Open Letter to JI Youth Islamabad

Back at it again with the salty roast posts. I’m so sorry guys, but what can I say. If something’s on my mind, it will keep on circulating in my thoughts until it finally gets out in some sort of way. Let me start this post off by giving you some context.

On a fine Saturday, the 11th of February 2017, there was an event organized by JI (Jamaat Islami) Youth about “Haya Day”. You must have even seen the pamphlet I shared on Instagram. Haya is often taken to mean modesty, which is true pretty much, however the pure meaning of Haya comes from Hayat which means the life. So Haya is extrapolated to mean modesty in every aspect of your life, from dressing, to manners, to… whatever else.

I thought this event was going to be fun cause it seemed like it was organized for girls and there would be refreshments and lots of interesting youth things. Boy, oh boy, was I proven wrong. Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that this is my blog. I will not take down posts unless I want to. Do not pressure me to remove this post. I would have told JI this personally (I wrote A LOT on their feedback forms) and I would have commented essays on their facebook page- if they had a facebook page. Seriously? This is the 21st century. You want to address the modern youth, but with your old school ways.

That’s just asking for Kanra to dish salt out.

Addressed to the JI Youth Islamabad Organizers,

AoA. I attended a recent event of yours, called Haya Day. I found out about it through a few different people and my mother had come home with the pamphlet. I had even eagerly shared the information on my Instagram, and while I’m sure that no one came from there, I can’t deny the fact that I’m glad they didn’t. The event was a disaster, to be aptly put. I’m sure you are well aware of how badly managed everything was, from the seating arrangement to the refreshments. I’ll spare those topics completely. Let’s move towards the content.

When I heard about Haya Day, the main reason why I wanted to show up in the first place was because I wanted to feel good about wearing a hijab. I wanted to feel energized and motivated and have lots of positive vibes. Regrettably, I felt like the entire program was exhausting, quite a waste of time, and gave me more negativity than I would have liked. Here are a couple of things that I didn’t like, but before I continue, I just want to ask you to read the following with an open mind and to realize that I am handing you constructive criticism, because for every thing I dislike, I will give you an alternative. A more pleasing alternative than the hijab alternative you presented in your show.

First of all, if you were going to make an entire event about Haya for girls, please invite speakers who are genuinely interesting to listen to. Just because Dr Kanwal Kaisser does amazing talks for young, college going girls, doesn’t mean that every female doctor who covers fully is automatically perfect for delivering a sermon to a similar audience. There was another interim speaker too, I can’t recall her name, but the one who treated the audience like a kindergarten class, asking basic questions and expecting the audience to yell back an answer.

Please. This is not a children’s gathering. This is not an adult’s gathering. This was a gathering for young girls, young ladies, in other words, teenagers. Maybe whatever the speakers said was interesting, but again, the management of seating and the constant hustle bustle in the hall was very distracting and I honestly can’t remember what I understood in that lecture or if I was even listening. So what was the point of me being there then? (apart from criticizing everything). What have you accomplished?

Instead of keeping to yourselves and trying to put up aunties on the stage to talk to teenagers, try expanding your horizons. The times have changed, the teaching methods your generation has worked with, won’t work with my generation. You need to find people who are able to cross that generation gap and speak to me, not fly over my head and lose my interest. Dr Kanwal isn’t the only one who has done this- Maria Piracha has too. You need to find more people like her, or have her train people, whatever you want to do, because what you’re doing right now is counter-productive.

Your only saving grace was inviting Noor Fatima. Out of everything that you organized, everything that I disliked, she made up for that. If I had the chance to go back in time and tell myself not to go to the Haya Day event, I would tell myself to go, just for her. But that doesn’t excuse you from anything. Don’t feel like your event was a success because you invited a convert who knew how to speak genuinely from her heart, because that’s not on you, that’s on her. You just gave her a stage, thanks for that.

The second thing that I disliked about the event was the use of music. Was Haya Day supposed to be a concert? With loud blaring singing? It was tasteless and annoying. No one wants to hear a man sing about Haya in an all girl’s event. No one. It was gaudy and cringey and I wish someone in your management had the decency to shut it off. Is this how you wanted to entertain us? Absolutely tasteless and counter-productive.

What you could have done was had some girls prepare the same song and sing it on stage. That would have been infinitely better. Not only would it have sounded more pleasing, but it would have made the event seem more friendly and given the atmosphere a good boost. I understand that preparing something like that might have been difficult (still, it’s laughable. You printed pamphlets for this event but still resorted to recorded audio), so here’s another solution.

Lower the volume. Like I said before, no one wants to hear a man singing about haya in an all girls’ event. I’d much rather turn to my right and strike up a conversation with the hijabi next to me, but how can I do that when the singing is so loud, I can’t hear myself think, let alone try to hear what the person I’m talking to is saying. It’s like you purposely turned the volume up so no one would be able to talk about how terrible your program is going. I endured this audio torture for a good five minutes. It exhausted me mentally. I wanted to go home. That’s all you achieved. Doesn’t that make you feel great!

The third and last thing I disliked was the Hijab show. Top to bottom, I disliked it. I disliked every bit of it. I disliked the concept behind it, I disliked the presentation of it, I disliked the entirety of it. That’s right, I was the heathen in the audience who yelled out YES when you wanted everyone to say NO. I refused to go with the flow and take the opinions you were spoon feeding to the young girls of my generation and here’s why.

We live in a diverse country, where some girls choose not to cover their hair, some choose to wear a dupatta loosely, some choose to wear a scarf, and some choose to do an abaya. Wait a second. I’m not even sure if you’d understand the point I’m trying to make considering how I’m absolutely certain most of the people organizing this event are straight past their 30s. Let’s try again.

Picture yourself as a 19 year old, college going girl. You’re going to school and all your friends, classmates, teachers are dressed in the nicest dresses (there was a Khaadi sale not too long ago, you know) and everyone looks really nice. You yourself admitted that the weakness of a woman was her desire to look nice, in clothing and with adornments. Now here’s the concept you need to realize.

It is absolutely possible to look modest and look nice at the same time. It is absolutely possible to look modest and look at nice at the same time. Looking nice and looking modest are not mutually exclusive terms. By condemning an entire presentation of outfit on the basis of “oh she’s rolled up her sleeve” or “her hair is showing” or “the bump on the back of her head is too high” is downright dumb. Absolutely dumb. Especially when you asked everyone “Is this modest?” and everyone said in chorus “NO”. I’m gonna say it again. It was DUMB. You know why?

It made me feel like you wanted me to walk out of AlFalah hall, judging hijabis right and left. It made me feel like if I was the one standing on that stage, you would have the entire audience boo “NO” at me too. It made me feel like if everyone I knew was standing on that stage, the audience would be conditioned to yell “NO” at them as well. It felt like you were trying to create a narrow minded approach to the young girls of my generation. I am a 20 year old young adult in my third year of med school and you made me feel this way. I can’t imagine what a younger, more impressionable mind was urged to think. I do not appreciate the way you are hijacking the generation you are exposed to with such intolerant thoughts.

Honestly, I came to this program to have a good time, and every second of the hijab show made me feel like you were personally attacking me and my friends for not observing your version of haya. Oh and what was your version of haya? A girl wearing a full black niqab and abaya and you stating in the mike “According to haya, everything except the eyes should be covered because a woman needs her eyes to see“.

MashaAllah. I can’t tell if I should laugh at this or cry. This is what you want to tell all the little girls who come to your program? If I was a mother, I’d be walking out of the hall right there and then, lodging several complaints for the kind of program being conducted for youth. And I’m not even complaining about your management and lack of seating arrangements, just the content you’re sharing and the mode of delivery.

Now that I’m done telling you what I disliked, here’s an alternative. Instead of telling young girls what NOT to do and imposing restrictions, tell them what they CAN do. Tell them how they can look nice and pretty while being modest and wearing a hijab, just like all their other friends who don’t wear a hijab. Why do you have to make everything so negative? It’s really hurting your cause when you shut door upon door of all the things that are acceptable and present something really close-minded as the alternative.

Please do not reduce haya to wearing a full niqab and abaya. Haya is so much more than that. The only thing you’re doing is getting rid of the degrees of haya and making people feel like they either have it or they don’t, which is a terrible feeling and can even chase people away from the true concept of haya altogether.

I’ll be summarizing my three main concerns again. Firstly, find better speakers who truly connect with their audience. You can figure out who can do that by having the audience rate each speaker in the program in the feedback form, instead of writing their thoughts about the program in general. This can help you find out which one of your speakers is best suited for a teenage audience. Secondly, don’t entertain your audience in gaudy, tasteless ways. If you really have to entertain people or fill up some sort of time slot, why not have them do a written activity or a peer activity instead? It’s much more productive than listening to awful sound system and ear-splitting songs. Last, but not least, please fix your approach. Presenting things in a positive light is much better than stamping NO on appearances when you judge them for haya.

I hope you take these points into consideration.

Kanra Khan
P.S. Feel free to hire me.

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