Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rounding up July's Reviews..

July has had many moments.. both for Daughters and for the literary world in general..

Daughters are Diamonds has made the Top Ten Best Sellers List with Fascination Books - Savannah, Al-Huda Books and Iqrah Agencies. Aside from the reporter.co.za and MV articles, Daughters also features in the African Perspectives media, Brunei Times and Al-Qalam. Channel Islam International aired an hour long review session on 15 July with a fabulous engaged response from listeners, and six complimentary copies were distributed to callers. On 28 July, I was invited to showcase and present Daughters are Diamonds at the Conference for United Muslim Women in Southern Africa; its theme being relevant to the scope of the Daughters research: Contemporary challenges facing women. The event was commendable and held at The University of Pretoria. Guest speakers included Mrs Fatima Allie, Mrs Zuleikha Mayet, Mrs Lubna Nadvi of UKZN, Wiesahl Agerdien Domingo of Wits Universities Law School, Prof Hoosen (Jerry) Coovadia of KZN, and Zuleikha Adam of the core womens group in Gauteng. A range of topics were covered including issues of abuse, muslim personal law and legislation on traditional marriages and legitimacy statuses of children born in traditional marriages; marriage contracts, inheritance according to shariah versus SA state policies among others. The event was supported by the Cultural desk of the Iranian embassy and covered by Iranian TV and I-TV. Look out for upcoming August launches as well as more reviews. Next up: A Showcasing with Unisa Press at UNISA Womens Day celebrations in coalition with the Institute for Gender Studies.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scripted Lives...

The following review appears in this months edition of the Muslim Views.

PULL QUOTE: It is significant that nowhere in the Wasiyat does the word love occur.

The scripted lives of six Muslim women

Here’s a fancy expression: reflexivity of the self. It simply means having the freedom to determine your own destiny. It’s about making your own decisions that suit your needs, being free to be an individual, to be different from the masses.

Shafinaaz Hassim is a young sociologist who’s just published a book entitled Daughters are Diamonds. It’s an academic study and it deals with the reflexivity issues of six Indian Muslim women in the Gauteng area. It’s called a groundbreaking study because it documents and presents, for the first time, the stories of women whose reflexivity has been undermined by those closest to them.

And for this reason the book can also be provocative. Although the women are anonymous, it is not their names that draw attention, but their unique experience. So it is quite conceivable, for example, that “Salma, 46, Cheated-On”—tagged with this badge of dishonour—is recognised by those who know of her in Johannesburg as a woman married straight out of matric at age 19, as a daughter-in-law who cared for her husband’s younger siblings. They may very well know her as a wife who endures her husband’s infidelity, who chooses not to leave him due to financial dependence and for fear of losing her children. Infidelity may be common, but her case bears the imprint of unique individual experience.

Hassim’s study confronts family and theological structures that uphold these codes of honour and all the practices associated with undermining the self-reflexivity of Muslim women. It questions tradition, culture and custom, some of which date back to pre-Islamic civilisations. However, izzat, or the code of honour that Muslim women raised in these environments are required to observe is often viewed as an Islamic tradition. Hassim, following the arguments of scholars like Lila Abu-Lughod and Asma Barlas, says that a patriarchal reading of the Qur’an as well as political, economic and cultural factors that have nothing to do with Islam are used as a basis for the scripted lives of Muslim women. And the script includes forms of social control, seclusion, subordination and exploitation.

In reading Hassim’s study one encounters various forms and instances of social control. However, there is one that merits closer analysis: the Wasiyat, also known as the “Advice of a Mother to her Daughter on her Wedding day. The author of the Wasiyat is unknown, but it is often distributed to guests at Indian Muslim weddings as an accompaniment to sweets. The actual text has no known reference, but is currently on the website of the Jamiatul Ulama (KZN). Another example is the ten long advices offered to the Muslim wife by Maulana Ajaz Azami, published online by Madrasah Arabia Islamia, Azaadville.

There is no special significance that may be attached to the Wasiyat as a text espousing the subordination of the Muslim wife in itself. It is simply a good example of the kind of discourse that undermines the reflexivity of married Indian Muslim women.

The literal and figurative language of the Wasiyat is telling: “be an earth for him and he will be your sky”. The symbolism is ample. Is the recommended distance between a Muslim man and his wife like that between heaven and earth? Is she the earth to be walked upon and he the unattainable sky?

“Be his bondmaid and he will be your slave” Is slavery an appropriate metaphor for the relationship between husband and wife? There should be no bondage in marriage, only a mutual willingness to serve based on love. The only legitimate bondage is that between the Muslim and Allah.

It is significant that nowhere in the Wasiyat does the word love occur. The Wasiyat does not at all address the very basis on which a marital relationship is supposed to exist.

The physical needs of the husband are granted due recognition. Those of the wife are not mentioned: “Be prepared for him at mealtimes, for the heat of hunger is inflammable. Be quiet when he is asleep, for the disturbance of sleep infuriates.”

This casts the wife in the traditional role of home executive, which, in itself may be a perfectly negotiable arrangement between spouses. However, it explicitly sanctions the gratification of the husband’s hunger and need for rest. None for the wife. It is a crudely unilateral obligation. It also presents a crudely stereotypical image of the despotic husband: given to fury in the heat of hunger and disrupted sleep. This is no tribute to the husband either.

The same applies to the emotional needs of each: “Should he draw near, then draw close to him; should he become distant then stay away from him…dare not be joyous when he is worried, for this will be wrong on your part, and dare not display sadness when he is happy for this will breed hatred.”

These lines reveal the essence of emotional states in compromised self-reflexivity. The wife is expected not only to accept that her husband’s emotional needs are superior and the only ones worthy of gratification, but also that her emotional needs are less worthy and subject to self-negation. Furthermore, the function of depersonalising a deeply personal aspect of the self is delegated to the relegated self. She is expected to deny her own need for love and to acknowledge his. She is expected to become the instrument of her own suffering so that he has no notion of it and therefore no compassion or guilt.

The Wasiyat is quite explicit in its definition of power relations in the marriage. It is a hierarchy and the wife necessarily owes obeisance to the husband. Moreover, this balance of power is given divine sanction. Allah wills that a wife should necessarily be obedient to her husband. The reverse is, by implication, a violation of the divine order.

The point, made so cogently by scholars like Abu-Lughod, Barlas and Hassim, that the Qur’an and the Prophetic model do not endorse these values and practices that diminish the autonomy and self-reflexivity of the woman, should be fully appreciated.

We cannot let a misappropriation of the Qur’an or the Prophetic model be an instrument of social injustice.

Ibn Al Fikr

Sunday, July 01, 2007

An Apology from The Mercury, and More Reviews



The Mercury (29 June 2007) printed an opinion piece and review written by myself (as per previous post); a subsequent apology for the misrepresentation of the book as well as for wrongly attributing the comment about 'irrelevant hijab' to me.

Heres to maintaining writer ethic and the conveyance of truth in the media



Dear Sir

(Un)Lifting the Veil (of Ignorance)

Ms Omeshnee Naidoo's article, ‘Lifting the veil’ (The Mercury, 13 June 2007), refers.

I have had the privilege of actually reading the book Daughter's are Diamonds, by Ms Shafinaaz Hassim, so I consider myself somewhat qualified to comment on it. I have been moved to do so because Ms Naidoo's irresponsible journalism, and as editor you need to take full responsibility, will, no doubt, have undesired consequences. Matters have not been assisted by the manner in which the accompanying photographs to the article were splashed in The Mercury in what can only be described as an act of sensation-mongering.

Turning to the facts: Daughters are Diamonds is based on Ms Hassim's, who holds an MA in Social Science from the University of the Witwatersrand, Master's dissertation. Through the voices of six different women, the author has tried to give expression to the “patriarchal mindset that is able to infringe on the rights and liberties of women, in a number of ways”. The women, who were interviewed extensively by the author, are all Muslim and are all of Indian ancestry.

In her work, which is really a social commentary, Ms Hassim has asked questions about gender and family stereotypes in the Indian Muslim community and has commented on the use of social control mechanisms to objectify women. Since Daughters are Diamonds is merely a social study, it can hardly be contended that Ms Hassim has attempted to prescribe, or even commented on the virtuosity of certain practices, what is and is not culturally or religiously acceptable. Hers is not a religious critique and nowhere in her book has she attempted to cast any normative value judgements on the practices of the Indian Muslim community.

To therefore say that she has declared the headscarf “redundant” is not only spurious but, frankly, is plainly incorrect and somewhat mischievous. (It does beg the question as to why Islam and Muslims are repeatedly misrepresented in the popular press). Not only that, but the comments are inflammatory and have the tendency to defame her since they are false and reduce her standing in the Muslim community. Moreover, her words, and I can only assume that Ms Naidoo interviewed Ms Hassim since she has self-evidently not read the book, have been manipulated and contrived to misrepresent her convictions and has managed to taint the image of Daughters are Diamonds. It disturbs me that a newspaper with the standing of The Mercury's has demonstrated such mediocre journalism.

Even though it focuses on the experiences of Indian Muslim women, Daughters are Diamonds provides a much needed voice for women in our society because it serves to highlight gender inequality, which is steeped in cultural tradition. I would encourage everybody to read it for themselves.

As far as The Mercury is concerned, if any residual integrity and professionalism is to be salvaged from this unfortunate incident, it seems to me that it would only be fair to publish a retraction of the article and an apology to Ms Hassim.


Nazia Peer