Sinan’s mother was wearing a burkha, a garment worn by Muslim women around the world. The picture went viral and divided netizens, sparking a nationwide debate
A particular picture from a sports article showcasing a mother getting bowled out by her 11-year-old son, Sheikh Yaamin Sinan, during a practice cricket match from a few weeks ago caught everyone's attention.
Sinan's mother was wearing a burkha, a garment worn by Muslim women around the world. The picture went viral and divided netizens, sparking a nationwide debate and was picked up by most media outlets in a matter of hours.
The heated debate included people congratulating the woman for respecting Islamic norms while many accused her of abandoning Bengali heritage and embracing "foreign" culture.
The debate, however, is not a new one. Its origin can be traced back to Bakhtiyar Khilji's invasion of Nadia 800 years ago.
The Muslim reign in Bengal enabled Muslim preachers and merchants to operate freely around the land which eventually meant that after a time, large portions of the population were Muslims.
From that time onward, the Bengali culture ceased to be a homogenous entity as many women would be Burkha-clad, further fortified by other clothing items imported from the Arab, instead of donning traditional Bengali clothing such as saree.
Everything, including food, music, and prayers differentiated one group from the other. But then again, Bengalis of all faiths mostly lived in harmony for centuries and the Bengali culture became mixed, or to use Salman Rushdie's term - a "Chutnified" one.
The British colonial policy to "Divide and Rule", as well as political polarization, for centuries, finally succeeded in infusing separate identities into Bengalis which resulted in the fateful events of August, 1947, when Sir Cyril Radcliff split Bengal into two halves - the "Separateness of Bengali culture".
Many would argue today that the Bengali culture dominating West Bengal is a Hindu-dominated one, while Bangladeshi culture is its Muslim equivalent.
This simplistic generalization, however, doesn't hold water as Bangladeshis revere famous authors such as Michael Madhusudan Datt, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and countless other Bengalis of all faiths.
Not to mention that the national anthem of Bangladesh was composed by Rabindranath Tagore, a celebrated Bengali author of Hindu faith.
Yet, there is a divide among today's Bangladeshis on what constitutes the "real" Bengali culture.
Should the songs, clothes, and food items imported from "foreign nations" be considered our own? Would we be considered disloyal to our faith if we enjoy the Bengali traditions of Pohela Boishakh - the Hindu mythical epics?
One party would argue that the imported culture of the so-called Arab-Turkish "invaders" must be discarded in favour of "ancient" Bengali traditions, cuisines as well as festivals connected to Bengal's soil.
They would take pleasure in attending processions of Hindu festivals like Durga Puja and village fairs such as Nabanno Utsob and Falguni, while at the same time remain faithful to their own religions.
The other party, who are just as passionate, would rather opt for the so-called "Hindu" traditions discarded from public life and replaced with Muslim ones. They would prefer to have a society where clothing prescribed by Islamic laws as well as Islamic literature, music (Ghazal), and cuisines are to be favoured.
Bangladeshi culture, as far as they are concerned, is different from "Bengali" culture and should remain so.
The photo of the young Sinan and his mother, both of whom were wearing what some would refer to as Islamic clothing, has upset, as well as delighted, many.
The question of "Should a Bengali mother be wearing a clothing brought and forced on her by foreigners?" clashed with "Why shouldn't an Islamic attire worn by a Muslim woman in a Muslim Bengal be congratulated for her faith and loyalty?"
The debate closely resembles a similar controversy over the picture of graduates from Khulna University of Engineering and Technology who took photos of themselves donning "Arabian attires".
The photo, having gone viral, drew ire from many and was even harshly criticized in TV channels after which the university's registrar, GM Shahidul Alam, issued a notice calling the students' action to be an "embarrassing", one which blew another debate regarding culture.
Bangladeshi conservatives and liberals, both having legitimate claims, do present passionate arguments for their cases while conveniently stepping aside from the fact that the Bengali culture, festivals as well as food and music, in modern years, has been embracing western traditions overwhelmingly.
Despite some extreme right-wing grumbles, most conservatives and liberals accept the notion that Bengali culture is not stoic and being a dynamic culture in an interconnected planet, it must absorb certain things for others' enrichment.
And, therein, lies the answer to our debate. Bangladeshis can, and must, embrace the fact that the antiquated definition of Bengali culture has long outlived its usefulness and we must accept the heterogeneity of our culture which is a unique amalgamation of many festivals, cuisines and lore.
English poet Matthew Arnold once referred to culture as something that turns into "a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits". Therefore, a living culture should not, and dare I say, cannot not be a rigid homogenous entity.
It's high time we accepted the fact that we enjoy our Pohela Boishakh celebrations, and at the same time, cheer for a Burkha-clad female batsman playing cricket with her son in Paltan Maidan on a Friday afternoon.
The author is a postgraduate student of English Language and Literature at Jashore University of Science and Technology with an avid interest in geopolitics, literature, and history.