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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 3: Becoming a minority

Day 3: Becoming a minority

The third day was the special day as we had a birthday celebration party with a cake, tea, and a photo session before class. Everybody enjoyed the celebration. Happy birthday Justine!

The class started with an introduction session on the pluralism knowledge program followed by the presentation on three themes that will be the basis of the project groups we will work on in the following weeks. All project groups will revolve around pluralism but each takes a different approach; one is human and sustainability development, the other identity and the last reimagining universal values in today’ context.

However, I am not going through those themes now, rather I would like to share my experiences as becoming a “minority Muslim woman”, and how this experience has influenced my view on being a minority. You might think it’s too early to identify such influences but this experience has given me a valuable feeling so I would like to share my reflections.

Living in Indonesia, especially in Yogyakarta, as a Muslim, is like living in a Muslim home and paradise. We have a number of mosques and mushala (a smaller building than mosque for praying) and Muslim people both men and women pray together in those worship places. During ramadhan month, we have ifthar and sahari together with family members. We do tarawih prayer and Qur’an recitation in the mosques and some mosques even put the speaker so ears all over town can pick up the sound. When iedul fitr (also known as ‘eid ul fitr’ or Sugar Fest) comes, both Muslim women and men are attending the ied prayer, either in the mosque or on open fields. Sharing your faith like that together made me feel happy and full of joy. Before I came to Bangalore I had a paradise picture about searching for a mosque nearby the training center where we could go for ied prayer and being happy to have finally found it. Also I imagined to have ifthar, sahari and tarawih prayer together.

However, things are not going as I expected. I am now a minority Muslim woman in Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. I am not a part of the Muslim majority like in Indonesia. Moreover, Ayesha, one of my Indian friends that I met here explained that most of mosques in India forbid women to go and pray there, only Muslim men who are allowed to do so. This fact has totally surprised me and made me cry out: “Ohhh really!”. I couldn’t believe my ears as it was so far off my expectations and has ruined my paradise like images on doing ramadhan and iedul fitr in India.

Now I begin to understand how it is to be a minority. Before I read only about minorities in articles but now I am experiencing what they must feel, though just at a glance. I don’t have a public space to practice my religion and express my joys as what I’m used to. I have to make an effort to keep doing prayer and fasting as I am not doing it in a group where I may have social enforcement to do so. I feel like a stranger in front of others but I’m trying to ignore this feeling to not make any trouble for the majority.

Finally, I begin to understand that that group affiliations have power over the individual but I hope that because of the social capital I have build up during my upbringing I may be brave enough to express and I may be able to speak up on my hopes and ideas for the future.


Nor Ismah is a writer of the Matapena Community in Yogyakarta Indonesia. This community works with the youth to develop their understanding of literature and share their stories. Their vision is to build a community of literates around local and deep-rooted values to enrich the Indonesian community and culture.