Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I am Muslim

I can identify with many of the contexts that Ms Dina Zaman wrote about - the Malays, their practices, their culture and their taboos. I could also identify with the practising Malay Muslim for I made many Malay Muslim friends while studying through the Singapore school system. These, and more, are recorded in this somewhat autobiographical account of the author's life in Malaysia and her encounters as a journalist.

Although a Muslim herself, she never stops to question the many contradictions that runs through the lives and loves of the Malay/Muslims that she encounters in the course of her work, which includes investigative journalism. It makes for amusing reading. But the book is quite uneven and slightly disjointed - a 'theme' does not run through it, and perhaps it is to be expected. The book, I am Muslim, is after all, a collection of Ms Zaman's writing for the news media over a period of time. You can think of it as a collection of blog entries - bite-size chunks of reminisces, opinions and sometimes very irreverent remarks. A search of the Internet showed that the author did start a blog, but abandoned it all too soon. So this is perhaps the only published collections of her writings available to the reading public as of today. You need a paid subscription to Malaysiakini to access her other work.

This book really comes alive from the section "Sex within Islam". No, don't get me wrong. I am not a sex pervert nor a closet reader of Playboy magazine. I do not have suppressed sexual fantasies nor am I a serial stalker. I just enjoyed the way that Ms Zaman wrote this section on taboo subjects in Islam - like sex (yes, in some puritanical sections of the Muslim/Muslim community, sex is a dirty word). The Malay tudung is probably the least sensual of clothes on planet earth today. I remember reading somewhere that a woman's hair is her crowning glory - something that really literally can make heads turn. Yet some Muslims believe in covering it up. Well, to each their own. She also writes about homosexuality and romance (not that these necessarily go together) within the Muslim community and how, as in most societies, it is still very much 'under the hood'. But she had the opportunity of encountering people of these various orientation and interests and I am glad she was brave enough to write about them. In the process, she has enlightened me.

Not that I agree with her at all, I often find her expression of bewilderment, well, bewildering. It appears that Islam does not have the answers to the tough questions she dares to ask, even after consulting her religious mentors. But she is adamant in keeping the faith - a very large leap of the faith indeed. After this section on sex, the book pretty much reverts to the form before. It gets disjointed again, peppered with anecdotes of one sort or another, and it would take all of my will to finish the book. You can tell that I am not too keen on gossip. Its just that a meandering book just cannot hold me for long. It is a wonder that it has sat on my reading shelf for so long. Time to return it to the library.


aaliyah said...

i happened upon your post while looking for the book "outlaws of the marsh" and i glanced over and saw the "i am muslim". curious as usual, i clicked and read.

i am not sure who the woman is but the things you stated she wrote about do have clear answers. guess i will have to get her book, read it and e-mail her the clarity that is actually already there.

for sex, it's just not something you openly talk about amongst others, not that it's "taboo". how do we have babies as muslims? gotta have it right? well, in regards to sex, you just don't brag, boast or really discuss sexual issues in "mixed" company.

as for the head cover, God ordered women to cover so we cover...some do, some don't. for those that don't, it's on them and they will get judged for it later. as a note, christian women are actually supposed to cover as well but according to my mother, some guy said they didn't have to anymore so they don't. wow, some guy told them? hmm in africa, burundi to be exact, i was there and could not tell the muslims from the christians because they all wore the same style of head cover.

as for people that have an affection for the same sex...well, in islam we believe that if a person has the correct belief in God, he will die a muslim which is good to die a muslim because in islam that means you go to paradise however, some will have to suffer in hellfire it is against islam to be homosexual.

really in all honesty islam really makes too much sense to not be true. this is not an attempt to convert anyone but if you gain your information from a "reliable" source, it is clear to see that the images on television etc do not depict islam as a whole.

i hope that my comments in no way offend you in particular because it was what you stated that THAT LADY who apparently is muslim said. for me she does not know too much about her own religion and in our religion what is stressed the most, is learning your obligatory knowledge meaning, your basics of belief in God and how to live your life as you should do this the best you can, no ones perfect.

again, plz take no offense personally to anything i wrote as it is just meant to clear up what she found so very "confusing" for some reason and to perhaps just help you to understand as well. there is a site if you would like to know about isalm, no pressure but just a resource


Epilogos said...

No offence offered, non taken. To each his/her own. The book is not widely available, I suspect. It is listed on Amazon.com but refers you to a specific publisher whom, I suppose, you can get the book from. If you have difficulty getting the book, let me know.

I have no difficulty with Islam as a religion. I prefer to think that the author, Ms Zaman, is being forthright about her faith. She doesn't trod it underfoot, neither disowns it. In fact, she give a succinct summary of the essential teachings of Islam in the very first chapter of the book. And she does mention that she has several Islamic religious teachers guiding her

Nevertheless, she is honest enough to write about the many contradictions that her community of Muslim (i.e. Malaysian/Indonesian) brothers and sisters have. Maybe that is a result of having lived in Europe - her father was in the diplomatic service. With wider exposure to things and ways of the world, you tend to be more open without necessarily destroying what you believe. I think it is more a process of sharpening what you believe in after looking at issues in an honest and brutal manner.

Thank you for your thoughts and comments.