Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thank You Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar

.. for bringing the classic Pakistani female look back in vogue!

The quintessential look - Shalwar Kameez with dupatta, that is the identity of a Pakistani woman.

Before you come out with your daggers drawn crying out 'misogynistic pig!' - let me state my case first. And it aint long.

We are not Afghanistan. We are not India and we are not Indonesia. The women in all these countries including ours dress differently. Within these countries the women dress differently based on cultures prevailing in various areas. The following is the typical 'woman look' of these individual countries making you instantly recognise where they belong to.

So what is the Pakistani look? 

This is it! A typical shalwar kameez and dupatta. Dupatta is either on head or around neck but it is there as it is part of wardrobe of Pakistani women. This look was 'internationalized', lets say, by Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan.

But this look went out of scene because there was no female representing Pakistan on international fora.  This has changed now as Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar has landed in New Delhi India.

Fashions come and go. In Pakistan you will find women wearing variety of dresses from regional areas, the national dress of Shalwar kameez in all varities, jeans, burqa, chaadar (long veil) abaya etc. But the 'identity' that one relates to with Pakistani Women will always be Shalwar Kameez and dupatta. So hats off to our Foreign Minister to bringing back that in the limelight - so what if even unintentionally.

Its about the identity - the thing that matters the most in the current geo political environment. Remember why Coke Studio is so important, it gave Pakistanis to cheer something unique and great that truly relates to them - their music. The program cherishes the multiple and varied sounds of all areas of Pakistan, promotes the diversity that exists and in the end binds us all together that make us Pakistanis - proud one at that. Similarly, the cultural invasion of 'Taliban' has to be dealt with earnest. They have not just physically attacked Pakistan and her people in their own territory, they are bludgeoning the cultural ethos of this country. They want Pakistanis to drop whatever they do deemed un-islamic by them. Setting dress codes for males and females is part of it and here where the identity of Pakistani female comes as the most important. Taliban want everyone to be under burqa - shalwar kameez must be made to counter that. Pakistanis are moderate in general and burqa does not suit them. I am not saying that nobody in Pakistan adorns burqa - women do and frankly they are more than welcome to do that but the identity will always remain with Shalwar Kameez.

Indian and Pakistani relations are not linked to how how Ms. Khar dresses as they are beset by mistrust and years of acrimony. Also I am not bothered by her expensive necklace and the expensive Birkin bag that she held while she is in India unless and until she is known to be financially corrupt. In the end, dress does matter after all. Forget about 'right chauvinists' (popular euphemism) who shuddered why you shook hands with the Indian Foreign Minister as it is not allowed in Islam or the 'left chauvinists' (popular euphemism) who were squirming in their seats as to why you had covered your head with dupatta so as to just appease the mullahs. Both are plain wrong. You have the right to wear what you want to and you chose the best thing possible representing the country. 

Thank you.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Islamic Banking - A Facade?

Something interesting happened yesterday. 

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has announced that Islamic banking institutions can collect utility bills after due date with ‘displeasure’ (karahiyyat), which is the opinion of Shariah scholars. (Link)

Islamic Banks were not accepting utility bills for payments 'after due date' because it entailed recovering of 'after due date charges' from the consumer - which the Islamic bankers term as 'riba' or excess. I will not go in the discussion what riba means, the literal interpretation, the Quranic verses or the Islamic legal jurisprudence in this regards. I think everyone agrees that riba means exploitation which is totally unacceptable in Islam.

Islamic banking sometimes seems to border ridiculous and sometimes downright racist. In this particular case, it has got nothing to do with riba. After due date charges are an administrative cost on the entity providing the service. By not providing fee for the services availed, you as a user are violating the basic right of the service provider. Its similar to the case when you hire a labourer for a work and then dont pay him on time. If he demands compensation for it you say its riba! Where was your sense of duty when you were supposed to pay the labourer?

I believe that Islam provides no 'Islamic' banking, economics or finance instead it favours general principles of equality, circulation of money (not hoarding), charity, helping out the needy and abhors exploitation. That being said, I do not have any issues with Islamic banking per se. I totally believe in their right to exploit an untapped, and quite frankly, a huge market of people who believe that their belief system does not allow 'interest' based economy. I am all for solutions that provide alternatives to consumers in which the usual exploitation of bankers can be reduced/ minimized.

The problem with Islamic banking, as I see it, is their exclusivist approach towards banking. They somehow seem to have got the banking licence direct from Prophet. They should be thinking in terms of providing solutions to the consumers of current banking practices. They instead talk of completely different solution - which is not feasible really. Murabaha, Musharaka are modified versions of Sale Agreement and Partnership respectively, they were not 'created' by Islam. Similarly, in the above case, equating 'after due date charges' to riba is merely creating problems for yourself and consumers. Then you have to do it, since YOU HAVE TO DO IT, so they did it but with 'displeasure'. Come on now. Who do you think you are kidding.

Everything and anything associated with contemporary banking is not riba and thus does not require disapproval and contempt.