Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bilal Ahmad - The Unheard Voice of Indian Muslims

As I was discussing with a Hindu friend the state of affairs in India today she suggested that I should convey to the Muslim community that terrorism would soon be an organised crime, and also sent me a link to an interesting cover story in Mumbai Mirror. She was right in a sense - it has already become one!
I will not be used by terrorists

The Indian Mujahideen’s terror mail minutes before the A’bad blasts spoke of Kandivali resident Bilal Ahmad being assaulted on a local train. Horrified at being thus used, Bilal says he doesn’t want anyone taking revenge on his behalf

Posted On Saturday, August 30, 2008
Jyoti Punwani

The Indian Mujahideen may want to use him as the poster boy in their retaliatory terror campaign, but 21-year-old Mumbaikar, Bilal Ahmad, a student of Madarsa Meraj-ul-Uloom, at Cheetah Camp, vehemently shrugs off his victim tag.

On July 3, the day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had called for a bandh over the Amarnath issue, Bilal was returning home to Kandivali with two of his friends on the local train when they were picked on by a mob of roughly 20 people as the train drew out of Jogeshwari station. While two of his friends managed to jump off the slow moving train, Bilal was cornered. He was pushed around, roughed up, called a "musalman terrorist," and forced to chant Jai Shree Ram. His friends' bags which they had left behind in their hurry to jump off were thrown out of the train. When the train pulled into Goregaon station Bilal's assailants jumped off and managed to escape.

Bilal's harassment on the train led to much concern within the community and then became one of the points mentioned by the Indian Mujahideen in the email circulated minutes before the Ahmedabad blasts and the one which was linked to Kenneth Haywood. The email mentioned the incident and warned of the "ill consequences" following "troubles faced by the Madrasa students in Mumbai Western Railways (sic)."

Horrified at being thus appropriated by propagators of terror, Bilal, who continues to travel by the local train, says: "We don't want anyone taking revenge on our behalf. Islam prohibits us from taking the law in our own hands. It's the government's responsibility to punish the culprits, not the public's. So even if we see the men who attacked us, we will inform the police."

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The story in the news item is nothing new. The problem arise when we start castigating an entire community based on the actions of a few fools (read terrorists). First it was the 'pro Pakistan' tag that my father's generation had to live with and now this new media obsession - 'Islamic terrorists.' Enough has been said and written about the two. What we really need is to kill the mindset and not just terrorists. If the politicians are serious there are ways to address this menace.

India has the third largest Muslim population in the world and we are still considered a minority in India. That doesn't mean that the poor (they could be Hindus as well) should not be given provisions. I've personally visited many Muslims areas in several cities of India. Part of the problem arise from the ghetto mentality and part from the attitude of the authorities. Most of the times a Muslim area would always be considered last when it comes to providing the basic facilities. As for the ghetto culture, it started because of the increasing discrimnation when it comes to housing. More people shy away from renting or selling houses to Muslims than ever. I've had a couple of experiences myself.

India needs to bring Muslims in the mainstream, not by giving quotas but by recognising them as an integral part of the social fabric of India. Don't wait for another blast or riot to start a dialogue. Let respected preachers from the Muslim community come forward and answer non-Muslims, and also clear their stand on the violence in the name of Islam. Encourage building of more schools in the Muslim areas, free land or a quick recognition by the government would go a long way in building bridges. The media and government on its part should approach the sensitive issue with caution. A terrorist has only one religion and that's terrorism. You link him up with a religion and you are glorifying his cause. Let's not be fooled by his understanding of Islam.

And so in these difficult times we need to highlight and appreciate people like Bilal Ahmad. There are many more Bilals in this great country. Sounds too idealistic and optimistic but Gandhiji started on a similar note against a collosal opponent. Sixty-six years later the opponent has graduated into a foe (terrorism) and we need to put all our strength together as Indians.

Note. Hazrat Bilal was a freed slave who patiently endured several hardships during the early years of Islam and gave Islam's first call for prayers (azaan). Ahmad is another name for the Holy Prophet [PBUH], also meaning "highly praised." Bilal Ahmad stood true to his name!

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