Maybe we should Stop Comparing Muslim Women to Lollipops

Lollipops

 

It is curious that a single contemporary analogy has come to be used so often across such a massive and diverse swathe of the earth’s population. The analogy is essentially a simple but effective (for some) argument regarding the hijab worn by many Muslim women.

The analogy normally involves the presentation of a picture of 2 lollipops; one wrapped, and the other not. If you came across these two, which would you prefer? Which is more clean, or ‘pure’? Obviously, we’d all prefer a wrapped lollipop… to eat. And apparently this logic should apply to the way men should view women, in the realms of purity and marriage and all the associated social spheres of life.

I do apologise for the crudeness of the aforementioned example; I cringed a little when writing it. I’m not sure what is more objectionable; comparing the ‘valuation’ of women to the selection of a lollipop, or justifying the hijab through the lens of a man’s worldview. Often the rather vocal critics of this line of thought go too far, and end up arguing that such patronizing characterisations of women ought to lead us to reject outright things like the hijab and cast off the oppressive chains of tradition and misogyny.

Whilst this critique goes beyond the pale, the point is legitimate. Far too often the key intuitive parts of the religious discussion on hijab include somewhat crude and patronising examples. If these arguments have worked in some parts of the world at other times in the past, they certainly threaten to do more harm than good with younger generations today.

It is essential these arguments are refined from within the mainstream Muslim tradition. Each Prophet came with language and narratives that appealed to their nation’s culture, and so we must do the same. Failure to do so will only push more and more disenfranchised Muslims away from religion and towards the dangerous realms of rejecting long-established pillars of the faith.

Primarily, it should always be remembered that the hijab was never initiated for the benefit of men; it is a deeply personal commandment that punctuates the individual Muslim woman’s relationship with God.
In addition, it really is not the place for random Muslim men to be enforcing rules of modesty on random unsuspecting Muslim women. I have heard too many horror stories of this kind of paternalistic enforcement in some more conservative parts of the community, and it just seems distasteful.

Furthermore, we need to bring more gender-balance to our discussion of modesty. A hijab and rules of modesty have been prescribed for both men and women. They are different, because men and women are simultaneously both equal and different, but responsibility lies on both to live their lives in an upright manner. Far too often we prize the chastity of women, whilst casting a blind eye to the comparatively adventurous exploits of men. That is a cultural imbalance that seems to manifest itself in various parts of the Muslim world, and one we could probably do without.

Such critiques are an urgent necessity – without them, others will inevitably move to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A more balanced approach is a vital step in giving people a legitimate avenue of criticism, in order to salvage the broader point on the timeless dignity of modesty.

Definitely Not Confused – Pakistanis & ‘Brit-Paks’

BritPak

“So are you from Pakistan?” she asked. I proceeded, for not the first time since arriving at university, to explain that Pakistan was my country of origin, Britain my country of nationality and that I had grown up elsewhere.

“Ah, confused.” she stated, matter-of-factly, nodding her head in a part-sympathetic, part-patronizing manner, as if she knew all she needed to know to psycho-analyze my very existence. Well, I thought, I certainly didn’t come here for judgement to be passed on me by passer-byers, but since you are offering your self-evident wisdom to me for free, I suppose I ought to be grateful.

So marked the beginning of a prolonged background experience for me at university in dealing with my peers from my ancestral homeland; mostly rich Pakistani kids from a handful of elite schools and families. ‘Background’, because such views never bothered or distracted me for more than a moment in those 3 years, yet I always felt this sentiment lingering in my interactions with them.
I state the following with the caveat in mind that many of the Pakistanis I met on campus were agreeable and open-minded chaps, but this phenomena has occurred far too often for it to be anything less than a social trend.

For some reasons, many Pakistanis completely fail to understand the very concept of a comfortably British Pakistani community, with English as its mother tongue and Britain as its primary country of allegiance. It is either a conceptual shortcoming, or sheer ambivalence towards individuals who form part of this community (most of whom didn’t make the choice of migration themselves anyhow). Perhaps at the back of their minds they believe those who left Pakistan for greener pastures have somehow betrayed the nation, although as much is certainly never said. Perhaps they harbour some kind of rivalry or jealousy with Pakistanis who have become successful abroad. Perhaps their condescension stems from our inability to speak Urdu, or perceived ‘Anglicisation’. I admit I have yet to figure out the source of this misunderstanding, but it certainly baffles me given they are an otherwise intelligent and cultured group of students.

If it wasn’t so disappointing, their unintentional irony would be cause for some bemusement.

They are the same people who speak English in Pakistan as a sign of their class, and look down on the middle and lower classes who speak indigenous languages.

They are the same people who seem so uneasy with the culture, religion and traditions of the great mass of Pakistani people, instead opting for overt Westernisation and conformity with homogenised global norms. I don’t mean to reverse the condescension, but who are you to look down on my identity struggles?

And do we struggle with our identity? Sure. Being British, Pakistani, Muslim, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants in a country that is changing rapidly, hailing from a nation mired in crisis and global scrutiny – that’s not easy. Nor is it so difficult to be debilitating to us as a community. We do have issues, but we are dealing with those issues ourselves – we don’t need input from outsiders that haven’t the slightest appreciation of our circumstance.

So thank you for your concern, but really, no thanks.

And, as it happens, I’m not confused at all – but you are.