“Assam has over the years set a perfect example of harmonious coexistence of Hindus and Muslims”: Sarbananda Sonowal

News Desk: Assam has over the years set a perfect example of harmonious coexistence and is an “epitome of unity” between Hindus and Muslims, which is reflected in the Zikir devotional songs popularised by Muslim mystic Azan Pir and inspired by Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankaradeva, says Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

He makes these remarks in the foreword to a new book “The Identity Quotient: The Story of the Assamese Muslims” written by journalist Zafri Mudasser Nofil and brought out by Har-Anand Publications.

“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,” Sonowal says.

“The Zikir and Zari of Azan Pir inspired by Srimanta Sankaradeva essentially preach the secular message, the same way as to how Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s songs reverberate the message of equality, peace and unity between religions and humanism,” he adds.

The Zikirs and Zaris are Muslim devotional songs in Assamese ascribed to Azan Pir who has become a spiritual icon of Assam exemplifying universal brotherhood. He was inspired by Srimanta Sankaradeva and was successful in building a bridge of unity.

The chief minister notes that the book significantly highlights the Assamese Muslims and their lineage to the medieval period when Muslim rulers and generals invaded the region. Nofil, himself an Assamese Muslim, covered Assam for ‘The Sentinel’ newspaper in Guwahati before moving to New Delhi where he is now working as a Senior News Editor for Press Trust of India (PTI) on its national desk. “I am happy with the book which encapsulates vignettes of the contributions of the Muslims of the state, their customs, traditions and their unique cuisines. With its uniqueness of being a narrative non-fiction with vivid quotes from historical texts, I am sure the book will be read and appreciated by all. I hope the book informs and inspires many,” Sonowal says.

In the book, Nofil traces the history of Muslims in Assam in the medieval era, their amalgamation with the locals and discusses their contribution to the state up to the present day, when talks of a controversial citizenship law and national register of citizens (NRC) have caused tension among the community “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. The book draws information from multitudes of credible historical documents and archives, interactions with litterateurs, scholars and artistes.

The contribution of Assamese Muslims has been multifaceted, diverse and immense. Be it politics, civil services, literature, art, education, law, sports, music, films and entertainment, they have excelled in every other field, Nofil says in the book.

It profiles several achievers, who have made a mark in their respective fields. They include former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to actor Adil Hussain and classical singer Begum Parveen Sultana, to several people from the community who have many firsts to their names.

But of late, he says, the indigenous Muslims have been “suffering the ignominy” of being bracketed with illegal immigrants as ‘Miya’, an Urdu word meaning gentleman, which is, however, used in Assam for Bangladeshi-origin Muslims who mostly live in ‘char’ areas or floating river islands.