From describing the positions of prominent Muslim actors and singers to Sufis and Pirs in Assam, Zafri Mudasser Nofil’s book The Identity Quotient: The Story of the Assamese Muslims attempts to recount the history of the Assamese Muslims, including their socio-political standing. Nofil describes the Assamese Muslims as distinct from those in other parts of India since their socio-ethnolinguistic identity precedes their religious identity.
“This book tells how Muslims of Assam are different from the rest of the country. They take pride in calling themselves Assamese first and never consider themselves to be lesser Assamese than Assamese Hindus,” Nofil writes. Over the years, they have been assimilated into the mainstream of Assamese society to such an extent that save for religion, there is not much to differentiate them from people of other Assamese backgrounds.
Sarbananda Sonowal, chief minister of Assam, confirms in the foreword of this book that “Assam has over the years set a perfect example of harmonious coexistence of Hindus and Muslims. The state has been an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity which becomes evident from the symbiosis of Hindu-Muslim friendship.” Not only the religious coexistence of Hindus and Muslims in Assam but the cultural synchronicity of several centuries also demonstrate that Assamese people are more into their cultural identity than to submit themselves to the theological pathways.
Evidently, in order to strengthen the balance in cultural harmony, the Assamese Muslims have contributed a lot to Assamese society. The contribution of Assamese Muslims over the years, Nofil says, have been multi-faceted, diverse and immense. Be it politics, civil services, literature, art, education, law, sports, music, films and entertainment, they have excelled in every field, Nofil elaborates.
The book unravels the journey of this community and looks at how they have contributed significantly to the composite heritage of the state. Nofil says that he has “attempted to write this book as narrative non-fiction” though he has abundantly “quoted from historical texts that are relevant to the discussion.” A history of the Assamese Muslims from the medieval era has been traced by Nofil with sufficient reference to historians and anthropologists who have drawn on the indigenous Muslims of Assam.
However, the recent attempts to enforce the controversial citizenship law and national register of citizens (NRC) have caused tension among the Muslim communities all over India, as well as in Assam. Nofil feels that Assamese Muslims are more concerned with their socio-ethnolinguistic identity of being an Assamese rather than being a Muslim and are discriminated because of this religious identity. Although Nofil, an Assamese Muslim himself, very rarely felt any discrimination during his early years, he regrets that lately the Muslims have been suffering from the ignominy of being bracketed with illegal immigrants as “Miya”. Therefore, clearly, for an Assamese Muslim the humiliation triggered by their religious identity does not offend as much as the mortification of being labelled as non-Assamese does.
All in all, this book is clearly a commendable attempt that manifests a writer’s love and pride of his own socio-ethnolinguistic identity. Amidst the controversial NRC and CAA being enforced in India, this book has become highly relevant and thought-provoking.
Afsana Rahman reviews books for Arts & Letters