The documentary Pakistan Four by Shehzad Hameed, a broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker, tells the story of four Pakistani women living in the United States. Besides working in predominantly male professions, stories about a chef, a weight lifter, a standup comedian, and a fencer may not seem connected. However, after viewing the documentary, I was amazed by their stories. Here are four Muslim women who are challenging gender and cultural stereotypes. They tackle their dreams while paving the way for women everywhere. Each led different lives, yet their stories illustrated a little-known side to Muslim women living in the U.S.
Hareem Ahmad is a professional fencer and the first Pakistani American to train with the U.S. fencing team. Hareem left her job on Wall Street to pursue this passion, making it her mission to best conquer all obstacles in her way. Even after being told that she was wasting her money and that she would not be able to have a professional career as an athlete, Hareem decided to make her own way in life and is now successfully pursuing her dream. Another professional athlete in the documentary was Kulsoom Abdullah, a weight lifter who challenged the rules against wearing the Hijab, a religious headscarf, during competitions. Not only has she fought for religious freedom, but she has also overcome criticism about being a female weight lifter. Many feel that females cannot successfully weight lift and view it as a ‘men’s only’ sport. Nadia Manzoor is a professional actor and has written her own play called Burq Off. She has continued with her work, in hopes to inspire others and inform the world about Pakistani culture. Lastly, Fatima Ali is a New York City chef who won the TV reality show Chopped. As a chef, she has faced challenges not only from men who didn’t feel she belonged in a kitchen, but also from other women, jealous of her time spent so closely working with multiple men. Today, she has found victory by both winning the Chopped competition, and within her present restaurant work.
Pakistan Four provides an up-close view of the daily lives of these Pakistani women, and through that the viewer is given the opportunity to learn more about how the women are finding connections in Pakistani and American cultural similarities or embracing their differences. Throughout the documentary, it is made clear that these women face problems that are not only challenges for Pakistani women, but for all women around the world. Yet instead of being silenced by these problems, these women have made it their mission to raise their voices and inspire other young women to chase after their goals in a positive manner. And most importantly, they are breaking down any stereotypes that may get in their way.
As I was watching this documentary, I was amazed at the talents that each of these women possess. The fact that they can overcome their challenges and be respected in their field or sport was inspiring. While they have overcome adversity, they have remained positive and determined, which was inspiring and informative.
This documentary is important because it shows their side of the story. Not only does the director make you aware of the challenges Muslim women face here in the United States, but also integrates women’s challenges globally. It illuminates these four women’s setbacks while also highlighting their successes. They are finding ways of expressing themselves as Muslim Pakistani women living in the U.S. and are mixing cultures and breaking down the walls of cultural stereotypes. By telling their individual stories, they are creating room for constructive discussion and giving us insight to their world, giving us a different view of Pakistan culture that we don’t see through media.
I work with Pakistanis every day and I am amazed about their achievements and kindness. The more people who see this documentary, the more people will have the chance to see the vibrant and rich culture of Pakistan.