We’ve Heard This All Before, Mr Shanmugam

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K Shanmugam’s response to the Thaipusam fracas between police and devotees displays all the hallmarks of a typical strategy from the PAP’s playbook.

There is the classic retreat into legal jargon and semantic somersaults when he says musical instruments are allowed during lion dances and Malay weddings because, unlike Thaipusam, these are not “religious foot processions” and are usually categorised as “social, community events”.

There is the usual red herring: Hindus in Singapore are supposedly privileged because they are the only ones allowed religious foot processions through major roads, unlike other religious groups. He narrows the entire realm of religious worship to one particular aspect, the foot procession, because of course the amount of traffic a particular faith group holds up indicates the level of respect it’s accorded by the State.

When other religious groups apply for permit to proceed on a foot procession, they are often rejected, he claims. He doesn’t cite any stats though, save for one example: the Kew Ong Yah Festival, which was given permission for musical instruments to be played, but not for a foot procession.

Like many of his fellow PAP cadres, he makes sure not to slam the door shut on the current rule, a sign the political party is ‘maturing’, so he ‘encourages’ debate between the Hindu Endowment Board and various governmental agencies. As much as any debate can be had in Singapore. We all know who are the ones invited to these closed door sessions, these conversations over breakfast with the minister.

As a Muslim, I must say all these points he brings up I’ve heard many times before. When the hijab issue was brought up about a year ago following a petition to allow Muslim women to dress according to religious requirements at work, leaders were quick to say that the hijab was already largely accepted in workplaces across Singapore, that Muslims already enjoy special privileges, that the matter was not for the Government to decide and still open to debate.

But I digress. This is after all Singapore, where the secular state must never be seen to be subservient to any religion, unless of course such subservience rings the cash registers.

It is the final point that Mr. Shanmugam stresses that is his most salient, in part because of the Little India riots that broke out in December 2013: physical and verbal assaults on police officers are unacceptable, whatever the underlying circumstances. Perhaps, in his mind, the officers who were on the scene during Thaipusam are blameless, upstanding paragons of moral behaviour, even though witness reports indicate some element of police brutality was present.

I can only hope that he has enough sense to know that they were somewhat overzealous in their approach to maintain law and order, and balances this public show of support for the men in blue with a private rebuking of those who were guilty of using unnecessary force.

Because I would hate to wake up tomorrow and see Singapore degenerate into a police state, if it hasn’t already, with minorities unfairly targeted and racist policemen thinking they are above the law.

24 years on…

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Warning: This blog post is laden with expletives, as most posts on football should be. Do not read if you wish to keep your wudhu.

I’ve not written anything in a long, long while. But I suppose recent developments in English football make it worthwhile for me to crawl out from under the rock I’ve been hiding.

When you’re a Liverpool fan, life can be cruel. Let me rephrase that. When you’re a Liverpool fan who only started supporting the club around 20 years ago, AFTER the heyday it enjoyed under the likes of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish, around the time it began its steady descent into the abysmal unknown of a post-first division football league era, life can be very cruel.

You know this because you carry with you scars that will never fully heal. Scars you will bring to the grave, borne from the numerous cuts to the ego you had to endure because of your guilty association with the Merseyside club.

You know this because at one point in your life, it felt like everybody around you was a Manchester United fan. Well, everybody in school that is.

You know how politicians, community leaders, academics, parents and teachers are starting to actually give a rat’s ass about bullying in school? Well, I’m sorry, but you bastards are fifteen years too late. You’ll need a time machine to save this boy and the millions of other Liverpool fans, who went to school every Monday morning hoping nobody would remember they supported Roy Evans’ sorry band of faggoty Spice Boys.

Absolute rubbish.

Absolute rubbish.

This was the late 90s, when the likes of Phil Babb, David James and Jamie Redknapp were more interested modelling underwear than actually putting in a proper shift on the football field. This was the time Liverpool would lose every time they met United, partly because their defenders would be shitting bricks whenever Cantona had the ball.

You’d argue your case against your devil-worshipping classmates, but it’d be to no avail. They would simply refuse to understand why you would ever want to root for such losers, and ones with such a rich history at that. Better to support a shitty team that was never any good, than one who actually allowed themselves this unbelievable downward slide into mediocrity.

You know their taunts all too well. Liverfool. You’ll always walk alone. You’d be a mid-table team if not for Owen/Torres/Suarez.

At night the last thing you’d see before you close your eyes to sleep would be their pimpled adolescent faces, contorted to form a facial expression that could only mean an intense Schadenfreude, so happy they were at your pain of being a Liverpool fan. They were the stuff of nightmares, these Manchester United fans, and it seemed with every passing week their numbers would grow, like zombies in an apocalyptic future.

You’d console yourself with the thought that perhaps supporting Liverpool helped you develop a spine, because how else would you have stood up against all the MU fans in school, which was just about everybody. Them bandwagon-hopping bitches.

Furthermore, supporting Liverpool steeled you against the many curveballs life threw at you, which in the case of yours truly, perhaps too many to mention.

Supporting Liverpool. Mastering the art of Zen.

Supporting Liverpool meant mastering the art of Zen.

Of course there would be rare instances of happiness. As the spoilt, overpaid stars of the Roy Evans era made way for the industrious unknowns brought in via Houllier, then Benitez, the results began to improve. A win over United no longer seemed impossible, though they continued to ratchet up Premier League titles, while we had to make do with smaller victories, like winning the League Cup.

Rafa did bring us the holy grail in 2005, but magical nights like that one in Istanbul are few and far between. Since that miraculous comeback against Milan nine years ago, the club has only won one FA Cup (again under Benitez) and one League Cup (King Kenny’s parting gift before he was asked to leave).

In that same period of time, United have won 5 league titles, 3 league cups, and the Champions’ League themselves. They’ve not just knocked Liverpool right off their fucking perch. They’ve damn well mauled them.

Well, not quite. While Liverpool were certainly at their lowest during the 2010-11 season, with the appointment of Darth Sidious lookalike Roy Hodgson, and the subsequent crowning of United for a 19th time (which meant they had overtaken Liverpool in terms of league titles won), the arrival of Fenway Sports Group in October 2010 brought about a slow, steady change to Anfield.

Only one of the managers pictured in this blog post is rubbish. See if you can figure out who. Hint: He's shown here.

Only one of the two managers pictured in this blog post is rubbish. See if you can figure out who. Hint: He’s shown here.

The rest, as the old adage goes, is history. Today, more than three years on, Liverpool are top of the league, with three games to go. Chelsea and Newcastle at home, Crystal Palace away. They need seven points from a possible nine. The Premier League title is theirs to lose. After 24 years, greatness is, once more, within reach.

United’s season, on the other hand, could not have been more different. They are 7th in the table, a whopping 23 points behind Liverpool. United fans may lay the blame squarely on the currently unemployed David Moyes, but in truth, the club’s players have not played at the level they are capable of.

A good friend.

A good friend.

Now it’s a Liverpool’s fan turn to enjoy his time in the sun, while his past nemeses grovel in the Old Trafford dirt. In schools all over the country, it is the United fan who now stands alone, as the Liverpool one did many eons ago.

Finding God, and happiness, in this secular space

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There was a moment about a month ago when I felt truly happy to have been born here, this tiny island crammed to the gills with people of all colours, high-rise buildings, construction sites, speeding supercars and creeping train carriages, status updates and tweets, angry Merlion-esque commuters, angrier Special Forces commandos in public libraries, floods, viral videos, online petitions and movements.

I’m sorry to have to add another essay into this complicated, crowded mess, but being a happy Singaporean doesn’t happen often for me, so I think it’s worth documenting. In fact a recent survey shows it doesn’t happen often for many Singaporeans. And we don’t know why.

Or maybe we do, but all the signs and studies show that being happy has little to do with being rich. In fact it appears that if you already have your basic needs met, striving hard to make more and more money won’t make you much happier. Sure, you’ll get to buy more fancy stuff, watch European football without having to resort to a pirated set-top box and go on more exotic holidays, but after the initial euphoria none of these possessions and experiences will make you feel any better.

Our Singaporean brains get a cognitive equivalent of a 404 error just trying to comprehend this phenomenon. Cognitive dissonance, if you’ve majored in Psychology (a pretty good thing I’d reckon for one’s career, judging from the number of loons living among us).

Watching Ilo Ilo

Anyway, this moment of bliss happened after I left the cinema at Tiong Bahru Plaza, having watched Ilo Ilo, that Singaporean film that won the Camera d’Or at Cannes 2013 . If you’ve not watched the film you should (although you probably have to wait for the DVD since it’s no longer screened).

The film tells the struggles faced by a middle-class Chinese Singaporean family amidst the 1997 financial crisis, and the bond each member of the family develops with their good-natured Filipino maid, who isn’t exactly having a rollicking time herself.

A scene from the movie Ilo Ilo.

A scene from the movie Ilo Ilo.

But back to this transitory ecstasy I was experiencing. I guess anybody who’s ever been to the movies knows that feel-good, carefree feeling you leave the cinema with. But as I walked out of GV Tiong Bahru Plaza I knew this wasn’t it. I was in a state of joy because for once I had watched a Singaporean film that was honest without being tacky. It pointed out the ludicrousness of the kiasi, win-at-all-costs mentality. That same mentality that besieges us into this state of unhappiness, and causes us to sometimes besiege others to do the same.

I was also feeling happy because the film managed to evoke all these memories I had growing up: bullying the maid while my mother worked, playing the capteh and cycling, and being a general nuisance around the house and neighbourhood (I’d elaborate but it would be embarrassing).

But most of all, I felt happy because I saw two things upon exiting the cinema. I saw three Primary School boys, a Malay, a Chinese and an Indian. They were having a bit of a banter, though I couldn’t make out what, and it seemed like they didn’t have a care in the world (were the exams over?). They could have so easily been mistaken as brothers, if only the colours of their skins weren’t so obvious.

I saw two girls from a madrasah, complete with the hijab that formed part of their uniform, window-shopping. They looked like they were about fifteen, milling around, wide smiles on their faces, perhaps not much different from other fifteen-year-old girls let loose in a shopping mall. I wondered if they were aware of the rising tide of discontent amongst many in the Muslim community with regards to the hijab issue, unresolved after many years of lobbying.

Singaporean & Muslim

Singaporean & Muslim

The film, the memories it evoked, the boys and girls I saw outside the cinema made me feel happy to be Singaporean. But what does being Singaporean mean, really? In this instance I suppose one could say being Singaporean means having been born here, and having spent much of one’s life here. To be specific this was the Singaporean identity manifesting itself, not citizenship. Citizenship can be ‘bought’, not so identity.

The Singaporean Identity, Secular Space

But while the word identity might bring about connotations of individuality, the Singaporean identity is a shared one. Whatever racial group you belong to or whatever religion you profess, there are clear elements of this Singaporean identity that we all (usually) agree upon. Some of them are a respect for law and order, a confidence in speaking English, a penchant for efficiency and an inclination to work hard for one’s goals. I think we are also compassionate people, judging from how quickly we open our wallets for donations, to how we all collectively grieve when tragedy strikes.

Being Singaporean also means being mindful of the religious practices and customs of other Singaporeans. While it is true that we are a secular state, the reality is that many people who live here believe in a higher power and subscribe to some form of religion. We have churches, mosques and temples all over the island. When army officers are commissioned, leaders from the various religious groups are present to ‘bless’ the parade and the graduating contingent. Our public education system allows for Catholic schools to educate boys and girls of all faiths.

So when fellow Singaporeans say that concessions to allow the hijab in schools and workplaces will trample upon our country’s secular space, I can’t help but feel puzzled. Perhaps there are differing views on what secular means. Secular is typically defined as being “not connected to spiritual or religious” matters. A secular space, or state, is one that is neutral in its stance towards all religions.

A secular space to me is one where I do not have to feel obligated to participate in a religious event or ritual. It’s one where I don’t have to live in constant fear of being preached to, or pressured to convert. Off the top of my head, the workplace would be an example of such a secular space, especially if it came under the ambit of the government.

Ironically, a secular space is also one that frees people from being discriminated upon because of their religion, given its neutrality towards all religions. Imagine if a Muslim teacher decided to be unnecessarily harsh in punishing a student, simply because he or she was non-Muslim. Surely we can think of many other examples where having this secular space benefits everybody.

But does being secular denote being anti-religion? Do we then remove all traces of belief in God from the secular space? Do I rip off my colleague’s cross hanging from her neck, or remove her Buddha statue from her desk, or ask her to wash away the bindi on her forehead, to restore the tainted secularity of this space? Let me ask again, does being secular denote being anti-religion?

I apologise if anybody is offended by the extreme examples that I employ, but I worry that the Singaporean identity is not what it once was. Where once we use to stand up for one another, regardless of race, language or religion, today we cower behind the walls we have erected around us. These walls were not erected from the strength of our faiths or from rising religiosity, but from the hatred that has poisoned our hearts. A hatred borne from ignorance. From not bothering to be mindful of other religious customs, of not wanting to know more about those who have different skin colours from us. From not knowing the difference between a ‘religious symbol’ and a ‘religious obligation’ (hint: the hijab is one but not the other).

That’s what I loved about Ilo Ilo. It allowed me to be a little less ignorant about the Chinese in Singapore. Sure, I suppose when they are the majority race here it’s difficult not to know what they are like: their social behaviour, cultural leanings, beliefs, attitudes etc. But to be frank, despite being a minority, I can also be guilty of insularity. And while I laughed at all the cheena idiosyncrasies the film pointed out, at the end I remember feeling a sense of connection with the Chinese family. I saw them as fellow members of this home we share, trudging through life, no different from me.

What Will You Defend?

I’ll end with the Total Defence theme from a few years ago. The question that unleashed irrepressible cynicism among NS men, and a host of sarcastic answers. “What will you defend?” Of course the correct answer is only one. We will defend Singapore. Nay, we ourselves must defend Singapore.

I think about this question every time I put on my army green and report in-camp for reservist. I try to imagine the kind of Singapore I would die defending. I imagine it’s a Singapore where my wife won’t be asked to remove her hijab, for fear of disrupting social harmony. I imagine it’s a Singapore where everybody is free to practice their religion without fear of discrimination. I imagine it’s a Singapore where the men and women will speak up to prevent any injustice. I imagine it’s a Singapore where I can feel connected and heard, where my views and aspirations matter.

I imagine it’s a Singapore where I can find God, and through Him, happiness.

Sure, not every soldier will imagine Singapore to be this. But their imaginations and mine are not mutually exclusive. And together, we will defend this tiny red dot, the shared product of our imaginations. Even, if it means sacrificing our lives.

A man who died defending Singapore.

A man who died defending Singapore.

Circumcision in Islam: A Meaningless Tradition Worth Discarding?

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This article was written for muzlimbuzz.sg (read: I’m running out of things to blog about)

About a week ago, in the midst of raging hijab debates and raucous Halloween debaucheries, The Real Singapore, a local alternative news website, did something rather strange and wholly unnecessary. It decided to publish an article, written by a Muslim man, on his disdain for male circumcision. This was more trick than treat.

To be honest, The Real Singapore is often guilty of the downright bizarre, though not the kind often associated with jack-o-lanterns and creepy costumes. But I suppose in wanting to attract a countercultural audience, they sometimes have to feature opinions which are very much opposed to the mainstream. An article on how circumcision is vile and barbaric, and not an obligation in Islam because no Quranic injunction exists to support it, is undoubtedly right up their alley.

Unfortunately, this particular writer seemed not to understand that Islam does not allow for the cherrypicking of laws to suit one’s motives and feelings. Yes, there may be a difference of opinion with regards to some laws (the permissibility of music comes to mind), but the vast majority of laws are clear and unambiguous.

As a Muslim, one is obligated to follow these laws, and not simply cast them aside on a whim. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah commands the believers to “enter into Islam completely”. Interestingly, in that same verse (208), they are warned “not to follow in the footsteps of Satan”, for he is, to believers, a “clear enemy”.

Is circumcision commanded in the Quran? No, it isn’t (and that’s perhaps the only thing the writer and I agree upon). But Islamic law is derived from several sources, not just the Quran, though it is regarded as the primary source. The Sunnah (sayings and teachings) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) also serves as guidance when deciding how to behave as a Muslim.

In this regard, Muslim men are circumcised because the Prophet Muhammad himself was circumcised and is reported to have said “Five things are part of fitrah (natural disposition of man): circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and removing hair from the armpits”. (Sahih)

Naysayers who claim that following the Quran alone is enough fail to understand that the Quran itself exhorts Muslims to follow the examples of the prophets (peace be upon them all), and that to obey Allah means to obey His Messenger. How does one obey the Messenger if he or she discards the Sunnah?

So if you’ve read this wanting to know if circumcision can and should be discarded as an archaic tradition with no place in the modern world, the plain and simple answer is no. Well, not for Muslim men anyway. But don’t take it from me. Walk over to your nearby mosque or Islamic centre and ask a local alim. Email him. Sign up for one of his classes. There are many in Singapore today, even though we may not be a Muslim country.

Just don’t take your knowledge of Islam from the World Wide Web. In today’s day and age, just about anybody can give you a half-baked ‘fatwa’, without having to spell out his name, let alone his credentials. Don’t learn about Islam from The Real Singapore.

Know that just like any other body of knowledge, there needs to be rigorous, authentic scholarship to determine what gets admitted and discarded from the canon of Islam. This is especially important when one considers what is at risk: the innovation and distortion of the Shariah, which ultimately leads to two phenomena, a refashioning of Islam to please the senses of the liberal democratic world and a hugely splintered faith, with a billion differing schools of thought. The symptoms of these two are already evident, for anybody who cares to look deeper into the crisis facing Islam today.

As such, not anybody can interpret the Quran and the Sunnah. In Abdul Hakim Murad’s Understanding the Four Madhabs, it is clearly listed the conditions that allow someone to claim the right to ijtihad (independent, scholarly reasoning leading to the formulation and codification of Islamic law). These conditions are, among others, mastery of Arabic language, a profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah, knowledge of the specialised disciplines of hadith, and knowledge of the views of the Companions, Followers and the great Imams.

To use an oft-quoted analogy, if we don’t subscribe to fly-by-night quacks for medical advice out of fear of the irreversible damage to our physical bodies, how can we be guilty of not doing the same in matters of religion? Taking instruction on religious rulings from just about anybody can result in untold harm on our eternal souls.

This medical analogy can also be used to clear up a long-standing misconception. Islam does not believe in circumcision because of its health benefits, numerous they may be in scientific literature. After all, as Muslims we do not consider science as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Rather, the Quran and Sunnah guides us to what truth is. As such, we are unlikely to be affected by what scientific research has to say about circumcision, negative or otherwise.

Nevertheless, we do not denounce science, or in this case, medicine, entirely. We know of its untold benefits in the modern era. In fact, on the issue of circumcision, a medical opinion, from a genuine doctor of course, can be used to overrule a religious obligation. For instance, if the doctor performing the circumcision feels the patient is at risk of haemorrhaging, or is perhaps too old or weak to undergo the procedure, then the obligation to be circumcised is waived. Some scholars have even said that the obligation is also waived if the person fears the procedure.

So, speaking hypothetically, if the Muslim man who wrote the article bashing circumcision were to explain to his future son the procedure of being circumcised, and if for some reason the son did not feel safe to undergo such a procedure, then, technically, the son wouldn’t have to. And it would not make him any less of a Muslim. Judging from experience though I don’t think any self-respecting seven-year-old kid would pass off that once-in-a-lifetime chance to feel like a tough hero.

However, I fear that there will be parents like the writer who insist that the religious obligation for circumcision is nothing but a fallacy, and in doing so would have already made a decision on behalf of their sons. How ironic, to dismiss such obligations on the basis of them being dogma, while espousing no less rigid an ideology.

Hijab

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If you are a Muslim living in this region then chances are you’ve heard of the online petition that wants Muslim women to be allowed to wear the hijab at workplaces in Singapore. A hijab is basically a headscarf worn by Muslim women when in public. In mainstream interpretations of the faith wearing it is a religious duty, and non-compliance is often considered a sin.

simple_dress_can_be_cute_too_by_sharaps-d5tqlib

If you haven’t seen or heard about the petition you can click here to read more about it and see how many signatures it has garnered. At the time of me writing this, it’s had over 12,000 signatures. It hopes to get 20,000.

For many Muslim women, not just at the workplace but in secondary schools and colleges, staying employed (or in the case of schools which require strict adherence to a common uniform, educated) means having to commit the sin of taking the hijab off. Given how people are increasingly religious these days, especially in the Muslim community, the choice can be particularly tough.

The hijab is usually allowed in many workplaces, but for women who work as nurses, like my wife, or in frontline operations where a certain uniform needs to be worn, it’s commonly accepted that wearing the hijab will get you more than a telling off from your superior.

The existing policy on the hijab, stoutly defended by many in the ruling PAP, has led to a politicisation of the issue. Muslims in Singapore look it as yet another instance where their rights have been trampled upon, along with the government’s pressuring and meddling of local madrasahs, considered by mainstream Singaporeans as unhealthy with respect to multi-cultural integration and nation building.

It’s no surprise how this one simple issue can get so many ordinary Singaporean Muslims riled up. After all, in countries like Australia and the UK, Muslim women are granted the freedom to wear the hijab, even if they work as nurses or policewomen. It’s funny how a predominantly Western, secular country with a relatively new Muslim minority, made up mostly of immigrants, can be so quick in laying down laws which allow such modifications to uniform, while here in Singapore nothing’s changed in the last 30 years of lobbying.

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What makes the current policy on banning hijabs at the workplace and school even more annoying/baffling is Article 152 of Singapore’s constitution, which upholds that Malays, considered the indigenous people of Singapore and of whom more than 99% are Muslim, shall be given special treatment. This includes the government having to “protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, RELIGIOUS, economic, social and cultural interests…”

As if that isn’t clear enough, Article 153 states that “The Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the President in matters relating to the Muslim religion.”

It would appear that the law of the land appears favourable to Muslims wanting to retain their faith. So why is the situation on the ground vastly different? There are many reasons, but I’ve narrowed them down to three, which I’ll elaborate here.

One, Singapore is a young country with a tumultuous past that involves clashes of the racial and religious kind. In 1964, several people were killed and many others injured when Chinese and Malay groups fought with each other. A decade earlier similar scenes of violence and destruction were thrust into the realm of public consciousness when a court ruled that a girl that had been raised by Muslims was to be returned to her biological parents, who were Catholic.

These riots are repeatedly told ad nauseum every year during Racial Harmony Day, celebrated annually in Singapore on 21st July, the day of the 1964 riots. They are given different perspectives, by educators, journalists and politicians, but ultimately they remind Singaporeans that race and religion are touchy topics that should never be broached publicly.

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What this usually means is simple. To speak about wanting certain rights pertaining to one’s faith is akin to being socially irresponsible and unnecessarily demanding, amidst an environment that preaches fairness to all, regardless of race, language or religion. In such a climate, one is expected to rein in one’s individual identity, and religious practice, for the continued harmony of the masses.

Two, there are, unfortunately, more than a few racists and Islamophobes in government. I won’t mention their names here lest I be hauled off to court, but suffice to say one could simply study the speeches and interviews given by some of them, and draw conclusions from there.

Racism on the ground (or in today’s day and age, FB) against Malays, as witnessed recently through the likes of Amy Cheong, leads to a severe backlash. Racism amongst the political elites? More often than not, brushed away as the musings of senility, a hard truth, or my personal favourite, a quote taken out of context.

But here’s how I see it. Racism or Islamophobia in Singapore is subtle. Nobody gets their front porch smashed for being Muslim. Nobody gets beaten up for wearing a burqa or growing a beard. But yearning for spirituality in a country steeped in materialist values is odd, and will attract you more than a few stares. So wanting to wear the hijab, or pray five times a day, or stay away from social events due to the inter-mingling and alcohol is often equated with being backward.

Sure, it might be the same elsewhere. Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman was quizzed on her hijab, seen as antithetical to the values she was promoting in wanting to revolutionise Yemen (see image below). Her reply was top drawer. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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But in Singapore, with a lack of healthy democratic discourse, such views, especially when they come from the governing elite, can end up invading every sector of society. To put it another way, if there is a lack of diverse opinions on the hijab issue amongst the people in power, why should it be any different for everyday people like you and me?

The third and perhaps the saddest reason (for Muslims like myself at least), is that the Muslims in Singapore, from the leaders to the laymen, are unwilling to push for change. Blame their “huge” government-drawn salary, blame dire economic status, blame mindless consumerism, blame the ruling party, blame the sequence of events that led us to being separated from our big brothers in Malaysia.

At the end of the day, we worry more about our next paycheck, how wonderful our upcoming wedding will be, which city in Korea to visit next, than whether our Muslim sisters will be allowed to wear the hijab or not. Sure, we’ll sign any petition, and believe you me we’ve signed many, but in ten years if things still don’t change, it’s not really going to hurt us that much. Nothing compared to the hurt we get from watching Manchester United under David Moyes these days.

Let’s put it this way. If only one Muslim wrote in to his/her MP and asked that hijabs be allowed in the Singapore workforce, chances are pretty slim that any change will be forthcoming. The letter will probably get trashed and the person will most likely be blacklisted. But what if a thousand people wrote in? Or ten thousand? What if one hundred thousand people wrote to their MP? (The CIA factbook states that 14.9% of people in Singapore are Muslim, which from my rough calculations means 813,585 Mohammedan souls.)

Better yet, what if EVERY Muslim woman who entered the workforce had the courage to confront their employers regarding this? What if they all had fathers like Ustaz Zhulkeflee Haji Ismail, who wrote in tirelessly, asking for his daughter to be given the permission to wear the hijab during her stints at the hospital? Would the powers that be still be able to sweep this under the proverbial rug?

There’s no need for collective action or a mass rallying of Muslims. All that’s needed is for each and every Muslim to be fearless and firm in their pursuit of what’s right. Unfortunately, it is not only a state of indifference and ignorance prevalent in the community that practising Muslims have to battle (jihad?) with today. More and more Muslims are wont to belittle these efforts at redress. They are easy to identify, these against-the-grain Muslim “intellectuals”. Usually successful in the worldly sense, they make no secret of their desire to be even more successful (read: make more money). These people are the ones often praised to high heavens when the government needs examples of how far the Malay community has progressed.

In return, they attempt to rationalise us, the irrational Other. Their language is one of accommodation, of compromise. We mustn’t be too emotional, they tell us. We already have much to be thankful for as Muslims in a non-Muslim country, they remind us. It’s not difficult to see why they say what they say. Some of them are (paid) supporters of the government, and as much as they would like to be seen as enlightened, many in the community just think of them as political and career opportunists.

Much more can be written about the hijab in Singapore, but I’ll end here. It is my sincere wish that this matter be resolved as soon as possible, but like all other religious matters, I doubt it will. A Minister or Muslim MP will probably be quoted as saying Singapore is “not ready” for such change, which is really doublespeak for “we don’t have the time nor inclination to make things better for you Muslims.”

A MUIS-sanctioned religious scholar will exhort us to be grateful for what we have, and perhaps drop a Quranic verse or two on the extent of Allah’s Mercy (when judging women who’ve had to take off their hijab in the name of gainful employment.)

Like those before me, I’m beginning to think my future lies in another country, perhaps not too far away like New Zealand or Australia. The average Singaporean will perhaps caution me of the racism found there. From the frying pan to the fire, they’ll say.

8903504I think I’ll take my chances.

Post script: The woman who started the petition (Syafiqah K.) has since closed it. She has yet to identify herself, and nobody knows why the petition was closed (well, except for her of course, and perhaps the people who rule this country).

Take it slow, K

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K was a slow walker. Like, really slow. He was an intern at the last place I worked, and I remember getting frustrated because he would slow me down whenever we headed out for lunch. I’d be turning my head and yelling at him, lovingly of course, to pick up the pace or we’d be late. But he’d just try his hardest and still be stuck in sloth mode behind me.

He would add a good ten minutes to my walk to the bus stop and back, so sometimes I just gave up and told him we’d eat nearby, though I really didn’t like many of the stalls near the office.

I guess one of the reasons why he was so slow was the fact that he was pretty short, mere stumps where most twenty-year-old men had long, strapping legs. It must have been quite a sight to see the both of us together, given the difference in our heights.

Truthfully he didn’t really look twenty at all. He had a a very boyish face, almost as if he was just discovering puberty. He had a perpetual mischievous grin, though we all knew he wasn’t malicious by any means. The boy had a good soul.

I remember talking to him a lot about life: the world, Singapore, women, work. Football. K was a massive football fan. He betted heavily too, despite all my warnings that nobody ever got rich through gambling. I wonder if he still gambles. I’ve not spoken to him in months. Not that we aren’t on talking terms or anything. I’m not a very sociable person, and neither is K.

I was thinking about him yesterday, when I walked home from the mall. I had a pretty bad bike accident recently, so I’m not exactly my former sprightly self. As I made my way home, taking every step like the unemployed, in-need-of-rest half-cripple that I am, I was reminded of K’s slow steps.

Walking slow is actually pretty therapeutic. I know it sounds bloody obvious, but you begin to realise things that you would have perhaps missed if you had walked fast. You know, the colours of flowers and all that other beautiful stuff the Singapore government seems intent on destroying to boost our GDP or house another million immigrants (have you seen the number of housing projects these days?).

I’m not suggesting that we walk slowly in every situation, though it surely helps to take life down a few notches. But it’s difficult. We live in a society that worships efficiency. We have to psyche ourselves up to work at superhuman speeds, we worry that our bosses will label us lazy if we don’t meet deadlines. We don’t switch off when we get home, and it can affect our family ties.

Everywhere we turn is another app or gadget to improve productivity, to help us fit more into the 24 hours we have in a single day. We are made to feel lousy if we don’t seem to be achieving or earning much compared to our peers. We need to fill up our days doing stuff, so the notion that we should be pursuing stillness and serenity instead must be seen as absurd.

Again, I’m not saying people should be lying in their beds all day, in awe of the colours of their ceilings. But wanting to blitzkrieg through life to a heart attack or hypertension seems insane to me.

I think that’s what I learnt from K. He was hardly bothered that he didn’t seem to know about the war going on in the Middle East, or the latest high-ranking civil servant to have been hauled to court on corruption charges. He looked every bit the happy sloth he was, the archetypal yogi. He didn’t seem to let the Singapore system get to him.

He took things slow.

Dumb and Dumber Singaporean Reactions to the Haze

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This past week has seen Singapore suffer its worse bout of haze, caused by forest fires in Indonesia. While I empathise with the worries and fears of the public, as the author of sgthinker rightly points out, sometimes Singaporeans can prove to be very unreasonable.

sgthinker.wordpress.com

In times of crisis, how a country reacts speaks volumes about its people and its character. I am sad to say that many online reactions to the unprecedented haze does not bode well for the country’s future.

Why isn’t there a stop work order? Gahmen only care about economy and not its people!

This is the most common complaint, but there is a key piece of information missing in every complaint. Nobody backs up their complaint with how other countries react if the air quality is really bad. A quick online search tells us why:

  • On Wikipedia, there is only one case where a state of emergency is declared. If the API in Malaysia exceeds 500, then “non-essential government services are suspended, and…

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