Photo Courtesy: thereligionplanet.com (One-time, non-profit, educational use)
Today is Eid al-Fitr.
In Bengali, we pronounce it Eedulfitor. The monthlong fast of Ramadan just ended. Of course, we Bengalis call Ramadan Romjan. Ha ha: we and our flat-tongue elocution.
We also call Muslims Musalman, Jews Eehudi, and Christians Khrishtaan.
I love my Muslim friends. I really do. And I am a Hindu who grew up with RSS and BJP, Hindu fundamentalists in India. In fact, before I came out of their clutches, I was the West Bengal state secretary of ABVP, their student wing. My father is a lifelong, hardcore whole-timer of RSS, and has known their stalwarts personally — like former Indian prime minister Vajpayee.
That was then. This is now.
I have some Muslim friends that are like my sisters and brothers. They have been with me — in thick and thin, rain or shine, or here in America as they say, in snow and ice — for many years. They have stayed with me, supported me, indulged me, loved me, and even scolded and chastised me when they saw my incoherence and indiscretion.
A Muslim brother published my Bengali memoir online — week after week. The first couple of people who first thought my Facebook rambling about my life could actually merit a well-done book included a Muslim doctor-cum-journalist, whom I first met in California. A Muslim sister, who married a Hindu brother, published it as a book. We first met in Calcutta.
A Muslim brother from Dhaka published my collection of political essays on 9/11 and terror. Another Muslim brother from Pakistan, who suddenly passed away in October, 2015, first told me that I needed to know black America well, and since then, I’ve done it, and found his advice invaluable. I love my black brothers and sisters too.
A few Muslim sisters gave me the opportunity to teach Bengali at a weekend school here in New York. A few Muslim brothers and sisters first told me that I should record my Tagore songs, before I lost my singing voice completely. A Muslim brother helped me to buy our Brooklyn home from another Muslim brother, and also helped me to travel Bangladesh for the first time. A Muslim sister took me from Dhaka to her home in rural Kumilla, and showed me the famous Bengal rivers Padma and Meghna. She also showed me the place in Kumilla, where rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote some of his famous songs.
I never knew Muslims until I taught at a rural, remote college in India, just a few years before I came to America. For over twenty years, my knowledge about Muslims was practically zero. I had two Musalman friends in the Scottish Church Collegiate School in Calcutta: I wrote about one of them in my memoir (and the hatred I had developed against him only because he was a Musalman). The other acquaintance was a privileged one: my tabla teacher Chitto Ray’s mentor was the celebrated artiste Ustad Keramat Ullah Khan, whom I met once at his Calcutta home. Of course, I never had anything other than goosebump-reverence for Muslim maestros such as Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, or Ustad Bismillah Khan. But I never considered them as Muslims in the first place.
The first time I got to know Muslims is, as I said, when I started teaching in a very rural, island college in West Bengal. I had the privilege to know those co-professors, students, and support staff. Some of them have become lifelong friends, ever since.
I have worked the best possible way to help Muslim brothers and sisters and children during the dark days after 9/11, when U.S. powers were yanking them out of their homes at gunpoint, and jailing and deporting them en mass, destroying their work, dreams, and civil liberties. I did my best to be on their side when hate crimes were destroying their lives. I did not do it alone: in fact, I consider myself a foot soldier in the fight that many of us fought together, and a fight that many of them are still fighting tirelessly.
I do not like Muslim women wearing borkha (or hijab) since they are in their childhood. I do not like the fact that a large section of otherwise nonviolent, innocent Muslims are becoming even more conservative than they ever have been, and falling prey to mullah and secretive mosques (clarification: not all mosques are secretive: in fact, very few of them are). I do not like the fact that many educated, liberal Muslims are not coming out strongly enough against the savage Islamic terrorists like Taliban, Qaeda or today’s IS, and against their barbarism, murders, rapes, and enslavement. I do not like the fact that many Indian Muslims would not abide by a secular, non-religious Indian constitution (but take advantage of all the secular benefits) — yes I know some of my BJP-RSS friends would jump up in joy. The brave widow Shah Bano’s watershed civic lawsuit for alimony and compensation was sabotaged by Muslim orthodoxy and a corrupt and scandalous, liberal Indian government.
Fake liberalism, rotten corruption, extreme greed, and scandalously inefficient governance — in India, USA, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and elsewhere — have made fanatics even more powerful than ever before. Without at all supporting their violence and savagery and oppression on women and other minority, I know what extreme frustration it can cause when you and your family and children have to go through generations of neglect, undermining, inequality, injustice, and ridicule — with no light seen at the end of the tunnel. That made even many otherwise ordinary and naive Muslims anti-government and anti-1%. With help from divisive domestic and international forces, it turned some of them violent, and some of the violent became terrorists.
I have written a lot about the above in my book In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India. This is my analysis, and I keep expanding it all the time, with new, earned knowledge and experience. The one percent and their economic savagery are responsible for creation of the religious savages.
On this beautiful, peaceful, happy day of Eid, I invite all my Muslim brothers and sisters to reflect on the current state of affairs, and send a message of solidarity across the globe that would forge peace and togetherness, and defeat both the global, economic savages, as well as global, religious savages.
Together, together, we can create and sustain a society that can find a peaceful, violence-free, terror-free, oppression-free, war-free, equal world.
Eid Mubarak to all.
Brooklyn, New York