Maryam Asif Siddiqui is a Muslim girl. At the age of 12, she participated in the “Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Champion League” organized by ISKCON International Society for Krishna Consciousness with an objective to spread teachings of the holy book.
Maryam was in class VI at Cosmopolitan High School at Mira Road. She won the contest from among 4,500 students who appeared for the competition in 2015. She got the first prize in an inter-school competition for elucidating the teachings of the holy book.
Her father’s advice
Maryam Siddiqui’s discovery of other faiths began several years before this competition. “We are Muslims. But ever since I was a kid, my parents pushed me to learn about religions other than Islam. The curiosity has grown since then,” she said.
Maryam recalled how quickly a fight on the playground divided children along religious lines. Her friends were a mix of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians.
“Hindu would be with Hindu, Muslim with Muslim and Christian with Christian. I would tell all of this to my father and he would reply that it is unacceptable to make friends or take sides based on religion”, she said in an interview.
Her father named Farhan Asif Siddiqui told HuffPost India that he motivated his daughter to enter the competition on one condition. “I told her that she should take part to learn about Hinduism, not to cram for a competition,” he said.
During the telephonic interview, a 34-year-old editor of a Hindi magazine considered for a few minutes over a question on why he made the strange decision for his daughter to enter the Gita competition-why it wasn’t enough to just tell her to respect other religions.
“Have you read the Koran? (Qur’an or Koran is the central religious text of Islam) Well then, how can we have an informed discussion if you don’t know about its verses,” he said. “I want my daughter to have genuine knowledge about all religions so she can think for herself and no one can ever mislead her.”
It isn’t likely that Siddiqui will be misled. The sixth-grader, whose aim was to be a lawyer, said she has learned two life lessons from the Bhagavad Gita stories: The path to the truth is non-violent and no one should insult anyone else.
Change begins at home
While recalling cases of communal violence in the past two decades, Asif said he was trying to make a difference in the one place where seeds of intolerance are first spread: Home.
When this reporter asked Siddiqui whether she had a message for children in India, the 12-year-old said she was too young to dole out advice, but she encouraged them to think for themselves. “Most Indians respect all religions but some say damaging things. I would just say ‘you must listen to your parents, but if your parents and teacher tell you to discriminate against others, then don’t listen to them,'” she said.
After making her first rush into learning Hindu scriptures, Maryam plans to resume her study of the Gita, this summer. But the challenge isn’t too daunting since she finds the Gita echoes many of the teachings she already knows.
“The Gita is the same as the Koran. They both came from the Gods” she said. “Swacch means the same in both: Clean.”
12-year-old Muslim girl has broken all stereotypes
When someone asked what motivated her to participate in the competition she replied, “I have always been inquisitive about religions and I often read up on them during my free time. When my teacher told me about this contest I thought it would be a good chance to understand what the book is about. My parents also supported my idea of participating in the contest”
Her curiosity was driven by the fact that she tried to understand what the Gita tries to tell us. The more she read about different religions, the more she has realized that humanity is the most important religion that people must follow.
Even politicians have noticed her surprising achievement.
- Maryam Siddiqui met Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and sought his blessings.
- Maryam met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and donated Rs 11,000 to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund and Swachhta Abhiyan. PM Modi congratulated her for winning the Gita Champions League contest.
“Met my young friend Maryam Asif Siddiqui. Maryam’s interest in various religions is an inspiration to all Indians,” PM Modi said on Twitter.
- She was showered with felicitations, awards, and honors from around the country, starting from past President Pranab Mukherjee.
- Maryam Siddiqui met Sonia Gandhi
- Previous Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also felicitated her.
Maryam Asif Siddiqui, winner of Bhagavad Gita contest returns prize money
A 12-year-old Muslim girl, Maryam Siddiqui, who had won the Gita Champions League contest 2015 for explaining the teachings of the scripture in the best possible manner has returned her prize money to the Uttar Pradesh government.
The Class VI student returned the sum of Rs 11 lakh to the state government so that they could use the money for the “betterment of children in need”. Maryam told a leading daily that she is on a mission to promote the cause of education for the poor, she also called herself an ambassador of peace.
Hats off to the amazing girl who shows us the true meaning of generosity.