I would not exist if it weren’t for Muslims. In the mid-20th Century, when religious violence was tearing apart the remnants of British India, my father was born in the Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong. My grandfather, a well-reputed Hindu businessman, had many Muslim friends.
By the very nature of their circumstances Hindu-Muslim friendships meant both friends were at least moderate in their understanding of religion and humanity. And considering Muslims and Hindus were killing one another much more than saving one another at that time, they were exceptional minorities.
As the violence got worse my family’s safety in our homestead quickly evaporated – a Muslim mob burnt down my family’s ancestral home. There was imminent danger to children of prosperous Hindus, who risked being kidnapped for ransom, torture and/or executions.
So my grandfather steadily and secretively began smuggling his very large joint family, starting with women and children, across the border into the newly formed Republic of India. This exodus included my father, who arrived in Kolkata in 1960 – he was 10.
At every step of this process, our Muslim friends helped in every manner possible. They provided safe-houses, pulled strings to ensure safe passage – they risked their own safety to save my family. Not one family member fell victim to the carnage. In fact, after emigrating his entire family to Kolkata my grandfather remained in Chittagong to liquidate his affairs until 1980, entirely under the protection and safekeeping of our Muslim friends.
Personally I grew up knowing these people as my uncles and aunts who lived in Bangladesh. I looked forward to Tulu kaku (uncle) visiting because he always brought me toys. I distinctly remember the stench of shutki maach (sun-dried fish) when they lugged over heaves on their visits.
I did not know them as our Muslim friends; I didn’t know they were Muslim – I didn’t care. It was much later that I understood the worldly differences. By then I had come to a far truer understanding – they are my family; among the faithful, they are angels.
Over the last decade and a half, as Islamic religious fundamentalism has changed the face of this world, I have watched in horrified sadness as a violent and unforgiving minority of extremists have desecrated the name of Allah. This has given the world a false image of Islam; the wrong perception of a Muslim.
True followers of Allah are only capable of kindness; they love and love and love. They feed you till you are full and then some more; they protect you and everyone you love; they come to your aid when your own turn you away. Their capacity to give defines my existence; by their grace, born a Hindu.