It seems difficult for people to conceptualize a Muslim feminist beauty queen, it just does not sound possible to be such a thing, and hence, some are ever so preoccupied with this infamous oxymoron controversy. It is not only non-Muslims, but many Muslims, both men and women, who ask me many questions related to life balance that include spirituality and faith. It can sometimes feel repetitive being asked the same questions again and again about religion and Islam, and it is a big responsibility discussing a topic that is not my area of expertise. It is also not a topic that I would necessarily prefer to discuss publicly, nor one that I particularly signed up for, and nor one that I think one article and mere words can do justice to. However, I am for the most part honoured to have the opportunity to dialogue. I am honoured to be in the role of acting as a pseudo-ambassador for Pakistan, for Canada, and yes, even at times, for Islam.
How would you describe the concept of faith?
The best way that I can describe it is this. To me, faith is like art, it means different things to different people at different times and in different places. Art is whatever you feel it to be. The artist is usually not present to clarify and explain the intention, the artist is not there to limit nor dictate what you should make of the art piece, you do not usually get a literal translation to accompany the piece, it is meant to be admired, appreciated, discussed, and viewed using different lighting sources, angles, backgrounds and perspectives. Its pronounciations, accentuations, high points, low points, and all of its interpretations change with language and culture just as much as language and culture change over time. It is meant to be a vehicle for, and facilitator of, emotion and, in doing so, it is powerful, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, pain, or happiness, beauty, peace, or anything in between, and without this, the art piece in and of itself may actually be nothing, meaningless and worthless.
The true depth of art might only be recognized and appreciated by those who have acquired a certain taste, a heightened level of internal awareness, and more importantly, an evolved state of being and sophistication. The way you interpret art usually says a lot more about you than that piece of art itself. Art can be used as a mirror to the soul and has in fact been a tool for self reflection, one I have used many times as a social worker. Similarly, the way you interpret Islam may actually say a lot more about you than about Islam itself.
How would describe your understanding of Islam to the world?
My Islam is not one which is prescriptive, nor based on anger, fear, shame or guilt, and not one that centers on the implementation of ancient rules and regulations.
My Islam is loving, compassionate, caring, forgiving, supportive, humane, educated, informed, self-preserving, giving, understanding, patient, positive, progressive, creative, open to new ideas, and full of inner peace. My Islam is one which has taught me to love myself, love my body, love others, appreciate life and respect my fellow human beings, man, woman, child, white, black or disabled. My Islam is one in which judgments are left to a supreme being who is much more knowledgeable than I. My Islam is one in which everyone is given a fair chance to live a quality life of success and happiness. My Islam is one in which individuals can truly be honest with themselves and need not live with guilt or internal conflicts. My Islam is one in which individuals look within to better the world before pointing fingers. My Islam is one in which it is ok to make mistakes and to learn from them, and to grow as a person, with this inner growth being a top priority in life.
My Islam is one in which individuals are truly inspired to reach a higher state of being.
Like my appreciation for that fine classic piece of art, my understanding of my faith is ever so evolving along with my own evolution as a person.
What message do you have about Islam to the world?
It is my challenge to all of you to attain a deeper understanding of Islam, which in my humble opinion, coincidentally goes along with a deeper understanding and evolution of the self. At the least — I challenge all people, whether you are Muslim or not, or how so ever you may identify, to remove any feelings of hate, anger and discrimination you may have associated with your understandings of Islam. At the most — I challenge every one of all faiths and spiritualities to seek your personal truth as only you know what you need for you to be at your ultimate level of peace. This is your faith, take ownership of it.
Tahmena Bokhari seen here speaking at a bmsd conference in the UK on reviving the arts in the Muslim world. To learn more, see this article: