I have been playing the narrative repeatedly inside my mind. Many have written to me asking what we can collectively do. What makes a boy pick up a gun instead of protecting his friends when facing death? I am not a parent, but I can tell from my experiences while still gathering my thoughts.
The shaping of my political and religious identities started much like everyone else’s. A huzur would come to our house, we would memorize the Qur’an without understanding what it meant, and recite verses in public events in front of proud parents and teachers.
My parents had taught me to pray, never shamed me for not fasting, and took me to visit mosques, churches, and temples as children.
My family would only speak about politics in times of public service failures, and my school would avoid it completely, in spite of half my class being from political families.
In my early teens, I found a book in the British Council that discussed all the major religions in the world.
I was fascinated by the similarities. It was beautifully written, not thick or intimidating. This got me interested enough to go and start reading about all the religions.
Of course, when I was growing up, Facebook had just begun and it wasn’t the opinion pit as it is today. I had to read books. In my late teens, I made friends whose views were more religious in comparison with my moderate ones, and spending time with them made me realise that God is to be loved, not feared.
I had once accidentally walked into a Harkat-ul-Jihad workshop in my coaching center, and was surprised by the number of familiar faces there.
Of course, the discussion had nothing to do with suicide missions, rather some other interpretation of Islam. I wasn’t impressed -- they talked about punishment, not kindness.
Growing up in Dhaka means we can all become Nibras. Our only chance of being anything different is when we are surrounded by love, intellect, forgiveness, and kindness
This was around the same time I bumped into the writings of a group of Bangladeshi writers (people in Dhaka, and people in the diaspora) on a website called Drishtipat (aka Unheard Voices). I was inspired.
They wrote about current affairs, gave contrasting and constructive views on politics, connected history with the everyday, and had incredible depth which I hadn’t found anywhere before when it came to Bangladeshi politics.
By then I was working in The Daily Star’s Rising Stars, and I had found a small but vocal bunch of people to share my ideas with.
When I look back, I realise how little things added up to make sure I walked out of a militant Islamist meeting.
The fact that my parents never shamed me about not fasting made me realise we always have a choice.
The fact that my friends told me about God’s forgiving nature made sure I chose praying as repentance rather than large, public actions
The fact that I read books, and found writers I could admire on Bangladeshi politics, and not some imported ideas, made sure I wasn’t disengaged.
As the realisation dawns upon us, growing up in Dhaka means we can all become Nibras.
Our only chance of being anything different is when we are surrounded by love, intellect, forgiveness, and kindness.