Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Funeral Rituals in the Pashtun Society

A friend/classmate of mine is doing her Master's thesis on death/funeral rituals in the Pashtun society (really, societiessss). If you have any experiences or observations on this topic, please share them here. Alternatively, please free to suggest sources on the topic. I'll share whatever I find in a bit. In the meantime, whatever Twitter buddies share, I'll go ahead and paste it in this post. (Some might be in Pashto, and I don't plan to translate it right away. I do suggest that they be in English, though.)

Many, many thanks!

EDIT: While I have my own observations of attending funerals during my childhood and only ONE experience of attending a funeral last summer in Swat, I have some ideas that I hope might be considered for a research like this.

1. The age range of the deceased - (infants, children, adults, elderly)
2. Rural vs Urban
3. Afghanistan vs Pashtunkhwa (Pakistan)
4. Gender of the deceased
5. Gender of those performing the rites / responding to the death

Here are some responses so far:

@Azad Pashtun: Our school was near the graveyard so on the third day, a lot of women would bring parathas for which [we] always got a break. Parathas near the graveyard. Always women distributing them. 'Skaath' is another tradition. 5 or 10 rupees note often. New and crispy. Kids scramble to get those. often coming up a second time smw else to double it. Always difficult for me to tell the crowd 'Dao bo wakoo' when paying a visit. Always difficult to leave. So condolence. On day of someone's death, neighbors bring the food from homes. Family doesn't cook that day. 'Cha sara marra bandawal' is one of the issues. If one doesn't pay condolence visit, second will later not visit the first. Khairat on the third day. Vast silver platter and doday broken into pieces and mixed in shorba, masalfied fried oil poured on top. Some rich or shephard families will find enough da ghwa ghwarre and feed the village. Doesn't happen that often now. There is the all-village dinner in ghwarre mixed with sugar eaten with 'weshalay', very soft bread made of corn flour. And the digging of the grave. Taking part in it is an honor to help both in Islam and Pashtunwali. People take the 'marra' (the deceased one) in a 'kaat' (mazari fourposter) to the graveyard. Helping carry it is an honor again.

@ Khadim Durrani: Women are not part of the funeral cortège; they r absent while the person is being buried! [They come later to the graveyard.] They are not part of cortège & burial makes it different from other cultures!

@LOYSoch: veer kawan, zan wahal, wakhta rakagal, peryan razi, peghoruna warkawal she, patte khabarai rawazi...interesting stuff. 'n da pa mareh wrejo jagarai kege, oh 'n blame goes around why so and so is now dead if it wasn't for so and did or said.

@Najib Rahmani: the ostentatious wailing practised at some Pashtun funerals is Oscar-worthy.

@Me: You can detect a death in a family from many, many houses away because of the women's screams coming from that house. An announcement is made in the village that so-and-so has passed away (if an elderly or adult, not for children) The deceased person's body is placed in a bed (or a casket, but this is not common, I don't think) in the mandao or courtyard (see pictures for a better view), covered, and a close female family member sits by her/him, crying very loudly. Lots and lots of people are surrounded by the bed, everyone wanting to take a peak at the deceased. If the person died in an accident or in any way that caused extreme damage to her/his face, then the face is covered. Many families still choose to cover the face even if it's not harmed because of the negative effect it may have on the viewers. After some time, the body is taken for the ritual bath (this may happen at any time, possibly right before it's taken to the grave). The body lies there in that bed for a few hours until the funeral, which, if the person died the night before or that morning, takes places right after the noon prayer. It is religiously mandated that the body be buried within hours of the person's passing, and so Pashtuns, like other Muslims, don't keep the body overnight and make arrangements for a funeral to take place right away.

When it's time for the funeral, close male family members of the deceased come to take the deceased in a casket. Women may walk the deceased to the door, but they do not join the funeral or the burial, both of which only men participate in. (This has to do with the concept of public versus private space and ideas of pardah (seclusion, particularly gender segregation) in the Pashtun society.) While many Muslims believe that women are not allowed to visit graves, many other Muslims believe it's okay as long as the women don't get too emotionally crazy or "too carried away" at the graveyard, which does happen to some women. When the women go, they take Qur'ans with them to read. While at home, right after the deceased has been taken to the grave, the women take out their Qur'ans and other sources of what is called 'khatam" (a religious ritual that many Muslims participate in when they want forgiveness for themselves or others, or when they want anything else from God. The khatam is done usually in a large gathering because it is believed that the more people pray, the more people that are involved, the better the results) to seek forgiveness for the deceased. Every woman who is not on her menstruation and is in ablution reads one sipara, or section, of the Qur'an -- there are 30 sections in all of Qur'an.

As far as crying is concerned, women cry extremely loudly, and some even get what we call in Pashto "saadubi" and "peryaan" (seizure). I still don't know what the English term for "saadubi" is, but I've talked a little bit about it here. Basically, the woman screams for several minutes, if not around  half an hour, and often doesn't recognize herself or anyone around her or her surroundings. I think this happens to women who have depression, but I may be wrong. As for men, I have seen men crying -- but that's in rare cases. Last summer, at the death of my mother's aunt (God have mercy on her), I saw an uncle of mine crying. He tried not to let anyone see him, but me and some of my aunts saw him. My grandpa (mom's mom) was there, and because he was very close to his sister-in-law who had just passed away, he was in a terrible shape. Although men and women are segregated, the immediate, close male members of the family come in and go into the women's space when necessary, and this was when we saw that they were in tears. However, men's crying is nothing -- and I mean nothing -- like the women's. For women, there's also a lot of self-beating: they'll beat themselves uncontrollably while screaming at the top of their lungs. What they say while screaming depends on their relation to the deceased. The wife of the deceased might say, for instance, "What am I gonna do now? Who will provide for me? How am I to take care of my kids?" She may also start cursing herself, her life, her circumstances, everything. A daughter might scream that it's her fault her father died, or that she could've been a better daughter, or that last week, she didn't do something he had asked her to do. And so on. The other women may try to console her, reminding her that it is fate and there is nothing she could've done to prevent the death, but it doesn't work.

Also, it is popularly believed that if those who are burying the body "ask" the earth not to harm the deceased while it's in the grave (explained below briefly), then the person will not experience any of the sufferings that "bad" humans experience while in the grave. Families do this when they have family members abroad or those who were unable to make it to the funeral but needed to be there because of their close relationship with the deceased person. Once the family member(s) arrive, the deceased is taken out of the grave for that special family member's viewing, and another funeral takes place once the body is ready to be re-buried. (I personally don't know of any such cases, but I have heard of a few. I have no idea of how common this is and whether this is unique to Pashtuns or other Muslims do it as well.)

Re: the "earth" and its punishment for the deceased: Religiously, Muslims are taught that "good" people (i.e., pious, God-fearing Muslims) start receiving their reward of heaven right after death, as soon as they are buried. And "bad" people start receiving their punishment right after death, while in the grave.

More later.

Friday, January 27, 2012


It always feels beautiful to be happy!! :) I have no specific reason to be happy right now, but I've been looking through my files and seeing Kashmala's videos and laughing so hard my body still hurts! God I LOVE her!!! She is THE most beautiful thing ever created. Take a look, y'all:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Maya Khan (Samaa TV)'s Moral Policing

Some of you might be aware of the recent Maya Khan incident, the self-righteous TV hostess who has been harassing young (unmarried) couples in a public Pakistani park in Karachi known to be a hot meeting spot for young couples in love. Here, take a look:

This lady, along with her crew (most of whom are also females), takes a mic and a camera to the park and stalks young couples sitting on benches. Some couples manage to escape when they see her coming towards them with a camera/mic, but others aren't as lucky. There's one girl who's wearing a burqa. And Maya Khan's response is pathetic, like, "Whaaat! A girl in a burqa with a guy! Shame on her!!" They interpret it as hypocrisy when, in fact, it's actually something the girl must do for her own protection. She and her crew talk about how it's the mothers' job to teach their kids "morality" and when the mothers so obviously suck at their jobs, it only makes sense that Maya Khan do it, no? Of course.

There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to begin. For starters, since she's judging Muslims by their actions, lemme be superficial like her and judge her by her outer appearance: she doesn't cover her head, something considered obligatory by mainstream Muslims. I am neither the first nor the last to point this out. But I do wonder what Maya's response to it has been. What was on her mind when she did this? Talk about hypocrisy.
What's worse,  I assure you that Zakir Naik, the popular Muslim televangelist/preacher/"scholar" whom I assume Maya Khan is very fond of, would say it's haraam for a woman to host a TV show. For obvious reasons, like: random men get to see her, be physically attracted to her, hear her laugh, and so on. This is haraam for a woman, according to Zakir Naik and the majority Muslim perspective unless and only unless she wears a hijab (covers her head and the rest of her body), does not laugh, does not meet and greet men on the show, etc. Another thing that makes her show haraam is that it's not educational. It's an entertainment show, really, and that's like, duh, haraam.

Forget all of this: the fact that she is appearing in PUBLIC is enough for her to be condemned for her own actions, okay? (This isn't according to me; it's according to the same philosophy she is attempting to enforce with her moral policing.) The woman, according to this philosophy, is a private entity; she is not to be in the public unless absolutely necessary (Zakir Naik and all other great scholars who preach mainstream Islam say so; believe it). Is it absolutely necessary for Maya Khan to appear on TV? No, it's not. Let's suppose is it is necessary ... then what's with the make-up? Dude, does she not know that she's supposed to be as modest as humanly possible, especially when in public?! Goodness gracious. What's close to worse - her eyebrows are shaped! Um, last I checked in hadiths and stuff, shaping your eyebrows is haraam (speaking of which, I have a blog post coming on this at some point soon). Funny how selective we are in our judgments and practices, eh.

For me, the funniest parts are when she asks the girls their names, LOL. And she does it in such an innocent way - like "Look, ALL you have to do is tell me your name." Now, WHY should anyone have to give Maya Khan their name when they know what's being done with the information? When they're asked to take the camera off their faces, Maya Khan's crew still records the conversation while not showing the faces - talk about Islam! Do they not know that in Islam, privacy is given deep significance and people's privacy is to be always respected? Fine, they think that young boys and girls meeting in a public park is unacceptable in Islam (which itself is open to debate, at least in today's world) - but how do we decide which parts of Islam to follow ourselves, which ones to ignore ourselves but impose on other people?

Pashtun Women Problems (and solutions)

When this blog went private for a couple of weeks, I wrote some things that I wish I could share in public but since I can't share all of it, I'm gonna go ahead and share the ones I can share with everyone. I was always talkative, I've always used this blog as a "venting" machine, and I've rarely needed the inspiration -- since there's enough injustice around me to inspire me. But recently, or at least as of late Dec. 2011, there's this Pukhtun girl on Twitter whose Twitter nick is @myGHATproblems. I plan to dedicate another long post to her soon, ka khairee, but in the mean time, I only wanna say that her tweets have been very inspirational for me. She's sorta opened my eyes to the many contradictions and double standards inside the Pashtun culture that I always knew -- all Pukhtuns know they're there, right in our face -- but I think I've been setting them aside, or considering justifications for them. No, nothing can ever excuse a double standard, most certainly not when it has negative consequences for a specific gender (or genders) or another group of the people of that society.  Again, I'll write on this more hopefully soon (hopefully this weekend?), but I just wanted to say how influential Ghata Bibi is proving to be to me. And I'm sure to many other Pukthuns on Twitter who follow her tweets. She's hilarious, too :D

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gender and Identity: Women Changing their Surname after Marrige

I firmly believe in choice. So when I encounter women who have chosen to change their last names because they simply wanted to (there can be many reasons, although perhaps not as compelling to me or you as to them), I don’t pity them for falling into the trap of patriarchy, which pushes them to give up their identity and be identified solely by their husbands. When I watch a marriage ceremony being conducted by some preacher, he goes, “I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. John Doe!” I’m like, what the hell – the woman’s identity doesn’t exist anymore! Heck, the woman doesn’t exist anymore.

I admit – it’s equally patriarchal that her surname is her father’s last name in the first place. However, there are ways around this. Not all women’s last names are taken from their father’s only. In Mexico (and I believe parts of Latin and Central America, too?), for example, when the woman gets married, she retains her last name. And the children’s last name = the father’s + the mother’s, hyphenated. (The father’s name still comes first, though. I mean, duh.)

So, basically, I’m trying to understand why women change or should change or have to change their last names.  Lemme tell you a funny story. Some years ago, I worked at a clinic and had to deal with patients’ files. One day, I couldn’t find a patient’s file so I asked my co-worker where it could possibly be. She looked with me first and then remembered: “Ohhh yeah! He changed his last name, stupid him. He got married and changed his last name to his wife’s. That’s so dumb.” I know this lady so I didn’t wanna have a discussion with her about this, but I couldn’t help asking, “Do you think it’s also dumb when a woman changes her last name after she gets married?”
Her: “No, of course not. We change our last names because we love our husbands.”
Me: “And our husbands don’t love us, so that’s why they don’t change their last names to ours?”
Her: “You’re such a feminist. It’s just tradition. Nothing wrong with that.”
Me: “Perhaps. But why should be anything wrong with a man’s choice to change his last name to his wife’s?”
Her: “Do you know what hell you have to go through to change your last name?”
Me: “But that hell is for both women and men, right? I mean, men go through the same hell that women go through when we change our last names to our husband’s. Or do only men who change their last names to their wives' go through the hell, but since women do it so much and so many women do it, it's not hell for them? Besides, what makes one acceptable and nice but the other unacceptable and stupid?”
Her: “You’re truly a feminist. I don’t wanna argue about this. Besides, if only he knew what I have to go through now, changing his name in our records.”
Me: …

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