I Have Honor

Marium IhsanAugust 1, 2022Who Am I?Interfaith Connections

Artwork by Arina Stetsiuk, age 13

For most people, the environment that they are raised in becomes an integral part of their being.

As an individual, the culture you grow up in, and the knowledge and beliefs that are shared with you alongside your faith, become significant aspects of your character.

A crucial aspect of my culture is honor. The importance of honor is deep-rooted in Pakistani culture; there is a desire to be respected and viewed positively in strangers' eyes. That ideology is where the sense of honor really derives from. Many in my culture emphasize the ideology that a woman’s honor is dictated by how she presents herself to society — would she make a quiet and submissive wife? Would she be a caring and responsible mother? Is she a good cook? Is she provocative in her dress and past decisions?

It's often the trivial things that get the most attention. Honor as a construct is attached to a higher meaning of moral righteousness and having great esteem. However, it’s hypocritical to associate honor with moral righteousness when some of the most heinous and unspeakable crimes take place in the name of “protecting esteem” or, in short, in the name of honor.

Crimes like honor killings show that we can’t assume that social constructs have an exclusively positive impact on an individual or that most people conform to those ideological norms. In a world where many are pushing for systemic social change to demolish pre-existing traditions that tend to polarize and segregate communities, it seems wrong not to question that which you have believed to be fact — it seems unjust to just accept what has long been accepted rather than to turn around and question, “Why?”

There are significant aspects of Pakistani culture, from seemingly trivial parts, like the vast varieties of food and clothing in bright floral patterns, to more intriguing parts, like the hospitality people offer or the brotherhood that is so crucial. Each of these and much more have given me a sense of community and belonging I would never have found if I were isolated from my faith, my culture, and its traditions. However, while these uplifting and undeniably brilliant aspects have contributed to my character, it is also the countless customs and traditions that have molded me into myself.

It would be wrong to say that a gruesome and cruel practice like honor killing is a part of my culture, but it would be ignorant to deny that this practice is an established tradition borne out of false pretenses and ideologies. There is a very common phrase in Sindhi tribal language, “Izzat mare pen mare te aaf,” meaning even if I have nothing, I should have Honor.

Growing up, we all hear stories about our culture. While some are heroic tales of romance and love, there are those stories that you find unshakeable, unnerving, and unbelievable. For me, that story was of Qandeel Baloch.

Qandeel Baloch was a social media influencer from a small village on the outskirts of Pakistan. Her family was largely conservative with a very close-minded way of thinking. She had hopes of being bigger than herself, bigger than the little town she came from, bigger than what anyone expected from her. So she made her way to the megacities of the country in the hope of becoming a television actress. However, that process was cumbersome and unsuccessful, and in an effort to financially support her family, Qandeel turned to what some regarded as “obscene and provocative.” She single-handedly supported her entire family, providing them with monthly funding, but people mocked her, jeered at her, belittled her and continuously felt that they had the right to threaten her for what they thought was controversial and simply not right.

Matters took a turn for the worse when she went back home. Home. The place that she felt would give her comfort and safety, the place she went to seek solace. Not long after she arrived there, her brother murdered her in the name of his family’s “honor.” The so-called “honor” of his family stemmed from his opinion of his sister's work, this so-called “honor” was more important to him than the protection of his sister, and this same so-called “honor” drove him to become the hand that killed his very own sibling.

Qandeel Baloch was one of the hundreds of young girls and women who are killed in the name of honor each year — whether it be for falling in love without having an arranged marriage or an effort to break away from narrow-minded communities, there are voices and stories suppressed and silenced behind meaningless traditions and tales of honor.

So the big question becomes, how has this shaped my identity? How has this aspect of my culture been a force behind my creating my beliefs?

When I first heard the story of Qandeel Baloch, I realized that honor in the minds of many was concentrated in their possession of women. When women are controlled, submissive, and chaste, they are honorable and worthy, but when they are outspoken, ambitious, and driven to seek change, they are deemed unworthy and, hence, dishonorable. Because men lose their power to possess these women, they feel it right to paint a white canvas over the reputation that these “unchaste” women have tarnished.

This interpretation associates honor with public opinion, when rather the measurement of how “honorable” an individual is should be on the basis of how they reclaim spaces that rejected them, how they defy social structures that excluded them, or how they propel criticism and become symbols of boldness when they were expected to be silent. That is what honor is.

My identity is grounded in the stories of these women. They make me who I am; their voices, their efforts, and their stories have given me a greater sense of community and an even greater motivation to dissolve old practices and reform the boundaries that define honor in our society. It is because of how they challenged societal norms, rose up against their perpetrators, and redefined, for me, what the status quo would deem “proper and decent” that I now know what true honor is.

It is because of them that I understand that even if I have nothing, I should have honor.

Marium Ihsan is a 15-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan, who enjoys writing articles about topics she is passionate about and exploring new and interesting areas of science.