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Bahrain: Should young girls wear hijab?

Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 03:39 UTC


by Ayesha Saldanha



Bahrain's bloggers have recently looked at topics including the difficulties of being a pedestrian in Bahrain, negative thinking amongst Bahraini youth, the pressure placed on young girls to wear the headscarf – and the need to communicate more with Americans, writes Ayesha Saldanha, who brings us the latest buzz from Bahrain.


Walk - don't walk
We start with Ammaro, who feels sorry for all the visitors currently in Bahrain for the Formula One Grand Prix currently taking place, who imagine they might be able to walk around:

Watching the streets of Bahrain fill up with foreigners, here for the Formula 1 race, gives the country a whole different feel. Driving around Manama I see random nationalities walking on the sidewalks; Americans, Europeans, Chinese, and so on. They're walking because, unlike us, they actually consider walking a reasonable means of getting around. If you've lived in Bahrain for anything longer than a few days, however, you would understand that walking is probably the least pleasant method of moving around. First, there are hardly any decent paths for pedestrians to walk on, making the whole experience a ‘try not to get hit by car as you walk on side of road' exercise. Second, the places most people want to visit are few and far in between, and coupled with very rough walking makes cars a bit of a necessity. Still, I do see the tourists walking from place to place, walking on the edges of the roads, on half built pavement, over uneven surfaces, looking a little frustrated. I don't blame them for being frustrated; we really have made the country very inconvenient for walkers. Public transport is really lacking, so everyone has to have a car. Everyone has to have a car, so more roads are built to accommodate cars, and somehow the pedestrians are forgotten. Fine when everyone in the country is used to not walking. Not fine when you have thousands of people visiting and would like to have a decent walk around town. … So remember, dear Bahrain visitors; our country has a lot to offer, lots of things for you to see, and lots of places for you to go; just make sure you drive there!

No hope?
Not everyone can follow Ammaro's advice, as they do not have a car; Mohammed AlMaskati recently gave a lift to young Bahraini hitchhiker, and was shocked by the pessimistic opinions he heard:

I dropped him to where he stayed and went on with my way, still shocked by the negativity this youngster carried, how could anyone live with such dark views when it comes to the future of their own country? How could one wake up everyday carrying such hate towards everything and anything that resembles Bahrain? At least back in the 90’s youngster in the same age group as he is would probably share more or less the same amount of hate and distress, but at least there was hope back then, there was a saviour in sight. One with a clear vision and objective, a shadowy agenda but that’s a whole different story altogether. While someone like Mr. Hitchhiker here has no faith in anyone, or anything. Has completely lost hope! To the extent that he would just blame anyone and anything for all the problems in the world. I mean…to blame the royal family for inflation? And he is supposed to be educated as well… well, at least he looks it…Such mindsets are the ideal breeding grounds for extremism and even terrorism eventually, but who is to blame really? The guy was raised in a way that he would completely rely for everything he needs to government, be it free schooling, health care and even the daily chores of the house and what have you there is always someone to take care of it for him, it is only natural that he would continue to rely on the government for housing and a proper income, how do you expect him to walk out of university and compete out there when he has simply never done it before? Or maybe it is the government to blame after all, it is easy to throw accusations left and right but boy do we have some depressed souls in this country!

Hijab: choice or obligation?
Butterfly is certainly depressed, but about something in particular. She tells us the story of Fatima:

I used to view children like birds.. and Fatima is a bird who isn't nine yet. She visited us a few days ago, accompanied by her parents and sisters. She dragged behind her a long headscarf, which reached down to her feet. I thought she was competing with time to grow up just like other children do. I thought that her parents had forced her to wear it.. I thought a lot of things but all my guesses were not the reason why Fatima was wearing the Hijab so early. I knew that from the expression on Fatima's face, which changed the minute the conversation turned to the headscarf she was wearing. She eyes welled with tears and she tried covering her face with the cushion on the sofa she was sitting on.. to her eventual departure from her place. And then I knew what happened when her mother told me about her story with her teacher, the teacher who continued for a whole year to ridicule her for not wearing the hijab in front of her classmates. Fatima was a rare case in her school, where almost all the girls donned the headscarf. That honourable teacher, who is separated from Fatima by light years, was not embarrassed to stoop so low and wage mental warfare on a girl who is eight years old. She would sometimes scold her, and at others lecture her on the virtues of Islam, which she herself didn't learn anything from. She would also grasp every opportunity to pour all her complexes on the child, who hadn't followed her orders and wore the hijab. The result was that Fatima started to cave into pressure - her teacher's oppression on the one hand, and her classmates' ridicule on the other. That was all last year but today Fatima refuses to go to school without her head cover and would also cry if someone asked her to remove it. She isn't wearing it because of her belief or love for the headscarf as she is too young to grasp such matters .. She is wearing it out of fear of the repression being exercised on her at a government school in a country which calls for democracy. Her parents remained mum because they couldn't transfer her to another school because the law in Bahrain forces students to be enrolled to the school nearest to their homes and because they cannot afford to send her to a private school. They are also not able to lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Education because they are worried Fatima would then be subjected to further intimidation, which may negatively effect her learning. To say the truth, I can't imagine that such things still happen in our schools. I am not against the Hijab or those who wear it - but I am against values which are instilled by force.

Fries with that?
S as in Saudi, a Swedish woman living in Bahrain, is also frustrated with how the young are treated:

“Please change A’s yoghurt, she likes Al Marai yoghurt. Please also change her cake to chocolate”
That was the note in my two year old daughter's nursery bag the other day. I didn’t know whether to laugh or get pissed off. Chose both. Since when did my daughter know what different brands are? Since when do I give my kids whatever they point at? And since when did it become a norm to eat chocolate cake every bloody day? This is not how I am raising my kids and I don’t even approve of the idiotic idea that they are actually required to bring a piece of cake every day. Is that what they call a snack? Look around you… There are obese kids all over the place and these are the habits they are taught at a the tender age of two? It’s sickening that an institution that is supposed to raise kids and educate them seems to think it is normal to eat crap like this every day. A while back I received a news letter from my sons school. Some of the elementary kids had been on a school trip. Did they go to a museum and learned about the heritage of Bahrain perhaps? No. Did they go anywhere and learned anything of use? No. Where did they go one may ask? They went to bloody Pizza Hut and had the honour of touring the kitchen and put their “favourite” topping on pizzas…

Talk the talk
We end with Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, a Bahraini living in Washington, who wants Arabs to talk more:

As a university student in the 1970s Condoleezza Rice did the smart thing and learned to speak Russian. Today, the smart thing is to study Arabic. In Washington DC, a lot of people are trying to learn the language. One American I know found the experience so difficult that he switched to a diplomatic career in Europe. … And yet more and more Americans attend The Washington DC Arabic Language & Culture Meetup Club to practice their language skills. When I ask them why they are learning, many are uncomfortable. Some, I suspect, are trying to avoid telling an Arab that they want to become spies for the US government. But Americans in particular, and the West in general, must learn how to communicate with Arabs. There is an opportunity here for Arabs. … But the opportunity for Arabs is much larger than a business one: we can help Americans understand our Arab viewpoints, and why we hold these, rather than lamenting misunderstandings and fighting in frustration. An interesting example is from the Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia that allows anyone to improve existing work. … There is, of course, an Arabic language website…written by Arabs for Arabs but still mostly focuses on computing technology, reflecting the interests of its enthusiastic authors. But more of us should be writing more. Because just as Ms. Rice was smart to learn to talk to the Russians, we should be smart and learn to talk to Americans.

Posted by Ayesha Saldanha

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