On the 25th of September, I read the bone-chilling news of Priya, a 23-year-old girl who was beheaded by her husband Ejaz Ahmed and his friend Shoaib Akhtar for not converting to Islam after she married the Muslim man against her family’s wishes. Unfortunately, this ghastly incident got minuscule media attention.
The menace of love jihad has been ever-growing and this bloodcurdling news compelled me to share my own close brush with Islam through a romantic involvement. I hope young girls and parents who read this can protect themselves and their girls from falling prey to brutalities of Islam in the name of love.
I was in my mid-20’s when Junaid came like a breath of fresh air in my life. Having had a failed relationship that was verbally and physically abusive in nature, here came this robust beautiful man who swept me off my feet with his Lucknowi tehzeeb. Though outwardly I seemed like a “free bird” who enjoyed a few beers at parties and was already financially independent, the low self-esteem that landed me in abusive patterns of the past was the dark secret of my superficially feminist and liberal urban living.
Junaid saw the vulnerability in my eyes and within a few months, we became quite intimate. Almost a year passed and soon we were officially dating. He did not drink and the influence of a good company is always good. I too put an end to my social drinking.
Since he was older than me, our conversations often landed upon the topic of marriage. Mid-20s was still not ripe enough for marriage in the background I belonged to, however, I could consider it. Unlike my ex, Junaid spoke of family values, taking care of parents, and the beauty of living together in a joint family. I often secretly imagined myself cooking biriyani for the big joint family. His rootedness in his culture was impressive and his respect for elders made me think how much he would take care of me if we were ever together permanently.
Now my family knew about him. Though they resisted initially, I vocalized the secular values I had grown up with to justify my love affair. I knew as long as there is no “conversion” drama (which I least expected), all will be well.
Junaid started talking about the importance of sharing common values in a family and how I must start exploring Islam. I revolted at the idea but he said, “Jaan, I am not asking you to convert… just have an open mind and freely explore. If you don’t like it… we will see…”. I melted with his tender words and began to actively clarify the doubts and terrible things I had heard about Islam.
One of the things that I had heard that one is allowed to hit one’s wife in a certain way. Junaid explained that it is only natural for a man to get violent sometimes in anger and I must know that better – owing to the abuse I had suffered from Suresh. Islam considers such situations and hence, gives guidelines. The husband, apparently, is not allowed to punch in the stomach, as Suresh did to me, and neither can he hit on your face. Plus, there are only exceptional situations where hitting is allowed. My pitiable state of mind and experience made me feel this is some big “concession”.
I started covering my head often since it made Junaid smile. I also gave away many of my “sexy” dresses and mentally started preparing myself for a future adjustment that may need to be done. Junaid and I enjoyed some short travels too. His broadminded ways and care only made me more comfortable with the idea of a lifelong commitment.
I asked him about his views regarding a burqa. He questioned me back on this asking me what the issue was with a traditional “outfit”.
I was taken aback and retorted, “Who would like to be in a black tent in hot Delhi summers? What’s the grand idea?”
Junaid changed the topic knowing this was not the right time to discuss this.
One winter afternoon, as we both were enjoying hot jalebis in the narrow streets of old Delhi, some passing youth made a cheap remark at me. Junaid was just short of getting into a fistfight and, infuriated, we left the area. The iron was hot now and a few hours after the incident he explained to me the importance of a burqa.
First, since no one can see you (and why show off your body anyway?) there are fewer chances of anyone teasing you, and second, if you are teased or commented upon while wearing a hijab or a burqa – all the Muslims in the region would protect you instantly and punish the culprits themselves. Unlike Hindus, we don’t tease our women and Muslims would become one to defend any of their girls who would be looked at badly.
Despite having good finances, Junaid and his family stayed in a crowded Muslim ghetto-like area. He explained they enjoyed the community living and the brotherhood with Muslims who came from all over the world and that their women would also be safe (in burqas or hijabs, naturally!).
“You expect me to wear a burqa?”, I asked nervously.
“Only when you are out on your own. When with me, you can wear a hijab. I want you to be safe and anyway, why to flaunt your beauty for others when it is meant just for my eyes,” he softly whispered.
I sighed, having nothing to say. I never wanted to see him get into a fight to protect me.
The idea of Islam sounded better than what I had imagined it to be. Winters were approaching and it was time for the cultural festivals to start. I excitedly got us passes to attend a Sufi music concert. To my utter bewilderment, Junaid was not too pleased about this. He told me that Sufi stuff was responsible for destroying Islam. Back in the early 2000s, he explained how the Tablighi Jamaat is trying hard to bring back Muslims to pure Islam, unadulterated by Sufi and Indian influences. He followed the middle-east calendar for Eid.
I was put off but then I also felt I am being unnecessarily judgmental since I had not studied the Quran. Must be something that I didn’t know. I too did not go for the Sufi event which was attended by other friends too. As our bond grew, my social life began to fade away.
During this period, Junaid spoke to me about meeting a trusted knowledgeable maulvi to discuss my doubts. I felt anxious and with some excuse or the other, I would postpone this meeting. At this crucial point, there was a havan in the house. Junaid was around all throughout helping us with the serving of tea, etc, like family.
However, something absurd happened. He refused to eat the prasad after the havan and did not allow tikka to be put on him. My mother noticed and glared at me. I understood her communication and was guarded instantly. I ate beef curry made by his mother, I stopped eating pork, beer parties were over, and I covered my head mostly and deep inside, I knew I may even convert for the sake of our love.
He could not eat even prasad offered after a havan at my place?
This havan ended up being my kavach. The next week was a drag of a breakup. My blindfold of emotions was removed. Some inner strength that I was unaware of, came gushing from within and granted instant clarity. I was also shocked at my own bold step but felt liberated.
The one-and-a-half-year-old romance was over in the name of religion. Junaid broke down and cried loudly like a child. He told me how much he wanted me to go to jannat. He could not see me suffer as a kaafir and wanted to help me, save me from the doomed Hindu life. If only I could marry him and embrace Islam. Alas! All his silent wishes came tumbling out in heat of emotions. In the name of “love” he wanted us both to be saved after our death and go to this place called jannat for eternal pleasure, from the very beginning.
Reflection and learnings
Sometimes I wonder, had it not been for the havan incident, would I have converted? Probably not. My uncompromising love for freedom was very strong, though bottled up for years first with the abusive relationship and then my march towards Junaid’s golden cage of love.
Freedom had been the indispensable value that I was brought up with. The havan gave the perfect opportunity to bring out my actual “free spirit”.
The haze that clouded my intellect, cleared. Now I could see the gradual pinching away of my freedom, from the very inception of my relationship with Junaid –
1. I got into the relationship without healing from past abuse. I was vulnerable and needy. Could a commitment that is born from such a space be healthy?
2. On the point of hitting your partner, as discussed with Junaid – I wonder what such “exceptional” situations would be that justify some sort of hitting that is sanctioned by Islam. How is having guidelines on beating a woman, superior to having no instructions on this topic, in other religions? Hitting is just wrong!
3. Would I listen to my mother if she asked me to wear only a salwar kameez and give up jeans, dresses, etc.? How was I okay with a burqa and hijab being imposed on me? Does this not take away my personal freedom of what to wear? And, is this a solution to eve-teasing!? How different is this from implying that a girl asked for rape by the way she was dressed?
4. Further, how can I be okay with a community that protects girls only of their own community? Was I okay with such double standard? Where was my feminism and secularism?
5. And, for us, Hindus – without taking law in our own hands (like Junaid claimed they do), can we not be protective towards women? Where are the real men, the kashtriyas? Are they dead?
6. If the Muslim sect Junaid belonged to is intolerant to even Sufi music, would I ever be able to enjoy music or visit a temple if I so wished? Certainly not. Is that freedom by any degree?
7. Respect is a mutual thing. If Junaid could not honor the religion I belonged to, by wanting me to convert – did he genuinely respect me?
8. He had known his intention from the very start but he waited for further emotional attachment, so I would willingly convert. How come he never mentioned this necessity in the very start?
9. Last but not the least, I woke up to the fact that I need to appreciate and be eternally grateful to my liberal Hindu upbringing that encourages searching your own answers and finding your own path. A culture that does not impose fixed ways that snatch away personal choices in any aspect of life. At times we don’t value the freedom we have until it is taken away.
This break up marked the turning point in my life. I transformed into a resilient, confident woman who had the ability to act from a space of strength. Yes, it was an effort but we all have to put in our best into living life to our true potential.
Superficial feminism, low self-esteem, misguided secularism, and lack of gratitude and lack of recognizing the immense blessings of our own Hindu culture are some aspects that make our women vulnerable and fall for love jihad.
Let the rampant love jihad we see today, and the sacrifice made by the 23-year-old non-compromising Priya Soni – who refused to convert to Islam, teach each one of us a good lesson.
We all must make ourselves aware of the rhetoric, indoctrinated and fanatic ways of Islam as well, as much as we indulge in the beauty of Sufi thought. Negationism or thinking that we “the educated, secular and liberal”, are immune to such incidents would be naive.
May our girls be brought up like Durga so that they understand their true feminine power and are rooted in themselves with values of freedom and wisdom, instilled from the very start. Even if they fall, they will be saved in the time of crisis by these seeds (samskars) planted by parents in childhood.
This is what saved me from love jihad when nothing else could – the hidden inner Shakti emerged from my samskars and came to my rescue at the right time.
*Names changed and portions of narration fictionalized for anonymity.