Sunday, June 24, 2007

To the Editor: Writer Responsibility and Value Judgments

“Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective”. By Shafinaaz Hassim.

Life feature article “Lifting the Veil” dated 13 June 2007 in The Mercury, by Omeshnie Naidoo refers. It is with a newfound irony that I read the acknowledgement section of my new book “Daughters are Diamonds” this week, which states that “my thanks are due to both ‘Indianness’, and to the oft misrepresented Muslim Ummah of which I am an inextricable member”. These words derived special significance after learning of the aforementioned article which has grossly misrepresented the message of the book. I received a short email notification on 12 June 2007 informing me that the feature article had gone into print, but had been ‘changed considerably’.

To state on the one hand that I deem hijab irrelevant and then to state in the next breathe that I argue that women wear the headscarf with pride is contradictory and as I said in correspondence, not in keeping with the scope of the study. To attribute this treatise to my book is largely problematic in that it directly attacks the community represented by the narratives in my study. If you go back to our last correspondence, I also state that the headscarf is not an oppressive structure and that any reference or suggestion to it should be removed! The message of “Daughters are Diamonds” does not relate to the issue of the veil or its abolishment. Women do indeed choose to wear the Islamic dress-code as a form of identification, modesty and pride! Your choice of reference (not taken from my book), AlibhaiBrown, has a completely different theory which was more clearly defined in the article drafts that you showed to me. As a feature article and comparative study, this worked as long as that definition was made. The drafts to which I was made privy, and which were still inconclusive as at our last correspondence dated 23 May 2007, indicate that the AlibhaiBrown research is far-removed from the “Daughters are Diamonds” study and that in South Africa, the hijab is considerably officiated by women’s choice to identify themselves proudly as Muslims.

The case for “Daughters are Diamonds” is not one of dress-code. Instead, it presents itself as an observation of the cultural expectations and stigmas that may affect women’s autonomy- the insidious social control mechanisms that have no place in a progressive religion. And subsequently looks at ways in which oppressive structures may be removed from the sphere of interactions between people. Not about the hijab! Rather, it advocates moving back to a reading of the Quran as a pure text. Islam as a religion, is progressive and encouraging of men and women as spiritual beings to 'enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil' in living a moral life that is in keeping with the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). While pre-Islamic society was ridden with the gross maltreatment of women and the burial of female children, the advent of the Islamic socio-political structure advocated a progressive bill of rights that ensures that the ideals of equality and morality are upheld. These include, among others, laws governing the individuals conduct and way of life, relationships with others, marriage, inheritance and both business and inter-personal ethics. As an investigative study, my book uncovers a network of features that point to the machine of social control. At the fore of this mechanism is the notion of the family honour code which is awarded to clans and guarded over generations. Those at the weaker end of the social scale may conform by keeping strictly with the modesty code. “Daughters are Diamonds” identifies how, for the sake of family honour, self-conscious emotions such as shame and guilt are employed in order to align people’s behaviours beyond necessary moral tenets. The extreme examples look at ‘honour killings’ that occur in far-removed countries and how the social memory might inform a psychological stigma that operates in the South African setting. It looks at an overview of the origins of seclusion and the patriarchal ideas that fuel both sides of the coin of female subordination and male dominance. And it asks significant questions about the extent to which people as spiritual beings may find ways in which to live autonomously so that they might reach their fullest potential.

The article, “Lifting the Veil, has done much to contort the message of the book in that it makes the simplistic assumption that AlibhaiBrowns thesis is the same as mine. I must emphasize that it most certainly is not. The letter by correspondent SA Jazbhay already confirms that my book has been wrongly linked with the AlibhaiBrown thesis and proves its defamation at length! When I first wrote the thesis for “Daughters are Diamonds”, the sensitive life narratives of the women who form the core of the study allowed me to appreciate the emotional investment made by the women in my book as well as women in the community who may read and identify with these biographies. My concern and request is that these stories be given the respect and sensitivity that they deserve. This request is especially significant and written in urgency with regards to the media. In addition, my request to impassioned members of the public such as Mr Jazbhay is to take hold of a copy of “Daughters are Diamonds” in order to be better informed of its content before making any sweeping statements based on a reading of sieve-like reports such as “Lifting the Veil” has proven to be. If our goal as South Africans is about engaging tolerance and understanding between groups of people then it is about time that blind-sighted mudslinging becomes a thing of the past. I would like to challenge erstwhile readers and academics to an objective reading of the book in question before judgments are passed.

I sincerely hope that the duty to uphold the correct representation of intellectual property is made a priority and steps taken to correct the malign against material that documents often intricate features of any particular group of citizens, in this case South African Muslims.

With urgency
Shafinaaz Hassim

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cape Town Book Fair

Cape Town was fabulous as only Cape Town can be. I happily ambled along the peaceful highways and down the quaint lanes of the City Centre; took in the colours and delights of the colourful wares of vendors and the smiling faces of just about everyone.. A lady at the hair salon at V&A decidedly admitted that it was the energy of the sea and the warm embrace of the mountain that kept peoples spirits up. I found the atmosphere quite addictive! And to add to it all, my reason for this visit to the Mother City: heaven for booklovers: the second international Cape Town Book Fair! Seminars, workshops, booklaunches filled in between by delightful celebrations of poetry in the form of emotive readings at various venues in the Convention Centre. Like a kid in the proverbial candly store, I was filled to overflowing! If it wasnt about the immense reads and recitals it was about meeting and engaging with some of South Africa's and the worlds most celebrated writers and literary peoples. "Daughters are Diamonds" was showcased with much applomb at the Centre for the Book stand and ANFASA*'s. And was sold at the Small Publishers Book Sale Point. It was able to incite much debate and encouraging dialogue from various people. In addition, the Cape launch was held on Sunday 17 June at the Kramer Law Building at UCT's Middle Campus. I was humbled at the response and the engaging audience participation. With this in mind, "Daughters" will most certainly make it to another reading in Cape Town before the end of the year. My thanks go to Muslim Views, Voice of the Cape, Cape Argus, Exclusive Books Airport CT, Wordsworth Books V&A, The Centre for the Book, ANFASA, Books & Leisure, Donald Woodburn (SA's Dr. Seuss), Dr. Nazia Peer (author of House of Peace), the people of Cape Town and my family and friends for their invaluable love and support.

* Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association of South Africa

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Letter response: Lifting the Veil

Dear (Ms Reporter)

I have just had a chance to read the Mercury article that you wrote, and am sufficiently surprised to see that the article turned out significantly different from what we discussed. The message of Daughters are Diamonds does not relate to the issue of the veil or its abolishment, neither do I say that the headscarf is irrelevant! In our correspondence, I said to you to please not mix-up the issues and also that in no way suggest that I see the headscarf as a form of oppression. Women do indeed choose to wear the islamic dress-code as a form of identification, modesty and pride! Your choice of reference (not taken from my book), AlibhaiBrown, has a completely different theory which was more clearly defined in the article drafts that you showed to me. It was fine as long as that definition was made. On the other hand, case for Daughters are Diamonds is not one of dress-code but of the use of the Quran as a pure text and in its form as a progressive mode of conduct for people to live a moral life. And it is about removing the cultural expectations and stigmas that affect womens autonomy- the insiduous social control mechanisms that have no place in a progessive religion. Not about the hijab!

This article has done much to defame the message of the book in that it assumes that Alibhai Browns thesis is the same as mine. It most certainly is not. On the one hand you say that I state that the hijab is irrelevant, and then you state that I argue that women wear it with pride. This manipulates the message to suit the message that you wish to convey, and I am left feeling appalled at this standard of journalism.

I await your response eagerly. The gross misrepresentation and defamation that your article has afforded my book needs to be addressed in the best possible way and I sincerely hope that you can achieve this. Please mail me as urgently as possible in the hope that we can sort this out.


On Veiling and Unveiling

Embraced by the calmness that emanates from every corner of the Mother City, I can write to say that much of the elegance of the Mountains Beauty transcends in the warmth within the hearts of Cape Towns residents. These few days have been ingratiatingly pleasant. The Cape Town Book Fair has turned out to be an incredible experience and epitomises the celebration of the written word, enticing booklovers of all ages and fancies to its ceremonies. But with writing comes this deepset responsibility, one that has just come to my attention in more stark reference than ever before. In engaging with members of the press and other media, one takes for granted that there must exist a form of writers ethic to convey in truth and good will, the message of the writer of a book in as exact form as possible by the reviewer or reporter. I found that such was not the case in a recent article by a newbie journalist of the Mercury who has grossly misrepresented the message that is "Daughters are Diamonds" for what could be seen as her own ends to perpetuate her rather limited rhetoric, misunderstanding in its entirety the concept of hijab. Ms Naidoo quotes me as having said that hijab is irrelevant in current society. Of course that does not make sense! Especially when she then goes on to say that Hassim argues that Muslim women in South Africa wear the hijab with pride and an awareness of their identity as Muslim. Her choice of title (Lifting the Veil) is the first point of focus for the intention to defame, as "Daughters are Diamonds" is not an issue of purdah and the veil, but an observation on the insiduous forms of social control, stigma and cultural expectations that limit womens autonomy, which is seen as religious obligation. Islam as a religion, is progressive and encouraging of men and women as spiritual beings to 'enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil' in living a moral life in keeping with the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). I am especially appalled at the idea by the Lifestyle reporter goes on to quote her own references in the form of Alibhai-Brown whose views are both contrary and far-removed from the scope of "Daughters are Diamonds" message. This defamatory article is hardly a conscientious effort at sound journalism and leaves me wondering about the thirst for scandal that half-wit journalists need to rely on in order to make themselves heard.

Monday, June 11, 2007

BookLaunch- Cape Town

" Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective"
will be launched in Cape Town this month. The book will be showcased and sold at the Centre for the Book Q3 stand and the Small Publishers stand at the Cape Town Book Fair from 16-19June2007 and an official launch will be held at the University of Cape Town:

DATE: Sunday 17 June 2007
TIME: 6:30pm for 7:00pm
BOOK LAUNCH Venue: Kramer Auditorium LT3 and Kramer Foyer
Middle Campus

Guests Speaker:

Dr. Nazia Peer - Author of 'House of Peace'

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Reviews: Daughters are Diamonds




9May2007 THE POST

Radio Interviews:

Channel Islam International: Julie Ally "Daughters are Diamonds"
Sunday 10 June 2007, 11am

Monday 11 June 2007, 1:00-1:30pm

Voice of the Cape: Adiela F at 2:30pm

Channel Islam International: Daughters are Diamonds at the CapeTownBookFair
Sunday 24 June 2007, 11am