Category: Culture

Seven years ago when I was here, all I saw were the dirt strewn, littered streets. I saw girls getting married at a sadly young age; I saw how women were limited to indoor activities. I saw families with more children than they could afford to raise. Most troubling of all, I saw a severe lack of education. Words like ambition and individualism were foreign concepts here. It seemed like the people here were unaware of man’s progress and achievements. Clearly, they were not living in the 21st century.

I realise now, that it was my perspective that was wrong. I looked at everything with a pre-conceived bias, with detest. I only saw what was on the surface. I saw what I had already decided I would see. Today, it is those same things that harbour my curiosity and encourage me to go back and understand; to take a look at the same scene with a new perspective; to be the harbinger of positive change.

Today is my first day in the village. We arrived here from Islamabad last night, that’s where we land and spend a couple of days before heading to Bebe’s house in the village. I saw the little girl who comes to help out at the house with chores and errands twice a week. She is older than she looks. My aunt told me she’s an 11-year-old, and has 12 siblings. She walks all the way from the neighbouring village to ours early morning, and helps out in several houses in this neighbourhood to earn some money in order to put food on the table for her ridiculously large family. Her father has another family and does not contribute much. Her mother and her siblings work in other houses in villages nearby.

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The BBC have began a series following young people from different religious backgrounds in the search for a marriage partner. Last nights “Strictly Soulmates” episode followed 3 young Muslim guys and girls. My favourite were Dimpy, a 31 year old doctor by profession and Zubair a 23-odd year old who wanted to migrate back to Lahore, Pakistan and live life there doing charity work.

Zubair was a likeable chap – a bit goofy, but in an endearing way, confident and had some definite plans he wanted to follow through on. One was to migrate back to Pakistan where he spent his teenage years to start up a charity and he wanted his wife to aid him in this charity work. It was his desire to move away which detracted from his appeal, because other than that he seemed like a decent guy.

Dimpy seemed to be unsure of what she wanted – he must be a doctor was her only criteria. But in her search, rather than appeasing her preferences she was at cross-roads with the thoughts of what her father (who had passed away) would have wanted her to do. And she held onto that so strongly that when the realisation of its futility hit her, it hit her hard.

The programme provided insight into how Pakistani arranged marriages take place.  Anyone from Pakistani or Indian backgrounds will know even in these marriage processes there are many steps involved, all of which have their own politics and unwritten but understood rules to comply with. It touched briefly upon the options Muslims have when it comes to finding a suitable partner for marriage within the rules and norms of their cultural and religious expectations and norms.

One could argue the programme was more about how Pakistani’s do the marriage game – from the “auntie” matchmaker, to samosa parties at home with the prospective grooms mother rather than how Muslims in general do it (I wont go into Islamically how people argue it is “meant” to be done, as thats a whole other blog post in itself) having a variety of Muslim backgrounds would have made it much more interesting although the manner in which spouses are found in most Muslim cultures wouldn’t differ much.

It seemed like all 3 of them ha a long way to go before finding their Mr/Mrs Right. Wish them all the best in their search.

I applaud this woman for taking the initiative in securing not only a job for herself, but also doing so successfully in the face of all of the obstacles she may have faced (as a Pashtun widow in Pakistan).

Zahida Kazmi has been hailed as Pakistan’s first female taxi driver. She has driven from the crowded markets of Islamabad to the remote tribal country in the north. Here she tells Nosheen Abbas about her two decades in a male-dominated world.

In 1992 at the age of 33, newly widowed Zahida Kazmi decided to take her fate in her own hands and become a taxi driver.

Born into a conservative and patriarchal Pakistani family, she flew in the face of her family’s wishes but with six children to support, she felt she had no choice.

She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.

In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection and she even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.

Her initial fears soon dissipated.

“I realised that I would scare passengers away,” she said. “So then I only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually I stopped covering my head because I got older and was well-established by then.”

Exposing herself to the hot, bustling city streets of Islamabad and by driving to the rocky and remote districts adjoining Pakistan’s tribal areas, Zahida says she learned a lot about the country she lived in and its people.

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Last month Lauren Booth, ex-PM Tony Blair’s sister in law, declared her conversion to Islam following a spiritual experience in Iran. Ever since this news was broadcast, there have been articles in most mainstream newspapers (tabloids and broadsheets) poking fun at her, making snide comments about rolling around on the floor at a holy shrine and even commenting on her mental stability – as though to convert to Islam one either has to be a) intimately involved with a Muslim; b) experiencing some life trauma, and so are vulnerable enough to convert and c) just be plain loopy.

Most of the negative vibes come as a result of the stereotypes banded around in the media of Muslims; wife beaters, deluded, extremist, detached from society, regressive and psychotic – some exaggerated stereotypes, but some add fuel to the fire and are pandered to by some Muslims themselves. Lauren acknowledges the bad press Islam and Muslims receive – but comments on the root causes of the state of Muslim women in the Muslim world:

So let’s all just take a deep breath and I’ll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in “Islamic” countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government’s close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women’s rights must sadly adjust to our own government’s needs.

Of course as with most religions, Islam has patriarchial roots which seep into most of the practices, ideas and mindsets that Muslims have regarding how Muslim women should look, behave, speak and carry herself. Those who do not conform to these idea’s are often touted to be “modernist” or pitied as being “misguided” and in need of a huge guiding nudge in the right direction. Too often these assumptions are a result of having perceptions at a grandoise level regarding to how “knowledgable” they are – and of course these patrons are often men who’s duty it is to “save their sisters”.

Lauren as part of addressing the negativity surrounding her conversion comments on how emotionally dead non-Muslims now seem to her:

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can’t we cry in public, hug one another more, say “I love you” to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah’s law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real “fun” as we in the west do? And we do, don’t we? Don’t we?

I couldnt help but think the lack of love-sharing in some households is not solely a non-Muslim issue – it involves factors beyond and above this; about family, character and personality dynamics and less about faith and religiousity. And the concept of personal space is a very British one – we don’t particularly like people sitting or standing too close to us if we can help it (especially the times when using public transport) be they strangers or even close loved ones. In certain cultures touching is more common, so people will greet one another with a kiss, say some words of affection and be very vocal about their feelings. Some of us want nothing more than a handshake. These are cultural not religious differences.

You can read the rest of Lauren’s article here

Recently France has been the centre of media attention what with it banning hijaab, followed closely by the outright ban of niqab in public spaces. In a form of protest against the dictatorship style role of the state, 2 French women (ethnicity of whom has remained largely unknown and refer to themselves as “NiqaBitch”) have taken to the streets in protest.  They, as with many others largely focus on clothing. But there is a twist.

They don a niqaab but bare their legs by wearing a miniskirt and sashay heels. The video is very tongue in cheek with the girls walking around Paris, posing outside buildings like the Ministry of Defence whilst wishing everyone peace – V hand gesture. Some people walk by pretending not to look, some praise them for their effort and others ask for them to pose and click away with their camera’s!

The statement these two ladies are making with regards to a piece of clothing that is considered repressive (niqaab) and the other which some would equate to as being immodest (miniskirt – lots of flesh on show) blends both the “sacred” and the “profane”.

Some may find the video distasteful, mocking the “sanctity” of niqaab (a piece of clothing cannot be sacred – the niqaab and to a certain level hijaab may for some encompass values, idea’s and beliefs which they believe manifest in it and may demonstrate a certain ideal but that ideal is a symbolic intepretation, one cannot apply those ideals to a piece of fabric!) but I feel it is an attempt to ridicule the French ban purely because their appearance is contradictory  and seems to be sending the popular message of “I am oppressed – niqaab” and I am a liberated, free woman “bare legs.

It is pertinent to note in the video that the passerby’s responses are generally of a good natured one primarily due to being aware that these girls are not donning the niqaab for religious reasons, that it is a stunt, a joke – all of which gives more weight to the islamphobic nature of the niqaab/hijaab ban. There is also the “orientialist fetish” aspect to the two ladies appearance – the veiling of the face, but the bare skin eliciting the notion of a sexual being who is “unreachable”, a mysterious being – much of which has been pandered about for a long time (and is hard to avoid it seems!)