The Hindu temple contains two shrines, both to men who were once Muslims. As I write last statement this I realise that the two religious categories mentioned here – Hindu and Muslim actually make little sense. The fact remains that neither the word Hindu nor the word Muslim used here describes a set of clear, precise, differentiated, and orthodox ideas of the two religions. Here, in the village of Deoli, deep in the heart of Eastern Maharashtra where I have been traveling for some weeks, one comes face to face with the realisation that these definitional categories hide more than they reveal.
More importantly, that by labelling someone as Muslim or Hindu tells us almost nothing about their life, values, experiences and outlook. It may not even tell us that they are followers of even the basic and simple tenets of the religion. And most importantly, it does not tell us how the lived practice of the religion was influenced, physically, emotionally, intellectually and psychologically, by the other religious practices occurring close by. These categories idealise and mislead. They lie.
Muslim modernists have remained uncomfortable with the complexity, fluidity and the indigenous nature of South Asian Islam. It is a discomfort that gives shape to a concerted effort on the part of the orthodox to eradicate any and all variations to the ‘orthodox’ ideas of the religion largely imported from what is seen to be the ‘true’ place of Islam – the Middle East. Oddly, this prioritising of the alien in fact negates the lived practice of the majority of the world’s Muslims in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. It takes the popular, the larger, the more complex, the genuinely regional and attempts to cleanse it and reject it. What makes us uniquely South Asian Muslims is precisely what the modernists and reformists reject most vehemently. Their attacks of ‘deviations’ and ‘heretics’, their rejection of the shrines of saints, and regional practices with direct and clear influences of India’s pre-Islamic past e.g the nerchas of the Mappila Muslims of Kerala, are a reflection of these attempts at erasure.
From the essay A Temple Where I Begin To Understand That Neither Hindu Nor Muslim Means What We May Believe by Asim Rafiqui