The Human Cohesion Project — 19 May 2020
It was suggested to me today on social media, by a person I do not know, that I should stop using my last name. In the Indian context, my last name denotes a certain caste that is historically associated with perpetrating oppression owing to its position in the hierarchy of castes. The person felt that I was, in using my last name, attempting to continue the oppression by asserting my presumably ‘higher’ position.
I wish it were that simple, that one could heal ancestral trauma by dropping part of a name, or by changing one’s name. Muslims around the world are singled out because of their names. If it were so simple, they could adopt religiously ambiguous names and be free of persecution. Jews could have escaped the holocaust by changing names. Unfortunately, that is not so. The path to healing is not dropping our identities, but embracing it. What is in the way, is the way.
The oppressed tend to get programmed to give their power away, even in their attempt to confront the perceived oppressor. In asking me to drop my last name, the person was handing me yet another privilege, absolving me of any responsibility that comes with my inherited identity. The choice I see in the moment is to hand that power back to them, and to invite them into a conversation. Do I hold myself personally responsible for the oppression of other castes? No. Do I hold myself personally responsible for transforming the narrative of my caste? Yes. The responsibility lies with the one more healed, in any relationship.
And so it is with Islam. It is important that Muslims are allowed the space to embrace their identity in any manner they choose to. And it is important that non-Muslims embrace their respective identities too. And notice, that even as we all do this, there is space for all, without having to impose our identities onto one another, or having to create structural violence by disallowing some identities.
Identities dissolve when they are fully embraced. When sugar is kept next to a glass of milk, there is sugar and there is milk. When the sugar is taken in, there is sweet milk. Humanity emerges when we embrace identities.
- What part of your identity did you embrace today?
Ramadan Kareem. May we claim all the identities — inherited and chosen — that are yet to dissolve into our humanity.
#RukminiIyer #Ramadan #peacebuilding