Culture & Society · Faith & Spirituality · Family & Relationships · Recollections & Reflections

Why you like what you like: Ruminations on interests and how they may have actually chosen you.

Upon the discussion of a book that a friend and I disagreed on (I liked it; she didn’t), we naturally moved onto my favourite topic of discussion: Partition.

Now when I say Partition, I’m usually referring to the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. Though I must say the entire enterprise of partition is a fascinating one: the arbitrary decisions made by non-native imperialists, the repercussions between the different factions within, the violence that is fomented from the displacement. These astounding legacies continue to live on in many nations globally.

We started discussing the famous nationalist leaders and the misconceptions the general public has about these figures. I’m often astonished at how people become heroes and the issues that make them so. The whole idea of hero-worship is quite fascinating as well. It’s why I was drawn to the Man of Steel back in high school. I also relished in the fact that he was a seminary drop-out (Foreshadowing? Funny, but no. For one, I wasn’t technically a Seminary student, even though my sister likes to say I was, and two, although politically-speaking I tend to lean more socialist, I am not a communist).

More than Nehru and Gandhi, I’m fascinated by Jinnah. Why? Not simply because he’s Muslim (which is itself a discussion point), but really how he advocated for the Muslim cause for really politically expedient reasons. If any Jinnah experts are reading this and want to correct me, please do refer me to peer-reviewed articles or books. He’s a pure Politician in the classic sense. And while I don’t agree with him (LOL at me referring to him as a contemporary), I am, again, I use that word, fascinated by his political genius.

But I guess really, I’m drawn to this figure because his actions, though they have not shaped me, are active forces in my life. As you probably know by now, I’m a Hyderabadi-Indian woman who married into a Lahori Pakistani family. The culture shock, which might have been greater under different circumstances, comes and goes from time to time. When we attend wedding festivities for example (which don’t happen all that often), I often remark: Wow, Hyderabadis are so different.

As I was explaining to another friend earlier this week, Hyderabadi Muslims are a unique bunch. Sometimes I feel we are the equivalent of the Vatican. Not that we have legions of devoted over the world (although we do have some staggering numbers), we are very enclosed from the rest of the country. We live in a bubble, both in our heads and in our realities. Well, okay, I can only speak for myself here and maybe the diaspora. I’ve never lived in Hyderabad and have only visited 3 times in my 30 (very soon to be 31) years. But like I’ve said before, go to Old City and you will feel like you’ve gone back in time. Oh hai, Nizam!

As I was reminiscing about Hyderabadi wedding festivities (not my own, because I didn’t have a typical Hyderabadi wedding), I realized: we don’t do song and dance. Excluding this of course. And not just because my family is conservative or anything (we’re really not as conservative as some), but because there really is no regional song or dance. When Hydros do do the whole song and dance routine, it’s borrowed from another region. It’s like Hyderabadi Muslims have created our own unique culture with no ties to the region’s distant past (i.e. non-Muslim past). This could be good or bad, depending on your view. My point is not to make a judgement here, but rather an observation I didn’t really consciously think about until recently. I’ve lived it my entire life and only when I’ve been outside of my little community did I realize how different we are. I affiliate more as a Hydro than an Indian, if that makes sense. Hence the Vatican reference.

But back to Jinnah. Since I feel like I’ve been introduced to a different world, I remain fascinated by this country and its rise as a nation. It’s not even that new compared to some other nations, but it’s more “closer to home” you could say. What would the founder of this country think of it today? I really am interested. I think I can surmise.

But it’s not just Pakistan per se. It’s part of a larger movement. Using Islam for political and nationalist agendas. It’s harrowing because when you do that, you risk tarnishing the religion. I’m often struck by the phrase “tyranny of the majority.” When your narrative is based on an identity, beliefs tend to become relegated. Some can and do react by fighting for their faith, but often in a way that can stifle the faith of others (including coreligionists).

As a religious minority both in the country in which I live and the country from which my parents and generations before hail, I feel that my faith has been given the chance to be solidified because I can’t take it for granted.

Of course, I am not saying that this is the case for everyone. In my case anyway, difference has acted as a force for shaping and strengthening my beliefs (and interests even, if we’re gonna take it that far).

I’m sure this story will be different for everyone. But I implore all of you reading this to consider why it is you believe what you believe (it doesn’t have to be your faith, if you don’t want it to). But often times the narratives we tell ourselves are much more complicated. Forces outside of your control (divine and sociological, I believe) really do shape you, your interests, what and maybe even who you are drawn to. I find this to be a fun exercise and I’m not sure I’ve even fully considered the extent of my own narrative. I’d love to hear your insights if you feel so willing to share.

I’m reminded of something my first-year M.A. adviser once told me: “The greatest academics are really just clever autobiographers.” Does that mean anything? I don’t know.

5 thoughts on “Why you like what you like: Ruminations on interests and how they may have actually chosen you.

  1. Lovin’ these frequent posts Rafia. This is probably my favorite recent one of yours simply because it was so well written and I learned a lot. It’s got the personal touches as we as lots of information; a great combo. I know some, not much, of Hyderbadi culture but it was so interesting learning more.

    Anytime I talk to a Muslim convert, I find myself asking the same questions you ask in your last paragraph. If I wasn’t born into a Muslim family, who would I be? What would I believe? It reminds me that God guides those He will, but I also am so glad that I started questioning things like religion in my early years of college. I think that being a minority can totally solidify your beliefs, as hard as it may be at times. Gosh, I just loved this

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a minority within a minority, I perhaps would substitute ‘solidify’ with ‘clarify’. There’s a certain freedom that comes with the challenge of constructing the balancing act of living astride so many cross cutting loyalties, beliefs, and worldviews. By freedom, I mean the challenge of discerning belief and practice from the onslaught of culture, celebrity imam opinions, local masjid culture, particular group of friends, all from outside of these. When the only location one can claim is one’s lived life experience that is outside the cross section of religion and culture, it’s easier to challenge limiting norms within the Muslim community and embrace overlooked emphases.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Emily? Hmmm, I think I like the word clarify better even for myself. What do you mean by the cross section of culture and religion? I’m not sure I’m following what you mean in your last sentence there.

    Like

  4. Haha. Living in Chicago, which can sometimes be considered Little Hyderabad, how can you not?

    Yeah, the more diverse Muslims (in this case, I’m simply talking about ethnic diversity) I come to know, the more I’m struck by the fact that I could have easily taken Islam to be simply a cultural practice. I think at a certain point we all have to ask ourselves this questions. It’s perhaps even more important for born Muslims to go through this discovery process.

    Thank you, Sumaya! :)

    Liked by 1 person

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