Monday, November 06, 2017

A Steadfast Faith

Muslim couple Abu and Asiya Backer, despite protests, continue to worship at the ancestral snake temple at the back of their house in Kerala

Photo by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the wall of the living room of Abu and Asiya Backer's house at Perumbavur, (41 kms from Kochi) two numbers are written in black: one is of the local police station and the other is the mobile number of the Circle Inspector.

When people attack us, we get into a panicky mood,” says Asiya, 68. “So, it is easy to dial the number where we can see it.”

It all began in 2013, when an estranged daughter-in-law of their son Mujeeb Rahman, who stays with them, went and complained at the local mosque that her in-laws were praying to Hindu gods.

Indeed, they were and are. The couple has a snake temple at the back. “It has been there from the time of our ancestors,” says Abu, 76. Interestingly, when they go and pray at the site, they say Muslim prayers.

But that is no comfort for the community members. A couple of years ago, a mob of 500 attacked the house, when the elderly couple was away and demolished the structure. Abu and Asiya filed a police case, even as they went about rebuilding the temple.

However, soon after, when Abu went for the Friday prayers at the local mosque, the imam mocked his faith and the way he wore his skull cap. “I stopped going at once,” he says. “It has been a very difficult time.”

On a recent windy and cloudy morning, Abu and Asiya go to the back of the house. They light lamps and place it on a granite top. All around are 30-foot high trees. “When I pray, I can see a light streaming down,” says Asiya. “Only I can see it. So, it is a deeply spiritual experience for me. We will never leave this holy place.”

Asiya says this, despite receiving some tempting offers by affluent locals who said that they would purchase them an apartment. This resistance is all the more remarkable because the family is going through financial difficulties. Mujeeb had taken a bank loan to set up a flour mill near the temple. But because of the disturbances, the mill has closed down. “Now I am struggling to pay off the debt,” says Mujeeb, who runs a taxi service.

For a long time, Abu and Mujeeb did not go to the mosque. But a few months ago, Abu started going again. “By this time, our names had been struck off as members,” he says. “So we don't get any financial benefits. But nobody speaks about the controversy.”
Nevertheless, Abu senses a change in attitude. “I believe that people have begun to accept the reasons behind our worship at the temple, although nobody has voiced anything aloud,” he says.

But local municipal councillor Imbichi Koya is not sure. “The people in the area do not have any contact with them,” he says. “It does not mean they have accepted the situation. But there is no harassment now.”

However, Abu says, that their immediate neighbours, who happen to be his close relatives, have not eased up. “Every now and then stones are thrown at the house,” says Abu. “People shout abuse. They want us to leave so that they can demolish the temple. But God has given us the strength to stay firm.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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