Is Sexual Harassment Real?: Victim vs. Victim Mentality

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Have you ever felt disempowered or discriminated because of your gender (think 'gender pay gap') or the intersectionality of your gender, sexuality, race and faith? Do you know what it feels like to have people dismiss your concerns and be told that looking attractive is the reason people of the opposite gender sexually harass or assault you?

Welcome to the world of women and women of colour. Don't get me wrong - I love being a woman and embracing my strengths as a woman but I won't pretend it's easy even though I know some of us make it look effortless. The art of being a woman in the 21st century consists of an overwhelming amount of pressure to have it all while facing the challenges of living in a world where masculinity and whiteness are set as the standard. It took me years to understand that sexual harassment or assault is not about desirability but power, control and a sense of self-entitlement. Yes, sexual harassment is real and no, wearing the hijab doesn't prevent it. It's the gender dynamics in our societies and cultures that makes the mistreatment of women pervasive or not.

Faith Friday: Silence: A Response to Today's Chaos and Disillusionment

Friday, March 10, 2017

"Everyone needs to find a spiritual practice that nourishes our inner garden. Silence is one of the best tools we have." 

In a world where social media are traps and echo chambers, hyper-partisan opinions dominate media discourse and lies are referred to as 'alternative facts' to serve state propaganda I have come to value silence.

The challenge today is to not become cynical and to preserve our humanness. To find our voice and not become drowned by other voices as we 'make space for the other'. To be empowered and to empower each other. To listen actively and compassionately instead of doing it to compete or debate. To read between the lines and see the how brokenness is at the core of many hurt and angry individuals. To bring light where there is darkness and that always begins with taking care of our inner light first.

"All too often people impose their own experience and beliefs on acquaintances and events, making hurtful, inaccurate and dismissive snap judgements, not only about individuals but about whole cultures." — Karen Armstrong on why we should 'make space for the other', Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

There isn't only one way to be strong but it's important to avoid despair, disillusionment and participating in harmful discourse by separating yourself from the chaos when you need to. Do we live in a depressing world or is the news simply depressing? One of the reasons I'm passionate about media and communications is because I see the power of media in our lives. They can inform us, emotionally move us, persuade us to desire goods and lifestyles and also distract us from reality/truth.

How I Learned to Love Again: The Forty Rules of Love

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My friend Chloe lent me a wonderful book called The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi written by Elif Shafak. Jalaludin Rumi has increasingly become one of my go-to sources of inspiration over the last few years and this has been particularly uplifting because I have struggled with some Muslims who can be harsh and sanctimonious. Additionally, as a Muslim woman I'm often exposed to personal attacks about my faith by people who don't understand it or even know who I am. It is a challenge to balance or to have harmony in my desire to have compassion for myself and for those who are ignorant, misinformed or sometimes downright judgemental. This book has helped me to revive my love for life, my faith and myself and I am here to share how it helped me to love again. Once you have tasted the sweetness of this love it is easier for kindness and compassion for oneself and others to ensue.

In The Forty Rules of Love, we are introduced to two narratives that have been juxtaposed to concurrently unfold into one enlightening and thought-provoking book in which forty inspiring rules of love are embedded for the reader to look forward to with the turn of every page. One story is about Ella, a Martha Stewart-like middle-aged Jewish woman who finds herself in a lifeless and loveless marriage and yearned to find her identity again in 2008 through a newly acquired job as a book script editor.

The more substantial story within the book is one about the life of Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi, a prominent 13th Century Islamic jurist and theologian who resided in Konya, Anatolia which is now known as Turkey and how he met his companion and soulmate, Shams Tabrizi, a travelling dervish, poet and philosopher from Tabriz in modern-day Iran. The Forty Rules of Love also uncovers how Ella comes across a man who caught her interest and made her wonder if he was her soulmate or not. Despite being two different stories set centuries apart they intertwine beautifully to show us that opposites have a way of revealing things that we may not have been able to see when they stand on their own.

7 Ways to Survive 2017

Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Year affirmation by Hana @frizzkidart

Happy New Year! Congratulations on making it to 2017. The past twelve months have not been easy - I feel you. But hey, we made it this far for a reason and I know we'll go even further if we invest our energy towards love, positivity and productivity. Forget about surviving 2017, let's thrive in 2017. I have a few ideas on how we can do this.

1. Bloom where you are planted and stop believing you're not powerful enough.
One of my favourite quotes by Steve Jobs is this one: "The people who crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." When I look at the lives and personalities of successful individuals such as Jobs they all seem to have one thing in common: they are or were 'ordinary' people with extraordinary belief(s), drive and intentions.

Your mind is not only your greatest ally or enemy but it is also a 'training ground'. You must train it to be resilient by nourishing it with thoughts that foster confidence and a sense of purpose (e.g. "I am a unique gift to this world and I delight in sharing this gift."). Everyone has strengths to harness and weaknesses to work on. You have to believe that growth and learning is possible and part of life. We all have something beneficial to contribute in any situation or organisation.

Your unique gift, talents or skills + the power of the ripple effect = proof one person can make a difference

Pro-tip: Reading positive affirmations everyday is a great way to train your mind to be, well, more positive (sorry to be Captain Obvious here). I like these affirmations by Sarah Petruno but you can always personalise them to suit your needs. Gold Womyn makes really pretty ones too.

A Little Slice of Paradise in Krabi, Thailand

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On my 29th birthday this year, I was more than ready to not only celebrate but to restore balance in my life and create peace of mind after completing my Master's thesis. One of the insights I had gained during the stressful period of my postgraduate studies is to never neglect yourself and important relationships because you're busy, which is what I had done. Even when I had the time to relax or connect with others I wasn't able to be fully present in my mind because I was constantly worrying about work. Thankfully, as Maya Angelou once said, "When you know better you do better."

It took me a good four months to feel a sense a normalcy and lightness in my being once again. Personally, it was a persistent act of turning towards God whenever I felt I couldn't handle the weight of the world. Recovery, especially one involving the mind,  is not a passive process but one that requires conscious living, being kind to oneself, accepting change and being okay with non-linear progress.

In order to treat myself to a much-needed holiday, I hopped on a plane with my loved ones on 8th of September 2016. We chose Krabi, Thailand as our destination as we had not been there before and we had an incredible couple of days. I'd like to say the food was the best part of the trip because Thai cuisine is one of the best in the world in my opinion, but the scenic adventure and activities were the things that made our trip memorable. My happy place is a beautiful beach or island so being in Krabi and going island hopping there felt like I had tasted a little slice of Paradise. And one thing I really admired about Thailand is the refinement of its culture, which was reflected in our interactions with the locals who treated us with so much respect.

The proof is in the pudding, people! So here are some photos from the trip.

A Sky Full of Stars: Chris Martin & Sufism

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Turn your magic on,
Umi she'd say
Everything you want's a dream away
Under this pressure under this weight
We are diamonds taking shape. — 'Adventure of a Lifetime', Coldplay

I like intense and philosophical conversations, which is why I find myself drawn to two types of people: those who have the ability to move me with their intelligence, sincerity and honesty (to complement my intensity) and those with a wonderful sense of humour (to relieve me from my intensity). I am fortunate enough to say my friends consist of people with such traits. Anisah is one of them. I don't remember what we were talking about specifically but at one point she turned to me as she was driving and said, "You should listen to Chris Martin's interviews. Did you know he reads Rumi and fasts once a week?". (In Islam, it's a sunnah or Prophetic tradition to fast every Monday. By the way, noticed that he referenced Mos Def's song 'Umi Says'/'Mother Says' in 'Adventure of a Lifetime'?)

I don't think we should celebrate a non-Muslim's, white person's or Westerner's appreciation of Islam any more than we should of anyone else's but out of curiosity I watched a few interviews featuring Chris Martin and read a number of recent articles about him to find out what his deal was. I realised not only is he very creative but he is spiritual too. It's evident how Islamic or Sufi elements have influenced his song writing for Coldplay's latest albums, 'A Head Full of Dreams' and 'Ghost Stories'. In an LA Times  article, he admits to seeking 'teachers', including a Sufi teacher, to help him deal with his troubles and says 'he found solace in Rumi's words about accepting everything as a blessing'. He claims Rumi's poem, 'The Guest House', completely changed his life. In another interview he references 'The Conference of the Birds', a 12th century Persian and Sufi poem written by Fariuddin Attar.

Seek & You Shall Find: How I Found My Element & My Tribe

Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Connecting with people who share the same passions affirms that you're not alone; that there are others like you and that, while many might not understand your passion, some do... Finding your tribe brings the luxury of talking shop, bouncing ideas around, of sharing and comparing techniques, and indulging your enthusiasms and hostilities for the same things." - Ken Robinson

Ever since I was young I was a little different from my classmates and those my age, in general. Being the youngest in my family and having siblings who are more than ten years older than me might have something to do with it. On the outside I dressed and talked like my peers and we even shared the same interests but my values were slightly different. While girls my age were into designer bags and clothes I was more interested in the creativity that went into making them. I was curious about why certain types of beauty were featured in fashion and lifestyle magazines and others weren't. When I was 15-years-old I wrote a long email to Eh! magazine and asked them why they only featured women with straight hair as the ideal representation of Malaysian beauty. I didn't know anyone else in my social circle who would do such a thing that's why I was so happy to see these girls on television a few months ago. I hope other young girls will look at them and know it's okay to be smart, inquisitive and different.

Varsity life was a lot more exciting for me because my friends were more diverse in terms of age, religion, background and ethnicity. Today, the university environment is probably still one of the few places I feel I can be myself but have my intellectual abilities challenged at the same time. Perhaps that's why I felt a strong urge to return to school and pursue my Master's degree. But another reason was because I was in search of my 'tribe'.

Why You Should Drop Everything, Move to a Different City and Start a New Life

Thursday, July 28, 2016

 "Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death." - Betty Bender

If you were intrigued by the title of this post it's because it appealed to a desire within you to change or get away from a particular situation in your life, be it a job or career path, the place you live, a relationship or lack thereof. Like you, I wanted change and I had always intended to pursue my Master's degree. Hence, off I went to Wellington, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with two large suitcases, to live by myself for the first time. This post isn't really about why I think you should quit your job or leave your partner and pack your bags to start a new life. It's about why facing your fears, going into the unknown and taking risks isn't only necessary but also inevitable if you want  a meaningful and fulfilling life. It's not that you shouldn't be grateful for what you already have. In fact, having more is rarely the solution. What I'm saying is, I understand the desire to do and be better.

Fearless. Confident. High-spirited. These words are often associated with extroverts like me. There's truth in it but we also have moments of self-doubt and we face a set of challenges unbeknownst to people around us. In the midst of writing my thesis I often thought to myself, "What did I get myself into? Can I really do this? I've invested so much time and money. Maybe I should have just stayed in KL." But being a big believer in not waiting for things to happen to me and trying my best to embrace challenges instead of running away from them is why I can say I have few regrets in life, if any at all (not because I don't make mistakes but I don't like to dwell on them).

My willingness to take risks is why I can reflect on the last 20 months of my life in Wellington and my postgraduate journey and take heed from the important lessons I've learned about myself and others. It's also the reason I can say I've discussed the Israeli government's rhetoric with prominent Palestinian activist Ali AbuNimah, rubbed shoulders with Oddisee (literally) and had Sonny Bill Williams take a selfie with my phone ;) In all seriousness, without risks, challenges and mistakes we might not get hurt, have regrets or endure hardships but we would also never grow as individuals as we would be missing out on life-changing and rewarding experiences and relationships. Maybe instead of thinking of what you want to do as something that is risky, why not perceive it as an opportunity of a lifetime?

Not convinced? Totally understandable! This is why I've compiled a list of things I hope you'll consider before making a bold decision.

Faith Friday: The Grateful Slave

Friday, June 17, 2016

When I moved to Wellington in late 2014, one of the first places my friends Chloe and Ali took me to was a second-hand bookstore called 'Pegasus' on Cuba Street. Time has passed and now, Chloe and Ali are in Jordan where they are both studying Arabic and Chloe is running her Etsy store selling Islamic art-inspired digital art prints, colouring pages, and craft projects.

The cutest couple I know, Ali and Chloe (تبارک اللہ)

Anyway, when I was with them at the bookstore I purchased a book called 'The Conference of the Birds' by Farid ud-Din Attar (translated by C.S. Nott) which was neatly tucked away in the Sufi section. The book contains many gems of wisdom that I refer to from time to time when I'm not caught up with my research. As we are in the middle of the blessed month of Ramadan and today is Friday, a most noble day, I'd like to share one of the stories within the book that taught me a lesson about gratitude.

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".