17 January 2012

Celebrating New Year Twice!

A belated Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all.  I hope that everyone had a great New Year celebration and didn’t overindulge in the amber nectar, or drank to extreme from the offerings available from Messrs Walker, Daniels and Beam!

Here in Australia the family has been on a two week holiday to see the outlaws (ahem, my in-laws – as my wife hovers over me to see what I am typing!).   Anyway, the outlaws live in Northern NSW and also across the gun-toting border in Queensland.  So getting to see them involved a road trip of 11 hours, with food and restroom breaks, from the Big Smoke that is known as Sydney. 
Things in the rural areas of NSW seem to move much slower than in the cities.  At times it feels like time has stood still as nothing really seems to change from one day to the next.  Part of this is due to the weather which is normally stinking hot this time of year, and also due to the “she’ll be right mate” attitude of the friendly locals.  The locals would rather “down a tinny” before rescuing their belongings from a flood!

Anyway, for New Year’s Eve the missus and I, together with some of her relatives, hit the Gold Coast to see in 2012. One strange thing about Queensland is that the time zone in summer is always 1 hour behind NSW and Victoria.  The reasons for this are unclear however, in the past there have been suggestions that daylight savings “confuses the cows” and “fades the curtains”.
The night itself was great fun with lots of food and drinks. At 11pm the wife and I celebrated New Year for the first time (as it was Midnight in Sydney) and then repeated it an hour later in Queensland.  Just before Midnight (the Queensland one) we all went outside to see the fireworks from Broadbeach Park.  Naturally, they weren’t quite in the class of Sydney, or even London but were still pretty good.

One thing that I am sure was the same virtually all around the world on New Year’s Eve was the arduous task of getting home.  Lots of people, coupled with hardly any buses, trains or taxis made it an interesting night indeed.  However, we did get home prior to the sun rising!
New Year is a time for resolutions and if you are like me you will have made one, or even a few.  Mine is to increase my physical activity now that my leg is getting much stronger after two Achilles operations.  Since coming back to Sydney the wife and I have been walking for at least 1 hour every night.  Hopefully I will keep up the good work.  Now where did I put that chocolate bar….

14 January 2012

The Veiled Truth

When I heard that a friend of mine, Sabiha, was working on an hijab article/documentary I asked whether I could give a perspective from a westerners (my) point of view.  So, without further ado, here it is. 

What is my view on women who wear hijab (headscarf) and dress moderately? Do I think they are treated as lesser beings for doing so? Or are they generally passionate about their role as Muslim women in respect to their faith?
Read on and I will put forward my own unique western view on this rather, at times, over-debated topic.

I suppose like most westerners, I didn’t really think a great deal about Muslim women who wore the veil prior to the events of 9/11.  Then Islam became front page news for all of the wrong type of reasons.  Sabiha herself was attacked on a bus as strangers kicked and punched her whilst trying to remove her veil.  Thankfully for her she survived this brutal attack with headscarf still intact. To hear about this more than 10 years later still sickens me as we are all humans regardless of colour, religion or sex.  The western media made a big fuss, following the Twin Towers attack, about Muslim women being oppressed and forced to wear the hijab, niqab and even the burqa. 
However, my experience since then is that hijab wearing women are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  At this point I would like to make a few side observations. If we see a nun wearing a habit we do not take a second look, but think that she is a devoted servant of God.  If we see a Sikh man wearing a turban we know that he is being loyal to his religion and is certainly not oppressed.  Even my mother used to wear a scarf when we used to go out when I was a young boy.  Even then, no one thought anything about that.  However, at that time of my life, I was more embarrassed to be wearing short trousers in the middle of winter than to worry about my mother!

In my working life I have come across a few hijab wearing co-workers and can confidently say that the veil was not a barrier to them being able to perform their role.  After all, what hindrance can a hijab be if you are, say, working as an accountant, fashion designer or even driving a bus? The answer is it is not a hindrance.  Work is all down to your ability and not what you wear.  I can easily work at the same level if I am in a t shirt and shorts in comparison to wearing a suit! It is my ability that is the important thing.
As a result of the GFC I started doing some part time evening work in a local call centre.  I can easily say wearing headphones on a hijab was not a problem for my Muslim co-workers.  Again, it was their mannerisms in dealing with irate customers that was important.  Maybe Islam made them even better prepared to deal with customer complaints.  As fellow workers they were the nicest people to talk to and work with.

My optician is a hijab wearing professional.  When she checks my ageing eyes she does so in a friendly and easy going way.  Again, I can’t remember her hijab getting in the way of the optical equipment.  Oh, I should add that she also wears an abaya.  Does this change my view of my optician? No, in fact, it cements my opinion of her.
At my daughters first Catholic school, I met a mother who is Muslim and wears a hijab but in a different style to most other Muslim women.  Over the past few years I have got to know her very well.  She is now a really close friend to my family and I.  She is a very hard working mother who naturally wants the best for her family.  She dresses moderately, and gives her time to help others when possible.  When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer she sent me a text message telling me she was praying for her recovery.  Did I see her headscarf ever as being a sign of oppression? No, I saw her as a truly wonderful giving human being who I am glad to call a friend.

The Quran states that women should dress moderately.  Now I am sure there are many interpretations of what modesty means and how it should be interpreted.  I am not going to make judgement on this as I am the last person to suggest how women should dress.  However, I have seen young Muslim women wearing a headscarf, short skirt and leggings.  I am not sure in my humble opinion that is what you would call dressing moderately.
As I have gotten older, but still young at heart I hasten to add, I have a greater respect for women who do not reveal their bodies to the public.   I can’t say I fully respect women nowadays who show lots of cleavage and wear clothes so short that a Barbie doll would struggle to fit into them! The fact that men will comment on scantily clad women is surely a sign that the wearer does not totally respect herself. 

Interestingly, the majority of western female converts (reverts) to Islam appear to dress more conservatively than those females born into Islam. Maybe they have seen that wearing revealing clothing is not the best option.
Finally, all of the Muslim women that I know cover up do so because they want to, rather than being forced to.  It is out of their respect to their religion and also their family as to why they do so. 

As westerners we must stop looking at the material that a Muslim woman puts on her head but look at THE person beneath it.  If we can do that then I am sure a lot of barriers will be broken down and we can all get on much more harmoniously than at present.
For more information about the hiajb project then please go to www.duniyaphotos.blogspot.com