Young girls in jeans and T-shirts roam freely in the upmarket
Zamzama road of Pakistan's largest city that houses many fashion
boutiques and cafes. So do many women clad in the traditional
salwaar-kameez, though they cover their head with a hijab.
Women in burqas, however, are not a regular sight in this
cosmopolitan port city.
"Wearing a hijab or a burqa' or not covering your head at all is
just a matter of choice. If a woman wants to wear the hijab - and
not the burqa - it's because she has been brought up by a steady
dose of modernity," Aamna Haider Isani, a senior fashion
journalist, told a visting IANS correspondent.
"You will see a lot of single women, single mothers, all types of
working women here. Many corporates are giving Pakistani women an
opportunity to change the perceptions of people around the globe
who think Pakistan is a conservative country," she added.
This correspondent, to her surprise, found a lot of women from
various walks of life choosing to just cover their head.
"You will be surprised to know that it was only the Prophet's wife
who was supposed to wear a burqa so that she could be identified,
but then some fanatics forced it on women to protect them from the
glare of the public eye," Huma Adnan, a fashion designer,
"Islam preaches that a woman should be well covered so that she
doesn't attract unnecessary male attention, and the reason why she
has to cover her head is because hair is considered to be an
attraction for men," she added.
During private parties, a lot of women don elegant dresses,
evening wear and off-shoulder gowns, but skin-show is limited. The
majority of women here shy away from showing their legs, arms or
back - the idea is elegant dressing.
An average woman in Karachi covers her head and dresses in a
salwar-kameez and heads off to work.
Usma Khan, who works as a helper in a wealthy household of
Karachi, doesn't believe in wearing a burqa though she does cover
"With inflation on, one can't think of running a household only on
the husband's income. So I started working and I do follow Islam
religiously, but I only believe in covering my head because you
can't work in a 'burqa'. This is a more practical way of living,"
According to designer Sahar Atif, Pakistan is a multi-cultural
society, particularly Karachi, and Lahore is more conservative
when it comes to women's dressing sensibilities.
"You see, considering an Islamic country, there is a lot of
difference in a way women dress in Karachi and Lahore - Karachi
women are more liberal, but there are some parts which are very
conservative. Karachi people are loaded with money; so are Lahore
people, but Karachi is more cosmopolitan than Lahore," said Atif,
who is a Lahore-based designer.
Adnan agrees with her. She told IANS: "In Karachi, I can roam
around in track-pants and no one will give me that stupid look,
while in Lahore I can't do the same. There people are more
conservative. Though I don't care, sometimes you have to dress
according to the sentiments of that region to avoid unwanted
Atif herself covers her head with a hijab while her clothes
relfect Western sensibilities; so sometimes she is accused of
being a hypocrite.
"I started covering my head for religious reasons. Covering your
head might be considered backwards, but the richest people in
Karachi and Lahore are very conservative and you will find them in
the most stylish and branded clothes, but underneath a burqa," she
"So my design sensibilities have nothing to do with my hijab. If a
woman wears one, it doesn't mean she is conservative," she added.
But Farishtey, an atheist, doesn't cover her head and says women
in hijab are simply following norms.
"They wear it because they have been brainwashed. I know a lot of
models who used to drink, smoke and do everything and suddenly one
day they started wearing the burqa just to atone for their sins.
It is ridiculous," said Farishtey, who works in a corporate firm
as a marketing manager.
"One has to be firm in what one believes in and should stick by
it," she added.
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