Book examines current dynamics and opens your mind to many things in a simplified manner
Purdah Of The Heart and The Eyes may, at first, appear as yet another cliché or rant about societal oppressions — but it is not. As a feminist, Dr Riffat Haque has presented a nuanced and unbiased sketch of what purdah means to women and how their lives and perceptions are shaped by it.
To an outsider who is trying to locate women within the social setup of Pakistan, Haque puts a spotlight into the web of complexities embodied by purdah. She places it in a Pakistani and, by extension, the feminist context, by outlining a series of Islamic and feminist movements across the globe.
The book starts off on a rather uninteresting note — more so for someone who is already aware of the history of Pakistan. However, a few chapters later the book draws you in with its insights and observations. Even though she has adopted an academic approach to the subject, Haque’s analysis is easy to understand. Her work bears a strong sense of realism because each point she makes is backed up by evidence and quotes. The interviews highlight the problems that plague most women and they really make one think.
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Readers who are unfamiliar with the impact of hijab and purdah on women will find the book quite insightful. Otherwise, it is not an outstanding endeavour because it does not explore new arenas. The sad realities of the cultural marginalisation of women — both direct and indirect — and the consequent manipulation of religious texts are not unfamiliar to us.
From an academic perspective, I would say it lacks a solution-based examination of the problem. However, Haque has managed to explore how purdah can be an empowering force. As unbelievable as it may seem, many women who observe purdah find themselves more liberated.
Throughout the book, I found fascinating analogies and observations. I also enjoyed the simplicity with which the book reveals the deep-rooted problems women face when it comes to hijab and segregation. Even though the book examines current dynamics, it really does open your mind to many things and that too in a simplified manner. Sitting in the comfort of our homes we may not be able to understand the plight of women.
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As I leafed through the last few chapters of the book, I realised that it simplifies everything and covers one topic within different social institutions. There is much to be said and the book covers a broad spectrum of subjects. However, it is also very limited in its scope.
I would have liked to find out more about the perceptions of women in the higher echelons of society since their perspective is not as readily discussed as that of lower middle-class women. If the scope of Haque’s research was not limited geographically, it would have produced a diverse set of responses. I think that, like almost every other piece of writing, this book glamorises wealth and status a little too much.
Title: Purdah Of The Heart and The Eyes: An Examination of Purdah as an Institution in Pakistan
Pages: 294 pages
Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications
The writer is an undergraduate student with an interest in religion and philosophy. She tweets @WafaIsfahany
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2015.
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