Tag Archives: hijab

Unhijabed #3 : Background Check (1)

wildflower-meadow-deHere I shall recount the essential years of my life that played the biggest role in shaping the ideas I hold so steadfastly to now. This was mainly the period spanning from my early childhood to my graduation from secondary school.

My initial contentions with cultural norms resulted as a culmination of the issues I had with Malay/Muslims ever since I was first introduced to the community. This was, namely, when I first enrolled into a local Madrasah (religious school). Before, I spent the golden years of my childhood in acting school and Montessori, and I had always felt right at home with my multi-cultural friends and teachers (in fact, I can remember each and every one of them, faces and names, even now). It was a very healthy social environment, nurturing and conducive. The same goes at home. We spoke English almost all the time and there was much emphasis on reading. Life was very halcyon, so to speak.

Of course, in an attempt to balance my education, my parents sent me to religious kindergarten as well. The demographic was a Malay majority but under an English syllabus. Things weren’t so bad if you don’t count the bullying. I remember my Montessori friends being distinctly different from the friends at religious school. One group was definitely more benign and accepting than the other.

My years of misery and misfit officially began on the first day of school in the local Madrasah. No exaggeration intended, but no amount of melodrama could justify the traumatic experience that was my first 2 weeks of school. It was a huge struggle especially because I didn’t speak colloquial Malay. I learnt it formally, but that definitely didn’t prepare me for such an environment. Everyone was so similar and so different from where I previously came from. Needless to say, I was automatically ostracized as per the idiosyncratic herd mentality that both my friends and teachers had.

So that was it. I knew I was radically different from the beginning. I gave my caretakers (parents and otherwise) a hard time to get me to go to school. I loathed everything about it initially, especially my teachers. Their methodology of teaching was very fear-based. It seemed as if the only way to get into heaven was to fear hell. The key to being good was to fear punishment. The teachers, despite being all female, seemed bereft of the loving, motherly nature my previous teachers had. They were older and hard-faced, merciless or otherwise indifferent.

After much resistance I finally succumbed to the expectations of the Madrasah community and tried my best to fit in. Being a mere child and under so much pressure, I decided the only way to get by was to do so. It took a lot of effort to suppress my thoughts and feelings in the tender years that followed, and as a result I remember being a very temperamental and confused child.

My angst continued into my teenage years, and the confusion developed into a deep sense of loneliness. It was something very typical of my enneagram type (I’m a 4 with a 3-wing), I realize now. But that period of my life was no less painful than my childhood. My temperament worsened and on several occasions I took it out on my friends in school (verbally and psychologically). This also manifested in a few attempts at suicide and self-mutilation. I thought I was unreasonably sensitive but I never knew why.

I was never a fan of the school system and rebelled in my own secret ways (I suppose there isn’t any harm in talking about that now that I’ve left it 4 years ago). I fail to recall exactly what I did but I always sought ways around the stipulated guidelines. I purposely skipped classes, broke rules. However, I never rebelled outwardly. The act of defiance in itself satisfied me that I didn’t need to be seen, just acknowledged by the Universe.

With the exception of one or two of them, my teachers generally never made an impact on me. This was simply because we came from completely different worlds. I never understood the love my classmates had for them, and hardly ever cared anyway. The few who did make an impact, for some reason, never stayed long. The year they taught me was almost always their last year in the school. And I’ve always wondered why.

I also expressed myself a lot in artwork and poetry – particularly character design and extensive, mournful ballads. But that itself never sufficed for I never felt validated by the people around me. My parents and teachers were often dismissive of the things I drew and wrote (not that I often showed them anything, but these things had the habit of being ‘discovered’ by them). I now realize, of course, that I was denying myself my own validation all this while. It took a long time for me to finally accept that I am talented.

The things I studied in school didn’t occur to me as questionable at the time of learning. Religious subjects were taught in Malay, with the textbooks and exams being in Arabic. To me, it was all simply a test of memory, not understanding. Despite this, I was very clear about certain principles in terms of Islamic creed that were repetitively taught over the 4 years of secondary school. Which will be the topic of discussion … in my next write-up.

[ Post Scriptum ]

It has been roughly 4 days since the first unhijabed article was published, and I am very pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of support I’ve been getting. It is very comforting to know that many are conscious of what’s happening, and share my sentiments on the matter. Or otherwise, as with those who have made an effort to show their concern for me in their own ways, I am thankful for their honesty and kindness.

Of course, on the other hand, I have predictably received a fair share of hate mail. I knew what was coming and really wasn’t surprised at all. I cannot say, however that I have emerged from it all unaffected due to my chronic, idiosyncratic resentment of stupidity. But nevertheless we wish these people well for we are all where we are, reality just is, and resisting it is to suffer. 


Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Unhijabed


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On Hijab and idiosyncrasies.

In the name of God Almighty.

source: google images

It’s the 21st century – horses are no longer martyred in long-distance journeys, our daily bread usually comes with coke and fries on the side, and technology has advanced so much that we find the most childish reasons to start wars (oh wait- that’s nothing new). But such is the nature of mankind that no matter how many light years he has advanced in the fields of virtual realities and electronic wonderlands, these changes remain skin-deep.

Meaning to say, our tendency to be greedy, vain, judgmental and other idiosyncratic desires has always been, and will forever be, the bane of our own wellbeing. Which is something many of us fail to realize – we feel automatically cultured and civilized the moment we adopt a certain belief system or way of life, forgetting that its very fundamentals aren’t found essentially in the way we dress, or eat, or greet each other even, for instance.

So… what does this have to do with the Hijab, again? Based on my experience and a bit of reflection as I sat on the train the other day, this is what I have to say: –

To put it mildly – I believe we have experienced more than enough of society’s patronizing attitude towards hijab-wearers (or perhaps Muslim women in general). How do we even define ‘Hijab’ in its essence? Its origins lay in the Arabic 3-letter root “حَجَبَ” (rom. “Hajaba“) which means to hide, screen, make something invisible or inaccessible. Its usage traverses numerous fields of Islamic knowledge (e.g Tasawwuf and Faraidh), with varying versions and definitions in each, to suit its context. Pertaining to this, the word ‘Aurah is also often heard, the origins of which lies in the Arabic root “عَارَ” (rom. “‘Aara”), which means shame, disgrace or nudity.

Suffice to say that the literal definition of these terms encompasses a wide variety of meanings and understandings – can its spiritual implications be any less than this?

The hijab is most often related to the topic of modesty and morality. At the mention of the word, one automatically pictures women in flowing, loose gowns carefully tailored not to give away any details of the body, with extra-large jilbabs (head dress) to match, preferably with an extra piece of cloth that covers the face, too.

Yes? You either come from a highly conservative community of highly religious people (perhaps in a desert where the sand necessitates the covering of the face) – in which case, bravo – or you’ve been trying just a little too hard – and perhaps your righteousness is veering dangerously towards self-righteousness.

No? That’s great, let’s try that again.

Man in his variety of beliefs and experiences, cannot be expected to conform to just one standardized view on modesty. An individual whose life has been spent in a brothel and another whose life has been spent in a Mosque may not have the same understanding of decency. In fact, it will be greatly biased and unfair to expect them to. How then is a woman expected to fulfill such contrasting criterions of modesty?

The answer: she doesn’t have to. (what did big dresses and jilbabs have to do with this, anyway?)

Now, let’s take it from the ultimately more important aspect in question: the wearer herself. Why does she wear a cloth over her head? The reasons every hijabi might give you will differ, without a doubt. It should, however, eventually boil down to one main reason – she chooses to cover up for the sake of God. This will make sense the first time you hear it, and the second, third and fourth, and so on – until you decide to start thinking about it.

It is easy to do many things for the sake of God. It is also easy to develop self-righteousness, arrogance and in cases, fake humility, in the process. It is imperative to be aware that a cloth, no matter how big, never justifies a heart filled with such heinous characteristics. One mistake many of us make is the assumption that donning a hijab immediately transforms a woman into a pure, chaste, God-fearing priestess – the bigger the hijab, the purer. Which is never the case – and apparently this belief is adopted and strongly reinforced within the smaller, more religious communities of the Malay society, inevitably casting an elitist tint on their portrayal to the masses. In which case the act of donning such attire (and this does not apply to everyone) could easily be translated as an attempt to promote superficiality, rather than diminish it, as how it ought to.

Speaking of superficiality, another popular topic is the issue of make-up. All that vitamin B+ foundation, gel eyeliner, UV-protection powders and ultra-moisturizing lip balms, aren’t all these things feminine tools used to allure men to their destruction? Perhaps the best answer I could think to that is: any straight-thinking, upright lady would be the least interested in leading any man to his destruction (unless you were an evil stepmother in an Indonesian drama series seeking revenge on her son’s lover. Now THAT kind of make-up should be haraam) – besides, if men were really so easily aroused that a little powder and blush excites them (pardon me), then I think the problem isn’t in the make-up at all. Of course, I personally think that over-indulging in make-up is an absolute no-no, purely for practical reasons. If praying 5 times a day meant scrubbing everything off and re-painting it all on afterwards every time, a little laziness would be enough to send all my priorities haywire.

There is also quite a lot of discussion on how Muslimah dressing is an attempt of beautification, aimed at making the wearer more attractive to the eye, often interpreted as a cry for attention, too. Perhaps it has hardly occurred to us that it is a woman’s fitrah (nature) to be inclined to beauty and beautification. So, instead of being so obsessed over whether a woman’s self-beautification is obnoxious and attention-seeking, let us simply not deny her her nature. Let’s look at her as a human being with human tendencies and inclinations, and see past these tendencies because it comes naturally in every woman anyway. Value her for her heart that beats with passion and her mind of intellect. Look at her (and everything else) with the eyes of depth and wisdom.

At the end of the day, the whole idea of practicing the hijab is to exercise a level of outward modesty – simply put, particularly one that simply does not make heads turn wherever you go. When the self no longer takes interest in attention and judgement, and no longer feeds itself on the praises and admiration of others. That is my understanding of invisibility and inaccessibility, of covering up nudity. When one allows herself to be affected by every comment and judgement passed off about her, isn’t that exposure and vulnerability too? There is nothing mahjuub (covered up) about a sequin-filled skin-tight dress that attracts stares wherever it goes, and it wouldn’t make a difference whether your hair is covered or not. Just a thought.

Let’s cast away the judgemental looks we bestow so liberally on others and start turning these eyes inwards.

“Honesty is calmness, and lies are doubt, and righteousness is the best of conduct, and sins are that which is woven within your heart, and you would be ashamed lest it would be discovered by the people. Seek your heart’s counsel.” (Hadith)

  • Zaf
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Rants, Spirituality


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