The story of my start to the holy month of Ramzan

by Insia Dariwala, Sahiyo

Ramzan — the time of peace, love, and prayers; a time for family gatherings, breaking fasts together and collectively praying for individual good, and the good of all in this world.

Unfortunately, this Ramzan is showing me exactly the opposite, as I see the entire Bohra community (well almost), rising up to bring us down, in the guise of reinstating religious freedom.

Over the past few days, as this circus on social media unveiled, I have been inundated with text messages, phone calls and emails about how Sahiyo is being talked about at every community gathering. We are being called names, our personal lives are being attacked, our religious loyalties are being questioned, and anyone who speaks for us is being targeted with a lot of viciousness.

Many of those who speak for us have come back to us feeling saddened and helpless. Helpless because they want to stand up to the bullying, but are very afraid of the verbal attacks on their parents, on their relatives, and other family members. They are afraid of the humiliation, of the subtle ostracism, and the backlash from their jamaats, so they choose to stay anonymous.

Anonymity has its own comfort. It allows you to speak up. It allows you to have a voice, and that’s exactly why we have so many girls and women who have chosen to let go of their right to be visible, only to stand up against this practice. They choose to live the duality of having a voice, and yet pretend they are voiceless, because that is the only way they will be accepted into the fold.

For these very reasons, when I am asked why I, or my other Sahiyo girls, are not responding to the ‘Sahiyo is not my voice’ campaign against us, my answer to them is very simple — we never ever claimed to be anyone’s voice. We just made space for the women who wanted to have a voice. Why then are all these people feeling so threatened?

It amuses me to see how a few voices of dissent could become such a big threat to an entire community. I am also amused to see the kind of efforts put into creating content to beat us up, acquiring social media handles, blocking our social media handles, and going to such great lengths to reinforce their identity.

It’s sad to see how our attackers are just dismissing what so many women went through after they were cut. This backlash is exactly what prevents survivors of any trauma to share their stories. The pain endured may or may not have been the same for all, but the shame which they are being put through for speaking up about it, is the same.

Unfortunately, it also reminds me of what so many survivors of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and rape go through. It’s always the fault of the one who went through it.

“She should have shut up.”

“She should have been clothed more appropriately.”

“She should have never disobeyed her husband.”

And so the cacophony of society’s empty culture and tradition continues.

Would it be safe to then say this has nothing to do with ours or anybody else’s religious beliefs? Would it also be safe to say that it’s disheartening to see, how an entire community’s faith rests on what’s cut between a girl’s legs? Is faith so weak, that it requires to be enforced through archaic and harmful traditions carried out thousands of years ago? Is it so weak that one needs to resort to bullying, and exploitation, in order to sustain its own existence?

This message is for all the women who want this practice to continue — You can hate us all you want, and trick yourself into believing that you are doing this for your religion. But no religion practices hate. No religion asks you to put someone down to look good. No religion asks you to hurt, humiliate, threaten, and isolate someone who has a different point of view. Religion is what you ‘are’, not what you ‘pretend’ to be. It is about forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the ability to reach out and accept.  

Today, as you pray while breaking your fast, do ask yourselves, Am I all of this? Then and only then, will it truly be the month of Ramzan.