Monday, March 24, 2014


Zain Awan

I am often asked by some of my friends and more often by those whom I meet for first time, with discomfiture, curiosity and astonishment, "So do you proffer Namaz five times a day?"

My answer initially would come out with some inhibitions as I would be too hesitant to say, "No, I don't." But over a period of time, things have changed, my thoughts and perceptions have changed, or rather, I would say, have evolved.

I strongly believe that my relationship with my God is very personal and one should not interfere between ‘us’, imposing certain restrictions, as Islam is not about strict conditions but gives its believers a certain degree of flexibility and a leverage wherever needed. The very bedrock of this flexibility is the understanding that comes from my relationship with my God.

I may not necessarily proffer Namaz regularly but that doesn’t make me a lesser Muslim or less God-fearing. I know of certain people in my community who recite five prayers a day. But their deeds should better remain behind a curtain. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are self-proclaimed representatives of the community.

The problem is, we have come across such people in our day-to-day lives and have to deal with them.

Here, I would like to cite an incident that happened to me some weeks ago. My driver called in sick in the morning, leaving me with the option of taking an auto-rickshaw to work. As I haled a three-wheeler, a burly man with a skull cap and a long partly grey, half black beard, applied sudden brakes to ask where I wanted to go.

The moment I told him about my destination, pronto came an over-charged reply, quite literally. This person asked for almost 100 Rs extra from me. Running late for work, worrying about the traffic snarl-ups on a 16-km patch, I asked him sternly to ply by meter and sat in his vehicle at his mercy.

Ten-minutes into the journey, he suddenly halted at a roadside, saying that he cannot go further due to a snag in his vehicle. After I had alighted, he started his auto-rickshaw and vanished from there. I was more shocked than angry. How could someone from a community, that lays huge emphasis on ‘amaal’ (deeds), trouble someone, stranding him mid-way? He might be following his religion his way but it left me wondering if the intensity of his worship and connection with the God could not make him an understanding human being.  

In a Muslim area of Delhi, there is a three-story mosque. Shops and other mosques, side by side, in a true Islamic spirit of work and worship, lead up to the towering walls of  this particular mosque, from where more than a dozen loud speakers call out for prayers five times a day. While the melody of Azaan can make even a dying person stand on his feet, the call of prayer from this mosque gets deafening at times.

The devout in the neighbourhood are too scared of the idea of objecting to so many loudspeakers. I respect that spirit. But is that right? Is shrieking on dozens of loudspeakers real Islam? I decided to check. And I wasn’t surprised when I was told by a mufti that a battery of loudspeakers is not needed if there are other mosques around as well. Digging deeper, I got to know that the caretaker of this mosque has some work of manufacturing the loudspeakers and audio system and hence, a business from the coffers of the mosque. Is masquerading your profit in the garb of a need to have high-decibel speakers tantamount to a real call of prayer? And mind you! You can not object as it’s a ‘religious’ matter! God, definitely, doesn’t say that one should not care for the sick while calling out for prayers in high pitch.

For me, prayer is something that should not only be done for a specific number of times, but it is more about a number of times and cherishing a connection with the Almighty.

My day starts early and the first thing I do is greet God, while am still in bed and pray for the day to bode well- for me and for everyone. Work is important and starts the moment I have greeted God. I treat it like worship.

I think it is important to mention here that in a place like India, where there is a diversity of religions, ‘acceptance’ of other beliefs is essential. And I am very thankful for the kind of upbringing I have had for inculcating in me not only just this acceptance but also respecting others, considering them an integral part of mankind.

The right-wing might forbid the believers of Islam to visit any place of worship other than a mosque but that doesn’t deter me from lighting a candle in a church, praying in a Gurudwara, tying a thread at shrines or visiting a temple because for me a good aura, a clean milieu are equivalent to a place of sanctity and worship.

Deep within my heart, somewhere I am very thankful to God that I was born in India and got this diverse mix of friends, with whom I could comfortably go to various places of worship without any restriction imposed by my family. And I think this maturity in my family came from the fact that we have been brought up in India, where you cannot isolate your religion and follow it.

I do respect the fact that one should reach out to God on specific days and times as might be prescribed in religions and scriptures. But I also think that God is too Supreme a being to be compartmantalised and be remembered only at specific points of time. Should you feel the need to connect to your Creator now, do that! And He has too big a heart to not accommodate you just because you are not in a particular attire and it’s not a specific day and time.

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