Raja Naeem, you don't need to wear a shalwar kameez to be able to pray
A few days ago, I came across a story of a US-based Pakistani driver, Raja Naeem, who was seen protesting against the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, outside City Hall in St Louis, US, along with two dozen other taxi drivers.
The reason being; he felt that he was being deprived of his right to wear his ‘religious dress’ during work hours. Naeem has also filed a case against the taxi commission for discriminating against him and not letting him fulfil his ‘religious obligations’.
Although I believe Naeem has all the right in the world to protest and follow his religion, what I failed to understand was the correlation between wearing a particular uniform to work and fulfilling his religious duties. How exactly does that make any sense? It is incredibly exasperating to assume that faith, or religion, is bound by the sort of clothes you wear to work and just goes to show the lack of understanding we have of our religion.
As far as the limited knowledge of Islam I possess, I believe if you are covered, in accordance with the prescribed parameters of religion, you are good to go. I do not believe to have heard anything that implies that Muslims are prohibited from wearing anything but a shalwar kameez to be able to pray. In fact, in many other Muslim countries, there is no such thing as the shalwar kameez! Are their prayers less effective than ours then?
A dress code is important and promotes equality at the workplace and religion has nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we tend to believe that Islam is all about the dress one wears or the beard one grows or the hijab one dons. They forget that religion is personal; it’s what is on the inside that matters, not the sort of dress you wear. It is your intention that truly counts.
In Pakistan, 90% of the population dresses in shalwar kameez, a traditional dress. Do they do this because they are all Muslims? What about the Pakistani Christians, Pakistan Hindus, Parsis and foreigners who come visit the country?
Lots of you will argue that it is the right of the taxi driver to protest against the taxi commission, but just think for one second, would Pakistan allow a priest to wear clerical clothing or a cassock with a cross around his neck and drive a public taxi? Would we not identify him as a Christian? Would he not become vulnerable to attacks? Why would any workplace want to risk the life or safety of their workers?
Do the students in Pakistan not wear a uniform to school? Those are not shalwar kameezs, is there a problem there? Can they not pray? Dress codes promote discipline, equality and uniformity; what is wrong with that? It is a measure to prevent discrimination of any kind. The reason for which the commission made a uniform obligatory is to make it easier to identify and distinguish between licensed and unlicensed drivers; a safety measure installed to ensure no reckless driving and safer travels.
The taxi commission, after consultation from an imam of a local mosque, they allowed the driver a concession; they permitted him to wear a long white shirt with a black trouser. Unfortunately, even this was not good enough for Naeem, as this still, somehow, affected him while undertaking his ‘religious duties’. I fail to understand his point of view.
My request to people like Naeem is this: take some time out to understand what your actions are leading to; not only are you killing Pakistan’s image in the international arena, you are trying to show Islam as an inflexible religion around the globe which is not true!
In this case, the driver accused the taxi commission of discriminating against him, by not permitting him to dress according to his ‘religious parameters’. But from the way I see it, discrimination lies in the driver’s decision to not follow the code and to separate himself from rest of the pack – just because he has a different religion.
This post originally appeared here.