November 19, 2013 | by Shafinaaz Hassim
A conference on the intersection of gender

A conference on the intersection of gender and notions of fundamentalism proved to be fertile space for debating my research which is of particular interest to the South African context, but can be found to be easily extended in thematic relevance to the global context where traditional and cultural readings converge with democratic models of expression.

Family honour is the leading thread through the journey that my paper undertakes. The concept of family honour draws from the social identity and status awarded to families and clans, probably over generations. In order to maintain this often
prestigious place in society, a number of behaviours and expectations are taught to
individual members, male and female. In many instances, the maintenance of this
social status is important in setting structures for future generations. On the other
hand, the rigidity implied by such structures can prove to be limiting to the individual.
My research focuses on how South African Indian Muslim women perceive and
experience the opportunities, challenges and obstacles facing them. It also looks at the
extent, if at all, to which traditionalist culture creates or influences a gap between
opportunity and achievement for South African Indian Muslim women.
It is the aim of this research to explore the ways in which the reflexivity of the self is
inhibited in cultures where this notion of “honour” is valued. What it tests, is the limits to freedom of choice allowed to the individual. While moral limits are expected to be set, the
question here is whether there are limits that extend far beyond moral boundaries and
the implications that this social structure has for the individual to develop and achieve
goals. As two sides of the coin of social order, male domination and female
subordination both impact on individuals regardless of gender. The construction and
articulation of ‘izzat’ or honour also affects men just as it affects the life decisions and
choices available to women. The sociological honour code is constructed in a way that
ensures that women symbolise that code, and their male members of the family are
afforded the responsibility of administrating the lives of the objects of honour, in
order to maintain the family’s status within the social unit, or ‘kutum-qabila’. Due to
the limits of time as well as the need to portray an in-depth assessment of the
accessible material, this study focuses on women. The sample consists of six South
African Muslim women of Indian ancestry. It is acknowledged that both men and
women are likely to be affected by rigid structures, and as such, a parallel study with
regards to men will compliment this research.

The study is set against a background of honour killings in Pakistan. This is not to
imply a direct comparison between the extreme case study of honour killings and the
experiences of South African Indian Muslim women. It is rather to illuminate the
patriarchal mindset that infringes on the rights and liberties of women in a number of
ways, based on the assumption that Muslims of Indian origin whether in South Africa
or Pakistan share a common cultural heritage. In the extreme case of Pakistan, women
who deviate are murdered or physically disfigured. In the South African case, the
women face social sanction and stigma. This decreases their chances of achieving
goals. With the use of the extreme case, we are more easily able to discern the
motivations, rationalisations and even resistance to the attack on individual liberties.
Further conference papers that dealt with the themes of Nation and Community, varied critiques of fundamentalism and the discussions around virtuous citizenship and the responsibility to state and or society interrogate areas of enquiry both related to and which added much to the development of my research. Of particular interest was the lectures on the reading of scripture for historical perspective and the disputed readings of transcendence versus epigonality. A number of contemporary religious scholars call for non-patriarchal readings of scripture with particular reference to the Quran; these sentiments were echoed at the conference and I make reference to this project in my paper. The resounding question that we are left with is, in fact, if critique is indeed secular. The conference afforded multiple opportunities to contest this notion.

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of 'Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective' (2007), 'Memoirs for Kimya' (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence 'SoPhia' (2012). Her work has been shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize and the prestigious K Sello Duiker Award 2013, and she has been awarded in Hay Festival's category of top 39 authors under the age of 40 in Africa during the London Book Fair 2014. She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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About Shafinaaz

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective (2007), Memoirs for Kimya (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence SoPhia (2012). She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

My Books

The Garden of Love and Longing (2017)

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Princess Rasgulla and the Ponytail Monster (2017)

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Daughters are Diamonds

Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective
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