Instructor: Hananah Zaheer
Time and venue: Your choice. Can be a cocktail party or a coffee shop, a mall bathroom, a Chipotle, on social media, in a classroom, during a job interview, at an art show, at your daughter’s birthday party, at my son’s birthday party, a CVS, a writing conference, a ladies’ tea, on the bleachers of a high school basketball game, dinner at my house, dinner at your house, late night at a friend’s patio, during a manuscript conference where I’m your editor, or (and, please, I insist on this last one) in the ladies’ room at a club while we wait for a free stall.
Requirements: Everyone is eligible to take this course although preference is given to those who have never looked up Pakistan on a world map.
- To validate you
- To perform your perceptions to your satisfaction
Grading component: Quiz
Question for quiz: What other ethnicity or nationality did you think I was before we started talking?
Note: This is the self-study portion of the course. Check your own answer.
Welcome to our first meeting. It is indeed a privilege to have been drawn into this interaction with you and I will do my best to answer all your questions to your satisfaction. Please let me know if there is a response that does not meet your criteria, and I will do my best to adjust accordingly.
In this course, I hope to be your teacher, therapist, cultural guru, WikiMuslim, WikiAsia, WikiPakistan, and your guide to all cultures you see as being similar to mine. Please rest easy: things such as North Carolina, US politics, college sports affiliation, my love for football, and the 4th of July will not come up. If they do, it will only be a passing reference you may choose to ignore.
This course investigates your perception of me based on where we have met, the color of my skin, my accent (or lack of one), my clothing, and the fluency of my language. Topics covered include: my identity, my arrival at that identity, my right to that identity, Malala, terrorism, other people you have met from Pakistan, other people you have met from the Middle East, maps, immigrants, my fluency in another language, discrepancies within these topics, and butter chicken. We will delve into personal history but only to illustrate the validity of your interpretations. In places where the information I present does not match your conclusions, I will attempt to bridge the gap in a way that preserves your ideas.
The course will also attempt to answer questions about the motivations of other Pakistani and Muslim women, especially those who allow themselves to be dictated to and controlled by the patriarchy and do not stand up against injustice and honor-killings. You may be required to complete an impromptu debate assignment.
Whenever you notice the things about me that are not in agreement with the identity boxes I check off for you, please feel free to raise your hand and point this out. For example, I will say I am a Muslim. Your astute observation skills will lead you to notice that I do not cover my head, or sometimes not even my arms or legs. For this, you would be awarded extra credit. Since covering your body from head to toe is the only defining feature of a Muslim woman, I will devote a portion of this course explaining how and why. I will quote the Qura’an, but do not let this rattle you. You may have made an in-depth mental inquiry about my years in Dubai, and I commend you for such an independent effort. Out of respect for your breadth of knowledge and intelligence, I will invoke the Muslim Experience in the West. Just as you start to worry that I might be a sleeper terrorist, I will throw in my Catholic school education. Those nuns, eh? Who doesn’t like light religious humor from time to time? I aim for this course to be a pleasant experience for you, and the more places of access I can provide, the more productive I hope your experience will be.
I will also attempt to bridge the gap between the color of my skin and the way the words come out of my mouth. This will be the second half of the course, and as thanks for your patience thus far, I am happy to allow a bathroom break. We will address basic linguistic issues with things like “You are correct; I do speak English well — almost as if I was native.” This is the apologetic explanation portion of the course, and I will list the reasons for this. As a summary, and so you are able to formulate your responses in advance, a general list follows:
1. I grew up speaking English
2. My family spoke English
3. I went to schools where I studied everything in English
4. A lot of Pakistanis speak English
5. English is an international language
6. Pakistan is a former British colony, just like the US. (Note: This might also be covered in Identity 102, should your schedule permit time for my opinions on this and other related topics.)
We will end the course with a final exam. In the spirit of fairness, this is where you get to play the teacher and ask me questions about immigration to the United States. You are free to choose the material that is included in the questions and are under no obligations of things such as boundaries. Bonus points for mispronouncing everything we have spoken of thus far.
Before you leave, please feel free to fill out a course evaluation form with any notes for my improvement. Depending on the venue where we have met, you may choose to retake this course the next time we meet. For the evaluation, my name is spelled H-a-n-a-n-a-h. Yes, like “Hannah,” but if something were wrong with it.