PEREMPUAN Oleh Filzah Sumartono

Nur Diyana

When I go against what is deemed acceptable conduct, I not only get looks of disapproval but am also showered with chiding remarks. Buat malu mak bapak. Buat malu Melayu je. Tak malu ke perempuan tapi macam jantan.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been advised on my behaviour, even when I am just sitting down and trying to exist discreetly in a corner during social gatherings and family events.

You should be demure, they say. You should be gentle, if they see me acting rowdy or rough, benchmarked against their standards of course. You should be soft-spoken when I talk or laugh a little too loudly. You should be more ladylike. You should not curse; imagine the synchronised shaking of heads and aghast looks when this potty mouth leaks curse words. You should not smoke. Are you smoking because you are stressed? Can’t I smoke because I want to?

They also tell me that I should not speak unless spoken to. Jangan menyampuk bila orang tua tengah berbual. Jangan menyampuk bila orang lelaki tengah berbual. Jangan nak memandai. How do I keep myself from saying something when they are expressing problematic views that I strongly disagree with and do not want the young ones to think are acceptable? Do you keep quiet when you hear people say, Tak sempurna orang perempuan kalau tak ada anak? or Tak ada maknanya orang perempuan belajar tinggi macam mana pun kalau tak reti nak masak?
Another area that almost always gets policed is my dressing and fashion choices. They tell me I should wear more colours and when I do, I get rebuked – a tudung girl should not be wearing too bright a colour; it attracts attention. When my clothes are tight they would notice and when my clothes are loose they would point out. Hard to please people, eh? They tell me I should fashion my tudung longer (and if it’s too long I’d be chided) and that I should not show my ankles and my wrists should be covered.

Why exactly, may I ask? Will men get turned on from seeing my exposed wrists or ankles (given that the oft-quoted reason I get is that I need to cover my aurah10 from the eyes of a non-mahram)? Does that not then signify a problem with them and not with me? Are they not supposed to lower their gaze?

I never volunteered to be put under public scrutiny but for as long as I can remember, people around me have been telling me what I should or should not do and what I can or cannot do. The best part – all these comments are unsolicited, from my own makciks and pakciks to the random ones I bump into on the streets, both from within and outside the community.

Thank you for taking the time to police me bodily and morally, but I need you to know that my body belongs to me and, trust me, I do not go out of my way to deliberately shame my parents, women, the Malay community, the Muslim ummah or any other groups.

I have never signed up to be a roving ambassador for women, for Malays, for Muslims or other identity tags. I represent me, myself and I. I represent my own identity – a couple of different social identities amalgamated into one vessel of being. If I fall short of any of your expectations, the fault is mine and not because I’m Malay, Muslim or others of the ilk.

My body belongs to me. My body is not public property.
For the most part, Diyana is a graduate student. She devotes the rest of her time to stuffing her face with food in the company of family and friends.
1 Bringing shame upon the parents
2 Bringing shame upon Malays
3 Aren’t you ashamed you’re a lady but behave like a man
4 Do not butt in when the elders are talking
5 Do not butt in when men are talking
6 Do not be a smart alec
7 A woman is not complete/perfect if she does not have children
8 There is no point in a woman being highly educated if she cannot cook
9 Head covering worn by Muslim women
10 Typically used to refer to parts of the body that a Muslim should cover with clothing
11 Any relative of the opposite sex that a Muslim is not allowed to marry
12 Aunties and uncles
13 The whole community of Muslims



“Who kicked a hole in the sky
so the heavens would cry over me?
Who stole the soul from the sun
in a world come undone at the seams?”
Oasis blasting on my stereo while I am lying on my bed, filling my ears with this tune to drive away the negative load on my mind.
Thoughts like:
“Pray or you’ll go to Hell!”
“You’re a Muslim and you have tattoos?”
“You drink and you call yourself a Muslim?!”
These are words that can hurt one’s heart more than a sword. It got me thinking. What is a true Muslim? How to be a proper Muslim? Am I fit to be one?

In the eyes of God’s creations, a good Muslim is the one who prays a lot, visits the masjid1 often, recites the Quran well, and dresses appropriately. However, what if someone does all these things and then is harsh to others? What if the person is judgemental and puts others down instead of helping them? What if the person is selfish?
What about character? Doesn’t that show how a good Muslim is?
“Let there be love
Let there be love”
Oh, Oasis. I want what you want. People are dying inside every day. You can’t feel love from the tongues that hurt us. Judgements are made and passed on easily. It’s like it’s free of charge to let the negativities grow but there’s a price to pay for positivity to spread.
“Come on baby blue;
Shake up your tired eyes
The world is waiting for you
May all your dreams fill the empty sky”
And I do what the lyrics sing. I sit upright on my bed. I look around, and something catches my eye – a black shawl.
My body drags me towards the shawl hanging by the window, taking it along with me to the full length mirror. I look up and stare at the girl standing in front of me.

“And if you don’t let go,
It’s gonna pass you by”
That’s the thing – letting go. If I don’t let go of those words, I’m not allowing myself to heal with time. Words can wound, and the scars can grow bigger and deeper, until there is no hope of healing.
There are a few more lines in my reflection screaming at me:
“Don’t you know how to wear the hijab properly? Your bosom is showing!”
“You call yourself a Muslimah? Where’s your character?”
“Wearing skinny jeans and tudung?2 You think this is fashion?”
Those words just pierce into me deeper. The scars harden.
Nobody understands our journey except God. It is not easy to be the “perfect” Muslim. However, if we turn around our mindset, the healing can happen. This is the culture of our community – bringing down one another is how we make each other stronger. Insults and criticisms are not the enemies. They are the training swords that help us gain inner strength.
“Let there be love
Let there be love”
I put the shawl in the cupboard by the mirror and pull out a pair of jeans and put them on. Then my legs just bring me down to the floor, and I sit there looking at myself in the mirror till the song ends. As the next song comes on, I breathe in hard. I ask myself — What should I do to improve myself? What should I do to be a better person? For God?

“Maybe we’re different, but we’re still the same
We all got the blood of Eden, running through our veins
I know sometimes it’s hard for you to see
You come between just who you are and who you wanna be
If you feel alone, and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning, is some beginning’s end”
Bon Jovi’s right. Every new beginning is some beginning’s end. It’s time for a new beginning, a change in life. A change in one’s perspective. A change for God. With God’s help, I have to come out stronger. I cannot keep crumbling and falling till I go underground. I touch the reflection of the girl in the mirror. I admire the beauty that God gave her.

I have to get better. I will build myself up for God. I will do it for God. My living is for God. Why do I do it for God? Because God is easier to impress than humans. Even a tiny good deed is seen and rewarded by God, and God forgives instantly when we ask for it. God is the One who is in control of one’s heart. So why look for praise from God’s creations when there is the Creator Himself to turn to?
I look again at myself. Breathing hard and suddenly, words ringing loudly in my ears:
“You look old in those. You gotta loosen up some. Don’t lose the dignity of a woman.”
“Black is dull. Why won’t you wear colourful clothes?”
“You look weird covering your face. Why do you need to wear that?”
There they come again. Words. Attacking. When you’re trying to impress God. His creations keep attacking.
However, the wounds heal faster. I become numb to the words. I become immune. Why? Because God helps to strengthen my faith in Him. He beautifies my heart. He changes it and removes any impurities in it. For God responds to harsh words with kind words. Our responses to those who attack reflect our character, not their judgements.

“When everybody’s in, and you’re left out
And you feel your drowning, in a shadow of a doubt
Everyone’s a miracle in their own way
Just listen to yourself, not what other people say
When it seems you’re lost, alone and feeling down
Remember everybody’s different
Just take a look around”
It is indeed God’s mercy that helps me pull through. He conceals my weakness and faults, and He makes it easy for me. Why? Because I know that God loves me. For love, I obey Him. However, who am I to judge others when their hearts do not belong to me? The clothes I wear do not define how pious I am. They just define how much I treasure this body to not allow it to be seen by outsiders.
I stand up, open the cupboard and pull out a long black jilbab3 and a face covering. I close the cupboard and I put them on. I look into myself in the mirror as I put on this clothing, this covering. I never felt so free.
“When you wanna give up, and your hearts about to break
Remember that you’re perfect
God makes no mistakes”

That is true. God makes no mistakes. God is the ultimate perfection. He creates what He wills. It is simply whether we are able to accept ourselves. The journey of repentance may not be easy at first; there are things happening that will try to stop us. But with God’s help, if we try to move ahead crawling, God comes to us running. The miracle of God – He lightens our burdens and grants us the strength to face this world. In a society that shows off sexuality and body shapes, God is there to help us stand out and show what modesty is. We are what we are created for.
“Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life
You made it this far
Welcome, you gotta believe
Right here, right now, you’re exactly where
you’re supposed to be”
I am a girl who believes that life is a journey from time to time. I believe that God is the One that allows us to experience every moment in life. I believe that God is in control of putting love in people’s hearts.
1 Mosque
2 Head covering Muslim women wear
3 Head covering worn by Muslim women

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