For as long as I can remember, most parents in my community have been bothered by their daughters joining clubs and extra-curriculars. At a face level, they realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with any club (especially one that is academic). But deep down, they feel that as soon as school hours are over, daughters should be right back home where they belong.
Even if it is a society like the Muslim Student’s Association, parents simply are not wholly comfortable with the notion of a club or a social community. A lot of it may have to do with their own upbringings: in Pakistan, for example, you excelled in school and there was nothing more important than that. The changing competitive environment of the 21st century, which requires us to pack our CVs with as many titles and positions as possible, is lost on them.
But it’s more than just an unfortunate social/cultural habit; it has a religious aspect, as well. When it comes down to it, the Qur’an makes specific recommendations as to how women should lead their lives. The clear point is that it should not be led like men. But unfortunately, society demands otherwise. Families cannot simply run on one income and girls have been trained from a young age to be “all that they can be”. Our parents are then faced with a complex interplay of emotions: they want their children – including their daughters – to be successful and fit for urban life. But on the other hand, many believe that to ensure the religiosity and safety of their children, daughters should not get too involved with the dunya.
For many immigrant parents, the frame of reference is still “back home”. In other words, if they are concerned with impressing, pleasing or berating anyone, it is members of their own community. Honour and respect comes from those that share the same heritage and the same background as themselves, and no one else. They have little regard for how “Canadians” see them. For some, it is a fear of the unknown and a fear of the tyranny of the "white man" that drives them to self-segregation. For others, however, it has a lot to do with the Western world's increasingly discriminatory policies towards Muslims (see Fareedah's article on Swiss legislation regarding masjid minarets). If we over-educate our children in a system that hates them, we only teach them to hate themselves. Put another way, it is kind of like a Stockholm Syndrome, where increased exposure to Western academia severs our link to our imaan and makes us fall in love with the enemy. For our parents, there is no worst nightmare than someone like Irshad Manji, Canadian small-l liberal lesbian Muslim, critic of traditional Islam, and in their opinion, an over-educated Munaffiqun (hypocrite).
In my final year of university, I am seeing a lot of Muslim women make some great strides in their lives. But as female students get older and wiser, the dynamic at home changes. The same parents who once encouraged (and forced!) them to study and excel in school are now facing a kind of anxiety about their daughters being simply too “white-washed”. A fear of late night club meetings has developed into a fear of studies abroad and international programs.
This article was inspired by a Muslim student I met while at work at the Career Centre, who is turning down an acceptance to Oxford University for a Masters in Political Science because her parents forbid it. It is also inspired by the words of Dr. Tariq Ramadan, and his belief that Muslim Canadians are ghettoizing themselves. He reminds us that the prophet put great stock in deen, and traveling for the sake of education. But there must certainly be a limit to what we sacrifice in order to succeed in the mainstream. In other words, this hadith only count for certain definitions of deen, and yours may not apply.
Yale or Harvard means nothing to some parents. For a daughter to achieve these academic honours, it is actually a nuisance. “Why do you want things so far away? Why are your ambitions so sinful?” A daughter should aim to stay close to her roots at all times, until she is passed from one family’s embrace (or control?) to another. Why? Because the world is dangerous. And it is (or, at least, it ought to be) a sin for a mother to throw her child into such a situation of temptation, risk and seduction. Safety from these things is found only indoors. While the same fears and the same demands are always true for boys, we know well that they apply doubly or triply to women.
I'm not trying to engage in cultural stereotyping. Nor am I trying to be hard on our parents, who are afraid of falling into the growing crevasse between old world and new. But, we must admit that this is a trend that has long-standing roots in our cultural mores. Is it time to question these roots? Or (because these mores are said to be based on Islamic rulings), have we already strayed too far?