by Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
I have been playing the narrative repeatedly inside my mind. Many have written to me asking what can we 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 will memorize the Qu’ran without understanding what it means 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 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 has 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 who were more religiously minded than my moderate views and spending time with them made me realize 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.
This was around the same time I bumped into the writings of a group of Bangladeshi writers (people in Dhaka, and people in the disaspora) 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 comes to Bangladeshi politics. By then I was working in 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 realize how little things added up to make sure I walk out of a militant Islamist meeting. The fact that my parents never shamed me about not fasting made me realize we always have a choice. The fact that my friends told me about God’s forgiving nature made sure I chose praying as repentence than large, public actions. The fact that I read books and found writers I could admire on Bangladeshi politics, not some imported idea made sure I wasn’t disengaged.
As the realization 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.
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a journalist, social entrepreneur and MPP candidate at UC Berkeley.