An Open Letter to Safoora Zargar: How You Helped Me Accept My Religion
I was given a neutral name at birth and that hid my religious identity all my life. I felt that it was a blessing many times in life especially when I was debating on political issues. I first felt racism when I was in high school, in Gurgaon.
When there were stereotypes propagated against my religion. I started hiding my religion from that day on. Things changed, my parents felt it too. When I was due for an interview or anything major happening, my parents cautioned my not to pray out loud, just in my heart because Allah will hear you.
When my grandmother called me, she would greet me with assalamualaikum mole (daughter in Malayalam) and I would combine Walaykum Salam Umma (mother in Malayalam) in one breath because I didn’t want anyone listening to figure out my religion. If anyone asked I would try and shrug it off as talking in Malayalam.
If anyone asked me what my surname meant, I would play into their ignorance and say South Indian.
Everyone seemed to accept that definition because they couldn’t comprehend the fact that South Indian is not a caste but an area and that it wasn’t a religion.
Even if they figured it out later, the first thing they would say was ‘but your name is Neha, how could you be a Muslim?’
And even I said I am, then they would proceed to ask me which one of my parents was the South Indian and which one was the Muslim. So I played to their lack of knowledge for the longest time. I guess you could say it was my safety blanket.
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