[This article is brought to you in collaboration with HarperCollins India as a part of a larger series to introduce Homegrown readers to newly released books exploring contemporary youth culture in India.]
India’s spirit is at stake. Once seen as a melting pot of cultural diversity, the last few years is a vivid proof of the country’s wounded social fabric. Bigotry and malice have poisoned our country as public institutions have reared its ugly head to mercilessly torment the marginalized. Things seem bleak.
One such poignant narrative amidst this all is the plight of the Muslim community. In these recent years we have seen some of the most harrowing atrocities committed towards Muslims. Be it the horrifying mob lynching in the likes of Jharkhand and Alwar, or Maneka Gandhi’s grotesque political remarks, Muslims along with several other minorities have been subjugated to persistent isolation.
A lot of the problems stem from our skewed perception of anyone who isn’t necessarily like us. This leads to animosity and aversion, and as history has taught us, the aftermath can bloody ugly. As the country waits for the election results on May 23rd, regardless of where you are and who you voted for, we can unanimously agree that we need to foster harmony and empathy for the universal good. And one way to do that is to not only to educate yourself about others, but seek out to bust the harmful stereotypes and tropes that may have been mindlessly fed to us. And when it comes to the Muslim cultural narrative, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil’s ‘But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim’ is definitely the right step forward.
An Indian writer, critic and literary historian, Rakhshanda Jalil has published over twenty-five books and written over fifty academic papers and essays in a career that spans nearly three decades. Her commendable catalogue includes the bestseller, Invisible City, on the lesser known mountains of Delhi, and several translations like The Sea Lies Ahead, Traitor, Kaifiyat and The Temple and the Mosque. She also runs an organization called Hindustani Awaaz, devoted to the popularization of Hindi–Urdu literature and culture and was awarded the Kaifi Azmi Award for her contribution to Urdu in 2016.
“If there’s one thing I wanted to do with this book, it was to bust myths about religion and culture”, says Rakhshanda. A collection of newspaper articles and essays with a memoir-ish approach, the Harper Collins India published But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim asks some of the pertinent question of modern religious identity: What does it mean to be Muslim in India? What does it mean to look like one’s religion? Does one’s faith determine how one is perceived? Is there a secular ideal one is supposed to live up to? Can people of different faiths have a shared culture, a shared identity? With sections like – the politics of identity, the matrix of culture, mosaic of literature and the rubric of religion – the book focuses on redefining the contemporary youth culture in the country by elucidating the gap between culture and identity.
“Throughout my life people have approached me with admiration, disbelief or horror by saying – ‘Wow, you look nothing like a Muslim’ or ‘Everybody should look normal like you’. I’ve found it to be very strange. We have always been quick to assign labels to people who are not necessarily from our culture. And historically, politicians have used this to gain clout and create divisiveness. I feel religion should be completely out of the public domain.” She further adds, “I’ve always discarded the terms ‘Indian-Muslim’ or ‘Muslim-Indian’ for I don’t see the duality in both. We should stop spreading fear, hatred and toxicity by othering people and start celebrating our pluralism and differences.”
Head to HarperColllins India for details to attend the book launch of “But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim” by Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil in New Delhi on 3rd May, 2019.
If you enjoyed this article, we suggest you read: