I was having lunch with my colleagues few days ago. As usual, they had interesting stories to share. This time, Maryam Al Nuaimi captivated us with her tale of an Emirati woman's story.
This anonymous girl directed a short movie about her life struggle. If you are from the Middle East, you might be acquainted with the word "A'aib" meaning "shameful". This term was used daily in this girl's household. Almost everything she wanted to do was seen as "a'aib" to her family. They snatched away her basic freedoms in the name of discipline. What did they achieve by locking her in a traditional role? She eventually indulged in sinful acts, living up to accusations of "a'aib".
This is not a new issue, but it still exists in many Emirati households. Certainly what this girl went through was unfair, but her self-indulgence was not justifiable.
I am not suggesting families should not have rules, but over-controlling and restricting freedom of expression will lead to disastrous results. Many of us have seen it already.
I encountered a girl three years ago at university and she told me that she took advantage of her freedom when on campus because she was out of her family's sight. When I saw her a few months later, she had befriended students who were "goth" in style as part of her rebellion. Many university students live a double life – rebellious away from home, where they are submissive – so that they can be accepted by both friends and society.
Many families suffocate their children in the name of "discipline". Although sometimes their rules do not make sense, it is considered disobedient to question the reasons. Some families go easy on their sons because "when a girl does something wrong, she will pay for that the rest of her life", as some ignorant people say.
In some Arab families, when a boy does something improper, his family might not make a huge fuss because "It's OK, he's a man". But If the same behaviour was committed by a girl, the family believes that black spot will not fade away. Some traditions create friction and discriminates between men and women. It seems like some of us still live in the days of ignorance [Jahiliya] where women had no freedom. Some youngsters are confused which to follow: custom or religion?
I know a family where the father does not allow his working daughter to drive a car because he fears society would speak ill of her if she was seen. On the other hand, he does not mind a strange driver taking her to work and school. Some of us fear the creation rather than the creator, what a contradiction!
Our religion cautions us against following blindly. It encourages adherents to ask questions and speak up, so we can understand the motivation behind what we do. Unfortunately, some families do not give their children the privilege of questioning religion or tradition, and instead expect them to follow with absolute obedience.
In that case, religion becomes an imposition rather than a matter of conviction, and the tradition becomes a burden to carry on.
Families need to differentiate between traditional and religious teachings. One of the teachings of Islam says parents should befriend their children so the children have somewhere to turn in times of trouble. But these days, the reality is quite the opposite. Traditional values have been transferred from our forefathers and I strongly believe some of those values are wrong. They were perpetuated by people who lacked knowledge. And we who follow in their footsteps without questioning is pure ignorance from our side.