Book Review: ‘But You Don’t Look Like a Muslim’ — an exploration of Indian-Muslim identity

The book consists of 40 essays on the Indian-Muslim identity. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2019

Book Review: ‘But You Don’t Look Like a Muslim’ — an exploration of Indian-Muslim identity

DHAHRAN: The cover portrait of a young woman — stained with colors, smiling and unrecognizable — at a Holi festival, encapsulates what the author believes a secular India should look like. Indeed, renowned writer, critic, literary historian and cultural commentator Rakhshanda Jalil’s latest book on being a Muslim in contemporary India hits home on many accounts.

The book consists of 40 essays on the Indian-Muslim identity, examined through a political, cultural, literary, and religious lens. The book opens with a casual statement, which can be delivered in tones ranging from surprise to approval.

“Oh, but you don’t look like a Muslim.”

Jalil goes on to explain how living in Delhi — through school, university, at the workplace, and in social situations — she has been subjected to a patronizing compliment that insinuates that is she is ‘normal,’ and — by extension — qualified to be considered as ‘belonging.’ The demonization and misrepresentation of Muslims in films and popular culture has birthed a narrative that often equates Indian Muslims with anti-nationalism. So much so that even something as simple as an appreciation for Urdu literature and cheering an India-Pakistan cricket match becomes a political discourse.




The cover portrait of a young woman encapsulates what the author believes a secular India should look like. (Supplied)

Jalil says that there is no duality: “I am a Muslim and an Indian, in no particular order. I am both,” she writes. She sees no reason to be either embarrassed or defensive of her religious identity. She explains that Indian Muslims fall into different spectrums, marked by regional, ethnic, social, and linguistic differences. But the entire community suffers as a result of stereotyping and alienation.

In four chapters — The Politics of Identity, The Matrix of Culture, The Mosaic of Literature, and The Rubric of Religion — Jalil addresses shared issues: Why, for example, the Muslim League’s demand for a separate homeland did not appeal to some Muslims and why some (like her grandfather, Ale Ahmad Suroor) chose to put their faith in a new secular nation. Or whether religiosity can be linked to external indicators, be it the hijab or the turban.

In other chapters, she recounts times when communal harmony prevailed and inclusion was the norm, rather than an exception.

And Jalil’s book is just as relevant to the Indian diaspora 3,000 kilometers away from the subcontinent as it is to communities within India. Can we — and should we — delineate identity?


Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall: ‘I was bullied for being Arab’

The singer's maternal grandfather is Yemeni and maternal grandmother Egyptian. (Getty)
Updated 05 June 2020

Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall: ‘I was bullied for being Arab’

DUBAI: Girl group Little Mix’s star Jade Thirlwall has opened up about bullying she experienced as a teenager due to her Arab roots.

Speaking on the BBC “No Country For Young Women” podcast, the 2011 “X-Factor” finalist, whose maternal grandfather is Yemeni and maternal grandmother Egyptian, said that she felt “ashamed” of her background. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

oh hey it’s me shamelessly plugging #BreakUpSong for the 1847th time via a thirst trap pic

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“When I went to secondary school, I was literally one of three people of color in the school,” the 27-year-old music sensation, whose father is British, said.

“I remember one time I got pinned down in the toilets and they put a bindi spot on my forehead; it was horrific.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

look in the notebook.

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“I have constantly had this inner battle of not really knowing who I am, or where I fit in, or what community I fit into,” she said.

The singer recalled that she would put white powder on her face “to whiten” herself when performing on stage at her school.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

finding a new love for my natural hair⚡️

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After joining Little Mix, she “subconsciously” did not want to talk about her heritage for fear of being disliked.

“I think because I was bullied quite badly in school because of the color of my skin and for being Arab, I wasn’t very proud of who I was,” Thirlwall explained.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

category is: 80s realness @madison_phipps

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“I would hate to talk about my race and heritage and not say the right things,” she added.