Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Queen: She just won't shake your hand...

Why is it that we need to explain ourselves and our actions living in a society where we are considered outsiders? How can we build positive perceptions of those different from ourselves when we interact socially or in a professional setting?

As a Muslim woman who is a journalist and a proponent of applying media resources to educate the public, the following image was disturbing on many levels.

The caption read:

A British man came to Sheikh and asked:
Why is it not permissible in Islam for women to shake hands with a man?
The Sheikh said:
Can you shake hands with Queen Elizabeth?
British man said:
Of course no, there are only certain people who can
shake hands with Queen Elizabeth.
Sheikh replied:
Our women are queens and queens do not shake hands with strange men.
Then the British man asked the Sheikh:
Why do your girls cover up their body and hair?
The Sheikh smiled and got two sweets, he opened the first one and kept the other one closed. He threw them both on the dusty floor and asked the British:
If I ask you to take one of the sweets which one will you choose?
The British replied:
The covered one.
The Sheikh said:
That’s how we treat and see our woman...

It's a series of conflicting emotions when you see such images floating on Facebook, see how the likes of Malala are treated in a so-called female respecting Muslim society or read studies about how a strong handshake can make a first impression and get you that dream job.

I'll tell you what. These are extreme situations and these hard statements and rules have nothing to do with the average Muslim society or, how a prospective employer may respond if he was politely told at an interview: I'm sorry, I don't shake hands.

To me, it is upsetting that Muslim women are letting this float around social media- a possibly concocted Photoshop-ed image and an immature rendition of some random man's narrative be the voice of reason for their chosen code of conduct.

I ask the Muslim woman: Really, is this how you see yourself? Is this how you want others to see you?

An outsider would immediately step back and a non-Muslim woman might take offense to the suggestion that she may not be as "clean" a creature as this covered-up woman. Also, there is a large population of Muslim women who do not follow these traditions.

There is nothing wrong with following your cultural and religious beliefs when living in a society that has a different viewpoint as yours. The problem arises when there is miscommunication and when baseless arguments are presented to prove your point to others.

To those living in the 'host' western society and to those who have made it their new home, here are some things to keep in mind:

1.  Try to educate yourself about other cultures: If you are living in a society different from where you came from, try to adapt yourself without losing your values and persona. If you are a local, living in a country such as the US where you're seeing a growing population of people from different cultures, do the same- learn without pre-conceived notions or prejudices.

2. Make efforts to not marginalize or be marginalized when interacting in society: On either end, you cannot alienate yourself from the people and society you live in. You can only find a middle ground, seek and offer friendly explanations of what is suitable or not. As an intelligent, professional Muslim woman who wants to stick to her beliefs (not shake someone's hand or wear certain clothing etc) it will be easy to communicate your reasoning. Believe me, people listen and appreciate honesty

3. Please do not succumb to viral videos and images: The last thing anyone wants is media frenzy around objectionable images and ideas. Maybe some found this spoke to their souls, but there might have been many like myself who thought this was insulting and misinformed on so many levels. 

There are several examples of images and articles we stumble onto on a regular basis which simply don't appeal to our common sense and sensibilities. This is just one image, one article and one viewpoint, I hope would make you rethink you position on where you stand, what you believe in and how you approach those different from yourself.

Saman Sheikh is a broadcast journalist with several years of experience in the media industry. She is currently a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has embarked on a journey to educate herself by pursuing a second master's degree in Media Strategy and Leadership in an effort to continue her pledge to educate the public with the power of media. Follow her @SumSheek

Photo Credit: Facebook page, Gupshup

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