Is the title given by Naima, the founder of SISTER’s magazine (a magazine for Muslim Women) for blog entries. I get to know about the request a bit late from Ijtema.net - the closing date was 4th July. However, I found it very interesting (and something very close to my heart), so I just want to give it a go here.
In my teenage years, I was a student in one Islamic boarding school. It is one of the most prestigious Islamic college in Malaysia, and I am glad to be a part of it. However, my experience there were, well, very colourful! (the best way to decribe it).
There were a group of students that was supposed to be the ‘religious’ leaders of the school and they had every funny imaginable rules on the planet earth when it comes to girls clothing, and girls behaviour, and girls voice tone, and everything that has to do with girls.
Us girls, we were discouraged from speaking up. Err, in fact we were discouraged from speaking at all! There were specific ways for us to walk as well. We can’t look up and forward to the front when we walk. We must keep our eyes glued to the floor, all the time and use our sixth sense to manouveur our way to avoid dustbins, decorative plants, or in fact fire extinguisher that stood on our way. In fact, it was a well-known quote that kept being repeated from one generation after another that ‘women do not have rights to walk on the road’. So when boys students walked, we need to ‘give space’ to them and walked by the longkang (drain). Another thing, we must at all our will, to create a ’shield’ in front of our bosom with our hand, so when the wind blew our hip-long hijab will not stick to our body. We were also constantly reminded of how ‘women are the root of destruction in all civilisations’ so we need to watch our self every single minute of every single day.
Our school uniform already consists of long round hijab covering our whole upper-body body up to our hip, on top of our ‘baju kurung’ (a Malay traditional dress) that covers of whole lower body. There is not an inch of our body that is exposed, (besides our face and hand), yet they were imposing all sorts of ‘extra’ restrictions on us. Needless to say, there were a lot of rebellion going on during my teenage years.
Now that I am more mature (hopefully), and less rebellious (definitely), I realise how big an effect the whole experience was to me and to all teenage Muslim girls (that were made to adhere to these rules). We were taught (directly and indirectly) to be ashamed of our natural body and to hide it. Most of my more ‘obedient’ friends, they hunched when they walk, so that they can under-emphasise their bosom. Because of this, they developed a very poor body posture. Most spoke in whispers, at the decibal of a weak mouse. They had very low self-esteem, not feeling that they worth much. Of course, when you are told repeatedly that you were ‘not worthy to walk on the road’, girls find it difficult to find the confidence in themselves. Teenage years were difficult enough already without people telling you that you are the root of all evil!
I am lucky that my parent are progressive Muslims and my father encouraged strength in character and personality in women. He would always say things like ‘women are not meant to be slaves’ and ‘women need to be educated and be of value to yourselves and community’. I have 4 sisters, and we are all a bunch of strong-willed ladies, thanks to both of my parent.
But what about those other girls? Their self-esteem and self-value were shattered by negative comments and silly stifling rules during their growing years. Isn’t Islamic college and institutions supposed to build people, boys and girls alike. Aren’t they supposed to instil in us strong sense of self, guided by the Quran and Hadith? Aren’t they supposed to open our minds to the wonders of the world and challenge us to think of better ways to contribute? Sadly, I haven’t seen much of this.
I hope that as times change, these silly rules will also change. I hope that Islamic schools, colleges, and institutions will realise their true roles. They are meant to build people - both boys and girls, male and female.
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