Salima Yakoob writes of her experience as a young woman in Pakistan and the menace of an imposing Islamization.
If politics and sports lead to fame and fortune, religion is not far behind. There are many out there who promise us facts which reveal the true face of reality or divine truth, like the self-proclaimed messiahs such as David Koresh who chose a violent way to prove his validation to his followers. Aside from these types there are also those who simply know the craft to convince others they know more about divine truth than the rest. Their arguments spread like fire if they are followed by people who are either too gullible or indolent to keep themselves away from such preachers!
Dr Farhat Hashmi is a woman on a mission. Whenever Islamization is challenged, the loudest and shrillest voices in its defence will be those of women and in the forefront will be Dr Hashmi’s supporters across the globe. Born into a religious family of Pakistani origin she states on her website that she received her degree from Glasgow University in Islamic Study; and that may not be the only credentials she has acquired: she is a self-proclaimed authority on Sunnah, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad. She came to prominence in the mid-nineties. Regularly invited by middle class and affluent Pakistani women in their homes she gave lectures on Islam. From the benefits of wearing veil, to the legal reasons for divorce or family values she had an answer for every aspect and issue. Very soon her lectures were transforming women—-many of my college friends were putting a halt to their Mills & Boon romance fiction reading habit; lipsticks were no longer used, music and movies no longer watched. They now preferred to cover their heads and their clothes did not reveal an inch of flesh. Sanity prevailed in one my friend’s house when her authoritarian father would not allow her to wear head covering and on hearing the clouded reasoning about the answer and question session on the day of judgement he went so far as to say, ‘I will answer for you!’
As Dr Hashmi’s popularity increased and more women were listening to her. Her followers took it upon themselves to politely convince rebellious girls like me that I am missing out on the essentiality of Islam’s tenets in reference to womanhood. I had been invited on numerous occasions to listen to Dr Farhat Hashmi’s lectures – once in the house of the President where she regularly went to give lectures and lead prayers in the month of Ramadan. President Leghari’s wife was one of her staunchest admirers; she was never seen along with her husband in public as she preferred to be in purdah. I resisted such invitations. Heady with dreams and excitement I could only think of spending what little freedom I was allowed by my parents utilizing it by going to the cinema or eating out with friends in the coolest and hippest restaurants in the city.
I became increasingly cynical towards cohorts of ninja ladies as their presence was creating self-doubts in my friends’ minds. A friend’s dream to study for an Art degree was snuffed because her parents who had previously sent their elder two daughters to universities to study medicine and MBA were now sceptical: they were questioning whether it was the right thing to do to send girls far away from home when sharia does not permit it. My friend studied the latest trends and fashions in the magazines as she fancied looking trendy: Islamization frowns upon individuality.
When my parents moved from Islamabad to the city of Rawalpindi I lamented the long distance which separated me from my friends and favourite places where we could enjoy meeting. Living in a new housing locality outside the main city, there were no shops or eating outlets in the area. I decided to take up painting, taking inspiration from South Asian artists – I painted figures of languid women in the background of crumbling architecture. The work was not of any merit but then I had something to do in the evenings. Soon leaflets started to arrive in our house of a lady teacher Mrs Iftikhar who had done a course of some sort from the school of Dr Farhat Hashmi’s known as Al-Huda and was now arranging classes for girls and women of all ages in her home. One day the lady arrived at my house. Mrs Iftikhar first told the cook who opened the door to disappear as the principles of ‘purdah,’ dictates that no man can see her although only a slit around her eyes revealed any part of her flesh. She asked me to come and attend the lectures.
Simply not convinced by what Mrs Iftikhar was offering, I resisted but my sister started to attend the so-called lectures and ultimately came to a conclusion that there was a weakness in her faith which came in the way to believing in the merits of wearing a veil. However she wanted me to attend at least one lecture and eventually I went. Our sinful existence in this world was what Mrs Iftikhar laid bare as she translated in detail the interpretation of Koranic verses. She humiliated a lady who owned a beauty salon for brides in the neighbourhood by continually demanding of her that she give up running this sinful business, as too much attraction towards the opposite sex in clothes and appearance is haram. In between the lecture she circuitously reminded me that my sleeveless shirt showed too much of flesh. If I thought a single lecture was all I would have to endure I was wrong. The shadow of Islamization was creeping over me as my sister thought there was so much about what I did which did not conform with propriety. My canvases with semi-abstract images of women were banished to a storeroom because there were male servants in the house. I was reminded, quite frequently, that the blistering and scorching equatorial heat of summer gives no reason not to be draped in several layers of clothing when leaving the house.
Mr Clegg is as wrong as the founder of the Ramadan Foundation who criticized the government’s idea to debate the topic of veils! Not to be missed is the article by Pervez Hoodbhoy, ‘The Saudi-ization of Pakistan,’ in which he, rightfully, condemns Farhat Hashmi. Wearing veils does not simply comply with the practice of a religious belief. Those who are convinced of its merits want to convince others that they are wrong in believing they have choices and freedom to be individuals in every right. Multi-culturalism has to do with integrating with and accepting others and not drawing a veil of seclusion by adopting mannerisms or a set practice with rules which are intolerant of other’s ideas.
So if Phillip Hollobone MP is saying, ‘Covering your face is not a religious requirement in Islam and those who wear balaclavas in demonstrations are trying to conceal their identities,’ it is time to seriously evaluate the statement in conjunction with what a practice is used for and not what it stands for in common terms.
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