Guest columnist Javeed Akhter: U.S. demonstrating openness that India is suppressing
Listening to the constant barrage of news about the anti-Muslim incidents coming from India, I entered the month of Ramadan in a gloomy mood. Although I am a deeply patriotic U.S. citizen, I follow goings on in India closely. Some have called first generation citizens like me transnational.
But the actions of a few schools and teachers in the U.S. have restored my confidence in the future of Muslims here.
For example, hundreds of students at Maine East High School in Park Ridge fasted from sunrise to sunset in solidarity with their Muslim classmates. The iftar (breaking of fast) feast was filled with energy as only high school kids can generate. In another part of the country, a grammar schoolteacher had the kids bring Sadaqa (charity) jars filled with coins to spotlight the giving of charity that is part of Ramadan. In still another school, even younger kids read from a story book where the protagonist learns about how Ramadan is celebrated in different parts of the world.
There are many other anecdotes of attempts at inclusiveness. These kids and teachers have taken the idea of diversity and inclusion to heart.
Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Muslims all over the U.S. prayed in thousands of mosques in peace. Numerous interfaith iftar dinners were held and a flood of Sadaqa (voluntary) and Zakat (compulsory) charity was given out.
The Lilly School of philanthropy looks at Muslim donations in the U.S. and reports that the Zakat money recipients in the U.S., outside Muslim schools, and the like, are food pantries and the ACLU.
The news from Indian states governed by the ultra-right-wing, ultranationalist Hindu party the BJP inspired by the mother ship organization the RSS was entirely opposite to here in the U.S. They aspire to an India for Hindus only.
Recently their targets have been schools and colleges and mosques and churches. Hijab- and niqab-wearing kids, in some instances, were not allowed to attend classes or take term exams.
BJP-affiliated leaders let Hindu religious processions gather outside mosques, beating drums, dancing wildly and shouting racist and bigoted slogans too crude to mention. The courtesy of maintaining silence when passing by a mosque is gone.
Often the mobs do damage to the property, climb up on top of the mosque to plant a saffron flag, symbol of these Hindu outfits, and move on. In one incident close to Delhi, there was a physical clash. The authorities initially arrested individuals from both Hindu and Muslim groups but then quickly freed those from the inciting mob. The only reason appears to have been that they had connections to the BJP. A few days later came the bulldozers.
The tactic of bulldozing alleged suspects' homes is an alarming new phenomenon in India. The picture of a bulldozer is even appearing on political campaign posters. The targets are invariably Muslim homes and businesses. This is the latest nightmarish manifestation of communalism that has reached hysterical levels in India.
But even more ominous are the Jim Crow-like changes being made in the constitution to disenfranchise millions of Muslims. A strategy that has been tried in the eastern state of Assam against so-called illegal Muslim Bengalis. Thousands are in detention centers
There are signs that Hindus who believe in fair play and subscribe to the inclusive version of Hinduism are fighting back.
A well-known civil rights activist, Harsh Mander, protested the mob lynching of Muslims by the so-called Cow vigilantes by taking out a "Caravan of Love," laying flowers at the site of mob killings. All the NGOs he runs are being targeted and many of his family members refuse to talk to him. Increasing numbers of Hindus in diaspora who believe in justice are protesting as loudly as they can.
The only way to fight injustice is to stand up to it. To counter injustice perpetrated by your own ethnic or religious group is not easy. The individual answering the call of her conscience is immediately labeled a self-hating Hindu, or Muslim or Jew - fill in the blanks.
Muslims who are making their voices heard are inspired by a verse in the Quran (41:34) that says, "Not equal are the good deed and the evil deed. Repel with that which is fairer and behold, he between whom and thee there is enmity shall be as if he were a loyal friend."
As I celebrate the end of a peaceful Ramadan, all I can think is the kids and teachers are proving my belief that U.S.A is an inherently inclusive society. Eid Mubarak
• Javeed Akhter is a physician and freelance writer from Oak Brook.