My recent trip to Doha was enlightening. I have lived in Dubai all my life, so the region is not new for me. But interacting with 700 people from all corners of the world and of many religions, I found it to be a learning experience. Most of my conversations was around the issue of hijab/burkha/niqab. I’ll share one question with you which will give you an idea about these conversations: “You appear to be an independent woman, so why does your dress (the burkha) contradict who you are?”It’s been a little more than ten years since I started wearing the burkha (scarf + cloak). Initially it was against my will, mainly because it is a cultural tradition in our family. I used to think that it is a form of clothing that oppresses people and because I was a much louder person, I felt it would contradict who I am. Until, I started wearing it. After some uncomfortable months, I knew that I had to accept it instead of fighting it. When that set in, I realised that it helped me become a stronger individual. People could not judge me by my clothes or how revealing (or not) they were. The only aspect that attracted attention was my mind. My friendships were richer, my conversations were meaningful and then, I realised that freedom means nothing. Freedom is such a hip word for us. What is freedom? It’s not tangible and it means nothing. I feel more liberated in my burkha than the woman who has to think everyday what she will wear and if it is good enough and if people will judge her on her clothes; I am more free than that woman who makes friends on the basis of how expensive her accessories look. I can wear the same clothes 20 times and nobody will know. You can be in a prison and you can be free. It’s all in your mind. Freedom is just like happiness: a state of mind. The foreign (and sometimes Westernised) notions of those-who-arent-like-us-are-oppressed are unfair. Our cultures vary immensely and since when do we conform to a singular culture or set of values? I had such powerful realisations about myself because of my burkha. For me, it empowered me and turned me into the confident person that I am today. I didn’t have to conform to others’ idea of what is acceptable in parties and society. I made my own rules of acceptance. So, I am truly sick of women who cannot end the rhetoric of being a victim. When there are women who are oppressed, there is also a large number of empowered women that need the same attention. But media loves doom and gloom. People such as Mona Eltahawy do not speak for me, as a woman and as a Muslim. We don’t need someone else to tell our stories; we need to tell them ourselves. It is useless to lash yourselves in the name of religion and culture. To understand the medieval practices, we need to understand its root. Most stem from culture and NOT religion. People’s free interpretation of religion is NOT religion as it is. Yes, we have issues but we have great stories too. Most of the backwardness is due to the illiteracy and backward cultural practices. Those need to be dealt with. Also, it’s not just Islam and the Middle East. Injustice towards women is a global phenomenon. Women are still objectified and treated as a sex object; women are still buried and burnt alive in areas outside the Middle East; women are brutally raped and murdered in Congo–the list is endless. Surely, not all of these can be contributed to one religion? As long as we don’t change mindsets of people, the issue of empowering women will be tough to tackle. Let’s not victimise ourselves and find time in sensationalising the blame-game. If we are to open the discourse on women, it cannot be one-sided; it has to include all the stories. I’m done with people blaming Islam on everything. I’m done with being a quiet, positive voice and I’m done with allowing the negative voices to be loud. I am done with people stereotyping the burkha without understanding it. I am done with people being fearful of the unknown. Ask questions and learn. It’s the only way out.