Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 26

Jottings : Slice of life - 26
He was a young man clad In a blue flowing Kurta and black jeans. His eyes were wide and deep, nicely trimmed beard, and he had an expression of confidence on his face. It was around 7.00 PM in the evening; and weather in Downtown Bethesda was humid and hot as it has been this entire week. The young man was profusely sweating, constantly dabbing his face with a towel in his left hand and holding a crudely written placard in his hand, turning it this way and that way to catch the attention of pedestrians walking swiftly past him trying to get into a some kind of shade and respite from the heat. None paid any attention, and even if they unconsciously did, the message on his placard was really something they could not or would choose not to readily respond. It read
“ I am a Muslim by heart and practice and a true American by birth and nurture. Pls spend few minutes talking to me, we will dissolve our differences..”
I have been watching him for last few days as I walked down to a nearby Italian place for my dinner. He would be there when I passed him at 7, but would not when I returned around 8. Today, I stopped and spoke to him. His name is Aslam (name changed), and he studies English literature. He spoke in immaculate English.
I asked “Aslam, what is the purpose of what you are doing?”
“Sir, It is difficult for anyone to understand what it is to be shunned and stigmatized in one’s own country. My parents migrated to USA decades ago, and for generations we have been devout Muslims without any qualms, guilt or any need to justify our presence. But in the last fifteen years, there has been a fundamental shift. Almost, as if, the very ground upon which we stood has been pulled away. I was bought up doing Namaz every day, and taught with all sincerity that Koran was God’s word; but never once has anybody breathed a word of Jihad, or martyrdom of bloodshed in the name of God to me. My parents taught the teaching of Koran was to seek God within and not outside. I have read all scriptures along with my own, and had friends with whom religion was not a consideration at all. My parents passed away five years , more from internal grief on what has happened to their faith and culture in the hands of few bigoted sectarians who have distorted the traditions of millennia. I am financially comfortable, but I felt deep within my heart that as an individual I must do something to restore the purity and cosmopolitanism of my faith. At least twice a week, I stand here , in this junction, for a few hours, not soliciting anybody in particular, but talking to few who voluntarily approach me. I tell them how I am a true Muslim as a Muslim can hope to be, and how America is my mother, My birth country - the land that has nurtured and educated me, and how both of them are inseparable from one another. Some of them scorn, make fun and even deride my words; but select few , after few minutes of confrontation begin to melt and understand where I am coming from. We strike a chord deep within, and we part with a sense of ease and empathy. Over the last six months, this kind of contact would have happened with say three or five people at the most and not more. But that's enough for me. I am doing what I can do..” He smiled and continued “… I sacrifice my movie time to establish communal harmony. If I could live to see the day when we get the past the appalling violence , misconceptions and misunderstandings we are embroiled in, I will consider these evening spent in sweltering heat well spent. Many who pass by look at me as homeless, offer money and sometime show pity as well. I am willing to accept any stance they may take, if I can touch the heart of few – not to convince them of Islam’s greatness but to gently point out that our faith and all others are one and the same, and beyond peripheral differences the infinite divinity flows undisturbed and unbroken …”
I listened with rapt attention as Aslam gently spoke to me. I was speechless. I gently tapped him on his shoulder and said “ I am honored to have to stopped by and met you. From a fellow Human being to another, I am sure, both of us will live to see a better day…”
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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