Social media debate over Indian actress who quit for Islam

Bollywood actress Zaira Wasim, who has starred in movies ranked among the highest-grossing Bollywood films, stated on Instagram on Sunday that her five-year career in films had led her down a "path of ignorance" as she "silently and unconsciously tra
Bollywood actress Zaira Wasim, who has starred in movies ranked among the highest-grossing Bollywood films, stated on Instagram on Sunday that her five-year career in films had led her down a "path of ignorance" as she "silently and unconsciously transitioned out of imaan (faith)".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Some back Bollywood star's personal choice; others accuse her of religious conservatism

A debate continues to rage on social media in India over the decision of a young Muslim Bollywood actress to give up her promising film career because it conflicts with her religious beliefs.

Many have defended 18-year-old Zaira Wasim's decision as her personal choice and an endorsement of women's rights, but others have criticised the conservative religious views she has put forth to justify her move to quit acting.

Wasim had stated on Instagram on Sunday that her five-year career in films had led her down a "path of ignorance" as she "silently and unconsciously transitioned out of imaan (faith)".

"While I continued to work in an environment that consistently interfered with my imaan, my relationship with my religion was threatened," she wrote in the post.

"This journey has been exhausting, to battle my soul for so long. Life is too short yet too long to be at war with oneself. Therefore, today I arrive at this well-grounded decision and I officially declare my disassociation with this field."

Wasim, an award-winning actress from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is noted for her roles in Dangal and Secret Superstar, which are ranked among the highest-grossing Bollywood films.

These two movies also fared well in international markets, especially in China, where Dangal ranks among the top 50 highest-grossing films. In both, Wasim plays the role of a young girl who defies societal norms to pursue her true calling.

 
 

"Who are any of us to question Zaira Wasim's choices? It's her life to do with as she pleases. All I will do is wish her well & hope that whatever she does makes her happy," former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

But her suggestion that belief in one's religion is incompatible with a high-flying career in the film industry has prompted many to criticise notes of religious conservatism in her statement.

Wasim advised that "no amount of success, fame, authority or wealth is worth trading or losing your peace or the light of imaan for".

Ms Ifra Jan, a Kashmiri woman who specialises in public policy, said that while she respects Wasim's decision to quit, she could have "left quietly".

"With this letter you've made it difficult for every Muslim woman to choose an unconventional career. As if our society was not enough," she tweeted.

Many of Bollywood's leading stars are Muslims, including the Khan male trio - Shahrukh, Aamir and Salman - and actresses such as Shabana Azmi.

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Who are any of us to question Zaira Wasim's choices? It's her life to do with as she pleases.

FORMER JAMMU AND KASHMIR CHIEF MINISTER OMAR ABDULLAH, on Twitter.

It is not clear what profession Wasim wishes to pursue next. She has avoided public contact since Sunday, only to post on Twitter on Monday to reiterate her statement and dispel rumours of her social media accounts being hacked.

Her decision to avoid public scrutiny may have been prompted by the relentless and often undeserved criticism that has been thrown at her, which has been difficult for her to come to terms with.

Wasim's popularity has been appropriated by different constituencies across political divides to shore up their respective positions, compelling her to apologise in one instance and to urge people not to consider her as a role model.

Ms Shehla Rashid, a student leader who has recently transitioned into mainstream politics, told The Straits Times that Wasim's decision has to be seen as a youngster's attempt at soul-searching.

"People switch their professions even in their 30s and 40s, and it can be prompted by one's religious or other beliefs. She is just another youngster doing the same thing and I think we should cut her some slack," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Social media debate over actress who quit for Islam'. Print Edition | Subscribe