Critiquing Freedom and Islam in Malaysia

Monday, October 05, 2015

Today The Malay Mail Online published an article called 'For some Muslims, life in Malaysia is like living under a microscope'. As one of the people interviewed for the article I could tell from the journalist's questions that she was going to frame this issue in a manner that could make Malaysia sound like a difficult and intolerant country for some Muslims to live in. In fact, one of the reasons why I was selected as an interviewee is due to my status as a Malaysian Muslim who is living abroad. There is truth in the perception that Malaysia can be a restrictive country. I admit I often disagree with the way a number of Malaysian politicians or leaders tackle certain religious issues based on what I understand of Islam.

I also don't always agree with the news framing of some articles by The Malay Mail but I'm usually up for a challenge and I was happy to answer the questions. I saw it as a chance to share my perspective with others, including the journalist herself, who may have strong beliefs about Islam based on the very extreme and/or controversial cases involving Shariah law in Malaysia.

28: A Most Meaningful Birthday

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Birthday girl.

“Richness is not in having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of the soul.” - Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

I turned 28 on the 8th of September (الحَمْد لله). I had a very meaningful birthday because I celebrated differently this year. Let me explain. One of the perks of being a last-born is that your family often spoils you with a lot of love and attention. As a child, getting what you want all the time, especially on your birthday, feels good but as an adult, it doesn't satisfy or pacify the soul as much.

It doesn't help that there is an unnecessary amount of pressure for people to feel happy on their birthday. However, I did think about what would make me genuinely happy on my birthday. Apart from having dinner with my closest friends in Wellington, the answer that came to mind was: seeing the people I love and care about being happy. I think we need to stop teaching ourselves to be so darn narcissistic on our birthday. There's a fine line between being happy and grateful for your existence and trying to convince yourself that you're happy and grateful for your existence. Know what I'm sayin'? Yeah, you know what I'm sayin'.

So I came up with a plan.

1 Day to 28: Moment of Honesty

Monday, September 07, 2015

They ask me, "Are you looking for love?",
                        I tell them, "I am love." 
And that is the story of how I found everything I ever needed,
           Within myself. 
                                                         - shaelaiza

This blog post series was inspired by Mark Gonzales (@ideasbygonzales) of who started his 40th birthday countdown by sharing a photo blog of reflections on his Instagram account last week. I view Gonzales as a kindred spirit and my brother in faith whose work not only compels me to be myself but to be the best version of myself.

2 Days to 28: The Good in Goodbye

Sunday, September 06, 2015

I was told my late father was a temperamental man in his younger days. But this all changed when I was born. He became very subdued and patient. So much so, in my 19 years of living with him I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen him being very angry. I guess it's true, love conquers all. Thanks for teaching me that, Abah

They say it's important to look for the silver lining when a tragedy happens. Losing my Dad to a sudden death was probably the second best thing that happened to me. (The first being given the most loving and protective parents any child could ask for, of course.)

How could losing one of two most important people in my life be a good thing? 

5 Days to 28: My Happy Place

Friday, September 04, 2015

"Some cities you go to because you want to; some cities you go to because they want you to." - Elif Shafak

I got the idea for this post from the lovely Sarina. If you ask me where 'home' is I couldn't really tell you. Unless I'm up for a huge debate about the definition of 'home' and 'identity' I would usually say Malaysia. However, the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of my 'happy place' is Turkey. And then, the beach :) Honestly, just thinking about Turkey is my 'happy place' in my mind.

There is something about Istanbul and Cappadocia that really speaks to my heart and soul. It's the perfect blend of tradition and modernity, Asia and Europe, and tranquility and brokenness. I had never experienced love at first sight until I stepped foot in these cities last year. I said to myself, "This is it. There are no words just 'feels'. I'm done. My heart feels at home." It's not because I have a romanticised idea of Turkey. Not at all. I just love it despite all its downfalls. And Turkish food, oh my. No offence to any Arabs but it's ten times better than Arabic food which is one of my favourite types of cuisines.

A year later and I still feel the same way about Turkey. Just thinking about it and looking at the photos from our trip puts the biggest smile on my face. It's funny how we were actually meant to go to Spain but due to a last minute change of plans we ended up in Turkey. This experience taught me that His plans are always better than ours. I had no idea I would be this smitten. What can I say? It was simply meant to be and I couldn't be more grateful (الحَمْد لله). 

"Spiritual experiences are almost always surprises so that the slaves do not lay claim to them due to their own preparations." - Ibn Ata'illah al-Iskandari (r.a.)

Check out my Turkish holiday blog series to understand why I'm completely enamoured:
Unforgettable Turkey: Sultanahmet, Istanbul
Unforgettable Turkey: Dolmabahçe Palace and Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul
Unforgettable Turkey: Of Cave Hotels and Cave Churches, Cappadocia
Unforgettable Turkey: Dancing Dervishes and Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

This blog post series was inspired by Mark Gonzales (@ideasbygonzales) of who started his 40th birthday countdown by sharing a photo blog of reflections on his Instagram account last week. I view Gonzales as a kindred spirit and my brother in faith whose work not only compels me to be myself but to be the best version of myself.

6 Days to 28: Please Don't Call Me Beautiful

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The truth is, I don't have anything against being called beautiful because I know there is a difference between being perceived as beautiful and actually being beautiful. But what I do hope for myself, my female friends and loved ones, and for my daughter too should I ever have one, is for people to learn to humanise young girls and women. There's no denying it - there is a certain shallowness and double-standard in our society when it comes to women, beauty and growing older. I'm not one to shame women for wanting to look good and presentable because I'm into fashion and beauty trends myself but I know there is far too much focus on how women look, or rather how women should look.

7 Days to 28: Roots

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Every time I look at this picture of my parents my heart expands because this was the beginning of their journey as a married couple. Being a third-culture kid I have questioned my sense of identity many times but when I think of my parents I realise what truly matters at the end of the day are the virtues and values they have passed down to my siblings and I.

Culture can be a beautiful thing but it's always evolving and moving in current with societal trends. That's why we need to be vigilant by adopting the good and leaving the bad aspects of culture. When I was in Malaysia I found it very hard to understand the behaviour of some Malaysians and Malays. I struggled a lot with people of bad adab (etiquette) and poor akhlaq (character) in Malaysia. So much so, almost in desperation I asked a religious scholar, "I really want to learn [how to have] good akhlaq because I don't think I will learn it here and I don't want to become like the people here. Should I go to Tarim?". I suggested Tarim because that's where my paternal ancestors are from. I was taken aback by his response: "Go to Tarim for ziyarah (a visit out of veneration) and to give sadaqah (charity) because the people there are very poor. But to learn good akhlaq, stay at home. Learn from home."

8 Days to 28: Chasing Life

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

8 days until I celebrate the 28th anniversary of the day I was born. I feel good about 28. I feel I'm becoming more humane, responsible and conscientious. In ways unlike before, I'm ready to love and commit to myself, to love Him and to love others. So here goes 8 days of sharing lessons learned, anecdotes never revealed before (not in this space, at least) and artefacts or pieces that have inspired and uplifted me recently and/or over the years. 


Losing Faith, Finding God

Sunday, August 30, 2015

source: Life of My Heart

If you must know something about me it is that I often have trouble when it comes to putting my feelings into words. The fact that I have a blog, and one with many readers might I add, surprises me!  However, what I've noticed is that when I write from my heart my thoughts flow quite nicely and people tend to respond positively to them (for the most part). That has been my main purpose for writing and sharing my stories with you and it took me a while to realise this: I really want others to benefit from my existence instead of me always wanting to benefit from others. The girl you see today is far from perfect as a human being and a Muslim but she's happy and contented with everything that has happened and will happen, and most of all, she's committed to herself. (Read on to find out what I mean by this.)

#SyawalSwag: Hari Raya / Eid 2015 OOTD Shots

Monday, July 20, 2015

Syawal Day One

Yes, I know I've been MIA a lot this year. I can't really help it when I'm working and writing my thesis at the same time but here's a quick post to wish all my Muslim readers Eid Mubarak and Selamat Hari Raya Maaf Zahir dan Batin. Taqaballahu minna wa minkum

I haven't written a fashion post in a while so when asked me to do an Eid post, I thought, "Why not?". I wish I could have featured one of their stunning dresses! I especially love this one

Anyway, here are the outfits I donned for Eid celebrations this year. I think simplicity goes a long way, don't you agree?

A Letter to Farah Ann Abdul Hadi

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dear Farah Ann, 

First and foremost, let me congratulate you on winning a gold medal at the 2015 South East Asian Games. I admire you for having the determination, discipline and dedication to become a world-class gymnast. As a fellow Malaysian, I am proud of you because I know not anyone can do what you have just achieved. 

Secondly, I would like to apologise on behalf of your nay-sayers and harsh critics. While I would not encourage a woman to dress immodestly in public I would also never condone the way some people have spoken about you. Why? Because being a woman myself, I understand what it must be like to be in your position. I myself have only made the decision to don the hijab around five years ago. However, I know for a fact that just because I wear the hijab it doesn't make me a better person than you or any other woman who chooses not to wear it. The hijab may be a symbol of piety for some women but for an ordinary woman like myself who has many shortcomings, the hijab is an expression of faith and a manifestation of my desire to become closer to my Creator by trying to embody humility. It is by no means a representation of my level of piety which is only for God to judge.