Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mrs. Pakistan World 2010 - Tahmena Bokhari

How do you feel about representing a conservative and Islamic Pakistan in your role as Mrs. Pakistan World 2010?

Tahmena's answer:
As Mrs. Pakistan World 2010 I am here to represent a lighter side of Pakistan. As a social worker, I am using this platform to create the necessary change in the hearts and minds of Pakistanis and the people of the world so that we can create a stronger Pakistan.
In terms of the question of me representing a conservative and Islamic Pakistan, I would ask whose Pakistan and whose Islam are we talking about? My Islam? Your Islam? The Islam of the terrosists? The Islam of those who persecuted Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan? The Islam of those who are among those fighting between the Sunnis and the Shias? The Islam of the men who claim religion as the reason women should not be seen or heard in public? The Islam that is only defined as one with strict rules and regulations enforced by anger and physical violence?
These are not my Islam.

My Islam is loving, compassionate, caring, forgiving, supportive, humane, educated, informed, self-preserving, giving, understanding, patient, positive, creative, open to new ideas and full of inner peace. My Islam is one which has taught me to love myself, love my body, appreciate life and respect my fellow human beings, man, woman, child, white, black or disabled. My Islam is one in which judgements are left to a supreme being who is more knowledgeable than I. My Islam is one in which everyone is given a fair chance to live a quality life of success and happiness. My Islam is one in which women are not forced to sell their bodies or steal food in order to feed their childen. My Islam is one in which individuals look within them to better the world before pointing fingers. My Islam is one in which everyone is included and accepted. My Islam is not shame, hate or fear based. I challenge people to remove any feelings of hate, anger and discrimination that they may have associated with their understandings of Islam.

Speaking of Pakistan, I would argue there are different religions in practice and more importantly, there are those who identify as Christian Pakistanis, Hindu Pakistanis, and Parsi Pakistanis and so on. Speaking of a country with over 170 million people, each person or community will have their own ideas of Islam and what it means to be a Pakistani. I do not claim to represent all of them and nor do I claim to be a symbol of Islam. It was never my goal to represent all Pakistanis or all Muslims.

I would also say that the many of the various icons of Pakistan have not been solely figures of religion or religion-focused. Pakistani icons that come to mind include political figures like Benzir Bhutto and Fatima Jinnah; poets like Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Parveen Shakir; the first woman architect Yasmeen Lari; human rights activist Asma Jahangir; and more recently new female fighter pilots in the Pakistani armed forced. These are the people who have helped make the country what it is yet none of their careers or accomplishments were solely based on their role modeling of Islam nor did they specifically preach Islam. They are known for their talents, professional skills, service to the community and leadership in their particular industry...all of which are required to develop a country.

I also ask why we are so precoocupied with what is Islamic, espcially when it comes to women? I believe we are overly preoccpuied with this question and too focused on picking at the so-called sins of others, especially picking on women. I have worked in Pakistan with so many kinds of people, there are women who have to resort to prostitution because they have no source of income, there are gay men forced to live in the closet, married to women and having affairs with men, there are children and orphans who are abused, deformed and forced into a life of begging on the streets, there are people who are forced to steal because of the economic and social conditions, and there are people who have died of common illnesses because they could not afford or access a doctor or medicine. Yes, all of this is happening in Islamic Pakistan, and is all this Islamic? We somehow forget to ask that question. Yet, when a woman is making progress in any way or coming into the public realm, all of a sudden this question arises about her ‘Islamic-ness’. I think we should instead be asking, “Is this justice?” When we focus on justice we all of a sudden start to see possibilities for change on all of the social problems and can work oursleves to a higher quality of life. Many would argue that that is the true meaning of Islam.

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