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Jamia Nagar: Very Muslim, very cosmopolitan

By Kashif-ul-Huda,

Jamia Nagar may be under a shadow after the terror attacks in Delhi that left 24 people dead and 124 injured. However, few know that the overwhelmingly Muslim area in south Delhi is as suave as any other middle class neighbourhood in the Indian capital.

Unfairly described as a Muslim ghetto, Jamia Nagar is congested but modern. Its inhabitants include intellectuals, journalists, doctors, engineers, finance professionals and university professors. Its narrow lanes boast of the latest models of cars and bikes. Certainly, Jamia Nagar has benefited from India’s economic boom.

But Jamia Nagar residents’ deep connection to religion is also visible in the number of mosques and the regular worshippers frequenting them. Some are multi-storeyed with beautiful architecture; some have attached madrassa providing religious education to the young. There are mosques catering to Muslim sects like Deobandi, Barelvi and Ahl-e-Hadees.

Outside the mosques, there are shops and shops. Jamia Nagar’s market offers matching quality and prices like other better-known markets of Delhi. No wonder many here like to shop in Jamia Nagar.

Even though most shops are small businesses, some business chains have opened their outlets. About half a dozen shops of grocery chain 6-Ten do brisk business in Jamia Nagar. One 6-Ten shop I visited was cramped but full of Muslim women eagerly shopping for better quality food. Aggarwal Sweets, a popular chain in Delhi, has also set up a shop here.

Jamia Nagar’s population overwhelmingly consists of students. This is due to the proximity of Jamia Millia Islamia University, which gave this area its name. Jamia Millia was established by a group of Muslim leaders who answered Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation movement. Now it offers classes in modern subjects, and its student body is made up of youth of all faiths.

There are a number of institutes in Jamia Nagar that offer computer classes, courses in spoken English and help prepare students for competitive exams. This is apparent from a look at various posters on the walls all around Jamia Nagar. Most of them are advertisements for schools as well as educational and coaching institutes.

I was unable to find any poster that was political in nature. In fact an advertisement for tutors in mathematics was pasted on the signboard of the All India United Muslim Morcha.

This is not to say that Jamia Nagar’s residents are apolitical. Jamia Nagar houses the cream of Muslims of Delhi. It has the national headquarters and offices of many Muslim organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the All India Milli Council and the All India United Muslim Morcha.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, with its huge campus housing its various organisations, is in Abul Fazal Enclave.

Those who think that Muslims overwhelmingly read only Urdu and therefore have limited understanding of the world will be in for a shock. Data collected by my associate Mumtaz Alam Falahi from a newspaper distributor of Jamia Nagar reveal that English newspapers rule the market in this part of Delhi.

About 69 percent of daily newspapers read by Jamia Nagar subscribers are in English. About 24 percent of subscribers read Hindi newspapers. Urdu comes a distant third (eight percent). This data does not take into account newspapers sold through vendors. Almost equal numbers read The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and the new business daily Mint.

Most residents of Jamia Nagar are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They are modern in outlook but also rooted in their religion. On the streets one can find Muslims with long beards and women in burqa as well as men and women sporting the latest fashion available in India.

Unfortunately, much of this is unknown to outsiders. And Jamia Nagar’s fortress like police station only adds to its negative image. The shootout in a Jamia Nagar flat that left two young terrorists and a police officer has not done the people of the area any good.

(Kashif-ul-Huda is the editor of news website www.TwoCircles.net. He can be reached at [email protected])