Brown contact lenses, a prosthetic more Asian looking nose, complexion darkening make up, a hijab and some arabic words. Five things you need to complete your Muslim woman Halloween Costume.
I am not kidding.
According to a new documentary, soon to be televised on channel 4, this is all that is required to go ‘undercover as a Muslim.’ Apparently this reverse White Chicks transformation allows an individual to ‘walk in the shoes of someone from a different background and what it is like to be a part of the British Pakistani Muslim community rather then just observe as an outsider.’
Allow me to break something down for you. Especially for those of you sitting at the back, who suffer from tunnel vision and selective hearing.
Muslims come in all shapes, sizes and colours. A toddler will probably be able to grasp that notion better then some adults. To be a Muslim it means you subscribe to a faith- Islam. Now that faith is not limited nor restricted to race or ethnicity. There are roughly around 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Here in our glorious nation, there are again roughly about 2.8 million Muslims living amongst you. Now according to the 2011 census, the largest group of Muslims are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage. Smaller groups include Turks, Arabs and Africans.
Oh and by the way, there are also around 100,000 Muslim converts in the UK, so within them ‘White British’ folk who are also Muslims. So this individual didn’t even need to black her face or brown her eyes….she could have just been herself and pretended she had converted! (if you really are insistent on role playing)
2) Now within this largest group, THE PAKISTANIS, there are numerous sub groups, so you have Kashmeris, Balochis, Mirpuris (subgroup of the Kashmiris), Sindhis, Punjabis, Karachiites etc. The name refers to where they come from in Pakistan. Within all of these sub groups there are even more sub groups. Basically I could subgroup until the cows come home.
3) Conclusion: There is no single homogenous Muslim community. There is no single monolithic Pakistani community. Kashmeris who hail from the northern regions of Pakistan can have fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes, we also have massive noses. I was only blessed with the latter feature. Sindhi’s, who come from the Southern regions of Pakistan, can have darker complexions and darker eyes.
Back to my original point, being a Muslim is adhering to a faith, how it manifests itself is dependant on a whole host of varying factors. Now I sound like I am in a Biology lesson. So your Islam can be determined by where you come from (anywhere in the world,) by the culture you were brought up in and your own personal identity and ideology.
Muslim women particularly have long been categorised as a uniform group. We are a fascinating and intriguing species, folk love to talk about us, at us, but not to us. We are presented as a collective, when in actual fact we are not. Not all of us wear abayas. Not all of us wear hijab. Not all of us speak words of Arabic.
I understand what this programme was trying to do, I get it. It’s trying to create empathy. But it concerns me, do we really have to put on a costume to empathise with someone? Do we really have to get abuse shouted at us to feel ashamed of our own prejudices? If we do, does that not reflect on the state of our society?
Why does it take someone to experience the negativity to be able to fully empathise what life really is like for some Muslim women? Why can’t the accounts, narratives and perspectives of Muslim women be taken seriously without someone else having to come and appropriate them?
When I was growing up in the heart of Bradford, surrounded by so many different communities all striving to make ends meet, my mother taught me a very valuable lesson. She told me empathy was not innate. I had to learn it. I had to practise it. I had to feel it.
How do you do that? In punjabi ‘mu band kar kay, ankhain tay kaan kol kay.’ Shut your mouth and open your ears and eyes. It’s meaning runs deeper then its literal interpretation. When you shut your mouth, essentially you cut off your own words, you cut off your own thoughts, you silence yourself. When you open your eyes and ears, you see the other person, you hear what they hear, you see what they see.
You feel what they feel.
So rather then going through the trouble of all the makeup and props, surely it would have been far better if the individual had gone on a girls night out with Muslim women from all spectrums.
If we want a more tolerant, open and empathetic society, we can’t all don costumes. Although It would be great to be able to transform myself for one day under the guise of seeking to empathise with the indigenous population, (I would probably get my nose straightened, forehead lowered and hair thinned, ) it wouldn’t work practically.
So remember if you want to empathise with someone:
Shut your mouth. Open your eyes. Open your ears