Carl wrote:Once when I was in my 11th grade in India, I was sitting at the back of a boring classroom session and reading an Urdu novel. A Moslem classmate saw that and drew closer to me from then on. He himself hadn't studied Urdu though his parents knew how to read and write it. So he appreciated that I knew the language even though I wasn't Moslem. But here's the part that is relevant here: He would often talk to me about all the problems he sees in his community, all the things he disagrees with, that don't make any sense to him, but are shoved down their throats or which they must accept out of reverence for tradition, or to protect the community or contribute to its expansion, etc. It was like I was the only person he ever had a chance to talk to about these thoughts of his - I could clearly see that he felt some fear in expressing the same things to someone from his own community. So he was using the opportunity to vent to someone who was not from his community (caste-wise or "ethnically"), yet someone who was well-informed about its culture and religion, etc. I always remember him and those conversations, because I was surprised by it, and had naturally assumed that people would generally not wash their dirty linen in "public" with an "outsider". I think a similar dynamic is at work for people who want to eventually marry out or find other ways to distance themselves from the "core" of their culture.
perhaps you could write down some of those conversations in the "Understanding Islamic Society
RajeshA ji, there was really nothing in those conversations that isn't already common knowledge or observation. Anyway I will put down what I can remember from this particular friend and a couple of others.
1. Socio-economically, this classmate was coming from a typical middle class (maybe slightly lower-middle class) Indian Moslem family. The women of his family wore the burqa when they stepped out.
2. In this case, he was from Hyderabad, though he wasn't a Telugu convert. His racial/cultural origins seemed to be from the north, and his family line was historically linked with the martial orders of the Sunni Asif Jahi Nizam's dominions. He himself was well-built, and loved sports.
3. It looked like his generation was getting a "better" education than his parents' generation in his community. By "better" I mean more Anglicized. His parents were entirely Urdu-educated.
Here is a summary of some of the things we talked about, that give an indication of his level of knowledge, cultural attitudes, aspirations, and worries:
1. He saw me reading a thick Urdu novel, and first mistook it for the Qur'an. He was completely Urdu- and Arabic-illiterate, and didn't know much about Islam itself as such. But he had a wide-eyed admiration for both, and immediately looked up to me as a "wise" and fortunate person.
2. He wondered whether I had converted to Islam and happily considered it a foregone conclusion now that I had come this far.
3. I asked him why he hadn't learned Urdu, which he called his mother tongue. He said his family felt that there were less job opportunities in Urdu anymore and that there was no choice but to concentrate on Hindi and English. Majboori hai. There was a lot of pressure to be upwardly mobile.
4. When he opened up more he expressed anger and frustration that there was a lot of pressure to get married early and start producing children. He explained that mullas and maulanas would visit families and pressure them to do this. With digust he told me that an older cousin of his was 22, just out of college, and was already married and had a child. That cousin didn't yet have a home of his own and lives with his parents. My buddy expressed frustration that his generation was pressured like this from both sides - to become more educated and earn more, and also to start having large families from an early age. He was frustrated, and it seemed like there was no one he could talk to about this.
5. When he would get into the flow of complaint about such practical dilemmas in his life, he would start questioning other stuff. He would notice that from a young age they are brought up with a ghetto mentality, and taught that the non-Moslems around them are not their well-wishers, and think ill of them. He would sometimes question this because most of his non-Moslem friends seemed to treat him like they treated one another. He didn't like the more shrill preaching coming from sources within his community about Hindus. He had even been invited into their homes and seen their mothers and sisters. But given the public behavior and covert affairs of some of the unveiled Hindu girls on campus he felt it validated some of the warnings and moral teachings of Islam. But on a related note...
6. One time he came to me excitedly with a mischievous request. He had found his mother's old diaries in the loft at home quite a while ago. They were in Urdu, and he had been wanting to know what was in them. My ability to read handwritten Urdu was much less than typeset script, so it took me some time to decipher it. Turned out his mother had had a passionate affair with some other man (also Moslem), but alas they couldn't be married. During that long phase she would write in her diary almost every day, what she did from the first Fajr prayer in the morning, to the last Isha prayer at night. That was the time-structure of her diary. Usually it would be related to thoughts of her lover and humility, gratitude, irritated complaint, or sorrowful resignation in front of Allah. E.g. she would wake up for Fajr, pray, then remind herself of a secret rendezvous later that day, then go back to sleep for another hour or two. Later, if he had refused to acknowledge her in a public place like a bus stop, she took it out on her diary. She had penned some verses about her feelings and longings, sometimes cynicism. I read all of this, but didn't tell my friend about any of it. I just told him his mother seemed to be a sensitive and poetic lady, she had written some pretty verses in good Urdu, about Allah and the beauty of nature, and I read out a couple of the less suspicious ones to him. It seems that he was satisfied by this and it was obvious that he merely wanted to allay his own suspicions that his mother had loved a man other than his father before marriage. And again, it struck me as significant that he picked me (a loner, from outside his own community) to translate her diary to him.
That's all I remember of this pal. In the same vein, I can relate some points from another Moslem classmate, also from almost the same background. He was an innocent and bright-faced lad, and had won scholarships from a 'Medina Educational Foundation' in the "Old City" that was helping him fund his +2 education at a good institution. In order to win the scholarships, he had to not only be good at his academics up to his 10th grade, but also win quizzes on introductory subjects of Islamic aqeedah (theology and beliefs) and fiqh (law). Since he came out with flying colours in the latter, he was awarded scholarships to better educate himself further. Thus, the cream of the community was being cultivated in a particular direction by the 'educational' institutions of his community. He was an average but hardworking student in a rather competitive class half-filled with us ramiah JEE trainees, but very well-loved by all who knew him. He wasn't particularly interested in sports, but enthusiasticaly joined in just to be part of a team with friends. He wasn't sombre and religiously conservative in stereotypical ways. He would enthusiastically go up on stage during events and play his harmonica for us, or sing a song with un-self-conscious passion. With the same un-self-conscious enthusiasm he would tell us about what Allah has to say on several subjects that we were interested in: "You know, there is no masturbation in Islam." Etc. He was a jolly good fellow, religious, honest, and stayed out of bad mischief and anti-social activity of all kinds.
There was another Moslem classmate who was a 'jock' type, but essentially different from the above two, and whom I didn't know too closely. He also came from a conservative family, was aggressive, and was also involved with a couple of guys who were having sexual affairs with a couple of girls. He was indulging himself in this and other ways outside his community, while within his community he would not countenance it, and was a part of enforcement and "pack-management". He would sometimes accost the other two above at prayer time, and during Ramzan he would fast and be irritated with others for eating.
I might as well include a couple of other types here to complete the picture:
First one is a childhood friend of mine, from middle-school, and still a bosom buddy. He is from an "ashraf" background, not just socially but also from an upper class economic background. Parents are from lineage related to Junagadh courtier circles. His grandmother (who lived with them) would be an enthusiastic Pakistan fan and nervously root for them during cricket matches in front of the TV at home. Father unfortunately had some psychiatric illness, and squandered part of the family inheritance. Still, they lived quite well. But the father's mental illness took a big toll on the family. The mother ultimately got hooked to psych meds too. Father, who was very gentle and docile each time I met him, would at other times have public fits of rage that embarrassed the entire family and especially my buddy when he was very young. He turned into a juvenile delinquent, flunked a class, and became my classmate, after which we grew very close for some reason. His parents' families were Jinnah types, completely Westernized, some relations living in Massaland and UQ. Drinks at home, even as grandmother hennaed her hair and fingered tasbeeh beads. Islamic art (including scented prayer mats) were found around the house, along with Western art. Even then, at school he would come under all sorts of influences. There was a small pack of especially vicious and hate-filled Moslems at school, especially Shi'a (couple of them first generation post-revolution Irani immigrants in Hyderabad). They would put pressure on him to "become Shi'a" (he was Sunni). He would think about it and asked his mom, and she said, "These Shi'as are fanatics. Sunni Islam is moderate Islam." He lived in a high class apartment complex that had all sorts of upper class people, including other rich Moslems. There was this one particularly religious neighbour of his he would tell me about - he would lecture him and his family on becoming better Moslems everytime he caught them - in an elevator, out on a walk, and then he started to come knocking on the door. That's when it became a really big issue at home. Some of the elite Moslems in his colony had RAPEtte wives imported from Pakistan. One such lady told him that she (and his family, too) was Aryan whereas most Hindus are Dravidians - and his mom (a very warm-hearted lady but sometimes an air-head) felt very flattered and found this discovery agreeable and worth repeating. Such was the confused environment he grew up in - Westernized, with some pretty strong Islamist influences, racism, and yet he mixed with all and would talk to me about it. Religiously we didn't have much in common, but at that immature time he considered me to be a fellow-"Aryan". He laughs about it now. He would serially fall in love with different girls. Once I stayed overnight at his place the night before a Hindi exam, and needless to say we hardly studied. That night he also taught me how to do namaz, though he hardly did it himself. As part of Islamic culture he had also learned to trim his pubes and other exciting stuff that as an adolescent he shared enthusiastically, along with jokes about accidentally nicking his sack in the process. It was his mother who presented me with old Urdu dictionaries and other materials from her family collection, and I taught myself the language using them. He was least interested, and even though he took Urdu as third language in school he scraped through and didn't look back. He reformed himself in the last year of high school and became more responsible from there on. He married earlier than the rest of us and settled down with a Dravidian-looking Telugu Christian girl. His firstborn son looks like him but bears a Christian name. He still takes care of his parents, but it weighs heavily on him for many reasons, he sometimes has outbursts of frustration about it, but I admire him for sticking with it patiently through very trying times. His is an interesting profile, and we sometimes talk about it.
Last one is of a couple: A female Moslem friend, from the Sunni "ashraf" with roots in Lucknow and Hyderabad. Somehow became close when I was in my 11th and 12th grade. Again, she would confide in me things she couldn't discuss with others in her own community. One thing she often brought up was that the mores of her "class" was different from the mores of the plebes, even among her own community. Especially mores related to romance and money. It took me time to realize that she was attracted, and as the tubelight flickered on I found out she was making extensive arrangements for an "alibi" everytime she came to meet up in private (apart from a group outing) - an "alibi" assisted by a network of her own female relatives and friends (all Moslem). But I didn't respond romantically or sexually and pretended not to notice that side of things. Later, age 16 or 17, she was told it was time to start finding someone to marry and think about children. She started dating a well-groomed man about town from the Hyderabadi "ashraf" community, only he was Shi'a. It didn't matter, class was more important than sectarian affiliation. But she would keep telling me about stuff, about how they made out on the rooftop. About how he would joke and tease her that her so-called "Sunni nawabi" heritage was just from the kaneez (concubines and palace servants) that his Persian forefathers had their way with. She tittered about it. The other thing was that this guy told her that he was still screwing a Hindu girlfriend. He had fixed up his van for it, a passion wagon, and this Hindu girlfriend was one of his long time fvck buddies. This friend of mine didn't seem to mind it, and considered it a sign of his status and virility. As long as the girl wasn't Moslem and ashraf she knew she was no threat, just a side-dish. But he said he would wind that down as they moved towards tying the knot, which they eventually did. He moved to the US. For a while after marriage she didn't keep in touch, and told a common friend she was "afraid" of me (can't imagine why). Later we got back in touch, but with some distance. At least for the first few years here she described his job as "converting blacks". He was associated with Islamist networks here, and then branched out with his own business on the side (I've seen this model applied among the Turkish Gulenist networks also). Once he gifted her a fancy new car on their anniversary. She is happily married, has two sons already, and settled in the US but visiting India almost every year or two.
There are different types of Indian Moslems, each with their own idea of what "Islam" is, with varying levels of knowledge of the actual subject matter, with varying attitudes to the non-Moslem society around them, and with different relationships among the various strata within the Moslem community itself. Depending on mostly accidental interactions or friendships with non-Moslems and resulting exposure, they can take different paths.