Thursday, April 23, 2015

You guys have such a Hindu culture!

"You guys have such a Hindu culture!"

The above was said to me by a Pakistani acquaintance just as we were discussing the 3-0 drubbing that Bangladesh handed out to Pakistan in the recent cricket ODI series. He wanted to know if our player Soumya Sarkar was a Hindu. 

"Honestly, I don't know." I replied. "I was curious about it as well. Sarkar is a last name common to both Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh, and Soumya is just a first name."

That's when he said it. 

"You Bengalis are so much like Hindus!"

"Please explain." I asked him, in the mood for a good argument.

He struggled, of course.

"I ... don't know exactly," He said. "Your names. I knew a Bengali Muslim called Bijoy. That's a Hindu name. Your dresses ... Your culture ... You guys celebrate holidays like new year that is un-Islamic."

In a calm (so unlike me!) and logical manner, I tackled all his arguments (but of course he wouldn't budge from his opinion).

Typical Arrogance

Realize the statement "Bengali has a huge Hindu influence", no matter it's validity or lack thereof, comes from a base of arrogance. There is a huge arrogance amongst speakers of Urdu (and sometimes Farsi) - that they are somehow more Islamic, just by virtue of their language and lineage.

In 1952, the ruling West Pakistani elite viewed support for Urdu as support for an Islamic identity, and support for Bangla as being a traitor to "Islamic" Pakistan. Jinnah actually had the audacity to say, "Urdu embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition and is nearest to the languages used in other Islamic countries." His arrogant nature was at its peak when he asked a few Bengali students, on a visit to then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), whether Bengalis could boast of any great men of letters in their history.

Pakistanis also uniquely believe Pakistan is an "Islamic" country, and therefore anyone who is Muslim should support Pakistan (and anything Pakistani, like the Urdu language). Thus Shoaib Malik infamously thanked all Muslims for supporting Pakistan in the first World T20 final when they played against India, ignoring the man of the match award which went to an Indian Muslim. Anything not seen as "Pakistani", such as the Bengali language, must therefore be non-Muslim, or Hindu.

Pride of Lineage

Urdu speaking Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent are almost always proud of their heritage. They see themselves as more Muslim, or more authentic Muslim, while the dark skinned Bengalis are seen as recent converts from Hinduism and therefore less pure. Nothing of course, could be further from the truth. Islam came to the subcontinent at roughly the same time, and whether you are a Muslim from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Bhutan - all of your ancestors were likely Hindus or Buddhists. The Arabs who conquered and settled in the Indian subcontinent viewed everyone as from "Hind". Yet, look what Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan, once said.

Bengali Islam was the religion of the indigenous depressed peasant convert; in West Pakistan, Islam was the faith of the conquerors, the rulers, the courtiers. Bengali Islam was a faith associated with the "downtrodden races".

You say Hindu influence like it's a bad thing

It is obvious, undeniable and academically incorrect to say there is no Indian influence in the South Asian culture. From Peshawar to Chittagong, we have similar food, clothes, mannerisms, and so on. We all watch the same Bollywood movies and dance to the same Bollywood songs. We also have our regional variances, and thus you have Pashto, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil etc. - multiple languages and cultures. And all these cultures have some common elements, and some variances - and within them you have people of many religions.

Where Bengali Muslims have differentiated from Urdu speaking Muslims is that even by adopting Islam, we have not lost our culture or language. In Pakistan (especially) there is a drive to Arabize themselves - seeing it as more Islamic. This was prominent under the Zia regime. When Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, they tried it on the Bengalis (and failed). In 1949 the government of East Pakistan (an Urdu speaking governor) set up a East Bengal Bhasha (Language) Committee which said Bengali should be written in Arabic script. The government saw the whole language as "corrupt" and tried to change it. The report actually stated, ""Sanskritization of the language should be avoided" and it was to exclude the Sanskrit words from Bengali and replace them by Urdu, Arabic or Persian words to “conform to the Islamic ideology."

Bengalis reject such false standards of "Islamism".

The small stuff - cultural, not religious

So when an Urdu speaking person complains we Bengali muslims have a lot of Hindu influence, all what I said above is what is really going on. Arrogance, a false pride of lineage and Islamism, and an attempt to be Arab. Yet, of course they can point to the small stuff like our names, our dress and our celebrations. Let's get to that.

What is wrong with a name like Bijoy?

It means victory. Same as Fatih. And it has the same roots as say Nasr. Yet, is Fatih and Nasr more "Islamic", simply because it's Arab? What about the names of the famous Tabiyeen who lived during the Prophet's time, whose name was As-hum? You know him better as the Najjashi. Those are not Arabic names. Neither is Bilal. And we know Salman as a Persian name. It is a good meaning and being Muslim that makes your name Islamic, not just Arabic. And may I remind you, of the 25 prophets named in the Quran, only 4 were Arabs. The rest all had non-Arab names.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating Boishakhi?

No, not really. Depends on what you do when you "celebrate". There is nothing really Islamic, or un-Islamic, about a holiday. It's just a day with an interesting history.

However, as I said, those are the small stuff. Undeniably, we have commonalities with people who lived in our lands for centuries and share the same culture and food. No, a statement like that is not about the small stuff. It has darker roots.

And the ironic tragedy is that such arrogance, coming from a supposedly "Muslim" culture, is what broke up the largest Muslim state of the twentieth century.



Anonymous said...

Thanks Mezba. I enjoyed the blog. We are all enriched with differences while sharing the same faith. Although, it can be hard to truly celebrate this at times.


nadia said...

I don't think there is any more "drive to Arabize" in Pakistan. I feel like there's more of a drive to westernize (and miserably failing at it because apparently we're only choosing certain aspects, such as clothes and curse words).

Anonymous said...

Ravi Krishna said...

Tell that Pakistani is that hope is not lost, it will take some time before BD becomes like India.

Anonymous said...

Not related, but as a comeback to Ravi Krishna.

These attacks prove BD is becoming more like India with it's massacres and ethnic cleansing of Bengali Muslims in Assam.

mezba said...

@Siyam, thanks for the comment.

@Nadia, one of the worst things about our desi cultures (especially) and Muslim cultures (on the whole) is that they take the worst aspects of Western culture and label themselves modern and progressive.

@Anon, it's a shame what's happening to bloggers in Bangladesh.

@Ravi Krishna, while it's serious, it's not an epidemic and let's now blow it out of proportion.

@Anon, facts that are completely overlooked in India - Here's a BBC article talking of how much a danger Hindus are to other religions in India.

Anonymous said...

Even though your post holds truth, I think it's avoiding the truth. Bengali culture is heavily influenced by Hinduism - especially the culture today in BD. There is nothing Islamic about watching Bollywood movies, or free-mixing, or dating. In actuality, these acts are discouraged in Islam (as attested by Islamic scholars). I know real Imaan is what's within the heart and not what you wear, but just as Allah has prescribed prayer upon Muslims, he has prescribed hijab upon Muslims in the Quran (the term used is "khimar"). Maybe it's just my family or the region I'm from, you can tell that they're not practicing Muslims. The Bengali culture influences that state in which they have come to choose the fruits of this life over the next

mezba said...

@Anon, I hope you realize that watching Bollywood movies, or free-mixing, or dating are not excusive to, or a feature of, Bangladeshi or Hindu culture.
Let's also not be too judgmental.

Yawar Amin said...

Pakistanis haven't yet completely succeeded in wiping out all traces of Hinduism from their culture. Let's look at the days of the week in Urdu[1] and their Hindi counterparts[2]:

English / Urdu / Hindi / Derivation

Monday / Peer or Somwaar / Somavaaram / after the Hindu deity Chandra, god of the moon, in his aspect as Soma

Tuesday / Mangal / Mangalavaara / after Mangala, Hindu god of war and also of the planet Mars

Wednesday / Budh / Budhavaaram / after the god of the planet Mercury

In Bengal, we haven't tried to wipe out any of this rich culture. All the original names, derived from the deities, are still intact.



Anonymous said...

Bravo! Fantastic post. What I admire the most about Bangladeshis is their pride over their culture. Religion and heritage are two different things and while both have an impact on our behavior and thought processes, they should be kept separate. I'm a Bengali Hindu, and I'll be far more comfortable engaging in a conversation with a fellow Bengali (religion is not germane here) because we'll share similar backgrounds and sensibilities than say a Hindu North Indian.

mezba said...

Yawar, thanks for the info!

Anon, thanks for visiting.

Rivu said...

i m a bengali hindu from india. i enjoyed reading this. came across the same during a research on soumya sarkar. but what concerns me is the recent influence that radical bangladeshi muslims are transiting, being influenced by isis and pak outfits. i think bengali is more of a culture which should be bonded by the language rather religion. we hindus are happy attending eid and in india, there r bengali muslims who have adopted durga puja as a culture. the biggest reference is Dhaka being named after Maa Dhakeshwari.

Anyways, you can read this post of mine I wrote post Bangladesh's win over England last year:

mezba said...

@Rivu bhai, thanks for the comment. I visited your article as well. Very well written!