Monday, November 25, 2013

On being desi and why we have to talk about what hurts

Earlier last week, a long time blogging friend, Mezba, wrote a controversial post at Love Insh'Allah's website about his quest for marriage. Specifically:
There were no good girls in Canada. And I don’t mean no girl is good for my mother because she sees me as Imam Mahdi. No, good as in – well – good. I am not even counting the girl who said she wanted to work for the CIA or the girl with bad oral hygiene (who, ironically, was studying to be a dentist). Those were superficial issues. When I (rather, my parents) started looking for a girl for me, this was the general problem with Bengali girls in Canada.
They were too old. Let’s face it, I didn’t want a wife immediately after I graduated from college. I wanted to take it easy, go on road trips with the guys, chill and enjoy life a little. I was 24 or 25 when I started to think about marriage. And the girls, it turned out, had the same mentality. So here was a 25-year-old guy looking at a 25-year-old girl’s biodata. Seriously, how many guys in an arranged marriage scenario marry a girl of the same age? An arranged marriage is where a guy gets a girl he would never have a shot with in real life. And, for most guys, that means someone younger than themselves.
His post provoked a huge response because his words jammed a finger into a large gaping wound in our community, and the community stung by these words, responded. So did I, revising a post I wrote years ago on the issues with the desi marriage situation [ironically, as a response to a post he wrote years ago as well]

But some were furious for a different reason. They were upset a post like this was given a platform. And while their reasons for this frustration may have been varied and complex, this touched a nerve in me. Because it's a criticism I've heard time and again in the nearly ten years I've written at this site. Writing about cultural issues is not the main focus of this blog but anytime I do write about desi or faith-based concerns or issues, I inevitably get harsh e-mails, comments, and sometimes face-to-face lectures. So the world hates us and you want them to hate us more? Is the common refrain.

I can understand this to a certain extent. Isn't it enough that we make little old ladies [and some not so little. or old. or ladies] flinch when a brown man with a beard walks by them on a plane, that we have to now add this to the list of things wrong with us and worthy of condescension, derision and suspicion? Posts like these, I've been told, are best not aired so publicly. We have enough problems with how we are perceived by the mainstream world and we don't need to make things worse by broadcasting our own issues ourselves.

I understand the frustration. But staying silent about our stories isn't the solution.

Talking about things that are wrong does not invalidate all that is right and beautiful about our culture. It does not negate our rich history, our architecture, our music, literature, cuisine, spirituality, or the inherent goodness in the overwhelmingly vast majority of desis. Our culture is is a vibrant one. It is a beautiful one. I also believe that our culture is a complex one, and a culture, like all cultures that can benefit from introspection and conversations about how to make it a better one than it currently is.

I am tired of people telling me not to write about or talk about the things that are broken and in need of fixing. As my friend Ayesha has said to me on our numerous conversations about this topic: we must own our truths. We must take ownership of our stories: the bold, beautiful, inspiring ones and yes, the uncomfortable, ugly, and tragic ones too. We have to talk about what hurts. We have to talk about how it hurts. And we have to talk about why it hurts. And then, we have to talk about how to fix it. We may not always agree with each other, but with respect as the baseline in how we interact, we must strive to find solutions. And we have to do this publicly so we can shape the dialogue and so we can create solutions.

And how do we fix these issues? I know at the micro-level, with the particular issue of the desi marriage crisis, I am going to raise my sons to see themselves as equals in the process of finding a loving partner. I will teach them differently and insh'Allah they will do differently. I know on a macro-level more must be done. Do I have the solution? Absolutely not. But we do need to talk about how we approach marriage, side-entrance mosques for women, and all our issues and challenges and struggles as a culture and a faith so we can come up with what the solutions are. We can't shut each other down for daring to address real issues hurting real people. We have a beautiful culture but we do have a bit of dirty laundry to attend to. It's time we talk about it. It's time we get to work on washing it clean.

8 comments:

Mystic said...

I never told you this! But after 'Love Insha'Allah' was published - I heard few very rude, blatantly harsh and poor remarks about girls who wrote this book in a so called 'muslim desi' party! I had a pretty nasty and Hefty exchange of comments. It was unfortunate.

One of my doctor friend, who is looking for a suitable proposal for his daughter almost start crying holding my head. I think - only person in those parents shoes can understand the problem.

Fatima said...

I am not Desi. I am African, and I am Muslim. So I can understand your cries to an extent. As a single, educated, 26 year old woman, I can understand. I applaud you for airing laundry (dirty or lean) out and giving people the opportunity for discussion. Backlash does occur, but what good will it do to sweep our issues under the rug?

Aisha said...

Mystic, wow, do you mean the editors or the girls whose stories were in the book [like mine]? I'm not surprised though because I got pushback in my own community about it, its sad but the way it is. As for your friend who is looking for his daughter- that makes me so incredibly sad to hear Mystic. It's true- no one knows except the parents how it must feel.

Fatima, thank you so much for taking the time to leave ac omment with your perspective on this. You are right we have to keep the conversations going, backlash or not.

Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly!

Adrienne Ahmed said...

Growing up Bengali, I have been acutely aware of the standards Mezba talks about in his post for most of my life. I do not personally know any Bengali girls that fit that mold exactly in the Bay Area Bengali-Muslim community. I'm sure they exist but of the women I know, even those of us who followed the strict rules on finding a partner would still be taken out by our career choices.

I think the thing that threw me off about Mezba's article was having those words staring me in the face from those pages. There certainly was a lot of backlash against the content, but I don’t remember the “don’t air our dirty laundry” comments as much as the “Really? Here?” comments. That was my interpretation, any way. In my mind, ‘Love Insha’Allah’ was a platform where Muslim women could share their experiences with love, as human beings, without being reminded that their choices may not be religiously condoned. A kind of sanctuary, if you will. That being said, I see why the community needs to see perspectives like Mezba’s for there to be any kind of meaningful discussion about the love lives of woman in many different Muslim communities, the South Asian Muslim communities, in particular. If not here, then where, right?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ayesha,
As I was growing up in a family of 5 girls, I have a first hand knowledge of how it is. It's tough since our community has such double standards we it comes to arrnaged marriages. If you find someone on your own you are labelled as a loose girl but if you go try the arranged marriage aspect, then it's a meat market where the boys mother will ask for the younger sister since she's taller and lighter skinned. But there are some good people who are trying to change it and hopefully it will change more

Aisha said...

Thanks Anon!

Adrienne, you truly hit the nail on the head YES, it wasn't that any of what he said was shocking because it was a revelation, it was shocking to see it just written so plainly in that way. For me it was even more surprising because Mezba is someone I've known through blogging for years. I also really appreciate you sharing your perspective on why the article on Love Insh'allah's website was offensive to you, I think we all walk into situations with our baggage, and because I personally have received the "airing dirty laundry" line of insults, I thought this was why people were upset about his article appearing. I am going to revise this particular post to emphasize that this is not necessarily what people said, but how I felt they were taking the piece. Thank you for helping me clarify this for myself.

Anon, I'm sorry youv'e encountered this, its sadly a common story for so many people-- I also hope things will change. Thanks for changing your perspective.

Anonymous said...

How can you change this? Well first we need to grow up, grow a back bone and stand up for ourselves. Why do we desis LET our parents control our livee so much esp in marriage where by islam you have the right to choose your life partner? Why?
The best way imo is to find someone your own. Im not completely out casting arranged or semi arranged marriages..but most of the process involves meat market. I can't tell u hoe these aunties stare at you like your a meat on sale and some don't even ask you any qs bc apparently your beauty or lack there of is the only thing that's worth. Sorry im sick of this pathetic culture.

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