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Women like Qandeel Baloch must not die in vain

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Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook
Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook
 

Originally published for Sedaa on July 18, 2016

Yet another woman’s life has prematurely been taken in an ‘honour killing’.

Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother on Friday night while at her family home in Multan, Punjab.

After going on the run, her brother Waseem was later arrested. In his confession video, he expressed no regret. “I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her,” said Waseem.”She was bringing dishonor to our family.”

Qandeel’s posts were considered to be controversial in Pakistan. She rose to fame due to the sassy, and increasingly political, videos she posted on Facebook.

Her brother Waseem claims that having his friends share her pictures and video clips was “too much” for him and killing his sister was a better alternative than killing himself.

Qandeel’s brother Waseem, who has now been arrested.

Both adored and reviled, Qandeel, who was buried on Sunday, referred to herself as a “modern day feminist” and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook.

Funny how the media is now fawning over her, the same media that provided outrage porn for its Pakistani citizens, inviting them to get worked up over her ‘lewd’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.

It has brought out all the hypocrites. Mourning the loss of a woman they had probably thought of as a whore or disgrace to her family hours before her murder.

“They could have disowned her”, wrote one person under an article about her death. But even that is a problem. Don’t murder a women, for goodness sake. Just disown her and ostracise her for life. Much better, eh?

As for those telling me not to call it an ‘honour killing’. Yes I know there is no honour in killing. But this type of murder is carried out in the name of honour.

On the list of 145 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report, Pakistan is second to last with regards to gender disparity.  According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, violence against women is rampant, with as many as 212 women being killed in the name of ‘honour’ in the first five months of 2016.

When I heard the news I wept all day long, because I am all too familiar with this concept of ‘honour’ that robbed Qandeel of her life.

Just read some of the comments on this piece. There’s no justification for murder, they start by saying. BUT. There’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?

I remember worrying for her safety after hearing the news that she had posted a video with Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. I wondered, how is this woman still alive in Pakistan doing what she does?

Where is that mufti now? He claimed that Qandeel’s death is a sobering lesson for those who mock clerics. Yet it is perfectly fine for these clerics to meet women alone in a hotel room and offer to marry them. Qandeel also claimed that he tried to hug and kiss her. Police have announced that Mufti Qavi would be included in her murder investigation. But I don’t see any women rounding up to kill him in the name of honour.

Whatever you think of Qandeel, at least she didn’t pretend to be someone she was not. Our societies have raised us to be liars and hypocrites. We can’t do what we want openly so we do it secretly. The worst culprits are religious men such as Mufti Qavi.

Pakistani men (and indeed men from many societies around the world) constantly police women’s minds and bodies. They are terrified of what might happen if women start thinking for themselves and behaving how they want to.

For Qandeel was not just murdered by her brother. She was murdered by them all; her society and nation.

And unfortunately there are women who propagate these beliefs and practices, defending Qandeel’s murder.

Qandeel tweet reactions

 

 

This woman clearly does not realise the irony of her words. She is against honour killings but against ‘bey-ghairat’ (shameless), yet ghairat (shame) is the name in which this type of brutality occurs. Shaming Qandeel’s lifestyle choices are exactly what led to her murder.

They say she deserved it because she was provocative. But let us not forget that women can be killed for things that we would deem almost trivial here in the West — going out at night with friends, having a boyfriend, marrying someone whom you love, wearing what you want.

We are constantly watched, monitored and regulated. If we step out of the line we pay the price.

We can’t dress a certain way because it’s ‘disrespectful’ or ‘unIslamic’.

We can’t go out late because that’s not what ‘good girls’ do. We’re not like those  gori (white) women who have no honour. We have to say where we’re going, with whom, why we’re going out and what time we’ll return.

Our male counterparts get to do whatever the hell they want with barely any repercussions. When was the last time you heard of a man being killed by his sister, mother or wife in the name of honour?

And this problem is not just restricted to the east. Even here in the west, though we are free in theory the reality is different.

Very few people understand just what it’s like to live a life where, every time you step out of the house, you are worried that someone, somewhere, will see you. And they will, believe me. Your family has eyes and ears everywhere.

Even women who seem free on the surface are suffering. They might have careers and they could even be financially well off, but they’re controlled in other ways.

I’m sick of this. Yet we accept it or tolerate it quietly because, well, that’s what women have to do. For how much longer? For how long must we continue to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically, simply because we’re women and it’s seen as ok?

How do you stand your ground when the odds are stacked against you. You’re standing up to your parents, extended family, the ‘community’ and wider society. Then there’s us. On our own.

We have one life and it’s being wasted away. Be good, they tell us, and we’ll get our reward in the afterlife. A clever way of ensuring we stay in line because, let’s face it, crossing your family is one thing but crossing the Almighty? No thanks. So we continue to suffer in silence.

It’s always women like Qandeel who apparently are a disgrace to their families or their country, but never the men who leer at them or murder them.

We’re labelled whores, goris, beghairat (shameless), coconuts. A man is not a whore — he’s just a man, exercising his rights.

“Men can go out and have shit on their faces but still sit at the dinner table,” one Pakistani woman told me. “But you’re a girl, it’s different.”

Our family honour rests on our bodies; it is a terrible burden to bear.

Despite reports that she was scared for her life, Qandeel wrote that she was a fighter.

“I will bounce back,” she said, adding that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society.”

Sadly she did not and paid with her life. But all over social media, people are speaking up, condemning this murder.

I implore everyone out there, both men and women, please don’t let Qandeel Baloch die in vain.

Because one day the ‘honour brigade’ might come for you too. And there will be no one left to speak up.

Written by Iram Ramzan

July 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

Murdered by my father: A review

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Murdered by my father. Source: BBC

Originally published for Sedaa on April 4, 2016

 

“Someone’s always watching. Trust me.”

These are the words uttered by college student Salma in the BBC 3 drama Murdered By My Father, as she warns her boyfriend to stay away before someone finds out that they are dating.

We have all been there, have we not ladies? Most of us, from South Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds, where the notions of honour and shame are so important, have always been — and always will be — on our guards whenever we leave the house. Because no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, is always bound to catch you out and report you to your parents. Even when you least expect it. Even when what you are doing is entirely innocent it does not matter. Once word gets out it can blemish a reputation you must keep clean. Women will sometimes pay for this transgression with their lives.

Written by Vinay Patel, Murdered By My Father is a harrowing drama based on testimonials from survivors of ‘honour’ abuse. It tells the story of Salma (played fantastically by Kiran Sonia Sarwar), a young woman who lives on an estate with her widower father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar) and younger brother Hassan (Reiss Jeram).

Like many girls of her age, Salma has a boyfriend, Imi (Mawaan Rizwan), except she has to keep it all a secret from her family and the wider community or else there will be hell to pay. Unfortunately for Salma, she is already promised to someone in marriage — the bland and unremarkable Haroon (Salman Akhtar). It is a painful reminder that her life is not hers, but simply on lease until the time comes for her family members, her community, to reclaim what was never hers. We belong to our fathers, brothers, husbands and the wider community. We are not individuals.

There is a scene in which Shahzad sees his daughter’s pink bra in the bathroom, a symbol that she is no longer a girl, but a woman, a sexual being who is a potential threat to his honour — that bullshit word that is a noose around most women’s necks.

“You carry all of us,” Shahzad explains to his daughter. “I get scared because when they look at you, they see me. You fail, I fail. When you’re safe, I’m safe. When you get married then I can die happy.” This type of emotional blackmail is often deployed as a tactic to ensure females toe the line. Shahzad is not portrayed as a monster, but a man who is trying to do right by both his family and the community. But the latter always wins in the end. It is important that we see this side of Shahzad first to show that these people can switch from loving parents to monsters who will take their children’s lives.

We see Salma and Imi meeting up secretly throughout the drama, savouring their moments of happiness because you know — as we all know painfully too well — that they can be snatched away from you in next to no time. On the day of her engagement, Salma is seen by her fiancé, kissing her boyfriend goodbye. The family and guests are allowed to enjoy their food, unaware of the storm that is about to be unleashed upon them.

 

 

And, inevitably, Salma is shamed and dishonoured. The ‘shame’ is also on Shahzad. He has no honour left because he failed to keep his “slag” of a daughter in check. “Take care of your filth!” Haroon spits at the man who will no longer be his father-in-law.

Salma’s younger brother is caught in the middle, wanting to do right by both his father and his big sister, the same sister who doubled as a mother-figure. Younger siblings are routinely put in the cruel position of spying on their siblings, to make sure they’re not up to no good.

Shahzad locks his daughter in a room and we see him fingering a blade, an ominous sign of what will happen. Salma manages to escape to her boyfriend’s house and they make plans to run away together, but she bravely decides to go back home the day after, to make mends, to apologise to her dad. She has nothing to actually apologise for — her only ‘crime’ was to have fallen in love, for wanting to live a life on her own terms and not dictated to by centuries-old honour codes.

Don’t go back, you plead to her. But you remember the title of the drama and you almost wish it weren’t a prediction. Poor Hassan is sent to the shop by his father to buy some sweets, not realising it’s the last time he will see his loving big sister alive.

She naively assumes it will all be okay if she apologises. After all, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do — forgive their children when they make a mistake? But not this time. There will be no forgiveness.

“I did everything for you,” Shahzad shouts at her. “I never asked for anything in return — only that you listen to me in one thing.”

She replies: “You asked me for loads. You just don’t know that you’re doing it.”

In the end it’s not the blade, but her father’s own hands that take away her life. The hands that had once fed her, clothed her, and even embraced her, are the very hands that take away the life he helped create. Shahzad then tries to take his own life, perhaps repulsed by his actions or, more likely, unable to face the community again after ‘losing face’ over this ‘shame’.

What I loved about Salma’s character is that she continued to fight until the very end. She could easily have been portrayed as meek and submissive, and given in to her father’s demands by marrying someone whom she did not love — just for the sake of her ‘honour’. Others will not have had that choice.

I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry for hours afterwards. I wept for the many, many girls and women whose lives are taken for the sake of ‘honour’. I wept for the girls who were forced to choose between their family or controlling their own destiny. I wept for those girls who could no longer fight back and submitted to the family pressure.

And I wept because I knew that Salma could easily have been me.

Murdered by My Father is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Allegations of CSE cover up and misogyny within the Labour Party

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Shaista Gohir Source: Facebook

Shaista Gohir
Source: Facebook

 

Shaista Gohir is pulling no punches. The chair of the charity Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) UK is continuing to deal blows to the Labour party, accusing it of covering up misogyny and intimidation of Muslim women from the men in their own communnities.

Gohir has been gathering evidence from Muslim women across the country in order to get the party to address the allegations and make some serious changes.

But more revealing is the allegation made by a former Labour councillor, who  claims that abuse is being covered up within the Labour party. The Muslim woman told Newsnight that Pakistani councillors on the council where she served are regularly protecting men who may be exploiting white girls, simply because they are important business allies.

Zahara – not her real name – claims that the police presented councillors with a sexually explicit video as they ruled on whether to shut down a club where these alleged offences were taking place.

She said: “The decision ultimately should have been to close the establishment down because of inappropriate behaviours going on of a sexual nature between young white girls and Asian males that was being shown on the video.

“I was clearly told to stop questioning by a hand gesture and nudge by senior male councillors that were Asian who were sitting next to me… I was told: ‘Do you know who it is? It’s a very prominent Asian businessman that supports us’.”

This woman claims that, on this occasion and many others, she was deselected because she refused to do as these powerful councillors of Pakistani heritage demanded. When she arrived at the selection meeting, it was full of Asian people she had never seen before. “They’re in the pocket of influential male councillors,” she added.

This, in my opinion, is the angle on which Newsnight should have led. Instead, it was almost buried within the report. It is almost as though allegations of covering up CSE were an afterthought of this report.

It seems evident to me that Labour is doing anything to keep  the ‘minority’ vote, at the expense of leaving those groups effectively to be ruled by ‘their’ men.

 

“Systematic Misogyny”

Councillor Arooj Shah Source: Oldham Council

Councillor Arooj Shah
Source: Oldham Council

 

From about 2:50 in the Newsnight video, Oldham councillor Arooj Shah is seen leafleting in her neighbourhood, along with fellow councillor Shadab Qumer. Councillor Shah is doing the talking yet the Muslim man they visit only shakes hands, and speaks directly, only with the male councillor, instead of Councillor Shah.

She told the BBC: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

Councillor Shah also said that she has received disgusting letters where her head has been attached to images of Page 3 models, in an effort to silence and intimidate her.

MWN has been heard from many Muslim women across the country on the “blocking” of vocal, independent Muslim women by male members of the Labour Party who are of Pakistani heritage – or ‘biraderi’ (clan) politics. The charity has called for an inquiry by party leader Jeremy Corbyn into the “systematic misogyny” within Labour. If this is happening in the Labour party then I wonder – is this also happening in other parties?

Unfortunately this is no surprise to many women of Muslim heritage. We are all aware of the fact that most of the hostility faced is by those from within our own communities. We receive support when we toe a certain line, but as soon as we go beyond that we are quickly silenced.

Well done to the brave women who are continuing to speak out against the misogyny and campaigns of harassment they have faced. It takes a lot of courage to speak out.

White Girls Are Not The Only Victims Of Sexual Abuse

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 15/9/2013

 

“We shouldn’t get away from the fact that there are gangs of Muslim men going round and raping white kids” – Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP, Keighley.

“Some men of Pakistani origin see white girls as ’easy meat’” –  Jack Straw, Labour MP, Blackburn.

“Our women are not halal meat” – BNP poster.

Asian and Muslim girls are abused and groomed by gangs of men. Disgusted? Yes. Shocked? No. In fact, I wrote an article just a few months ago, stating that the abuse of girls, especially Asian girls, was known by some. After I wrote that piece, I was attacked by some people for denying the cultural link, that Asian men only went after white girls, whom they saw as “halal meat”. Even the judge, upon sentencing the Rochdale groomers, said: “One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion.”

Yet it took an in-depth report by the Muslim Womens Network  that it is not just white girls who are abused and groomed by gangs of men.

silent woman

MWN UK conducted research into the hidden experiences of Asian / Muslim girls and young women so that everyone can better understand how to support and protect them. In such a short amount of time, 35 case studies were collected.

They launched the ‘Unheard Voices’ report on Tuesday and presented its findings at the House of Commons. BBC radio stations covered the findings of MWN’s report on Wednesday, but it has not been discussed in such depth as the Rochdale and Oxford  cases did.

Any comment from the EDL or the BNP? No. They were silent of course, because they’re only concerned with their own, white girls, and more concerned with using the victims for their own political agendas. No one was willing to even contemplate that these disgusting men preyed on their Asian girls, because that would require us to put aside our initial prejudices, get off the racial bandwagon and actually use our brains.

Sunny Hundal wrote a piece soon after, highlighting tensions between Muslims and Sikhs. He wrote:

“This is conveniently ignored by the white, Sikh and Muslim men who want men of other communities to point fingers at. Where are the Sikh vigilante gangs against honour crimes , domestic violence  and rape perpetrated by Sikh men against Sikh women? These gangs don’t exist.”

It’s so convenient to blame race and / or religion.  We would rather believe that girls are being abused in far away places by wicked brown men because otherwise, we would have to consider the very uncomfortable fact that abuse is hidden in every community, including our own.It is a complete myth that white girls are seen as “easy” compared with Asian and Muslim girls. One young man, in the report, said of the Muslim girls:

“It is easy to trap girls just have to tell ‘em you love ‘em and will marry ‘em. Some of the lads are doing secret ‘nikahs’ [marriage ceremonies] to make sure da’ link don’t get broken – that way you don’t lose the link with the girl. Then they offer their wives around. I have heard people I know say, hey bro do you want my wife?”

Mussurut Zia, the general secretary of MWN, helped compile the case studies. What did she have to say about the theory that white girls are more vulnerable because they’re supposedly out on the streets and Asian girls are locked up? “Yes you have white girls going out at night, though now you do you do see more Asian girls going out too,” she points out, adding:  ”On the other hand Asian girls can be tightly controlled but they’re sitting ducks. They’re more vulnerable at home.”

She continued: “Asian girls have extended families coming and going all the time. That’s a mass group of people going in and out, and families have no reason to be suspicious. It’s all hidden. One girl spoke to her mother who then said put up and shut up.”

Speaking of families, the report states:

“There appears to be little or no understanding among families and communities about sexual exploitation and there is a tendency to blame the female victims rather than the male offenders.

Girls were being regarded as “temptresses” and assumptions were made about their lifestyles. Denial about sexual exploitation was also raised as a major concern. There is a tendency to prioritise protecting the “honour” of the community over the safeguarding of vulnerable girls…preserving honour is allowing men to continue operating with impunity, therefore fueling sexual violence against girls and women further.”

MWN's Shaista Gohir

MWN’s Shaista Gohir

 

No one asks why these men were out late at night or where they were going. Because that is the mentality – men are not to be questioned. The most disturbing thing of all is how families were aware. Shaista Gohir MBE, who has been an activist since 2005, set up MWN in 2007.

 “There are young men that I’ve spoken to – a lot of them are in the know,” she said. “It’s not just men in the know, it’s women too. There are enough women that know about it. In one case study in the report , a girl who was13 or 14 at the time, was kept by a man in her room. He locked the door, leave a bucket for her in the corner to urinate in, and went out. At night he would take her out and pass her around.

“When the police went to find her, his family, who was living in the same house, said he was looking after her because she had run away from home. Sorry but how could you allow that? If you’re that concerned you call the police or social services. It’s become like a third income for some families. First it was drugs, then fraud and now this.”

Nonetheless, we continue to be in denial. Whenever Muslims have been interviewed, they will insist that race has nothing to do with this, that religion has no part to play in any of this. But something is not quite right there.

As Mussurut said: “The first thought on Rochdale was that if you’ve got a community in uproar then part of me always thinks, the lady doth protest too much.”

We need to stop burying our heads in the sand.  Victims go for so long without any help due to this absurd notion of honour and shame, as if it is somehow a child’s fault that they have been sexually molested and groomed.

Asian gangs

Shaista added: “It’s our fault. I blame all the community. If anyone asks me why are you talking about it, you’re bringing shame on us, do you know what I say to those people? I say that it’s your fault if girls are getting abused. You may not be doing the rape but your attitude lets them get away with it. The shame is on these people for remaining silent. Shame on you all.”

Many Muslims were outraged that Islam even had to be mentioned in the same sentence as this abuse. But the fact of the matter is, when a society or community is centred around a particular faith and when the culture is influenced by that faith, then to say otherwise is such a huge denial.

Take this account, from  page 58 of the MWN report:

My mate called me and said ‘Bro I have a surprise for you, come over to this house.’ When I got there 15 of them were sitting in the living room. My mate told me to go upstairs for my surprise. When I went into the bedroom, another friend was doing this girl (she was a 20 years old of Pakistani background). The lads went up one by one and took turns and while they were waiting they were calling their mates, cousins and uncles to come over and join in and showing off. Others turned up too including two older men who were taxi drivers, who went straight upstairs. One older man said I am going to call my son over so he can practice on her and later his 15-year-old son arrived in his uniform. Everyone took turns and it took 6 hours. I did get concerned and said, ‘the girl is going to get broke, who will marry her?’ The girl is not paid but she gets looked after, she is given food and the boys make sure she gets home safely if it gets late. There are set days Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but some of my friends don’t like doing stuff like that on a Friday because it is Jumu’a (holy day) and they go mosque.

Amazing isn’t it – that young lads and men can be abusing and raping girls one day and praying to God the next. How does that even work?

“People know Islam is against it, when you’re brought up, you know it’s wrong,” Shaista said.  “But it’s become acceptable. They think if that you go on Hajj (pilgrimage) or do your Friday prayers, your sins are wiped away.

Asian child abuse

“One girl said to she that she didn’t feel like being a Muslim any more because most of the offenders were bearded men. One man would pick her up after Friday prayers. Another girl, who was 13,was abused throughout Ramadan. Where’s the morality gone?”
Where indeed.

There has been a lack of response in general. I tried contacting several women’s organisations and children’s charities here in the north west, to no avail. One organisation claimed that they had not even heard about this report. That could be down to either the lack of press coverage on this, or that they just did not want to discuss the issue, perhaps out of fear.

The MWN report highlights what some of us have known for quite a while, yet sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. Otherwise, stories such as Safa’s, whose uncle raped her before introducing her to his friends, will never be heard.

Kudos to these activists and others who have worked so hard over many years for women’s rights, and to those brave, young girls who shared their stories of abuse. They are the real heroines out there.

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm

The Ludicrous Irony Of World Hijab Day

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Pretty much every day in the year is dedicated to the commemoration of a particular cause or event. Birthdays, anniversaries, and some rather strange ones, such as ‘Ear Muff Day‘. Then there is World Hijab Day. The official one is on February 1 but there was another one (yes, we need more than one) set up on September 4, which commemorates the fifth anniversary of Germany’s “Muslim hijab martyr” Marwa Ali El Sherbini.

Marwa Ali El Sherbini

Marwa Ali El Sherbini

 

Marwa was an Egyptian woman and German resident who was killed in 2009 during an appeal hearing at a court of law in Dresden, Germany. She was stabbed by Alex Wiens, an ethnic German immigrant from Russia against whom she had testified in a criminal case for verbal abuse.

Her husband, who was present at the hearing, tried to intervene. He too was repeatedly stabbed by Weins and was then mistakenly shot and wounded by a police officer who was called to the court room.

Strangely enough Marwa’s husband has not been turned into a martyr for the faith of Islam. Though Marwa is now called the “hijab martyr” by the women in the above video (who are all wearing full-on face veils, by the way) her attacker never said anything about the hijab. She was attacked for being Muslim. So if anything, if they want to commemorate Marwa, they should be campaigning against racism or even religious persecution.

But I am not surprised: Any excuse to promote the headscarf. A ‘Hijab Walk’ was scheduled by the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Note how they are all wearing face veils (which is not compulsory in Islam) and even the young girls are wearing hijabs and abayas (long robes).

A special hash-tag was made on Twitter, #worldhijabday4sep, which attracted hundreds of comments, including this rather bizarre one by @nomanjeet who states: “#WorldHijabDay Hijab covers my head not brain….!” Noman happens to be a man, but hey, let’s not knock his solidarity.

Take this website, which explains what this day is for, albeit for the official February one, but the sentiments and arguments are the same.

“Have you ever asked a Muslim woman why she is so covered in a world that seeks to shed as much clothing as possible? If you asked a Muslim woman, she would inform you that the purpose behind her Hijab is to obey her Creator over the creation. Her Creator, Allah (God), did not legislate Hijab in order to oppress her, but rather to free her from the shackles of this world. He ordered Hijab as an honor and sign of dignity for women.

When a Muslim woman covers her hair, chest and body, she is sending a silent message that she respects her body and like a pearl in the ocean, she covers it with her beautiful shell (Hijab). No one has the right to observe, gawk at and judge a Muslim woman by the highlights in her hair or curves on her body. Instead they judge her for what is in her mind, her character, and her goals and ambitions.”

hijab-lollipop1

Ah yes, the infamous covered-women-are-like-pearls metaphor. Those who don’t are like an uncovered lollipop who has flies buzzing around her (great metaphor and not at all demeaning towards men by the way).

“Today, my sister I have a challenge for you: A challenge in which I ask you to do, not for anyone’s sake but Allah’s. Do not do it for your family or your friends; do not do it for me. Do it for yourself and for your Rabb (Lord). On this day insha`Allah hundreds, we pray thousands of sisters will observe Hijab. Just for one day, we are asking sisters to wear the Hijab and experience it. There will be a worldwide support group. Millions of Muslims behind you and supporting you! At the end of the day, it is upon you and only you to follow through.

“I am not asking you for anything more or anything less than to take one small step which in your heart you know will only bring you closer to my Rabb and your Rabb. One step closer to Jannahinsha’Allah….”

Go on sisters, if you don’t wish to burn in hell for eternity, put on that hijab!

Personally I do not believe that there is a religious mandate for it but I am not going to dwell on that. For a start, I don’t fancy having burning torches brandished at me, and secondly, I believe in personal freedom. You can wear a tutu and sport a green moheekan for all I care.

Several women tweeted: “Your beauty is for your man not mankind.” I thought it was for Allah?There is no consistency with the headscarf argument. On the one hand women are told to wear it per God’s orders and it has nothing whatsoever to do with men but on the other hand, they are then told actually yes, wear it for the sake of it men too, because they can’t control themselves and you don’t want to invite attention on yourself now do you? Why is dressing for one man more empowering? Either way, you’re still factoring a man’s opinion into what you decide to wear.

Men are not seen as visible representatives of Islam (except if they are wearing long robes or have a lengthy beard). That ‘privilege’ is given to women, who literally wear their religious identity on their heads.

Of course, we’re told that men also have to ‘observe hijab’ but for the most part they are not lectured on their clothes or the length of their beards (or lack thereof). Few people will approach a man and inquire about the way in which he is am dressed. He won’t be denounced as a ‘bad Muslim’ nor will his dress code be used as an excuse to prevent him from attending the mosque or other Islamic functions. There aren’t dozens of books dedicated to telling men what they must and must not wear as there are for women and the dozens of guidelines they are given, exclusively by men.

We hear women who wear the hijab constantly saying: “Judge me for what’s in my head and not what’s on it.” Firstly, if it’s not important, why invite women to wear it? Secondly, the only reason non Muslims have focused on hijab is because Muslims themselves have put too much emphasis on the veil in the first place. If you don’t like people focusing on your hijab then don’t make it the centre of attention in the first place.

Two Muslim girls catch up with their mother in...Oldham

Two Muslim girls catch up with their mother in…Oldham

 

They lament that the West has reduced women to their looks and what they wear, yet by creating this day, they have reduced Muslim women to a garment. Such women who use the ‘respect’ factor actually disrespect women who choose not wear a hijab. Where is the respect there? This whole idea, this hijab day, is contradictory and reduces a Muslim woman’s experience to a piece of cloth. Muslim women are more than their hijabs or lack thereof.

To me, feminism is all about choice and respecting women for the choices that they, and they alone, make. Kudos to those women who have made their own choices, because as a woman you are vilified either way. If you choose to wear a headscarf you are oppressed or being forced, or you are the ideal Muslimah. Likewise if you don’t wear a hijab you are an attention seeker, enslaved by the male gaze.

Whether you reduce women to their looks or uphold them as symbols of modesty, comparing them to uncovered lollipops or jewels that need to be protected, you are objectifying women.

It is for this reason why I cannot mark such an absurd day.

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Great (marital) Expectations – the woes of a nontraditional Asian journalist

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“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” ~ Albert Einstein

The whole evening was a mixture of embarrassment and expectations, with a whiff of desperation. Or maybe that was the smell of the samosas frying.

For a start, I was told to put on a nice pair of salwar kameez. I refused point blank to change out of my skinny jeans and tee shirt, but wearing western clothing in front of Asian guests is not ‘proper’. Denim is kryptonite to the auntie brigade.

I didn’t care. It would set a very bad precedent – why should I let these people think that I was traditional and conformist when I am neither of those things?

“At least put a dupatta around your neck,” my aunty insisted.

Then there was the fact that my mum and my aunty, her sister, had cooked a three course meal for our soon-to-arrive guests: samosas, a big pot of chicken and spinach, homemade ras malai and store bought gulab jamuns and jalebis. It was as though I had already said ‘yes’ and they were celebrating.

In case you’re confused reading this, I am recounting my excruciatingly uncomfortable rishta ordeal, which I live-tweeted, might I add (am I shameless or what!). I was told of a very ‘suitable’ proposal which had recently come my way. “A doctor!” My aunty exclaimed, showing me his picture sent to her phone. The gold standard of proposals. A doctor! How could I possibly say no?

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In many, Muslim and Pakistani households, this is how proposals and marriages are set up. I’m not completely against this at all; I know some happily-married couples who have met each other in precisely this way.  I’ve been given the choice to find someone myself (although this should go without saying) but I guess my family are getting too impatient waiting for me to bring someone home that they decided to speed up the process.

Anyhow, the guests arrived late (Asian Standard Time) and sat in the living room. I stayed in the kitchen and then the conservatory for nearly an hour after, not knowing what on earth was going on or what I was supposed to be doing.

After hearing the men discussing mosque politics behind closed doors (standard topic for some of the older Asian uncles), it quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t a meeting for me, or for this suitor, whoever he was. No. This was a meeting of the elders, the men in particular, for them to catch up and arrange the whole thing. I knew more about them than the would-be groom!

I had to go in and introduce myself to the potential mother-in-law, a woman in her 50s or 60s. Wearing traditional clothing with her hair covered, she had an air of sternness about her. Oh I will fit in so well in that household, I thought sarcastically to myself.

The young man later came in, said ‘salaam’ and sat down at the other end of our corner sofa. I thought, at last, perhaps this will be an opportunity for us two to speak and see what we had in common. But that was all the conversation we had. We were never given the chance to talk to each other privately.

Then, to top it all off, the potential father-in-law, who was also a member of the mosque committee (Citizen Khan eat your heart out) took great pleasure in telling me how closely related we all are. As though that was supposed to impress me.

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I was furious; I was adamantly told that these people were not related to us at all. I had been duped.

The following day I was asked on my thoughts, would it be a yes or a no. How was I supposed to make an informed decision on a mere “salaam”? As it turns out, the young man was not a doctor. Not even close. And once we’d eventually started talking, he started laying out a few ground rules, such as the fact that I would have to live with him and his mummy, wear salwar kameez most of the time and that I would have to stop seeing my male friends, because “what would people say?”

Imagine how that must have made me feel. Like no one cared what my opinion was. Like I was not in control of my life, the back-seat passenger instead of the one controlling the steering wheel.

Oh, but I have it lucky you see, as I’m constantly told. “We didn’t have a choice when we were younger,” the busybody aunties tell me. “We’re not forcing you into anything, we’re allowing you a choice here.” Oh thank you, thank you so much for allowing me to choose my own shackles.

Then they tell me: “Get married and you can do whatever you want.”

There are two problems with this: a) isn’t is slightly ironic to depend on some man to liberate you, and that too in the form of marriage? And b) this is a lie that some families tell their women to coax them into marriage and then as soon as you’re married, they say: “You can’t do that now, you’re married!”

Eventually I know I will have to submit to my family’s will and tie the knot, because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, the next step in life we’re all expected to take. At the grand old age of 25, my designated expiry date is looming ever closer and according to the elders, when I hit 26, no one will even want to look at me.

Yet somehow, I don’t think I’ll be happily-married. My ambition is to be a foreign correspondent. I cannot do that and be a doting wife and mother. It is just not possible. Okay, maybe not impossible but it is downright difficult because for some reason, some Muslim and Pakistani men still seem to have an aversion to independent women.

Then there’s the fact that I know I’m not alone in thinking this way. There has been an increase in the number of British Muslims women having ‘part-time husbands’ in order to maintain some freedom – should it be this way?

Maybe it’s my age. I may change when I’m slightly older and wiser and I’ve found a younger, Asian version of Jeremy Paxman (dream on, right?)

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Most of these suitors are going to be the same because my family’s social circle is very small – we don’t venture away from blood relations (the thought must be icky to some of you out there).  Consequently, every suitor and their families can’t help but be the same: very conservative and traditional. I don’t, however, have the option to marry a man of any other ethnicity because this is still a no-no in our family. I dread to think what would happen if I brought home an Arab or Indian man. They use religion when it suits them but the same religion, which allows us to marry Muslims of any colour or creed, is quickly disregarded.

I haven’t been raised in a traditional environment.  To go from that to a traditional family where I will have to seek the approval of my husband and the mother-in-law would be going backwards, not moving forward.

I have my own dreams and plans, but does anyone care? No. I have centuries of tradition, culture, religion and elders all working against me and as the eldest child, there is even more pressure for me to comply. Their collective weight is very difficult to resist. I announced my new job as a local reporter to my family – they hardly blinked. They are saving all their excitement for my wedding day, I suppose.

It’s dawning on me that this entire marriage thing is all more for my family, not me. It is a chance for them to look respectable in the ‘community’, to proudly boast to people (people, who we really don’t like might I add), look, we have married our daughter into an ‘honourable’ family. We have finally fulfilled our obligations as parents. Should I give in for an easier life? It would be simpler; to please not only my parents but my wider family as well. Those who can’t seem to see that what was right for them isn’t automatically my preference. That maybe my best interests lie elsewhere. That as communities change and meld not every tradition has to be held on to so determinedly. That there can be adjustment that is ultimately beneficial.

I just hope that one day, my mum realises that the reason why I am so strong and independent, why I refuse to bow to society’s expectations and take notice of their double standards, is because of her, not despite her.

And, also, as one of my friends once asked me, “why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out”. I have things that I want to do.

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 14, 2013 at 10:39 pm

‘Grooming’ Is Not A Racial Or Religious Issue – It’s Societal

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 30/06/2013

 

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Throughout this week, the story dominating the headlines and discussions has been of the Oxford grooming gangs. We have been asking ourselves: what made the men do this? Was it their culture  and religion; do they view women as lesser beings? And so on.

No doubt these questions should be asked and debated. We live in a free society after all and when many of the men who have been convicted are Asian and Muslims, then it is almost inevitable.

However, we have become so obsessed with what part race and culture may have played in this that not once have we stopped to think: why were these children failed by the system, what help and guidance are the victims receiving and what action is being done to support them now?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that social services, the police,  families and friends knew, but all kept silent, as was revealed in a BBC Asian Network discussion.  In fact, one of my sources informed me that authorities showed ‘willful blindness’ because of political correctness; they were too scared to take action because of the ‘race card’.

It was not just white girls who were abused. I know of Asian girls who have been raped and abused in such a way but because communities were too concerned with appearances – not wanting it to be broadcast that one of their ‘own’ girls had been ‘defiled’ – the reports and stories were buried, especially by those in positions of power.

As a result, the EDL and BNP were able to exploit it because they depicted themselves as breaking the silence.

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Some action is finally being taken by a number of communities to tackle this issue. Together Against Grooming (TAG) said imams at hundreds of mosques had pledged to read a sermon to congregations during Friday prayers condemning the sexual grooming of children.

However, Alyas Karmani, the imam and youth worker from Keighley who wrote the sermon, admitted on Friday’s Newsnight that it was unknown how many mosques had actually read the sermon.  

It was bold in the sense that mosques and imams do not usually discuss these topics, least of all for a Friday sermon, and shows that they are finally taking action.

I am sure TAG’s intentions are good, but with all due respect, the sermon fails to address the issues. One part of the sermon says:

“Islam promotes a strict moral code of conduct on men and forbids any sexual activity outside of marriage. We are obliged to be active in ensuring the prevention and avoidance of any behaviour which can lead to inappropriate and unacceptable sexual behaviour and indecency.”

I do not see how abstinence would have prevented those girls from being abused, especially when some of the groomers were married, and it is rather insulting that they do not even make a distinction between pre-marital sex and the rape of children. It seems to be more of a PR exercise full of piety quotes from the Qur’an and hadith, trying to save the honour of Islam rather than actually addressing the issues.

We are all taught from a young age what is right and wrong and certainly Muslims in particular are brought up to abstain from alcohol, drugs and sex before marriage, so it is not as though this is brand new information. But what does need to be reiterated is that if anything like this is happening in our communities – if children are being abused – then we must all speak up against it.

People are still burying their heads in the sand. Some Muslims believe that a mosque is not the right place to talk about such things which is quite ironic because many Muslims always insist that scholars and imams are the first people we should speak to on such matters, (“leave the debating to the scholars”, they say) yet now that some mosques are doing something at last, they are complaining.  It is a no-win situation.

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Monawar Hussain, founder of The Oxford Foundation, which runs educational programmes to promote religious and social harmony, said the sermon was a “fundamental error of judgement” that would play into the hands of far-right groups.

We are so concerned with keeping up appearances and refusing to tackle the problems in our communities lest the far-right groups will exploit this, but brushing this under the carpet actually fuels the far-right even more.

BBC’s Adil Ray, who explored the subject of on-street grooming in a documentary , has been vilified in the past and recently for daring to speak out. Many of those have been Pakistani Muslims, who have accused him of being a sell-out. The attitude seems to be to keep your head down and keep quiet.

The phrase ‘culturally sensitive’ is thrown about when such stories are brought to our attention.  But as Guardian columnist Zoe Williams rightly said , “If cultural sensitivity is going to be used as a junk drawer, to toss things into when you can’t find a place for them in mainstream debate, that’s not good enough.

 

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According to some of the victims , they are still being let down by the authorities.

Anjum Dogar, one of  the groomers from Oxford, said: “The way I see it is troubled kids making up allegations. I can get people to talk about their characters here. They are well known, some of these girls.”

This is precisely the problem. These children, for that is what they were least we forget, were treated like dirt, dismissed as ‘unreliable witnesses’ whose stories would not be believed by ‘respectable’ members of society. It is no wonder then that it took so long for them to receive justice, if at all.

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, issued ‘Ground breaking’ new guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse earlier this month. This is certainly a welcome step and I whole-heartedly hope that this leads to the protection of our young people.

But as we all know, the problem is not always with the law, but when it is not being enforced. Victims must not be left to suffer in silence and those who exploit them should be brought to justice.

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