“… I remain an Assamese in life and death
I am an Assamese, physically and mentally
In life, I remain an Assamese of Assam
And I will embrace death like an Assamese. “
It’s an extract from a noticeable poem Moi Axomiya (I am an Assamese), written by Syed Abdul Malik. Although the poem expresses his love for his motherland, close observation of Assamese culture informs that all the indigenous people of Assam feel deeply connected to their motherland. It conveys the sentiments of every Assamese.
Zafri Mudasser Nofil has authored a timely book titled “The Identity Quotient: The Story of the Assamese Muslims.”
Sarbananda Sonowal, the former Chief Minister of Assam has written the foreword of the book. He writes, “Assam has over the years set a perfect example of harmonious come existence of Hindus and Muslims. The state has been an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity which becomes evident from the symbiosis of Hindu-Muslim friendship.”
The book sheds light on the history and culture of indigenous Muslims of Assam. The author has shared the history of Muslim saints revered by the people of Assam, both Muslims, and non-Muslims. It’s a historical account of the four groups of Assamese Muslims, namely the Goriya, Moriya, Deshi, Julha, and the Muslims of Barak Valley.
The book narrates the stories of foreign ancestors of Muslims who married local women and settled, and how their children found solace in this place and gradually assimilated into the Assamese culture and learned the Assamese language.
The book also describes the nuances of the exercise of NRC in Assam and the debates on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. We saw and experienced the protests that followed the NRC and CAB.
The reason, Nofil argues, for opposing the CAB in Assam was different from the rest of the country. Aman Wadud, a human rights lawyer, whom the author has interviewed, strongly feels that the demand for another round of NRC is wrong. Wadud has raised many concerns over the doubtful process of detecting illegal migrants.
The Muslims of Assam are different from the rest of the Muslims living in various parts of India. They are Assamese in nature.
“The entire NRC exercise was replete with drama, confusion, leading to the extreme hardships to people, especially the poor in producing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship, and of course controversy. “( p. 87)
The author argues that granting citizenship based on religion to people who immigrated to India before December 3, 2014, the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 contradicts the Assam Accord.
“In Assam, the opposition to CAA is more about how many get included because of the legislation and not who are excluded.” (p.103)
The book consists of seventeen chapters. Each chapter describes different stories of Assamese Muslims’ past and present and how they have contributed to the composite culture of Assam. This contribution is multifacetedly diverse and immense. Ranging from politics, education, literature to entertainment, they have excelled in every field.
Nofil introduces these achievers in the book and those who excelled in promoting and popularising Assamese Culture. They include former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Bahadur Gaon Burha, the first premier of Assam Syed Muhammad Saadulla, first and only woman chief Minister of Assam Anwara Taimur to actor Adil Hussain and classical singer Begum Parveen Sultana, to several people from the community who have many firsts to their names. The story of athlete Tayebun Nisha, who represented India at the Asian Games, is breathtaking and inspiring for all women.
The book helps the reader experience the vast and distinct cultural practices of Assamese Muslims. It tells how Assam has set a perfect example of Hindu-Muslim unity. The author says that Gandhiji himself got impressed by this unity in the state. “… Since my visit, I have not seen one sign of Hindu-Muslim enmity. In every gathering, Hindus and Muslims are equally represented.” Nofil quotes Gandhi.
Muslims in Assam have a history of over seven and a half centuries in the state. “They have assimilated to the greater Assamese society to such an extent that barring religion, there is not much to differentiate them.” For instance, the Moriyas have forgotten the tradition of their origin. They have assimilated with the Assamese Hindus to an extent that they have adopted many customs from the Hindus.
The womenfolks of Deshis, the first batch of people in Assam to have embraced Islam, even wore Sindoor or Vermillion during their marriage, though symbolically.
But unfortunately, of late the indigenous Muslims have been suffering the ignominy of being bracketed with illegal immigrants as “Miya”, a word used in Assam for Bangladeshi origin Muslims.
Discussion on the unique customs and cuisine of Assamese Muslims and the history of mystic Azan Pir or Azan Fakir makes the book even more gripping. The book has a detailed account of Azan Pir and intriguing stories associated with him. His message of communal harmony has contributed to peace and public welfare. Azan Pir is also credited with popularising the Zikirs, Muslims’ religious and philosophical songs in Assam.
The author quotes litterateur Birendranath Datta who observed that the zikirs and zaris, the devotional songs are some of the most attractive and effective specimens preserved in the oral tradition of Assam.
The book is a must-read for everybody who wants to understand the origin and unique culture of Assamese Muslims and the plight of the Muslims of Barak Valley who were left out of the survey for identifying the indigenous Assamese. The book is unique narrative non-fiction that educates, captivates, and inspires the readers.
Book: “The Identity Quotient: The Story of the Assamese Muslims.”
Author: Zafri Mudasser Nofil
Publisher: HAR ANAND PUBLICATIONS