the issue continues to confront India in the eye, including in the present moment. The communal violence in Assam, between the predominantly Hindu tribals (known as Bodos) and the latter-day Bengali-speaking and mostly Muslim migrants, is already turning into a political football between the ruling Congress party and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP’s senior-most leader, LK Advani, who some years ago sought to reconcile the legacy of Mohammed Ali Jinnah with India’s own history, has roundly criticised the government’s failure to stem the illegal immigration from Bangladesh next door. On the face of it, Advani says that the Assam violence is not religious or communal in nature, but you can almost smell the stench of the anti-Muslim feeling that infiltrates his rhetoric.

Of course, it’s ironic that Bangladesh is refusing to accept the Rohingya Muslims from its own eastern neighbour, Myanmar, but then history is the mistress of irony. Meanwhile, as the Congress party rubs its hands, both unable and incapable of separating a law and order problem from the ethnic and religious issues at hand, Assam burns and neighbouring Bangladesh suffers.

I hope Farah wins the 5,000m at the Olympics in London on August 11. At least for me, it would be the triumph of environment — hard work, grit, total focus on a goal — over his given ethnicity and religion.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.

 

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (20)

  • A nationalist
    Aug 10, 2012 - 10:57PM

    @Ms.Malhotra,

    I also want the same answer from you . Farah is a Muslim first or Briton first ?But I frankly believe that these people have lost their way. In my hierarchy , motherland comes first , then our parents , then this religion which is insignificant in some cases .

    Recommend

  • Indian
    Aug 10, 2012 - 10:58PM

    The BJP’s senior-most leader, LK Advani, who some years ago sought to reconcile the legacy of Mohammed Ali Jinnah with India’s own history, has roundly criticised the government’s failure to stem the illegal immigration from Bangladesh next door. On the face of it, Advani says that the Assam violence is not religious or communal in nature, but you can almost smell the stench of the anti-Muslim feeling that infiltrates his rhetoric.

    I have been an admirer of the author on quite many issues but definitely not on this one…. Whatever Mr. Advani said whether rhetoric or not…. It is simple blunt truth…….

    Recommend

  • Max
    Aug 10, 2012 - 11:06PM

    Jyoti Jee, Your argument well taken and I can understand your quest but you also know that Muslims, like any other religion, are not a monolithic group. They are divided along sectarian and regional lines.
    One suggestion, you try to bring-in so many things and variables and that makes it hard for someone to understand the thrust of your essay.

    Recommend

  • entropy
    Aug 10, 2012 - 11:52PM

    The author seems to be drawing a parallel between modern Britain and India. But Britain is a nation and a place where the large majority are still native white British. Immigrants are a minority that is expected to integrate and assimilate. India, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of more than 30 countries which only find them selves together because of a historical accident. There is no parallel.

    Recommend

  • Indian
    Aug 11, 2012 - 12:41AM

    @entropy:
    India, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of more than 30 countries which only find them selves together because of a historical accident.
    This ‘conglomeration of 30 countries’ apparently still stands as one strong unit with good trust between the people of possibly every religion known to this planet (only possible exception being ‘Shintoism’) with more than 400 languages and god knows how many castes and subcastes and cultures and racial differences…. Yes it is more than a country… It is an ‘UNIVERSE’ in itself… That my dear is a successful idea called ‘INDIA’ whose Prime Minister is a Sikh mentored by an Italian born catholic, finance minister an atheist, defense minister a christian, vice president a Muslim, chief election commissioner a Muslim, health minister a kashmiri Muslim in a country where >80% population is Hindu!!!
    And bro the one ‘not so historical’ accident a ‘very unified Pakistan’ had in 1971!!! What about that…. Yeah!! I know all too well that it was a conspiracy of the ‘Hindu Bania’ and West Pakistan was very just to East Pakistan….

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Aug 11, 2012 - 12:43AM

    @entropy: ” … India, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of more than 30 countries which only find them selves together because of a historical accident. … “

    The only historical accident is the appearance of Muhammad-bin-Qasim.

    Recommend

  • India
    Aug 11, 2012 - 1:19AM

    Simple fact…These Illegal Immigrants Bangladeshis has made the Bodos Minority on their own land…No one want to share his house with foreigners…But Big shame is congress Not kicking out these illegal Migrants …Vote bank hungry..

    Recommend

  • Indian
    Aug 11, 2012 - 2:30AM

    The question “are you british first or muslim first” is pointless and is biased. its like asking to chose between parents. drop the question. if there is a conflict between those two identities, discuss the area of conflict.

    Recommend

  • AA
    Aug 11, 2012 - 6:27AM

    I enjoy your articles. They are insightful. A little bit of nitpicking, if you don’t mind. The word is Somali, not Somalian. I say so, because a Somali colleague of mine once corrected me on calling him a Somalian.

    Recommend

  • Zalim Singh
    Aug 11, 2012 - 7:03AM

    @ Jyoti. Muslims were already given their share of OUR nation- split into three parts. Why should they even figure in our discussions? They dont have any business in Assam.

    Recommend

  • Bob
    Aug 11, 2012 - 10:11AM

    is Farah first a Briton or a Muslim?

    Neither.
    He is an African first.Africans or athletes of African origin have dominated track events.
    From 100m to middle distance races to marathon, with a few exceptions, most of the winners are of African origin.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 11, 2012 - 12:50PM

    Of course, it’s ironic that Bangladesh is refusing to accept the Rohingya Muslims from its own eastern neighbour, Myanmar,

    It is even more ironic that Bangladesh does not accept its own citizens that have illegally migrated to India. And in that context non-acceptance of the Rohingya is only logical.

    Recommend

  • MSS
    Aug 11, 2012 - 4:06PM

    Western countries accept immigrants with all the baggage they bring with them. They pay a significant price, financial and social. It is not unfair that they claim credit for achievements of these immigrants. Whether Farah is a Muslim first, British first or Farah first is irrelevant. For him it will be a personal triumph first whoever or whatever elase claims the rest of the credit. I am sure he will not be asking for a senior position in the White Hall like the Indian silver shooting medal winner..

    Recommend

  • bobby
    Aug 11, 2012 - 4:49PM

    Mo Farah’s success is due to his talent and to the achievements of the British school and sporting system. He came to Britain as a child from Somalia. Secular Britain recognised his sporting talent, his teachers nurtured it, the coaching structures improved it, the funding structures of sport in Britain supported it, he was coached, improved and encouraged at every level of society he came into contact with, all the way to the millions who cheered his victory around the country.

    In this light, it seems rather vulgar to bring a discussion of religion into the matter. Britain has many black, Afro-Carribean, Christian and non Christian athletes who have won medals for the UK. Its not a big deal. Stop making a big deal out of it, and fetishising a role model, whose identity is that of a British athlete, who has an outstanding talent that is universally admired by all of Britain, at the altar of religious identity politics.

    Recommend

  • V K Bajaj (New Delhi)
    Aug 11, 2012 - 5:17PM

    Tribune should have with hold this WRITE-UP for some time. There is no relation between Assam and Farah. England system is also different from India and Pak. Farah is not an illegal migrant like wise Bangladeshi in Assam.

    The effect of Myanmar and Assam happenings has taken Mumbai into trouble as protest goes violent as per news item in Times of India.

    Recommend

  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Aug 11, 2012 - 8:03PM

    “the man who brought Islam to Kashmir, and very much in the spirit of the Sufi, believed that Kashmiri Hindus must continue to practise their own relgion alongside “

    It were not the Arabs or Mongols who forced Hindus to convert. Most forced conversions took place through the ones who converted to Islam to appease their masters. Not the foreign masters, but their local stooges committed the maximum crime on Indians. No wonder, just 10,000 British could control the entire sub-continent.

    Recommend

  • vns
    Aug 12, 2012 - 10:21AM

    if hBangladesh is not accepting Rohingia muslims,why should India accept Bangla muslins,Bodo are tribals and their land should not given to outsider.they should be sent back ,if not possible,their voting right be cancelled.

    Recommend

  • Raj Bagri
    Aug 12, 2012 - 11:57AM

    The views of the so called educated class selfish in nature and far from truth. The Bangladeshis in India is a known facts since 1960. There migration to India is because of massive growth of their population in Bangladesh. Now that same growth of their population is hurting Indians. Politicians and political parties like congress & CPM always brush the problems sideways, but the truth cannot be denied. Failure of BJP is responsible for its failure to seal the Bangladeshi borders, when they were in Power.Recommend

  • Deb
    Aug 16, 2012 - 10:42PM

    @Arijit Sharma

    Your response to @entropy ‘The only historical accident is the appearance of Muhammad-bin-Qasim.’

    It has to be said, You are a master of one liner.

    Recommend

More in Opinion