Mumbai, Sept. 7: I have four wives. I have 25 children. I go on multiplying. But I don’t have a job. I have not been to college. I have an army of brothers and uncles who keep on multiplying, too. Who am I'
Answer: I am a Muslim.
This SMS joke could have come from a sick Muslim-hater. It did not. It came from another Muslim man.
Shortly after the Gujarat riots broke out, the young man, employed in a predominantly Hindu Gujarati-dominated office, started sending this message out to all his colleagues. He had realised that self-humiliation was a reliable pre-emptive measure against a possible reaction to his religion.
This time, after the twin blasts last week, the Muslim voice is much louder than an anonymous SMS — there is a procession brought out by students from the community one day, a gathering of eminent citizens on the other, and there are press statements by religious organisations condemning terror.
But it is the same fear that stalks the Muslim. He now has to scream out loud that he is not a terrorist. He has to market his nationalist predilections and secular achievements — to prove he is not guilty.
Some Muslims are embarrassed at this show of national pride, like actor Farooq Shaikh. At a meeting of Muslim intellectuals last week, organised by activist Javed Anand, who helped Best Bakery witness Zahira move the Supreme Court, Shaikh said he was surprised by this vociferous expression of solidarity because it was a reiteration of the obvious.
He said that because everyone was Indian, such support from the community could be taken for granted.
But others don’t feel this way.
“There was a fear psychosis after Gujarat,” said Sayeed Khan. He is a co-founder of MY India, acronym for the Muslim Youth of India, a forum to condemn terrorism and promote national harmony and peace. “There is fear still, but there is more pain,” he said, when asked why there are so many people from his community who are insistent on getting the message across. “There were so many Muslims who rushed to donate blood after the blasts at Mumbadevi and the Gateway,” he said.
Co-founder of MY India Feroze H. Mithiborwala claims that 15,000 students, mostly from colleges in the city with Muslim administrations, joined the peace march they organised on Saturday. Their organisation, set up shortly after the Mulund train blast this year even as fingers were being pointed at Simi activists again, was founded to signal the same message.
Raza Academy, another Muslim organisation, has also gone hammer and tongs at the perpetrator of the blasts.
“They are insecure. And there is alienation at many levels,” said Anand, a non-practising Muslim, when asked whether his community is more afraid than ever.
“The feeling against Muslims became stronger after 9/11. But the community has not been silent. When the Bamiyan Buddhas fell, there was condemnation of the act all across India by Muslim organisations, including conservative, orthodox ones.
“After the Mulund blast, there were five pieces on the front page of Inquilab, a leading Urdu daily, condemning the action.
“When there was a spate of crime against minorities in Bangladesh after Begum Khaleda Zia took over, the Jammat-e-Ulma here demanded that the Bangladesh government provide security to minorities,” said Anand.
“For some reason these were never reported. But now the community is becoming more alive to the fact that the message has to get across.”
Ghulam Peshimam, a businessman who spoke at the meeting called by Anand, agreed. He said names of Muslim youth get thrown up routinely after an explosion. But it should be made clear that these young men constitute a very small part of the community and are actually pawns in the political game being played across borders.
But do the new voices mean that a different leadership — of educated, secular-minded, middle class Muslims — is emerging within the community'
Peshimam says it’s too early to tell.