New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) — Rather than asserting their identities and removing the many misconceptions about the religion, they are dissociating themselves from anything and everything Islamic.
They are also increasingly taking to “social drinking” to gain acceptance among peer groups and often proudly proclaim that “they are not the conservative types who offer prayers or fast”.
In their hearts they know there is no harm in offering prayers or keeping fasts, but the fear of being clubbed with the “skullcap or the scarf types” is equally genuine.
As Gulnar Mirza, a media professional in Bangalore, told IANS: “To avoid the tag of ‘Muslim’, they are trying to be ultra modern and cosmopolitan, as if this will hide their Islamic roots, which is like some uncomfortable baggage.”
Aiman Mustafa, a postgraduate student at the Delhi School of Economics, says there is tension between one’s original identity and the identity one may feel forced to adapt as a result of socialisation.
He adds: “A manager in a cell phone company once told me, ‘there has to be flexibility in one’s approach. Though drinking is not allowed in Islam, I can’t be expected to survive as a social outcast’.
“Forced by the Islamophobic onslaught, young well-to-do believers are modifying their practices by keeping and not questioning the core belief. ”
A marketing manager in a Delhi firm, Mohammed Shoaib, tries to project a neutral identity in a social situation.
“It is best to be neutral. The fear of being targeted if you wear a skullcap and beard is high. And if you are targeted, no one can save you or your family,” Shoaib says.
Most educated Muslims are doing the balancing act – practising Islamic tenets and at the same time appearing attuned to the demands of modern times.
Mehre Alam, special correspondent with Oman Economic Review, told IANS: “It is a tragedy that while the youth of other religions can go on practising their faith without any fear of getting branded as fundamentalists, things become so different when a Muslim youth does the same.”
Says Mirza: “I do think young educated Muslims are trying to make it clear that they do not subscribe to the view of the fundamentalist groups. They are trying to say that we are as patriotic as the rest of you, please don’t brand us.”
“We are like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, not like the bombers you read about every day. And somewhere, the young lot realises that they have to constantly make this effort.”
Mirza also sees a sense of guilt among some Muslims each time a bomb goes off.
“There is a sense of guilt and a feeling of wanting to apologise, as if one is connected to them by the common factor of religion, though the feeling itself is illogical. These days it is worse because it is not just the firebrand bearded fellows who are terrorists, even highly educated nice young people are joining the hardliners.”
The fear runs deep, but there are some who see hope.
Tabish Azmi, an engineer in Kolkata who opts for modern attire, says: “I have friends who work for software firms like Oracle. They wear beards, offer namaz (prayers) and are still respected. I even have a friend who dresses up like a ‘Muslim’ in Indian Space Research Organisation.”
So why are Muslim youth going out of their way to make a show of their secular credentials?
Senior psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh explained to IANS, “Tight and closed boundaries make living very taxing. Widening the circumference provides flexibility and therefore greater relief!”
But this fear of being branded can lead to some deeper psychological problems, warns Chugh.
“Branding someone is almost like labelling a person with very rigid and fixed characteristics that become their definition forever or for most part of their lives. This leaves very little room for change.”
“It is a stamp by which people identify you and judge you. This can be very limiting and adds to feelings of alienation,” he says.
“People who get branded or labelled might perceive themselves as ‘different’ and this could perhaps lead to inferior feelings, low self-esteem, self-hatred and anger directed towards self and society.”
© 2006 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission. — Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) is India’s first multinational and multilingual wire service. Website: www.ians.in. Subscription enquiries: contact IANS (mention Religioscope).