We are living in times when terrorism is mostly equated with Muslims. A time when a 14-year-old is arrested for bringing a reassembled digital clock to school in the US. A time when even our own government is pushing a narrative the steps up hate against Muslims. A time when a Muslim kid is treated differently in school just for his/her or their religion.
A time that demands a Muslim to keep their religious identity hidden.
After moving back to India and coming to Delhi, things were not so bad when I joined junior high school. Kids were just kids and nobody batted an eye if you were Muslim or Christian or from any other religious background. I guess when you are younger, you don’t look at at names and try and figure out religious backgrounds.
I have had very close and intimate Hindu friends and I have never looked at them as anything other than human beings. Maybe those were the values my parents taught me or that I picked up along the way – while growing up, I felt I was a bit more mature than those around me.
The first school I joined in Delhi was only till Class 5, so I was supposed to move to another school after that. When I joined this other school – a private English medium school – I realised just how different the things were.
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I personally have no issues with any religious person – be it a Muslim or a Hindu. I get along with everyone if they can get along with me. It took me a while to understand why people gave me a different look whenever I told them my name. I couldn’t understand that when they heard my name, they also heard my religion – a thing which continues to happen even more so in today’s time.
As a result, I had a very hard time getting through in school especially because of my religious background. I always tried to portray myself as an equal to everyone else and I was, I believe, one of the friendliest kids in my school. Everyone knew me and got along well with me, even kids from grades below and above me.
However, things are not always as merry as they seem on the surface. I remember the day when a Hindu friend of mine decided to pass a comment when a Hindu female classmate had shown some interest in me.
“Jihad faelayega tu? Convert karega usse? (You’ll spread Jihad? You’ll convert her?)”.
I personally had no idea what jihad meant back then. I couldn’t figure out why people cared about someone’s religion so much and I still haven’t figured it out, to be honest. I was just a kid who was unaware of the term Islamophobia.
Another such instance that is etched in my memory is when my friends asked why I don’t make friends with people from my own religion after they came to know that I was close to a female classmate who was a Hindu. A lot of such instances have occurred with me and still continue to happen. Although, as degrading as these comments were, I always chose to forgive those who, I believe, were ignorant.
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These instances affected me more than I realised. I started distancing myself from my religion as much as I could. I went so far as to publicly announce that I was an atheist and had stopped believing in god – even though I hadn’t. But it took me a while to realise that I could never run away from religion because my name itself screams it out loud. I had to then distance myself from certain people for the sake of my mental health.
But that was also a negative act as all the friends I had back then were those people.
School friends are supposed to be people whom you’d like to remember when you would grow old, and to tell your kids about your adventures together.
After finishing school, I decided to leave everything behind and not keep in touch with people who mistreated me due to their own narrow-minded thinking – and I had successfully done so. But as history has shown time and again, you cannot really escape your past.
Sadly, I’m still a part of their ‘friend circle’ as much as I’d like to place myself anywhere but inside the said circle. I am still a part of their WhatsApp group that shares Islamophobic memes and jokes every once in a while.
I am still a part of their world because I believe people can change.
But for now, I still hesitate to tell people my name for the fear of being judged. I wish for a time when people would see me for me rather than seeing me for my name only. I wish for a time when religion wouldn’t be the first thing that comes into people’s mind when they read a name.
Yusuf Aziz is an undergraduate student on English literature at Jamia Millia Islamia, and is an aspiring writer from Delhi. He writes poetry and articles in his spare time.
Featured image credit: Pascal Bernardon/Unsplash