Bus Journey into Kashmir


I wouldn’t say this after visiting Kashmir cause I know it is not true, but these people were the images that come to your mind when you think of a terrorist. Specifically an Islamic terrorist. (If you were ignorant like how I was before Kashmir, or if your culture doesn’t have a lot of Muslims you interact with regularly.)
All of them wearing skullcaps and a beard which reaches their waist. All in the “pherens”, which is like a traditional Kashmiri suit. Many had misbaha (beads Muslims use while praying) and these people definitely did not look like the Muslim bros I chill with back home. They didn’t have a moustache and I could figure from all this, that these guys were not normal Muslims. They had to be either clerics or Imams.
We need to go down a little bit into Islamic theology and social theory for me to describe the next part. I want you to meet the Tablighi Jamaat. (You can watch this video by professor Barbara Metcalf from the University of California. She gives a  pretty good account of them if you are interested in knowing more) They are a movement of Muslims (The largest Muslim movement in the world in fact ) who are really interested in learning the Quran and shaping their lives based on the codes of the Prophetic behaviour laid down by the Quran. They also help their fellow Muslims to learn the Quran. They are usually the ones who know how to read the Quran in Arabic and practice all the religious practices the Quran lays down. In other words, they live their life by the book. 
I know what you are thinking. These are the fundamentalist and the extremists. And I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so. (If you haven’t been here and only read the “news”)
 But wait.
I am quoting the first line of the first book I read while I was in Kashmir. The book was “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” by Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He was a poet and philosopher and inspired the Pakistan movement. He is known as the “Spiritual father of Pakistan”. 
The first line is…
 “The Qu’ran is a book which emphasis “deed” rather than the “idea”.”
There are many ways to interpret this. I am doing it based on my experience with the Jamaat. 
The way the Jamaat sees life is very similar to how Hinduism views karma. If you do good, you get good. Your deeds decide what outcome you will get in the future. So the Muslims who are really interested in learning the Quran, then teaching it and also running social organisations which help the less fortunate (Muslims and from other communities) and live their life with the doctrines of the Quran at its centre, are usually the Jamaat. It’s not an exclusive division based on birth like the caste system or based on material wealth. It’s basically how you want to see the world and conduct yourself, which decided if you are a Jamaat or a Sunni or a Mujaheedin. They might sound similar to a group of evangelicals or Jehovah’s witnesses since they try to teach their interpretations to others and go around teaching their holy scripture. But in the Jamaat, there is less talking and debate and the imperative is on the deed. They are also apolitical in their standpoint, to varying degrees of success depending on the region.
The very first time I saw the Jamaat in action was during the Kerala floods. My mate Mishal’s house was submerged for a day. He had enough time to evacuate with the most important items of furniture and other belongings. But cleaning up the alluvial silt from all nooks and corners of that house was a challenge much harder than we expected. All of my mates where there, for 3 days trying to help clean things up so that Mishal could move back in. With our limited manpower and lack of any real experience, it was proving tough. Until a gang of boys our age from Kasaragod came down, and within a day they cleaned that house up, painted it and made it look brand new. 
( Least we forget the people who helped us during our most needed)
We didn’t know them, but they had come down from their homes, in the middle of the floods to help rehabilitate the people affected. 
Who were they? 
College kids like myself, but who was organising this – They said the Jamaat. 
That’s when my interest piqued in the Jamaat and here I am again. 3000 Km North and it’s the Jamaat again which is there to help me.
I haven’t even read this by then, but now I know what Sir Muhammad Iqbal meant.
“The Qu’ran is a book which emphasis “deed” rather than the “idea”.”
And the Jamaat does exactly that.
Now imagine yourself. The only non-Kashmiri, the only non-Muslim in that bus. Just sit down and imagine what must have been going through your mind when you walk into a bus full of people who are the “other”.  That is where fear is created, in our unfounded perception and ideas of the “other”. While writing this, an entire nation’s cyber warriors want to go to war with Pakistan. 
Did Pakistan do any tangible harm to them or their families? Highly unlikely. Do they have anything to lose in the diplomatic and political skirmishes which are going on right now? 
Their pride, courtesy of the jingoistic ego which our government has been encouraging over the past 4 years.

For the idiots spreading hate on the internet. That is all they have and that is all they have to lose.

The “other” is really not that different from us, to be honest. I have had the good fortune and privilege to go to Russia for the FIFA world cup and there I met many Pakistanis. They are just dudes like me. He likes Arsenal, I love United. He doesn’t like menthol cigarettes, I used to love menthol cigs. He studies in Pakistan’s top B-school in Karachi, I “study” in India’s top engineering college in Madras. We had more in common than I realised. 

Years of social conditioning to see the “other’ as a threat made my prejudices build a wall. 
When Ahmed asked how is it possible to smoke the leaves and not Hashish as they do in Pakistan, that wall crumbled down like a house of cards. I realised that we were really brothers divided by a border which we have been told to fortify in our mind. We are really just homies in two different parts of the world.
Plus, when you say you are from the South of India and we don’t speak Hindi here, they don’t look at you like your education system has failed you. They just acknowledge and move on.
Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *