“Burqa woman, with your sexy feet”, croons the male singer, to the unforgettable tune of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”. The video parody is a YouTube hit, but has earned the comedian some hate mail from angry Islamists.
The song’s cheeky lyrics tell the story of Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon’s chaste romance with a burqa-clad woman, describing his hilarious efforts at wooing his “sexy ninja”. “Burqa woman, my love for you grows, every time I see your toes”, he sings, adding that he will “practice flirting with his living-room curtain”.
The clip has divided its YouTube audience since it was uploaded on December 9. Some viewers criticised Haroon for giving the West a chance to laugh at Islam, while more radical comments called on the comedian to be “stoned to death”.
Haroon, who has received e-mail threats after the video's release, told The Telegraph that he only wanted to make people laugh. “I’m a comedian, it’s my job to make jokes about things”, he said, adding that he has also received many supportive comments from women in burqas who come to see his shows.
Video posted on YouTube by SaadHar00n.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.
“The video is just youthful humour. There is nothing anti-Islamic about it”
Najma Sadeque, a former journalist, works for a women's rights NGO in Pakistan.
I thought the video was very funny -- just youthful humour -- nothing offensive. There is nothing anti-Islamic about it. Burqas are a cultural manifestation, not worn by all Muslims around the world until the Saudi Arabians began to make a bullying global campaign of it. This is a Muslim man making fun of a costume that kills a woman's identity, that’s all. I don't blame him; it must be pretty annoying to have to talk to someone who you can't ever see but who can see you! If, however, Haroon were a non-Muslim, some fanatic might have found an excuse to lynch him.
The reference to texting at the end of the video makes complete sense: SMSes are the most common way to flirt discreetly for young people in Pakistani cities. The cell phone companies have been very helpful in overcoming barriers to romance!”
“Even the great poets Faraz and Ghalib made fun of romance and the courtship process, so why shouldn’t Haroon?”
Awab Alvi is a dentist in Karachi. He runs the blog Teeth Maestro.
Although I found the video hilarious, I can understand why some people in Pakistani society would balk at its humour. It is, after all, making fun of a sensitive religious symbol. Islam is perhaps the most touchy, taboo subject there is in our society, and it is difficult to make jokes about it. Saad Haroon is quite provocative as a comedian: he definitely pushes the limits of where humour can go in Pakistan. He has made fun of many high-ranking politicians, but also Islamist fundamentalists, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden... To my knowledge, however, he has never been censored.
Haroon’s audience is fairly restricted, because his stand-up shows are both in English and Urdu. Only educated, middle-class and mostly urban Pakistanis speak both. Maybe if he reached a larger audience he would have to be more careful about what he said.
Personally, I really didn’t find “Burqa Woman” offensive. I posted it on my blog, asking my readers what they thought, and got one response on Twitter from a person who thought it made a negative stereotype of women who wear burqas. That’s really not how I saw it. First of all, even the great Urdu poets Faraz and Ghalib made fun of romance and the attitude of women during the courtship process, so why shouldn’t Haroon? Secondly, if anything, I found the person he most made fun of in the video was the man, swooning over the slightest bit of exposed skin. The fact is that men in our country are not used to seeing exposed skin, so when they do it tends to trigger inappropriate thoughts in their minds. This is the reason why many women chose to wear a burqa (in Pakistan, we use the word burqa to designate any kind of full veil), or at least a large shawl, when they go out in public.”