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Book Review: Islam in India - Some reality checks and balances

Ghazala Wahab spectacularly fulfills her mandate of informing non-Muslims about Islam in India and engaging Muslims in a conversation about the way forward

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BOOK REVIEW | Islam | Muslims

Suhit Kelkar 

Born a Muslim

Born a Muslim: Some Truths About in India
Author: Ghazala Wahab
Publisher: Aleph
Price: Rs 999
Pages: 399

The capacious and comprehensive Born a Muslim by journalist and writer Ghazala Wahab was born out of a massively ambitious aim. To quote from the book, she “wanted to represent the case of to those who wonder about them”, a necessity in the India of today, which is polarised to a deadly extent. Most Indians, though educated, conceive of in either of two ways: One, according to the poisonous, murderous canards floated by the Sangh Parivar, or, to a lesser extent, two, the sterile propaganda by successive Congress-led governments that created two-dimensional fantasy versions of that were adequately lightweight for poorly drawn wall murals in government schools. These both are not the same, as crimes go, but either version obscures the truth and prevents inter-religious dialogue based on reality. So to spread information about Islamic culture and ideas among the subtly saffronised majority of Indians is a most welcome step. The second part of the book’s aim — to also “represent itself in a contemporary mould to Muslims” — is equally needed, says the author. The reason, she writes, is that many if not most Indian Muslims have fallen under the sway of an increasingly conservative ulema which have transformed a religion based on debate, reasoning and enquiry into a collection of rules, which largely smother thought with the terror of hell, and many of which prop up patriarchy and other social evils. The author wants, through the book, to open debates on the way forward for . That’s a colossal mandate for any one author to take upon herself. Does she do justice to it?

Born a Muslim has all the hallmarks of nonfiction currently in vogue in India: It blends personal, memoiristic passages with the reported experiences of others, and scene-setting, travelogue-like openings with interviews and exposition. But equally importantly, because it is about a religious community, the book explains the origin of Islamic customs and rules by quoting the Quran and significant non-Quranic texts (and, in many cases, their misinterpretation by vested interests). The author quotes extensively from the hadith, which, we are told, are the recollections of Prophet Muhammad’s “conversations and comments on issues”, as well as the “memory of his actions” and interpretations of “his silent approval”; contemporary Muslims treat these as sacred, despite the apocryphal nature of several hadiths. This blend of elements and registers works very effectively, making the book a surprisingly quick read, although the book clocks in at nearly 400 pages, and despite the fact that it deals with all the pressing issues you might associate with Muslims in India.

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First Published: Fri, April 30 2021. 22:03 IST
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