Are You Really Religious or Do You Just Look The Part?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

SubhanAllah... God really works in mysterious ways. I just found this video of Moez Masoud's programme, Stairway to Paradise, and it explained everything I wanted to say in my recent post about my epiphany and reaching out to fellow Muslims the right way. Moez said that a lot of people are too focused on the outward results and actions that they forget the spiritual growth that requires these results to take place. He expressed that he was turned off by religion and Islam in the past because of such people. He was inspired to learn more about Islam after he met a person who embodied the faith. This person was a blind 19 year old who didn't complain about being blind and was a humble follower of Islam.

That's it, that's exactly it. Islamic beliefs and teachings come to life when people start practicing it the way it is meant to be practiced - peacefully and genuinely. Da'wah isn't just the spoken words that are used to preach others but also who you are as a person and how you incorporate Islam in your life.

Why can't we approach people and advise them out of genuine love instead of in a patronising manner? How does it make you feel when someone speaks to you condescendingly? It certainly doesn't make you believe in them or what they have to say, that's for sure.

I'll tell you a little story about one of my experiences wearing hijab when I was 16. It was my first year living in New Zealand and I was still getting to know people and I was also slowly settling down in a new city. My sister was a voluntary teacher for Sunday Islamic classes for children at the time and she told me about a class for teenage Muslim girls that were also held on Sundays at the mosque. So I decided to go because I was curious and I wanted to get to know the Muslim girls better. The class was held in the mosque library at the back of the mosque and there were 2 Muslim sisters in their mid-20's teaching the class. At first the class went well and I was enjoying learning about the interpretation of the Qur'an by the 1st teacher, Sister M.

Then the 2nd teacher, Sister J, came in. She wore one of those huge hijabs that go right down to the waist. She saw me and suddenly shouted, "You!". I looked around and it was obvious that she was looking at me so I said, "Yes??". She replied in front of the entire class, "You're not wearing proper hijab! Go inside the prayer area and get a prayer outfit then only come back in here." I was stunned and speechless. Then after a few seconds I got up, left the room and looked for my sister who was also teaching in a different room at the time. She was surprised to see me and especially so after I started bawling my eyes out. I told her what had happened and how I felt so humiliated. I told her I just wanted to take my scarf off and leave. It was then that Sister M came to me and apologised for what happened earlier. She told me Sister J shouldn't have approached me like that and coaxed me to come back to the class but my heart was already set on leaving so that's what I did. I didn't attend a single Islamic class at the mosque after that. By the way, I donned the hijab like this on that day.

I attended Islamic talks and lectures at the mosque after that but I refused to be around Sister J, who by the way, ironically enough no longer wears hijab today. I didn't think much of her as person and as a religious person, honestly. She was rude and very patronising. Thank God I went on to study the Qur'an and Islam on my own after the incident because otherwise Islam wouldn't play a big role in my life  today. Yes there are negative associations with being religious in the post-modern world. Some we have no control over such as  media manipulation but most of the time, these negative associations are caused by Muslims. Moez Masoud's message is simple: purify your intentions. Do you really have concern for your Muslim sisters and/or brothers or are you simply projecting a 'holier than thou' attitude'?

P.S. I didn't mean to go on and on about this issue but it's something I feel strongly about so I just had to write about it again.

The Joy of Weddings

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
- Rita Rudner
There are two occasions that get me really, really excited: weddings and the birth of a baby. I'm even considering to become a wedding planner someday (yes I added that to my list of 50 ambitions, so much to do so little time, sigh). I have a knack for organising events and I enjoy every step of it - guest list, invitation cards, food and beverage, entertainment and decoration, etc. It's a lot of work but always a thrill especially when you see everyone enjoying themselves and loving the work that you've done.

I attended a family friend's wedding last week. Naturally, we were late so we missed the best part of the reception. But anyway here's a breakdown of what a Malay wedding reception usually entails:
1. Large guest list, and I'm talking three to four digits. If you don't invite the entire community and all your relatives, God forbid, someone is going to get offended *drama* It's meant to be a happy family affair!
2. Delicious nasi minyak (flavoured ghee rice) must be served or else it's not a 'real' Malay wedding. If you attend 2 weddings in a day be prepared to eat the same food and gain a pound or two. What can I say, Malaysian food is good food.
3. Men and women sit in the same hall. Dancing usually takes place after most of the guests have left and only when family members remain. Malay weddings are the opposite of Middle Eastern ones where men and women are segregated. If you haven't attended an Arab/ African/ Afghan/ Persian wedding, you my friend, do not know the meaning of partying like a rockstar.... the halal way.
4. The bride and groom will sit on a throne-like bridal couch or chairs (a pelamin) because as newlyweds they're considered as 'King and Queen' for the day. Which is pretty cool, I reckon. Who can say no to being treated like royalty for one day? Unless you're an actual royalty of course.
5. A slideshow consisting of embarassing baby photos and life achievements of the bride and groom will be played. There's no escaping this. This is torture for the newlyweds and sometimes even the guests too.
6. Everyone is dressed to impress even the little ones.
7. Relatives asking when is your turn to get married. Someone once asked me this when I was 17 and I thought, "What on Earth is she talking about?! I'm freakin' 17!"

My brother got married last year and we had one and half months to prepare for it. It was the craziest time of our lives because we had 2 receptions - 1 in my sister in law's hometown and 1 in ours. Alhamdulillah, it all fell into place and the reception was beautiful (refer to the picture on the right for proof that 1 and half months is actually do-able for a wedding preparation!) Needless to say, my family and I crashed for 2 days after that. I remember waking up the day after our side of the reception and didn't know where I was because my surroundings looked different. Turns out I had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room! haha. That reminds me, I'd like to make a quick shout out to the ever so lovely, Hispanic Muslimah, who is currently engaged and busy planning for her upcoming wedding. I wish her all the best in the planning and inshaAllah, it will be a blessed and blissful wedding, everything she has dreamed of and more!

Anyway, I knew I was going to wear a white modern version of a traditional Malay dress with some purple details for last week's wedding but I had no ideas for my make up so I decided to follow one of MakeUpAdikt's tutorials (I just adore her and her British accent). However, I used darker shades of purple because I wanted the colour to stand out a bit more and wore less eyeliner as I wanted the make up to be more subtle for a daytime event. I was really happy with the outcome! MakeUpAdikt a.k.a. Asma is a British Muslim architect who is naturally talented with make up. Not only does she make it seem so easy to look good but it actually IS easy! As long as you choose the right colours and style that will suit your skin tone and personality you can't go wrong with her tutorials. If I can do it, you can too.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

I was browsing The Hijablog a couple of days ago and I stumbled upon a post that was written about Raquel Evita Saraswati and her hijab styles. I loved her colourful scarves and I thought she looked great as a hijabi. I was happy for her until I saw some of  the comments.

"First of all. Thats not hijab.
If any of you have seen “Ask Baba Ali”’s videos, you’ll know what a hijab is. You’re not supposed to make it attractive, wear earings and 10 kg of make up. What is the point of hijab? You make yourself even more attractive. Thats Haram. The point of wearing Hijab is to cover your hair so that you become less attractive, ie get less attention. But I think you guys haven’t got the point of it?
A hadith says “If you want to know how much haram you keep doing, start counting the people that look at you” meaning for every person that looks at you, you get haram for it because if you were covering yourself properly, not 10 kg of make-up and not make urself attractive you wouldn’t get peoples attention. :) Fashion is fun, and its very much fun to match and kind of be a part of the fashin world, but to a certain degree.
I myself wear necklases, bracelets, rings mix and match my hijab, but I dont wear as much make-up because it is haram. Even a little is haram, but I wear little so it looks very natural. Remember that you alone will be lying in your grave, and all of this will be a part of your judgement."

Well if we get looks with bare faces, then you know it’s your own natural beauty that attracted them and you can’t do anything about that. But when you wear make up that makes you even more beautiful and in an even more attractive way, there will be more people staring at you and most of them in a non-decent way.
Yes sister, Allah swt is merciful and he knows our intentions. And even though your intentions are clean, that doesn’t mean people’s intentions are clean, the more attractive we are, the more dirty looks we will get. And we can at least prevent a little of that, by not looking sooo attractive in public.

My GOD! So who's doing the judging, these ladies or the Almighty? First of all, men will look at anything that moves that's why some women cover their faces and even their eyes. Being modest and covering oneself must come from the heart for it to mean anything. Secondly, Raquel already mentioned that it wasn't her intention to attract dirty looks and even if she did, she probably wasn't aware of it but that's no excuse to start attacking her with judgemental comments. If you really cared about her being sinful perhaps send her a private e-mail or message instead of humiliating her so publicly.

You see in her mind she wasn't wearing make-up or colourful scarves to create attention to herself but others have perceived it that way. Why assume the worst of a woman who's already covered from head to toe? Give her the benefit of the doubt and approach her kindly if you feel she is making a mistake. A really dear friend of mine stopped wearing the hijab because something similar happened to her. She is a revert and instead of providing her with emotional support some of her Muslim friends started to correct her each and every move. She felt like everything she did was wrong and not good enough so she saw no point in wearing it anymore. Nobody likes to feel inferior or unaccepted but I think that's how their comments made her feel.

When I was working a few years ago, I once asked a colleague about what the rest of my officemates thought of me. Maybe he gave me a very male-biased answer but he said, "They think you're sexy." His response surprised me because I've never thought of myself that way and it was never my intention to look sexy especially in the office. As a very  young woman who was working with a bunch of older people I always wanted to be taken seriously thus I never tried to look sexually appealing. I just dressed in a way which I thought was considered as looking nice. The media had a bigger impact on my image than my family did. I'd watch TV and thought, "Oh so that's how we should dress to look good." Because whatever is on the media is in other words socially acceptable.

Today, I'm speaking from my heart as I always do. Lately, I'm not quite sure what has happened to me. After my return from Singapore I guess I had an epiphany. I never really understood what it meant to be modest when it comes to my body. When I'm getting ready to go out the intention of creating attention has never been there but when I wore some of the dresses I brought with me to Singapore I didn't feel comfortable. For some reason, I don't feel comfortable showing my arms and legs in public as I did before. It has nothing to do with my self-esteem. I just felt so naked. I also felt that it's unnecessary to expose my body. Sure enough, I can wear anything I want at home when I'm with my family but I just don't want to do it outside. I find it so mind-boggling myself because my friends know me as the 'sexy one' but today I just feel conscious about exposing myself to the public eye. Now I'm careful with what I wear when I go out.

I guess I used to dress up to the nines when I go out because I wanted to look beautiful. However, at the moment I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel beautiful on the inside thus I no longer feel the need to dress a certain way to look or feel beautiful. I've always tried to do what I feel is the right thing.... be the bigger person and forgive others, give people a second chance, etc. Right now this feels so right and if this is indeed a step closer to Allah, I must thank all those who didn't judge me. My Muslim friends in New Zealand have never told me to change who I am (well if I drank alcohol and dated boys I'm sure they would've said something) and they befriended and accepted me without passing judgements. That's possibly why I loved Islam even more after moving to New Zealand. And to those whom I've had the pleasure of getting to know through blogging, thank you so much for reading my my blog. You've indirectly offered me the support I've always been looking for by commenting and sharing your views with me. I appreciate your kindness, I really do.

As Muslims we should be sincere with the friendships that we form. When my revert friend told me how miserable she felt when some people gave her a hard time I couldn't help but feel bad as a Muslim. Reverts need guidance not harsh criticisms from the fashion police. And most of the time, all they really need is a sincere friend. I wish I had reached out to her sooner so that maybe I could have eased her pain a little bit. Alhamdulillah she is a strong person and I've promised myself to be there for her as much as I can. After she said her shahadah we had our first real conversation together and we clicked right from the get go. MashaAllah she's one of the sweetest and intelligent girls I know. She deserves all the love and support in the world, as do other Muslim girls out there, and that's exactly what I'm going to give her.
My sister and I were having a conversation about one of my recent doctor's appointment. I noticed that during my last consultation her nurses kept coming in and out of the room. I didn't want to say anything as I know there is a different set of work ethics in every country. Even though I was just consulting her about a cough I felt a bit uneasy that her staff were sometimes present in the room. I guess I'm just used to the Confidentiality Act  / Health Information Privacy Code which is practiced by New Zealand doctors. When my sister and I thought about it there isn't even a Malay word for privacy.

Me: What about 'sulit'(private)?
Sis: How do I say I am a private person in Malay? Saya seorang yang sulit?
*my sister and I broke into laughter because that translates to 'I'm a difficult person'*
Me: Okay, what about 'bersendirian' (alone, sole)? Saya suka bersendiri? I like to be alone. No, that isn't even close to saying I'm a private person. And a 'private room' is usually known as bilik khas which literally means special (designated) room.
Sis: See, there's no word for it!

Maybe we just have a terrible command of the Malay language but if there really isn't a word for privacy in Malay then what does that say about our culture? Is privacy an issue in other cultures too?

Singapore Getaway

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Salam! I'm back in Kuala Lumpur now. I spent 4 days in Singapore with my best friends and it was awesome! We planned this trip a month ago and I didn't think it would fall through but it did and we had an AMAZING time. Some weren't able to make it, it just wasn't the same without them but we had to make the most of our trip because once we get back to our respective countries and usual routine of university life there's just no way we'd have this much fun. I'm speaking for myself specifically because I hardly get out of town when I'm back in NZ.

For those who don't know, Singapore is located towards the south of Malaysia. It used to be part of Malaysia until it obtained independence in 1965. Singapore is literally an island but don't let its size fool you. At 693 square kilometres - slightly bigger than Lake Taupo, New Zealand - its economy is thriving. In fact its doing much better than Malaysia's. Singapore is extremely popular for being a modern and Western-oriented South East Asian country. It's hip and happening for the young travellers while still being culturally fascinating. Singaporeans and Malaysians do have good relations but we often crack jokes about which country is better than the other. All in good fun, of course.

We stayed with one of our best friends while we were there. She was the perfect host while juggling work and her tourist friends (thank you!). We visited Central Singapore, the Night Safari and Sentosa Island. We arrived home the day before yesterday and Universal Studios opened yesterday at Sentosa Island so we missed it! I took like a gazillion photos as usual but I won't upload as many photos as I did for my Saudi Arabia trip. Did you know that it took me literally half a day to write that post and upload the pictures for it? I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I had to make sure everything was just right.

My favourite part of the trip? The Night Safari. The trail walks were so much fun because it was pretty dark and we had to search for the animals and keep a real close eye on what was going on. My friends and I kept cracking up jokes and we just had a blast spending quality time with each other. Plus there's something about being in the tropical jungle that made me feel very grounded and peaceful. Sentosa Island was fun too but we didn't really cover all the rides as we didn't have enough time. It's HUGE I tell ya.We went to the Underwater World, Dolphins and Fur Seals Show, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom and the 4D Movie Experience.


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My friends, Marissa and Adam, also went on the G-MAX Reverse Bungee ride just across Clarke Quay. If you guys are wondering what that is... wonder no more because here's the video I recorded of them! I didn't go on it because #1 I was wearing a dress and #2 My mum didn't sound too excited about me going on it so me being the good daughter that I am (ahem!) I decided not to. Honestly, the dress was the main deciding factor haha!

Yes, I had a lot of fun during this trip but it also made me realise that I have 2 clear choices as to how I want to lead my life. I can have all the "fun" in the world but if its not meaningful to me my life would feel empty and "fun" wouldn't be as exciting anymore. This trip made me realise how much I've changed on the inside within the past few years. Slowly I'm discovering the person I'm meant to be. I have new comfort zones now and it's amazing for me to find that some of the things I was comfortable with in the past no longer hold true. For example, I'm less comfortable travelling without a mahram. I don't mind flying and travelling alone when its needed but if I had a choice I wouldn't anymore unless I was travelling with a group of girls. I feel more vulnerable now and I can see that the world is not as safe as it used to be. Oh my momma's going be so proud that her little girl is growing up.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm in Singapore for a couple of days! See you when I get back ;)

Realism is the Key to Peace

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Today I came across a book which I read last year. It's called 'Simple Wisdom: A Daybook of Spiritual Living' by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. I've seen this book lying around in my room for the past few months I've been back in Malaysia but it was only today the I felt the urge to pick it up. When I opened the book, it immediately opened to a chapter entitled Realism is the Key to Peace.

I think it complements my last post about the conflict between the Muslims and Christians who have started using the name 'Allah'. Recent news reports claim that the youngsters who were responsible for the church burnings and vandalisms were just being 'naughty and decided to take advantage of the whole situation'. I don't know about you but I think it takes a whole lot more than notorious behaviour to deface houses of worship. In fact I think it's devious and down right evil. I hate that they've just broadbrushed it as the acts of a few naughty youths, surely the cause of their actions is deeper than that.

My last few posts have been very intense lately and I swear I'm not like this as a person! I'm just dying to blog about something bright and cheery soon but for now, I want to share this chapter by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. I think the points he is trying to make are something we can apply to a lot of situations, especially those that involve religious and cultural conflict in multicultural countries.

Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions. Surah An-Nahl, Verse 97


Peace is a must for the survival of our civilisation. Peace is a must for all kinds of constructive work. As such, it is the greatest concern to everyone. Everyone wants a peaceful society, a peaceful world. Yet, for the greater part of humanity, peace remains a distant dream. Why so? Why this sad state of affairs? Why this contradiction between ideal and practice? It is high time to go deeper into the matter. It is the duty of all sincere people to inquire into the real cause of this contradiction so that a viable peace formula may be evolved.

I have made an in-depth study of this problem from the historical as well as Islamic viewpoints. I should like to make a brief presentation of my findings. According to my study, basically, theer are two viewpoints in this matter: the concept of peace as defined by social scientists and the concept of peace as defined by the ideologists. The scientist's concept of peace is based on realities while the idealists' concept of peace is based on utopianism. In other words, on mere wishful thinking.

It is mainly the ideologists' concept of peace which has created the present crisis of peace throughout the world. The scientists' formula for peace is the only practicable one, for the idealists' formula is merely a formulation of people's own wishes.

Academicians define peace as an absence of war. But the idealists differ with this notion saying that the mere absence of war is nothing. They hold that peace and justice should go hand in hand. To them the only acceptable formula is that which restores justice in its ideal sense. But the building of such a utopian world is simply impossible.

This concept of peace is seemingly beautiful. Because of this apparent beauty, it has gained general popularity. The masses everywhere are obsessed with the idealistic concept of peace. But one has to differentiate between what is possible and what is impossible. There is no other alternative. One has to be practical rather than idealistic if one wants to achieve a positive result. The object of peace is only to normalise the situation between two warring sides.

Peace is not aimed at satisfying the concerned parties in terms of rights and justice. Rights and justice are totally different issues. Linking them with peace is unnatural as well as impratical. These are goals to be worked for separately and independently. Furthermore, in this world of competition, no one can receive peace and justice in terms of his own personal criteria. It is situations and circumstances which will dictate to what extent we can achieve these goals.

In fact, in this world of competition, it is not possible for anyone to receive perfect justice. So one has to be content with practical justice (pragmatic solutions). During my studies, I found that those people who seek peace with justice fail to achieve anything positive. Moreover, during this futile exercise they lose what they already had in their hand. Conversely, those who delink justice from peace are always successful in life. After making this study I have come to the conclusion that the scientific concept of peace is the only correct and practicable concept. Thus peace is not meant to establish justice (note: I think what he means by this is 'justice' is almost impossible to achieve because just like the concept of peace, the concept of justice varies according to different people and it's very hard to please everyone). The purpose of peace is only to normalise the situation so that one may uninterruptedly avail of the opportunities present at the time.

To illustrate my point, I cite here two examples from history, one from the early period of Islam and one from the modern history of Japan. It is a well-known fact that the Prophet of  Islam p.b.u.h. was repeatedly challenged by his opponents in ancient Arabia. There were several instances of wars and violence. Then the Prophet managed to finalise a peace treaty between the Muslims and their opponents. It was known as Al-Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty in Islamic history. Now how was this peace treaty finalised? If you examine historical records, you will find that, in terms of justice being done, several problems arose. The treaty could be concluded because the Prophet p.b.u.h. was able to delink the question of justice from the question of peace. This delinking of the two issues gave him the success which is described in the Qur'an as a clear victory (48:1).

Now, why does the Qur'an describe this as a victory, when in fact, it was the acceptance of all the conditions imposed by his enemies. The Qur'an called this a victory because, although the peace treaty itself was devoid of justice, it instantly normalised the situation, thus enabling the Prophet p.b.u.h. to avail of the opportunities present at the time. What the Prophet p.b.u.h. lost in Hudaybiyah, he gained on a far larger scale throughout the whole of Arabia.

Now let us look at the example of Japan. In World War II, Japan was defeated by the USA. Okinawa Island was occupied by the American army after the conclusion of a peace treaty, its terms were dictated by America. Japan, willingly or unwillingly, accepted a treaty in which justice was delinked from peace. But what was the result? Within a period of forty years the entire scenario had changed. Japan did lose the Okinawa Island, but it gained the entire USA (North American continent) as its industrial market. And now it enjoys the status of a world economic power.

Why is it that reason and religion both advocate the acceptance of reality or unilateral adjustment in times of conflict? It is because in every adverse situation a status quo exists between the two sides. If any party opts for a change in the status quo the result will be a breakdown. Instead, by accepting the status quo it will find room for advancement towards its goal. (note: I couldn't help but think about Palestine as I read this. What is the status quo on the Palestine issue? Not many countries, or their leaders shall I say, openly oppose the government of Israel. So does that mean the status quo is being indifferent and that should be accepted?)

The Qur'an says that of all courses reconciliation is the best (4:128). That is, in matters of controversy, the best policy is peaceful settlement rather than confrontation. This is because settlement gives one scope to make progress, whereas confrontation arrests the onward journey to success.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that peace is a must not only for our advancement but for our survival. But peace can only be attained only by accepting two simple precepts. Make all efforts to change what we can, and learn to live with the things which we cannot change. In matters which we change we should be dedicated activists. In matters which we cannot change we should become status quoists. Otherwise, peace for us will forever remain a distant dream.

Be Thankful Malaysians

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ola everyone, sorry for not blogging for the past few days. I've been feeling under the weather lately  and I've been busy out and about. On top of that, recent happenings in Malaysia have dampened my mood. It all began when a group of Catholics in Malaysia began to claim the use of the name "Allah" to refer to God.  They even appealed in court to make it legal for them to do so. This caused an uproar by the Muslims in Malaysia as they feared the usage of "Allah" by Christians would confuse a lot of people, mainly the impressionable Muslim youth, as publications of the Christian Bible and other Christians books have been translated into the Malay language.

I know Arab Christians have referred to God as Allah because let's face it, Al-Ilah a.k.a. Allah literally means The God. And now a group of Christians want to use it here as well but the problem is... it's not our culture.  The Arabs use it because they speak Arabic but it's not necessary for Christians in Malaysia to start calling God as Allah. Why adopt something that's just going to make things complicated in our country? When you live in a multicultural society where different religions are practiced, matters like this tend to become a very touchy issue.

As a result of the tug of war between the Christians and Muslims, some Muslims have resulted to violence and vandalism. A church was burnt and 6 others were vandalised. Thankfully no one was physically hurt. However, this is what happens when people don't want to set their egos aside and just discuss the issue. People can say that they're intellectually incapable or they're just emotional but at the end of the day a lot of innocent people have to pay the price for the actions of a bunch of irresponsible, narrow-minded so-called Muslims. Now, the Christians and other non-Muslims are in fear and many Muslims are very shocked and ashamed by the behaviour of the aforementioned Muslims.

I don't know who they are but they certainly had an agenda and I strongly detest the means they have used in trying to achieve it. Violence is not the answer. Politics certainly plays an important role in any country and there has been political instability in Malaysia for the past few years. This country is in the midst of a campaign called '1 Malaysia' in effort to celebrate and encourage affinity between the various existing ethnicities and cultures. When something like this happens clearly somebody out there is trying to stir up trouble. Bravo! They've done exactly that because people's reactions have been full of negativity and hopelessness. Statements like "How can 1 Malaysia exist now?", "I can't wait to leave this country" and "I'm ashamed to be Malay" don't help and this is certainly not the time to be throwing racist remarks. If you're not part of the solution you're just part of the problem. People lose faith so easily and I can't help but wonder why because truthfully I think '1 Malaysia' has always existed.... way before the ideology and campaign even began. It's just another PR and marketing strategy.

We're not going downhill. We just need a boost after all this mess. It's not impossible because I know there are Malaysians out there who love their country and their fellow citizens. Dear Malaysians, all I want to say is... have faith in others and most of all, in yourself. You can be the change that you want to see in others (Gandhi, he was pretty wise wasn't he?). Learn from the mistakes of others instead of falling right into the trap of becoming just like them. The past leaders of this country didn't sacrifice and struggle to end almost 500 years of colonialism for nothing. They didn't defend our rights only for us to take them forgranted later on.  History has proven that they have achieved independence and social and economic progress for you, not just for the Malays but for everyone who wants to be a part of Malaysia no matter what race, ethnicity or country you belong to.

We are lucky to be Malaysians and to live in a country that has been blessed with peace, considerable wealth and harmony. If you compare Malaysia's situation to other countries that are facing wars and heart-wrenching social problems you will start to appreciate what we have here. We've enjoyed too much for far too long that when things get a little tough we lose hope and start losing our positivity. Amidst all the craziness it's really important to reunite, move forward, find something positive in each other and pay it forward. Grab this opportunity to start something good. Fear only breeds more fear... is that what we want to teach our children?

[Photo by Jay Presaldo]

Reflections in Makkah & Saudi Arabia {Part II: A Woman in Saudi}

Friday, January 08, 2010

Being a Muslim who's lived in both the East and West I know that different cultures exist, not only within societies but also in the way Islam is practiced. In a South East Asian Muslim country like Malaysia, we do have the Shariah law which only applies to Muslims but there is a lot of leniency in the way our government allows Muslims to practice their religion. I'm not even sure if leniency is the most appropriate word for it. Maybe it's more accurate if I say that there are less restrictions and regulations, especially for women.

I don't know if it's due to the fact that I've enjoyed my freedom as a Muslim woman or because I didn't spend adequate time to know what it truly feels like to live in Saudi Arabia but as a woman I felt really close to being a second class citizen while I was there. And I was born and raised Muslim in a Muslim country! I can't imagine how amplified that feeling must be for an American woman, for example, to live in Saudi Arabia.

I was Googling photos of Jeddah a few days ago and I came across Susie's blog. So let me tell you a little bit about Susie. Her husband is a Saudi who fell in love with her in the United States and they lived there for 30 years before he decided to uproot his family to Saudi in 2007. She now lives in Jeddah with her husband and their 16 year old teenage son. There are many women like Susie in Saudi, Western women who fell in love with a Saudi man, got married and followed their husbands back to their husband's homeland. Suddenly they are faced with the reality of living in a country that is of the extreme opposite of what they are used to all their life. While I do see some of the wisdom behind the prohibitions they have placed on women (e.g. covering up, wearing hijab, less intermingling between men and women), Muslim or non-Muslim, I can't help but feel that many of it is just the plain manipulation of Islam by men.

While Islam calls for the protection of women and encourages them to travel with a mahram (male guardian, preferably a family member) for their own safety, there's no where in the Holy Qur'an that says women aren't allowed to be independent, obtain education, work and do simple things like grocery shopping on their own. Believe it or not, a woman in Saudi Arabia isn't even allowed to pick up her children after school without a mahram because she isn't allowed to drive (but 10 year old boys are, apparently!). The Saudi legal system has left many of their women completely dependent on men and not just any ordinary men, but chauvinistic, biased and self-righteous men.

They say they don't want to objectify women as sexual objects but why is it that when a woman wants a divorce she has to repay the full amount of dowry that she and her family was given as part of the marriage? A woman is a human being whose value is incalculable and whose life is filled with precious moments, she is not an item you can ask for an exchange or refund. 

They say they want to protect women but why do they make it nearly impossible for a woman to divorce a husband who has wronged her but give such prerogative to men and justify it by saying women are generally irrational and emotionally out of control? Why do they view rape victims as being guilty for being foolish and deserving of such an humiliating crime? Why do some of them still believe in the honour killings of young, innocent girls? To restore honour that is lost by speaking to men over Facebook and sitting with their colleagues in public spaces? How does this equal to the protection of women and the restoration of their family's honour? It infuriates me that the very people who have the heart to do this to them are their own flesh and blood - their fathers and brothers. Isn't this what Islam tried to stop during the time of Jahiliyyah? Yet today it's still a part of their culture and it's being camouflaged under religion of Islam. I'm sure there are Muslim women in Saudi who disagree to honour killings but as Susie said it's the lack of reaction that perplexes and upsets me. 

If Saudi Arabia is the land where Islam is practiced to a T, what happened to equality? Let's leave the public areas of Saudi for a moment. Why are women given limited time and space to visit the Ar-Raudhah (Prophet Muhammad's p.b.u.h. grave) in Masjid Al Nabawi while men enjoy 24/7 access, unlimited time and a spacious area? I cannot believe how masochistic Saudis can be and how some of their women just accept it like it's fair and that's how it's supposed to be and always will be.

During my visit to the Ar-Raudhah, we had to wait about 1 and a half hours before we could enter. Some women even started running towards it like caged animals who have been waiting for their moment of freedom because to be honest, we were treated like caged hens, perhaps due to the high numbers of women who were there they had to control the situation in such a manner. To top it all off, when we finally had our chance to pray and make du'a inside the Ar-Raudhah we had less than 5 minutes before one of the female mosque guards started yelling and telling us to stop praying, get up and leave so we can make space for the next group of women. Because the other women observed how these female guards treated them, they too became aggressive and started pushing and poking the women who were still praying in front of the Ar-Raudhah. How incredibly rude is that? Even the Prophet p.b.u.h. didn't practice such harshness when he and his companions found a Bedouin man urinating inside the mosque.

When a person is praying and making du'a he or she is having a private moment while worshipping God. The same God you praise and worship too. You don't interrupt them and you most definitely don't start physically disrupting them! Oh the things I wish I could've said if I knew how to speak Arabic. The experience at the Raudhah left me feeling quite disgusted when I should've been exhilarated to have visited the Prophet's p.b.u.h. grave and performed an important ibadah

It's not Islamic when women aren't treated as respectable, intelligent human beings who can think for themselves. It's not Islamic when men are allowed to misinterpret and take advantage of Islamic law to control women the way they want to. As a Muslim I don't blame Islam for the suppression, abuse and mistreatment of women in this world. As Tariq Ramadhan said in his speech during a recent visit to Malaysia, "Islam has no problems with women, but Muslims have," (credit goes to Sara for blogging about it). I blame the people in this patriarchal society who have created and spread this notion that men always know better and women are only here for their benefit. It's a vicious cycle because they pass on this belief to their children and grandchildren and so on. It exists in every society out there not just the Muslim society.

I know Saudis and Muslims aren't the only ones who mistreat, abuse, rape and kill women but when a Muslim does it, it really strikes a nerve in me because Islam is about giving women dignity, honour, protection, equality and the freedom to practice their rights. Maybe Saudi Arabia does need its own Rosa Parks. A Muslim version of course. Someone who will make them realise that the marginalisation of women and their abilities is unacceptable and has dire consequences on society.

Please don't get me wrong as I miss Madinah and Makkah with all my heart. Even when I last visited Saudi Arabia 10 years ago I had an instant connection with the people and its culture and I still do. A part of me felt very at home when I was there but another part of me was unhappy. If Saudi Arabia's leaders are concerned about the safety of women, why didn't I feel very safe when I was there? Honestly, I've felt less anxious walking down a street filled with drunk guys at 10 p.m. in New Zealand (thank you Campus Watch!). Well I guess that's proof that there's no one perfect place to live in this world. There are always going to be pros and cons wherever we go, even in the Holy Land because nothing on this Earth was created for perfection. In this life perfection only exists in our minds.

I hope that as you read this you don't take it as an attack on all Saudis and all parts of Saudi Arabia because I did enjoy most of my time there and there are many, many wonderful people to meet and things to experience as you can see from the pictures I've posted in a previous post. Plus I do have nice Saudi friends who are lovely, well-mannered people - the girls I know are educated and treated well by their families and the boys would never dream of harming a girl. I've seen the beauty of Saudi culture and I hope others will too. Perhaps there are things that I've misportrayed and people I've offended in this post and I apologise if I have, as that is never my intention. I am merely expressing my honest thoughts because I believe in the goodness of people and our ability to change for the better. I also believe that in every country there are always 2 sides - the beautiful and the ugly - and I do hope to visit Saudi again someday.

Reflections in Makkah & Saudi Arabia {Part I: His Reminders}

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I've been back for 3 days and I already miss Makkah. I miss performing the Umrah. The sai'e was my favourite part of it all. It's actually the most strenuous part because of the walking/running back and forth for 7 times but I had so much energy, mashaAllah. I think going to the gym really helped build my stamina! But I think God also made it easy for me. However, what I really miss is feeling so close to God. I know Allah is omnipresent and my relationship with Him exists no matter where I am but in Makkah it just feels a whole lot stronger. The Ka'abah is a Baitullah (House of God, not in the literal sense though) and it is the direction of our prayers.

"Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik Laa Shareeka Laka Labbaik Innal Hamda Wanni'mata laka walmulk Laa Shareeka Lak."

"I respond to Your call my Lord I respond to You, there is no deity except You. All praise, grace and dominion belong to You. You have no partners."

Those are the words we recite when we are approaching Makkah and before performing Umrah. Hence being in Makkah is like the nearest we can be with God, on Earth that is. I had many questions when I was there... questions I didn't think of before going to Saudi Arabia because it wasn't only until I was there that I started to question where I stand in front of God. These are some that I contemplated on...

Who am I to Him if not just one of the millions who worship Him? Do I even matter?
Why has He brought me here? Do I even deserve to be here?
Does God accept my prayers and ibadah (acts of worship) and does He listen to my du'as?
Why do we pray towards the Ka'abah?
What's the significance of doing Umrah? What does the tawaf symbolise? Why do we have to go around the Ka'abah 7 times?
(I knew about the story of Prophet Ibrahim's p.b.u.h. wife, Hajar and their son, Prophet Ismail so I understood the significance of the sai'e)

One by one my questions were answered as I observed the happenings in my surroundings and reflected on my life.

God's Love for His Creations
He created me, my ruh (spirit) and body, and ensured that I was born into a good family. He then gave my parents the means to provide me with love, a home, food, education, clothes, everything that I need. He has blessed and protected me all my life. If that doesn't prove to me that I matter to Him and that he listens to my prayers, then what does?

Why Makkah? Why Me?
I was in Makkah because He wanted me there... away from all the distractions in my everyday life - the Internet, music, television, etc.. God wanted to give me a huge reminder that there's more to life and for every good deed there is a reward and for every sin there is a consequence - spiritually, emotionally, physically and socially. Being in Makkah also served as a reminder that He is All Forgiving and All Knowing. He allows sins to take place, not because he wants to see our downfall but because he wants us to rise above our mistakes and learn from them. He created both good and bad to create meaning in our lives by allowing us to strive for what is good for ourselves and others. There is hikmah in everything and only He knows best. Makkah also really opened my eyes and reminded me that my mother is the most important person in my life and my responsibility towards her is growing each and everyday.

At the same time, He also wanted me to start the year with a fresh new perspective about my life and who I am as a Muslim, as a person, a woman who's no longer a child. I can't think of a better way to start the year than to feel like a brand new person who's heading towards the right direction.

The Ka'abah: One Direction, One Ummah, One Love
I think with His Ultimate Wisdom, God ordered for the Ka'abah to be built in order to unite Muslims all over the world. He has given us an opportunity to reach out to Him when we need Him and for Him to reach out to us too. Makkah is a city like no other in this world because of that. This is just according to my own understanding as I'm sure there are so many reasons why the Ka'abah was built and why we pray towards it, reasons only He knows.

"Having one direction is significant because Islam provides the knowledge of One God, one way of life, a unification of the spirit and intention. The Muslims become as one body, feeling the pain the others feel and sharing in the recovery." Islamic Garden

The Umrah: 7 Circles & 7 Laps...What Could It All Mean?
I was listening to a speech made by a religious scholar while we were in Makkah. He said that being in Makkah meant we were God's honourable guests and as a guests, surely there are gifts or offerings that await us. Performing Umrah is a means of cleansing and purifying ourselves from our sins because no one is free from them. Even the Prophet p.b.u.h. said, "The reward of Hajj is Paradise and the atonement of any sin is Umrah." He also expressed, "A person who circumambulates (tawaf) this House (the Kaaba) 7 times and performs the 2 Rak'at Salat (of tawaf) in the best form possible will have his sins forgiven."

And I found out during my stay in Makkah that Allah grants 120 blessings and mercy around the Ka'abah everyday. "For Allah, the Noble and Grand, there are 120 parts of Mercy around the Kaaba. From these, 60 are for those performing the Tawaf around the Kaaba; 40 are for those performing the prayers; and 20 are for those just looking (at the Kaaba)." - narrated by Imam Ja'far Ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq

I also read that circling the Ka'abah 7 times is a symbol of the centrality of Islam in our lives; and that our lives revolve around our faith in Him. SubhanAllah, how interesting! And that's just a gist of what I learnt recently. Today I know for sure that He is up there watching over me and making sure I'm heading towards the right path. I feel like I'm in a really, really good place in life right now and I hope that He will always bless me with this feeling - through the good and bad times - because there's no greater feeling in life than to feel loved by the Almighty, family and friends.

Saudi Trip In a Nutshell

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Before boarding the plane to Riyadh I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone. I told her that I was really looking forward to the trip because the last time I went was more than 10 years ago and I was only 12 years old. "That means the last time you went, you went as a child... now you're going as a woman," she said. For some reason that didn't cross my mind initially. Being the youngest in my family makes me feel like I'll always be a child somehow... sometimes it's hard to believe that I'm now a young woman. But what my friend said couldn't be anymore true.

Going as a woman meant that my experience would be completely different. I was a little worried at first about how I was going to take it all in but it was all part of God's plan for me and I was keen on finding it out why I was meant to go on this journey. During my trip I had a lot to contemplate about as I observed people, visited new places and carried out Umrah several times. I have so much to write about... I just hope I'll find the right words to express myself, inshaAllah. For today I'll just blog about the trip in general. In the next few posts you'll be able to read about what I learned during the trip and what I enjoyed and disliked about it too.

My mum, sister and myself went with a group of 32 other people on an Umrah/Ziarah (tourist) package to Saudi Arabia. We flew to Riyadh for 8 and a half hours and stopped there for about an hour before flying to Jeddah. Then when we arrived in Jeddah it was raining quite heavily so we were drenched because they didn't have a passenger bridge connected to the plane therefore we had to disembark using stairs that were attached. Usually I would be complaining about getting all wet and messy and what not, but I felt happy about the fact that it was raining during our arrival. I do believe rain is a sign of rizq (blessing or provision) and I remember thinking at that point about how it has been ages since I last played in the rain! Immediately after our arrival in Jeddah which was around 11 p.m. our group was taken to Madinah Al Munawwarah by bus.

23.12.2009 - 25.12.2009
The drive to Madinah was around 4 hours long and I was really tired by the time we arrived at our hotel in Madinah at 4.30 a.m. on the 23rd. Fajr prayer is at 5.30 a.m. so we barely had time to lie down and rest properly. Little did I know that it was the beginning of my spiritual bootcamp because every single day after that left me with little time to rest as our days revolved around getting to the mosque on time and doing other ibadah. Anyway,  in order to pray inside Masjid al Nabawi a.k.a. the Prophet's p.b.u.h  mosque, one must go very early because many of the Hajj pilgrims were still in Saudi and most of them were in Madinah then so the crowd was HUGE, mashaAllah. We were late for the first time even though our hotel was 2 minutes away. We were at the mosque at 5.20 a.m. and it was very full by then so we had to pray outside along with hundreds of other women. The temperature was around 16 degrees celcius and it was very breezy. Masjid Al Nabawi is very grand and beautiful. Women aren't allowed to bring in their cameras but I managed to sneak in mine once and took a few shots of the interior. We stayed in Madinah from the 23rd to 25th of December where we were able to visit Prophet Muhammad's p.b.u.h. grave (Raudhah). During the other days among some of the places we visited were Quba Mosque, tamr (dates) market, Jabal Nur, Jabal Uhud, Jabal Thur and Jabal Rahmah (where Prophet Adam p.b.u.h. and Eve were reunited after 200 years of separation).

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26.12.2009 - 3.01.2010
After Madinah we made our way to Makkah Al Mukarramah, stopped for a shortwhile at Bir Ali for our miqat and then proceeded to Makkah and stayed there for 8 days. As soon as we arrived in Makkah I noticed a lot of changes. There's a lot of construction going on around the Masjid Al Haram area done by the Saudi BinLadin group. The construction work  goes on for 24/7. Anyway upon our arrival it was obligatory for us to perform Umrah. We went at 11.30 p.m. and it was very peaceful and not crowded. I felt it was the perfect time to see the Ka'abah after 10 years because it felt like an intimate meeting with God. Ever since then my favourite time to be at the Masjid Al Haram was at night. There's just a sense of tranquility and it even feels especially magical to be in the Masjid Al Haram at night. Throughout our stay we managed to perform the Umrah 4 times, alhamdulillah and the last one was during New Year's.

We visited Taif on the 29th of December and slept overnight there. Taif is a city in the Makkah province and it's 2 hours away from the city of Makkah. It's located almost 2000 m above sea level. Taif  is famous for its agriculture and its cool weather as many Saudis go there during summer to enjoy time away the blistering heat. While we were there we visited the Abdullah Ibn Abbas mosque, Shubra Palace (a building which was built in the 1900s, now a museum) and the Al-Shafa village which is located high on the mountains of Sarawat. We also managed to visit the vegetable and fruit market, one of the main attractions in Taif. We were told that Taif is famous for its pomegranates! A few days later we visited a camel farm and a town called Hudaibiyah which is well-known for the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.

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The most memorable occassion happened during our last day in Makkah. After Fajr prayers we walked towards the Ka'abah to perform the tawaf wida' (farewell tawaf) but we saw many army men securing the area around it. Then I remembered the King of Saudi Arabia was in Makkah and that he prayed Friday prayers in the Masjid Al Haram just the day before. I found out that everyone was waiting for the door of the Ka'abah to be opened to allow the King and other royalties, diplomats and diginitaries from several countries to enter and pray inside. People say one of the best times to pray and make du'a is when the door of Ka'abah is opened so I felt very blessed to have witnessed and experienced such a rare occasion. We finished the tawaf wida' pretty late and rushed back to the hotel to catch our 10 a.m. bus to Jeddah. In Jeddah we prayed Asr at the Floating Mosque of Jeddah, right next to the Red Sea. A simple mosque with a spectacular view of the sea, mashaAllah. We then went to Jeddah airport and waited for our flight which was at 11 p.m., and you know what made the wait even worse? Our plane was delayed for 2 hours! So that's a total of 8 hours in an incredibly boring and uncomfortable airport. Moreover, Jeddah Airport was filled with people, many men started to smoke (yes, inside the terminal!) and play loud Indian music as they played card games while I tried to sleep. I was so ticked off because they were so inconsiderate and none of the airport guards even told them off. When we finally boarded our plane I was in a really cranky mood because of the long wait plus the steward was really rude (Saudi Airlines is infamous for its bad service, do yourself a favour and never ever fly with Saudi Airlines unless you have absolutely no choice). I slept for 7 hours straight after that just to show how sleep deprived I was from the entire trip.

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Today I still feel tired and jetlagged. I desperately need to go for a massage soon because as I said, it was bootcamp ya'll, not a holiday. For me this trip wasn't about having fun, not in the conventional sense at least. It was definitely an interesting journey but it was more about rebuilding and strengthening my connection with the Almighty. I think there were many reasons why God brought me there. My guess is that He wanted me to know every single effort and du'a I've made in faith hasn't gone unnoticed and unheard. Every effort, no matter how small, as long as its a step towards His path will always be rewarded as long as you are sincere with Him. And what's amazing is that I didn't get sick while I was there! Both my mum and sister and many people from our travel group had the sniffles and terrible coughs but I turned out just fine, alhamdulillah, so I managed to do all my ibadah without much trouble.

Now that I'm back I hope I've returned as a better Muslim and that someday I'll be able to go there again. There's no comparison after you've prayed in the Two Holy Mosques because miracles really do happen when you make du'a there. Honestly, the last 2 weeks really felt like a dream...