Who is the ‘New Muslim’? Is there any point in identifying her or him? Is one perpetuating new stereotypes by trying to put the spotlight on ‘Muslimhood’ in today’s India? These are some of the questions that lay under the surface of the series that this paper ran over the last 11 days. If there was an objective that we had, it was to move away from the knee-jerk depiction of members of the Muslim community — as opposed to the general condition of the Muslim community in India — as backward, retrogressive Indians whose religious and cultural mores are holding them back from joining 21st century India. True, by providing snapshots of successful Muslims from different parts of the country, we did load the dice in favour of achievers from within the community. But one aspect of the Indian Muslim (success) story that we ourselves ‘discovered’ was that, like successful Indians from any other community, being a successful Muslim hardly means moving away from one’s faith and religious practices. In other words, liberalism and the go-getting spirit are rampant within this community.
The people, whose snapshots formed our larger portrait of the New Muslim, were as variegated as possible. From a stockbroker, a screenplay writer, a boxer and a businessman to a businesswoman, a student, a teacher and an activist — the range was wide and almost random. Most emphatically, they had identities other than just ‘being Muslim’: being a woman, being a Kashmiri, being representatives of their professions. In other words, the ‘New Muslim’ is someone who is also the ‘New Indian’, someone who is first an individual and then a member of society who fits the larger criss-crossing circles of identity.
The reaction from readers have been congratulatory (“heartwarming”, “an eye-opener”) with important voices of criticism as well (“nothing ‘new’ about the ‘Indian’ Muslim”). Which is the way it should be, as any depiction of a community can never be ‘complete’ as its identity is multi-layered and never static. One of the most reassuring voices was that of Zafar Sareshwala, a devout Muslim who is one of the pioneers of Islamic finance in India: “We need to come out of that victim-centric mentality.” Which makes us ponder whether opinion leaders, concerned about the general backwardness of the Muslim community as a whole, need to take stock of the ‘well-meaning’ but constraining stereotypes about Muslims that they may be perpetrating themselves. For we believe that our ‘New Muslim’ series could well have been published under the tag, ‘2007: India’s Go-Getters’.