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Islamic Culture (22 Mar 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Burqa the Most Fashionable Route to Paradise

By Rafia Zakaria

 21st March, 2012

THERE are those who wear the burqa for purely pragmatic reasons: to ward off the catcalls of men loafing at bus stops and in bazaars, to stanch the slick rumour-mongering tongues of neighbours, to better protect the outfit underneath from the grime of city life.

Their needs are simple and can be met easily. The burqa is a covering and so must be hardy and resilient, a sort of armour for the woman underneath trying with fabric to put some space between herself and the encroaching public world.

These recipes would be simple if the only women who wore the burqa in Pakistan were the practical, hard-nosed urbanites for whom anonymity is essential to making inroads into worlds and spaces previously unknown to their gender.

These would be the female students who have to use public transport to get to and back from a faraway college, recently migrated village women who must now ply the city streets to do the shopping and middle-aged housewives for whom educating the last son or daughter has meant manning a store counter. The encompassing blackness of the heavy fabric reduces not simply the time required to dress and become presentable, it coats need and necessity with respectability.

There are some others who have chosen to wear the burqa in recent years, women who are neither of the aspiring middle class wresting education or a job from a wasteland of men and opportunity, or the apologetically poor, interested only in warding off the leers of guards and gardeners.

These are the women of tea parties and coffee parties, newly reincarnated in (post) ‘war on terror Pakistan’ as the newly religious. Like the would-be dieter that happily collects her gear and gets up before the onerous task of actually eating less, the paraphernalia of piety is far more crucial in this game than the actual act.

Among the newly pious, partaking of tea and pastries in drawing rooms, the allure of the burqa as a beautiful eccentricity — a newly discovered hobby that elevates morally and distinguishes socially — presents some unique dilemmas. Survival in this social set follows a longstanding set of rules, the first of which is conspicuous consumption.

If bags and shoes and scarves and outfits cannot speak for themselves, or shrouded under burqas, speak at all, they lose both their power and their social purpose. What good is that diamond bracelet under the tight-buttoned cuffs that cannot be rolled up? What value is there to that couture outfit denied a voice under an itchy piece of beige polyester?

All this leads to the vexing conundrum of projecting both wealth and piety at the same time. What to do when women with no vocation other than the propagation of status find themselves addicted to an exploration that contradicts the competitive spending required of the newly wealthy?

One solution could have been a choice, where the dictates of one is chosen over the other. As per this recipe, the diamonds and drawing rooms would be abandoned for the muted greys and browns that would make the begum undistinguishable from the driver’s wife and go off to collect tomatoes and potatoes from the neighbourhood market.

This could have disastrous consequences. Newly covered aunties would look out from the tinted windows of their Toyota Prados to find the same pale blue geometric hijab from that one shop on Karachi’s Tariq Road staring back at them from the heads of women riding on the backs of Honda motorcycles. Everyone knows that Pakistani society cannot tolerate such confusion of class, mistakes that would make the rich look poor.

Some of the problems emanating from the challenge of projecting piety and wealth with a single garment are pre-empted by the steadily growing influx of Khaleeji Swarovski crystal-encrusted abayas and hijabs. Some enterprising pious begums have embraced the task of training tailors to sew matching and contrasting hijabs, artful patterns and designs that they insist can distinguish the discerning wearer from the merely ordinary one motivated by practicalities.

None of these troubles, however, seem to have provoked the question that one would have expected to evolve from the curious marriage of piety and wealth. With wealthy Pakistani women swarming to religious revivalism, redefining burqa styles and investing previously dowdy hijabs with the finesse of their distinctively expensive tastes, alarmingly few seem interested in exploring the connections between modesty and poverty.

The revived burqa of the rich begum can, it seems, traverse all the boundaries of unfettered spending and showmanship, sport crystals and pearls, cost more than the salaries of maids, chauffeurs and maybe a couple of office clerks combined, and yet magically invest its wearer with instant purity and piety.

Its form, ultimately, is more important than its function. Largely disconnected from the power relations of the society around it, it can absolve the sins of greed and exhibitionism in one easy act of covering. Wrapped in an expensive couture burqa or in a Hermès scarf, the society madam of old is no longer simply wealthy but also devout and spiritually laundered.

There can be only one explanation for this lack of focus on the meaning of the begum’s burqa: that those who have taken on the task of making religion fashionable for the wealthy have glossed over the ethics of wealth in favour of promoting the garb of piety.

Why not inveigle the reluctant with the choicest angles of revived faith, new avenues for material competition and newly discovered inroads for fashion innovation before bogging them down with the challenges of charity, restraint and honesty?

Under this recipe, wearing scarves and designing hijabs bears not just a worldly but a transcendent value, making the begum’s burqa the most fashionable route to paradise.

The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-culture/rafia-zakaria/burqa-the-most-fashionable-route-to-paradise/d/6897


  • Here is an interesting discussion between pro and anti asking questions from scholar Ghamdi: Niqab/Hijab debate: Part one http://www.meezan.tv/videos/331/veil-in-islam-and-west-(1)-practical-issues-of-modern-age-javed-ahmad-ghamidi Part Two http://www.meezan.tv/videos/332/veil-in-islam-and-west-(2)-practical-issues-of-modern-age-javed-ahmad-ghamidi
    By Mubashir - 3/23/2012 9:25:39 AM

  • Women cover their heads, fine. Who is complaining? But the Niqab? Where did that come from? Why is it not worn during Hajj? Does the Qur'an commands it? Wearing Niqab is Western countries immediately conjures up suspicions of someone getting ready to rob a bank!! In non Islamic countries If it is worn not to draw unwanted male attention, then it fails miserably on all counts because it does draw all kinds of attention, male or female.
    By Mubashir - 3/23/2012 9:22:26 AM

  • Women cover their hair to be modest. ... nuns cover their hair out of modesty. Also, when we see frequent pictures of the Virgin Mary, she is covering her hair out of modesty. Therefore, Muslim women are doing the exact same thing as righteous Christian women. STOP HATING. The fact remains that, in Western culture, hiding your face is perceived instinctively as somehow sinister; robbers, highwaymen etc. Since when does expression play a part in a trial? I thought it was based on listening to the evidence presented? Just another reason to stir things up and trying to humiliate the Muslims!!

    A woman could wear a hat with a trim of netting that covered most of her face and as long as it was a 'westernised' style, that would be acceptable to most people, so why the fuss about the veil? There does not seem to be a substantial difference in my opinion. Perhaps these attitudes are reflective of the human fear of 'otherness'.

    It seems most people have no real idea about hijab. Firstly hijab is the covering of the hair and chest and is a requirement in Islam. Covering the face with the veil is personal choice for women who wish to conceal their beauty for their husbands eyes only.

    The issue is not what we think of the niqab or any other religious or cultural practice, the issue is whether we think the state should be in the business of regulating what women wear or do not wear. If there is to be a struggle against the niqab (quite a separate issue), it must come from the women concerned, not from these paternalistic (patriarchal, racist) Harpercrats.

    I don't need anyone to save me from my religion. I choose to wear the headscarf for personal reasons as a fulfillment of religion which I believe to be important for MYSELF. It is a part of me and I don't need anyone to save me, I don't need people to do anything except let me live as I want. I don't tell anyone else what to do or what not to do although there are many things I might not agree with. We are achieving nothing with these petty debates, how about we actually look to all those issues which are actually important to the functioning of our society and for the betterment of society rather than worrying about women in niqab not moving their lips while taking their oath! Grow up.

    By Iftikhar Ahmad - 3/23/2012 6:28:59 AM

  • what a splendid article ! 10 out of 10 !
    By adis - 3/23/2012 2:43:04 AM

  • Burqa as a fashion statement is good because all fashions are transient. Let us hope burqa soon goes into oblivion.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 3/22/2012 3:32:10 PM

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