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Beautiful people

Being bullied for my weight is the earliest memory I have of school. Being told that “you’re a fat tub of lard…” is my strongest memory of an interaction with a trusted relative from my formative years. Throughout my school years I hid in classrooms and libraries so I could avoid the verbal, sometimes physical hostility, from some of my peers. I was weak for I had not known what strength was. I was not empowered for I could not find my voice. I was lost for solutions because I hid what hurt me day in and day out. 

So – when a little while ago I made a Meer Monday promise of writing something about body image, I had naturally considered the trajectory of childhood obesity, associated playground bullying and the challenges of social exclusion and discrimination manifesting into low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. 

However, I am painfully reminded on a regular basis that the ridicule, bullying and victimisation has not ended on the concreted playgrounds of our educational institutions. It transgresses and follows us into our adult lives, work spaces, social spaces and worst of all, the havens that we call home and family. 

So it stands to reason that we talk about all of that today. However, before we proceed, I would like to offer disclaimers. This extended monologue is NOT about the scientific reasons of obesity or indeed, any short-cut solutions. It is a narrative, which focuses on the effects of negative experiences pertaining to body image and societal reactions. 

I have deviated from my usual clinical style of writing, which is succinct, factual and usually drawing upon statistics. Instead, there shall be an outpour of personal experience with the intentions of giving an insider’s view of what is wrong with and what needs to be focused upon in order to nurture a society, which can move beyond its stereotypes and prejudices.  

I was at a wedding over the weekend and was reprimanded on an individual’s inability for “not recognising you…you have gained so much weight, how did you let yourself go?”, as well as being the comedic interval for some “Oh, so fat you have gotten, max lol” (then said individual proceeded to do a King Kong expression). The best ones are of course the aunties with the life changing advice of “Eat salads and go to the gym”. I could applaud such astute and gifted advice. 

Some of them are even quite concerned about your life moving forward, “You know, if you don’t lose weight then you shall only get married to someone like you”. What? To a progressive liberal who has been emancipated through the culmination of his life experiences leading him to accept and love humanity based on the credentials of their personality, moral values and NOT their dress size? Thank you Aunty, I shall have one of them to go right now. 

Not having a friend until college years challenged my concepts of healthy friendships and relationships. The longest running cognitive defect I have carried has been the lack of self-worth and believing that I do not deserve friends, do not deserve kindness and do not deserve love because of how I look. It was not until I was in Oxford that I found the most fundamental aspect of an individual’s social growth and progress – the facilitation of accepting of oneself wholly; recognition for the value of one’s existence and most importantly NOT being apologetic about it. 

How did that come to be for me? I was lucky to find a group of friends who looked beyond physical appearances. They recognised me for what I had to offer regarding my values, ideologies and most importantly, the quality of friendship. They have fiercely challenged my biases against myself and reprimanded me against the unkindness I have shown myself. 

The outcome of this is a thirty-one-year-old unmarried overweight brown female who values and believes in herself and her contribution to the lives of those individuals who are linked to her (oh, and she now has a tendency of owning the dance floor once she gets the moves going – thank you, Abhilasha). 

The perceptive ones amongst you will have noted the references made to certain parameters of age, race and marital status. All of these are further examples of artefacts that have no real significance except being arbitrary descriptors, which are utilised to judge and draw an irrelevant correlation to the worth of an individual’s existence. Unfortunately, these artefacts will continue to plague individuals and their self-worth unless a conscious effort is made to alter this. 

So where do we begin? Firstly, challenge yourself. Do you hold discriminatory values? Do you make jest of an individual’s personal features be it weight, appearance, mannerisms etc? Do you laugh at the fat jokes, black jokes, gay jokes, sexist jokes? Stop doing it and where appropriate (hint: appropriate at ALWAYS) make an apology for your decorum. 

Secondly, identify bullying behaviour. Is this happening in your child’s school or playground? Is this happening in your home? Who is it happening to? How is this affecting them? Challenge such behaviour – do it with kindness but with assertiveness. 

Thirdly, educate. I firmly believe that a moral education begins long before a child enters school, in the confines of their home and personal environment. Teach them about acceptance, kindness and eradicate archaic social concepts of what a right and wrong body should look like. Show them how to empower those who are broken and vulnerable. Enable them to create spaces of fairness and justice, where bullies are challenged. 

Fourthly, challenge institutions. Schools, colleges and universities are sacred intellectual spaces. Their responsibility does not stop once the examination papers have been handed in. They are a key component in shaping the environment where individuals grow, develop their sense of personality and find their social standing. Arguably it therefore becomes our duty to ensure our intellectual spaces facilitate anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. Expect these institutions, which have a moral and legal obligation to safeguard our children, to gather information of the social practices within their grounds and inform us about the experiences of our youth. Only then we can collectively attempt to make individual experiences better and not lead people down paths of doubt, low self esteem and broken morale. 

-by Dr Huma R Khan

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The Deed of Divorce: An Open Letter to Society

Written By: Rabia Nazir

(This letter is a continuation of the previous one with a different addressee)

Dear People,

I hope that something, if not everything, is definitely going great in your life. Have you ever imagined someone for whom, at this very moment, nothing is going great in life? They are breathing the same air as you are. They may appear alright but may be going through low self-esteem and anxiety. They are around you; your college-mate 5 years back, the girl next doors, or your housemaid. Sometimes they cannot answer all of your questions about their life choices for some strange reasons. Who are they? The women for whom marital relationships have not worked out the way it have worked for the most of you. What are they afraid of? Your rejection! How could you possibly help? By NOT judging!

Let us assume that you were walking on a busy road. You met someone seeming reasonable on the road and soon you became kind of friends with them. After a while you started getting along quite well and you both decided to keep walking together for the rest of journey. On the way, you had to stop by for a moment on a shop and you decided to leave some of your stuff with your new friend. You returned quickly from the shop. Lo and Behold! Your friend ran away with your stuff. You have been deceived and robbed. What would you call it? An accident! Was it your fault? Not really! Or may be ‘Yes’ because you probably trusted the wrong person.

Dear Society, the person who has been robbed is ‘the divorced woman’, the robber is their ‘faulty life partner’, and the stuff robbed is ‘trust’. You are probably lucky enough not be robbed yet. I want to ask you what could possibly be the fault of the person who has been robbed. And come on! Have you never ever made a mistake in making friends?? What I’m trying to point out here is that you are no one to point a finger towards such a woman for whom you have no idea what she has been through. She is ‘a victim’ NOT ‘a suspected criminal’. She has been robbed of her self-worth. She needs acceptance, support, and respect.

I know you show respect to her suffering but do you treat them as you treat your own daughter or sister? You hunt ‘Mr. Perfect Right’ for them but a divorcee is pushed to settle with ‘Mr. Second-Hand’. Let’s go back to ‘why did the divorce happen?’ in the first place. To live with self-respect! People, you need to realize that if a divorcee had to ‘choose to suffer’, she would have not certainly won herself this title. If she has been brave enough to embrace this title, she does deserve ‘Mr. Perfect Right’ like your own girls.

I am ending this letter with a quote I read somewhere; it says

‘When you judge someone, it does not show who they are but it shows who you are’.

I am looking forward to who you are..

From,

Someone who breathes the same air as you!

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The Deed of Divorce; An Open Letter

Written By: Rabia Nazir

[To whom it may concern]

My Dear Woman,

I understand that this letter may not find you in the best of your spirits. I cannot feel the same what you are feeling right now but I can imagine the thoughts and illusions crossing your mind and heart every single minute. I, certainly, am not in the capacity to change anything for you but I am writing this letter to open a new door for you to what could possibly be different from this moment.

It is easier said than done that ‘ITS OK! You will be fine’. It is not going to be OK anytime soon but you will be fine once you change your beliefs about yourself. Yes, it’s all about how you see yourself. People often fail to see that they could find themselves too standing in a similar situation where staying or leaving in a worthless marriage is equally painful. Unfortunately, unlike marriage, divorce is neither a pre-planned nor a happy occasion. You must have gone through depression and frequent episodes of nightmares before reaching the decision of ending the relationship. It has not been easy, you see. However, I am glad that you chose your self-respect and dignity over keeping up the appearances in the culture of silent suffering. People around you might be feeling sorry. Leave them to fidget their minds around why, what, and how. The only important thing to remember is that pity is for helpless and you are brave. You have shown strength in the face of the norms that you can stand-up for yourself.

I am so proud of you for this!

Divorce is an unwelcoming phenomenon is our culture and people often lose the decency to respect the limits of someone’s body and mind while desperate to ‘dig the matter out’. So, my lovely, how should you respond? We always hear that love is unconditional and that’s what you are going to witness in coming days. Be it your parent, your colleague, you friend, or your neighbor, the people who believed in you will continue to believe in you no matter what… because  they are in love with your persona and one failed relationship cannot change it. I don’t know if you have many loving people around you or not but unconditional love of one human being is enough and more than enough. Choose a circle for yourself all over again and this time the criterion is solely unconditional love and mutual respect. Let me tell you that even if you don’t have anyone, you have yourself. Love yourself! Success, health, fortune, and happiness; you have a share in whatever is available in the world outside your window.

Heyy! Go and get your share; you are not coming to this world a second time. Are you???

You know what is the biggest loss in divorce? A flawless public image? No! A home or car? No! Virginity? No! It is not the relationship which breaks; it is the ‘self-trust’ which breaks. My lady, keep reminding yourself that being knocked down is an accident but staying down is a choice. Work in little steps towards rebuilding the trust in relationships and stick to the mantra that you are as worthy of a happy relationship as everyone else around you. Beware that there will be times when you will dragged down to ‘settle-in’ for whatever is available. You might also cross paths with trespassers who will try to entertain themselves because they will perceive you as a vulnerable person but you are not my dear. You can only outsmart such people if you keep a sorted-head about relationship goals. You will be surprised to see that how clarity of mind will lead your eyes towards the right path. Say ‘thanks’ to them anyway and keep going. You are not that attractive ornament available on 70% discount in the market but you have a full-price to be paid and you deserve to be invested in. By the way, what is so wrong with having a life beyond relationships? I don’t mind but , meanwhile, there is so much to do out there.

Heyy! Get up and make yourself useful. You never know somebody somewhere may need you more than you need anyone…..

It is a dark phase indeed but ‘it shall too pass’. My friend, it does make sense to allow yourself to experience disappointment, sadness, and tears at times. However, do not make these emotions permanent residents of your heart. Whatever the reason may be and whatever the consequences may be, you are now at the end of darkness and at the same time you could be at the beginning of light, if you choose.

Heyy! I am looking forward for your return as self-content and above all a happy human being open to love and trust. Missing your smiley and sparkly eyes!

Love from,

Your Future Self

 

Disclaimer: The author felt that the material presented in the article does not need references from literature as no fact and figures has been included as such.

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Polygyny – Provision or Privilege

Written By: Rabia Nazir

The fast-pacing world is not only shaping thinking patterns of masses; the relationship forms and choices are also moving from ‘traditional’ to ‘tailored’. Non-believing researchers often question that why a religion like Islam which strongly supports the rights of women accepts ‘polygamy’. Islam allows ‘polygyny’ to be more specific; implying that a man can have multiple spouses. A woman is not allowed to have more than one husband at a given time; logical enough because of the impossibility of the identification of off-springs born to the mother with many husbands.

Historian would agree with me on this that ‘polygyny’ was not something introduced by Islam. It had been present in various shapes among different cultures and religions from pre-Islamic times. Such polygynic relationships were driven by numerous motives including passion, power, and pleasure etc. There was also not any limit on the number of partners (including either legitimate or illegitimate) a man can have1, 2.

Yes, polygyny is allowed in Islam but only under ‘special circumstances’. Our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) had at least 13 wives according to testified sources. We should also appreciate here that Prophet (peace be upon him) remained married to Hazrat Khadeeja (may Allah be pleased with her) only from the age of 25 to 50 years during the time of his prime youth whereas there was a culture of polygyny among Arabs in the society at that time. Anyone who has read Quran and life of Prophet (peace be upon him) closely and thoroughly knows that the purpose of these marriages was either strategic (to establish family ties with close companions particularly newly converted tribes) or social (looking after the widows/divorcees) 3, 4. Islam allows polygyny as a provision to accommodate the women who have no family members to support them and are not in position to support them otherwise. The conditional nature of polygyny in Islam can be clearly understood from the following verse of Surah Al-Nisa:

‘Marry woman of your choice in twos’ threes’ or fours’ but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly, (with them), then only one’ [4:3]

If a man decides to have more than one wife for a good reason; he should be able to do justice among the wives in terms of financial support, time, and attention. Understanding the human nature, it has already been said in Glorious Quran:

 ‘It is very difficult to be just and fair between women’. [4:129]

Polygyny has been misunderstood by majority of people in our society in a way that it looks like a privilege given to men for enjoying relationships with many spouses. Islamic polygyny is never about satisfying lust or sexual needs. In case of polygyny, all wives are given equal status and there shouldn’t be a ‘favourite wife’ or ‘sweet-heart’. For this reason, the Messenger of God asked God’s pardon for any unintentional leanings. He would make this prayer:

‘‘I may have unintentionally shown more love to one of them than the others and this would have been injustice. So, O Lord, I take refuge in Your grace for those things which are beyond my power.’’5

I have seen ‘forced marriages’ as the most common motive for ‘a second marriage’. We all come across cases in newspapers and on television where people in forced marriages later become involved in cheating, leaving parents/families/children, and even murders sometimes. In many cases, second marriage is done secretly without the permission or the knowledge of the first wife. What we forget that our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) has greatly emphasized that the ‘wedding contract/Nikah’ should be performed and announced publicly. Therefore, a ‘secret second marriage’ is a false practice on the account of polygyny6. I believe that these things would happen to a lesser extent if parents should consider and accept their children’s choice of life-partner regardless of sect, cast, and social status.

Some people also decide to marry second time if they remain childless from first marriage or for the desire of having a son. I’m not an Islamic scholar to comment on this that if it is justified or not. However, the thing which worries me is that our Pakistani dramas are still preaching these ideas to viewers that it is women’s choice/fault that she could not bear a male child. I can’t digest that how on earth is it possible that a woman can decide if she wants to bear a girl or a boy…………

I deeply regret when I see people justifying their unreasonable choices in the name of Islam without bothering to understand the philosophy behind the provision of polygyny. OK! I do understand that you want to do some social work by marrying some women out there but then why not marry widows/divorcees with children, or the orphans, or the needy with no family, or an averaged looking poor girl, or someone disabled by a road accident? Why is it taken as a privilege token to marry only younger and good-looking girls? I ll leave you to think about it!

References

  1. George Elliott Howard, ‘The Project Gutenberg E-Book of A History of Matrimonial Institutions’, [2015].
  2. George Monger, ‘Marriage customs of the world: from henna to honeymoons’, [2004].
  3. Sayyid Ali Ashgar Razwy, ‘Khadijatul Kubra, A Short Story of Her Life

https://www.al-islam.org/khadijatul-kubra-sayyid-ali-asghar-razwy/%C2%A0introduction.

  1. Rachel Jones, ‘Polygyny in Islam’, Macalester Islam Journal, [2006].
  2. Tirmidhi, ‘Nikah’, 41.
  3. Mohammad Fadel, ‘Islamic marriage, temporary marriage, secret marriage and polygamous marriage

 http://www.altmuslimah.com/2016/03/not-marriages-equal-islamic-marriage-temporary-marriage-secret-marriage-polygamous-marriage/.