In January 2018, I purchased a book that changed the way I look at my standing as a citizen of India. That book was Mothering A Muslim and today, I finally got to speak with the author herself! In an interview with Mahevash Muses, Nazia Erum talks about how her book has impacted readers, what she does to deal with trolls, and who to vote for this election season.
Mothering A Muslim is one of the most hard-hitting books I have ever read. Please share a reader story or two.
Well, there are many, many stories. I don’t know how to pick! Okay, so I remember this young girl who was right out of her college and at her first job as a journalist. She had come to interview me about Mothering A Muslim. When she walked in, I could sense that she was agitated and had something on her mind. When I said we should begin, she quickly blurted out that she wanted to talk to me more than she wanted to interview me. And then she shared the many incidents of hatred that had affected her life. She wanted to let me know how every line of the book had resonated with her. Then she told me how she had lost touch with someone who had told her to “go back to Pakistan” during a game of football. She said she didn’t remember much about the girl, but that comment and the feelings it brought out in her have stayed with her ever since.
As a columnist who writes candidly about religion and gender, you surely deal with a lot of trolls. How do you handle them?
I absolutely ignore trolls. I don’t block them as that’s giving them too much importance, I simply mute them. Of course, I’ve been through that entire process where I tried to talk to them and engage them. Then I realized the futility of trying to make them see sense. So now, I use filters to weed them out and just move on with my life.
What can we as a society do to counter the rising Islamophobia in our nation and in the world?
I believe it’s by putting our best foot forward while not being apologetic for being a Muslim. The onus lies on all sides, not just Muslims. However, it does help if we try and address Islamophobia. I remember there was this CSDS study that said only 33% of Hindus consider Muslims as their close friends and thought that it was an appalling number! So I put up a Facebook post saying, “If you have never been to an iftar, come over to my house.” The post got about 90 comments and a couple of women volunteered to cook food like biryani and samosas for strangers. Our interfaith iftar was a success and busted a lot of myths and stereotypes.
We did this again the next year and asked guests to write down whatever they had heard about Muslims on blank pieces of paper. And a ton of weird things came out as a result – like we bathe a dead body and then drink that water, we eat raw goat meat, etc! The guests realized that we aren’t quite so different from each other, after all. So Muslims have to be more engaged with the community they are living in. It is important to interact with neighbors and people of different races to be visible in a positive sense.
What message would like you to convey to fellow Indians this election season?
Get out there and vote! Vote out hatred. Anybody who tells you or even tries to reach out to any part of you that might spread hatred against anyone, remember, that is the person you have to vote out. Vote for people that bring out the good in you. In the long term, this will benefit the country as well.
Mothering A Muslim is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it is like to raise and grow up as a Muslim child in India today. Pick up your own copy at Amazon today!