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Must it be a burqa?

Updated Aug 25, 2013 08:05am


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I HAVE been witnessing the debate on the social media caused by the attire of Pakistan’s new cartoon female superhero (or superheroine, if I may say) with great interest. The costume of the superheroine, Burqa Avenger, is a burqa.

The lady uses the burqa as a camouflage to hide her identity as she battles local goons attempting to shut down girls’ schools.

Although the effort to promote women’s education is worth appreciating, the use of a burqa as a disguise does not seem becoming.

Proponents of the costume argue that a ‘piece of cloth’ does not limit freedom. Is it really that simple? There is nothing simplistic about a symbolic article. And a burqa symbolises fear of women’s sexuality!

A black burqa is far worse as it endorses men’s longstanding dogma that women’s bodies could lead them (i.e., men) to sin, and ultimately shame. Instead of working on curbing their lust, they strive to evade the dishonour by controlling women. And what better way could there be to achieve this other than hiding them away in a black cloak and shattering their self-confidence? Why can’t men just blindfold themselves if they cannot control their sexual desires?

The edict by the clerics in KP banning women from leaving their homes without a male relative is a classic example of our obsession with controlling women.

Burqa is a remnant of Arab imperialism in our lands. It is not a part of Pakistani culture. There is nothing even Islamic about it. Moreover, the burqa was not worn by most Pakistani women until Ziaul Haq’s ‘Islamisation’ of the country. Therefore, we could conclude from history that the burqa was imposed on our women by foreign invaders and military dictators. It was never a part of our culture!

The makers of the cartoon could have used a simple shalwar-kameez and a mask as a costume. Or they could have just done away with the black colour and dressed the superheroine in colourful drapes -– even if it was still a burqa. But no! They chose to shroud her in the apparel emblematic of misogyny and gynophobia!

I wonder if supporters of the cartoon ponder over what the founder of the country, Jinnah, would have had to say about it. Let me narrate an incident of Jinnah’s life that not many people are aware of.

The Governor of Bombay, Lord Willingdon, invited Jinnah and his wife, Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Petit Jinnah, to supper. Mrs Jinnah wore a low-cut evening gown. Here I will quote, Hector Bolitho, a close associate of Jinnah: “Mrs Jinnah wore a low-cut dress that did not please her hostess, Lady Willingdon, who asked an ADC to bring a wrap for Mrs Jinnah, in case she felt cold. Jinnah rose, and said: “When Mrs Jinnah feels cold, she will say so, and ask for a wrap herself.” Then he led his wife from the dining room; and, from that time, he refused to go to Government House again. ' (Source: “Chronicling Ruttie Jinnah” by Mamun M. Adil published in Dawn on 22nd Feb, 2009)

It is ironic that a Westerner disapproved of Mrs Jinnah’s dressing, and Jinnah, a man of the subcontinent, defended his wife’s right to wear a low-cut dress if she so chose. Would Jinnah have approved of a burqa-clad superheroine? I guess not.



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Comments (9) Closed

Fahad Aug 25, 2013 02:23pm

if burqa-clad super hero wants to wear a burqa, i dont think she needs our or anybody's approval. if you ever get to be a super hero ( or a heroine) you can wear anything you like ( that includes nothing too ). i feel sorry for you as you have only chosen to write about the burqa of the Burqa Avengers.

Khan Aug 25, 2013 03:59pm


I disagree with your article. Burqa Awengers is an awareness program for young girls to practice the Islam and maintain their modesty. Not all men are the same but suppose a woman who is exposed to a man who might do harm to her just because she is exposing her legs or belly or is wearing a shirt exposing part of breast. Such men find it extremely hard to control themselves and fulfil their desire without the beautiful thoughts you have mentioned in your article. Here Burqa Awengers is a nice educating entertainment with strategic objective to save our coming generation from dishonour, rapes and sex out of wedlock.

Anwar Ul-Haq Aug 25, 2013 04:04pm

I beg to differ with the writer on a couple of points; Firstly he states that "Burqa is a remnant of Arab imperialism in our lands. It is not a part of Pakistani culture. There is nothing even Islamic about it. Moreover, the burqa was not worn by most Pakistani women until Ziaul Haq

imran bhatti Aug 25, 2013 05:54pm

@must b a burqa.would u plz spare some time to read surah al-nissa as well.regards

imtiaz Aug 25, 2013 06:31pm

i have same idea wth u

silah Aug 25, 2013 07:27pm

by reeding ur letter about burqa it seems to me that u r making fun of those women who use it. u r extremely prejudiced about burqa.if we use it we do with our own will it is not imposed on us.

silah Aug 25, 2013 07:46pm

u have read jinnah's doubt a supreme figure in our history and my ideal leader.Sorry to say i'm not very religious but once i read in quran e pak exact translation is skipped out from my mind bt some i remember 'in momnat se kh do jb ghroo se bahir nikly to chader se apny chahroo orjism ko dhanp lya krin'so i think we should respect burqa women and should not declare it as a disguise.i feel very bad to read ur iwill be better fr u if u read some islamic history also.

Najib Khan Aug 25, 2013 09:56pm

'It was never a part of our culture!' REALLY? Where did you get your education? It seems you know NOTHING about our culture. It's very irritating to see people like you lecture us on our cultural values; and it's even worse for Dawn to publish these types of pieces! I have never seen any Pakistani Muslim using the term 'Arab Imperialism' unless if you are a grandchild of Raja Daher who was kicked out of Indus valley by Muslims. Our main problem in Pakistan is extremism on both sides, Islamists and so-called Liberals like you. If the terrorists use force to impose their will on our society, so-called liberals like you simply add fuel to the fire by expressing your ignorant views based on twisted historic facts. I'm extremely disappointed, but offended, to see this article in Dawn.

modest Aug 26, 2013 06:59pm

well miss or Mr. khushbakht who ever u r,do u really know the norms of our islamic culture?pakistan came into existance in the name of Allah nd islam so why not its our culture?wrong that burqa is imposed on women no its not that....nd plz stop giving exaples of Quaid -e-Azam Mohammad Ali jinnah nd her wife,quaid's wife was a non muslim lady(Parsi)nd she did not accept islam as her religion,nd islam teaches us do not suppress others or force others to do change there religion nd adapt islamic culture,so technically quaid e azam did not force her t do so....people like u, r proud to be called them selves liberals because according to u girl who were abaya or burka is narrow minded or extremist ..i think women in pakistan use to were it for two reasons to fulfil there islamic deeds .......... nd secondly to save herself from being stared or any other mis-happ;women is not safe to be alone if she go somewhere for work etc... so plz keep ur pathetic thoughts to ur self..nd have a look at quran and sunnah ...may Allah guide us..