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caste it aside

Posted by hema on July 25, 2007

this post is probably going to “speak” more to Pakistani readers than anyone else, although maybe not. perhaps Bangladeshis and even Arabs experience the same sort of things in their cultures?

i’m not sure if “caste” is the right word to use, but i’m not sure how else to translate the word “zaat”. i’m talking about the practice of dividing people into groups, based on their social position and what their ancestors used to do. that’s not even the problem, though. the problem emerges when it turns into some sort of hierarchy when people only think someone from their own caste is good enough to associate with, and eventually marry.

i love being Pakistani, and taking the good from my culture. i love the food and the clothes(will somebody please give me an excuse to wear my gold sari?) and the food and the history and the food and the country and can somebody teach me how to make rasmali?? it won’t go right:(

i just don’t see why people still hold onto a system which is so obviously based on Hindu practices and is so unIslamic. it’s one thing to be proud of your roots and wanting to know about your ancestors, another to think you’re better than somebody because you’re a “higher” caste than them. if we’re told not to judge somebody on the status of the job they do, why should we care what their ancestors did? does it really still matter today if someone is rein, jat or gujr(they’re the only three i know)

i feel i’m lucky because it’s never been an issue with my parents, and i didn’t even know ‘what’ i was until i was discussing it with friends once, and came home and asked. and it always saddens me to find people aren’t allowed to marry outside of their caste. i don’t know if it’s due to a belief that “our caste” is better, i hope that’s not it, but it seems that way sometimes.

luckily, i don’t know many people from our generation who care about it, most people go along with it because they know it’s important to their families, who are most likey holding onto tradition and the way they are used to doing things. maybe it will die out with our generation. maybe my kids and their kids will never know what caste they are. i don’t think they will be losing out on too much.

18 Responses to “caste it aside”

  1. liya101 said

    I’ve never heard of dividing people into groups based on their social position among Islamic practices (do you mean sects?) but this reminds me of dividing people into groups based on their skin colour – a horrible cultural practise that exists in the Pakistani/Indian culture. So the closest thing I can think of related to castes is choosing someone to marry based on how white they are – the way whiteness is ‘more desirable’ among Indian Muslim men for his wife puts horrible pressure on brown Muslim girls… to look white.

    On another note, my Sikh friends are encouraged to find boys to marry within their castes.. an interesting thing since Sikhism is ‘supposed’ to abolish those practises and have everyone as equal.. (hence the same surnames etc).

    The Hindu notion of the ‘Untouchables’ (I don’t know the correct name), really is horrible… Ugh.

  2. Hema – wear your golden sari while you’re baking me a cake……

  3. Pat it and prick it and remember to say Bismillah. Put it in the oven for me and erm… me.

  4. americanmuslim said

    There are similar practices in many countries that have a deep history, and in particular, those Muslim countries that originated in another religion. I even see certain types of deviding into groups in Iran, although I doubt as bad as in India.

  5. mcpagal said

    Salaam! I’ve never understood all that either. My parents never told me what caste I was growing up, and still refuse to tell me when I ask out of curiosity. It’s not something that’s ever influenced me, it’s only now that I have a lot of Pakistani friends and we discuss stuff like this. A lot of them still maintain that they wouldn’t marry outside their own group – but the reason they give is that other castes are different (not necessarily inferior). The differences they tell me aren’t huge, but I guess if you’re planning to live with your mother-in-law and obey her to the letter then you want her to be as similar to your own mum as possible?

    I have to say, though, my parents are guilty of stereotyping people according to their caste/background sometimes. Like: all riens are X or Y.

  6. hema said

    liya, i’m glad you have no idea what i’m talking about. it means the caste thing is not an issue in the south african community. but basically, people are devided into castes in the paskitani Muslim community. like a lot of things, it’s just copied from the Hindus. there’s even a caste like the untouchables. it’s really horible:(
    the skin thing is really sad as well, hhm i’m all depressed about out community now:(

    umm maymoonah- that’s not quite what i had in mind for my sari! i was thinking more along the lines of a beglali style mehndi. it can be my excuse for not dancing!! i promise i will bake a cake for you AND maymoonah!! in ordinary clothes though!

    i was wondering about whether this was an issue in other countires, especially arab ones. it doesn’t seem to be though.

    wasalaam McCrazy:) it’s good to see you on here.
    if you’re living with your mother in law i can understand(though don’t necesssarily agree) why you want to speak the same dialect and other similarities, but i don’t see what that has to do with caste? you can be from different parts of paskistan and stil be the same caste.

  7. I know what your talking about Im sick of these silly caste things , I mean who decides who is better then the other what do they have some kind of special blood or something ? sometimes I look at the older generaition and think you have lived 50 , 60 years and you havent learnt anything from this world ? except kept to your culture and biriyani? are you telling me thats all their is in your own littl world? its such a pity to see peopel like that. the older generaition is supposed to be wiser , yet sometimes I think hmmm Im not going to ask for your advice .(btw Im not pakistani , but know the culture quite well , all my friends are praticaly pakistani they say I’m practicaly one of them 🙂 )

  8. Faz said

    Only a few years ago well not few while we were are college that I found out what cast I was apperently im supposed to br high in the caste line but it really never made differences to me as i really do think its quite ridiculse that people practice such unislamic believes. But its not just that hema were we come from in pakistan people from the punjab look down us as they think they are backwards.

    I’m not sure what my families opinion’s are about caste, but over the years i think because having different friends have changed thier opinion. But i think they still have a problem with non mirpuris but i think tis more about security and having something in common rather than they think they are better than anyone as my family take thier family obligations very seriously since most of my relatives do live in this country and they really don’t have time to make friends.

  9. Sumera said

    My friends do this caste system (they are Muslim)- they dont marry outwith their caste. They say that castes aid in recognising families traditions, way of living and customs (and language – diff brand of Punjaabi) which to a certain extent ive noticed rings true. They marry those of the same “caste” but which also are from the same geographical location in Pak – so they are similar in many ways.

    We dont do the caste system in our family, so i always found the concept strange. We dont even marry within the family either. But I see where the “zaat” thing comes from. Even though what your ancestors did for a living has little relevance today its still used as a marker in distinguishing familial practises and customs.

  10. Sumera said

    Also, ive noticed it to be more rampant in Pakistanis who are from Lahore area? Including Multan and those surrounding area’s. We’re from the north (Islamabad) so this caste thing is practically non-existent there

  11. You’ve got Hindu influences, like on the woman giving the man a dowry instead of the Islamic other way around, and in Saudia they’ve got rampant “tribe pride”. Same issues, different names, and Islam is supposed to relieve us of all that b.s. if only people were to really abide by it.

  12. The Dude said


    This is a very sensitive issue, especially when it comes to marriage. It is also somewhat related to your other post. One should never be judged by his race, status or wealth…etc. Only actions and deeds speak for themselves and Allah is the only judge. It is revolting and ironic to hear about such practices in our Muslim societies since ISLAM came to abolish such misconceptions.

    May Allah guide us to the straight path.


  13. Shahrzad said

    I heard about it in India. I didnt know there is same thing in pakistan also. You are right. In hinduism they have this kind of divitions between people. Different castes. But unfortunately sometimes we see it between muslims too. Just reading prophet life, give us a good point. When Balal, a black slave, is the greatest muezzin and one of the best companion in islamic history. And God gave him this altitude, without looking at his color, race, family, wealth or caste as you said. Allah knows bests..

  14. i hate it when people let caste and stuff get in the way especially in marriages if the person is suitable in every other way then why let where they come from or whatever ruin that…i think it would be fascinating to marry someone of a different cast/culture whatever you wanna call the damn thing, you would learn so much. My parents aren’t that bothered about it neither are most of my family which i’m glad of….. but it is definitly sad…..again i’m going to attempt at quoting a hadith but i’m not going to get it right so do forgive me!! it summat like the prophet saws once said no arab is more superior than a non arab and no non arab is more superior than an arab… i suppose that applies here really as well that basically noone is better than the next person no matter which area they come from ….(i think except regarding their deen)….

  15. caged_bird said

    Sorry, totally off topic, but this is the only way i can get contact with you, cos apparently your fone out of order. anyway congrats on your new neice/nefew? Alhamdulillah, baby in the family brings many joys! they take over your life!! whoohoo something other than teaching huh!!
    Anyway, the real reason why im posting is, JazakAllah Khayr for the keychain. Farzana gave to me on Fri. Thank you i love those things and i can’t beleive you gave it me, masha’Allah so nice of you. Did i really point it out to you? I can’t even recall, which was even nicer when Farzana handed it to me. Anywyay sorry have your blog back. We must create new methods of communication…..

  16. Haleem said

    Wow this is the first time I am hearing of castes and like stuff outside the Hindu religion in South Asia. I am from Bangladesh and I haven’t encountered that problem ever here. For us it’s usually nationality that people look to (has to be Bengali etc. usually), religion (Sunni/Shia), education (Bachelors at least) and family (good/educated etc.). This kind of tribalism is something new to me. Is it common? Hope not.

  17. hema said

    thanks for your comments everyone, it was interesting especially to see how people from other cultures felt about it.
    thanks about the neice/nephew (is tha because you don’t know which one it is??) it’s the reason i haven’t been able ot post and reply to comments much, as well as come to the friday classes (i miss them). i’m going back in a bit. do you like to shop caged bird? there is a sale on at accessorize so we can go buy all the key chains we want!! i’ll sort out the phone problem soon. i’ve actually realised i can survive without one. it seems to be annoying other people more than me, who probably need to phone me up to shout at me about something!!
    oh and you can take over my blog anytime, what’s mine is yours..xx

  18. Snowdrops said

    I think many do this “caste” thing without their own knowledge. I mean, its natural for when to marry your kids off, you’ll look for someone similar to your beliefs, culture etc. and who better than someone of your own ‘caste’ nah? So you don’t really mean to do it this-caste-that-caste way, but it just happens.

    Perhaps I ought to shut up now.

    But one more thing, as Haleem said,
    For us it’s usually nationality that people look to (has to be Bengali etc. usually)

    Its no only nationality. Sylhety and non-sylhety marriages are very rare… because (no offense) but as a non sylhety, I sometimes feel that my parents think that we’re somehow better. *puke* Cheh.

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