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Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India | The Motherland – Part I

Within this series on MuslimMatters I would like to show readers how life in India is for an American. I hope to do this by writing about my experiences with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions I’ve visited.

Published

(Updated)

Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

The “The Motherland” series will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey ofstudying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

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. . .

Not-So-Typical Roots

Though I had spent a few vacations visited India a few times as a child, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would go back to India. Before telling you about my experiences, I’d like to clarify some things so that you do not think that moving to India was a piece of cake for me. I did not grow up spending my summers in India, loving Indian food, or watching Bollywood movies. Not at all. I was born and raised in northern New Jersey in the shadow of New York City around mostly third generation Italian families.

Looking at Old Lucknow from Nadwatul ‘Ulama’s roof.

nadwa_roof

As a child, my best friends included one classmate who is now in the United States Air Force, another that came from a Jehovah’s Witness family and who is now an emergency medical technician (EMT), a Jewish neighbor who graduated from Brandies University and now works full time for a rock band, and some weekend Sunday school kids. Besides a handful of family friends, some distant relatives, Hyderabadis at our local mosque which I visited once or twice a week as a child, and the really smart Gujarati kids in my hometown of Paramus, I did not have much of an affinity nor solid exposure to India. I spent my four years of college with close friends who were Palestinian, Albanian, and Pakistani. Besides speaking broken Urdu/Hindi with my mother, I really had no connection nor wanted to be connected to India – and there was a reason for it.

My parents are from the north eastern Indian state of Bihar, a state notorious for lawlessness and underdeveloped infrastructure. Regardless of the erudite Islamic scholarship that the state is historically famous for, Bihar and its inhabitants—known as “Biharis” are viewed in a lower light – similar to the way Americans view New Jersey as the armpit of America and a place filled with Chris Christie, high taxes, corruption, and smog (but hey, there is a reason they call us the “Garden State”!). Anyway, we visited India, on average, every six years for approximately ten days at a time. We would usually visit Bihar, New Delhi, and Calcutta since our extended family lived in those places. As a child, I visited India only four times, two of which were before I was five years old.

A famed structure in India, Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi

delhi_humayun_tomb smaller

When I was twelve, I took an emergency trip in the summer to Bihar due to a death in the family and ended up staying there for two months. It was the worst two months in the twelve years of my life! It was 110+ degrees Fahrenheit every day, everyone was sad and in mourning, I was rampaged by mosquitoes,  lost twenty pounds in those two months, had no air conditioner, got sick almost every day and could not get along with the people there. The list goes on. Again, I was TWELVE years old! The experience was so traumatic that I promised myself that I would never visit India ever again. My parents actually went several times afterwards but I did not join them on any of those occasions. It was ten years later that I decided to enroll at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in Lucknow.

Lucknow

In 2014 I traveled to Lucknow for the sole purpose of going to see Nadwatul Ulama and to decide if it would be a fit for me as an Islamic institution to study at. Seeing Lucknow was an amazing eye opener for me. I always thought that all of India looked like Bihar or Calcutta because, as a child, that was all I had really seen. Though the smog, disorganized driving, and dirty bathrooms, were difficult to get used to, looking back at this year I realize that having a larger goal in mind can do a superb job of making light of smaller issues that will not affect your success in the long run but may deter you in the initial stages.

Struggles are a small price to pay for the larger goals that we hope to achieve, and those struggles are what will build you to pursue higher and greater goals in life. So about Lucknow…

A small and homey city situated six hours east of the Taj Mahal and four hours south of Nepal, I found this city great in escaping the hustle and bustle of larger Indian cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta. Known for its historic Mughal architecture, old royal palaces, and prevalent Urdu and Muslim culture,Lucknow has much to offer tourists, students of knowledge, historians, anthropologists, and academics. Adding to the home-like nature of the city, during my stay I met dozens of students from several Ivy League universities in the United States that were either studying Urdu/Hindi or researching a subject related to their academic thesis. The majority of those students study at the American Institute of Indian Studies, a language center that is supposedly the only affiliated institute where students at Ivy League universities like Yale, Harvard, and Columbia can study Urdu (I say supposedly because I have not come to know of any other affiliates). With many tourist attractions, places to shop, eat, and meet people, Lucknow is a nice city to spend a few days in on your next vacation. The city is also so close to Nepal that we felt the tremors of the May 2015 earthquake!

Fields in the state of Maharashtra. Taken on a train headed to Gujarat.

trainnihal

What Will You See in this Series?

Within this series on MuslimMatters I would like to show readers how life in India is for an American. I hope to do this by writing about my experiences with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions I’ve visited.

. . .

Check out Part II of this series –> Self Revelations – Discovering my Physiological Limits.

 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Aamir

    September 15, 2015 at 2:30 AM

    Mashallah excellent

  2. Mohd iftekhar

    September 15, 2015 at 6:26 AM

    assalam
    India has a rich islamic history. the contribution of muslims and muslim emperors to its culture, literature, language and lives has been paramount. The authore mentioned about Bihar, a state deprived of all modern facilities, true but the Bihari are known for hardwork, islamic studies. they had sacrificed their livers for Bitish cause in World war II.

    • sht

      September 16, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      hi.
      Islamic history in India is replete with bloodshed, looting and assaults on women. Do read travel stories of Arabic islamists from 800 AD to 1600 AD. Islam has not contributed to India . It has terrorised and made us poor.

      • Nihal Khan

        September 16, 2015 at 2:12 PM

        Not sure what you’re reading, but you should as yourself the following as your thought will lead you to the following questions eventually: Was it a Muslim that killed Mahatma Gandhi? Was it a Muslim that killed Indira Gandhi? Was it Muslims who were killing Sikhs in the streets of Delhi in the 80s? Was it Muslims that caused the great 1857 uprising by killing thousands of Indians?

        Violence and religion aren’t correlated. I’m not sure what “us” you’re referring to because the India which you are now in consists of people of all religions–including Muslims–that died for its independence.

    • Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:03 PM

      Salam Iftekhar!

      For sure. Biharis definitely have a work ethic that has taken them for and wide on Earth!

  3. Fahad

    September 15, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    Asalamu alaikum Nihal,

    Keep up the good work! I really like your articles, and have recently taken an interest in learning Nadqwatul ulema since I started starting taking classes with Shaykh Akram Nadwi through Cambridge Islamic College. His style of teaching is so different than what I am used to, and it seems he really researches and thinks deeply about the material he teaches. Would you say that Nadwatul Ulema nurtures that kind of scholarship? What type of people does the college tend to produce?
    Also, I did see your article on studying at Nadwatul ulema, it was very informative.

  4. am

    September 15, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    assalamualaikum,
    cant wait to read your upcoming articles. keep up the good work!

  5. Anees

    September 15, 2015 at 9:57 PM

    Looking forward to this series. Will be great to how you see India after growing up here in the States – I’ll be able to relate to that I think :) #YourHalfBihariBhaya

  6. Pingback: Comment on The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India by Anees | Souqhub | Blog

  7. Mustafa

    September 16, 2015 at 12:38 AM

    Allah guides who He wills mashaa Allah la quwwata illa billah.

  8. Pingback: Comment on The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India by sht | Souqhub | Blog

  9. Farooq

    September 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM

    great post! jazakallah khayr

  10. Zaman

    September 25, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    Assalamo alaikum

    Nice o read your experiences. You sound very upright and honest . Its nice to see a young man searching for his roots in spite of the hardships faced. The pictures are very nice. I would like to follow your personal blog. Please email me.

    I would be happy if you visit my blog, specially my posts on Itekaaf and Bidah. Please feel free to comment on my blog.

  11. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India II

  12. Pingback: » Health Care in India: Scooters, Breaking Bones, and Surgery | The Motherland – Part III

  13. Pingback: » Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India | The Motherland – Prelude

  14. Pingback: » Islamic Studies and India: Is This the Right Place for You? | The Motherland – VI

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