Monday, May 31, 2010

The Untold story

I have been wanting to say this for a long time but there was no opportunity to do so given the circumstances I was in while still teaching. Now that I have said goodbye to the profession I am free to write about my feelings on this issue.......the tudung (head scarf).

When I first started teaching in 1975, all the Malay female teachers, myself included, were tudungless. There were only a handful of students who wore the tudung. However, the situation was reversed some time in the mid 80's. Suddenly, everybody was donning the tudung and those who went about their lives without one were considered stubborn and not conforming to the standard dress code befitting of a truly abiding Muslimah. The few allies that I had also decided to defect to the other side after having been brainwashed by these "superior Muslims" leaving a mere handful of us hardcores, the "lesser Muslims".
I am seated fourth from right (in skirt and blouse) in 1980

We were often ostracised, especially during religious ceremonies  lest we contaminate the sanctity of the occassions with our sins. All these acts of discrimination and alienation were not verbally expressed but were substantially implied. They never voiced their disapproval outwardly but chose to attack me indirectly via sarcasms and insinuations They adopted a cowardice approach of passing caustic remarks and criticisms to the entire staff room, never pointing their accusing fingers at me for they knew what they were in for, had they decided to be forthright in their crusade. I retaliated by pretending complete ignorance of what they were referring to and went about my work as if it was not intended for my ears, much to their utter disgust and annoyance. Jahil (ignorant) as I am in Islam, in their eyes that is, I know one thing for sure, in that all Muslims should never ever humiliate or belittle another human being, Muslim or otherwise. It is God's absolute prerogative to decide who should ultimately be sent to heaven and hell.
I am seated second from left. This was taken in the late 80's. There are 7 Muslims here without the tudung.

I am standing middle row sixth from left. There are only 2 hardcores here, myself included. The rest without the tudung are non Muslims 

Inspite of their obvious animosity towards me, I mingled with them. There was no choice even though it was just a superficial thing. It was in my non Muslim friends that I found solace and I poured out my misery to them, much to chagrin of the "superior Muslims".

I became a champion of sorts to some of the girl students who sought my help each time they were found guilty of  going against the teachings of Islam like plucking  the eyebrows or keeping long nails or colouring their tresses. Liberal as I am, there are certain things which I don't condone, and, unfortunate for these girls, they include keeping long nails and plucking the eyebrows! I was lenient where colouring the hair was concerned, for I had mine dyed blonde at one time, though my preference was auburn, just to spite my enemies. I have to admit it was not easy for me to explain to these girls how my stand was on certain things without sounding contradictory in the process.
With my students in the mid 90's. .

I am not, repeat NOT against the tudung in any way, but I feel that it should not be forced upon Muslims who are not ready to embrace it. It would be a mockery to Islam if one were  to do it for the sake of just pleasing a certain group of people. I was an obvious sinner those days, as far as covering my head was concerned, but I would rather be that than a bunch of hypocrites who revelled in condemning and insulting others for a supposedly noble cause of upholding Islam, going about it in a very unIslamic fashion.

There were numerous occasions which were nauseating and best forgotten but I think I need to get this  one off my chest. The school decided to raise some funds and the only way to ensure success was to open its doors to the public for one day. Many activities were planned and one obvious crowd puller was to have a stage show. It was deemed appropriate that I be given the task of putting this act  together. It was quite obvious that this was not a job for the superior Muslims. This job should only be given to sinners like me. My assistant was from the other faction and her role was to act as a spy, I think, for she did not contribute anything but  merely sat and watched as I went about putting the show together. Realising that I needed some sort of an "umbrella" to protect me, I invited the whole staff  for the rehearsals but none came, save for the Principal who decided to come, but maintaining a reasonable distance hiding behind some trees  to avoid being seen, I guess. Immediately after the rehearsals I marched straight to her office to get her comments and approval to proceed for the actual day. I was quite thrilled and pleased with myself when she gave the green light to carry on as rehearsed.

The big day came and I got the whole act wrapped up by 12 noon BUT a few minutes before the final curtain, the Penolong Kanan KoKurikulum (Co-curricular Senior Assistant) approached me and told me that there was a band waiting to perform. Sensing my reluctance to compromise, he told me he would be responsible for that segment of the show. I believed him. After all, superior Muslims don't lie!!!!! I didn't know what time the show ended for immediately after my part of the show was over, I packed my stuff and left. I did not realise that hell was about to break loose at the post mortem of the Open Day a few days later.

I was viciously attacked, Quranic verses and hadiths were quoted and used as weapons against me. I was caught off guard and could only look across helplessly at the Senior Assistant hoping that he would come to my rescue. But, alas, he was not about to offer any form of assistance, certainly not in front of his wife who was also a teacher there. I felt so cheated and exploited. Apparently, the band was very rowdy and continued playing even when the azan was heard from across a nearby surau. I was made the scape goat. I was hopelessly defeated due to my own carelessness. That was the last straw. I did not hesitate like I used to when my husband suggested that we move to Jitra, he, to avoid the congestion in K.L. and I, to escape the torments of the superior Muslims.

My colleagues in Jitra were more tolerant and accomodating, but then I decided to don the tudung before making my entrance there. So, I did not have the opportunity to really test the ground, so to speak. Just for the record, I did the Haj in 1983 when I was just 31. I don't really care what others think of me so long as God is on my side, Insya Allah. .
The new me in Jitra
I am second from the right with my Jitra colleagues. At the extreme left is my best friend Ooi Gaik Hoe.

My latest photo. Well, not quite the perfect Muslim with my neck still exposed.


  1. Hi Cikgu,

    The little voice in me says, ‘No Tommy, it not your place to stick your nose in this issue’. But just like u, I’m sort of the rebellious type too & sometimes we need to get things off our chest even though it might not be a very popular thing to do & often get us in trouble.

    Anyway with all due respect to those that chooses to wear the tudung, I like to say to u cikgu, that it is your right of choice too and yours alone, whether u choose to wear it or not. It is strictly between u & the almighty. The main thing is that u r true to your religion and what matters most is what’s in your heart & the way u carry yourself. I’m sure u had given impeccable service in your line of work throughout your career and that's a very commendable profession too.

    Wrong or right, that’s all I have to say and it felt good too.


  2. Tommy,
    If only they share your views, the world would be a better place for all. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Siti,

    ,,,haha..Thanks for that interesting heart talk about tudung and Bib is still a rebel by your defination hahaha !.
    ...It is for this reason that talk of identity and identity politics today has to be tempered by realistic and logical considerations about human subjectivities and how we live in the ordinary way.
    Identity politics – be it in the name of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or any religion, ethnicity, language or culture for that matter – has the tendency to foreground one particular identity attachment at the expense of others; but this also has the effect of narrowing down the horizons of our subjectivities and perhaps also limiting the range of logical possibilities of our actions and behaviour.
    ,,,Islam as a way of life does not and need not be understood in terms of an identity straight-jacket that shapes Muslim subjectivities in such a closed and enforced manner; and Muslim subjects are not like Bonsai trees that are constrained by moral wires and ethical bonds so tight as to deny contingency, complexity and cosmopolitan multiple attachments to other things as well.
    ,,,Being a Muslim should not impoverish Muslim subjects, but this also entails accepting the mundane fact that Muslims are Muslims, but also something more.
    ,,,some people think that am not a good muslim too but only God and me really knows yaa. Am only answerable to Almighty God only lah. The others can fly kite as far as am concerned.

  4. Capt.,
    Wow!! Big words. Very philosophical. I try to be a good Muslim as best as I can. Human beings can never be spiritually perfect no matter how hard we strive for it. Having said that, I think just trying to attain that perfection is good enough. I know that I had sinned when I refused to cover that part of the aurat but they had no right to pass such a heavy sentence on me. Enough said.

  5. Siti,

    ,,,how is your other half getting along with his book ?. You would indeed make a good editor too hehehe and you do write pretty good.

  6. Capt.,
    Thanks for the good words though most times I think I merapu. Hubby is as busy as a bee..getting the manuscript ready, updating his blog, playing golf, contacting people to authenticate his story, God knows what else!

  7. Salam Cikgu,
    As a husband & father, I'm quite "liberal" on the tudung issue; my wife wears it, my eldest daughter doesn't, my other daughter just decided to wear it couple of months ago, the other two younger daughters can't be bothered with the issue yet. However, I came across this and thought it might provide alternative insight on the issue...
    [In case the link is not working, you might want to visit Oprah's website..]
    Choosing to Wear the Muslim Headscarf -
    Most teens want to dress like Beyonce, but Krista Bremer's daughter wanted to wear a headscarf. Hear Bremer's story as she explores the place where religion, self-image, and motherhood intersect.
    39 minutes ago

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  9. didn't realize this is actually an age-old topic. i thought the tudung dilemma only started in my schooldays ;-)

    i hated when my mum forced me to start wearing tudung when i first got my menses. none of my friends did (except at school). she made me wear it her style, which made me look like a makcik. so i would only wear it when she was looking. when i went out with friends i would happily take it off and put it in my bag, only to put it on again on the way home.

    then i entered MRSM and it was worse. had to wear full tudung covering the chest with a little scarf inside (those who didn't would be penalized). even had to wear socks all the time. but at least everyone had to do the same, so no one complained.

    after MRSM, i sort of got used to the idea of wearing tudung. in uni i made some good friends with those who constantly wore them, so it was ok, and they introduced me to more modern tudung styles. my only dilemma was when i wanted to do "fun" activities with my other set of friends (the more sociable ones) like watching rock concerts, hang out fun places with good music (which often served alcohol, but no i don't drink any) etc. often i felt out of place.

    but now, i'm a lot more confident with the fact that i wear tudung. i don't mind wearing them to those places anymore. i'm proud of being different. my only exception is when i'm in countries where ppl have negative perceptions towards muslims, then i would wear something else (like a cap or winter hood) to cover my hair so i won't attract the wrong crowd (for safety reasons).

    all these while, i've heard many bad things said by those who wear tudung about those who don't. they think they are good just because they have a piece of cloth on their had, when at times, they are abosultely worse - mengutuk, mengumpat, menipu, berhutang tak bayar, menyakitkan hati org.. all the typical malay social diseases you can think of! even looking at them makes me sick!

    i'm so glad that you write about this, aunty siti. thanks for the opportunity to get this off my chest.. or head.. or tudung!

    p.s. you look cute in that last photo ;-)
    p.p.s. i should have written my own entry on this, should it? sorry for this incredible lengthy comment, just can't help myself ;-)

  10. Dieya,
    Welcome home! Wow, some globetrotter you are! Where is the next destination after Seoul? I didn't get to go round the world when I was your age. My advice is....go when you have the opportunity and when you are still single.
    Your Mum did a good job in forcing you to wear the tudung. I think we all need a bit of pressure to keep us on the right track. On reflecting, may be I would have donned the tudung earlier had those colleagues of mine been more diplomatic and forgiving. Well, whatever it was, the fact that I had sinned remains. But then, as they say, to err is human!

  11. En. Baharudin,
    Just finished reading Krista Bremer's story. I have to admit, 9 year-old Aliya Ismail Bremer's determination puts me to shame. But then, it's better late than never. I just hope and pray that she would stick to her principles, having a long, long journey ahead of her.

  12. Salam Cikgu,
    Just to share a view on the tudung issue. My late grandpa was a scholar in "his own way" (i.e. not necessarily endorsed by any of the "official" religious depts., etc.), and he put up a strong argument that covering of the hair is not a must for Muslim women. The "nas" to back up the argument is meant for wives of the Prophet since they are "ummuslimin", i.e. "mother" for the Muslim Ummah; thus, the "rules" for them are much stricter than Muslim women in line with their status. The intention is not to "attract" unnecessary attention. Of course this view will not be accepted by the mainstream scholars... but what the heck!?
    Unfortunately, if we look at the way things are now with the tudung, we get to see some Muslim women wearing the tudung, but at the same time, wearing tight jeans that show their shapes; or, wearing tudung, but put on tight shirts that show their cleavages & all more! The intended spirit of modesty has been lost! In fact some friends made the joke that they might as well wear tudung and the bikini! Many have missed the point altogether. So, pick your choice...

  13. En. Baharudin,
    I wish there were more people like you out there who would not be easily fooled by the tudung. I think it takes more than just the tudung to be a good Muslim. I am no expert on Islam but I am quite fascinated by your late grandpa's argument.

  14. Cikgu,
    Its not that easy going against the tide... even when one knows that the "tide" is not going anywhere... Take care & salam.

  15. salam, puan

    the aurat rule is clear in islam but i second your thoughts. i have seen women in tudung who tarnish the image of islam with their undesirable akhlak. i personally prefer muslim women to embrace the tudung (but only with sincerity). at the end of the day, it is a personal choice and allah is all knowing.

    i have yet to read your other postings but thus far i am enjoying this blog. just love reading about experiences money can't buy.

  16. Salam noir,
    Those were tough times for me. I was not ready for it(tudung)yet, then. However, things are different now. Yes, the tudung is part of the attire now.
    Thanks for dropping by. Glad that you enjoy reading my blog. I'm honoured. By the way, just call me Siti.