Friday, January 7, 2011

Freedom from the Forbidden

One of my favorite Pashto songs, written by Ajmal Khattak and sung by Gulzar Alam, goes:

Raadak sho zrha eesaarawalay yey na sham
Khula maata kha da kho gandalay yey na sham

Rough translation: 

My heart is overfilling with burdens/complaints; I can no longer resist speaking!
I'd rather my mouth be broken but will not sew it!

A (Muslim male) teacher of mine once reminded me that when a people want to feel like they are powerful, they control their women, forbid them from speaking and thinking and moving, limit all their senses of mobility and freedom. It’s amazing how one thought like this can turn into a complicated process of thoughts—forbidden thoughts at that—and their expression through a poem like the one below.

Not all poems I write do to me what this one has done. Let me describe it.

Many of my Blog readers are aware of my recent frustrations, which I have expressed openly and clearly mostly because I have finally found the sort of network that’s necessary for one to let one’s thoughts out that freely.  I’d been thinking of writing this poem for the past couple of weeks but just didn’t really know how to. Two nights/mornings ago, at about 3am, I got a pen and paper and started writing whatever I was feeling. The poem isn’t my best; I know I can do better than this—but I choose not to polish this.

While I say in this poem many things that I explain away to myself all the time, I’ve discovered that many other (Muslim) women ask themselves these exact same questions every now and then. Each of us makes a different decision upon reaching these questions. For me, they have become my future, the subject of almost all studies I intend to conduct in the future; these questions have liberated me.

Because these thoughts exist and frustrate most of us who ask them, I decided to immortalize them, to translate them into my words and put them on paper.  And, so, the “knot” I start the poem off with is no longer there in my chest. Yes, it was really there.  And I feel free. I really feel eternal, because I am eternal.

I am fully aware of the consequences of my writing this poem. It’s not the first I’ve written of its kind. My first one was “Forbidden” (a favorite word of mine. Another of my favorite words is “smothered"). I already know what many (Muslim) readers will think upon reading this. And I’m willing to face all reactions—with the most relaxed smile my eternal lips have ever formed!

All that said, ENJOY! *SMILES*

My favorite image.
Freedom from the Forbidden

There’s this knot in my chest,
A voice in my head,
Telling me to abandon all traditions
To speak the truth, to seek the truth
To cross every imaginary boundary ever drawn
To break the wall between divine guidelines and man-made laws
To make it known that I have risen to the glory I owe myself

What—was it not so they could control my sexuality?
Limit my mobility and silence my voice?
Forbid me natural inclinations?
Deny me what’s permitted to man, whom they’ve deemed my lord
In history’s slanted pages, in invisible ink
I understand it now
Because I have risen to the glory I owe myself

That’s why they once asked themselves if I was a human, like man.
That’s why God is a “He”– but they tell us “He” has no gender!
That’s why I’m circumcised, and my feet are bound!
That’s why I look pretty only when I’m thin!
And why polygyny is a man’s right but polyandry a sin!
That’s why I need the permission of a man to marry my Beloved!
That’s why I can’t marry but a Muslim man
That’s why Triple Talaq is for men only – but they tell us divorce is a big deal!
That’s why I must cover my hair, lest I wish to be raped!
That’s why they say God is the head of man, man the head of woman!
That’s why they termed the dower “price of the vulva”!
Hear me out once:
The fine line between divine guidelines and man-made laws no longer exists!
They tell us women must have no desires, no fantasies!
What—do they think me a doll?
Must I describe what I feel upon seeing my Beloved?
Because I can do today what I was forbidden yesterday
Since now, I have risen to the glory I owe myself

For how much longer must I let them define my womanhood for me?
Why must I let them tell me what it means to be natural,
What it means to be woman?
Heaven lies beneath the mother’s feet, they tell us
Not beneath the woman’s feet.
What—Is this meant to be a privilege?
Should I be grateful?
No – It is there just to silence me.
But this centuries-old silence has deafened me!
And I have finally risen to the glory I owe myself

The infinite well of silence has at last dried up!
I was deaf and mute before
But I am living now, and I will live forever
I am eternal.
And I have risen to the glory I owe myself

~ Me
~ Jan. 5th 2010


  1. i love the poem, seriously!
    the title is apt!
    the picture is beautiful!

    and i totally agree with the first few lines! :-)

  2. Motherfucker!!!! This is brilliant, Serenity! you're right that a lot of women feel this way .... but we're afraid of speaking up unlike you :)
    I really enjoyed it, loved the boldness.

    I think "I am eternal" is good.

  3. LOL, Reem. Yikes :p Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog! :) I appreciate your thoughts on the poem and am glad you think "I Am Eternal" makes a good enough title!

  4. P.S. Are you the Reem I know or another Reem? . . . Just curious! :D

  5. I really do like it! I am so glad to have found your blog=)

    Who's your Beloved?!! I am excited to know!

  6. Serenity, this is beautiful. You are breaking free from the cage and rejecting the feminine mystique.

    I always say I am howling at the world when I write passages similar to these, which is why I have the symbol of the wolf tatted on my shoulder. It serves as my reminder.

    You are clearly howling at the world. ;)

  7. I think it's a brilliant poem, from the heart and very pure. I'm not a fan of the title i must be honest with you, the rest is a piece of art, i am loving it through and through. I can't suggest any title that goes with such a strong poem, your alternative option is good but does sound a bit biblical! p.s. LOVE the picture too!!!

  8. ''radak sho zra esarawalay na sham
    khola mata kha da kho gandaly nasham''

    Nazo the great…

    I am in full swing of inspiration since yesterday..

    Let me say spontaneously and informally about this ‘’Trend setting’ legendary poem,

    This is my heart-rested forever poem…this is what exactly ‘revealed’ onto you…you went out of time and space relativity and stood on a third neutral place called ‘’Infinite point’’..There, you are totally out of your womanhood, religion, humans, affairs.. all seems like a ‘’kids play’’ to you…This is INDEED a pure and absolute women mysticism.. For me and for WORLD WOMEN this poem is ‘’ The Poem of Liberty ‘’ as contrary to the man made ‘Statue of liberty’..
    History RECORDED you jenay..Tag it…each and every sentence and word convey absolute purity and are AMAZING girl..i m in long swing of FULL inspiration while reading,again,and again and again this Eternal Poem…This 40 lines Eternal Poem ,carries Hundreds and thousands of books,papers,articles,researches, and theories written on ‘’Gender’’…what the books said not properly ,here, a young women said it so clearly, boldly and properly. This is indeed ‘’Gender pa koza ke bandawal’’ instead’ of samandar’  ..
    In this Eternal piece, Gender exposed, religion exposed, nature exposed, temptation exposed, history exposed’
    In history’s slanted pages, in invisible ink…..The invisible ink is the invisible unconscious/conscious biased role of manhood for women solitary confinement since primitive history till modern present..This Poem is immortal as well as Immoral.(don’t confuse)…Immoral in a sense, that, it exposed the past and prevailing so called man made ‘morality ‘attributed to women…You are TRULY The Poet of Liberty for ALL women…this is the SLOGANEER poem for women world…hey all women! Wake up…you didn’t spoke with such a BRAVITY for yourself but a women-fellow DID it for you…its all about you, your inner oppressed, suppressed and depressed psyche,feelings and temptations scared and causes by man…
    even, I, being a man, felt liberty feelings while read this poem., HERE, some how, some where, we are ‘’soul-mates’’ ….I don’t know from what feelings you were passing when you were writing this poem, but I feel little, that, these would be the most heavy reactionary feelings added from far past to present….This poem is ‘’Trend Setting’’ poem esp. for the current women rights and liberty organizations….

  9. You are the female ‘’Ghani Khan’’ and ‘’Khushal khan’’(a wonderful fusion) of my generation. so much ‘’kawaka bebaki’’ (I am not getting proper English word which convey the exact feelings of said Pashto word. This is because, this Pashto word purely entails pashtoon ‘’kaifiyat’’(mood within)…but some how close word to Kawaka bebaki is ‘un-tam mood’i.e. out of space-time taming ,as well in space-time taming. Such intuition in ecstasy souls are RARE and you are One of the Great among these Genius Poet minority.. I am going to make this poem as a wall frame in my drawing room.
    This is indeed a ‘Quantum Jump’ which left broken chains behind, en-chained by the so called man oriented humanity..Nazo you seemed to me completely ‘’out of the word’’… a fairy setting on silky, milky white clouds –bed ,writing this poem….here, you are not a ‘doll ‘but the man is ‘doll’ to you, being a puppet in the hands of his ‘manhood superiority complex’..Indeed God is Genderless, yet, the fusion of man-womanhood..Men and Women both are the ‘’khaleefa’’ of God..both are absolutely equal and darling in His Eternal eye…This is the blunder of man and his sociology which made her ‘below the line of man’..
    This poem is an ‘Authority challenge’ to man and his so called religion…indeed the ‘centuries’ old silence spoke out the harsh and bitter ‘TRUTH’ with Eternal smiley Lips….
    You proved that all Perceptions (upon which the past and prevailing belief system rest) are wrong and manipulated towards women..There is no HE, SHE like pronouns for God...We are the equally darling children of Father..
    The ‘Intelligent Design of the whole universe and human is functioning on ‘’Zaoj’’(pair) system. Right from the atom and sub-atomic particles, electron and proton (plus-minus charge) to Human, all going on through the balance of 1+1 formula, the couple…The two partners of Zaoj inspire one another..The same in society, men inspire women and women inspire men…Even the universal RIGHT and WRONG are in Zaoj…
    That’s why they once asked themselves if I was a human, like man: Once upon a time the christains,and Greek philosophers and priests had symposiums and debates on women entity..Whether, she is full human, half human or sub-human? Such questions were the focus of their manhood perception…But this poem is slap on their pale philosopher faces…
    You became Eternal, I tell you…. My soul whispering in me, to me…I bow my head; you are Adorable pedagogue for me and many..:)

    Simply,God Bless you………..

  10. i cant believe this is what people call brilliant! Your not a Muslim, stop pretending to be on. you need to research islam to find the answers to your questions, you cant have your own opinions and call it islam.

    may allah guide you to the right path. ameen.

  11. I don't know you, so I don't think I'm the same Reem. But i'm a silent reader of your blog. Keep it up :)

  12. WOW, Nawaz!!! Thank you SO much!! You know how grateful I always am for your analysis of my poetry! :) Your analysis inspires me more than the poem itself! Khwde de lara, and dera, dera manana!

    @ Anonymous: Hello! And welcome to my blog! Thanks for your feedback!

    @ Reem: Oh, okay. Thanks for reading me! :D

  13. Now this is interesting, one can feel the emotion.

    Given the introduction, I was half-expecting a revelation of sorts, a decision being unveiled (forgive the pun, it was unintended). But I can't seem to pin down any tangible decision.

    Is the poem meant to establish something new about yourself, or is it pure emotion for emotion's sake?

  14. Hiiii, Faizan!
    Thank you so, SO much for visiting!
    (By the way, I had no idea you had a blog/blogs! You should start posting in the Wrozni one. What does the word mean?)

    Naa, the poem was written just for emotion's sake, just to let out whatever I'd been thinking at a certain point in time; it's more like just to eternally freeze my own thoughts/emotions of a single moment. The revelation, if any at all ('cause I didn't think of that) would be that I've finally developed the confidence to express these thoughts out loud. That's all. The decision, if there's any ('cause I didn't think of any decisions either) would be that I'm going to say them regardless of the consequences, which can be quite dangerous for a woman in many societies.

    Thanks for the question! Very good ones!

  15. The saddest part in all of this is that people still defend this sort of male chauvinism vehemently in the name of their religion, culture, traditions, etc. They think these sort of hard-handed restrictions keep them from becoming Sodom and Gomorrah. Even some women are of this view. They will very openly and proudly tell you the beautiful merits of polygamy which, they'd say, should be applicable to all women but themselves.

  16. Halao, Anonymous!
    Thanks for your comment!

    Loving the last part: Yes, polygamy is all good, and all men can do it, except *my* husband; all women, except I myself, should live with it, and there's no way around it (except for me).

  17. Hey! I guess I had to ask because I didn't know how to interpret it; although I could feel the strength of what's being said, I didn't know what direction it was motioning for, so thanks for the clarification.

    Wrozni is a word I found in my Pashto-English dictionary. Apparently it means Diary (hence the name of the blog), but I quickly discovered I'm not the blogger-type...

    But I've started to use Buzz for random thoughts. Do you use it?

  18. Glad I was able to clarify, BUT remember that once someone writes something, they're no longer entitled to explaining to you what they mean ;) They are no longer in the author's control, so the reader is allowed to interpret it in whatever way she/he wants to. I wouldn't object to any interpretation of the poem.

    I had no idea Wrizni meant diary in Pashto! It actually makes sense -- "wroz"ni!

    Never heard of Buzz. What's that?

  19. Fantastic poem. I love your blog! - Wahid

  20. Great poem. I absolutely love, love, LOVE your blog. This is coming from a Afghan guy in Saint Louis ;)

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  23. Sorry, Wahid! Accidentally delete my comment in response to yours, LOL. I meant to delete the one right below it.

    @ Anonymous: While I appreciate your good thoughts, please understand that I can't tolerate the expression of such thoughts here, certainly not in public. I trust you won't do it again.
    Thank you.

  24. I don't know how often you see these comments, I see its been over a year since the last post. I just needed to tell you this. As a young American woman of Pukhthun family, I've been feeling so smothered lately (and by the people in my life who claim the most love for me; I only have tolerance for their intolerance of me because in the end they are my family and I figure they're coming from a good place)
    I've been feeling so incredibly alone with my fairly new convert-on-the-surface-so-we-could-marry husband, trying to explain to him the umbilical cord to my harsh, judgmental, hyper-controlling family that I just can't seem to cut... feeling alone among my non-Muslim friends because I'm too Muslim for them. Alone among my Muslim family because I'm not Muslim enough for them.
    Alone when I'm completely alone because...I realize at 30 that I have no idea who the hell I am, but that I want to belong, and I fear I will live the rest of my life chasing this fascinating idea called "unconditional love." I wonder if it ever appears, will I even recognize it? As, being an American-born and raised Muslim Pukhthun girl who had shorts and dolls yanked away at age 11 and replaced with a heaping dose of reality and harsh judgement... I don't recall ever experiencing it.

    I feel alone, but- like lonely people do, I scoured the Internet for some answer to tell me I'm not crazy.

    Your post moved me. It made me feel a little less crazy. And that makes me feel less alone.

    I just needed you to know, you are a stranger to me but tonite you made a difference in my life. Bless your heart and your open, unique and beautiful mind for that.

    1. Dear friend in spirit,
      Thank you for your comment. :) I'm always happy to hear particularly from readers like you!

      The last comment on this post was over a year ago, but I try to keep this blog as active as possible, trying to publish a post at least once a week. So you're welcome to stop by whenever you have time. I'm also happy to have conversations with you - or we can Facebook or Tweet privately if you wish. (On Twitter, I'm @qrratugai; on Facebook, I've two accounts, so I'll give you one for now -- Orbala Qrratugai. You should be able to find me easily. Send me a friend request and we'll message back and forth if you'd like.)

      You're *not* at all by any means! I feel smothered, suffocated to an extreme level frequently. (I can give you plenty of examples when we talk.) I'm not the only one besides you, either. I've a cousin (also a female) who, every time we talk about these stupid problems of ours as women, Muslim, Pashtun, etc., she tells me with exasperation how she wishes so desperately that she were a Jewish man living in the U.S. Although this cousin of mine is in Pakistan and has her own problems that most Pashtun women (or other Pakistani women) have, you and I as American-Pashtuns or Pashtun-Americans have additional or other problems as well, mostly to do with our religious, sexual, racial, ethnic identities. It's really not easy being a Pashtun woman, I know :) especially in the West.

      This reminds me: You might be interested to read this one blog post I once wrote on the terrible lives that the Pashtun women in my area in the U.S. lead: Pashtun Women's Problems in the West (and some solutions)

      So, no, friend, you're not alone.

      That I feel smothered so often is literally the main, and originally the only, reason I started blogging. It helps remind you that you're not alone after all; it empowers you in so many ways, and you feel so much stronger and more confident about yourself in the end; and it helps others realize they're not alone either (as you did after reading this post, and I'm grateful to know it was of help to you! Thank you for letting me know!).

      I do hope we get to talk soon. I'll be expecting a FB msg from you, k?

      I wish you a beautiful life full of peace, happiness, and love! Aameen.

  25. Excellent piece of art! You've gushed forth all that throttles Muslim women in general and the Pashtun in particular. There can't be a cathartic poem like the one you've written! You've slapped the chauvinists and pseudo traditionalists right in their faces. They must realize it if they've some gumptions. Keep up your JIHADIST and you 'll achieve your goals, as Abdulhameed Baba says:
    Ka yaar ghwarhe homra jaarha. ..
    So darzee Abdulhameeda...
    Daa pa daa che DURR* monde shee...
    Pa daryab na pa naala ke.
    *Durr means pearl/laal
    wish you all the best. ..Baryaley Ose!!!

    1. Thank you for your generous praise, Siraj lala! :) God bless you!


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