Raja Naeem, you don’t need to wear a shalwar kameez to be able to pray

Published: June 19, 2014

My request to people like Naeem is this: take some time out to understand what your actions are leading towards. Not only is Islam being seen as an inflexible religion around the globe, even Pakistan’s image is at stake here because of the likes of you.

A few days ago, I came across a story of a US-based Pakistani driver, Raja Naeem, who was seen protesting against the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, outside City Hall in St Louis, US, along with two dozen other taxi drivers.

The reason being; he felt that he was being deprived of his right to wear his ‘religious dress’ during work hours. Naeem has also filed a case against the taxi commission for discriminating against him and not letting him fulfil his ‘religious obligations’.

Although I believe Naeem has all the right in the world to protest and follow his religion, what I failed to understand was the correlation between wearing a particular uniform to work and fulfilling his religious duties. How exactly does that make any sense? It is incredibly exasperating to assume that faith, or religion, is bound by the sort of clothes you wear to work and just goes to show the lack of understanding we have of our religion.

As far as the limited knowledge of Islam I possess, I believe if you are covered, in accordance with the prescribed parameters of religion, you are good to go. I do not believe to have heard anything that implies that Muslims are prohibited from wearing anything but a shalwar kameez to be able to pray. In fact, in many other Muslim countries, there is no such thing as the shalwar kameez! Are their prayers less effective than ours then?

A dress code is important and promotes equality at the workplace and religion has nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we tend to believe that Islam is all about the dress one wears or the beard one grows or the hijab one dons. They forget that religion is personal; it’s what is on the inside that matters, not the sort of dress you wear. It is your intention that truly counts.

In Pakistan, 90% of the population dresses in shalwar kameez, a traditional dress. Do they do this because they are all Muslims? What about the Pakistani Christians, Pakistan Hindus, Parsis and foreigners who come visit the country?

Lots of you will argue that it is the right of the taxi driver to protest against the taxi commission, but just think for one second, would Pakistan allow a priest to wear clerical clothing or a cassock with a cross around his neck and drive a public taxi? Would we not identify him as a Christian? Would he not become vulnerable to attacks? Why would any workplace want to risk the life or safety of their workers?

Do the students in Pakistan not wear a uniform to school? Those are not shalwar kameezs, is there a problem there? Can they not pray? Dress codes promote discipline, equality and uniformity; what is wrong with that? It is a measure to prevent discrimination of any kind. The reason for which the commission made a uniform obligatory is to make it easier to identify and distinguish between licensed and unlicensed drivers; a safety measure installed to ensure no reckless driving and safer travels.

The taxi commission, after consultation from an imam of a local mosque, they allowed the driver a concession; they permitted him to wear a long white shirt with a black trouser. Unfortunately, even this was not good enough for Naeem, as this still, somehow, affected him while undertaking his ‘religious duties’. I fail to understand his point of view.

My request to people like Naeem is this: take some time out to understand what your actions are leading to; not only are you killing Pakistan’s image in the international arena, you are trying to show Islam as an inflexible religion around the globe which is not true!

In this case, the driver accused the taxi commission of discriminating against him, by not permitting him to dress according to his ‘religious parameters’. But from the way I see it, discrimination lies in the driver’s decision to not follow the code and to separate himself from rest of the pack – just because he has a different religion.

This post originally appeared here.

Madiha Imtiaz

Madiha Imtiaz

She has a Masters degree in mass communication from GCUF, and an M.Phil from IIUI. Her area of interest includes social issues and politics. She tweets as @madiiha111 (twitter.com/madiiha111)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • نائلہ

    Religious dress? Oh my…..Recommend

  • ajeet

    They never ever try to follow any law other than their own. The world is now tired of their antics.Recommend

  • Fappy

    Move back to Pakistan or any other Muslim country if you love your faith so much. Decide what you love the most your Islamic values or social security? living in a land where liquor, gambling, prostitution, interest and same sex marriages are protected by law and then shouting about shariah rights seems like a mental disease.Recommend

  • Silent Observer

    Why he wants to live in a country that is not being governed as per Shariah? He should immediately come back to a country which is governed according to shariah and he has the liberty to wear whatever he wishes to offer namaz.

    People like him our destroying the social fabric of the society he should be thrown out of the country.Recommend

  • Jibran

    Fully agree with the author…unfortunately it is lack of education which results in these kind of problems…doesn’t the guy realise that people in the Gulf…the Arabs…do not wear shalwar kameez? Shalwar Kameez is a national dress…NOT a religious dress…when will people learn and not bring an excuse just to play the victims…Recommend

  • Umer Sheikh

    You have hit the nail on its head. This is gone too far. There is no such thing as an Islamic dress. The Imam e Kaaba wears something totally different to what scholars/imams wear in say Pakistan or Turkey. I think the Western employers (in general) do a great job in accommodating their employees’ religious aspects. I wonder if this kinda thing can ever be sought by a Christian/Hindu/any other non Muslim in Pakistan.. I highly doubt…Recommend

  • Queen

    Agree. Every religion has their own way of dressing and code of ethics. It is unfortunate that in our country, only that person is considered ‘a true Muslim’ who wears Shalwar Kameez and has a beard. Islam is a universal religion and Muslims are present all over the world and they wear different clothes. A Muslim is free to wear the dress according to his/her culture as long as the Islamic way of dressing is followed [which includes covering of hands until wrists and covering of ankles, and covering of hair for the women] but there are people like Naeem which give bad name to their religion.

    This issue reminded me of the dialogue said by veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah in “Khuda ke Liye” : “Islam mai darhi hai, darhi mai Islam nahi.”Recommend

  • Arsalan

    I agree with points you have raised. The problem is that most of us have associated religion with culture. We believe that we will be better Muslims if we are more inclined towards Arabic culture. Arabic dress (Shalwar Qameez being a variant of Arabic dress), Arabic language, Arabic traditions etc have been wrongly associated with Islam. We think that Hindi language & devanagari script are very anti-Islamic and Arabic language is a “Muslim language”. We must accept these facts that there are many Jew & Christian Arabic speakers. There are Arabic books written against Islam and on the other hand, there are very good Islamic books written in English, Hindi and Hebrew too. Let us separate culture from religion. Religion does has a slight impact on culture but cultures are based on geography. If we believe Islam is a global religion that is best for all regions & times, then we must follow Islam while keeping ourselves in our own culture and shouldn’t impose Arabic culture on our specific culture by labeling it as “Islamic” culture.Recommend

  • Ehsan karim

    Very well written. It is about your intention and your faith, it has nothing to do with shilwar kameez or other dress if it covers you complete and it is clean.
    Prophet Muhammad S.A.W was not different from non-belivers in terms of dress, he was different in terms of character, values, principles and faith.Recommend

  • Jamshed Rustomjee

    There are no mandatory uniforms for taxi drivers in St. Louis. Only street clothes are
    required. Taxi drivers in St. Lo or for that matter even in NYC are independent
    contractors. Contracting to drive a company’s taxi for a set fee. Whatever that may be. After they pay the fee, anything they make beyond is theirs. So, if a driver chooses to wear his national dress from Mongolia, he may be within his right. Also it has to do with personal belief. Jews wear prayer shawls and skulls caps when they pray. Hindus wear their bindis on their foreheads, Daily. Sikh must have their beards and unique headgear. If a Hindu woman chooses to wear a sari and bindi to work, in a bank, would that be acceptable? Yes. Unless the employee handbook specifically says no. Rather, religious body decorations, not allowed. So the taxi driver may be within his rights. [Specially if the lawyers took his case. Agreed to represent him.] Lawyers will not accept cases unless there is good chance of winning,..and making money
    Perhaps the author should take into consideration that these are vastly vastly different cultures. And very very different employment laws. Including anti discrimination laws.Recommend

  • Hamza

    Firstly, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission’s mandated uniform is of black slacks and a white, button-down shirt. So there IS indeed a uniform
    Secondly, you have mentioned other religions and their dress code, namely Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Hindus and Sikhs are explicitly told in their religion that these are things they MUST wear. Jews only wear prayer shawls and skull caps when they pray.
    In Islam, however, the case is different. A Muslim is told that he/she must dress modestly. In the case of a man (as Raja Naeem is a male) his dressing must go below his knees and stay above his ankles while praying and that’s it. Even if he wears a jeans, he can turn it up until it’s above his ankles.
    Shalwar Kameez has nothing to do with Islam. It’s a part of the culture of sub-continent. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was an Arab. Do you think he (PBUH) wore shalwar kameez?Recommend

  • maheen

    what nonsense….. this dude should go to Dubai. Dubai is a muslim country, yet the taxi drivers are required to wear a uniform. AND THEY ALSO PRAY!!!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely written.
    At first it started with Pakistanis catching the limelight with their ‘ in your face ‘ dress and behaviour flouted in the name of ‘ religious freedom ‘……now the narrative is shifting away from ‘ Pakistan ‘ to ‘ Muslim and Islam ‘. The fact that although many western countries stand fast on the principle of religious freedom does not stop them from amending their laws or even constitution to safeguard their way of life.Recommend

  • shahab

    Islam has no dress code but code of ethics. Muslims living in South Asia are so confused with religion and culture.Recommend

  • Humayun

    I agree with you partially. Religion is personal belief but having wider social implications. So you can not dismiss anything in the name of personal beliefs.
    In this case, the dress this cab driver is asking to wear is somewhat similar to what Islam (sunnah) tells us through traditions and history. However interesting part is that when weather temperature would fall below minus, which dress he would wear. He would not be able to find a traditional dress from sunnah for snow.
    This is where our judgement comes. Dress should not be of any other religion (meaning dress worn by traditional priests, monks etc), it should not reveal what is supposed to be covered and it should not be extravagantRecommend

  • SamSal

    A typical muslim mindset. People here may have objections to my usage of word Muslim here, and I agree that I might have generalized, but we the muslims are adamant to make the world move as we want. Do we not see men wearing shalwar kurta in offices on Friday? People working in big companies, who wear jeans and tshirts on Saturdays as that’s when ‘casual’ dressing is allowed, wear white (mostly) shalwar kameez on Fridays.Recommend

  • http://pakviewsreviews.blogspot.com/ Salman Saleem

    I have seen Christian people wearing Cross while driving taxis or rickshaws etc. They proudly display Jesus Pictures / Cross / their other religious symbols in their vehicles freely. Similar is the case with Christian employees of WAPDA / WASA. There is no problem like this whatsoever in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You will find a lot of educated people ‘ wearing their religion on their sleeve ‘…..I think the malaise is much more deeper rooted.Recommend

  • Kamran

    When Sikh is allow to wear turban during his job why don’t Muslims, this is completely discrimination with Muslims.Recommend

  • Sane

    Correctly you say; there is no prescribed Islamic Dress. Any clothing which covers you well is Islamic. Naeem and such people are carried away by illiterate Moulvis. Who either do not have knowledge what Islam teaches or have little knowledge to declare themselves as scholar.Recommend

  • Adpran

    The taxi commission actually has tolerant enough. They allow Naeem wear white kurta but not below his thighs. They allow him to wear loose pant above the ankle, but must be black. And the most important is, the taxi commission allow Naeem wear kufi. But unfortunately, Naeem still wanted to wear white shalwar kameez which he regard as Islamic dress.

    By the way, in my place (Indonesia) there are people who known as “conservative Muslims”. Yes, they have beard, always dressed in long sleeve and pant above the ankle. But they are not stuck in one model. Sometime I see them wear long sleeve t-shirt (sweater), and wear pants that made from thick fabric like casual pants. And the colors are not always white. Shalwar kameez?. Since those “conservative Muslims” are not Pakistanis, they do not wear shalwar kameez.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    So Muslims in other countries want jobs and those too on their own terms while they are busy oppressing minorities in their own country. Ahmedis are stopped to pray even inside their house in Pakistan and people like Raja naeem try to take advantage of the rights given to them in the civilized world. Come back home Mr. and wear what ever you want. Don’t ruin the image of other Muslims living their.Recommend

  • Abdul

    The intention here is not religion or culture or personal comfort but to scream VICTIMHOOD.Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    Using Islam for personal projections will not get any benefit for people like him but surely develop a negative image of our religion.

    I was in Islamabad and saw the lal masjid incident myself and still remember the smoke cluds and the war scenes over there.
    CDA Asked them to vacate the Illegally occupied area and they started protesting in the name of Islam.
    Before this issue started, the boundary Walls of Lal Masjid were of Cornsilk color, and then they changed the color to red(As such faded red, more likely to be red mixed with white). Then they wrote on the walls “Jis ki zameen us ka nizam (Which had dual meanings (Our Land, Lord’s Land), ALLAH ki zameen ALLAH ka nizam)”. and “Shaiyat ya Shahadat” was the second message.
    There is a long story about what I saw over there, spoke to lal masjid people and prayed into the same mosque many times and observed the preparedness for death but it has become a topic of debate now about, who got the benefit?

    Ultimately, one thing is for sure, it developed the negative image of Islam.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Madiha, it is very brave of you to be blunt.

    He is not an exception as we have seen many like him who are equally rigid when it comes to their religious beliefs. This is not just religion for these people but it is a statement they are making that they hate the west. Just talk to these people and ask a few questions regarding the country they live in the west and even if they are at their moderate best, you would get to know their hatred of the west.

    These are people who are deeply motivated by the propaganda that the west is against Islam and it is truly sad that Pakistanis have become the champions of these unwanted acts as if being associated with terrorism was not enough.

    These people do not realize that what they have already got leave alone what they want further is something their own country does not offer not just the immigrants but their own minorities.These people do not realize that their hosts can kick them out anytime if they want for being so ungrateful to a country which has given so much which these chaps would not even dream of in their own countries.

    It is time Pakistan stops giving itself too much of credit like claiming that Pakistan is the center of gravity of the Islamic world politically and it is imperative upon each Pakistani to take care of all Muslims in the world.Recommend

  • abhi

    one of the sane comments from you.Recommend

  • Khurram Khan

    If he was in Saudi Arabia he would meekly take the insults hurled at him by the Arabs.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    It is so funny how we Pakistanis will protest so called “discrimination” abroad, but we will still directly and actually discriminate against our own fellow Pakistanis here in Pakistan.Recommend

  • vasan

    Who told you that Hindus must wear “somoething”. It is not prescribed in Hinduism as to what to wear, be it a man or woman. Where do u get such fancy concepts.Recommend

  • Fawad Shah

    Religions are develop to spread peace among the people i think we must separate emotions from rituals in order to move forwardRecommend

  • Sane

    I always give sane comments, if you read without any preconceived perception. However, hate comments I respond in its coin.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Bindis worn by Hindu women are a cultural manifestion- not a religious obligation. Likewise shalwar kamiz is a cultural preference rather than a religious obligation as indicated. I work at a a bank and no one stops women from wearing a hijab – so that addresses the bindi at a bank argument.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Turbans are required by that religion, shalwar kamiz is not required by Islam.Recommend

  • Prashant

    I see a lot of my Pakistani friends condemning this act by Raza but is that enough?
    This is not just limited to one individual but this is a mindset which results in these kind of acts. A mindset which Raza has does not get developed overnight or in vacuum. Sure, there are fundamentalists in every country but how come Pakistan is able to display more of its extremism to the entire world then its moderate/ constructive face. Surely, Pakistan does not intentionally want to portray itself the way it is seen as in the world. This mindset has grown so much in Pakistan that it just cannot keep it under the wraps no matter how much it tries. Pakistanis can either say that it is too difficult to look back and correct themselves and hence it is better to justify this mindset by living in denials else they fight this mindset itself.Recommend

  • Rehan

    You are right about the turban on Sikhs, but Hindus have no compulsion. Hindus in South India wear a dress very differently from North Indian. North Indian Hindus wear Shalwar Kameez as well, or Dhoti, pajama, pant, anything one wishes!! Ditto with food, there are vegetarian, there are non-vegetarian, and there are beef eating Hindus as well. There is no compulsion, per se!
    Infact, there are atheist Hindus, there are Hindus who believes in one god, but not in another and so on. Its basically a way of life!Recommend

  • Nobody

    A shalwar qameez to Muslims is NOT the same thing as a turban to a Sikh. It’s cultural and not a requirement. There are millions of Muslims around the world who have never worn a shalwar qameez.
    Why Muslims insist on playing the victim card, I’ll never understand. The world is not out to get us.
    Furthermore, if a person’s religion begins and ends with their clothes then they ought to re-evaluate.

  • Ahsan Ali

    Salam everyone. One must know the minimum requirement of covering body while praying, any dress that fulfills that requirement is acceptable and is not liable to be questioned. Islam is the religion of moderation so please avoid any extreme. These extremes will lead towards disharmony in society.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Ahmed, the damage has already been done and it is going to take a great deal of time to convince the world that Raza’s mindset is not representative of Muslims and especially Pakistanis provided you make a beginning now.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Maheen, what you call non sense today is a product of a mindset which has been carefully cultivated over a period of time and the international community and especially your neighbors have been at its receiving end for too long in one or other form.

    Just calling it nonsense does not absolve you of your share of the blame when you kept quiet while your state agencies were creating havoc on others soil using the products of Raza’s mindset.Recommend

  • Prashant

    If only you had understood this pre 1971, there would not have been a need for Bangladesh as East Pakistanis were once proud Pakistanis too.Recommend

  • Prashant

    It is mandatory for the sikhs to wear a turban and hence they are allowed too. There are some sikhs who do not wear turbans which is their choice.

    The question is are the Muslims required to wear the Kurta Pyajama wherever they go? Is it mandatory as for Islam? If that is true then Muslims do not live in any other country other than Pakistan.

    You may think of declaring the people of Saudi Arabia and the rest of Muslim countries as Non Muslims just like you did to the Ahmediyas of your own country.Recommend

  • Queen

    Nations learn and become mature with the passage of time.Recommend

  • Prashant

    That is correct but is Pakistan becoming mature?

    You still believe in good and bad Taliban. Surely, this is not a mark of maturity.Recommend

  • It doesn’t matter which religion tells you to wear what. It’s your views on what you need to wear that matter, so long as you are not violating some objective standards on public indecency or nuisance set by the law. I agree with Jamshed. Don’t be defining for people what they can’t or can wear.Recommend

  • You don’t get to tell Raja Naeem that. It’s his views that matter about how he wants to follow his religion.Recommend

  • Queen

    If you have followed the political developments in your neighborhood, then you must be aware that setting aside the perception about good Taliban and bad Taliban, Pakistan has launched an operation against the Taliban and foreign militants in the tribal areas. Even during the operation, some points have been established to facilitate those who want to give up arms and are willing to become a part of the mainstream system. In my opinion, this is a very ‘mature’ and sensible way to address the issue of terrorism. If some neighboring countries don’t consider it ‘a mark of maturity’ then I guess they need to change their perspective.Recommend

  • Shehzaib Durrani

    Sister Madiha, you’re definitely correct on the point that there is no specific dress code in Islam, however, please don’t point out to the ‘beard’ and ‘hijab’, as they are fundamentals of Islam. Recommend

  • Jamshed Rustomjee.

    Read the comment again. Slowly. Maybe this time you get the hang of it.
    And bindi is Not a cultural thing. It is religion orientated. In South India
    bindis get very elaborate. Cover a good portion of the forehead. Very Scary.looking. So in US very debatable. All depends on HR Dept.And their level of tolerance. Certainly very debatable in any red state.
    Because if a Hindu teller, from India is allowed a bindi. Then a Zulu teller, male, from Kenya can paint his full face. and come to work. You dragged your comment for the sake of writing. No thinking behind it.
    Just a blanket statement. Simply because thats the way Indian trolls are. Not rational.Recommend

  • adnan siddiqui

    My question is to all the narrow minded people included the writer is that why you people make a issue when a poor molvi wants to live his own life without harming any one?Recommend

  • taxi owner/driver

    Missouri Constitution Article I, section 5. That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience;
    You should read the Judges order before sounding so ignorant. You have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s available online. Read it, maybe learn something.
    It’s not about being Muslim, it’s about religion. Whether you’re Catholic, Baptist, etc…. this victory is beneficial to all of us. I’m guessing you don’t talk to God everyday, maybe you should.