Eid under the shadow of fear

  • How Muslims celebrated as persecuted minorities?

As Muslims around the world celebrated Eid with feasting and gift-giving, festivities were marred by prolonged conflict in hot spots such as Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Gaza Strip, while Rohingya refugees in squalid Bangladesh camps marked the festival with a peaceful demonstration demanding justice and dignified repatriation.

For the hundreds of thousands of the Muslim minority Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar since an army crackdown last August, this is the first Eid-ul-Fitr they have spent in the cramped tent cities. Holding banners and placards, the demonstrators shouted slogans demanding Rohingya citizenship, repatriation to Myanmar and security from the United Nations.

In another refugee camp in Kolkata in India, Hasan Sharif, a 27-year-old Rohingya, recalls the Eid ul fitr he observed last year while hiding from Myanmar soldiers in a stranger’s home. Sharing details to an Indian journalist, he painfully reminisces his village being reduced to ash, his father dying in custody and the killing of 34 of his other family members. This year, although in a refugee camp, Sharif enjoys unaccustomed safety.

But the sanctuary has an unpredictable future since the refugees’ arrival has alarmed some in Kolkata. The local pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party members believe the Muslim Rohingyas could be linked to extremist organisations, and ‘should be immediately sent back to Bangladesh’. Nearly 17,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India.

Eid was less peaceful in Indian occupied Kashmir, where two young boys were killed and dozens injured during clashes between protesters and the Indian troops in Srinagar on the day. Scores of youth took to the streets in the town after Eid prayers, only to be fired at with pellets and teargas by the police. India had said earlier that it was resuming military operations against militants after a rare 30-day suspension for Ramzan expired.

Anwarul Hoda, a Delhi based journalist, writes in his blog that ‘Eid versus Diwali and shamshan (cremation ground) versus qabaristan (graveyards) are debates that have become part of conventional politics. Today, a wide and bold line has been drawn between Eid and Diwali’. A post-graduate student from Ranchi, a north East Indian state capital told Hoda that ‘the frequent riots in Jharkhand have changed the emotions for Eid. Now, there is a fear of offering namaz (prayer) in public’. Since the 10th of this month, at least three communal clashes have been reported in the city.

Eid was less peaceful in Indian occupied Kashmir, where two young boys were killed and dozens injured during clashes between protesters and the Indian troops in Srinagar on the day

In Syria, two people visiting graves of relatives during the holiday were killed in government shelling of a cemetery. In Yemen, dozens of fighters backing an exiled government were killed in clashes over the rebel-held port of Hodeida, the main entry point for food into a country already on the brink of famine.

In Gaza, an Israeli drone attacked a tent used to prepare kites and balloons used in protests against a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the 2007 takeover of the territory by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Eid prayers by several thousand Gazans were offered on prayer rugs spread on sandy soil, near the perimeter fence with Israel.

In its recent survey, YouGov, a UK based Internet market research and data analytics firm offered a weak cause for cheer on this Eid ul-Fitr for Muslims in the United States of America. When US President Donald Trump first proposed his ‘Muslim ban’ in December 2015, a disturbing 48 percent of respondents said they approved of the idea. That share has now fallen to 39 percent.

During his presidential campaign in 2015-16, Donald Trump had called for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ of Muslims entering the United States. Just a week after taking office, he tried to institute a ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. Unsurprisingly, he appears to have made a majority in more than 3 million American Muslims feel unwelcome: 68pc of respondents to a poll conducted by Pew Research Centre, an American fact tank, said that Mr Trump makes them feel worried about their place in the country’s society.

This feeling of being worried becomes a source of agony for Muslims when celebrating a festival, a time when their religious fervour reaches a pinnacle. If offering daily prayers is a battle, Eid prayers become more of a crusade when Muslims, amid fears for their life, kneel down to the One who created them as living beings. Neither does a safe celebration of a festival gives them a feeling of security, when the rest of the year they have to struggle to protect their places of worship, their right to practice their religion and their rights as a citizen.

In contrast to somewhere veiled and elsewhere violent celebrations, Eid spending by Muslims in Pakistan — who enjoy an overwhelming majority – crossed the trillion mark. More than 150 billion rupees were spent on philanthropic giving in the month of Ramazan, the culmination of which marks Eid and 300 billion rupees worth of new notes were printed by the State Bank for willing spenders. The figures may be much higher in other Muslim majority countries in the region, highlighting both increased purchasing power and freedom to practice their religion.

But while the heart bleeds for other Muslims who celebrated Eid as persecuted minorities, it should remind privileged ones of their responsibility towards the non-Muslims who suffer the same status of being a minority. Freedom of worship is not simply freedom to celebrate festivals. It is the right to practice your daily life according to the prescribed way of your religion. It is the right to maintain your identity in a land where others practice a different faith. It is also a right to maintain your dignity and not be subjected to violence, shame or disregard, simply on the basis of your religious belief.

As in the words of Anwarul Hoda, ‘when mosques are vandalised and Muslims are used to harassment in their own colonies, Eid itself has become a minority, and has been reduced to a festival of ghettos. This year, Eid Namaz was offered under the shadow of fear, and this is the harsh reality India has to live with’.

Only when the shadow of fear would lift, only when Eid, Diwali and Christmas would be celebrated with the same fervour, not only in India, but also in Pakistan and in other countries, only when a man would not be forced to flee his homeland on the basis of his religion or killed in the name of his faith, would mankind celebrate in harmony.