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


Anonymous said...


i see that most of the discussions going on at ur SoapBox but since this is the final letter u sent in i must say u pretty much cover everything... but how likely are they to publish... the media is unlikely to want to own up to all of the rather obvious wrongs.

good luck!


Anonymous said...

dear shafinaaz

i had the pleasure of reading your book- my brother lent it to me. i read it through at one sitting as i found the subject matter and your protagonists' views most compelling reading. and yes, nowhere did i find any denigration of hijab, and more pertinently, this was not a matter for debate in the book.

i used to despair at the negative publicity that islam and muslim writers inevitably suffer with the concomittant misinterpretation of their words to suit a sensation seeking western audience. but on reflection, i don't think it's so awful- certainly more westerners are intrigued about islam and islamic values than ever before- thus subverting the veiled intentions of islam bashers of the west. god works in mysterious ways.....
so you have done your bit to open the minds of some people- once they read the Quran, they are hooked, or forever silenced.


kimya said...

@ delia: i agree for the most part that owning up to the disregard for the way in which material is presented isnt a priority for them it seems, but a little difficult to ignore in its entirety, wudnt u say?

@mrs m: Thank you for the kind and encouraging words. The media forey with the Mercury has shown much holes in their research capacity as reporters of efficiency. However, this experience has strengthened my resolve in presenting the message that is 'Daughters are Diamonds' in its purest form.

diatribe said...

the plus side is that there is no such thing as bad publicity


Anonymous said...

Keep up the Good Fight!


kimya said...

There has been some disussion at a recent friday sermon regards the article and its evident bigotry.