Thursday, August 25, 2005

REFLECTION: Covering the hair, not the mind ...

On Monday night, Andrew Denton interviewed a genuinely Australian couple. He had a masters degree in economics, she a masters degree in education. He ran a small business. She was a teacher at a suburban Sydney school. They were your typical aspirational Aussie couple.

And who was wearing the pants from amongst them? Not unusually for 21st century Australia, it was the wife. Anyone sitting in the studio audience at Ultimo could see it. Having known the couple from university and watching them fall in love on campus, I already took it for granted. And Maha Shiyab did not disappoint me as she gently took over the show by describing the President of the United States of American as “just plain dumb”.

Then on Tuesday night, three of these power-women descended on Canberra. While the men pussy-footed around and satisfied themselves with motherhood statements, these mothers and wives and daughters stole the show in front of the PM and his ministers.

Iktimal Hage-Ali ruled the roost on the radio and TV waves. This 21 year old youth leader held her ground in the presence of the world media, telling reporters that Islam had no place for violence. She was “110,000 per cent” against violence. When asked about Usama bin Ladin, she said: "We … don't need to talk about a deranged person that is missing somewhere in the mountains … Don't want to think about him, don't want to talk about him.”

Azizah Abdelhalim was tough and took no nonsense from reporters or politicians. But as Anwar Ibrahim knows, all Azizah’s are like that. He feared telling a joke about his wife, the good Dr Wan Azizah, and not just out of fear she might put extra chilli in his beef rendang.

And what can I say about Queenslander Yasmin Khan? I've never met her, but I have two close friends from either side of the Tasman of that name.

The Kiwi version speaks little and thinks carefully before she says anything. She is highly intelligent, a research scientist who would do her late Muslim father proud. Her giggle is “unfikshus”. She has been blessed with external beauty, but her mind shines as its radiation emerges from her tall regal forehead. When she finds out I have written about her, I know she will scold me ever-so-gently.

The Aussie Yasmin just scolds me. And she scolds her young son. And her husband. And any other male who gets on her nerves. Her quiet husband Mohamed seems to have given up trying to wear the pants in that marriage. And when “Yazza” (as her Aussie Mossie mates call her) and her nurse-friend Layla get together, the blokes are always the target of the ferocious wit of these covered women cracking barbs like the two old men on the Muppet Show.

As anyone on the Aussie Muslim circuit knows, you never mess with a Yasmin!

On Tuesday night, I saw the same scene at the Channel 9 studies. Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of the world’s foremost international lawyers, was grilling the likes of Tony Abbott, Dr Mahathir and Kim Beazley.

I was on that panel. I could see Mr Abbott, an experienced and brilliant public speaker, a man who gave one of the best pre-selection speeches in Liberal Party history, shiver in his shoes when placed in the spot with tough questions from my very smooth and very learned friend.

Of course, Mr Robertson could not phase the women. And one woman stood out as the star of the show. Nada Roude was phenomenal. She struggled with the notion of her 24 year old daughter being labelled a terror suspect and a potential suicide bomber. Nada spoke firmly and resolutely, showing lots of other Aussie mums what should be done. Hopefully her words will not be edited too much by the Channel 9 Sunday crew.

The 1950’s and 60’s saw a mini-revolution in the Arab world. More and more Muslim women were liberating themselves from the strictures of of their culture and emerging from their homes into the modern world. It seemed the Muslim woman was finally being liberated.

A major symbol of thise revolution was seeing women appear in public with their heads uncovered. It seemed this piece of cloth (known as “hijab” in the Middle Wast, “chador” in Iran and “tadung” in Malaysia) was covering the hair and the mind.

The 1990’s saw something unusual. The daughters of these women decided they wanted to keep their minds open but cover their hair. Many of their western sisters could not understand this phenomenon. Why would you want to cover your hair? Who was forcing you?

The answer? In most cases, no one.

These covered feminists emerged as the new leaders of the Muslim world. They were tough, resilient and not afraid to boss us blokes around.

Aussie (and Kiwi) Muslim women, with or without anything on their heads, are not to be messed around with. They are tough, resolute, educated and ready to face the challenges life and other contingencies place before them. Don’t even try to patronise them.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Irfan saw your 4 corners crap. You look and talk like a pompous Jabba the Hutt.You even smell bad on television. I guess your 'wife' didn't want to hang around to listen to your mad harangue against the entire world. I will order you 6 filthy kebabs. 3 for you to cram into your mouth for a quick snack. And the other 3 for you to shove up your other shithole. Dinner and Sex Irfan style. Congratulations on being the fattest slug on the Mossad payroll