Was it a Hindu Day in Assam’s book season?

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By: Dhruva Saikia

Three BJP leaders, including Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma released their books on a single day in three different functions in course of the just concluded Book Fair in Guwahati that sold books worth Rs. 4 crore. The release of the three books, by writers subscribing to a singular school of thought, really deserves to be tagged as Book Season Hindu Day in Assam. But among the three books released on November 3 Satyaranjan Borah’s Assamese book entitled Islam aru Quaranor Kalongkita Kotahbur (Infamous stuff contained in Islam and Quran), out shadowed the other two in terms of curiosity and controversy. The book was inaugurated at Gauhati Press Club by Maulana Mufti Abdulla Al Masud from Bangladesh and Borah, in course of his speech mentioned that he had sent formal invitation to none, but expected people to come to the function willingly.

I was present at the function and was impressed with the number of people who had gathered there to listen to the Maulana, who describes himself as an atheist after disowning Islam, and Borah. The writer also had an occasion to let me know that some people shouted slogans before the function started and a top Police officer called up Borah to assess the situation.

Why this Controversy

The very title of the book, that too written by a BJP man, was enough to entail a controversy and this exactly happened when pressmen at the inauguration venue engaged themselves in a heated argument with the writer. Thankfully, Borah maintained cool but the news bulletins that followed made people aware of the development. People rushed to grab a copy of the book, despite AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal’s letter to the Union Home Ministry for a ban on the book that ‘has severely affected the emotions and hurt religious sentiments of Muslims.’

Release of the three books by three BJP stalwarts on a single day and people’s response to these books in the Book Fair prompted Assam State Jamiat Ulema to issue a statement, on the very day the books were released, 4 November, charging the North East Book Fair as an exercise in Hinduism. Secretary of Assam State Jamiat Ulema, Maulana Fajlul Karim Kasimi said in his statement that the book fair was now in the grip of RSS and so, the organizers should rein in them. The secretary made special mention of Borah’s book.

What does Borah say

The writer has, since publication of his book, been spending his time at all convenient venues to exchange views and opinions. His Facebook and Twitter handles are busy with charges and counter charges, or their refute. Borah’s familiarity with Islam and Quran dates back to his school education upto class VIII at a madrassah in Assam where he was barred from entering an exclusive classroom for Muslim students. He had challenged the norm at his tender age and managed to learn Arabic. However, Borah’s inquisitiveness landed him in a pool of quandary. Borah declares his book as no part of political agenda but an honest attempt at an academic research. The book is in Assamese and I feel an English translation of what Borah says in the preface to the book would enlighten the readers on the context. Please read the preface of the book at the peak of controversy in this book season in Assam.

The Preface

“Let me make a frank declaration that I belong to none of those two classes of people who are all-pervading in the current scenario of political, social or intellectual discourse, identified as anti-Muslim and radical Hindutwa promoters. Yes I belong to none of these two groups, but I must add that nor am I a member of that club that is used to shedding crocodile tears for the sake of Islam followers on the pretext of being a minority community. Nor such a Sanatan Dharmi I am who wears a red tilak in broad day light and indulges in vulgarism after the sun sets. So, I am what whatever I am, and wish to initiate a discourse, essentially on my individual, actual and bona fide conviction.

As I set on the work for this book, quite consciously I made an effort to rise above the limitations of religion, community and even ultimate approval or disapproval, have been willing to maintain an equal distance from all those involved and concerned, and it has truly been my ardent keenness to find the truth, to state publicly what religion is, and in order to meet this goal I dissolved myself in minute scrutiny and reasonable presentation.

Nevertheless, I can’t help being a proud Hindu and a confident Assamese too, so I risk the likelihood of being dismissed as a Hindu advocate. I would not mind this problem, because I have trained myself to overcome some troubles as I thrive to uphold my mother’s propriety.

I owe my familiarity with Islamic religious texts to my primary school education upto class VII at Laskar Pachali ME Madrassa where I learnt subjects including General Science, Arithmetic, English and Assamese, but the Muslim students in the school were exclusively taught another two subjects known as Arabic and Dwiniyad. Hindu students like me were not allowed to enter the classroom when our Muslim classmates used to be given lessons on these two subjects. As we enjoyed our time outside the classroom, we the Hindu students in the Madrassa hardly cared to ponder over why we were not allowed inside and what those two subjects were about.

But I have been a curious person always and a little bit of a rebel since my childhood, and I continue to be one still. So, once I refused to leave the classroom when the teacher had entered for this exclusive class for Muslim students. The Maulabi teacher was not quite happy with me for my insistence, but as he was quite aware of my father’s reputation in the society, he decided to allow me in. As a result, I learnt to read and write Arabic but the practice has vanished.

All these days in the Madassa I was asking myself why Islamic religious teaching in the Madrassa was exclusive for Muslims whereas religious lessons belonging to Hindus and other religions were meant for all students in other schools.

Was it not a part of the Muslim plan for maintaining a distance from the rest of the society? Was not seed of disparity sowed when we the Hindu students were asked to leave the classroom?

Now a word about the food habit. Hindus have no objection to some hallal meat, but no Muslim would touch the meat of an animal or bird that has been killed by strangulating its neck by a Hindu man.

Quran maintains that hallal is purification. Does it imply Muslims alone are purified inhabitants on the planet? Is it the Muslims only who eat purified food?

Quran further states that Allah created the world, the air-water-soil, sun and moon as well as the entire lot of life. If Allah is the creator of the whole, then what justifies the classification of pure and impure among Allah’s creations?

I had an occasion to attend an invitation for dinner hosted by an Assamese Christian at his residence in Dibrugarh district. I noticed two Muslim youth, with their caps on head, were there to cull the chicken. I asked the host why these Muslim youth were there, was it not possible to prepare the food without them? The host revealed that he had some Muslim guests for the dinner who had laid a pre-condition that they would not accept the invitation if the meat was not of hallal variety.

The host was an Assamese first and a Christian then. Naturally he imbibed the values of Indian culture that looks upon a guest as god. But what is the justification of the precondition put in by the guests? Is not it just an instance of harbouring exclusivity in the name of Allah?

The world believes that religion glorifies humanity and builds a society. But is it not also a hard fact that certain conducts in the name of religion raise a question over the very essence of humanity.

It is not intended at this moment to discuss about justification of exclusive religious behaviours, but won’t you agree that these kind of behaviour are an obstacle in the path of social harmony and unity?

Now let us turn to the practice of sunnat. Even we ignore the global scenario of this male organ mutilation practice, taking the Indian scene into account, we have every right to wonder that are not the Hindus, 80 per cent of Indian population leading a perfect without sunnat? What really is sunnat? Assuming some scientific explanations are in place, yet we cannot escape the question how did the science arrive at a communal pronouncement? Perhaps sunnat is another part of the scheme to ensure an exclusive status for a group of people. People, who long an exclusive status for themselves, staying away from the mainstream society, also forfeit their right for equality.

I am, therefore, at a loss to appreciate the charge of Hindus driving the Muslims away, as often uttered by mistaken Muslim citizens and their shrewd advocates. It is the Muslims who stay away from their Hindu brethren by enclosing themselves in an exclusive arena, and no Hindu is responsible this sort of affairs.

The entire population of my village, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, are welcome to enjoy a bhaona in my village namghar and Bihu celebrations. But I have never been invited to any mosque despite my early education in a Madrassa. The points I have raised are precise and clear. It is therefore time to ponder if these features are not an impediment in the path attaining a harmonious state of our attitude?

I have also stated at the very beginning that neither I am anti-Muslim, nor a rigid Hindutwa follower. However, I have decided to come out with a candid, vigorous presentation of facts and figures in the interest of the country and its people. I am helpless if my work hurts anyone’s religious sentiment or challenges his social status. The discussion here is clearly academic and I would be truly happy if my discussion here turns out to be a humble dose of antidote to cure prevailing social evils and misconceptions. I would also like to recall that we ought to avoid tobacco well before its ill-effects are visible. It is high time we learn to take note of the statutory warning on cigarette packets.

Each Muslim is a human being first and my sibling therefore. I adore my village, the region and the district to which I belong much in the line I love my home and family. As I am accountable to solve my domestic, so I am responsible to be a part of the solution that my village, district or the country needs. I am not prepared to keep mum about maladies like violence and anti-social activities that afflict my fellow citizens.

I am not ready to disown certain truths and also prepared the pay the price for it. It is a noble duty and responsibility to uphold my mother’s reputation which is being threatened by a spell of evil and baseless notions.

As the air-water-soil and the culture in my motherland have nurtured me, I find it difficult to passively accept the onslaught on my motherland unleashed by someone’s desire to carve out an ‘exclusive’ corner. Religion, caste or creed is hardly a pre-condition for patriotism; rather it is a moral duty for the sons of soil.

I must make it clear that no bickering or division is intended by this discussion. The discussion in the book is aimed at diagnosis of our existing malady and finding its solution, accompanied by an attempt at reappraisal that would hopefully strengthen the bond and harmony.

I have studied the Quran, not in Arabic but the Assamese translation by Dr Jahrul Haque and after reading and rereading quite a number of times, I was asking myself is this really religious teaching?

Dr Haque states in the preface to the translated Quran that he was trying his best for an accurate translation, he also took care not to add any additional word to the original text, nor to delete any. The Quran also mentions that Jiddah University, Saudi Arabia recognizes Dr Haque as the only translator of the Quran into more than two languages. Such recognition dispelled my fears about limitations of translation in this case. Later, I decided to read two more translations of Quran, one into Bengali by Alhaj Maulana AKM Fazlur Rehman Munshi sahib and the other into English, The Holy Qur’an, by Maulabi Sher Ali. A comparison of these three translated Qurans reaffirmed my belief that though we may utter a statement, for example, that we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon-dioxide, in slightly different tones, the variation does not alter the real meaning. The varied tone or presentation does not make us inhale carbon dioxide.

I must mention that though I read three Qurans in three languages, the ayats and Arabic pronunciation in this book are from only Dr Haque’s Assamese translation. I have also taken care to follow Dr Haque for the terms and letters in the ayats.

After reading the Qurans, naturally I picked up Hindu and Christian religious books such as Gita, Bhagawat and the Bible, only to discover that Quran is markedly different from the rest. Discovery of this fact has led me to initiate the discussion in this book.

Quran is way ahead from others religious texts when it comes to a discussion about community. This would be clear from a number of ayats (ayat is the Arabic word for word) in Quran Sura 11, Para 12. When a religious book identifies the followers as a community, each community would find itself in an enclosure, treading a solo path, and the idea of basudhaiba kutumbakam would elude them.

I have been, to tell you the truth, been sort of compelled to bring out this book and urge my readers not to misunderstand me. I deem it a part of duty for my motherland to speak out the truth and also to uphold the diversity here.

The study of Quran convinced me that Muslim society must play a bigger role than their Hindu brothers for a lasting and positive solution to the growing Hindu-Muslim disparity in the country. Muslims cannot escape the blame for their bigotry and distorted interpretation of Quran. A minute study of Quran is enough to realize this holy book is at the root of global violence and anarchy.

Here I am not making a complaint, but simply a statement about what I have leant. I believe the progressive Muslim youth and thinkers would come forward to appreciate the developments. As long as the Muslims remain confined in some exclusive berths, social harmony and equal democratic rights will not be a reality.

It is also time to understand the democratic terms in proper perspective. Democracy implies inclusiveness and discards exclusivity. This book is meaningless for those who identify democracy with the teachings and practices of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This book is devoid of any political agenda, instead it wants to build a bridge between two members in a family, whose view and thoughts don’t tally, but the bridge is necessary for betterment of the household. It is too early to comment on success of my endeavour, yet I have made an attempt and now I would leave it entirely to the judgement of fellow countrymen and readers.

I must acknowledge the guidance and help from a number of Muslim veterans. I have been inspired by several renowned persons, who told me about how to treat the subject matter and present it to readers. Without naming them individually, I offer my gratitude to each of them.’- Satyaranjan Borah.

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