Ramadan Mubarak

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Image from couplewords.tumblr.com. Click to go there.

That’s ‘Have a blessed Ramadan’, and I wish that to all Muslims who read this.

I’m so happy it’s finally here again. Great timing too. Been going through some personal and work challenges. Demons rearing their head again. Feelings of hopelessness sometimes. Prayer helps, but it’s great Ramadan is here too to help me stay more focused and grounded. To remind me more to just think quietly and reflect on the many things I still have to be grateful for. What I need to do to feel better, be better. What I can do for others.

As for the little things, I’ve decided this year I won’t be buying a single thing more. Not a single decoration item for the house, not baking nor buying any cookies or cakes for Hari Raya, no new Baju Melayu, nothing, zilch. I don’t want to do any of these ‘festive’ stuff because it takes away the focus of what’s important about the month. I won’t visit the bazaars set up for the season, I won’t indulge in any of the kuehs or delicacies, because I don’t normally anyway. Basically, when it comes to shopping and food consumption, it’s just like any other time of the year.

This year I’d like to focus on a more intimate and spiritual Ramadan. And the way I see it, it’s also the perfect time for me to try go fully vegetarian again, instead of just when I eat alone. As my personal expression of compassion for God’s creatures. That sounds pompous actually haha. But it stays.

I also would love very much to pick up Arabic, to be closer to the holy Qur’an. I have a book+CD guide I bought at a bookstore, and I can’t wait to dive into that. Now that is going to be a long and challenging journey. Hopefully in some years I’ll achieve being able to speak/read/write well enough to understand the holy book in its language, insya’Allah.

Related post: Ramadan 101

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Islamic Fashion Fair: lovely idea, but I think a different name would be nice

I came across articles on Indonesia’s Islamic Fashion Fair (IIFF) 2013 which was held from 29th May to 2nd June in their capital Jakarta. That was interesting to me, that there is such a thing. An article about it as well here, a Huffington Post piece with lots of photos of the gorgeous outfits featured.

The first thing that struck my mind was, ‘Islamic Fashion Fair? What does Islam or any other religion have to do with fashion? It just seems strange to me to have those two words together: Islam and fashion. Inappropriate is the word I’m thinking of. To use the name of Islam to sell stuff like fashion.

I guess it refers to the ‘modest clothing’ worn by Muslim women, mostly the hijab I think. Islam.about.com explains hijab as:

a word sometimes used to generally describe a Muslim woman’s modest dress. More specifically, it refers to a square or rectangular piece of fabric which is folded, placed over the head, and fastened under the chin as a head scarf.

The IIFF 2013 is the fourth one for the Jakarta organisers, and apparently it is not the only such fashion festival in the world. It’s been going on for years in many cities around the world. I don’t know if they all feature the word Islamic in their name, but I came across a few that do including a 2010 one featured in this video below, that was held in Monte Carlo and put together by Malaysian organisers, I think.

So, modest clothing worn by modest Muslim women = Islamic? Err, okay. But what if it’s not so modest anymore? As in, the outfit covers up the lady but it’s so striking and fabulous and attracts attention and admiration. I mean, hey, that’s a good thing, but modest?

Here in the streets of Singapore, and in Malaysia, I have seen so many different styles of the tudung headscarf worn by Muslim women, and creatively put-together outfits. I think it’s great that these women are so stylish. Modesty doesn’t have to be a sombre or boring affair. It’s great that these women have turned what they believe is an obligation into something as fun and delightful as fashion.

I mean the primary purpose is for religious obligation, right? I think. I don’t know if this is the case for all of these women, because I’ve come across some outfits that are really bright and eye-catching, not just in colour and prints but also in its embellishments. Including that bling-bling-looking thing, what is it called? Labucci? Haha.

Then there are the girls I come across sometimes who wear the tudung but also wear tight jeans (like the still trendy skinny jeans thing), with the curves of their butt exposed, instead of, say, have a long loose blouse to cover that area. Or with faces caked with lots of make-up. Now, I love looking at these girls and appreciate their style and effort and I am actually pleased for them that they look great. But to be honest I also become curious and wonder at the same time: so what’s your point of wearing the tudung? If your outfit is meant to indicate modesty but it’s kinda flashy, isn’t it?  Of course I never say that out loud. Nobody wants to risk getting a tight slap on the face, especially in public.

I think that’s the crux of my issue. Having the word ‘Islamic’ in something so flashy, so ‘out there’. Hence I don’t think having ‘Islamic’ with ‘Fashion Festival’ is appropriate. But that’s just my opinion, of course. *shrugs*

Why not just call it, and here are just two suggestions:

1. ‘Modesty Fashion Fair/Festival’. Sounds awkward or boring? Eye-roll inducing? Or,

2. ‘Hijab Fashion Fair/Festival’. Something like that

Also consider: if you don’t use the word Islamic in it, the fashion fair might perhaps reach out and interest more non-Muslim women as well. Just as there are markets for different non-mainstream fashion, for example the plus-size segment, there is a market for non-Muslim women who choose to dress conservatively, so why not explore the option of including them. Sure, they’re not as covered-up as Muslim women in general perhaps, but they might still appreciate the ideas, minus the head scarf, of the dresses and accessories from the Islamic Fashion Fair designers. My Herculean effort of a few seconds worth of typing ‘modest fashion‘ into Google search, garnered a lot of blogs and other sites specialising in that, and not just from Muslim and Christian girls.

And now writing this it just occured to me that wouldn’t it be great if, for starters, a group of Muslim and Christian girls who are into modest clothing, get together to organise a fashion fair together. Like in a uni campus, for starters. In Singapore, hopefully? Or maybe this sort of thing is already happening?

Anyway, I’d like to end this post by writing that I don’t mean any offense or disrespect to any woman observing the hijab, whether those involved in the Islamic Fashion Fair in Jakarta, or in general. I am aware and understand that as it is they may already have to put up with crap from other people who may insist on thinking or saying that they are oppressed or forced or whatever into covering up. I’m happy for all these women who don’t give a shit what other people think, and just go about their own lives wearing the hijab, whether plain conservative ones, or more fashionable and dazzling ones.

And oh here are some stuff I came across on  Tumblr. Not related to the topic in the title of this post, but I just find them interesting and want to include them here. Click any of the images to go to the sites where I got them from.

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Image from: faithpeaceismyname.tumblr.com.

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Image from: perksofbeingjuicy.tumblr.com

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Image via: takealookatyourlife.tumblr.com

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Image from: florahl-soul.tumblr.com

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Update 3rd July 2013: Illustration by Yaz Raja. Click image to go to the fascinating blog of this talented artist.
Click here to go directly to her post where this illustration was featured.
(Image formerly credited to: islamicartdb.com, via itsmaiiso.tumblr.com, where I first saw it.)

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Image from: themuslimrevert.tumblr.com

Update 4th July 2013: Added the following links.

Update 7th August 2013: Added the following link.

Group hug

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Seen via ♡ The Tale Of My Heart ♡. Click image to go there.

That was pretty stunning to read. After seeing it on ♡ The Tale Of My Heart ♡, I got curious and read a little about it on Wikipedia here, as well as here and here.

So heartwarming. Amidst all the hatred and gruesome violence in the world past and present, there’s love sometimes to be found.

Also thanks to the above post by ♡ The Tale Of My Heart ♡, I’m introduced to this very interesting site called Lost Islamic History. Nice.

My thoughts on ‘Bad Religion’ by Frank Ocean

Firstly, I’ll go straight to the point of what I think of the song. As a Muslim man, I find a few lyrics of the song distasteful. And I feel so sad about that. Because he has such a beautiful voice, and the song itself is profound and painfully gorgeous and speaks to my heart. So those few lyrics really spoil it for me. I don’t want it to, but this is my diary and if I’m not honest with myself here when I jot down my thoughts, where else?

Specifically, I’m referring to the following lyrics:

He said, Allahuakbar, I told him don’t curse me

But boy you need prayer, I guess it couldn’t hurt me

If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion

As a gay man, I don’t feel anything. What I mean is, I don’t connect to the song in any way. I say this because I came across a comment on Towleroad. The commentor’s interpretation is that the song contains ‘explicitly gay lyrics about love from a mainstream artist’. I think he or she was referring to the lyrics Towleroad chose to feature on their post:

This unrequited love
To me it’s nothing but
A one-man cult
And cyanide in my styrofoam cup
I could never make him love me
Never make him love me

… It’s a, it’s a bad religion
To be in love with someone
Who could never love you
Only bad, only bad religion
Could have me feeling the way I do

I think the interpretation of the commentor (and I’m sure many other people gay or straight) is that the ‘bad religion’ here refers to unrequited love with another man. And I think this is not only reasonable and easy to come to, but a correct one. Unrequited love featured largely in Frank’s open letter on his Tumblr where he bravely came out as gay just last week, a beautifully written letter. Another remarkable thing I learnt is that this incredibly talented young man is only 24! That’s amazing.
The reason why I personally don’t connect to those two stanzas of lyrics as a gay man is because well, I think it’s just as plausible to interpret the term ‘bad religion’ there not as unrequited love but as religion itself, if I choose to. The first stanza could be about loss of faith in God, in religion, about being convinced of not having the love of God. Likewise, the second stanza could refer to God and religion. It’s not much of a stretch. But oh, to be honest I should mention here that this view formed partly after I was already annoyed by the Muslim reference, so that made me really look at the lyrics over and over again. Hah.

Let’s go back to those lines that I didn’t like.

He said, Allahuakbar, I told him don’t curse me

But boy you need prayer, I guess it couldn’t hurt me

If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion

It struck me as distasteful because ‘Allahuakbar‘ (God is great) is something we Muslims use in our prayer. And something many people, whatever your religious faith, know to be associated with Islam. The idea it was perceived as a curse…
‘I guess it couldn’t hurt me’ softens it a bit. It indicates Frank is now indifferent to ‘Allahuakbar’. He doesn’t consider it a curse or insult or anything bad, he just didn’t know what it meant, and after the taxi driver said it was prayer, Frank is ok about it.

But the ‘bring me to my knees’ part that followed immediately after, well that conjured an image to me of one of the positions we do when we Muslims perform our prayer. So to me that’s a bad figure of speech to have right after ‘Allahuakbar’. The association between Islam and ‘bad religion’ in the song is undeniably there to me. Sure, we are not the only ones to adopt a kneeling posture as part of our prayers (I have accompanied a Catholic friend to church several times because he wanted company and I was also curious), but it wasn’t ‘Praise be to Jesus’ or a reference to another religion that was in the lyrics, it was ‘Allahuakbar’. And I just didn’t like it. It’s disrespectful, just as it would be if it was ‘Praise be to Jesus’, or any other reference to any other religion, in the context of that stanza, that song.

I don’t consider myself very religious. I’m sure many other Muslims don’t consider me religious at all. But that’s irrelevant; my faith is a personal and private matter between me and God. I go about my own business; I pray and I fast during Ramadan, etc. But even I feel the song ‘Bad Religion’ is disrespectful. What I feel is, you know, just keep specific religious references out of it altogether. It’s a beautiful song otherwise, with that voice and that melody, so it’s such a pity really.

Transgenders in Malaysia (and Iran)

I don’t buy the papers everyday, but on the 4th I was in JB and happened to buy both The Star and the New Straits Times. Coincidentally, both English dailies feature commentaries that very same day about the plight of transgenders in Malaysia.

Mr. M.Veera Pandiya wrote ‘Have a heart for trans folks‘ for The Star, and Ms. Chok Suat Ling wrote ‘Help transgenders, not judge them‘ for the New Straits Times.

The articles were triggered by the death on Saturday 30th July, of Aleesha Farhana, a 25 year old medical assistant who was born male, and who underwent a sex change in Thailand in 2009. Doctors diagnosed one of the causes as cardiogenic shock. People who knew her said she died from the deep depression caused by the failure to get a court order to have her name and gender officially changed.The articles highlighted the terrible and cruel stigma faced by transgenders in Malaysia.

The late Aleesha Farhana. Photo source:thestar.com.my

Here’s a short excerpt from Mr. Pandiya’s article:

Before her death, she and her parents Mak Yah, 50, and Abdul Aziz, 60, were subject to scorn, ridicule and cruel taunts.

On the day she died, the page one headline of one newspaper was: Pondan gagal tukar nama, masuk ICU (Transvestite fails to change name, enters ICU).

Like Aleesha, an estimated 50,000 transgender people in the country are shunned by society and are often abused.

As highlighted in a statement by 17 NGOs and 600 people on Tuesday, they face stigmatisation, violence, mental torture and sexual assault.

The inability of policy makers to understand the transgender community has led to many of them having to leave their families, schools and jobs.

They are also prevented from getting health services, housing, education, employment and other basic rights and are also left without legal recourse to redress injustices and abuses suffered.

I can’t even imagine being in that sort of situation. What a horrible existence. Why must we treat fellow human beings that way? It’s just terrible the vile hatred some people have for others just because they are different.

When it comes to sex change operations, what’s totally unexpected is that in the Muslim world, Iran allows it. Not only that, they even provide subsidies for those who need the financial assistance. Then, the sex change is legally recognised by the state. Official documents like passports are changed accordingly.

Okay, if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, here’s something that turned my head round and round so fast it almost flew off my neck, so to speak: As of 2008, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand.

Wow, too bad I don’t care for having tits and a vagina. Otherwise I would so go to Iran to do it, instead of Thailand, if only for the novelty factor of having done the sex change in a Muslim country. To try back up the legitimacy of it, maybe? “But, Pa, I got it cut off in Iran!”

“Yet homosexuality is still punishable by death”, said this BBC article. And even though sex change operations are legal there in Iran and comes with official recognition of the new gender, acceptance by society is a different matter altogether.

Back to the story of Aleesha Farhana in Malaysia, an earlier Star article by Farik Zolkepli and Nurhidayah Ramli includes some kind words by Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development’s Minister, who said that she was saddened her ministry did not have the chance to provide counselling:

“In Mohd Ashraf’s case, he knew our doors were open and that we were there if he needed us.

“We were concerned for him but we could not force him to come to us,” she said after chairing the Wanita Umno supreme council meeting yesterday.

The article also included that about 50 people had held a candlelight vigil for Aleesha outside the Malaysian Bar Council Building. It was organised by Seksualiti Merdeka co-founder Pang Khee Teik, who said they wanted to highlight that Aleesha’s rights for justice had been denied.

Ramadan to me

An example of a greeting card in Malay, sent to relatives and friends during the month of Ramadan. Copyright reserved by printer.

Dusk tomorrow will make the first full week of fasting for Ramadan. My first Sunday of this fasting month. I know I’ll be sleeping in late.

It’s going to feel like cheating, since the fast is supposed to be from dawn to dusk (about 5.45am till about 7.15pm). After the pre-dawn meal and Subuh prayer, I’ll hit the sack and stay there till noon maybe, instead of getting up again at 8 o’clock. So that’s only 7 hours of fasting tomorrow. But I really need the rest!

Every year it’s the same. Tough the first 2 or 3 days of fasting, and then it’s like the body settles down to the new rhythm, where I don’t crave water and food as much. After that point however, for me at least, there is still a lingering tiredness. I think it’s because it’s just one month of the whole year. So it’s always a bit of a shock to the body every year every time Ramadan comes around. Well, it’s suppose to be a challenge.

I guess some people ask: what’s the point of having a month to fast to empathize with the less fortunate? A month of self-restraint and discipline by abstaining from sex, using foul language, naughty thoughts, and acts of anger? A month of more charity and good deeds? What, do all these just during Ramadan and then forget all about it once the month is over?

Well I think of Ramadan as a reminder to be a better person, among other things. We’re only human, so good acts may lessen over time. Good thoughts and intentions and all the other goody-goody stuff may erode and fade over the next eleven months haha, then comes Ramadan again to remind and motivate me again to try be a better person. Among other things, to once again remember the poor and hungry, the disabled and the other less fortunate, and to therefore be grateful for what I have (and to whine less!) and to give more or what I can afford to charity.

Being gay. Not proud. Not ashamed. Just am.

I’m not proud of being gay. Because I don’t think it makes sense to be proud of being gay.

You can only be proud of the things you put work in. If you have to work for it. If you have to work at it. I didn’t do anything to be gay. No work involved. I was born gay. So, it’s not something to be proud of. But not being proud of it does not mean I am ashamed of it. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of being gay. I just am.

The same thing with being Malay. I was born Malay. No work involved. So no sense in being proud to be Malay. But not being proud of it does not mean I am ashamed of it. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of being Malay. I just am.

With being Muslim, however, it’s a different thing. Because I have to put work in to ‘stay Muslim’. Examples of this ‘work’, or should I say effort: I pray, and I fast during Ramadan, and I read the holy Qur’an to dedicate the holy Yaasiin verses to my late parents. I (try to remember to always) treat people with respect and kindness, whatever their religion or race. Things like that. That’s effort put in. So yes, I can be proud of being a Muslim, because it’s something I work at.

***

Okay, now what about ‘pride‘ being connected to ’embracing’ who I am. Do I ’embrace’ the fact that I’m gay? The word ‘embrace‘ in this context; I guess it means: do I celebrate and rejoice in being gay?

Do I run down a hill screaming ‘I’m gay!! I’m gay!!’ to the sounds of ‘the hiiiillssss… are aliiiive…. with the sound of muusssiiiiiiccc….‘ No. Do I join gay parades overseas? No. Am I a member of gay associations? No. Do I make it a point to attend gay events? No. Although I’m open to those things anytime in the future, why not. (Except the running down a hill screaming part). When I can make the time. When I want to. If the desire and interest develop into being, why not. But I don’t consider those things necessary. It would be nice, but not necessary.

I don’t ‘celebrate’ my being gay. I’m not sure…? But if I inspect this ‘not sure’ further, I’ll come back to ‘I don’t’. So let’s keep it simple and honest: I do not celebrate and rejoice in being gay. But does this mean I am ashamed of being gay? Nope. Because if I am, I would have done something to try and change things. I would have dated women. Convince myself I can ‘turn straight’. Maybe go on to marry one of the women. Convince myself sex with her is okay. Persuade myself to make love to her, say, once a fortnight (would monthly or quarterly still be considered reasonable?). Have kids with her. Generally, live life as a straight man, regardless of whether I lead a double life behind my wife and kids by sleeping with men on the side. But, still calling it life as a straight man.

Different people live differently. Make different choices.

If I’m ashamed of being gay, I would probably be living a lie. But I’m not. I’m spending my life with the man I love. God willing, I will be fortunate enough to have him by my side the rest of my life.  Even if this means people, strangers or otherwise, may sometimes look at me just a little bit differently. A subtle shake of the head, dramatically slow and sad. Or a knowing glint in their eyes. A thin smile. In disapproval? In approval, even? ahhh… who cares.

I am what God made me. I am male, Muslim, gay, Malay, Singaporean.  Lol.

May God give me the strength to continue to always be honest with myself. Amin!