Monday, February 6, 2023
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How I unlearned my Islamophobia one step at a time

At my school, my Muslim friend pushed someone. ‘You freak, you terrorist,’ pat came the reply from the aggrieved kid. I laughed with others.

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The outrage over the level of hatred that was on display in northeast Delhi this week is surprising. Why? Because all of us, including me, inhabit a world where our first interactions with the words ‘Muslim’, ‘Islam’ are shrouded within whispers of hate, discomfort, contempt and blatant phobia.

These reactions to Muslims infect all of us. I too was caught in its vortex. And I have had to unlearn my naturally inherited Islamophobia, one step at a time, over the years.

Two days ago, an acquaintance of mine was recounting how a Muslim woman in a burkha was abused by a man, for no apparent reason other than the fact that she was ‘obviously’ Muslim. At that point, I wanted to ask my friend why she didn’t intervene. But I stopped myself. Because not too long ago, I didn’t stand up for a Muslim either.

I was about 7. We were playing during the ‘games’ period at school. My Muslim friend pushed someone. “You freak, you terrorist,” pat came the reply from the aggrieved kid. I halted; I knew something was wrong. But peer pressure was a pretty big thing at that point. I joined in the laughter.

I am still ashamed for giving in.

Also read: Not Kunal Kamra, the real test for Indian liberals is Sharjeel Imam

The ‘saviour complex’

There were several such uncomfortable incidents. I look back today and can only define them as Islamophobia.

In my eighth grade, I had a Pakistani Muslim friend — a double whammy in this country. And I did not make things easier for her; it was just so uncomfortable for me to hear about her country, her people, even her life. Although her life was exactly like mine, I still pitied her. And I could not hide it.

I caged her in a stereotype. She was a Muslim, her parents would marry her off early, she would never be able to follow her dream. I took it upon myself to show her that there was an alternative to her ‘regressive’ religion. Spoiler alert: None of that happened.

When she had had enough, she confronted me for being an absolute hypocrite and being discriminatory. I was aghast, how dare she? I was only looking out for her. But we all know I wasn’t. She was part of a terrifying ‘other’ and I had the saviour complex, which many of us have, about things we have no idea about.

Also read: UP Police didn’t become anti-Muslim under Yogi. Look at secular Congress’ bloody past

On glorified Rajput losers

Our schools never made an active effort to educate children about Islam. Even as I grew up and came to terms with the fact that I had been taught and brought up in a way that made me wary of people who were unlike me, I realised that even higher education required active effort to engage with people belonging to other communities.

It was only when I officially entered the field of humanities in Class XI that I became familiar with something called ‘nuance’. I learned about a new section of history that was until then cloaked from me — about Muslims, their struggles, their narratives, and their traditions.

However, the way textbooks talk about Muslim history was something that required critical faculty. CBSE glorified Rajput losers and demonised Mughal victors — just your classic government-sanctioned education system. Had it not been for some wonderfully sensitive history teachers, I definitely would not have been proud of the person I am.

Also read: Indian media’s tendency to brand madrasa students as terrorists is ruining institutions

My unlearning

Conversations in families and among friends, popular culture and media are always instilling in us this discomfort with Muslims and Islam. It would, in fact, be a surprise if one doesn’t absorb it. That is the natural thing. Education and deliberate introspection are what make us question these ideas and strive to shed them. It is a work in progress.

Even during college, when you are supposedly at the peak of your intellectual journey, I was a victim of my bias and fears. The greatest tragedy of the ‘liberal’ education, especially liberal feminist education, is that we discount individual agency.

Something that a Muslim female activist said in college has stuck with me — “Everyone around me believes that I am oppressed and is hell-bent on making me aware of my own oppression. And no one cares about what I am saying.”

This is precisely the crux of my unlearning — shutting up and listening.

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  1. Not a single chapter or sentence on Mughal bigotry or any chapter on the Rajputs in pre-11th standard CBSE History textbooks and this man wants to blame history textbooks for Islamophobia. Ridiculous.

  2. Welcome back to sanity..

    What an outlier!

    Your parents might be ashamed of you.. Not to mention the acquaintances and friends — but given the South Asian cultural-priorities, perhaps less so.
    But I guess you must’ve learned enough to know that they’re — after all, the victims of the “normal”. The ethnocentrist-indoctrination till one’s adulthood which only the person who can break free from — can become a person capable of empathy and hence, advancement. Rest will become the Freudian cases!

  3. I can write another looong article on why I became an islamophobe? From a liberal secular? I still am liberal secular, respect ALL religions, cultures, EXCEPT sunni islam. Even shia islam i can accept not sunni islam. Want my reasoning?

    • Oh, pleeeeeasssee do!

      But before equating yourself on the pedestal with Ms Rachel, first of all: Muster the courage to overcome your ‘Anonymous Cowardice’ followed by sincere consideration of the hat-tip which I’m just about to impart..

      Hat-tip: You already prefaced your premise about how you “HATE”( your phraseology) Sunni Islam even though you’ve UNSPECIFIED “respect” towards the Shiite denomination. Okeydoke. But far from exhausting, even your preface sounds like a sloppy-mess about your exact position. If you’re a “proud Islamophobe”( paraphrased; “honest-subtitles”), then you can’t be “Liberal-Secular” by its definition — regardless of howsomuch you claim that hyphenated-identity. You’re something else, need I spell-out? And then, how can you rationally assume that being a “proud Islamphobe”, you can carve-out Shiites from the monolith sculpted in your mental-picture? It’s fallacious! To put it mildly, and simply.
      And appropriating the regularly-observed, one of the primal favourite-tools deployed in any random conversation by your like-minded “folks” in the ‘pop-Interweb’ multiverse: What’s your position on Ahmadiyyas and Ibadis, eh? Are they on “minus” side or “plus”? If only one of them, which one? And does your “reasoning” accommodate numerous Schools of Islamic Theology, Schools of Jurisprudence and Schools of Mysticism as well? Or is it simply chalked-up into the bulk of “Shi’as” (FTFY ☺️) and “Sunnis”?
      Don’t forget to take as long as it needs to specify “hows” and “whys” of each, eh?

      • Clearly, you don’t know English. You’ve written a lot of bunkum and in vogue phrases without the proper context. Dont try so hard to sound clever – it makes you look desperate and dumb.

        FYI -The term “Hat-tip” is not what you think it is.

        Hating Islam is easy, its not difficult at all. Hindus especially have adequate excuse to hate Islam, regardless of its types. And Hating Islam is not illegal anywhere in the civilized world.

        Also, Rachel John is a buffoon – she is not on a pedestal, she’s on stage – a liberal arts major whose only contribution to society is her asinine drivel…

  4. typical print article, one more Muslim appeasing article, this time written by a Christian, until Hindus unites and wipe off these Evanglists and Leftists and Libtards from India, Hindus will be wiped off from India ,same thing happend during 1947 partition

  5. The world-wide phenomenon of mindless terrorism is dominated by Islamists. This not accidental, but a part (may be misreading of the “holy” book, but neither corrected by Mullahs nor any one from Saudi) of the teachings of the “faith” against all others. Wariness about Muslims, especially the fanatical ones, is therefore not groundless! In order to get rid of “Islamophobia”, people of Islamic faith who are not fanatics must act against the terrorists in their midst first!

  6. One don’t need to judge muslims, an individual may be good or bad human but look at Quran which preach La illah illalah and apostasy in islam means death . Do you need anything else. Islam isn’t religion it is an ideology that doesn’t tolerate darul herb and aim for darul islam. Is there any other worst example in this world.

  7. Time to connect the dot

    In 1946, Jinnah’s Muslim League Party won nearly 90% of Muslim seats in provincial election with a hope that they will get a new nation Pakistan. But when partition happened, only 2% went to Pakistan, a whooping 98% of ‘Constitution lovers’, who voted for creation of Pakistan, remained in India.

    So they never vote for a party that talks of “one nation one law”, “अखंड भारत”, as the very same people voted for India’s partition in 1946.

    The phobia stems from their anti-national lineage.

    • For your information that there was Indian State which was partition. There were 25 independent countries were not partitioned. They were integrated after that. The Muslims or Hyderabad, Bhopal, Kashmir, Mysore, Madaras, Kerala, Gwalior not voted for partition.

    • You seem to indicate that loving the Constitution is a bad thing. Loving and respecting the Constitution is something to be proud of. Not voting for parties that divide people on religious lines, mark people as ,”anti-national” based on their, “lineage” is also the right thing to do. Of course brainwashed bhakts won’t understand.

  8. Fear and hatred of others as well as feeling of superiority of one’s own religion is universal and need not be apologetic. Our environment, history, experiences nurture this. As for Islamophobia, this is I feel is being actively propagated after cold war ended for the benefit of weapon and oil industries.

    • On the contrary, one should be apologetic for irrational sense of superiority of one’s own religion and feeling of hatred towards others. Because hatred is universal, doesn’t make it right.

        • You specifically said that one need not be apologetic for these prejudices. That clearly implies that you felt it is right. Don’t play with words to try to defend the indefensible

  9. Another bleeding heart liberal. If terrorists don burqua to attack others, and if the terrorists attack in the name of their religion and draw inspiration from it, and if the Muslims do not come out as a body and condemn Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorism, one can reasonably conclude that they are sympathetic to the extremism, though they themselves may take no part of it. Of course, at school level it is different. Children are not wicked. They are just blunt and have not learnt political correctness. They call a spade F****g shovel!

    • Another brainwashed bhakt. Have you condemned the atrocities committed in the name of Hinduism? Yes, the children are not wicked. They trust their parents and learn what the parents teach them. It is the parents who are wicked.

  10. Writer is pseudo secular who need to learn more about Islam.

    The condition of minorities in Pak, Bangladesh or any Muslim country tell much about truth of Islamphobia.

    Muslims ruled India because Hindus failed to carry out social reforms to eradicate the evils like caste discrimination and useless traditions in name of dharma.

  11. Writer is pseudo secular who need to learn more about Islam.

    The condition of minorities in Pak, Bangladesh or any Muslim country tell much about truth of Islamphobia.

    Muslims ruled India because Hindus failed to carry our social reforms to eradicate the evils like caste discrimination and useless traditions in name of dharma.

  12. Writer is pseudo secular who need to learn more about Islam.

    The condition of minorities in Pak, Bangladesh or any Muslim country tell much about truth of Islamphobia.

    Muslims ruled India because Hindus failed to carry our social reforms to eradicate the evils like caste discrimination and useless traditions in name of dharma.

    Even today, we failed to check the increased radicalization, spread of wahabi ideology, conversions with middle East, or west money in name of missionary activities..

  13. I have just one question – Is onus is always on Non-Muslims ? I tried to discuss religious & other issues with my non Hindu friends {Muslims & Christians} but they never engaged with me or they pushed me to discuss them with ‘religious leader’ which i don’t want because it will involve motive than honest dialogue. What is the honest way to engage then ?

  14. The typical pro-muslim bias…..liberals plzz come up with something new other than ‘my child was called a pakistani’ ‘my child was called a terrorist’..we have been hearing this in every pro muslum articles…a 7 year old is matured enough to call someone freak and terrorist…bootlicking to the fullest

    • Of course if 7 year olds have been brainwashed from childhood by parents with a mindset like yours, they can be made to call anyone, anything. How about getting rid of your anti-Muslim bias for a change ?

      • Yes, non-Muslims especially Hindus cannot teach children the words of universal love and empathy the same way our peace loving Muslims are doing in Shaheen Bagh. We agree, Hindus don’t teach things that the little minds are taught and asked to say publicly by “the poor and victimized” Muslims as the ones in Shaheen Bagh.

        • Hey, that’s unfair. By saying Hindu’s, you are insulting all of us who stood for you (secularism). Should I change my stand judging Islam for Osama-bin-laden or Hafiz Saeed’s actions? Very bad to insult a religion. Decide first, whether you are seeking to engage here to fight against Islamophobia or perpetuate it by condemning Hinduism and showing your hypocrisy & superiority complex. Reading comments like yours is why people like me question. You commit the very same thing you fight against.

  15. Nothing surprising. Cognitive theories tell us that we acquire biases starting at a very early preschool age. We learn more about “others” from our parents, relatives and neighbors.

    All our values and prejudices are sum total of collective biases of our institutions that we encounter early in life such as pre-school, preachers.

  16. I don’t know what history books the author read. Indian history was demolished by Marxist mythology in the last 70 years. You wouldn’t find the destruction of temples there. You will read a sanitized version that completely leaves out the bigotry of Tipu Sultan or Aurangzeb or Alauddin Khilji. We know what they said and believed in their own words. Yet, primary evidence has been substituted with Marxist tertiary interpretations. To be sure, an honest version of history has to be presented in context, so children don’t hate the current Muslim citizens of India. However, to avoid Islamophobia doesn’t mean that we have to destroy our own history.

  17. Obviously, the article belongs in garbage. I could recite my personal experience with muslims but that does not make a narrative about “muslims and their culture”. Too bad thePrint is run by senile who think only in terms of cricket.

  18. No still the author ‘s perceptions are half baked , incomplete — based on very few personal experiences . the history being taught in schools is not 100% based on facts . Muslim women are in general still oppressed . Few exceptions cannot be generalized to be qualify as rule .

    so before writing assertively on public platforms , the author must make a lot of observations, study , interactions and thinking and must refrain from writing some half baked ” conclusions” .

  19. Likewise, Muslims have a lot to learn about their religious “ideology” and it’s barbaric treatment of infidels.
    The history of Islam and it’s war lord “prophet” killed its way to prominence, not through any choice of the “converts”.

  20. I think that the Hindu upper-class suffers from a massive inferiority complex. After dominating can oppressing other human beings For 3000 years, the Muslims spoilt the show.
    This is the reason for the upper-class Hindu hate.

    • As per Indian political theory, it is “5000 yrs”. Here u are saying it is 3000 yrs. Elsewhere it is 2000 yrs. First decide how many years. Vengeance is being sought against current day citizens for unknown acts of unknown people in unknown century.

  21. You have to learn a lot before you start preaching.

    Babar was a mongol/Afghanistan which in Indian terms became Mughal.

    He raised his sword and in the name of allah executed lakes of kafirs.

    His lineage which in true sense is foreign and not of the soil reached extreme in the form of Aurangzeb where kafir have to pay jaziya otherwise for bag of rice or some land they got converted to religion of peace.

    This should give you a head start on rereading Indian history and reaching conclusion on who should be glorified and more.

  22. Every where in Earth whether America Europe China or India , no one understands Islam and Muslims. Muslims everywhere feel discriminated. Why???

  23. Nice. Much gratitude to you for making the effort. It is people’s choice to reject propaganda and hatred. You did the hard work. Most are too lazy and irresponsible.

  24. What is bought out here is absolutely correct; I also got to assimilate at my home similar kind of feelings about the Muslims that Rachel brings out. However, I didn’t have any Muslim classmates and even in the neighbourhood of Govt locality that I grew up in New Delhi.

    My father carried deep prejudices about Muslims and lower castes as he got to assimilate the same in Pre- and the immediate post-independence period. I got to come across Muslims on entering the college. Without any reflection and thinking the feelings against the Muslims and Dalits started sublimating, however, I didn’t challenge those who carried and expressed these feelings.

    I got to reflect over these feelings after joining the Armed Forces, and soon I jettisoned them while many of my colleagues continue to carry them and many expressed all the time while others when got into some difficult position and blamed the lower castes and Muslims for these. I then noticed that this was their first reaction to blame and find faults with the other castes when riots occurred in any state and more si when we were posted in Kashmir.

    Very soon I had unlearnt the prejudices acquired at my home and began to challenge my colleagues and my father when they expressed these feelings; more often an argument ensued with me one side, many having prejudices or who had unlearnt this preferring to silence, an equal number of colleagues who still had prejudices arguing with me.

    The situation often becomes Too-Too-Main-Main because logic doesn’t come to a rescue in these situations.

    Now, this often happens in response to my posts in Social Media.

    • Thanks for your candid comment. India needs all good people from both communities. No place for hate and division. You rock my dear. One man with courage and justice and clear vision majority. Admire your thoughts.

    • About 18 years back in US I was shocked to find the unprecedented hate upper caste Hindus had for lower castes. Almost every other get-together had one session of such hate. Of course it was all justified because apparently Dalits grabbed the opportunities that were undeserved. How incapable they were etc. I used to be befuddled here were the elite of India who studied in premium institutions of India, migrated to US living the dream but every other get-together they spent talking of how they were deprived because of Dalits!! It was a decade later I realised that this was just the deep rooted cultural prejudice that some scant opportunities given to Dalits got their goat though they clearly were never effected by it. I realise now that India will never progress till it tackles the upper caste extreme hate.

  25. The final step then will be Rachel’s conversion to Islam. Congratulations to your successful brainwash. It happens when you don’t get what you’re confronted with: “Everyone around me believes that I am oppressed and is hell-bent on making me aware of my own oppression. And no one cares about what I am saying.” No, this woman is not oppressed. This I can say with certainty as a firm believer in the good of islamophobia. With her attitude, this woman much more expresses that she sees all non-muslim women as “prostitutes”, “lower than cattle” and “fruit ready to be picked”, hence raped or enslaved. My evidence? The Koran. Read it! Those who don’t will never understand and fall into the trap, into which Rachel fell. Let’s hope she will one day find her way out of the burka again.

    • But that’s not correct quotation of quran. Pl give ref and i shall revert. You read a wrong thing or understood it wrongly. Believe me brother it is not true what you quoted from Quran.

  26. Islamophobia is nothing but a tactic of Jihadis.They know it’s easy to cover their crimes against people of other faiths when they indulge in violence and at the same time play the victim card too.Author must not get decived by it.

  27. All muslimes believe that the perfect example for MANkind is a man that robbed, beheaded, enslaved people and married a child. How could a person with common sense glorify a man like that? Maybe because he had a flying donkey and split the moon in two…..

  28. The issue that comes up time and time again is terrorism. I was astonished to see how deep this had gone in this country in an opinion poll recently. This said 51 percent of people questioned said when they heard the word “Muslim” the first thought that came into their mind was “terrorist”. These polls are never reliable but not completely wrong either. TARIQ ALI

  29. There is no Hinduphobia, or Sikhphobia , anywhere in the western world. Muslims should ask themselves what they had done to deserve this honour.

  30. A religion is judged by the deeds of its members. Don’t you know about ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-taiaba etc. and world trade center attack in the US ?
    They treat their ladies as objects of pleasure only. They are taught in madrasas that gents will reach heaven full of houris but ladies do not get anything good.

    • She has to unlearn, rajput loosers?? Rajputs are still thriving Rachel John. A large number of them still defend this country by serving in Army. But where are the foreign muslims in India? We only have converts no arabi, turki etc? Why?

      • Whether Rajputs are thriving today is irrelevant. It is a fact that they lost most of the major wars against invaders. Many Rajput kings sided with Mughals too. So the bhakt is the one who has a lot to unlearn.

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