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".

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.