Sunday, November 17, 2013

MUHARRAM 1435H (3)

Since being in hijab (this is the 14th day to be exact), I have people come up to me and say “Assalamualaikum” instead of “Hi” or “Good Morning” or “Selamat pagi.”
I’ve been hugged and kissed by female colleagues, followed by a quick whisper of “New look?”, “For good?”, “Dah berhijrah?”
The first time the female cashier at the office café saw me in hijab, she stopped what she was doing behind the till, came up to me and said, “Assalamualaikum, Akak dah pakai tudung?” She was asking the obvious!
I know some people are talking about my new appearance but they didn’t have the nerve to ask about it.
None of my male colleagues said anything. Some merely stared. It is possible that they never thought they’ll see me in hijab.
One soon-to-be ex-colleague, a non-Muslim, asked if I had take a vow (nazar?) before wearing the hijab. It was apparent she didn’t read my blog or my Facebook postings.
“No, no vows. Nothing of that sort. I just wanted to do it,” I told her as she went around saying her goodbye on her last day at work.
When I changed my profile photo on Facebook, Whatsapp and BBM, friends said I look good wearing the hijab. Only one actually asked if the new look was permanent.  Then, the congratulatory messages came in. Alhamdulillah, the support was immense.
I never spoke about when I was going to wear the hijab to anyone. I had asked my colleagues about the various scarves and the innerwear but never really told them when exactly I would be wearing them.
They also saw the Poslaju and courier packages that landed on my desk, containing scarves and shawls.
I tell my friends, those who have been wearing the hijab a long time, of the initial problems I faced.
“Don’t worry,” one said. “We faced the same thing before. Before long, you will feel comfortable.”
My problem was that I was conscious about the hijab itself.
Yes, the first few days of wearing the hijab, I went to the washroom way too many times, just to check the “alignment” of the hijab. When I told a colleague about it, she suggested either I keep a small face mirror at my desk or check the hijab by taking my own photo on my mobile phone. Well, let me tell you I have done quite a few selfies!
The first week, I stayed away from my usual haunts like Gardens, Bangsar Shopping Centre and Bangsar Village I and Bangsar Village II. It was to and fro office and home.
The first time, friends outside work saw my new look was at my birthday dinner in town.
The first Saturday of wearing the hijab I went to Borders at Gardens.
I was really conscious of people looking (I swear they were staring!) at me.
Is my my hair showing?
Is my hijab a mismatch of the clothes I wear?
Are the clothes I’m wearing too tight?
Are my hands aptly covered?
Or am I attracting attention because I am nervous of how I look in public?
The next day, I went again to Gardens, this time to watch a movie with a friend.
The Saturday exposure taught me well, not that there was anything wrong with how I looked then.
But I checked and re-checked by appearance in front of the mirror before I went out.
I was a little bit more confident, although the back end of the scarf kept slipping to the front (I should have pinned it to my blouse). I survived the movie at Gardens and then we went to Bangsar where he treated me to a belated birthday dinner.
Now, I prepare my officewear the night before, choosing the blouse to wear to match the hijab or vice-versa. Wearing the hijab every morning takes me less than 10 minutes, with one brooch under the chin and another at the back to keep the ends together.
So, it is very much business as usual for me. I am still the same person I was before wearing the hijab.
Or give me 100 days or so, and I will be able to tell you better.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

MUHARRAM 1435H (2)

The security guard had this huge smile on his face when he saw me entering the office gate on the eve of Muharram. "Assalamualaikum. Alhamdulillah, cantik," he said.
As always, he would be the first to greet me whenever he's on morning duty. The usual greeting would be "Assalamualaikum, selamat pagi."
His three words that morning made my day.  
I broke into a grin. "Terimakasih, terimakasih," I told him.
I wasn't doing it to look "cantik" but I was ready to do it.
I chose the eve of Muharram, rightly or wrongly, to coincide with Hijrah.
I could choose to wear the scarf on my birthday, which is the third of Muharram.
But to tell you the truth, once I made a decision to be in hijab, I couldn’t wait although I have been taking my own sweet time to do it.
And it wasn’t really an overnight decision. I had contemplated the move a long time.
I had as early as February scouted online sites selling scarves and shawls and finding a style which I was going to be comfortable with. I watched almost all the tutorials there were on YouTube.
It certainly looked easy watching them do it but I find it a hassle with the pins and the twists and turns to get it the way it looked on the tutorials.
I had stood in front of the full-length wall mirror at home for hours to try out the various styles.  It didn’t work for me.
I wanted a style which would not make me go into the restrooms for the mirror to check the “alignment” of the scarf on my head.
First Day of Syawal 1434H ... with my mother
First Day of Hari Raya Haji 1434H ... with my niece
So, I settled for a simple style (well, I wasn’t going for style as long as it meets the purpose of covering the neck and hair) with a scarf that was used by many when being in a hijab became fashionable. They have since left the tudungbawal and migrated to half moon shawls and the likes.
To start my collection, I bought 12 scarves from Aidijuma online (yes, I went overboard with the Aidijuma scarves!) They were the plain and two-toned Tudung Bawal. I bought a few more. Well, more than a few … I have since added two-toned shawls from other oneline sites to my collection.
Yes, there is a variety of tudung in the market; from the simple plain square tudung bawal to the multi-layered scarves and shawls, with or without the blings. They come with all kinds of names. Some are pricey, too.
Friends tell me to go to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman but the very thought of going there during the day in the hot sun or rain (depending on the time of day I go) put me off.
Thank God for Internet and online shopping! Now, there are a few online sites that I patronize for scarves and shawls.
Oh, I forgot … there is also the inner wear before wearing the scarf (just like wearing clothes where you need underwear!).  The innerwear is actually to keep your hair in place. You need to find one that fits your head; too tight, it will be uncomfortable while it was too loose, it will eventually fall off.
There's also a variety to choose from. When I went for the umrah, I used the inner Ninja (called such because it looks like the one worn by Japanese ninjas on television). The inner Ninja covers the neck. You can either wear it on its own or wear it with a scarf.
I will only wear the inner Ninja if I know that I don’t have to go out of the office in the hot weather because it can get a little uncomfortable.
A colleague told me of “inner magic” (the magic is in the elastic band at the nape of the neck of the innerwear). It doesn’t cover the neck but the scarf does that, anyway.
As I have short hair, I couldn’t “anchor the “inner magic” to the hair. So, you’ll see my hand going under the scarf and adjusting the “inner magic” ever so often to keep it in place. My friends tell me that they had the same problem when they started wearing the hijab.
I, too, had to spring clean my closet. I needed to do it anyway. Pre-loved dresses, tight fitting blouses and pants and T-shirts have been boxed for charity.
I initially wanted my wardrobe to comprise jubahs and Baju Kurung but I also have enough officewear that meet the Muslim wear requirement. Alhamdulillah.

-          To be continued

Thursday, November 07, 2013

MUHARRAM 1435H (1)

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. I could have done it much earlier but the rebel in me had resisted. I didn’t want to be told to do it. If I was to do it, it would be on my own accord.
Everyone had thought I would be in hijab after I got back from umrah last year. They were wrong.
I didn’t hook on to the popular action that one had to be covered up after they got home.
In fact, I know of friends who went on the umrah unannounced, just because they didn’t want to be judged by people for not being in the hijab when they return home. I guess that was the best as you will not get people talking about you as they did of me.
Yes, people talked behind my back; the hushed whispers when I walked past them and the hints they gave either verbally or through social media networks.  
Even my mother and some family members had on a few occasions mentioned it. I ignored them, not because I wasn’t ready but it was because I was expected to do so.
You see, I am actually heeding my late father’s advice.
When he was alive, I asked him if expected me to be in hijab. He was explicit in his advice to me. He told me not to do it if I didn’t want to.
I still remember his exact words to this day.
“Jangan awak pakai hari ini, esok lusa awak buka (don’t wear it today for you to take it off later).”
“Nanti, bila orang bercakap, dia orang tak sebut nama awak tapi orang akan sebut “anak Pak Mail” (Later, when people talk, they will not mention your name but they will say “Pak Mail’s daughter),” he said.
I love the fact that he didn’t force me to although by right he should have.
So, with that, I took my own sweet time to wear the hijab.
The first time I wore the hijab was when I went to Terengganu when it was governed by PAS. I wore it before we landed in Kuala Terengganu. I didn’t wear the scarf when I was at the resort. I put it on when we went into town. Going home, I took it off as soon as I boarded the plane.
But the first time I wore the hijab for a length of time was when I was in Mekah and Madinah last year. I wore it on the day I left the country to perform the umrah. While there, the only time I took it off was in the hotel room. I remembered having to put a towel to cover my head when the male hotel staff came by to send us our laundry. I discarded the hijab when I got home.
On Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year, I wore the hijab on the first day.
Then, I started wearing the hijab at engagement ceremonies and weddings. I began to feel comfortable with it. In fact, there was one wedding which I didn’t wear the hijab and I felt rather awkward.
On Hari Raya Haji, I wore the hijab to the mosque. When we got home, I didn’t realize I was still wearing the hijab when we started eating.
From then on, I started carrying a scarf in my bag.
A few months ago, I started waking up in the early hours of the morning. And most often, I will fall asleep again after Subuh prayers. I used the time to surf the Internet for stories from the Quran, on the hadith and Prophet Muhammad SAW.
It was a week ago, while reading on Hijrah and Muharram that I decided to make the change.
The timing was perfect. Furthermore, there was no pressure from anyone to wear the hijab.
Either they have given up on me or that they know pushing me to do things their way will not get me to do it.
Of importance, of course, is my nawaitu.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tanda Putera

I remember that day on August 2, 1973. My parents and my two brothers were making their way from Kota Baru to Kuala Lumpur when they met with what could have been a fatal road accident at the old Bentong road.
When we reached Kuala Lumpur (my parents travelled on a police Land Rover while my brothers and I were squeezed in the back of my aunt’s Volkswagen together with her two kids and a miniature wooden elephant bought in Golok), we found out that Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman had passed away due to a massive heart attack. He was 58.
He was our Acting Prime Minister when he died. The then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was on an official overseas trip.
Three years later, Razak passed away. I was in Form 2 and was in PE class, the last period of the afternoon session at Convent Johor Baru. If I recalled correctly, the headmistress had made a public announcement on it. My late father picked me up from school and we rushed home to watch the news of television.
Back then, I never knew the importance of these two great men; not until I listened to my elders talked about them and read their biographies.
The first book I read on Razak was for a Bahasa Malaysia class project in Form Three in 1977.
Thirty years later in 2007, I read a biography on Dr Ismail written by Ooi Kee Beng. “The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time” debunked some of the myths about the country’s then most powerful home affairs minister.
These two biographies explained extensively the roles they played in Malaysian and Umno politics and contained information many of us post-Independence children do not know.
So, when I found out that the film “Tanda Putera” was to be screened publicly ahead of the country 56th Independence, I was excited although I had actually seen it at a private viewing some time back.
Casting politics aside, “Tanda Putera” is a movie on the life and times of Dr Ismail and Razak and the sacrifices that they had made for the country. There may be elements of fiction (in the sub-plot of the film) but these two characters are certainly not fictitious.
It is thanks to these rare breed of men that we have enjoyed the many, many years of freedom. They not only ensure the country got its Independence but also made sure that we kept it.
Films based on true events can be used to remind our young of the struggles of our forefathers back then. It may be a changed Malaysia from 56 years ago and that engaging Malaysians of today is different from the time of our forefathers but the history of the country remains unchanged.
I was born six years after the country gained its freedom from the British, making me a post-Independence child. The only advantage I had compared with the younger generation now was I grew up with grandparents and parents who lived through the struggles to gain Independence.
I listened to many of their stories first hand. I try to gather as much information and knowledge from those still alive on what it was like back then.
My mother often spoke of taking refuge from the communists in the Kempas jungle in Johor Baru back then.
When I tell this to my Form Five niece Maisarah and her 12 year old brother Danial, they didn’t want to believe it at first. The Kempas they know is a neighbourhood with modern amenities such as Starbucks, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets at the nearby Setia Tropika.
tried as much as possible to share with them the stories related to me by my late grandparents and late father. My mother continues to tell them the same stories she shared with me before.
We want them to be able to source information on the country’s history from all avenues.
We don’t want them to be ignorant of the country’s history.
It was the English poet Thomas Gray, who in his “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” wrote, that “ignorance is bliss” but Roman philosopher Cicero said “to remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keeping history alive …

The summer palace in Beijing, China; Sydney Opera House, Australia; Cathedral of Notre Dame, France; Vatican City, Rome; Blenheim Palace, England; the Borobudur and Prambanan Temples, Indonesia; the Jeju Island and Lava Tubes in South Korea, and the walled town of Carcasonne, a hour’s drive from Toulouse in France.
What do these places have in common?
For one, I have visited them in my travels overseas (there are more in the list but too long to include it here). Secondly, they are all listed as world heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
(Four sites in Malaysia are also on one of Unesco’s lists; two are natural – Gunung Mulu National Park and Kinabalu Park – and two cultural – Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley).
But it was at Carcasonne last week that I realized the significance of these world heritages.
It doesn’t have to be ancient (Sydney Opera House vis a vis the Cathedral of Notre Dame for example) but each of these sites tell a story.
And the fact that some of these ancient buildings are still standing is fascinating. That’s how good the construction was back then and how serious the respective governments are in their conservation and preservation programmes.
I continue to be amazed with what the owners (some of the establishments listed as world heritage by Unesco are actually privately owned) and the authorities have done to preserve these properties, which in turn have become tourist attractions for the respective areas and countries.
Some of the sites are self sustaining, too, without depending much on government assistance to keep it going.
Take Carcasonne, one of the largest fortified towns in Europe, as an example.

It is also had one of the best conservation programmes, which was carried out by French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (27 January 1814 – 17 September 1879) in the 19th century.

There are shops within the walled town, selling souvenirs which include replicas of items from the medieval times such as clothings, swords and shields; cookies and chocolates and herbs such as lavender and other spices and other touristic stuff like fridget magnets and t-shirts.

There were also small hotels and restaurants in the area.
Emanuelle, the guide who took us there, said the revenue from these establishments (she probably meant rental) help pay for the maintenance of the medieval walled town. The authorities also charge an entrance fee into the castle, which is within the town.
Carcasonne is one of 38 historical sites in France listed in Unesco World Heritage List. The World Heritage List includes 981 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.
We drove about an hour through the Toulouse countryside to reach Carcasonne. It being the summer month, there were many visitors to the castle. We headed there in the afternoon and spent three hours exploring the vast castle, which also included the St-Nazaire and St-Celse Basilica.
We toured the castle and its grounds with Emanuelle telling us the history of Carcasonne in her smattering English. Half the time, we couldn’t understand her!

One could easily get lost in the castle had it not been for the directions along the route. On some floors, there are exhibition areas, where old relics and artefacts are displayed.
I remembered that every time I popped my head out of one of the windows of the castle. I will have one of the steeples in sight. This reminded me of the 2011 movie of The Three Musketeers. I can’t help but recall the scene where the young D’Artagnan duelled against Captain Rochefort.
Emanuelle said the castle had been used as a location for some Hollywood movies but she couldn’t tell me which one (I don’t think she understood my question).  I googled and found out that parts of the 1991 film, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, were shot in and around Carcassonne.

And like other historical buildings and sites, you’ll end your tour at the souvenir shop stocked with not only fridge magnets, soft toys and other memorabilias but also books and other reading materials on the historical place.
Do we have something similar or better?