Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ramadan: Economic Blessings for Mumbai

Iftar Time: Shopkeepers break their fasts on Mumbai's Mohammed Ali Road

Mumbai: For Indian Muslims, the holy fasting month of Ramadan is not only about piety but about economic blessings as well.

“Ramadan is a month when Allah’s bounty showers in abundance. Be it the reward of prayers or reward of trade”, Ismail Khan, a trader says. “Show me just any other Islamic month in which Muslims are much more economically empowered than in Ramadan.”

Many traders and eatery owners in India’s economic capital feel that Ramadan is a month of balance where “giving” charity and Zakat (Alms-giving) always match up by “receiving” the proceeds of booming business.

“Thanks to Allah, Ramadan is a month in which even we earn decent amount of money”, says a jubilant Fayyaz Shaikh, a small-time labourer in a bakery. “There are plenty of dishes on my dastarkhawan (dining carpet) at the time of iftar. That rarely happens for rest of the year.”

Muslims constitute at least 18 percent of Mumbai’s 140 million strong population.

Many see such Ramadan prosperity as a reward of piousness from Allah.

“If Muslims start following the spirit of Ramadan in the rest of the eleven months, their economic woes will disappear,” said one preacher, requesting anonymity. “Allah has promised it in the Holy Qur’an.”

Every Ramadan, eatery shops come up with new delicacies. The moment one delicacy becomes famous, experimental cooking comes into the picture. “Each chef will follow his own ingredients to make the same delicacy. So we have the ultimate advantage of different tastes. Where on earth will you get so much variety in a limited geography?” asks Shariq Ejaz, a resident of Mohammed Ali Road, a long narrow artery which connects south Mumbai to the north. It is named after freedom fighters Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali who had joined hands with Mahatma Gandhi to launch Khilafat (Caliphate) movement in 1921 against the dismissal of Turkish Caliph by the British.

The historical Khilafat House – from where the movement was launched – is still intact on Mohammed Ali Road.
It was the first major instance of Hindu-Muslim unity after the 1857 war.

Thousands of Muslims from the northern states of UP and Bihar visit Mumbai, the financial capital of India, to do brisk and timely business in the holy month of Ramadan. “Every Ramadan, I come all the way from Agra (in UP) just to sell skullcaps here,” says Sufiyan Ansari, a trader who has camped in a makeshift shop on the famed Mohammed Ali Road. “Travelling to make halal-earning is not forbidden in Islam. And when you do the same in Ramadan, the reward from Allah is manifold,” he notes. “When politicians can come all the way from Delhi to Mumbai just to attend iftar parties, why can’t a Muslim trader camp here to eke out a living?”
Mohammed Ali Road Ramadan greatly contributes to Mumbai’s booming economy. “The scene on Mohammed Ali Road is an economy in motion. There is no other religious observation apart from Ramadan which contributes greatly to Mumbai’s buoyant economy”, boasts Danish Ahmad, a student of economics.

“Although Muslims eat only one full-meal but still there is so much revenue generation for the economy.”

The mood on the bustling Mohammed Ali Road resembles that of a carnival. Even curious non-Muslims make a point to visit it in Ramadan. “Mohammed Ali Road has so much to offer in terms of variety,” Naresh Shah, a businessman, says. “I come here to fulfill my culinary cravings for delicacies specially prepared for Ramadan.”

As day turns into dusk and iftar time draws closer, the faithful disperse quietly to break their fast. Life comes to a standstill on the otherwise bustling street as the sonorous voice of the muezzin calls for prayer from the tall and symbolic minarets of Minara Masjid.

The aura of festivities rekindles once Tarawih (Special night prayer) prayers are over. It continues till the loudspeakers of Minara Masjid buzz again for Fajr (morning) prayer.

“Ramadan spirit inculcates unity and it can be used to narrow communal protocol”, says a Mumbai-based Hindu journalist. “There is no better place than Mohammed Ali Road to witness this phenomenon.”

Sunday, September 09, 2007

'It's been a Black Year for Me'

Shakeela Bano: Malegaon Blast Victim's Widow

Malegaon: A strange calm greets you as one enters lane number two in centrally located Nayapura, a Muslim mohalla consisting of sixteen lanes. A knock on the door of Shakeela Bano – widow of the blast victim Rafique Ahmad – is answered with pure curiosity. “Who are you? And why are you here?” inquiries her 12 year old son. Before I could reply, his intuition recognizes me. “Come inside”, he says with utmost respect. A neat mat is laid out in one kitchen-cum-bedroom house.

A grief-stricken Shakeela Bano (36) prefers to sit on naked floor. Her life, it seems, has been as disorganized as her scattered kitchenware.

Without any formality Shakeela Bano pours her heart out, “As Malegaon readies to observe first anniversary of the deadly bomb blasts as Black Day, the year gone by has been a black year for me.”

Her empty eye sockets moisten. She tries to withhold her emotions but as they say eyes can never lie. A stream of tears tickles down her face as she recalls September 8, 2006.

“Every Friday, we used to eat lunch together after the namaaz. On September 8, 2006, when the news of the bomb blasts reached me, I was shocked because my husband had gone to the Bada Qabristan mosque”, she says.

“It was only in the evening”, says Shakeela Bano, “that Maulana Javid Milli, Imam of Noorani Masjid, informed us that my husband is dead.”

“My world died on that day”, she sobs uncontrollably.

Her husband might be dead but he is still alive in her memory.

“I remember my husband each moment. It seems it was only yesterday that we ate together”, says a heart-broken Shakeela Bano.

Rafique Ahmed was a small-time tailor, sole earner of the family. Shakeela Bano has four kids, eldest is in class 10.

Nine Muslims have been arrested by Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) so far accused of masterminding the September 8, 2006 blasts that killed 31 people and injured more than 300. Almost all victims were Muslims. Interestingly, the case was handed over to CBI on the day when ATS had filed the chargesheet.

Shakeela Bano believes that all accused are innocent and “real culprits” have not been caught.

“Ek Mussalman doosre Mussalman ko kyon Qatal Karega? Kya Hum Pakistan mein rah rahein hain?” Why would a Muslim kill a fellow-Muslim? Are we living in Pakistan? She questions.

She sympathizes with the wives of the accused, “In both cases it is women who are suffering although for different reasons. I deeply share their grief.”

Shakeela Bano terms one lakh compensation from state government as “meagre.”

“At other places, the amount of compensation was much higher so it’s natural for us to feel discriminated”, she complains. She has bought powerlooms worth rupees one lakh and has given them on lease.

“It is my sole source of income”, she says.

“Life has been a vale of tears for us ever since my son passed away on that fateful day”, says Shakeela Bano’s elderly mother-in-law, despair writ large on her wrinkled face.

Shakeela Bano’s youngest daughter Saima has just enrolled in Kindergarten (KG). She plays cheerfully in the house. “My Papa”, says a tender Saima hinting at the door curtain, “will come back. He has gone just to fetch some sweets.”

A quite descends on Saima’s innocent utterance. Shakeela Bano wears a disgruntled look. “How would I tell her the truth?” asks a confused Shakeela Bano.

That’s the dilemma of a young Indian mother.