Our national dress is the shalwar kameez, not the niqab

Published: January 27, 2016
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Recently, I came across a meme that compared the full niqab with local cultural dresses, and it reminded me of our unfortunate transformation.

Through fear of the sword or through promise of eternal torment they spread their regressive ways. Over time we found another reason to abhor each other, to feel divided, to openly judge our own. The foreign culture we adopted didn’t play well with our own, for it insisted in its dark perfection while clashing with our own light.

Whenever I travel from Pakistan I feel a melancholy that slowly hums in my heart overseas until it reaches full tempo when I return home. Other countries hold dear their customs and honour the old roots from which they rose with tolerance and diversity. Pakistan, on the other hand, has turned into a claustrophobic cultural mute.

If culture is food for the soul then we are going mad with starvation. Tragically, we are unable to realise this in our fractured state of mind. For so long we have boiled our meat without salt, pepper, or spice, that we now believe this is the way it is meant to be.

Imagine a Pakistan where you regularly socialise with Christian, Hindu, and Sikh Pakistanis, absorbing the aspects of their traditions that make them unique from you.

Imagine a Pakistan where you are able to attend an event of a culture different from your own, but completely Pakistani nonetheless.

Imagine a Pakistan where heritage sites are preserved with reverence rather than treated as offensive by the intolerant. Imagine a Pakistan where our language, clothing, and music remain unmolested by the Wahhabi sense of conformity.

As a child when I visited Karachi I recall the streets and taxis were full of melody; the latest Pakistani pop songs would blare at every corner. Today, the only tones that feature on the same roads are the sounds of vehicles and angry pedestrians. Full niqabs have replaced beautiful Pakistani dresses, long beards have taken the place of fashionably diverse faces, naats (praise of the Prophet (pbuh)) have taken over from musical numbers. Tellingly, a musician who once enriched our lives has transformed into a hard-line preacher in perhaps the biggest indication of our metamorphosis.

Recently, I came across a meme that compared the full niqab with local cultural dresses, and it reminded me of our unfortunate transformation. Inspired by this meme, I’d like to take you through a pictorial guide across the world.

1. This is a traditional Pakistani dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Reuters

2. These are Bangladeshi dresses:

Photo: Pinterest

Not these:

Photo: Pinterest

3. These are Afghani dresses:

Photo: Pinterest

Not these:

Photo: Pinterest

5. This is an Indian dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Pinterest

6. These are Iranian dresses:

Photo: Pinterest

Not these:

Photo: Pinterest

7. This is a Malaysian dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Reuters

8. This is an Indonesian dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Pinterest

9. This is an Iraqi dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Pinterest

10. This is a Syrian dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Pinterest

11. This is a Moroccan dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: Reuters

12. This is a Tunisian dress:

Photo: Pinterest

Not this:

Photo: AP

On one end we have colourful examples of cultural diversity, and on the other we have a misogynistic garb that seeks to paint women of the entire planet in a single colour. What does the world need more?

Do you agree or disagree with the views of the author?

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Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

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

  • Akhand Bharat

    “If culture is food for the soul then we are going mad with starvation. Tragically, we are unable to realise this in our fractured state of mind. ” – Those are powerful lines, keep writing!!Recommend

  • Linux Novice

    True!Recommend

  • goldconsumer

    Sir, with all due respect. Dupatta (taken on the head) is also a part of the shalwar kameez that you claim to be our national dress. You look graceful and “”enlightendly moderated with dupatta as well.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Pakistan is an Islamic country and they must adopt Islamic way of living.Woman in first pic,how she looks in comparison with tradition islamic dress read burqua or niquab…She is epitome of immodestyi…
    coming to pic no .5 ,non muslim women should not be allowed to wear islamic dress unless she convert to islam..so for this reason woman dressed in green sari looks far prettier than her representation in black gown…Hope I have made my point clear to allRecommend

  • salman

    no, not clear at all. There is no such thing as an Islamic dress. Just like there are no Islamic tables or Islamic chairs, or Islamic hats, etc etc etc…Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I’m actually wearing a brown kurta as I am reading the comments. Doh.Recommend

  • Tasurrun

    Burqa can be worn even on top of a t shirt and Jeans , it is not replacing any culture rather it makes it easy for women to cover themselves; and nobody is forcing them to do so! Your article is quite vague and to be honest if Naats are being heard everywhere ,whats so wrong about that? Recommend

  • German Ab

    everybody have the right to wear of his/her choice. one thing i feel in this article that women around the world with different ethnics choose burqa over there local dresses. means there is something powerful in burqa. we should acknowledge burqa who brought women on a single platform.Recommend

  • Girish

    Tells you one thing for sure across all the world arabic dresses or gown whatever you call them are the most dull for men as well as women …god knows why people are that idiot to wear these when they have other more beautiful options.Recommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    but that’s not a pertaining issue? No one is forcing anyone to wear jeans or tops. This is a issue thou. One should be writing about the issues.Recommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    again no one forces jeans on to men nor does anyone say that jeans is the culture. The writer is not asking women to forgo burka. He is nearly pointing out what is the cultural dress as it is confused with burqaRecommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    except niqab has nothing to with Islam, Hijab is.Recommend

  • Fahad Javed

    Sure you are the one who should tell women what they should wear. All the way from Syria to Indonesia. Who gave them right to chose what to wear and how to express themselves.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Actually I’m wearing a kurta and I did write about urdu. But thanks for trying.

    http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/28635/can-pakistanis-not-speak-in-fluent-urdu-anymore/Recommend

  • Brain Think

    Actually saree used to be the standard dress for the wives of the diplomats and top bureaucrats up till the 70s.
    It was ZIA who really promoted shalwar kameez to the “next level” for both men and women in order to appease the saudi wahhabis.
    Not to mention the “Burqa Revolution” that was launched as a forced fashion statement in the same era.Recommend

  • Nida Ali

    Yo chill out, let people wear what they like. You are as bad as people from the fundamentalist side asking everyone to wear burqa, if not worse.Recommend

  • Danish Ahmed Khokhar

    Salwar Kameez with dupatta !!! i really feel shame on Nauman Ansari Who didn’t mentioned about Muslim dressing Islam is not depend on any culture. If you want to see woman in many colors you can get lost from here to European area, Muslim women make Islam her culture. She is not depended on any culture.Recommend

  • Danish Ahmed Khokhar

    He just want to see women in different colors but first he has to start it from his own house , Its really Diplomacy and vulgar Muslim by name version who is actually defaming Islamic environment by saying this that Salwar kameez without Dupatta ?? you first study about national dress then talk or post grandiosity like thatRecommend

  • Patriot

    Pakistani men should wear Shalwar Kameez and women should wear Burqa per Sharia, Period.Recommend

  • silversurfer

    Many of us have grown up watching our mothers, aunts and relatives wearing shalwar qameez and dupatta, this new phenomenon of niqab and hijab is frankly new in the cities. Dont agree with all of the article, but the point remains that people think if u wear hijab or niqab you become a good muslim and a true pakistani.Recommend

  • silversurfer

    Sorry, but cultural dress means something which is visible. Inside a burqa, women can wear anything we dont know. The point is, women used to wear shalwar Qameez at home and outside and were more respected.Recommend

  • silversurfer

    According to your interpretation of islam, it is part of islamic culture. Even the Islamic ideology council have said that women dont need to cover their faces.

    This is what it is , ‘whether you like it not.’Recommend

  • vinsin

    Islamic Culture or Arabic Culture? Can people walk without any dresses or there are laws against it?Recommend

  • A.Q

    The following article is really offensive for all the women in purdah. Neither wearing shalwar kameez, denims or Naqaab will take me to Jannah, its just our actions and intentions that will end up being useful. Religion is more important than culture.

    Honestly I started the niqaab in a family where even a dupatta is considered optional not mandatory. And throughout my teens I have occasionally worn dupatta, but in last two years I started wearing an abaya because I felt more comfortable and secure in it and there is nothing wrong in wearing a burqa if one itself wants to wear it, I’m completely against the enforced purdah but if someone wants to wear itself then its the individuals discussion not a matter of public discussion.

    Moreover wearing a niqab doesn’t means ladies don’t wear designer lawn and high-end designer wear beneath them. And look around around yourself there are dozens of color abayas, niqabs and hijab. Lastly, these days purple is new black in abayasRecommend

  • Vinod

    Niqab and burkha are becoming very popular in Europe much more than South Asia.These women think they are more muslim than those who wear nice jeans.Recommend

  • Suresh Sanyal

    Actually all Pakis are Hindus, now Muslims!! Pakis are brainwashed to think they have Arab lineage but have Hindu ancestors! No matter how much you want to segregate yourself from this reality, it will keep haunting you, generations after generations!
    So now you face the full force of fanaticism of Islam! In dress, education, lifestyle, society, women’s rights, beliefs, etc.
    But you will always look, talk, eat like Indians.Recommend

  • Atheist

    The comments here tells the sorry state the muslims. Hide your women like its stone age, truly pathetic.Recommend

  • zaka

    This guy really needs to grow up to talk with some sense.Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! Well now that is done, let’s see what else we can get angry about this year.Recommend

  • Sara

    For smart, good looking, progressive, active and modern people, jeans, shirts, shorts, slacks are practical dresses. For lazy, medieval mentality, regressive and boring looking people, shalwar kameez, niqab, hijab, burqa are more suitable.Recommend

  • Anam

    I do not understand why Pakistani MEN do not wear a burqa, hijab, niqab etc or arabic dress like they force on their ladies.Recommend

  • mimi sur

    The “not this” dress is the Saudi dress .Recommend

  • Guddu, Gullu and Gomnath.

    If a woman is caught without a hijab, niqab, burqa, in, say,
    FATA, or some areas of K-P and southern Punjab [which are
    heavily influenced by Wahabi/Khawariji Sunni Islam]
    policed by ever watchful mullahs, then she would be in danger
    of her life. Women have NO rights in these toxic areas.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Bindi or no bindi. Saree or no saree. That, is the big question.
    Even the Eskimos want to know who are these people running
    a 7-11 convenience store, in the middle of nowhere. All with the
    same last name. Patel.Recommend

  • imwithtruth

    go home u liberals before attacking ur own religion and learn ur religion first! culture has nothing to do with religion, if u dont like to follow religion and just stick to culture then dont mess around the people who are acting correctly. what a rubish article.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Figures.Mother,sister and daughter don’t wear it;only wife doesRecommend

  • siesmann

    As Hasan Nisar says,burkas were worn by tawaaifs until 70s.Suddenly it changed in 80sRecommend

  • mimi sur

    Culture has everything to do with religion. Culture shapes the religion. Why do you wear a white gown and a rope tied around your head like arabs do ?Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Bravo for saying it bluntlyRecommend

  • Mune Khan

    Respected author, ur article made me a little jumpy, when I found ALL the discussion about BURQA/NIQAB. You touched a very vast field of culture, without knowing that culture is not merely dress. Anyhow, if according to you, women should wear their cultural dress, then why not men. Why not you start a mission to change the army dress to cultural shalwar kameez, official dress to shalwar kameez and no neck tie. And to play the folk music and do cultural dance, not the pop music and western dance. Remember Sir, for Muslims the culture and norms of life is all that is present in Islam, not made by our own will or we would have to fall prey to our desires. I was quite astonished to see, Why the men are targeting women, why they want them not to cover in burqa.?? Is that because in burqa the men can’t scan a woman , his eyes can’t chase her to the corner of the street, he can’t pass vulgar comments??? The world is going up and up in technology and progressing, while here we are just discussing the covered women? Wasting our time only to interfere with women’s own business, own’s right, own’s privacy?? This is OPPRESSION of women, not giving them the right to live as they want, even if it’s in burqa. Our country is bleeding nowadays and here we are engaged in writing about burqa and cultural dress?? Is this our conscience??? I can say at the end ” Poor Pakistan, i am sorry”Recommend

  • salman

    There are terrorists who claim to be Muslims and believe they are following the Quran, etc. In my opinion they have misunderstood or misrepresented the Quran. And if we delve further, there is usually also a political angle to most of these Terrorists groups. So no…
    Next…Recommend

  • Mubashir Mahmood

    It is for sure that Author has not done proper home-work in this write-up. Atleast do complete research when you are writing for a blog like tribune. As photo shows he has failed in showing dresses. Instead he is focusing on burqa. Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran in whole are not wearing this what writer has shown.Recommend

  • talha usmani

    Please disclose where in Quran, Sunnah, & Ahadith the word Abbaya is mentioned. Quran has taught us the etiquette for both men and women when they meet. If those etiquette are properly followed there is no need to disguise women with a extra layer of clothing.Recommend

  • salman

    Well, since no women have replied to you, I guess you’re stuck with me and my incoherent mind!
    But yes, no doubt if you speak to certain women in Pakistan they will say niqab symbolizes Islamic faith. But you will equally get muslim women in Pakistan who say that niqab is not Islamic, but more of a cultural dress from Middle East that certain muslims have adopted.
    As I recall, the Quran says to dress modestly, not cover your face. You can easily do that with a salwar kameez, or any loose fitting clothes. My point is, there is no one “Islamic dress”…there are commands to dress modestly…which you can do with a number of clothing items.
    Its quite a subtle point, and maybe hard for people as yourself who deal in broad strokes and make vast generalizations to understand.
    I hope you can follow despite my stunted growth as a nonmuslim.
    Best regardsRecommend

  • talha usmani

    I agree with the writer to the point where if women or girls are being enforced by their parents or society to where the extra layer of Abbaya and cover their faces whenever they go out, otherwise it should be left to the discretion of the women what they want to wear when they go out. They are self aware human beings and they can take decisions for themselves, because on the day of Judgment the society will not answer for them but they themselves have to answer for their deeds. So this decision of what they want to wear should be best left to them.
    The main thing is to educate everyone what Quran, Sunnah & Ahadith teach us in this regard and then leave it to the discretion of human beings for their acceptability.Recommend

  • salman

    I don’t know dude, I can still find some pretty good food Pakistani food in Lahore :)Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Idrees

    Don’t think too hard, you ought to have one to figure that out.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    “Niqab and burkha have been worn by Pakistani women for centuries”

    NoRecommend

  • A.Q

    So true. They never stop raising fingers on others, yet once when they raise a finger three fingers are pointed towards them too.Recommend

  • abhi

    you mean imaginary world where you seems to be living? Given a free choice , no women will ever wear a burqa.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari (Lallu the nallu)

    Why ramble about burka, can’t you see jeans…….Recommend

  • Patwari

    Very good Minerva ! Very good !Recommend

  • Muhammad Awais

    If you really want to be active by wearing jeans, shirts and shorts, than why don’t your forefathers migrated to nonmuslim country where you can wore bikini too.
    I think burqa didn’t bared in progress working but a lack of intention is.Recommend

  • Muhammad Taqi Abbas

    U have posted pics of specific ethinic groups of different countries. Recommend

  • salman

    Where does it say that? Can you provide references? And also the context? (I.e. the couple of lines before and after the reference you are going to provide).
    Thanks in advance.Recommend

  • salman

    Well, I just checked with my wife, my sister and her friend, and neither of them wear niqab (but all wear salwar kameez and sometimes cover their hair with the dupatta). They all say, that Islamically niqab is not mandatory. I’ve asked them if they are willing to have a discussion with you on this but they are all too busy, and told me to stop trolling nice people on the web. Sorry…Recommend

  • Raj

    In the end the whole thing is “show us your women”Recommend

  • Asy ma wail !

    Abhi :) so whoever refutes your statement lives in the imaginary world?Recommend

  • http://www.kashifaziz.me/ Kashif

    Who says Shalwar Kameez is our national dress? Is that written in the constitution?
    On the other hand, Urdu is our national language and Islam is our national religion. Write about that too.Recommend

  • Happiness Seeker

    How gorgeous these traditional clothes were!Recommend

  • http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org Budhita

    Respected? That’s a hoot.Recommend

  • Mick Gasm

    You must be exhausted from the leaps you had to make to come to that conclusion.Recommend

  • Kari Hofmann

    You just said a whole bunch of nothing.Recommend

  • hobbsan

    I can’t help but reflect on the fact that all the pictures that are meant to promote traditional dresses portray hyper feminized and alluring women. After a few pictures I was starting to consider wearing a burqa myself, and I’m not even a muslim.

    This is the main problem with posts like this – that they pit one way of objectifying women against another. We are not your dolls to dress up after your own preferences! We are not here to be eye candy for your benefit! We are real, live human beings and we are allowed to wear whatever the fuck we want. Your opinion on it means nothing! If you enjoy a sparkly, shiny dress then YOU wear one! And labour for women’s rights to wear what WE choose to wear. Even if that would be a niqab.Recommend

  • M

    You nailed it.Recommend

  • M

    Is it really free choice if they are fed religion from a young age? It sounds like indoctrination to me.Recommend

  • Asy ma wail !

    Dear M, if you are in odds with being religious then I respect your way of life, you have right to it. Humanity got in shape, the way it is today, due to different intellectual stimulus influencing the common sense and knowledge of the humankind and no doubt religious philosophies are few of those stimulus. Nonetheless, we can’t always blame religion if something has been accepted as way of life or norm in society e.g. if given a free choice from my childhood (read “not indoctrination”) I would have been wandering nude as wearing clothes is not a choice but a norm established, accepted and respected generally in the society –no matter if someone still doesn’t appreciate it. There are places where people wear some sort of clothes and they never accept wearing others very acceptable clothes in other parts of the earth, so what should I say? Are they being indoctrinated? My point is, that in many places the girls might be covering due to established norm in society with not really having choices, but in places where they have more choices, I have seen them picking it up by themselves, with their free will. If that is the case, then we do not have any right to identify them with stereotypical stigmas. I hope I made it clear.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I’m sorry the point of the blog completely escaped you. It wasn’t even very subtle. The pictures compare the clothing. Get your mind out of the box and try to look within the context. There is no objectification here. Recommend

  • Mirza Aasauf Baig

    Just because man likes to see Girl pleasing his eyes.
    No doubt, Hijab/Burqa disappoints thirsty men.Recommend

  • El Cid

    Hijab, Burqha and Niqab are NOT in the Qur’an. Women are free to wear whatever they are comfortable with. Men should lower their gaze…women should walk in freedom, free.

    Recommend

  • Sarim

    As a muslim, women must follow the dress of Hazrat Fatima (radiAllah anha) and the wives of Holy Prophet (sallallaho alihey wassalam) that is niqab.Recommend

  • Oxy Moron

    And you had to upvote your own comment to emphasize that.

    You are as much a rationalist as I am the tooth fairy.Recommend

  • cporter73

    All of the original cultural clothing was beautiful and modest. MODEST Why does it seem like everywhere Muslims go, death and destruction of all things beautiful follow?Recommend

  • Ali

    In the exact same way female infanticide is practiced in IndiaRecommend

  • asma

    JazakAllah dear sister in Islam for your words, made my belief firm, remember me in your prayers Recommend

  • hobbsan

    I’m sorry the obvious completely escaped you. There isn’t one single picture of an average woman, that isn’t dolled up and very attractive. It isn’t even very subtle. Maybe you should try to get your mind out of the box and try to actually see the bigger picture, but I doubt that you will even try, much less succeed. If you did, you could hardly fail to notice the connotations of the images in question. But maybe you’d actually have to learn what “objectification” means first – from your comment I’m guessing you don’t quite know at the moment.Recommend

  • hobbsan

    If you need clear cut examples just look at Amor’s comment directly below – that should make it easy enough for you to understand the point. Recommend

  • hobbsan

    Just like the fact that you reacted to the rainbow and how should tell everyone all they need to know about you and your motives for agreeing with Noman. Thanks for proving my point, that this is just a matter of men’s preferences regarding women’s looks and availability to them.Recommend

  • Del Stone

    You confuse and conflate home and public dress. Islam allows for both. It is not a mutually exclusive choice.Recommend

  • aashi khan

    Muslim living all over the world have only one culture ie. Islam! stop criticizing hijab or niqab. this is something I, my mother and sister wear with our own consent. you got no right to judge. we have only one religion and that is our culture.Recommend

  • Oxy Moron

    Availability! Ha Ha – Nice try, but like I was just telling Noman here, its a complete waste of time, and I’m honestly totally out of it today, Priscilla.Recommend

  • Logical

    No, the Niqab is part of ARAB culture. Are you saying that Islamic culture is just Arab culture? Notice how small of a percentage of Muslim women wear it, and mostly in Gulf Arab countries?Recommend

  • Logical

    So you will spend your entire life looking through a mesh?Recommend

  • Logical

    Killing people who commit adultery is less moral that actually committing adultery.Recommend

  • Logical

    When in reality all wearing a niqab proves is that you are a wannabe ArabRecommend

  • Logical

    Very interesting choice of words, “confinement”. Because the Islamic standards of modesty are very confining.Recommend

  • Logical

    Why so angry?Recommend

  • Logical

    So forcing women to look through a mesh every time they are outdoors is a symbol of Islam? Makes sense, as it is very oppressive to women.Recommend

  • Logical

    If muslims only have Islam for a culture then they must make terrible citizens.Recommend

  • Logical

    Why don’t men have the same standard of modesty as women? That seems really sexist to me.

    A woman wearing a T shirt and jeans is not “naked”. That is just silly.Recommend

  • Logical

    Your country is already being hijacked by Saudi Arabia and wahhabism.Recommend

  • Logical

    The VAST majority of Muslim women do not wear a Niqab.Recommend

  • Logical

    Where do you work?Recommend

  • Logical

    ” there is nothing wrong in wearing a burqa if one itself wants to wear it”

    There is something deeply wrong with wanting to wear one though.Recommend

  • Marx Tsa Giovanni

    All the traditional ones look gourgeos. They fit the female form and highlight their beauty, but the one that completely covers that is the “diversity” that crazy middle-class ideologues want to protect.Recommend

  • George Carty

    “Eskimo” is the Algonquian exonym for the Inuit — it literally means “eater of raw meat”.Recommend

  • Khadeeja Chahat Butt

    Dear Author,

    Thank you for posting modernized western shalwar qameez and calling it our traditional dress!

    If you were that desperate to show a comparison to least pics he original post kar datay. A picture of a model wearing so called shalwar qmaeez, took in a staged environment is not what represent the culture of Pakistan. Don’t know about Karachi but Aik chakar Lahore ka laga ayn, you will find “authentic cultural dresses worn by real people”

    Authentic Shalwar Qameez is a decent dress which follows the instructions of Quran i.e. covering oneself in modest way. It has full sleeves, proper coverage and a duppta to cover head. Why you don’t find it or the finding bother you is dimag ki kharabi (perhaps not enough flesh is reveling)

    P.S: Dressing is a matter of choice and ladies used to wear “Burka” a.k.a “Abbaya” before partition as well.Recommend

  • Anjum Hameed

    Ever since our labour went into the Gulf countries have we had to endure this rubbish black-bin form of dressing.. WE ARE NOT ARABS….Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/nishat.aamir Nishat Aamir

    I think people who agree with this blog are not supposed a Muslim and Pakistani .
    Every women has to do follow culture or not and also every women has authority to do fashion or not in context of sindhi ,balochi etc you can’t say hijab or naqab is not allowed in Islam .To point out naqab you actually want to defame islam Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/nishat.aamir Nishat Aamir

    I totally agree with u
    Surely you disagreed with this blog . Recommend