Don’t box all Muslims as one: Shabana Azmi

London: Shabana Azmi has warned against painting all Muslims as one for “narrow political gains”, saying it would negate the complex layers of culture in shaping a person’s identity.

Addressing an event in the UK Parliament complex, she said, “Do not box me, do not try to restrict me in the desire ‘to integrate’.For narrow political gain do not polarise the atmosphere and force people to create a ‘model community’ – a model community of either women, dalits, tribals or any other label that can be used to make me feel like ‘the other'”.

The 66-year-old actor and activist is on a UK tour with her one-woman play ‘Broken Images’ to mark the 10th anniversary of arts organisation Baithak UK and film ‘Chalk and Duster’, which is screening at the annual Tongues on Fire: London Asian Film Festival.

“If you ask me who I am, I will say I’m a woman, an Indian, a daughter, wife, actress, Muslim, activist etc – my being Muslim is only one of the aspects of who I am but all over the world it seems as though a concerted effort is being made to compress identity into the narrow confines of the religion I happen to have been born into at the exclusion of all other aspects of my identity,” she added.

Addressing the 16,000-member Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK) group at the launch of its new website, she called on women to stand together against attempts at polarisation.

“To paint all Muslims as one would be negating the complex layers of culture in shaping a person’s identity. I am not a practising Muslim…For me Muslim means Urdu, Biryani, Eid, the Urdu language and my ganga jamuni tehzeeb, my composite culture.

“I am an Indian Muslim and I feel no affinity to the Saudi Arabian Muslim. I feel much closer to my Indian Hindu, Indian Christian and Indian Sikh friends. What I have with them in common is a shared history, a shared identity and a shared future,” she added.

The speech coincided with International Women’s Day celebrations in London last week.