I Am a Muslim. Here’s Why I Wear My Religion on My Sleeve

Recently, someone I consider an intelligent and educated adult posted the following on social media:

“I know the world would be a more beautiful place to live in if people kept religion in their hearts rather than wear it on their sleeves.”

But, how would the world be a better place if we were to suppress our religious identity? Like in Spain during the Inquisition, when you had to hide your religion, convert, leave the country discreetly or die? Like in Nazi Germany, where people were forced to wear religious symbols on their sleeves and killed for it?

Instead of dictating how others should be, why not look at how we ourselves can be? Because the only person you can control is you. Control yourself, don’t try to regulate others.

The only way to bring down the walls of ignorance and prejudice is by opening the gates of communication. Don’t close your ears and force others to close their mouths. Your gauge for yourself should be how comfortable your friends are with sharing their personal beliefs with you – religious or otherwise. Instead of just tolerating, or worse, erasing each other’s differences, why not celebrate them?

Wearing your religion on your sleeve or keeping it private is your choice to make. In India, every culture is welcomed and celebrated. Our constitutional freedom of religion is all-inclusive, not all-exclusive. Peace that is born out of the suppression of others’ identities is not peace, but a fragile illusion.

This question reminded me of an old ‘We the People’ episode during which Barkha Dutt repeatedly asked her guests a question that amount to, ‘Why can’t Muslims dress like everyone else and behave in society without bringing religion up?’

My answer: Because then we wouldn’t be Muslims. Islam is not something learned from family or society that you can turn your back on. It is a lifestyle choice. Faith is a choice. And we have the freedom to believe.

She also asked, ‘Why don’t Muslims just be normal and mainstream?’

My answer: Define normalcy. Is it herd mentality? Swarm logic? Living like the majority? Or the middle class?

If I wish to dye my hair hot pink and get a face tattoo, it is individual freedom. If I choose to not consume meat or alcohol because of personal preference or concern for animal rights, I am hailed as an intelligent individual. If I choose to abstain from premarital sex, I am a responsible adult. If I choose to do any of the above because of religious belief, I am backward, conservative, narrow-minded and suppressed.

After centuries of presence in India, and knowing no other home for generations; after substantial contributions in every conceivable field, why are Muslims in India still marginalised on a constant basis? Why are we still seen as ‘the other,’ the deviant?

It’s not because we’re a small community (14% of the population is a sizable minority, and the largest in India). It is certainly not because of our different attire or unwillingness to participate in contemporary, urban society. It is because of our reluctance to share, dispel doubts and bust those stereotypes wide open.

By not sharing, we remain shrouded in mystery and silence. Our religion is not taught in the history textbooks of this secular nation’s schools. It is not celebrated in the streets. We refrain from mentioning it in front of our non-Muslim friends and neighbours. Everyone around us has become so accustomed to this ‘arrangement,’ that they have begun to prefer it that way.

We teach people how to treat us. One amazing example that comes to mind is an awareness drive in schools and colleges across the US, where they encourages non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for a day. While I am not advocating this approach in India (I know that here it would flare up and offend people’s sensibilities), it is a great example of how open we, as Muslims, can be about assimilation. And I mean, not only assimilating with other cultures within the bounds of Islam, but also inviting others to assimilate with us.

Don’t wear my religion on my sleeve?

Change my name – a praise to the almighty? Take off my headscarf? Not pray at my workplace during the day? Not fast, because it means skipping lunch? Use profanity because everyone is using it? Drink socially? What part of me would remain Muslim if I failed to comply with anything Islam asks for? What part of me would remain?

Everyone, consciously or not, has made some life decisions about what they will and will not do. Everyone has a set of principles they live by, whether this system is made by them or handed down to them. So do I. Mine is Islam.

If I am courteous to you, it is because Islam teaches me to be. If I am a good neighbour, it is because Islam guides me to be. If I am an upstanding citizen, it is because Islam dictates me to be. If I am a dedicated student or professional, it is because Islam requires me to be. If I make an honest living, it is because Islam expects nothing less from me. If I wish for peace with people who are not like me, it is because my religion is called ‘peace’. Where would you and I be if I discarded these principles?

But in the end, I live for no man. I live for god alone.

Takbir Fatima is a full-time architect, entrepreneur and educator, and a part-time traveler, thinker, tinkerer from Hyderabad. Find Fatima on Instagram @talkistania and read talkistania.wordpress.com.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr/Keno Photography – Kenan Šabanović/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)