give me your hand. i will let you go.

second nature. B-side. behind the throat.

rain

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the skies turned dark so suddenly, prompting rain, my favourite emotion. i sit and watch the stillness of the buildings flanked against the grey turbulence of the skies, cowering in concrete. everything submits to nature. 
 
i hear the calls of different birds, calling out to home. they move in unison along patterned tracks in the sky, invisible to the eyes, seeking refuge in the trees. nature shelters.
 
the trees. the beautiful, lush greens, who also submit to the calls of nature, releasing leaves to the wind, creating dances without gravity. the small ribbons tied to my windowsill start to dance as well, reverberating to the sounds of the rain and the howls of the wind. Howl. Howl. i let some of the rain peek into my windows, witnessing it caress the metal bars, my books, my skin. we desire touch. natures touches.
 
the cocoon hanging outside my window shrivels as it is pelted with rain. it has been hanging there for months, with its occupants constantly having to build and rebuild. natures claims, and reclaims.
 
it is time to close the windows. the books are protesting. i do not shut it tightly for i await the orchestra of the wind as it seeps through the crevices, a woodwind instrument. Howl. Howl. some nights, it frightens me as i imagine it as a creature, calling out. i never answer. but in the light of day, i engage in its conversation. it whispers of secrets from across lands and time. i listen. and then, forget. 
 
last night before i slept, i quietly prayed for some rain. and now, i sit by my window, with a warm honey lemon drink, inhaling and watching the rain rage, listening to the music of the wind, and letting my coconut & mango candle flicker. my curtains breathe gently: wind wombs. i occasionally check on the cocoon. i’ve seen it get ripped up by the rain before.
 
it is still there.

and so am i.

nature sustains.
 

Filed under: words,

Reflection on Love

for those who know me, and i mean, really know me, beyond just Facebook friend status, will know that i easily love people. even though i’m quite a hermit and claim to be a big social introvert, i am surrounded by people and i easily and wholeheartedly love them. this is because love, for me, is defined through small acts, gestures, and it transcends the whole boy-girl relationship dynamic. i’ve fallen in love with people within a fracture of a second, a moment, because of a smile, over a conversation, through years, in person and even over a text of ‘how are you?’ because i believe that (and this will sound cliche but i truly believe it) love is everywhere and embedded in everything and everyone. i have people i love and yet, we’ve never even met. i’ve loved strangers i’ve never met again. i may have forgotten their faces, but i remember that feeling felt in the exchange. i love across distances and closeness. because in every movement i feel love, in every face, i see love, in every sad or angry voice, i hear love, in every tear, i taste love, in every breeze, i feel it. what more in people. and men (because in my case, it’s usually the men), please don’t freak out when i say ‘i love you’. it’s not an invitation to marriage. it takes more than an ‘i love you’ for that. somehow, some men get very weirded out when women (they are not physically or sexually attracted to) say this to them. perhaps it’s socio-cultural conditioning but perhaps, it’s also ego. if so, get over it. go read some Rumi. 

and i guess sometimes, just sometimes, i feel a bit hurt when that love is not reciprocated the way i want it to be. but then i remember that love is not conditional that way. it cannot be, especially if i proclaim to experience love the way i do. i am blessed to have persons in my life who love me the way i love them, and i am doubly blessed that they tell and show me that every day. it is both effortless and yet, such an active act and expression of love, to say or show someone, ‘i love you’. and i am truly, heart, mind, soul, and bodily blessed to have persons like that in my life. for those who are unfazed, untouched, nonchalant, non-responsive, freaked out, or anything else by it, i still love you, in that encompassing manner that i do. and for those whom i love, with my heart, mind, soul, and body, thank you, for you are the ones who have brought me to this state of Love, and for showing why Love is and has got to be the stronger force in all that we do, all that we are.

so, i love you. in and with whatever strength that i have in me. with as much passion and fervour i can muster in me. with as quiet a whisper and as loud a cry my voice can reverberate from within me. and in moments, both present and lost. ever with love, and ever, in love.

Filed under: Essays, words, ,

an excerpt from the ‘Notes on Taking Notes’

nothing is new. everything that we have been feeling and experiencing as humans have always existed, intrinsic to our being, within us. but also outside of us, facilitated through different medium across time – from etchings to scratchings, drawings, letters, art. technology and media have just made it more apparent, more globalised, more visual. all the colours, the ‘other’, the difference, the hate, the dust, the blood, the blown up. and alongside the visuals, we craft terminologies – from labels and eye-catching headlines, to call for justice – to fit the phenomenon we witness: racism, orientalism, xenophobia, occupation, terrorism. and these terms are personified, adorning different skins and features throughout time: the enemy is always present, it just wears different faces. and we recognise them, for it often exists as a binary: self and other, good and evil. and we are taught to recognise them (to understand them?) from watching TV, seeings photos, videos, and to fight against them, with words, anger, hashtags, prayers. at times, futile. other times, erupting into movements. a resharing. a repost. overlapped with our everyday mundane, our activists pursuits, our sublime sentient: configurations of the self on this vast scape of the world.
wide.
web.
entangled.
we all are.
some are eaten earlier, at the forefront.
others,
residing in some false sense of safety.
type type click click.
but we are all connected, and we utter the same words, over and over again, grappling to identify the new masks our enemies wear, struggling to find and feel humanity from thousands of gigabytes of images of dead men, dead women, dead children. constantly closing our fingers into a fist, touching skin, to prevent loss of senses.
do we still feel?
nothing is new. everything that we have been feeling and experiencing as humans have always existed, intrinsic to our being, within us.
how do we then ensure that we feel and witness more of love, grace, calm,
than of hate?

Filed under: Essays, words, ,

writing narratives: a reflection

writing narratives: a reflection

the writer should rewrite, reality into story
renewing words, reshaping terminology
shedding narratives that victimise, medicalise, criminalise 
erasing all the words that hurt, reconciling them with
truth, memory, the spoken
collected from hearts, tears, and gestures marked
on earth
empowering voices: the residual, silenced, forgotten
whitewashing all, even the whiteness
back to the beginning, point zero
before words were used to police, lynch, contort coloured bodies
into categories for operating and performing
with others and within selves
erase ‘Race’: make words and readers
colour blind
write into existence those etched between black and white
the unholy binary
Black. White. Brown. Yellow.
a most unrealistic palette
Pink? Orange? Green?
(perhaps Dr Seuss did it well)
neutralise mentalities of bodily distribution of flesh
a woman’s greatest burden does not have to be ‘rape’
her honour lies not in her vagina,* in, on her body
speak to her, let her decide where it resides
a man’s failure does not have to be embedded in his failed masculinity, just because his member can defy gravity
at times
for he is not beyond human, being
Being, the story
rewritten back into reality
one that would then perhaps
be safer and more human for all 

*Kamla Bhasin (Indian Feminist and Activist)

Filed under: words,

Body and Being

Body and Being

I write my truth underneath skin and bones
scrawled into the memory of body and being
whispered each night by tears that caress 
in sleep, that momentary death
with stillness that echoes the words
to me, again and again
in a voice I do not recognize
for the morning and across the night
reverberated into body and being

rib cage carved with all the hurt, the pain
so that it may be drawn in, enveloped
hands with interlaying fingers that hold
in secret, comfort
lips laced with hues of blood
so that they may speak the names of those lost
expulsed when bitten, a recitation
Al-Fateha
on eyelids, with charts and constellations
of colors to eradicate, forms to dispel, binaries to break
feet, where all the footfalls touched, where earth crawled
into skin, into flesh
awaiting the day when I would crawl back into it
spine with all the anger, rejection, approval, victories
of work, play, tension, release
fingers dotted with names of those touched
those beaten, those held
eyes calligraphed with the dark charcoal of womanhood
exoticized by a handful, feared by others
invisible to many, but beloved by some

and to then realize
that I’ve never lost control
in the presence of others
always a perfect assemblage
of body and being
but knowing that someday
should someone pierce my skin
or break my bones
they would have before them
all the secrets residing within

Filed under: words, ,

Of Scrawls and the Scatological

was invited by Geraldine Kang and Kenneth Tay to contribute a 200-word piece to “Left to Right”, a collection of visuals and text about and around the somewhat notion of Singapore. below was my contribution.

you can read more about L-R here.

Of Scrawls and the Scatological

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From the series Singapore On Public Notice / Kevin WY Lee.

A trickle of pee is penned from an oddly-sized penis of a smiling man, anger scrawled in the threat of “I Call 999”; promises of a husband and wife’s successful insemination; non-descript tubes that facilitate the sludge of human excrement to othered spaces removed from human civility. The public spaces we inhabit attempt to hide these traits of disgust – we can smell the stink of pee and imagine the passionate sexual throes of couples – but also become the very place for their reveal. These relics of the bodily debased linger surreptitiously within sanitized spaces, desacralizing smooth cemented walls that applaud monotony, flatness, and person-less-ness. We move across these space, apparently unfazed by these visual leaks that remind us of our physical instincts, unlicensed notices that embody and reflect our deeper needs and urges. And yet, we seek them out for they represent us, a form no whitewashed space can contain. These visual leaks become a gentle orifice from where our excrement oozes, a bodily expulsion through hardy walls, a reminder that no tube can contain the vile and bile of the human body, a reminder that no surface can contain the baseness of our being. And we willingly embrace it.

 

Filed under: words, ,

the balance of beings

a womb
etched between the heart and loins
conceived with love and lust
head and base
the balance of beings
but he was born of baseness
heart sunk to the point
of non-existence
it morphed into another organ
moved by different tugs and pulls
voiced through different emotions
he was made to lust
for everything
from bodies to lands
to riches and sand
of glittery gold and ashes
bodily ashes
of those he burnt
for having lost to him
and into tall towers of ash
he piled them
higher and higher
climbing up each day
hands and knees marked by deep black murder
that contained within traces of burnt hearts
which quietly seeped into his body
and slowly and unknowingly
a heart took shape
and soon
it would beat
and he would feel its tremors across his whole being
a sensation most foreign, a feeling most human
and upon the sight of all his conquest won
all the lives lost
the man cried, and cried, and cried
washing away his high towers of ash
into black seas of turbulence
in which he drowned
filled with the pain
of heartbreak
thus rejoining
the balance of beings

 

Filed under: words, , ,

on turning 33

sharing birthday thoughts on turning 33
8/5/2016

it’s as turbulent as sandstorms, as calm as a river’s breathe
a deeper, more cavernous inner self world
untouched by the outside
smiles hold more secrets, tears flow easily
finding there’s no limit to strength, a strength that empowers
self and others
there is the self but a wider pool of others, fuel love and care for both with the same fire: it won’t run out and won’t burn out,
if you don’t let it
and if you care for others enough, they won’t let it burn out either
calm is still the base of being, but to be accompanied by gratitude
a lot of gratitude
family
kindness over intellect
love over doubt
chocolate over strawberry
be brave, be beautiful,
be brave to be beautiful and
be beautifully brave
a night amidst stars is perfection
when in pain, turn to those who love you
believe those who say ‘i love you’
plans made can be re-made
harnessing a lot of heart-uterus power
ROAR, WOOSH, WHEE!
be with the young and old, they mirror who you were and will be
self-healing is possible: it comes with self-love and self-respect
for your being, your existence
ideas and thoughts to be articulated: beyond the mind and preferably with people who can and will question them
surround yourself with soul mates,
feel blessed to have more than one
crazy is dancing quietly in your seat or wildly in your room
laugh like everyone is watching, it’ll be contagious
pain is part of life, don’t hate it too much or force it out too soon,
there’s something to learn from it too
listen to others but don’t let them influence you,
unless you want it to
sing truth with your voice but also be happy to create a choir with others’ truth
read, touch, smell books: an ever sentient relation
and create your own empire, invite those who like ice-cream

Filed under: words, ,

The Why and Why Not of Being an Indian Muslim Woman

wrote a piece for the Beyond the Hijab blog.

When I was a girl of age 7, understanding only a fraction of what it meant to be a woman, I attended primary school, dizzy with the possibility of learning and socializing, eager to meet other girls I could call friend. But, I was rather quiet and shy back then, and so, I did more of the learning to compensate for the lack of socializing. Cliques were formed, memos about how to act, to talk, to be were shared and I found myself missing out on a lot of them. We were lined up according to our heights in school and as I was one the shorter girls, I found myself at the front of the line, every time. The cool kids were at the back. I could never turn around to look at them, and they never saw me. Until one day, one girl did. She pointed at my arm and asked, how come you’re so dark and have hair on your hands? The other Malay girls don’t have so much hair? I didn’t answer. Just felt the red of shame and anger. Why was I so dark and why did I have hair on my arms? I went home and quietly stole my father’s shaver from the high shelves in the toilet and started shaving. Slowly and quietly shaving that shame and anger from my arm, until my mother walked into my room and yelled at me. I went to school the next day, with only one arm shaved.

 

When I was a teenager of age 15, now more aware of my body, the gaze, the expectations, I strategically planned to amp up my outgoing persona in the hopes that nobody would notice or focus on my physical being. I joined the band, became Head Librarian, and even got elected to be part of the Student Council. All these I thought were achievements, when in hindsight now realize that these were actually considered to be dorky activities. Nevertheless, I had made some friends and even though it was tough being a teenager, I felt more confident of myself and actively participated in school. It happened after one of those Civics and Moral Education classes, which we used to have back then, where we were taught about the different religions and races in Singapore and how everyone and everything was nicely classified into four categories: the Chinese were Taoist; the Malays were Muslims; the Indians, Hindus; and the Others, possibly Christians. After the class, as we were headed down for recess, a friend asked, if you are Indian it means that you’re Hindu right? How come you say you’re Muslim? Then you must be Malay, right? A simple ‘no’ wasn’t enough. I was subjected to question after question about my beliefs, my name, and my skin color. A classmate pulled my hand up right next to the hand of another Indian girl and compared us. They were convinced I was Indian, and didn’t believe that I was Muslim. I kept protesting, again and again, until I too, stopped.

 

When I was a woman of age 22, I started my Honors year and was in university, thrilled at my decision to major in Anthropology/Sociology, fascinated by the ways in which it had torn down all those norms I had constantly found myself thrown into battles with, especially when it came to issues of ‘race’, Religion, and Gender. I was Chief Editor of the campus paper and was constantly meeting different groups of people as part of Uni life! And as it was the first time I no longer had to use a school uniform, I was able to visibly wear my religion. Donning a tudong or what is now socially known as hijab became proof that even though I was ethnically Indian, I was still Muslim and Singaporean. I didn’t have to explain as much, and it was also possible that people just assumed that I was Malay. Either way, I felt safer. However, something else erupted. How come you can speak good English? Usually women who wear the tudong don’t wear such ‘modern’ clothes (jeans) like do you. You’re very modern! Oh, you’re the Chief Editor? That’s an accomplishment. The Chief Editors are never Malays. (The previous Chief Editor was also Malay). If you’re Indian, how come your skin not black? Wah, you go to University? Are you Malaysian? No? Singaporean Malay can go University? Wah! Angry Brown Tudong Girl. That was me in university. It was then that I adopted sarcasm, a useful tool that incorporated my love for the language and facial expressions like the side smile. It was a constant tango of questions and retaliation until I became tired of retaliating. But the questions didn’t.

 

When I was a woman of age 25, I was placed on the shelves of marriage, an object with an expiry date pre-determined by my Indian-Muslim community. At that same time, I was in the midst of pursuing my Masters degree, a decision that many in my community felt was a fatal one. Why study so much? Later no guy would want to marry you. This is why you’re single, no man wants a woman more educated than him! Why did your mother let you study so much? Later hard to find a guy. The burden of overachievement, especially in a woman. I found their remarks and questions condescending, both to me and the supposedly unambitious and insecure Muslim men in our community. But I thought that at least the questions had evolved from previous shallower ones. I thought too soon. You’re a bit dark, so must wear lighter make-up to brighten your skin tone. Why don’t you use make-up? You’re fat and dark, how to attract a guy like this? My body was an object on the shelves, with an expiry date of possibly 3 years to go, but, there were many faults and defects, and the possible buyers weren’t happy about it.

 

Now I am a woman of age 32 and am an educator in the most part of my profession. And in these situations, there are no questions. Nobody questions me about my identity, religion, marriageability, skin color/tone, why I could speak English eloquently, or my education. This is possibly because I am the one in a position of power, teaching or facilitating classes with a ‘presumed authority’ that does the questioning, not the other way around. In fact, I often find myself questioning those who question others, using it as perfect teaching points in the classroom. In some respect, the classroom became my brave space. Beyond it however, it was still a battleground as I was now bombarded with a whole slew of new questions, questions I had never gotten before. Are you a Singaporean? You look like a foreigner. Are you Arab? Is it hot under the hijab? Why isn’t your hijab black? Why are you so modern? Why are you so conservative? Are you Muslim-muslim? There are times when I would offer a response, a teaching moment possibly triggered by my role as educator, but at other times, it was a short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ followed by a physical removal of myself from said location, especially if the question was more of an angry demand. And then, there are times when there were no questions. This could mean either of two things: that we have begun to be more accepting of difference and diversity or that there’s already have an assumed answer, whether real or misinformed. I have hope that it is the former. There are times however when I do wish I was questioned so that I could explain and inform, if needed, for now I had the words and courage to respond without letting it affect me. For now, I am braver. One thing I constantly learn throughout my years of being questioned is that, the questions are a greater reflection of the person, community, or society asking it, than it was a reflection of my being. And in that respect, I too shouldn’t question myself.

Filed under: words, ,

Releasing the Visual & Symbolic: The Hijab and ‘Other’

Wrote a piece on my thoughts of the ‘hijab issue’, one which i feel is very much based on this highly constructed visual and symbolic nature of the hijab. was published in Beyond the Hijab blog.

Of late, the term ‘hijab’ has been used pervasively across different contexts of discussion, from that of religion, ‘Islamization’, the symbolic, in movements and representation, and especially in relation to the discussion of women, ‘Muslim women’. The latter is a most contested term as it is often relegated a single identity of a highly visualesque nature: that the ‘Muslim woman’ is a body seen donning a hijab, shawls of black or colors draped over the head and chest. The ‘hijab-ed’ body becomes a visual and ideological representation of the ‘Muslim woman’ – one largely shaped by an outsider perspective as opposed to stemming from self-definition – and inevitably so, used as discourse on issues concerning women and Islam. This sparks an imagination of ‘Muslim women’ as communities of the ‘hijabi’, defined solely by the visibility of the hijab, and in antithesis to it, the ‘non-hijabi’ or other. The dichotomous existence of these two imagined communities map them as visual opposites, and assumes a largely single narrative for each, one that focuses solely on the issue of hijab as symbolic identifier and definer, disregarding and nullifying all other possible narrative threads that make up ‘Muslim women’.

The Hijab as Visualesque

I believe that one of the reasons why it is so convenient to map the hijab onto the body of the Muslim woman is because of its highly visual nature. Google ‘hijab’ under ‘Images’ and you will be greeted with shawls of varying colors and styles, and the smiling faces of the women who don them. These are images from fashion blogs and vlogs posted by the users, alongside images posted by everyday Muslim women doing everyday activities. These women are often identified as the ‘Liberal Muslims’ or the ‘Moderate Muslims’ who integrate well with (secular) society. They have also evolved to become icons of ‘modest fashion’, a growing market in the fashion industry.

Now, Google ‘Muslim woman’ and the images gathered will portray a distinctly different visual spread. Aside from some burst of colors and faces, the images mostly show women clad in black, donning a face veil or purdah – with their exoticized eyes – seen more as black silhouettes rather than selves. It is often these visuals that spark outcries of ‘Muslim women as oppressed’, living within a rigid system that forces them to cover up. I do recognize that this is sadly a reality in several contexts, but it is also important to note that these contexts are born out of highly patriarchal mindsets that sow the roots of discrimination into institutionalized Islam. It is thus unfortunate that the black hijab is visually equated to symbolize oppression when there are Muslim women who wear it willingly in other societies.

Looking through these images of ‘Muslim woman’, you will also see the ‘random’ ‘non-hijabi’ woman, a stark reminder that the category of ‘Muslim woman’ cannot be visually pigeonholed, as it often is. But what is made evident is that the Muslim woman is a highly visible body and its visualesque nature is identified primarily by the hijab. The effect of this is twofold: that we, as a society, begin to identify the hijab as equated to a certaindefinition of Islam and what it means to be a ‘Muslim woman’, and secondly, that the hijab becomes a (symbolic) marker of how society (at large) views and expects a ‘Muslim woman’ to look like, and what they experience. This means that we begin to govern the Muslim women’s body into fitting a certain visual expectation, which inevitably transforms into symbolic and ideological constructs. In doing so, we visually create archetypes of the ‘hijabi’ and her other – she who doesn’t wear the hijab – as binary identities within the Muslim women community, each defining and at the same time, isolating the other. What is also unfortunate is that the other is sometimes left out in this imagination of the ‘Muslim woman’ or ‘hijabi community’ for her visual lack of a hijab, rendering not only her experiences excluded, but her identity, invisible.

The Hijabi and her Other

As someone who dons the hijab, perhaps I can firstly speak from the vantage point of a ‘hijabi’, a term I have never attributed to myself for I find it redundant, categorical, and frankly, rather hipster. But for the sake of this discussion, I temporarily will. I personally believe that there is no such thing as a ‘hijabi community’. As above-mentioned, it is an imagined construct rooted in the visibility of the Muslim woman’s body and the visualesque nature of the hijab. She is ascribed certain qualities or characteristics, which are built on assumptions and stereotypes of her identity as ‘Muslim woman’. And somehow, she is often lumped together with her other ‘hijabi’ sisters, imagined to belong and identifying only with those like her, and in the process, othering those who aren’t.

The women I meet in my Islamic Studies class all don the hijab but our conversations do not revolve around this juxtaposition of hijabi and other. Our conversations cover a large spectrum of topics, from that of Islamic studies to politics, social issues, everyday life and yes, the hijab. However, our conversations on the latter would usually be along the lines of, “Oh your hijab is nice! Where did you get it from?” or “How did you manage to pin it up this way?” or “What? It took you less than a minute to put this one! Oh, it’s stitched up and ready to wear! Where can I get one?” Our conversations have never revolved around ‘non-hijabis’ as the ideological or visual other for there never was a need for such a conversation, which in itself speaks volumes. This is because, it is a discussion that is only provoked when we are pit against our supposed other, and this provocation is one that comes from the ‘outside’ via questions such as, “Why do you wear hijab, but she doesn’t?”

The above is a question that has spurred many discussions, especially alongside different interpretations of the Quran. Whilst it is necessary as part of larger Islamic discourse, it becoming a repeated point of argument is highly redundant, especially when it is predicated on the need to justify one person’s choices, by criticizing or judging the choices and experiences of the other. It entrenches the visual and ideological presence of the hijab as being a single identifier of the Muslim woman, and assumes that her narrative and lived experience revolves solely around it, whilst disregarding or underplaying the experiences of the Muslim women without hijab, as well as other aspects of their lives as Muslims and well, human beings. Therefore, this convenient dichotomy of the hijabi and her other brings about a rather skewed discourse in relation to women in Islam as it automatically robs agency from the Muslim woman, relegating her to the realms of visual objectification and the overly-symbolized.

Hijab as Visual Symbol 

Symbols are a marvelous thing. But it is important to remember that they are constructed and are embedded meaning and power by those who can afford to do so: those with access to words to describe, explain, elaborate, and sometimes, exaggerate and exploit. Symbols also exist as highly visual and at times, do not really care for an ‘authentic’ representation of reality, which can be both beautiful and dangerous. And this is perhaps why the hijab has become a most symbolic entity, encompassing all the traits above. Its visual nature alongside a strong dichotomized other allows for it to be crafted as a perceived symbol and narrative of what makes a ‘Muslim woman’ or what is ‘Islam’, a view that both outsiders and Muslim women themselves adopt, a view that can be beautiful, but mostly dangerous.

To some Muslim women, donning the hijab is perceived as symbolic of Islam, in that, it is not just a piece of cloth for it reflects their belief and desire to be seen as practicing their religion as Muslim women. This is why there are women who don their hijab despite circumstances. But this is also perhaps why it is possible to find some hijabis enforcing judgment on the others without hijab, as being non-practicing. On the other hand, to some Muslim women, there is no need to don the hijab because of its symbolic nature – it is just a piece of cloth – as what becomes more important are the core beliefs underlying it, rooted in spirituality. Some of them also perhaps use this as a means of judging those in hijab as being ‘extreme’ or non-inclusive. I address this not as a judgment of Muslim women, but because I do recognize that the dichotomies are created and disseminated not just by the ‘outside’ world, but also within the Muslim women community itself. We have bought into this visualized dichotomy of the hijab as identity and sometimes repeatedly use it as a symbol of labeling the ‘Muslim woman’. And this is perhaps the most dangerous, as this notion of the hijab as symbolic of Islam is deeply entrenched in societies where women are forced to bodily and symbolically perform their Islam-ness, by being forced to cover up. In this case, donning the hijab is not just seen as symbolic of being Muslim, but in more drastic terms, to notcover up is symbolic of being un-Islamic, and can incur a huge penalty, from punishments, to death. This is also evident in societies where Islamophobia persists, subjecting hijabis to constant fear or real threats and danger by those who see them as symbolic of ‘Islamophobic Islam’. The hijab as symbolic can thus be very dangerous.

On the flipside, if these different interpretations of the hijab as symbolic churn varied narratives, intentions, and lived experiences within the Muslim women community, what does it then mean for the ‘outsider’? How do the rest of society begin to relate to and interact with the hijab as a symbol? This is possibly what movements like World Hijab Day and donning the hijab as acts of solidarity with Muslim woman is grounded on: the imagining of a ‘Muslim woman’ as solely being hijabi and thus, the rush to don the hijab as the only symbolic method of standing in solidarity with them. On one hand, such movements and acts can be perceived as having no real connection to what it actually means to be a Muslim woman because of its symbolic nature; also highly visualized and only representing a specific visible group. This is perhaps a most direct and convenient reading of such movements. It is however done to the point that we begin to undermine or undervalue the symbolic act of the non-Muslim women who perhaps are attempting to understand not just what it means to be a Muslim woman, but more so, what it means to be a highly visible Muslim woman, especially in societies when it is becoming harder to do so. I personally do not see it as a problem. In fact, I feel that it comes from a place of love as, although problematic, it recognizes what the symbol means for some, and attempts to stand alongside it. In that instance, it is about reaching out to be a part of the Muslim women community, as an act of inclusivity, a symbol most beautiful.

On a final note, I believe that in order to fully understand the ‘Muslim woman’ entails a need to firstly recognize that she is beyond the symbolic, the dichotomies, and the visualized form she is made to embody. This is a most arduous task, even for the Muslim woman herself. The need to rethink this category of ‘Muslim women’ and their lived experiences requires a decentralization of the hijab as sole definer, departing from the visual and symbolic as yardsticks of measure to orchestrate and ostracize who, what, and how we experience and understand Muslim women in the context of today. Whose narratives and representations are we subscribing to? Whose authorship and agency defines the self? How can we begin to narrate and understand their lived experiences beyond the hijab? How do we begin to move away from the hijab as visual and symbol? Would that perhaps change the way we begin seeing and understanding the hijab? Is it possible to understand and perceive of Muslim woman beyond the presence or absence on her body? Women are constantly tied in a tango: between putting on and taking off, absence and presence. Perhaps if all these are critically re-evaluated, we might be released from our restricted notions of who and what make up ‘Muslim women’.

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persona

Nurul Huda is an educator, writer, and photographer for the most part of her everyday. Lecturing in different subjects across Anthropology, Liberal and Visual Arts, she commutes across different classrooms with a love for facilitation and performance. She is also a researcher whose interests focus on issues concerning the visual and sentient body, visual imagery and methodologies, narratives (text and the telling), and feminism. This often ties up with notions of identity, both as expressed through Self and Other. Her research interests are manifested through different medium, in both text and the visual, which accounts for the writer and photographer selves, as mentioned above. Nurul is also known as nuruL H. and indulges in the expansion of her book collection, the documentation of poetic moments, and the fine tuning of her hermit lifestyle.

other personas

website | nurulh.tumblr.com

photography | nurulh.weebly.com

email | newrule@gmail.com

blog b | bnwpress.wordpress.com

second-site | second-site.tumblr.com

audiovisuals | vimeo.com/nurulh

instagram | thenurulh

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