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Friday, November 27, 2009

To veil or not to veil, From Karachi, with love , Hasan Abbas,

Prof. Lazrag’s assertion cannot be refuted. In Islam the hijab is not a pillar of faith. “Nowhere in the Quran is there an indication that the veil is a condition of a woman’s acceptance of her faith.” She constantly draws on her interview with Muslim women to make her point and to demonstrate the havoc religious bigotry and ignorance have caused in the lives of Muslim women. The last chapter on “Why women should not wear the veil” sums up the author’s views. They are based on Islamic teachings, as well as the history of Muslims. “The history of Muslim societies is fraught with instances when women wore no veil without there being much ado. The veil rose and fell depending on local political circumstances. Its evolution mirrored women’s changed perceptions of themselves…. The current revival of the veil, often in a style imported from Egypt (a headscarf and long overcoat) coincided with a failed development policy, a civil war that pitted the government against a radical and splintered Islamist movement, and the emergence of an intraregional movement of cultural identity inflicted by geopolitical events. What goes on in Baghdad and Cairo, Washington, D.C., and Paris has resonance in Algiers, Rabat or Amman. In the history of domination, resistance, and protest in Middle Eastern societies, the veil has been an enduring symbol and fertile ground for dramatising political ideologies.”

The Karachi of my childhood thus existed very much in relation to and in conversation with a Mumbai whose reality for me was only defined by other people’s recollections. Saddened by the discontent of the transplanted grown-ups, I wanted to exorcise the ghost that seemed to be the ever present lament of my father that inevitably distanced him from loving Karachi, the only city I knew and loved. How could he love me and not love Karachi, I wondered? My twin brother and I, united in our devotion to Karachi would mount vehement arguments in its favour. Our childish reasons for loving Karachi were constructed both from our childlike love for the only home we knew and the propaganda about India that we were regularly fed at school. Karachi may have fallen short against the idealisations of my father’s memory, but it offered much to the children. My brother and I both went to Zoroastrian schools that had helped form pluralistic core of the city more than a hundred years before Pakistan had ever been in existence. I grew up in classrooms where religious pluralism was not an abstract concept but an everyday reality. Close friendships between the Muslim, Hindu, Parsi and Christian children who shared classrooms were so commonplace that writing about them as exercises in diversity seems somewhat odd. We went to separate rooms to pray in the morning and during religious classes, but our shared personal dramas and competitive hysteria over tests defined us as similar in a way that could not be divested by our religious differences. Karachi’s locale, and its conglomeration of migrants from all over India and Pakistan, offered a cornucopia of culture and cuisine. Chapli kebabs in Shah Faisal Colony, Dahi baras in Hyderabad Colony and delicious dossas near the Agha Khan Jamatkhana became the varied flavours of our childhood. Rafia Zakaria

Hasan Abbas: No one can deny that both countries have produced fanatics of one kind or the other and insurgencies of various intensities are brewing in various parts of both the countries. The longer the South Asian peace process remains frozen, more extensive will be the damaging impact of extremism and mutual mistrust.


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