My Big Fat American-Pakistani Wedding by Hafsa Ahmad

Another weekly blog for Matter of Cause. This time, on wedding planning as a second gen Pakistani-American! Check it out 🙂

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Amber Glanville Photography Amber Glanville Photography

It seems that nowadays, everybody is talking about marriage (and babies!). Maybe I’m just at that age, or maybe it’s the Pinterest wedding craze. The other day, I walked past a section in my local Barnes & Noble with an entire three shelves dedicated to wedding planning. I don’t think they even have that many shelves dedicated to college planning. These shelves contained pastel-colored wedding planning binders, calendars, lookbooks and DIY guides.

Well, the truth is I’m engaged and pretty clueless (intentionally so!) as to just what I want from my wedding. One of my best friends did me a kind favor and gifted me one of the aforementioned planners. These could come in handy, I thought to myself. But when I flipped through the color-coded guides and creative diagrams of seating charts, I found myself pretty underwhelmed. While this book, and the entire three shelves…

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What Does a Muslim Look Like? by Hafsa Ahmad

Okay, so this is a topic that has been bothering me for a very long time- we Muslims perceive other Muslims as being “real” Muslims based on their race and their religiosity. But is that really fair?

I wrote about it here:

 

What Does a Muslim Look Like? by Hafsa Ahmad.

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3 Misconceptions You Might Have About Islam by Hafsa Ahmad

Another blog I wrote for Matters of Cause, on misconceptions about Islam!

 

3 Misconceptions You Might Have About Islam by Hafsa Ahmad.

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Raising Daughters Like Sons by Hafsa Ahmad

Another blog I wrote for the amazing blog “Matter of Cause”. I will be writing weekly, do subscribe there for updates! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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My father has always raised his daughters to believe they could do whatever they put their mind to, and be the absolute best at it, too. He encouraged us to study hard and excel- even if that meant sending us down the somewhat nontraditional route of studying in universities far from home, and encouraging us to study abroad. The focus of our upbringing was always the pursuit of knowledge. As many of our relatives have said, he raised his daughters like sons.

But I’ve always found this expression problematic, even though it’s often given as a compliment. What does it mean to raise a daughter like a son, anyway, and why is that a positive thing? Inherent in this expression is the understanding that raising a son means having different goals and different standards than for a daughter. In our case, it meant my father allowing us to go wherever…

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American Outsider by Hafsa Ahmad

Hello!

 

I haven’t posted on my own blog in so long, but I thought it would be nice to post a redirect to an article I wrote for the “I Am Choice” blog:

American Outsider by Hafsa Ahmad.

“The realization that there was doubt that I was American because I was brown hit me with equal parts anger and hurt. Here was an educated, well-traveled man working at an elite liberal arts college. Surely here, of all places, people wouldn’t assume that just because I’m brown, I’m probably not American… Right? Wrong.

I was born in Manhattan, NY. Arguably (inarguably, if you ask me), America’s favorite city. I spent every year of my life living in the United States, jumping from place to place in the Northeast. I harbored no hint of an accent (except maybe a Jersey one, on occasion), no “foreign” inflection; my dress was usually blue jeans and a t-shirt. So… what differentiated me from the many other Americans sitting in the pre-departure Study Abroad meeting that day in Middlebury, Vermont? Oh, yes… my brown skin….”

 

Read the rest here: http://matterofcause.com/2013/12/18/american-outsider-by-hafsa-ahmad/

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Dangers of the American Identity Conflict

Originally published here: Cook Ross Inc.

It is difficult to forget the first time you are called a “terrorist”. At first, it comes as a shock but then you feel more emotionally rattled than you do insulted. Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, or anyone who could be mistaken as Muslim, have possibly experienced this in routine after the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. But after your first, the insults start to meld into just another aspect of life in America.

So when Shaima Alawadi first found a note pinned to her door that stated, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist”, she dismissed it as a mere prank. This instinct to dismiss a threat has become routine for many Muslim-Americans in the past decade. Reporting harassment incidences to the police is perceived as foolish and futile.

Shaima, a sweet-smiled California mom of four, chose to wear the hijab. The tradition of hijab for many Muslim women, beyond modesty, is to identify and distinguish Muslim women from other women. Every Muslim woman who chooses to take up the veil, particularly in America, does so knowing that she will be identifiably Muslim from afar. Now, in Muslim countries, this is hardly a dangerous move. However, the brutal murder of Shaima Alawadi, hijab-wearing Muslim mother of five, proves that in America, identifying yourself as Muslim is tantamount to putting yourself at risk.

The issue at hand holds ramifications far beyond an isolated incident. What this murder reinforces is what many Muslims have feared since 9/11- to wear a hijab or grow a beard is to place yourself in the line of fire for hatred, harassment, even murder, in Shaima’s case. What this spells for Muslims today is that they are forced to choose. Do they hide their Muslim identity and live free of suspicion, hate and harassment?

America can never be the free country that it was founded to be, so long as minority populations within its borders feel pressured to suppress their identity, in return for an increased measure of security. Since the murder of Shaima, Muslims have again arrived at a crossroads to wonder: is it safer if to shed the scarf and shave the beard? Why must Muslims sacrifice tradition, religious freedom and personal liberty for safety and freedom from persecution?

Undoubtedly, countless Muslims have chosen to fight against the suppression of their religious identity. They have, in turn, become increasingly vocal advocates of their religion, in more ways than wearing a headscarf or sporting a beard. However, one cannot deny the fear that rippled through the Muslim-American community- that Shaima could have been any one of us.

The first time I was assaulted for wearing hijab, I was twelve years old, testing out my new bike in my neighborhood park. I faintly heard yells from an approaching SUV, but paid them no mind. As the vehicle approached, I noticed three teenage boys hanging out the window and sunroof, making rude gestures in my direction. Innocently, I glanced around to see who they were yelling at, but saw no one. I realized an instant too late that their hate was directed at me, when the first egg hit me hard on my thigh, followed closely by three more as I biked as hard as I could for home. The trembling stopped eventually, but I could never shake the fear that one day, I could get hit with worse than eggs.

It is horrifying that we live in a country where minorities have to suppress their identity in order to feel safe. This kind of exclusionary behavior threatens the ideals that America was founded upon. America’s founding fathers came here in search of a nation where they could practice their religion openly, and free from discrimination. We are a nation that, despite our Pledge of Allegiance, continually struggles to provide liberty and justice for all. We are a nation where a man who shoots an African-American youth for “looking suspicious” can go days uninvestigated, and where Muslim-Americans dismiss threats because of their lack of faith in the police force.

More than a decade has passed since September 11, 2001, when the vilification of Muslims became prevalent in America. Yet 2010 saw the highest number of hate crimes against Muslims since 2001. These assumptions — specifically, that a headscarf-wearing mom from California must be a radical Muslim or that a hooded African-American teenager is a criminal — are fed to us by media, government policies and the recent wars that have ravaged the American psyche. In order to move past tolerance towards inclusion, we have to discover within ourselves the hidden prejudices we hold and courageously address them, not suppress them.

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Blasphemy, Death and a Lesson

 

Originally published by the Express Tribune here.

 

International newspapers were ruthlessly generous to Pakistan this past year: granting Pakistan front page features time and time again. Coverage included the Raymond Davis incident, the Memogate Scandal, a “bold” Veena Malik, devastating floods and, everyone’s favorite: Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. However, exactly one year ago, Pakistan stole headlines for a reason that has largely been buried. Salmaan Taseer’s assassination over the criticism of the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, one of Taseer’s security guards, emptied 26 bullets into the body of the man he was meant to protect. Taseer’s death was both mourned and celebrated; his assassin both deplored and decorated.

A year has gone by. Taseer’s son has been abducted, whose whereabouts remain yet unknown; his murderer has been sentenced to death amidst violent opposition; and the Christian woman that Taseer died defending is wasting away in jail. True, the public has expressed outrage at the abduction and many an opinion leader has nodded his head at the death sentence. The blasphemy law, however, remains unscathed. It was the center of debate last January- What is its place in Pakistan? How has it been abused? Should such laws even exist? Should Pakistan be a secular state? It brought to light the plight of minorities in Pakistan for a brief moment, and educated Pakistanis the world over shook their heads at the regrettable situation Pakistan was in.

But nothing has changed. Where is that discourse now? What is the point of a people if they do not demand justice of their government? What purpose do debates, talk shows and articles serve if those who are watching, listening and reading all concur but refuse to take action? Our memory is truly too short. Pakistanis worldwide were lamenting Taseer’s death just last year, yet that tragic event, too, has passed from our attention just as quickly as Veena Malik’s topless photoshoot has. Pakistan, as a nation, cannot afford such a short attention span. Events such as Taseer’s death should be omnipresent on our minds in times like these. Not to remind us of the pitiful state of our nation, but to remind us of the important political issues Pakistan faces.

Issues such as the Blasphemy Laws and the Hudood Ordinances- more broadly, minority rights and women’s rights- are issues that we should be pressing our political candidates on. Rather than harping on about Pakistan’s age old problems of India or America, we should turn our sights inward and demand resolutions for the flaws that exist within our country. Election time is undoubtedly the singular most important period for every democracy- the power that the public holds during this period is unquestionable. Tyrants can be overturned and heros can be championed. It is a time when we can ask anything of our politicians. It is a time for us to demand the answers we seek and the solutions Pakistan needs. That is exactly what the public should be doing right now.

Demand that whomever your favored candidate is, he should address the black laws of Pakistan. For in order for Pakistan to prosper, we must first remedy the maladies within the nation before attacking the pests outside. The reality is that it is far easier to criticize other nations than it is to criticize our own. Few candidates possess the courage to do so, but this kind of courage is absolutely vital for a stable Pakistan. Salmaan Taseer had this courage. And Pakistan needs many more men and women willing to take a stand like he did for what is morally right. Let not Salmaan Taseer’s sacrifice be for nothing. He died fighting for the integrity of this nation. Rather than just remember him, remember his final cause and fight for it, too.

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Veena Malik, the feminist?

Originally published by the Express Tribune

Veena Malik has captured our attention once again. FHM, a men’s magazine, has run a cover featuring a nude Veena Malik, dexterously covering herself with her arms and legs. Malik, in turn, has claimed that the cover is morphed and is suing for damages. She has, however, admitted to shooting “bold” photos with FHM, one of which included a bikini/thong. So even if Malik readily posed naked, or nearly naked, for a men’s magazine whose profit lies in objectifying women, we ask…

So what?

There is a laundry list of complaints and insults we are prepared to throw at Miss Malik. For one:

“Mulk ko badnaam kiya hai!”

(She has tarnished the country’s name!)

Really? As if Veena Malik’s naked body is really the most controversial aspect of Pakistan’s image abroad. Last I checked, it was the corrupt government, the oversized military and oh, bin Laden’s hideout that made Pakistan look bad, not Veena Malik’s curves. She is not an ambassador of Pakistan, despite the philosophy that every Pakistani is an ambassador of Pakistan. While she is clearly a Pakistani woman in Indian territory, she is not the only one who has caused a stir there within the past year. India, and the rest of the world, knows that she is not representative of all Pakistani women. In fact, the West will experience this first-hand soon enough, with Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US.

And then Islam comes in.

“She can’t be Muslim! She’s naked!”

Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But the fact of the matter remains that her religion is her personal concern, not ours. If she is to be eternally damned to hell for baring all, then it is she that must pay for her actions. Not you, not I. Perhaps we should forget about her religious transgressions and focus on our own – tall order for a country with a blasphemy law, I know.

The real point of contention is this: There has been an overwhelming response from “liberals” and feminists, both in Pakistan and abroad, praising Veena Malik’s courage and claiming her act is liberating for the women of Pakistan. Malik has been labelled a “feminist” and a “women’s rights activist” since her public lambasting of Mufti Abdul Qawi on Pakistani television. (The Daily Mail claims she is a voice for women’s rights in Pakistan!)

However, what Malik has done by allegedly posing (scantily clad or naked) for a men’s “lifestyle” magazine is completely antithetical to the idea of feminism and the fight for women’s rights. Feminism aims to fight against the ancient patriarchal belief that women are purely sexual objects, created for the carnal pleasure of their male counterparts. Generations of women, American, British, Egyptian, Pakistani, have fought to be recognized as more than just their sexual organs. Miss Malik’s choice to bare her body for the sexual arousal of men is not feminism. In fact, her “bold” choices potentially set back the fight for women’s rights in Pakistan, with the right-wing itching to point fingers and self-righteously claim that “this is what happens when you give a woman freedom!” I, for one, do not want her associated with Pakistani feminism in any way, shape or form (especially not in nude form).

We cannot neglect the fact that Malik’s scandal comes only weeks after activist Aliaa Elmahdy posted a nude photo of herself online, causing similar outrage in Egypt. Her photo, however, was aimed at forcing society to grapple with the age-old exploitation of the female body. Whether or not you support her, it is undeniable that the mentality that she attacks is prevalent around the globe; the mentality that the female body is a tool to be exploited by men, whether to satiate their lust or to assert their dominance.

Elmahdy’s choice to pose naked was to confront this outdated mentality, while Malik’s choice to pose naked was to conform to it.

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Don’t Excommunicate the Expatriate

Last month, I met with a prominent lawyer, one who supposedly fights for human rights and women’s activism in Pakistan. Before I met her, she served as a source of inspiration for me. Not as a role model, but as a symbol that women can make change in Pakistan. However, when I confessed to her my desire to live in Pakistan and engage actively in civil society, I was snapped at and told crudely that my “misplaced sense of patriotism” was unwelcome here. Unfortunately, her crass “holier than thou” attitude is not unique to her. In fact, there are hordes of Lahoris, Karachiites and more, itching to tell me that I, an American born Pakistani, am not a “real” Pakistani.

I was born and raised in the United States of America; but I am as Pakistani as you are. This is not your stereotypical first gen immigrant identity crisis nor is it a romantic declaration of patriotism from an estranged citizen. I know perfectly well who I am; I am American and I am Pakistani, and nobody can tell me otherwise. And before you tell me I don’t “know” Pakistan, let me tell you…

I follow Pakistani news before I read the NYT or CNN. I read Ghalib in my spare time, sometimes Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I can name at least six different types of mango that grow in Multan. I have travelled by rickshaw, Pakistan Railways, Daewoo, PIA, ghadda tonga and shabby Karachi yellow taxi too. I have endured loadshedding in the Cholistan desert, volunteered for the 2010 floods and been trapped in the crossfire in Karachi when MQM members were assassinated. I have been run over by a speeding motorcycle on Shahrah e Faisal, and have been in at least five different hospitals for five different reasons. I have spent my hardest summers in Pakistan, but that didn’t change anything between my nation and me.

In a time when Pakistan’s best and brightest are fleeing for the West, Pakistan needs all the honest patriots and sincere nationalists it can get. I am willing and able to devote my life to this nation, when many who have drank from her wells, eaten from her crop and lived under her sun their entire lives, race to abandon her without so much as a backwards glance at the chance of a foreign visa. It is those few people left in Pakistan who are here to drive her forward, with love and compassion, whose ranks I yearn to join. This is not altruistic, this is not self-sacrificial, so, please, spare me your contempt. This is simple. I love Pakistan, Pakistan needs its people, I am here to serve.

So don’t scoff at me, don’t doubt me, don’t deride my “misplaced sense of patriotism”. I have heard enough of the trials and tribulations I shall face ahead. I am aware of them, but not fearful. It is supremely more important to me that I do my part, as a Pakistani, to fight for my nation when the rest of the world is trying to flatten her to the ground. And I hope, and I wish, that you will, too.

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Beautiful Balochistan

For the longest time, my mental image of Pakistan was one of a wide expanse of desert, with the occasional green shrub, now brown, shriveled up and not a leaf stirring in the absence of wind, the scorching heat so unbearable that even the palm trees seem to have given up, shrugging their branches in resignation, their large leaves wilted. Last year, my trip to the north, Islamabad and Murree, drastically altered my “geoclimatic” opinion. This Pakistan had mountains, rivers and waterfalls. My trip earlier this summer to Balochistan again changed my image, and added yet another dimension of endless beauty to the rich and diverse Pakistan.

I had only heard of Balochistan in snippets… “Pakistan has provinces- Punjab, NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), Sindh and… umm… oh yes, Balochistan” or in headlines, “Four men kidnapped and held for ransom in Balochistan”. Rest assured, nothing enlightening. Balochistan is a mountainous region that shares a vast border with both Iran and Afghanistan. It is home to the port of Gwadar. And along its southern border runs the Arabian Sea. Online research would only reveal how little was actually known about Balochistan- its inaccessibility and the government’s lack of control there.

With these images in mind, I, my cousin’s family and my nani (maternal grandma), set off on a long drive to Sonmiani and Gadani, along the southern coast of Balochistan. The only thoroughfare comprised of colorful trucks and the occasional motorcycle. Highway robbery and kidnapping was common in Balochistan, and thus even traveling on the main, open roads is a risk. Within a few hours, the expanse of Sindhi desert transformed into a horizon of high and mighty mountains- seemingly connecting with the heavens at their summit. The mountains I had seen in Murree were impressive- green and white, unwittingly representing the flag of our country. In Balochistan, however, the mountains were dry and vast, akin to the terrain in Arizona or Nevada, rather than the green mountains of Vermont or New Hampshire.

We finally arrived at Sonmiani Beach some long hours later.

The beach. The water was a clear and crisp sky blue, the clearest I have seen in Pakistan. It became one with the sky at the far horizon, making you wonder where Earth ended and where the heavens began- and whether, if you tried hard enough, you could sail to the heavens themselves. The sky was dotted with white clouds, intermittently shielding us from the brazen rays of the South Asian summer sun, and teasing our exposed skin towards the golden brown of the sand.

In both the East and West, rose colossal, treacherous mountains, surrounding us in a rocky embrace. They stretched onward far into the ocean, eventually becoming rocky peninsulas sporadically drowned by crashing waves. The waves were not merciful; regularly picking us up and tossing us back onto shore, they saltily reminded us of how small and insignificant we really are. The blue, sparkling expanse of sea and the encompassing perilous mountains made for a beach the likes of which I have never seen before nor may ever glimpse again.

Next we stopped at Gadani beach and ship-breaking yard. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, we parked the car and immediately began climbing the rocks to reach the peak. On our right lay a long and flat promontory, lined with high rocks, over which massive waves would crash from either side, connecting in the middle and creating a sort of tunnel underneath. The sound of the waves crashing murderously onto the rocks sounded like the furious clap of thunder before a torrential downpour- as though Zeus himself commanded it. It was magnificent. After scaling hastily carved stairs, etched into the side of the mountain and crumbling into nothingness beneath our feet, we reached the tip. Ahead of us was a sheer drop straight into the ocean, the mountain itself seemed to plunge to its death. My arms stinging from the icy spray of the ocean and the turbulent wind at this altitude, I stood perched at the edge, nothing but the angry ocean below me and before me. The mountainsides were pockmarked with caves and hollows, where the waves rammed into them, eroding the massif, pebble by pebble.

In the middle of the flat surface upon which we stood, there was a deep gaping hole straight into the center of the mountain. It seemed to stretch into nothingness, and we stared at it curiously for a few minutes until a rush of water surprised us and burst through the hole, creating a tall column of water and steam- a geyser of sorts. After admiring the multitude of natural wonders in this one area, we climbed back down the mountain, still in awe of all that we had discovered.

As we drove off, I couldn’t help but wonder how the majority of the Pakistani people could be ignorant to such splendors of our country. Truly, Pakistan is a rich country, with mountains, oceans, deserts and forests. If only we appreciated it for what it is worth. If only this were the Pakistan that people knew, for they would come from far and wide to see these wonders. I realized that I had held the same prejudices about Balochistan that many held about Pakistan- that it was a barren wasteland inhabited by an anarchic and corrupt society. I wish that I could open others’ eyes the way that mine were opened, to see beyond the Pakistan in the headlines, and to see the Pakistan that I love and cherish, the Pakistan that will one day prosper.

(This is an excellent virtual tour of Gaddani beach Click it, you might be surprised.)

Categories: Pakistan | 3 Comments

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