Friday, October 13, 2006

Oh Buoy!

There's an Arabic television commercial - or rather a set of commercials - doing the rounds for Lifebuoy Soap which has piqued my interest. In the first ad, a youngster returns from the soccer field dragging a host of germs & various bacteria behind him. His horrified mother, who greets him at the door of the house, is undecided as to whether she should allow her plague-stricken son (to be fair, no buboes are evident) into her sterile home but, wait - yeah! - a Scientific-Looking Lady (she is wearing a lab coat, proof of her deep-seated knowledge in science) magically appears out of the unhealthy ether with a cake of Lifebuoy Soap. As the boy takes his salubrious shower (which he clearly enjoys because he is grinning), his mother and this soap-bearing Scientific-Looking Lady share a discussion (on the other side of the curtain) about the miracle soap's cleansing and germ-killing properities.

Once clean, the youngster rushes out the door to the rough & tumble world of boys and drug-resistant bacteria while his mother shakes her head, with a June Cleaver boys-will-be-boys look plastered on her face.

The other commercial is identical save for the fact that both women are scarved. Both commercials are aired on the same network. Interesting? - maybe not, but I think it is.

Now in my miniscule mind, there's a fine line between identifying your audience and sending mixed messages. Lifebuoy Soap (or Unilever, its evil parent company) is clearly targeting the Muslim Family in 2 of its 4 manifestations. The other 2? - to my knowledge, they have yet to produce an ad with a burqa'd Mom & Scientific-Looking Lady, nor have they scripted a commercial for the woman in purdah - wherein only the son is shown lathering up to a soundtrack of the conversing (but invisible) women. Perhaps they're in the can (the 2 latter commercials, not the women).

Is the lesson to be drawn from this is that, in Islam, you can pick and choose your beliefs and interpretations? Unilever might agree but I doubt that the Islamic Republic of Iran would. Is it possible that Islam is just as schizophrenic, laissez-faire, hypocritical and/or enlightened (you choose) as the other Faiths of the Book, and that advertisers are just as eager to take advantage of it? Undoubtedly.

With this in mind, I found it rather interesting that the Moroccan Education Ministry, under pressure from women's rights groups, recently decided to rip out a photograph of a veiled girl from textbooks, along with an inconvenient little hadith in the hopes of curbing fundamentalism among young people. The hadith in question is:

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed (24:31).

I suppose this means that girls will now be encouraged to stamp their feet as well. Hopefully teachers will be equipped with earplugs. The article goes on to say that,

"Morocco approved in 2004 one of the most progressive laws on women's and family rights in the Arab world. It has also started promoting changes to school curricula - reportedly scrapping references to 'jihad' in Islamic textbooks, among other things - following the 9/11 attacks on the US."

Now, I'm not saying that this is a bad thing - quite the contrary. But all of this picking and choosing when it comes to what the Prophet said (because there appears to be no "may have said" in Islam) puzzles me. I thought there was little room for negotiation, especially on the state level. I understand an Islamic government turning a blind eye to certain things (like the sale of alcohol for instance) but when a hadith is removed from an existing school textbook - well, I think our Imam would be aghast!

Undoubtedly there will be a backlash from the Islamicist-Fundos who will use this as proof that the Moroccan government is going to hell in a handbasket. Removing the hadith from textbooks is a Band-aid solution to the problem - afterall, the hadith exists in other written forms. Like the Qur'an. Can the Moroccan government rewrite the Qu'ran? Hardly. What the government has to do is to find a way to encourage more moderate interpretations to this and other hadiths rather than pluck it out of one source (for example, revisiting the haram status of dogs - especially seeing-eye dogs). Or they could try to de-politicise terms like jihad (which is not a tool for conversion or mass-murder but rather every Muslim's obligation to defend religious freedom (!) & the oppressed, or to be used in self-defense). Or perhaps recontextualise the Qu'ran (the veil has more to do with the fashion trends of the Byzantine empire than Qu'ranic modesty- it's 2006 after all ...)?

How difficult can it be to disseminate a de-literalised, de-politicised & recontextualised Qu'ran without incurring a nice fat fatwa? Piece of cake.

Speaking of cake, I'm off to have a quick shower. Can anyone tell me why there's a Scientific-Looking Lady at my door?

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