I began to ask more and more Muslim parents of young and adolescent children: Has your child been called a terrorist or a Pakistani in school?’ Initially it seemed that I was paranoid. A cousin in Faridabad was appalled. ‘No way. Things aren’t that bad yet.’ A close friend in Friends Colony said, ‘Nopes, never heard. Are you crazy?’ ~ Mothering a Muslim
I had first picked up Mothering a Muslim authored by Nazia Erum, a fashion entrepreneur, in the first week of April, my curiosity piqued by the delicate title. Expecting the book to be an account of the trials and tribulations of a Muslim mother in a rapidly evolving modern India, I looked forward to reading a Muslim mother’s perspective on motherhood and its challenges. But few pages down, it was clear that the book was more of a propaganda piece against the present Modi government than anything else and so I abandoned the book.
But then I picked it back up a week later, compelled by the anxiety borne out of abandoning a half-read book. Moreover, I did not want my judgment of the book to be based on just a few pages. I completed it a few days ago and frankly, it was a chore. The book indeed reads like a propaganda literature and paints a gloomy and an almost divisive picture of how Muslims children are being treated in schools by their classmates and teachers in the present times.
Before I delve into why I did not enjoy reading Mothering a Muslim, here’s what the book’s blurb says about it –
Nazia Erum runs a fashion start-up and is the mother of an adorable little girl. But from the day Mayra was born, she found herself asking questions she did not have answers for.
It began with her daughter’s name – should Nazia choose a traditional Islamic name or a more non-religious sounding one so that her daughter couldn’t be identified as a Muslim? Nazia was not the only modern middle-class Muslim mom asking this question. Soon she discovered that finding the right name for Myra was the least of her worries.
Talking to over a hundred children and their parents across twelve cities, what Nazia discovers is deeply troubling.
She hears stories of rampant bullying of Muslim children in many of the country’s top schools, of six-year-olds being hit by their classmates because of their faith, of religious segregation in classrooms and of anxious Muslim parents across the country who monitor their children’s dress, speech and actions to protect them.
In Mothering a Muslim, Nazia finally lifts the veil on this taboo subject, one that is spoken of only in whispers. Urgent, gripping and heartbreaking, this is essential reading for every Indian parent.
My two cents:
Mothering a Muslim opens with Nazia Erum’s Author’s Note about how when she became a mother in 2014 she suddenly realised how difficult a time it was to bring up a Muslim child. Here’s what she writes –
‘The year was 2014. And our country stood divided along religion fault lines. Within the minority Muslim population, a fear was palpable. As I held my little daughter, Myra, for the first time, the fear found a place in me too. I was worried of even giving her a Muslim-sounding name.’
When you read such in-your-face assumptions/observations that reek of political bias, right in the beginning of an author’s note, you get some idea of what lies ahead. The author’s political biases also reflect in the fact that she had no comment to make on the fact that in 2014, a large number of Muslims voted for Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance. Just for illustration, here are links to two national newspaper stories on vote distribution in 2014 general elections –
Did Verdict 2014 break the Muslim block-vote myth?
Lok Sabha elections: NDA won 75% of Muslim seats
In Mothering a Muslim, the author talks about Islamophobia, claiming how Muslim children in many top Indian schools are being bullied and are being called terrorist and Pakistani, because of their religion. She blames it all on the present government and the anti-Muslim sentiments in the society post-2014. She laments how she has no answers to the difficult the children ask – about religion, about Pakistan, about terrorism, etc. At one point in the book, she also wonders if she was unnecessarily paranoid about the whole issue.
Well, to some extent, the book really reads like a projection of author’s paranoia and her insecurities about her Muslim identity. She talks about Muslim community’s internal issues and the haram police (community’s elders, the moral police basically) who sit on their moral high horse and judge others, and herein she gives away her frustrations about the rigidities in her religion. But coming back to the basic premise of the book – about Muslim children being bullied by their non-Muslim peers – observations are all myopic and one dimensional. There are no thoughts on Islamist terrorism across the world, no comment at all about Islamist fundamentalism, no opinion at all about why terrorism has become so deeply associated with the word Islam. Mothering a Muslim also lacks a parallel take on what a modern Hindu family with a school-going child feels about the so-called anti-Islam sentiment in schools.
Moreover, the book has lots of poor analogies, inciting remarks and random observations that check-mate some earlier observation by the author. In all, nothing in this book registers other than the strong in-your-face anti-Modi/ anti-BJP sentiments.
To wrap it up, I guess as a modern educated Muslim woman, the author must question her community about why terrorism is associated with Islam. The paranoia is not going to help anyone – neither the Muslims, nor the Hindus, nor the country as a whole.
More about the book:
Author: Nazia Erum
Genre: Political Non-Fiction
Price: Rs. 399