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.