Freedom from the Forbidden (a poem)

The poem and note below were written January 5th 2010; I’m transferring them from the old blog.

One of my favorite Pashto songs, written by Ajmal Khattak and sung by Gulzar Alam, goes:

Raadak sho zrha isaarawale ye na sham
Khula maata kha da kho gandalay ye na sham

Rough translation:

My complaints and concerns overwhelm my heart; I can no longer keep it in!
My mouth is better off broken than sewn

A (Muslim male) teacher of mine once reminded me that when a people want to feel like they are powerful, they control their women, forbid them from speaking and thinking and moving, limit all their senses of mobility and freedom. It’s amazing how one thought like this can turn into a complicated process of thoughts—thoughts considered forbidden. For the longest time, I did feel burdened with the following thoughts, but I no longer care. This is freedom from the forbidden, from the notion of the forbidden.

Not all poems I write do to me what this one has done. Let me describe it.

Many of my blog readers are aware of my recent frustrations, which I have expressed openly and clearly mostly because I have finally found the sort of network that’s necessary for one to let one’s thoughts out that freely.  I’d been thinking of writing this poem for the past couple of weeks but just didn’t really know how to. Two nights/mornings ago, at about 3am, I got a pen and paper and started writing whatever I was feeling. The poem isn’t my best; I know I can do better than this—but I choose not to polish this.

While I say in this poem many things that I explain away to myself all the time, I’ve discovered that many other (Muslim) women ask themselves these exact same questions every now and then. Each of us makes a different decision upon reaching these questions. For me, they have become my future, the subject of almost all studies I intend to conduct in the future; these questions have liberated me.

Because these thoughts exist and frustrate most of us who ask them, I decided to immortalize them, to translate them into my words and put them on paper.  And, so, the “knot” I start the poem off with is no longer there in my chest. Yes, it was really there.  And I feel free. I really feel eternal, because I am eternal.


Freedom from the Forbiddengirlwriting

There’s this knot in my chest,
A voice in my head,
Telling me to abandon all traditions
To speak the truth, to seek the truth
To cross every imaginary boundary ever drawn
To break the wall between divine guidelines and man-made laws
To make it known that I have risen to the glory I owe myself

What—was it not so they could control my sexuality?
Limit my mobility and silence my voice?
Forbid me natural inclinations?
Deny me what’s permitted to man, whom they’ve deemed my lord
In history’s slanted pages, in invisible ink
I understand it now
Because I have risen to the glory I owe myself

That’s why they once asked themselves if I was a human, like man.
That’s why God is a “He”– but they tell us “He” has no gender!
That’s why I’m circumcised, and my feet are bound!
That’s why I look pretty only when I’m thin!
And why polygyny is a man’s right but polyandry a sin!
That’s why I need the permission of a man to marry my Beloved!
That’s why I can’t marry but a Muslim man
That’s why Triple Talaq is for men only – but they tell us divorce is a big deal!
That’s why I must cover my hair, lest I wish to be raped!
That’s why they say God is the head of man, man the head of woman!
That’s why they termed the dower “price of the vulva”!
Hear me out once:
The fine line between divine guidelines and man-made laws no longer exists!
They tell us women must have no desires, no fantasies!
What—do they think me a doll?
Must I describe what I feel upon seeing my Beloved?
Because I can do today what I was forbidden yesterday
Since now, I have risen to the glory I owe myself

For how much longer must I let them define my womanhood for me?
Why must I let them tell me what it means to be natural,
What it means to be woman?
Heaven lies beneath the mother’s feet, they tell us
Not beneath the woman’s feet.
What—Is this meant to be a privilege?
Should I be grateful?
No – It is there just to silence me.
But this centuries-old silence has deafened me!
And I have finally risen to the glory I owe myself

The infinite well of silence has at last dried up!
I was deaf and mute before
But I am living now, and I will live forever
I am eternal.
And I have risen to the glory I owe myself

~ Orbala
~ Jan. 5th 2010

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