define yourself.

i was taught,that when giving an attribute to myself that i have to be a Muslim first, before any other. a Muslim, a Malaysian, a woman, a daughter etc etc.

always, a Muslim first.

easier said than done.

living in Malaysia, where the majority of citizens are (i hope, insyaAllah practicing) Muslims, sometimes one gets too accustomed, comfortable even that at some point religion becomes tradition. when we speak of Ramadhan, we easily think of food bazaars, and Eid becomes a day when culinary skills and fashion sense is most crucial than any other. the hijab becomes a uniform, something you wear to fit into the Malay society. Baju Kurung is worn on a Friday because it is a Friday. i shamefully admit, that i too, am one of those people guilty of the above.

in other sense, as much as we are surrounded by each other, we forget to feel that we are Muslims first.

it was year 2002, when Islamophobia was spreading in our world like a pandemic. i was sent to Germany, and was the only one of two hijabis in the whole group that consisted of various nationalities from Europe, Asia and Africa.

for the first time in my life, I was to embark on a journey that would educate me like no other. for a month, i was a Muslim first, more than i'd ever felt prior to that. in a local newspaper article, the journalist wrote about me, "...als ein muslimisches Mädchen, trägt das Kopftuch." (as a Muslim girl, [she] wears the head scarf). barely sixteen, i didn't quite understand the curiosity and fascination about the piece of cloth covering my head. but people were labeling me, and somehow the label helped me remember who i am and who i should be.

then i began to appreciate the things that are so easily ignored back at home. like scanning through the menu for something i can actually eat. usually they are confined to the appetizers and desserts section. i can recall eating tomato soup for dinner, and eating Apfelstrudel for lunch while Reka, the girl from Hungary was munching on buffalo wings in front of me. and that was when i befriended Sanyukta, a girl from India, who is a vegetarian :)

somehow i think it prepared me for six long years in Russia.

one thing i can say is that, sometimes less is more. during the six (at certain points agonal) years, i find the Ramadhans the most meaningful. i have never felt that way, not in my 17 years before coming to live here in Moscow. food was not the main course, and the relief and serenity is indescribable, when you come to realize that fasting is not about not eating and drinking.

and if Moscow has educated me other than in medical field, then it has certainly taught me to defend my religion to almost everyone i became acquainted with, non-Muslims (and sometimes, sadly) to Muslims alike.

it taught me to wear my religion with pride, hold my head up high, keep cool and put up a straight face when people sneer and jeer.

my hijab defines me as a Muslim, it puts a label on me, it reminds me of who i am and how i should behave.

this is definitely a very hard and emotional decision to make, but due to rising and alarming circumstances in Moscow right now, i decided to lay low and wear a cap and a scarf around my neck instead of a hijab. thanks to God, the weather is still cold and i can cover up as much as i can with this new "style". but i still wear my normal hijab in class, the cap is only for the metro and the streets :)

it doesn't mean i'm defeated, it doesn't mean i give up. i don't know if people actually agree with my decision, but with the little knowledge that i have, i believe that my religion is more flexible than it is confined to just one interpretation. and there are more than one way to cover myself as a woman, one just need to have some creativity.

i am just taking care of myself by avoiding unnecessary attention towards myself, understanding the overwhelming fear that is surrounding us and considering the fact that i am a helpless woman who commute alone daily, sometimes coming home at night. i too, am scared as much as everyone else. perhaps even more.

i dream of the day when i get to wear it again. without fear, with pride.

so help me God.


Kilau Saladin said...

i believe covering your aurat with something other than hijab is not against islamic teaching.n it's not giving up.just being smart enuf

LaXmana said...

I second Kilau Saladin.

Be tough, we're here supporting you!