My Muslim Identity Crisis (Part II)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wellington Botanic Gardens, May 2016

Four years ago, I published a post entitled 'My Muslim Identity Crisis' and the response I received was beyond my expectations. Looking back, I can see how much I've grown, although if I were to be completely honest, I am still trying to make sense of my Muslim/Malay/Kiwi identity today. What I know for sure is not knowing the answers all the time is part of being human and quite possibly the reason why life is beautiful.

I was first intrigued by identity politics when I read Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim's theory of individualisation. The theory argues the quest to construct our individual identities is a paradoxical process because the more we try to liberate ourselves from social expectations and social constructs the more we become bounded by other ones. For example, the moment we think we are detaching ourselves from cultural and traditional notions and norms of gender roles we are actually ascribing to another culture's set of socially-constructed expectations.

When we shed one identity we are left with the task of creating or searching for another one. The very thing we think might liberate us, such as the freedom to be individuals and choose who we want to be and how we want to live our lives, might actually bind us even more to socially constructed ideas. Our desire to belong to a community of our choice means we are likely to adjust to that particular community's standards of what is normal and acceptable. This is not to say that there's something inherently wrong with the desire for individuality or a sense of belonging in a community but we must be critical of it and the process of individualisation.

Faith Friday: Make Islam Relevant Again

Friday, April 22, 2016

Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of Trump. I just have an awkward sense of humour.

There are various reasons why many young Muslims today are asking themselves, "How is Islam relevant in my life?". The rise of secularism, terrorism, post-modernism, atheism, humanism and movements in relation to LGBT rights, women's rights and human rights are a few of those reasons. As Jeffrey Lang asserted, Muslims are having intellectual conflicts and without continuous review and critical analyses of Islamic scholarly texts and how they are applied in today's context the way Islam is interpreted and practiced can become detrimental and problematic. Muslims in the West, and in other parts of the world too, feel there is a clash between the culture they grew up in and the culture of Islam.

While the dissimilarity between Islamic culture and popular culture, for example, can be an argument for why Islam is appealing to many,  the essence of  Islam and its message align with 'Western' values, such as the equity and equality of women and the sanctity of human life. However,  when we don't focus on what is crucially needed in our communities the beauty of Islam is not translated into our actions and the reality we live in. Over the years I've learned Islam and Muslims are nuanced and diverse enough to address the concerns of many of the aforementioned movements. The broad-brush strokes with which the Muslim global community (ummah) has been painted with will only deepen and widen the crevasse that not only exists among Muslims but also between Muslims and non-Muslims. Before I continue, I'd like to clarify this is an opinion-piece I've written very quickly within an hour and I acknowledge it requires further deliberation and elaboration. But I have something to say and it's been a while since I've written a Faith Friday post.

A Woman's Worth: Challenging The Commoditisation of Women

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Women are not commodities": A subversive sticker message spotted on a Women's Day ad on Ghuznee Street, Wellington

I was walking to town when I noticed something different about a poster I had passed by before. It was an advertisement for a women's magazine called Woman's Day, a top-selling weekly tabloid publication in New Zealand. The tagline for this particular advertisement campaign "Take time for you. Nobody die." is a reference to the juggling act women often do in their daily lives. The campaign features a Zsa-Zsa Gabor-esque stereotypical middle or upper-class Eastern European housewife. I personally find the advertisement to be very tacky so I was amused to see that someone had placed a sticker on the lips of the woman posing seductively on the poster. The sticker bore the words: "Women are not commodities".

The New Medina

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ideas are seeds of tangible change. With the proliferation of communication technologies there seems to be no shortage of good ideas expressed in the echo chambers we call social media. This is why I have a special appreciation for people who work hard to ensure awesome, ground-breaking ideas translate into tangible progress in communities. 

Social educator Mark Gonzales and cultural anthropologist Soraya Hosni (and their 18-month-old daughter, Sirat) are the beautiful people behind a grassroots project called 'The New Medina' which aims to revive hope and possibility in the Tunisian seaside town of Sousse. Not to be confused with the Prophet's city, medina means 'the old walled part of a North African town'. According to them, 'The New Medina' will be a "8000 square foot center for youth, creatives and entrepreneurs to cultivate a solution driven culture".

The Signature 'Sha' Scarf Style

Friday, January 29, 2016

From friends to random ladies at the supermarket, many women have asked me to do a tutorial for this scarf style. And so here it is. I personally believe a light and wide cotton scarf is most suitable for this style because it will look more voluminous and it won't slip off easily. I don't usually use an inner or under scarf, so this is important to me! I apologise for how soft my voice sounds in this video. I should have spoken louder but I was pretty tired. Hope you find the video helpful, anyway. By the way, I recommend wearing a loose top or cardigan when wearing this scarf style because the scarf doesn't cover the chest area :) 

Dolce & Gabbana Abayas: Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Energisation?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

There is debate among Muslims whether Dolce & Gabbana's recently released collection of luxury abayas is a form of cultural appropriation ('plundering') of the Muslim culture or a means of 'energising' it. We covered the issue of cultural appropriation when I was tutoring for an introductory paper on Media Studies last year and I think the Dolce & Gabbana abaya collection would make a great discussion for this topic.

To 'plunder' or culturally appropriate artefacts from their originating culture is to "strip away local meanings and introduce these goods into an alternative regime of value dominated by commercial interests" (Jenkins et. al 270). In other words, to use someone else's culture to make monetary gain from it. To 'energise' a culture, on the other hand, is to respectfully create visibility and awareness about a culture by educating others about it. 

Dolce & Gabbana's line of abayas was without a doubt a calculated business decision. The Muslimah fashion industry generates billions of dollars let alone the luxury and high-end industry in Muslim countries. Fortune reported that Muslims spent $266 billion on clothing and footwear in 2013 and according to Sporazine the sale of personal luxury goods in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries amounted to $8.7 billion in 2015. Dolce & Gabbana would be crazy not to try and tap into the Muslim market because their goal is after all profit maximisation. Let's not forget DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger released their respective Ramadan collections in 2014 because research reveals Muslims spend more during Ramadan than any other time of the year.

Aleppo's Oldest Bookseller

Monday, December 28, 2015

I don't know much about this man except that he is a bookseller. I will probably never meet him but this elderly Syrian man gave me the hope and inspiration I needed to be resilient. I came across his photos via Mustafa Sultan's Twitter account a few days ago. 

The caption read:
أقدم بائع كتب في حلب يستمر في عملها بعد قصف منزله ومكتبته..
 #حلب #Aleppo

"Aleppo's oldest bookseller continues to work after the bombing of his house and library."

Faith Friday: Rumi on Purposeful & Meaningful Work

Friday, December 18, 2015

Two inspiring Muslims, Muhammad Ali and Peter Sanders, from two very different career fields. (source: Peter Sanders Photography)

The Amir said: “Night and day my heart and Soul are intent upon serving God, but because of my responsibilities with Mongol affairs I have no time for such service.” Rumi answered: Those works too are work done for God, since they are the means of providing peace and security for your country. You sacrifice yourself, your possessions, your time, so the hearts of a few will be lifted to peacefully obeying God’s will. So this too is a good work. God has inclined you towards such good work, and your great love for what you do is proof of God’s blessing. However, if your love of work were to weaken, this would be a sign of grace denied, for God leads only those who are worthy into those right attitudes that will earn spiritual rewards.  
Take the case of a hot bath. Its heat comes from the fuel that is burned, such as dry hay, firewood, dung and the like. In the same way, God uses what to outward appearance looks evil and nasty, yet in reality is the means to cleanliness and purity. Like the bath, the man or woman fired by the efforts of work becomes purified and a benefit to all people. - Jalaludin Rumi, 'Fihi Ma Fihi'

When I was working in the fashion world I enjoyed myself and learned a lot but I also felt that I wasn't fulfilling my purpose. That troubled me, perhaps because of my aspirations and responsibilities as a Muslim. I began asking Muslims of various professions and from numerous industries how they reconciled faith with their work. Many of them said, "I wish I was doing something more meaningful." I could relate to that a lot. At the same time, I also thought, "Hang on, we can't all be imams, sheikhs, teachers, doctors, scientists, counsellors, etc. Muslims can and should make a difference in many industries. We can't all make hijrah to an Islamic country or volunteer in a developing country. If we can, we should try to make a difference and benefit others wherever we are."

Be Unapologetically Muslim: Dealing with Islamophobia & Racism

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

(Listen to the full speech here)

"I always hear people say Islam is a religion of peace. But I always tell people what's more important to me about Islam is that it's a religion of justice. If we don't talk about and don't show that Islam is a religion of justice, it's hard for us to talk about Islam being a religion of peace." — Linda Sarsour 

There is an intense climate of fear surrounding Islam and Muslims that began on 9/11 and it has gradually increased since then. Unfortunately, often times this is due to the acts of people who claim to be committing violence in the name of God and Islam. As a Muslim, I cannot think of anything more blasphemous than to selfishly take the lives of innocent people, Muslim and non-Muslim, in the name of God. How will this create peace in our communities? As a human being, I am sickened by these heartless acts. Overall, I am disturbed by the lack of the use of intellect amongst people who apparently share my faith and those who discriminate against Muslims without considering the complexity of the politics of violence and terrorism. Professor Hamid Dabashi says in his latest Al Jazeera article 'Trump is a Symptom not the Disease', "Today, Muslims around the world face not one but two dangerous fronts: One internal, the other external."

This is why I truly appreciate Linda Sarsour's keynote speech at the 2015 UMMA Benefit Gala on upholding justice and dignity and serving others while being unapologetically Muslim. If I could add to it, I would say:

Yes, we should serve others regardless of their faith but if we, as Muslims, aren't willing to take care of our communities and uphold the rights of our brothers and sisters don't expect others to do the same for us. If you have any consciousness within you, I implore you to reflect on yourself. Being unapologetically Muslim doesn't only mean a resistance towards practicing Islam in a way that appeases non-Muslims but to also practice Islam in a way that pleases Allah and to uphold justice among non-Muslims and also Muslims, regardless of the differences in terms of our skin colour, social status, school of thought, and nuances in our practices.

Two Italians, A Muslim Girl & a Pizza Place: In Honour of Syria & San Bernardino

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Repost from my Instagram account:

"Today, the UK Parliament voted in favour of the bombing of Syria and some alleged criminals, one named Syed Farook, killed at least 14 innocent people and wounded 17 others (some reported to be Muslim) at a centre for people with disabilities in California. When I saw the name 'Syed Farook' I was even more devastated. Can't us Muslims catch a break?! Even if these criminals weren't devout Muslims just their names alone will do enough damage.

In light of these atrocities, I thought I'd share a story that reflects a glimmer of hope. A new pizza place called La Pizzetta recently opened on Willis Street and I decided to check it out yesterday. The lady behind the counter took my order and said to me in a thick Italian accent, "Ah it's very nice! The way you wear your scarf, it's very nice." I grinned and thanked her. "Where are you from?", she asked. I told her I was from Malaysia. The man who was helping her with my order, whom I later found out was her husband, went speechless and looked pleasantly surprised. In fact, both of them did. "Have you been there?", I asked curiously. "Yes! We LOVE Malaysia! We spent one month in Malaysia. We visited KL, Taiping, Penang, Pulau Redang."

We ended up chatting about Malaysia for a good 15 minutes but this is what I want to highlight because I could feel the Italian man's sincerity when he said it: "With so much news on Muslims and war it was very, very important to us that we met Muslims in Malaysia. We are Catholic but we saw that like the Christians, there are good and bad Muslims. And I think the Muslims in Malaysia are better than the people in my country. Malaysia was not just a vacation but an important experience for us."

Faith Friday: Humility: The Path to Being Truly Human

Friday, November 27, 2015

A man peacefully performing his prayer, an act of humility, at the Topkapi Palace mussolah overlooking the Marmara Sea, Istanbul.

Those who learned to be truly human found everything in being humble.
While those who looked proudly from above were pushed down the stairs.
A heart that must always feel superior will one day lose its way.
What should be within, leaks out.

The old man with the white beard never sees the state he’s in.
He needn’t waste money on making the Hajj,
if he’s broken someone’s heart.
The heart is the seat of God, where God is aware.
You won’t find happiness in either world, if you break a heart.

The deaf man doesn’t hear, 
the blind man mistakes the day for night.
Yet the universe is filled with light.
We’ve seen how those who came later move on.

Whatever you think of yourself, think the same of others.
This is the meaning of the Four Books, if they have one.

May Yunus not stray from the path,
nor get on his high horse.
May the grave and the Judgement be no concern,
if what he loves is the face of God.

 Yunus Emre (1238–1320), Turkish poet
(click here to read an alternative translation)

Birth. Life. Death. The signs point towards the reality that we are all on a journey. However, some of us are more aware of it than others. Our journey doesn't end with death but with our destination in the everlasting Hereafter. In this journey, if we do not ask for 'directions' (seek guidance) we will surely lose our way or wander aimlessly, which leads us to feel a void or emptiness within us. The desire to fill this emptiness may lead to destructive behaviour. This explains why the world is in the state it is in right now. But the path to peace is real and it begins with humility. 

What is humility? In 'The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation', Kabir Helminski describes humility as,

On Paris, Jihad and Western Privilege

Sunday, November 15, 2015

'Peace for Paris' by Jean Jullien

Dear Paris:

The crime that was committed against you yesterday was another senseless and heinous act caused by ignorance, greed and the love of power. My heart goes out to the victims and their families who are mourning the loss of innocent loved ones. I have seen what terror has done to Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Nigeria and Lebanon, and I wouldn't wish the same for anyone else in this world regardless of their nationality or faith. Anyone could have been in that crowd - French, Muslims, Americans, Malaysians, atheists, Catholics, Buddhists, agnostics. It doesn't matter. A life is still a life.

At the same time, I fear for my brown-skinned, Arab and/or Muslim brothers and sisters in the West who will bear the brunt of bigotry, discrimination and Islamophobia. However, with campaigns like #IWillRideWithYou in the aftermath of the Sydney attack this year (which was unrelated to ISIS but made by the perpetrator to seem that way due to mental illness) and tweets like the one below, I believe there are informed and rational people out there who will take a stand against bigots, racists and Islamophobes.