By Mariam Al Hosani
It was a bright sunny morning. The table was spread with mouthwatering goodness, and the smell of freshly cooked eggs and warm bread filled the air. I sat around the table with a group of interesting women for a delicious brunch and a stimulating conversation.
There were seven of us that morning: Huda (a mother of three and a talented cook), Asma (a mother of two and the owner of a children’s clothing line), Alya (a mother of two and an artist who specialises in sculptures), Leila (a mother of one and an experienced physiotherapist), Maitha (a mother of two and a creative interior designer), Fatima (an entrepreneur and the free spirit of the group) and myself (a mother of one and a writer).
This was a weekly social gathering during which we explored concepts, learned from each other and allowed ourselves to grow as individuals and as a group. On this day, our topic was about a concept that has affected us all and continues to impact our lives.
As children, in some way or another, we were all bound by unwritten rules that conformed to society’s idea of what was acceptable and what was not. There was an unspoken agreement between society and parents that certain things were considered ‘aib’, or shameful to do, and generation after generation has abided by this criteria that was preset and labelled as tradition.
Our generation is now at a crossroads. We understand why this concept was so important to our parents and their parents, but many of us wonder if it still applies; if there is a different way of looking at things.
“Our rejection of the word aib is not a rejection of the good intention behind it, but a rejection of the idea that people must conform to preapproved roles and actions simply to please others.”
As I poured myself a hot cup of tea that morning, I turned to the women around me and asked them.
Me: “Let’s take a moment and think about how the word aib has shaped us. How did it affect our childhoods and how does it dictate what kind of mothers we are today?”
Asma: “Let me say this, I have always hated it when people have told me to keep my voice down because it’s aib! I never understood why, as a kid, speaking in a tone that I was born with was so wrong!”
Huda: “What I find funny is how it was always aib to do ANYTHING when guests were visiting. How is a child expected to just sit there quietly for hours! And yet, if I’m being honest, I now say it to my kids sometimes too.”
Huda laughed shyly and all the mothers around the table nodded with embarrassed smiles.
Alya: “I think that we are so used to the word that we just throw it around without any regard. I catch myself telling my 3-year-old ‘aib, don’t do this’ over the smallest things. When she doesn’t stop doing it, I get so mad, but then I realise… wait a minute I didn’t explain why not to do this; I just said one word and expected her to understand!”
Asma suddenly blew up laughing and we all turned to her.
Asma: “I can’t believe this. I just received a broadcast through a mum’s group and OMG you have to hear this…”
The message started with a dramatic poem that said aib has died and we must mourn ‘her’ because the new generation no longer believes in it. It goes on to describe how the word aib is responsible for making people well-mannered and that with the rejection of it, our manners and social compass are diminishing until we will no longer have any.
Leila:“I think it’s an exaggeration to say that without the word aib we won’t have good manners!”
Leila said this as she got up and went into the kitchen.
Maitha:“I agree. Good manners and healthy social traditions can be taught in other ways [besides shaming without explanation].”
Alya: “It’s like we are telling kids don’t behave this way because then people will not like it, and will judge you or dislike you for it. Basically, we are encouraging kids to think that when they are alone they can have whatever manners they want, but when they are around people it’s aib to make them feel uncomfortable, and they have to keep up an image.”
Fatima: “I agree. I think that it creates a situation where kids feel that their family’s love for them is conditional. As long as they don’t do anything aib they are accepted, but once they challenge any of the set rules of aib they are seen as ‘trouble’. It’s just so much unnecessary pressure to place on a child.”
“There was an unspoken agreement between society and parents that certain things were considered ‘aib’, or shameful to do, and generation after generation has abided by this criteria that was preset and labelled as tradition.”
We all agreed with Fatima and started talking over each other with examples we had each gone through as children just as Leila walked back into the room with freshly made crepe, covered with berries and strawberry syrup, that made us all quiet down again.
Asma: “I think that we should filter down all the things that are considered aib, take those that are beneficial to the growth of a child, and be clearer about them.”
Me: “True. It’s important that we don’t let our children feel like there is an invisible chain that society places on their necks that will stop them from doing things. They need to know why certain things are considered unacceptable through proper explanation, no matter how young a child is.”
Huda shook her head and looked around the table as she said…
Huda:“I agree with what you are all saying, but let’s remember that we are now more conscious with our words than earlier generations, but it doesn’t mean that their methods were entirely wrong. They did what made sense to them at the time and words were not always chosen carefully, but they didn’t mean to make us feel trapped.”
Maitha: “Yeah, that’s true. I learned a lot of positive things from my parents that I still apply with my girls.”
Fatima: “I believe we all have. There were times when I was very frustrated with my parents and their aib rules, but now, in retrospect, I can see what they were trying to say and what they were trying to teach me.”
We went on and on until there were only the remnants of strawberry syrup left sparkling on the plate, and the verdict of our discussion was this:
The word aib has carried behind it most of the social traditions and accepted ways of life. Somewhere along the line it became a concept that people would use whenever a person was doing something that was not the norm. It became less about instilling in children and people good manners, and more about confining people to a mould society approved of.
“We need to prepare our children to resist decades of the aib mentality.”
Our rejection of the word aib is not a rejection of the good intention behind it, but a rejection of the idea that people must conform to preapproved roles and actions simply to please others.
As mothers, we must raise humans that are aware of others, mindful of others and who know that they are allowed the freedom to pursue any path that will benefit them regardless of what others think. We need to strip the word aib of its power.
We left that day vowing to become more mindful mothers, aunts and sisters to the younger generation. We need to prepare our children to resist decades of the aib mentality, while simultaneously embedding in them the good ideals and values that have been hiding behind this word.
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Mariam Al Hosani is an Emirati storyteller living between the UAE and Germany.