There’s Not Much Desi About Desi Dolls

Image via The Telegraph

Image via The Telegraph

A few weeks ago, we featured a story in our Friday links about the introduction of Muslim dolls in the U.K., created to teach Muslim children about Islam. Sounds like a great idea at first, until I saw what this picture of the dolls and realized the disturbing  racial implications.

The main problem comes in the name of these dolls. The dolls are called Desi Dolls. “Desi” is the term used to refer to anyone of South Asian descent - Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, etc. Therefore, this includes Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews, etc. Desi is definitely not exclusive to Muslims. It is an ethnic term, not a religious one. If these dolls were for Muslims, they should have been called Muslim dolls.

However, even then, the physical form of these could not remain the same. The dolls are fair skinned – very fair skinned. In fact, very suspiciously either White or West Asian fair-skinned. Yes, among South Asians we have fair skinned people. We also have very dark skinned people and every colour in between. But these dolls depict only a small percentage of my ethnic group. A small but revered percentage.

Yes, revered. In South Asian culture, fair is the ideal skin colour. Women and men (but especially women) go to extreme lengths to make their skin fairer. Skin lightening cremes are one of the most popular skin care products. Women and men with fair skin are considered beautiful solely based on their fair skin. Children with fair skin are considered cuter than darker skinned children. Girls with darker skin can sometimes be passed over as prospective marriage partners if a lighter skinned girl comes along.

There is a great deal of pressure to be light skinned. Much of this can be traced to colonization, but I will not get into that discussion here. At this point, the focus is these dolls, which perpetuate this preference for fair skin. If these are dolls meant to appeal to desi children, as the article states, then their skin colour should at least reflect an average skin colour of most South Asians. Instead, these dolls just further perpetuate a preference for lighter skin amongst an ethnic group which has serious issues regarding skin colour.

Additionally, the Desi Doll girl, or Aamina, is wearing a headscarf. This style of headscarf is not South Asian attire. Putting aside for a moment the debate over whether or not its mandatory to cover one’s head, I think we can agree that the hijab that is on this doll has nothing to do with desi culture. This is an Arab form of clothing that has been introduced into South Asian culture. Then why in the world is this girl wearing a hijab? If one wants to promote the head cover as something that is mandatory, then why not a dupatta or chadar to cover her head? That would be more culturally appropriate. And I just hope the hijab is removable for those parents who believe the hijab is not mandatory.

Additionally, why aren’t these dolls wearing traditional desi clothes, too? Shalwar kameez would be nice. Maybe they need to come with an extra shalwar kameez suit. Although the children buying these dolls are in the U.K., they most likely still have an awareness of their traditional clothing. I know as a child, I would have loved to own a doll wearing shalwar kameezes like the ones I wore (and still wear every now and then).

Finally, I can’t help but wonder what kind of Arabic the dolls speak when you squeeze them. Are they saying Qur’anic phrases with the desi accent, English accent, or the Arabic accent? I have a suspicion that they will be recited with an Arabic accent, teaching the children tajweed, an essentially racist concept assuming that non-Arabs have to pronounce Qur’anic Arabic with an Arabic accent to “improve” their pronunciation of the verses of the Qur’an. As if saying an Arabic word with a South Asian accent distorts the meaning. If this is the case with these dolls, then they are essentially teaching the children that to pronounce Arabic with any other accent somehow denotes inferiority in the Muslim world.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder what kind of Arabic the dolls speak when you squeeze them. Are they saying Qur’anic phrases with the desi accent, English accent, or the Arabic accent? I have a suspicion that they will be recited with an Arabic accent – a racist idea in my opinion. Considering in the Muslim world many South Asians face a great deal of racism from many Arabs to the point that South Asians are lower on the Muslim hierarchy, such insistence on pronouncing “Muslim words” in an Arabic accent, whatever that accent may be, aids to only further ingrain this supposedly inferior position. Within this particular context, such insistence is problematic. If this is the case with these dolls, then they are essentially teaching the children that to pronounce Arabic with any other accent somehow denotes inferiority in the Muslim world.

These dolls may be causing more damage than good among the children they are hoping to help. The underlying racism may go undetected at the superficial level, but my fear is that these young South Asian children will nonetheless receive the subconscious message that  the ideal desi Muslim girl or boy is light skinned, wears the hijab (or cap for boys), doesn’t wear traditional desi clothes, and speaks Arabic with an Arabic accent, not a South Asian or English one. I worry that the message being perpetuated by these Desi Dolls is that to be a better Muslim, one should try to be more Arab and less desi.

Editor’s note: At Sobia’s request, the post has been edited. I have kept the original paragraph in for transparency, but no more comments referring to the original paragraph will be published.

  • http://www.anarkali-zakuro.blogspot.com Isabella

    I agree with you that the narrowing representation of Muslim people as Arabic-speaking, hijab-wearing and fair-skinned group is distorting. On the other side, the fact, that dolls in this (partially) non-western style exist, adds a little bit more colour and diversity to the Barbie-dominated shelfs in the shops. At the end we mums can dress the dolls with any clothes we like, no? ;-)

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I agree with your comments about the dolls skin colour. If they were going to do a range of dolls, then they should show the full range of skin tones within the Desi community. Likewise with the shalwar khalmeez which are still very popular amongst desi Muslim women in the U.K.

    As for the style of hijab, young desi girls in the U.K usually don’t wear dupattas, so that is accurate.

    Finally, as the Quran is largely protected and remembered through verbal memorisation, tajweed is a way of ensuring nothing is altered. Arabs may have a small advantage in learning it, but not much, as Arabic dialects vary greatly from fus ha.

    Considering how much some hadith has been been twisted against women because it is not covered by the same rules, we should see tajweed as a great blessing.

    I agree that there is definitely a pro-Arab bias in some areas of religious scholarship, but that shouldn’t overshadow the benefits of having Arabic as the working religious language of our religion.

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  • SP

    You raise some interesting points, but it occurred to me that perhaps the manufacturers of the “Desi Doll” simply named it so for the alliterative and catchy-sounding name. The short syllables and repeated sounds trip easily off of the tongue.

  • Xey

    Salaamu alaykum.
    Wow. I never would have thought of all these issues with this doll. I looked at the website, and saw that there are other dolls available such as “Asian” and “Oriental” and “European.” I’m confused by the language choices, as the Asian doll speaks Hindi and the “Oriental” doll speaks Japanese. I try to avoid using the term “Oriental” to describe people anyway. The European doll speaks Spanish, but she has blond hair, which is not as typical among Spanish-speakers from the Americas.

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra

    Whoa, you say tajweed is “an essentially racist concept assuming that non-Arabs have to pronounce Qur’anic Arabic with an Arabic accent to “improve” their pronunciation of the verses of the Qur’an.”

    So essentially you’re saying pronouncing words in their proper accent is racist? If I say Iran instead of I-ran I am racist. ARABS ALSO LEARN TAJWEED to learn how to recite the Quran properly, in the tradition of the sahaba. As you know, the Quran has a wonderful lyrical, poetic recitation that is fulfilled when it it recited verbally. In Arabic, as in many other languages, if you don’t pronounce words properly or emphasize the pronunciation of letters it can and does change their meaning. This has everything to do with its lyrical sound and flow and nothing to do with racism I’m afraid.

  • muslimahnotes

    Assalaamualaikum-

    I find some parts of your critique very insightful-particularly your attention to colorism-which plagues too many communities.

    But like some of the readers I take exception to your claims about tajweed. As an African-American Muslimah who has studied tajweed I have never felt that I was somehow being forced to bend my tongue to a particular culture-rather I felt blessed to be learning how to recite the Qur’an with tartil and with excellent pronounciation.

    On another note I think that there is a difficulty in looking for authentic representations of ourselves in various medium whether that be in books, film or even dolls. I say this not to dismiss our freedom to challenge stereotypes that dehumanize us but to question the extent to which the apparatus that we use for our critique reveals itself as stagnant and as guilty of the same universalist or homogenizing gestures that we are critiquing.

    In other words, you begin by mentioning that desi is an umbrella term spanning across countries and religions yet you are quick to search for authentic Desi headcoverings. Is a Bengali sister who wears Arab inspired headcovering-or hijab with a capital H- any less authentically desi than a sister who wears a dupatta? What do we do with a sister who willfully wears “Arab” hijab but makes sure to pair it with her salweer kameez?

    I am not saying that you assert this but by making strict boundaries between cultures-Arab or Desi- you fail to acknowledge how porous (especially for many Muslims) exchange between cultures can be.

    I will not claim to be naive about how prevalent the practice of Arab superiority is among sections of Muslim. Yet, I think we can have a more nuanced approach that takes into account that there are cultural practices of exchange and choice that actually undercut the logic of ethnocentrism.

  • http://Ibnatalhidayah.blogspot.com Amy

    I totally agree with muslimshnotes in her comment above–the attack on tajweed just blew my mind!!! The critiques on skin color and clothing seemed legit at first but to attack tajweed and headcoverings goes a bit too far in my opinion. Especially as those are really the only (possibly) islamically redeeming attributes!

  • Ruchama

    “You raise some interesting points, but it occurred to me that perhaps the manufacturers of the “Desi Doll” simply named it so for the alliterative and catchy-sounding name. The short syllables and repeated sounds trip easily off of the tongue.”

    It’s possible. There’s a line of Jewish dolls called Gali Girls, and that means essentially nothing — Gali means “wavy” in Hebrew, and the makers said that they just liked the way it sounded.

    This conversation about Arabic pronunciation is really interesting. So there are different accents and dialects of everyday spoken Arabic, but one that’s considered the right way for reading from the Qur’an? (Sorry for all my questions. I don’t mean to jump in and be all “Teach me!”)

  • http://www.liquescent.net/blog Michelle

    As-salamu ‘alaikom~

    Since I see others beat me to it, I do just want to concur that the viewpoint with regard to both tajwid and what constitutes authentic dress are questionable to point of really serving to harm otherwise legit points with regard to the thinking, or lack thereof, that went into this doll.

  • Sobia

    @Safiya Outlines:

    “As for the style of hijab, young desi girls in the U.K usually don’t wear dupattas, so that is accurate.”

    True enough but if they are calling this doll a Desi doll then the head covering should be desi.

    “Finally, as the Quran is largely protected and remembered through verbal memorisation, tajweed is a way of ensuring nothing is altered. Arabs may have a small advantage in learning it, but not much, as Arabic dialects vary greatly from fus ha.

    Considering how much some hadith has been been twisted against women because it is not covered by the same rules, we should see tajweed as a great blessing.”

    There are enough written copies of the Qur’an now to ensure that the words of the Qur’an will remain secure. And this despite the fact that for centuries now South Asian Muslims have been reciting the Qur’an in their own accents.

    I find this idea that reciting the Qur’an in a non-Arabic accent as a distortion of the Qur’an extremely problematic and troubling. How will the Qur’an be twisted if I say the words in a South Asian accent? Yusra has brought up similar points.

    Oh…and what does “fus ha” mean? I’m assuming its Arabic but I don’t understand Arabic so please clarify.

    @Yusra:
    “So essentially you’re saying pronouncing words in their proper accent is racist?”
    “ARABS ALSO LEARN TAJWEED to learn how to recite the Quran properly”

    What is a “proper” accent? Why is the Arabic accent the only proper accent to recite the Qur’an in? We recite the Qur’an for God, not for other people. Therefore, trying to say words in their original or proper accent makes sense when one is speaking conversationally. You want other people to understand you. But when we recite the Qur’an we are speaking to God. He can understand us regardless of what accent we recite it in. Additionally, when people speak English with many different accents we can still understand them. This does not alter the English language somehow.

    “In Arabic, as in many other languages, if you don’t pronounce words properly or emphasize the pronunciation of letters it can and does change their meaning.”

    Again, why is it that speaking a language with an accent is somehow seen as mispronouncing it? Why is there the assumption that when one recites the Qur’an with a South Asian accent they are inevitably mispronouncing the words? One can say an Arabic word with a South Asian accent and pronounce it properly.

    “This has everything to do with its lyrical sound and flow and nothing to do with racism I’m afraid.”

    I’m afraid it is racist. Within the context of the racism that South Asians experience from many of Arab descent the idea of tajweed does take on racist connotations and somehow implies that our way of speaking is inferior, even if we are pronouncing the words properly.

    I have to head out at the moment and will respond to other comments later.

  • muslimahnotes

    Sobia,

    You keep substituting the word accent for the word pronounciation. Tajweed is not about someone’s accent-in fact that is why there are different forms of tajweed. I won’t even pretend to know all the forms. But just for basics there is the slow melodical version-typical of many Egyptian and South Asian reciters. What this means is that culturally people have been able to put their stamp on it-but there are indeed basic requirements that we need to know in order to make sure we have proper emphasis. For instance how to elongate a vowel so that we get the full impact of the recitation.

    Fu-sha Arabic is classical Arabic-the language of the Qur’an. Many people (including myself) study classical Arabic so that we can recite the Qur’an and learn how to translate the Qur’an. For EVERYONE (arab and non-arab) tajweed is a learning process-it is not about ethnicity. In fact it is an egalatarian process that allows us all the power and potential to learn for ourselves. When we study it properly it puts us in a chain leading back to the prophet,then Gabriel and finally Allah subhana wa ta ala. To me that is why it is worth learning.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia – I think it’s important to bear in mind that this doll is aimed at the U.K desi population. So the concept of “desi” clothes here may vary from elsewhere. Like Muslimahnotes pointed out, the cultural exchange is a fluid one.

    Tight hijab has become more common in the U.K for several reasons. Firstly, it is better suited to a cold, wet and windy climate, there’s less chance of it slipping off your head and it keeps you warmer.

    Secondly, a tightly wrapped hijab, with no flowing ends is more adherent to school/workplace uniform policies.

    In the U.K we are fortunate to have special hijabs for policewomen and these are obviously of the tighter style. Ikea also developed a special hijab for hijab wearing Muslimah staff, again this is a similar style. So for many U.K born Muslimah’s this style of hijab will be the one they’ve grown up with, rather then something alien.

    Finally, you may think that anything that’s not a dupatta is Arab style, but there are definite differences in the way the desi community wear this style of hijab, pinning styles and fabric choices are different from the way the Arab community wear it (although there are massive differences within the Arab world’s hijab styles). So I see the adoption of this hijab as part of the evolution of the British Muslim desi community.

  • Ed

    Muslimah notes is right on–> tajweed is NOT about ACCENT (there are many dialects of Arabic, but no one claims that their “accent” when reading Qur’an is wrong), but about the proper PRONUNCIATION (I think Yusra got the wording in her first part of the statement wrong, but gets it right in the latter half). And yes, many words do change their meaning if not pronounced correctly in Arabic. An excerpt from my youth (I’m south asian), one of the very first times I said the athan , I said the “lah” of “Allah” in “la ilaha illa Allah” with the same short a as the “la”, which completely changes the meaning of the statement. Both my father and an Arab family friend told me of my mistake later on, so clearly there arent any racist implications. That’s why those color-coded Quran’s you see in masjids exist, for tajweed, to emphasize proper stretching/shortening of the vowels, stops, slurs, etc. But hey, maybe they’re there to discourage Blacks/South Asians from reading the Qur’an….

  • Jessamy

    When I first read about these dolls, I immediately got stuck on the ‘desi doll’ bubble (having spent my high school years in a town with a very large ‘desi’ community…many of my friends being proud ‘desis’ who occasionally tagged me as an ‘honorary’ desi…hehe). However, as I read on I discovered that this is the name of the brand itself ( not the qur’anic verses doll), and that desi dolls in fact markets many different dolls, some more desi than others. The original desi doll was, in fact, desi. You can read more about the brand and its founder here: http://www.desidollcompany.com/about-desi-doll/

    I do, by the way, still think you are making quite valid points. Just wanted to clear up some confusion.

  • Jessamy

    *some quite valid points, not all. I think most of the commenters are doing a good job with the critique, so I’ll leave it at that.

  • Sobia

    I’m still standing by my initial point. From my experience tajweed has been used in a racist manner. The Qur’an, and various Arabic words, are taught to be said in Arabic accent(s). I learned to read the Qur’an with a South Asian accent as did the generations before me, without tajweed. Is it that we, if we learned without tajweed, have all been reading it wrong?

    Tajweed in the way it was intended may not have been a racist concept, but it does seem to be utilized today, quite often, to marginalize non-Arabic speaking Muslims. I guess it might be better for us to read it in our own languages just in case we mispronounce and say something we did not intend to.

    I did see the other Desi Dolls – including the Spanish Desi Doll and the Japanese Desi Doll (?). Not really sure what to make of all those yet.

    Oh…and one more question. What does “tartil” mean?

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  • Ruchama

    The language dolls on that site look kind of neat, actually. There’s a choice of three different girl dolls (Oriental, Asian, and European) and one that’s just called “boy” who has dark coloring. The European one is kind of freaky-looking, though — I finally figured out that the problem is her eyes. The other dolls have brown irises and black pupils. The European one has light blue irises and slightly darker blue pupils, which just looks weird.

    These are interesting as dolls that make a language seem familiar, but they don’t really say enough to actually teach a child more than about 20 words or so. The interchangable cartridges idea is nice — can buy a doll and pick from a bunch of different languages. I feel like I’ve seen a really similar concept somewhere before — dolls of different ethnicities that speak in different languages — but I can’t remember where.

  • Um Omar

    I am confused as to why a South Asian doll would speak Arabic to begin with? I can understand your issues with its language, but to attack the correct pronunciation of the Quran is beyond necessary. Tajweed is not an accent, as all Arabs with different Arabic accents much learn it. Tajweed is correct pronunciation and the purpose is to perfect our recitation and bring us closer to Allah SWT. The Prophet, PBUH is our example, and we should strive to read as he did, and follow his Sunnah. The Sunnah also includes the ideal dress of the Muslim, which also should not be belittled.

  • http://hijabstyle.blogspot.com/ Jana

    Sobia – tajweed is the way Rasululah (s) taught us to recite, more precisely in the dialect of the Quraish. When the Khalifah’s sent copies of the Quran to other states, they made sure to send a reciter too, to make sure that it was being learnt correctly. Tajweed has been around as long as the Quran has – there is nothing inherently racist about it whatsoever. It is essential in learning the Quran. I agree with one of the above commentors that incorrect pronunciation most definitely DOES change the meaning of words.

  • http://www.brokenmystic.wordpress.com brokenmystic

    Salaam,

    It seems that the discussion has gone a bit off topic from the original post. I think what Sobia is ultimately pointing out here is that these Desi dolls are very far from being Desi. For one, they’re Muslim, and we all know that not all Desis are Muslims, and secondly, they’re skin color is light-skinned, which evokes the internalized racism in our communities. I’m sure many Desis have seen how our societies value lighter skin over darker skin.

    And in regards to the hijaab, I know there are a lot of Desi Muslim sisters who wear it, but I think Sobia’s main point here is that it (1) marginalizes the Muslim women who don’t wear hijaab, and (2) confuses Arabic culture with Desi culture. If there was a doll called “Punjabi” doll, wouldn’t the Muslim Punjabis feel offended if the doll was only Sikh?

    As for the debate going on here about Tajweed, I think it’s off topic since Sobia was talking about the process in which we feel the necessity to “authenticate Islam” through “Arabization.” Theologically, it does not matter how you pronounce a word — Allah knows what you are saying because He knows what is in your heart. Islam is not only the outward surface; the inward needs to acknowledged and understood as well. There is no such thing as “proper pronunciation” in my opinion. Listen to Muezzins all around the world, they all pronounce the Arabic words in their own unique ways. I’ve taken Tajweed classes and still enjoy reciting the Qur’an in the classical Arabic, but this has more to do with Spirituality than “authenticating” the Qur’an or having “proper pronunciation.”

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia-Here is a good explanation of the the word tartil:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarteel

    Honestly Tajweed is just as difficult for Arabs to master as for non Arabs, maybe in some ways harder because they may be more used to to saying the vocabulary in their own accents, rather then in the classical style. My Tajweed teacher (who is Pakistani, has won international competitions and comes from a long line of reciters, Masha Allah) says that his Moroccan students struggle as much as those from a non-Arab background.

    Is learning how to pray salah racist as well because the very first people to learn it were Arab and we all have to be shown how to do that?

    The only reason the Qur’an is in Arabic is because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was an Arab and as the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him)last sermon clearly states, Arabs are not superior to non Arabs. Whatever the actions of others, the Qur’an as a book of revelation and deserves our respect and part of that respect is learning to recite it in the best possible manner.

  • Deena

    Sobia, I agree with you regarding the desi-doll’s headscarf. I’m Egyptian and I know that if they made an Egyptian doll wearing a Saudi-style headscarf I would be annoyed – even though a lot of Egyptian girls are wearing it that way now. And if they made an Arab doll I would expect the various dolls to represent the various Arab cultures/ways of dress. But like most of the above comments, I am going to have to disagree with you regarding Tajweed.

    I know that in one of your comments you said that even though its original purpose may not have been racist it’s currently being practiced in a racist way. But in your original post you called it “an essentially racist concept assuming that non-Arabs have to pronounce Qur’anic Arabic with an Arabic accent to “improve” their pronunciation of the verses of the Qur’an”.

    There is no such thing as an Arabic “accent”. There is an Arabic language, and then there’s an Egyptian accent, a Saudi accent, a Moroccan accent, etc. None of these cultures argue that the Arabic language should be changed to match their local dialects, but rather all accept that their dialects are a distortion and that the classical, original Arabic Language – as used by the Qur’an – is the correct form.

    Now maybe you have experienced Tajweed being taught in a racist way, so I can’t argue about that because I don’t know what your experience has been. But to say that it is in its essence a racist concept is something I must disagree with. Tajweed looks at where in the throat the sounds of different letters are emitted from, and rules of elongation and tanween, etc. The purpose from learning Tajweed is to better the way we recite the Qur’an to make it more similar to the way it was originally recited by the Prophet SAWS.

    Hearing the Qur’an recited with an Egyptian or American accent (the ones I’ve actually heard) does, in my opinion, detract from the melodic beauty of the Qur’an. Reciting the Qur’an the way the Prophet SAWS did is something all Muslims should strive to do regardless of their race/ethnicity/mother tongue.

    But again that doesn’t say anything about your personal experience with being taught Tajweed. In that case it would be the fault of an ethnocentric teacher, not the concept of Tajweed itself.

  • Deena

    @ Ruchama: I hope that answers your first question about the various dialects of spoken arabic.

    @ Yusra: hearing someone say “I-Ran” and “I-Raq” makes me want to scream :)

  • Sobia

    I can see the problem with one word of mine in the post – “essentially” – consider that taken out. That was a bad choice of word on my part. But again, it does not change that tajweed is misused.

    If tajweed was only about lyrical sound that would be different. One can recite the Qur’an lyrically and melodically in any accent. My problem is then when people are asked to recite the Qur’an in a specific accent of Arabic. It seems unfair and favouritist. Personally, I don’t think God cares. This is something we humans do for ourselves, not for God.

    As I’ve said before, within the context of the rampant racism in our Muslim community, such demands take on a very negative connotation, regardless of what their purpose is. Perhaps those being racist need to take this into account and recognize how many consequences this racism has. My basic point is that Muslim culture is becoming Arabized and this is marginalizing non-Arab Muslims – to the extent that even dolls are in this business now.

  • muslimahnotes

    Sobia,

    I do understand your points. There are problems of authority,racism and authenticity in our communities. How many times have those of us who are not Arab been asked if we know Al Fatiha? So annoying.

    I regret that someone *or many* used tajweed in a racist manner against you. I also regret that recitation has become purely the dominion of men in many parts of the world. I think you give evidence to why we need more culturally sensitive and humble instructors(men and women) in our communities.

    We know that Aisha recited and taught. Why should we as Muslim women let someone take this fact away from us? Why shouldn’t we strive to recite in the same manner? In addition some of the most famous reciters of the Qur’an are/were South Asian. They have made a great impact on tajweed and how it is used. No Arab-centrism can take away this contribution or the cultural beauty they have given to the sound of the Qur’an. What about the athan? That was Bilal-The African slave. Don’t you hear his melodic imprint? This is why I never think it is sufficient to throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes when we do this we give away our power and our history.

    As we have already mentioned tajweed is about learning how to recite the Qur’an in the manner that it was revealed so that we preserve the meaning. This is key. We are not reciting it in this way to be like contemporary Arabs.(BTW Did you read Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf? There are some interesting things about tajweed there.)

    We are reciting it this way because this is how it sounded when it was revealed-to keep in tack the original beauty. One of the miracles of the Qur’an is the power of the sound. There is a power and majesty that cannot be replicated and I do not think we do the Qur’an justice when we recite it without attention to maintaining this beauty.

    Tartil. In the Qur’an we are told to recite with tartil (in slow, measured tones).

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia – Tajweed is not about accent and it is factually incorrect to claim otherwise, as myself and other commenters have all stated. Please realise this. Tajweed is not a demand, it is an Islamic art that has existed for centuries alongside the artistic expressions of Muslim communities all around the world. Knowledge of Tajweed and Arab as a language if Islamic scholarship used to be far more widespread then it is now, yet native cultures continued to flourish alongside them.

    So to suggest that Tajweed should be stopped because of racism would not only rob our are Ummah of a beautiful tradition, it would not actually solve the problem of such racism. The words “baby” and bathwater” spring to mind.

    As for Arabized, this is a very simplistic term and in itself, offensive as the Arab world is vast and incredibly diverse, it can actually be quite difficult to pinpoint a homogeneous Arab culture.

    Rather, it is the imposition of the concept that Islam does not allow for individual cultures that is the problem. Of course, we all have a culture and cannot live without it, so into the vacuum enters a strange mutation of “Arab culture” , which is not actually Arab.

    The solution to this problem, like most affecting the Ummah, is knowledge. There are so many examples of Islam adapting to, and existing alongside diverse cultures and people. That is why it is the religion for all people (who choose to follow it), for all times. If people knew this and the many teachings stating how Allah the almighty abhors arrogance and thinking oneself is superior, then we wouldn’t have a problem with racism.

    Finally, there is no evidence that these dolls have been “Arabised”, this is actually speculation on your part and thus rather unfair to our sister in Islam who created them.

  • Sobia

    So I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided to change that paragraph of my post to get at what I really mean and should have said to begin with.

    I appreciate the feedback and education from everyone. I apologize for the offense. I think the way I worded it wasn’t the best. I’ve taken the idea of tajweed out (though, considering the racism within the Muslim community there are still some problems with the way it is being taught today).

    Although not everyone will agree with my changes still, this gets at what I feel is really important to say in this post. The concept of tajweed, and its implications in the modern Muslim world, can be debated at another time.

  • Sobia

    Oops…the paragraph will get changed as soon as Fatemeh changes it. I can’t access it to change it myself. Thanks.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    I’ve changed the post, and will publish no more comments referring to the original paragraph. It’s time we focus on the dolls rather than on tajweed.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    What’s an Arabic accent (sic)? The Saudi, Syrian, Moroccan e.t.c accents vary considerably.

    Again, you are just speculating about the dolls accent. You haven’t actually heard it. Since the doll is aimed at the U.K, the fair assumption is that the doll has an English accent.

    As for the hijab, I’ll repost part of my earlier comment, as it seems to have been overlooked:

    As for the style of hijab, young desi girls in the U.K usually don’t wear dupattas, so that is accurate.

    Tight hijab has become more common in the U.K for several reasons. Firstly, it is better suited to a cold, wet and windy climate, there’s less chance of it slipping off your head and it keeps you warmer.

    Secondly, a tightly wrapped hijab, with no flowing ends is more adherent to school/workplace uniform policies.

    In the U.K we are fortunate to have special hijabs for policewomen and these are obviously of the tighter style. Ikea also developed a special hijab for hijab wearing Muslimah staff, again this is a similar style. So for many U.K born Muslimah’s this style of hijab will be the one they’ve grown up with, rather then something alien.

    Finally, you may think that anything that’s not a dupatta is Arab style, but there are definite differences in the way the desi community wear this style of hijab, pinning styles and fabric choices are different from the way the Arab community wear it (although there are massive differences within the Arab world’s hijab styles). So I see the adoption of this hijab as part of the evolution of the British Muslim desi community.

  • muslimahnotes

    I still stand by my original point that when it comes to our critique of cultural representations (and I think that Safiyyah also put this nicely) we risk homogenizing and producing our cultures as static. In fact, I think that the search for “authentic” representations are dangerous. I almost feel like we are looking for a type of cultural purity.

    That was my first comment.

  • Ruchama

    I remembered what the language dolls remind me of — the Language Littles dolls. http://www.languagelittles.com/home_content.html About the same size and basic design, and the same general idea. A totally different list of languages, though — French, German, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, Italian, Russian, and Greek. They also seem to all have the same facial features and very pale skin.

  • Ruchama

    “Again, you are just speculating about the dolls accent. You haven’t actually heard it. Since the doll is aimed at the U.K, the fair assumption is that the doll has an English accent.”

    If you go to their website and mouseover the pictures, you can hear the voices. It’s just one sentence, though, mostly in English, so I’m not sure if you can necessarily tell what accent they have from that. http://www.desidollcompany.com/muslim-dolls/

  • http://twitter.com/lozah Deena

    Sobia, after changing that phrase it makes sense to me now, I totally hear what you’re saying. Racism is a HUGE problem in the muslim ummah, and the even bigger problem is the bury-your-head-in-the-sand mentality that has become so dominant regarding almost any controversial issue (race, gender, child molestation, misinterpreting the quran, etc).

    I haven’t been to the website to check out the dolls yet so I don’t know what they’re saying or what accent they’re using, but personally I don’t think the dolls have to recite Qur’an to be considered a representation of Muslims.

    If it were me (and this is not to detract from what the designers have already done) I wouldn’t create a desi doll, I would create a muslim doll, or a british muslim doll or whatever, and the line of dolls would include a desi doll, an Arab doll, etc, and each doll could say something like “I love Allah” in a different language (e.g. urdu, classical Arabic to avoid the dialect issue, and english).

    PS What does “desi” actually mean? I’ve been hearing the term a lot lately, and your post said it refers to people of south-asian descent, or does it mean muslims of south asian descent? And what language is the term in? Just curious. Thanks!

  • Sobia

    @muslimahnotes:

    I recognize that cultures change and evolve. This is not my issue. My issue is the way in which they change. Is it because there is a natural progression or because an outside force is telling them that their culture is inferior and thus needs to change? For instance, look at colonization. I think many of us will agree that colonization is not the healthiest way to change a culture. It denotes one culture as superior and the other as inferior. It creates within the psychology of the colonized self-hate.

    South Asian Muslim culture changing at its own pace is one thing. South Asian Muslim culture changing in response to an outside force telling it it is inferior and not Muslim enough is whole other issue. A racist issue. And this is the context in which these dolls appear. Regardless of what the British desi community is going through, the larger context is such that we are being told that somehow we are not good enough Muslims if we remain South Asian. We must adapt our culture to Arab culture and take on certain Arab things. If South Asians were to choose for themselves that they wanted to adapt certain Arab traditions (from whatever region of West Asia) again, that would be a whole other issue. But this would mean that racism be non-existent. But the fact is this is not the reality. Just as people in so many parts of the world acting/dressing/talking in Western styles is not devoid of Western imperialism, similarly South Asian Muslims acting/dressing/talking more like Arabs (mainly Saudis or Emirates) is not devoid of the message that somehow we are inferior Muslims.

    @Safiya:

    Which Arabic accent is not so relevant as any Arabic accent is better than any South Asian accent – keeping in mind there are a variety of South Asian accents too. So doesn’t really matter which Arabic accent or culture we talk about – they are all considered to be better than any South Asian ones.

    As a Muslim community we need to have open and honest discussions about the racism that occurs and how it serves to disadvantage and suppress people. Sometimes I feel like we make excuses a little too readily. This post is specifically regarding the racism South Asians experience but we also need to discuss, at other times perhaps in other posts, the racism we dish out toward Black Muslims. Keeping the global context of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments in mind all the while however. Its a delicate discussion which will require strategic steps, but it is necessary nonetheless.

  • Sobia

    Sorry..that last paragraph was addressed to all – not just Safiya.

  • Sobia

    @ Deena:

    I really like your idea of Muslim Dolls of different ethnicities in different languages. That would be more inclusive for the children whom they are targeting.

    Desi refers to all those of South Asian descent – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian etc. In fact, some Indians will say it only refers to Indians, and some South Indians will say its irrelevant to them since the word itself is a Sanskrit derivative (hence why it is present in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujrati etc), a language that has nothing to do with South India. So even this term can be problematic to some. But for the most part, from the way I have heard it used, it refers to anyone from South Asia. Though it seems to be used most commonly for Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis – basically the Indian subcontinent.

  • http://www.skinbleachingcreamreviews.com skin bleaching

    sobia after changing the lines. Now it make sense to me.

  • muslimahnotes

    Sobia,

    I think the questions your raise are valid. But I still believe that your initial post hangs on to rather static notions of both Arab and Desi culture. I think that your reproduction of the logic of colonialism still oversimplifies the actual lived experiences of Muslims who live in the interstices of culture.

    In order to speak out against Arab-centrism in Muslim communities you reify Desi identity & by doing this you do not pay attention to the realities of having a Diaspora identity, the nuances of how we choose to self fashion ourselves in environments where we have the potential to create new meanings for ourselves. Yes, we must speak truth to power. But we cannot underestimate that there is also POWER in CHOICE. In other words I want to dislodge the idea that people are always acting in a non “authentic” way or are exhibiting some type of false consciousness (in this case trying to be Arab) when they do not match up to our cultural expectations. (For instance am I an Arab wannabe if I rock a scarf Emirati style? Is my African-Americaness in jeopardy when I do this?).

    In fact one of the most powerful ways to defy the logic of religious, racial or cultural propriership is to share and engage while also acknowledging the other group & issues of power.

    I am especially verbose about this because I have been thinking about this questions of racial and cultural authenticity in regards to the American context. It is through reading writers like Ralph Ellison (especially his essay The Little Man at Cheehaw Station) that I have come to think in new ways about cultural exchange and power.

    Where 10 years ago I was offended by infringements by whites into MY African-American culture, I look at it now as grounds to think more critically about how these exchanges happen and the possibility found in the mobility of cultural objects. I am not sure that the best way to critique racism, colonialism or ethnocentrism is through putting boundaries around what is being worn, how something is being sung or recited.

    The truth is that with the histories of exploitation and violence we can never know what will have “naturally” progressed. Yet, we can use it as way to have more conversations.I think one of the best things about your post is that it forces us to question.

  • Sahar

    “There is a great deal of pressure to be light skinned. Much of this can be traced to colonization, but I will not get into that discussion here”.

    Not exactly colonisation. But even before that. It’s related to class. Elite women did not go out and worked, so had fairer skin, as opposed to the working class women who was out in the sun and was darker as a result. So the elitist aspect of fair skin existed already, only colonisation accentuated it more I think. The idea of Europe as ‘superior’ in many ways replaced the local elite’s superiority. It’s an interested subject that’s not as straight forward as we think. I think since colonialism, it’s related to a racial inferiority complex but has more of a complex history.

  • Pingback: » MMW Weekly Roundup 2.27.09 Talk Islam

  • luckyfatima

    That doll with the hijab is the Muslim Doll anyway. The company is Desi Dolls. I like the premise behind the doll, but I definately did not like the obvious colorism in the selection of fabrics for the Asian and Muslim Dolls’ skin. The dolls speak with a UK accent. The Asian female doll is lighter than the “Oriental” doll (I think this term Oriental is not considered to be offensive in the UK???) But I still like the dolls and would love to get a Muslim Doll or Asian doll for my daughters. These dolls are better than anything else out there in terms of Muslim and Asian representation. We like Dora the Explorer, too, though. My two year old has seen the website and demands to see the “dolly” and repeats what they say, too. I also thought the doll was a bit pricy. I hope the manufacturer, who started out the company with great intentions, takes the issue of colorism into consideration, but I also hope this doll takes off and wins a lot of success.

  • http://www.getoutlines.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Sobia – Yes racism exists within Muslim communities worldwide. I don’t think anyone’s hands are clean.

    However, if we want to tackle these issues we need to be aware of the complexities that exist within each community.

    To just say that in the U.K, South Asians are being “Arabised” is overly simplistic.

    Firstly, the term “Arabised” is deeply unhelpful and problematic as it seems to imply there is one Arab culture and one Arab Islam. This is untrue, there is massive diversity in the Arab world both in culture and religious practice.

    Secondly, the U.K Muslim population is roughly 90%+ Desi. The Arab population is comparatively small and in the U.K. like in many other countries, there is considerable cultural segregation amongst Muslims, therefore Arab Muslims in the U.K are not that influential. The main Shayukh, community leaders are of Desi origin. So the idea that the U.K community is in thrall to the Arabs is untrue.

    In the U.K, like elsewhere, there has been a resurgence in the practice of Islam. Part of this resurgence has been a re-examination and in some cases, a rejection of traditional cultural values. Two things have contributed to this process, the first being the formation of a British Asian identity.

    The second contributor is the rise of “Back to Basis Islam” aka Salafism. While it may be argued that this strain came from Saudi originally, it’s Western face was formulated in the U.S (and contrary to popular belief was not heavily Saudi funded, most U.S Salafi mosques are underfunded.) The Salafi shaykh that visit the U.K are mainly American and not usally Arab Americans either.

    A key part of Salafism is the concept of returning to the Qur’an and Sunnah, anything deemed outside that is dismissed as “cultural and unIslamic”. Hence, what is promoted is a strange version of 7th century Arab culture – but it is not really Arab culture at all. That’s another reason why I dislike the term “Arabised” as it masks the real problem and often seems like Arab bashing in disguise.

  • annoyed sister

    verily we are a nation of complainers instead of being happy someone is doing somthing to take our children away from wanting dolls that look like pole dancers i.e bratz etc we are picking at faults why why why make dua for the sister that created them maybe she didnt have enough funding to bring out differently coloured dolls yet, write her a letter and request that she try a few different complexions, a few different outfits etc i really dont understand this mentality of criticising other muslims when you can clearly see that they are trying to do somthing good! As for the issue of tajweed being not racist i think this has been dicussed already as hass the issue of hijab being mandatory. Support each other this is better. As they say “togeather everyone acheives more.” If you don like the doll then dont buy it, but dont print a whole article dispraising it, its just not necessary! if youre going to do somthing like that then present us with the better alternative, and if there isnt one then leave us to make do with what we have and ,make the most of it ! maybe you can provide us with a suitable replacement!

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @annoyedsister: “dont print a whole article dispraising it, its just not necessary!” Uh…that’s what we do. We’re a pop culture and media analysis site.


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