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Muslims feel heat of Mumbai attacks

india Updated: Dec 07, 2008 18:09 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times
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On December 1, a Class 9 Muslim student who wears a headscarf walked in late to class in a prominent central Delhi convent school. “You Pakistani,” said the teacher.

<b1>“Excuse me, Ma’am, I am not a Pakistani,” the stunned student replied. The 17-year-old student, requesting anonymity, said she complained to the principal, who was sympathetic. “I was told the teacher would be spoken to,” the student said.

Kulsum Fatema (17) studies in another central Delhi school. Two days ago, one of her friends came in with a message from her father: “Dad has asked me to not be friends with you because he says ‘Muslims keep bombs and one day they will ditch you’.”

When Hindustan Times spoke to Fatema — daughter of All-India Personal Law Board member SQR Illyasi, on Wednesday, she appeared calm. “It’s because of sheer ignorance,” she said. “People make judgements like this because they don’t know you. We are still friends.”

At a renowned college in Delhi, Anjuman Zara Rehman (name changed on request) is one of the two Muslim students in the English department. She wears a headscarf to college. “As the Mumbai attacks unfolded, one of her friends asked her, ‘Why is your religion so bad?’” her mother quoted her as saying.

On November 2, a passenger heckled a Muslim flight attendant on the Mumbai-Aurangabad Jet Airways flight, citing her religion.

The Mumbai attacks appear to be creating a fresh, vocal backlash against Muslims, many of whom fear 26/11 has reinforced familiar prejudices against the community. Across urban India, reports of jibes, anger and open prejudice are growing.

Those fears are reflected in a country-wide appeal signed by actor Aamir Khan and circulated by Padmashri awardee playwright Aamir Raza Husain. “(The Indian Muslim) grieves along with rest of the country,” said the appeal, released on the Internet and being faxed to individuals, the media and other organisations. “On the other hand,” the appeal states, “there is a sense of bewildered confusion because somewhere he feels that rest of the country looks upon him with suspicion and blame. He thinks ‘Enough is Enough’ would sooner or later be used against him.”

Gurgaon-based Husain said the appeal came from a “sense of frustration”. “Muslims share names with these terrorists, not their religion. The Quran I follow talks about a merciful God. Why should Muslims who don’t believe in terrorists’ ideology pay the price?”

The vice-chancellor of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, Mushirul Hasan, said incidents like the attack on the Jet Airways flight attendant should only “deepen the stake Muslims have in the country, not weaken it”.

Apparently, as the flight attendant was walking down the aisle, a passenger peered at her badge. “Are you Muslim?” he asked. “Why are Muslims doing this to the country?” he asked her, in an obvious reference to Mumbai attacks.

The man was not under the influence of alcohol, the flight attendant, requesting anonymity, said. “She was stunned but didn’t respond,” a friend of hers, who is a flight attendant with a state-run carrier, told HT. Jet Airways did not respond to HT’s calls or text messages.

At a time when Muslims in several Indian cities are trying to walk the extra mile in condemning the Mumbai attacks, some community leaders can’t resist the habit of speculating the impossible.

Sample this. A widely-circulated e-mail by convenor of the Mumbai-based Muslim Intellectual Forum, Firoze Mithiborwala, reads: “As far as the terrorists who attacked Mumbai are concerned, they are in all likelihood… controlled by the American CIA, the Pakistani ISI and the Israeli MOSSAD.”

“Such poisoned opinion has only helped to strengthen prejudices (against Muslims),” says Zulkif Manzoor, a Ramanujan Fellow at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

There was a “clear message” in the massive Muslim turnout at a multi-faith meet on December 3 at Hyderabad’s Necklace Road, said Mazher Hussain, the director of the Confederation of Voluntary Organisations. “There’s no way Muslims condone terror. Not only do they die at the hands of terrorists but also take the blame.”

(With inputs from Soubhik Mitra in Mumbai)