Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“Diary of a Guji Girl” and What I think we should be discussing

Like many people I have been an avid reader of the blog ‘Diary of a Guji Girl’. Initially I was interested in reading the blog because of the huge hype that surrounded it, eventually though I found this to be an educational experience for me in many ways. So a few weeks ago I was delighted to have finally received my copy of the book based on the blog, and I set aside an evening just for reading this.( I must say as a side note that holding the book in my hands was so much better than reading the blog). Nonetheless, the book has marked the end of this story and like all stories I find myself at odds, there is closure, which is always a good thing, but for me the lessons derived from this story is far more important and it surpasses all the hype, the popularity and everything else that has come with this.

I admire the author Qaanitah Hunter for boldly discussing issues that no one else dare speak about, and I love that she has made such good use of satire and humour, there’s this nagging part of me though, a part that tells me that perhaps people didn’t take the messages from the book exactly in the way it was intended, that the characters were “glorified” by readers in ways that should not have happened and that the reflection of our society as portrayed in the story has not been concerning enough for people. Perhaps it’s just me over analysing things again, I don’t know, but in any case, I decided to mention the lessons that I have learnt and what I think we should be discussing after reading this story.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, the very basic summary is that this is a story of a first year university student, Amina, who leaves her home in the small town of Newcastle to come to the big and sometimes very unfriendly city of Johannesburg. On the way she meets new people, has different experiences, but it is mainly Amina’s obsessive quest for marriage that forms the basis of this story, and it is her “relationship” with the typical messed up, unstable, but very good looking, rich and popular guy that forms the central focus.

The biggest lesson that I derived from this blog/book is also the scariest one so I’ll begin with that. While reading this it dawned on me that the biggest threat to the religion of Islam in South Africa is cultural heritage. Now, before people jump down my throat, please allow me to explain. Diary of a Guji Girl has very perfectly depicted how Muslims in South African Indian society hold on strongly to their cultural heritage. This in its own is not an issue, but it becomes an issue when it is at the expense of the way in which Islam is practised. The problem of cultural heritage surpassing Islamic teachings is so evident in the story, for instance when Amina judges her Cousin Ayesha’s future husband because he is not from the same cultural background. Besides this very overt depiction of what I am talking about, the characters in the story all tend to hold on to cultural practices like it’s the law. There is no questioning the relevance of these practices and very often cultural practices surpass religious ones and people are judged when they decide to choose religious practices over cultural ones.

The reason for this being scary or worrying is that when people place more importance on their cultural heritage than anything else, this can cause division, racism and prejudice and it can be a huge hindrance to Islamic unity. I see this too often in the society in which we live, and coming from a mixed cultural background, I myself have been a recipient of the prejudice I allude to, and so reading about it in Diary of a Guji Girl just brought home this issue so aptly. But the scariest part of it all is that people don’t stop to think about the negative impact this may have and instead remain insistent that their particular culture is “the way things should be”. I personally think that Diary of a Guji Girl was an attempt to change this type of thinking, showing in a very satirical manner that maybe the way we have been thinking all the years is not always the right way. Whether readers actually took this message seriously however is another story.

The other issue that stood out for me was the overly obsessive pursuance of marriage. Now, I am not at all disputing the importance of marriage. Islam definitely does place emphasis on marriage and even regards it as “half of faith”. However, in this overly obsessive quest for marriage, we seem to have forgotten the true purpose of marriage in itself. Marriage is supposed to be a means to the end, not an end in itself. This Hollywood style search for happily ever after, (or in this case, the happily ever after in the smart Houghton house with the good looking, rich and popular man) can only lead to trouble. As Muslims the only happily ever after that we are supposed to be pursuing is the one we are promised in the Hereafter. If marriage is not going to make us better Muslims who are constantly trying to improve ourselves in our striving to reach closeness to Allah Almighty, then this means is not a very positive means to the ultimate end, now is it? With this crazy obsessive search for the perfect man and seemingly perfect life, it’s no wonder people get divorced so easily these days. May Allah guide and protect us all!

The last issue that I’ll mention here is the materialistic nature of people. As the protagonist in the story, Amina’s materialistic nature actually becomes so annoying that at some points you want to smack some sense into her. This is more evident in the blog posts than it is in the book, but nonetheless, it highlights the fact that many of us have lost the plot and we have become selfish and self-absorbed. I don’t know how other people feel, but for me spending R2000 rand on one shopping trip on nothing other than clothes is absurd. I love that the author made an attempt to bring Amina back to reality and make her realise that life is about responsibility and not being wasteful, and of course about sharing with others as well if you can afford to do so.

There is so much more that I can say about this story, so much more details to discuss about the issues brought about in it, that’s why I was disappointed when all people could focus on was the “love story”. Naturally this brought up a whole lot of other questions for me. Why do people love Moe and Amina together? What is it about the attraction of ‘good girls’ to the ‘bad boy’? Is life really all about finding love? What are our ideas of love even based on? Should young women really be putting themselves out there and doing whatever they can to secure a good marriage prospect? How much will parents overlook and give in so that their daughters end up marrying a good man? Is society’s viewpoint really that important? Has money and status really become so important to us that we are willing to compromise on our Islamic values? …

Yes, it is evident that there is much more that I can discuss about this story, but the story has ended so perhaps I should end my thoughts here as well. I would love to hear other thoughts on this though, perhaps someone else has good answers to all my many questions.

Image 1 from here 
Image 2 from here  
Image 3 from here