When I was a toddler, my masi (mother’s sister) gave me a hard back of the Stories from Panchatantra, a book of moral tales where different animals, humans and some of the gods interact.
There is one story that is particularly relevant for our current times. The Four Friends is about a mouse, crow, tortoise and deer. One day, deer was missing, so the other three friends went in search of her, and found her trapped in a hunter’s net, so they helped her free from the net. As they were leaving, the hunter came back, and the four friends fled, however, tortoise was not fast enough to hide, so the hunter grabbed him, and put him in a bag. The other three friends saw what happened, and thus started to plot: deer put herself in harms way by distracting the hunter, while mouse cut tortoise out of the bag, and the four friends escaped to safety.
From The Four Friends we learn that no one individual can save us from peril - that we must work together, and we must always look out for one another, because we never know when one of us could be in peril, like deer. Also, if we use a multi-pronged strategy, with our different skills, then we can save our most vulnerable, even it means putting ourselves at risk, like mouse, deer and tortoise. Here, we also learn that our differences pull us together rather than pull us apart.
Fellow Hindus, solidarity is a part of our mythic and fabled past, and now is the time to embrace and emulate this past, not turn away from it. And yet this solidarity has been stomped out by years of colonialism. There was once a time that many in South Asia called themselves Hindu Mohammedans. Colonialism erased our mixed-ness, our hybridity… For hundreds of years through colonialism, the re/writing of history, politics, and nationalism we have been constantly pitted against each other, warned not to befriend each other, to marry each other, to trust each other or to involve ourselves with each other in any way. Like partition, we have been encouraged to just “stay on our side of the border,” to ignore each other, and look away. This is connected to a larger colonial strategy of divide and conquer, and sadly, it worked.
We are in a unique moment, a moment in which our Muslim brothers and sisters are being singled out - covered by nets and thrown into bags simply for being Muslims. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna beseeches us to act, and not to fall into the trap of inaction. It’s time to shed this colonial narrative, and rediscover and reclaim our Panchatantra roots. Many of us Hindus have grown up in Islamophobic homes - we’ve been taught to distrust and hate Muslims - lets stop that now.
Our ancestors know what living under tyranny was like. Pre-Independence, my grandparents travelled from Gujarat to Bengal as medical students to help with one of the many forced famines that the British caused. They saw and experienced suffering on a level that stayed with them for the rest of their lives. They worked beside Muslims and Sikhs to help Bengalis of all backgrounds; even those Christians that converted thinking they would be spared British cruelty. When Idi Amin kicked Asians out of Uganda in 1972, leaving our families without a home, he did not spare the South Asian Muslims or Hindus - he kicked all our families out, and they survived, together.
Yes, Hindus and Muslims have some differences - those of different religions do. We Hindus have 330 million badass gods (and goddesses) as opposed to a singular badass god. We have many murtis, and Muslims, prefer not to anthropomorphize their divinity. Beyond that, many of us enjoy the same foods, the same fashion, Bollywood films, mehndi practices, etc… We also have the same fights and struggles regarding feminism, female feticide, even caste, class, capitalism and poverty. Culturally, there is a lot more that binds us than separates us.
Within a few days of the election, there was a rise in hate crimes against Muslims (and Sikhs and Hindus). And now, during the first week of his administration, President Donald Trump, on Holocaust Memorial Day, has signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. So now is the time, as brown people, as ethical and moral Hindus, to follow our dharma, and to act - stand up with Muslims against whatever the Trump administration throws at them So, we must work together, in tandem, with Muslims and non-Muslims, and in coordination, like the four friends, and follow our dharmic paths to fight these many injustices that will be thrown at us in the days ahead
So here are some things we can do right now:
· Really learn about Hinduism
o Trust me and my PhD, there is nothing about hating or discriminating against Muslims there, but check it out for yourselves
o Ready anything by Vasudha Narayanan (University of Florida) - no one explains Hinduism better.
o If you’re still in college - take a class. If you’re not, I’ll happily send you my syllabus.
· Really learn about Islam
o Trust me - there is nothing in Islam about kidnapping Hindu girls, but again, check it out for yourselves
o Again, take a class or read any number of scholars who have written extensively on Islam. Here’s a short list:
- Dr. Najeeba Syeed at Claremont School of Theology
- Dr. Carl Ernst at UNC Chapel Hill
- Dr. Hussein Rashid at Columbia University
- Dr. Anna Bigelow at North Carolina State University
- Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer at Purdue University
o Don’t just listen to the media about Islam - even so called “liberal” sources have proven to disseminated inaccurate and even hateful information - so do the research for yourselves
· Get Involved and this means:
o When your friends or family says Islamophobic things or makes Islamophobic jokes - take them to task!
- Ask them why that joke is funny - the best way to expose prejudice is to have them explain it
o Keep informed of what Muslim organizations, like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), MPower Change and the US Council of Muslim Organizations, are doing to protect their communities and fight this unjust and unconstitutional ban on refugees and immigrants. How can you support and help them in their time of need
o Keep informed of our own community - There is a coalition of Republican Hindus that supports that ban and even wants to expand the ban to include other Muslim-majority nation-states. Speak up and out, and don’t let them speak for all Hindus.
o On issues that affect Muslims (like this one, Palestine, Kashmir, the Rohingya crisis, etc…), listen to Muslims, don’t preach to them based on preconceived nationalist narratives
o Thousands of Americans are going to the big airports to protest - join them
o If you don’t live near a big airport (like me) - reach out to your Muslim neighbors and friends
- Make your home a safe space for them, whenever they need it
o On thing I’m going to do is reach out to my temple to see if they would be interested in reaching out to some of the mosques in the area. If they’re not, I’m going to personally reach out to the mosques, and see about doing a joint worship service.
o Call your senators, representatives, and keep asking for those town hall meetings. And when they finally grant them, show up to them, and tell them that you are concerned about the rhetoric against Muslims by this President and other politicians
If you any other ideas of what we, as Hindus, can do to support our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters during these difficult times ahead, please let me know. We should do this, not because we “might be next” or because “we are often mistaken for Muslims,” but because it is the right thing to do, and not doing the right thing in this life will lead to consequences in the next. Muslims and Hindus have both been so incredibly affected by colonialism - we’ll gain a lot more by struggling together than apart. So, let’s stand up, and show the world that Hindus are in this fight against hate, bigotry and injustice.
Shreena Niketa Gandhi PhD is a part of the religious faculty at Michigan State University, where she teaches classes on race and religion in America. She is working on edits to a manuscript, A Cultural History of Yoga in the U.S., and working on a book involving her grandfather and religious seeking in the colonial and post-colonial global south.