Ramadan begins – but it’s my humanity, not my Muslim faith, that makes me cry Gaza | Tahmima Anam

I am not a devout Muslim. I don’t fast or pray. I have never been to Mecca to make the hajj pilgrimage. I only read the Quran in English – not in Arabic, as many Bangladeshi children do.

Instead of learning Arabic verse, I was raised on a diet of Marx, Mao, and liberation theology. My bedtime reading was Nehru’s Letters from a Father to a Daughter, written while he was imprisoned alongside Mahatma Gandhi during India’s struggle for independence.

Like many men and women of their generation, my parents were freedom fighters in the Bangladesh War of Independence. This war was not about religion; it was in fact a matter of rejecting an exclusively religious identity. When the British divided India into two halves in 1947, they created a geographical impossibility: Pakistan, irreparably divided into East and West, two halves whose inhabitants spoke different languages ​​and had entirely different relationships. with Islam.

As East Pakistani Bengalis, my parents, in the struggle for self-determination, prioritized their Bengali – their secular, cultural, non-religious identity. Today, Bangladeshis are mostly devout Muslims – and yet we celebrate cultural festivals whose symbolism and iconography are rooted in the syncretic tradition in which they were born.

The Bangladesh independence movement and the Palestine liberation movement have always been allies. Our fate was similarly sealed in 1947, and between the withdrawal of the British and the end of Pakistan’s unity, we existed in parallel worlds. The Palestine Liberation Organization, like the Awami League, was founded on secular principles of national freedom. But in 1971, we got our freedom, but they didn’t. My father reminded me of this fact when I was a child: it was an asset he used whenever he imagined I was taking my freedoms for granted. “At least you have a country,” he reminded me. “I was born in East Pakistan; you were born in liberated Bangladesh. Imagine if you were born in Palestine.

His words have resonated deeply with me over the past 156 days, as we have witnessed the unimaginable suffering of the people of Gaza. There is no language to encompass the 30,700 deaths, the obstruction of aid, the bombing of hospitals and refugee camps, and now the starvation of an entire population besieged.

A young girl brings her family’s free meal from a communal kitchen in Rafah, Gaza, as people prepare for Ramadan. Photograph: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

I was fortunate to have two role models who demonstrated both religious devotion and commitment to secular values ​​of equality and justice. The first is my mother, who prays five times a day, but who just celebrated International Women’s Day by marching through the streets of Dhaka to demand an end to all forms of oppression against women. The second is her mother before her, who was widowed at a young age and raised children against all odds, her faith being an immense source of strength in her lifelong struggle with poverty and the invisibility of being a mother Single.

For Islamic feminists, the Quranic vision of a clergy-free religious community, in which the faithful enjoy a direct, unmediated democratic relationship with God, provides the basis for a faith that embraces gender equality. I like this interpretation, but in my own experience, religion has not gone hand in hand with justice, and so I have avoided it. I resist being identified as a Muslim writer; I cringe when people talk about the Muslim world, as if such a homogenous, flattened thing existed. But this winter, as the people of Gaza have been subjected to collective punishment and the mothers of Gaza have held the shrouds of their children, I wonder if, perhaps, it is not time to embrace my faith.

The month of Ramadan is about to begin. In my home in Dhaka, my parents get up before dawn, eat a meal under the moonlight and fast until sunset. Families will gather for the iftar meal; people will say the long tarawih prayers, their connection to their faith deepening with a global and collective experience of prayer and fasting.

And yet Israeli Minister Amihai Eliyahu, who previously suggested that Israel could use nuclear weapons in Gaza, called for “annihilate» the month of Ramadan. This is just one small example of the systematic dehumanization of Palestinians and the pervasive anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia that has been laid bare. Unprecedented levels of violence have been met here in the UK by attempts to criminalize dissent.

But it is not, and should not be, a question of religious solidarity. My outrage at what is happening in Gaza – and how we have been made to witness it silently and without protest – does not come from a sense of solidarity with other Muslims. We should not be heartbroken by what is happening in Gaza because we are Muslims, but simply because we are human. On the contrary, recent events remind us that commitments to certain identities, whether ethnic, religious or national, can blunt our humanity and blind us to institutionally sanctioned forms of violence. How else can we explain the continued bombing of civilians or impending famine?

It would be a mistake to equate religious solidarity with fundamental humanity. As Kamila Shamsie He said, this is the defining moral question of our time, and we, Muslims and non-Muslims alike – during Ramadan and at all times of the year – must join forces to end the violence.

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