Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Muslim law modified by Malay customs.

I found a neat document summarising a meeting between some NGOs, women's organisations, Malay Muslim organisations and Muslim organisations, as part of Musawah, a 3 year-old international movement working towards equality and justice in the Muslim family.

There were two points in the report that were particularly interesting to me (and to people who search this blog too, judging by the search terms I've been getting!):

According to AMLA, no Muslim domiciled in Singapore shall (after 1 July 1968) dispose of his property by will, except in accordance with the provisions of and subject to restrictions imposed by the school of Muslim law professed by him AND in the case of Muslim person domiciled in Singapore dying intestate, the estate and effects shall be distributed according to the Muslim law as modified, where applicable, by Malay customs.

Some Muslims in Singapore think they don't have to write a will, because they expect that their estate will be divided Islamically according to fara'id, or inheritance law, Singapore-style. Writing a will is really important for Muslims who live in countries that do not have dual systems to accommodate shari'a, like the US, Canada, UK, and (insert every European country here). That means, Muslims in Singapore registered with ROMM don't have to worry, and Muslims everywhere else can write a will.

But here we run into a problem. Is fara'id as fixed as we make it out to be? Actually, there's a lot of room for manoeuvre and there have been several instances where good, believing Muslims choose to bend a few of the fara'id rules here and here. I wasn't trained as a lawyer, but these links might be useful for you. (Hmm, why does this all this manoeuvring remind me of 'Islamic banking'?)

But you can't always depend on the Syariah Court or MUIS to sort everything out for you, because sometimes a will is still important in Singapore! Here are some circumstances that a will could prevent:

  • Adopted child who had looked after and taken care of adopted parents received nothing (Totally saw this happening!);
  • Widow with young children being forced to sell the matrimonial home as deceased’s brother or father insisted on claiming his or their share; (Not all men are maintainers, clearly.)
  • A son who is a prison inmate or drug addict receiving more share than the daughter although daughter had looked after their parents; (Did I mention that  not all men are maintainers?)
  • Widow with young female children receiving less share of the deceased’s husband’s estate because Baitulmal granted some shares; (I thought Islam meant we loved girls :(  )
  • Non-Muslim wife (or spouse) and children receiving nothing of deceased Muslim husband’s estate; (Nothing for the heathens.)
  • Muslims wanting to renounce Islam so that they are not governed by Muslim inheritance laws, which they perceive to be unjust and unfair (Whoa drama lah! There's a difference between not being Muslim and not being governed by a context-specific law. How about just find a way to NOT be governed by them? Hint: I did it).

Religion does not occur in a vacuum, so it's unrealistic to expect shari'a laws that are 100% Pure Islam (because such a system would be too vague and those among us who are too afraid to use our minds and conscience will flip out). A large part of any country's shari'a law will necessarily contain elements of the country's (dominant) culture. So people who insist that we must follow 'shari'a law' without questions, at least have the self-reflexivity to realise that you are partly following Malay customary law. And Islamic law is Sunni and Shafi'i. Nothing wrong with that, I'm just saying you should at least be aware of it. Especially if you're not Malay.

One of the ways that the laws pertaining to marriage and divorce are Malay-ised are the use of the terms. Here's a sample from Part VI: Marriage and Divorce from the Administration of the Muslim Law Act (AMLA):
Marriage of janda
97. —(1) Where the woman to be wedded is a janda —
(a) she shall not be married to any person other than the husband from whom she was last divorced, at any time prior to the expiration of the period of iddah, which shall be calculated in accordance with the Muslim law;
Janda! That is totally a Malay word, right, right? (Yes -- it collapses both divorcĂ©e and widow to refer to a woman who is no longer married). But 'iddah (waiting period) is from Arabic and it's mentioned four times in the Qur'an. When a man wants to divorce his wife, he should not chase her out of the house during the 'iddah (65:1), but this is only if the marriage is consummated (33:49). If pregnant, until the child is born, but if she doesn't or no longer menstruates, wait three months (65:4). The abovementioned 'iddah refers to a widowed woman having to wait  four months and ten days before marrying again (2:234), although the word is not mentioned in this verse.

The Malay custom of tunangan (engagement) is mentioned as Section 94, where if an oral or written promise of marriage is broken, each party must pay the other 'damages' for any amounts spent preparing for the marriage, and the woman must return her gifts too! Engagement would fall under 'honorable and recognised words' to announce marriage (2:235) or keeping promises/covenants and honouring contracts (4:33, 5:1, 5:89, 17:34, 70:32, and many more).

On this subject, it's interesting that the Qur'an mentions that guys, it's fine to either state your intention to marry or to keep it to yourself. Just don't promise your girl in secret! (2:235)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eid mubarak!

In celebration of the culturally-confusing way I spent Eid this year, here are some ways to say Eid:

The Malay way, which I grew up with (and which practically all Singaporeans, whether Muslim or not, say it) is Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir dan Batin which literally means Happy Day of Celebration of Eid, I seek forgiveness sincerely from you. That's because we have a Eid morning, post-prayer and pre-breakfast ritual of asking to be forgiven from the old and the young, together with tearful kisses and hugs.

For me, always awkward. Haha!

The Dutch way is Gelukkig Suikerfeest, which literally means Happy Sugar Party! Very culturally-specific no? But I guess Eid cookies are the staple of Eid anywhere in the world.

Moroccan cookies

This year, Eid was a tiny affair. The Dutchman and I went (I cycled! In a long skirt!) to the Indonesian mosque (the mosques are largely segregated by ethnic groups because of the linguistic abilities of the imam and administration) and we had another Dutch muslimah with us as well! It's always really nice to be able to sit with someone in the mosque.

By the grace of God, we managed to find a space in the main prayer hall with other ladies (still behind a barrier of course, but at least a low one!) just in time before they closed off the area to prevent overcrowding. Some administrative announcements for zakat fitra were made in both Bahasa Indonesia and Dutch (again, very nice!) although the Eid sermon was a typical long and droning one in only Bahasa.

Dutchmuslimah was also very surprised at the number of Dutch men present, and the good-looking offspring of their families. I was quite surprised at the number of ladies walking around in knee-length skirts! In general, Indonesian mosques are more tolerant of uncovered hair in the mosque, but this was new :)

To complete the Dutchness of this 'sugar feast', we had tea/coffee and cake/quiche at a cosy little cafe in town.

Hmm, maybe apple pie next year! Have a blessed Eid everyone, and let's enjoy the return to our fitrah and the beautiful gifts that Ramadan has given to us to enjoy and keep close to us for all of our days.

Summer hydrangeas!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Being an 'undercover Muslim'.

This first guest post comes from Sumaiya, a Dutch Muslim woman living in the Netherlands. We met through mutual friends and I've been so blessed to know her. Right from the first meeting, I felt such a deep connection to her because of the same way we view many things about Islam.

I hope you all enjoy reading her story and keep her (and all other 'undercover Muslims') in your prayers!


I am an 'undercover Muslim', even though I live in the Netherlands (which they call a very open minded country). I hope I will not be undercover for the next couple years though, but still for now I am.

As a Christian, a lot of things didn’t make sense to me. I had no doubt about the fact there is one God, and no one or nothing else should be worshipped. But a lot of other things just didn’t seem right for me. So when I started working at a place with some Muslims, I discovered Islam.

Getting answers to a lot of questions, I thought: THIS makes sense! After a year of research and a lot of talking with my Muslim friend, this person said to me: "You know what, you are already thinking as a Muslim!" This was an eye-opener for me and it made me scared because I knew this was something for real.

The thing that blocked my way of being Muslim was especially my family. Knowing that Allah guides whoever He wants to guide, gave me a sort of peace. I knew this was the right way, even though I knew my family would be in a big shock when they would find out. And on the first day of Ramadan in 2011, I did the shahada.

My first Ramadan was a special one of course, I just converted and I wanted to fast just like any other Muslim. But then the reality-check came, when my mom called and said, "Let’s have lunch tomorrow". Of course I wanted to fast, but was this the moment to tell her about my conversion? So that’s where I started being (how I call it) ‘an undercover Muslim’.

I had some non-fasting days this Ramadan, while thinking "Next Ramadan will be different, everyone will know and I don’t have to try change dates of dinners with family because I want to fast." I did start telling good friends about my conversion. They responded very well and were understanding, which I’m still thankful for. Alhamdoulilah.

In 2011, knowing Christmas would come, and my mom would ask me to go to church with her, I was planning to tell them about my conversion.

But I didn’t.

My mom didn’t ask me to go to church with her, and we would only have a dinner. I had stopped drinking alcohol a couple of years ago, so not drinking alcohol at dinner wasn’t suspicious for them. Besides that, I never ate a lot of meat so not eating pork or meat wasn’t suspicious for them either.☺

After surviving (that’s how it feels being a Muslim with a different way of thinking than Christians) Christmas, I felt a really strong need to tell them about my conversion before the next Ramadan. It felt so weird not being able to be the person (a Muslim) that you really are in your family. But after a few weeks, I got scared again about their reaction, knowing it would be a sort of drama and a real disappointment.

So I didn’t tell.

Now it’s the third week of my second Ramadan and except for my friends, no one knows about me being a Muslim and fasting. So that means this Ramadan I had to start planning: combining days of my internship with having family dinner, for example. So then I would only lose one day of fasting instead of two. I had only four days of internship left in Ramadan soI decided not to tell them.

Not telling has to do with a couple of things, I know it would be "a thing" when I tell. I don't want people to treat me differently and I was of course scared to tell them. Scared because I know when I tell more and more people around me, my family will have to know it too.

Sometimes it frustrates me, that being a Muslim without the (what Dutch people would say) "standard Arab look" makes it sometimes harder to tell and to be open about it. But what I also know is that being a Muslim with the "standard Arab look" isn't always that easy either.

So let us not complain, but let us talk and pray with and for each other. And as for next Ramadan, I hope I will not be an undercover Muslim anymore….. Inshallah.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ramadan reflection #4: Changing times.

As I find myself in a different time zone this Ramadan, I realised how much the entire spirit of Ramadan for me in previous years centered around the light, smells and sounds of the equator.

Sahur, or the morning meal, always meant waking up a mere hour earlier than usual. Not long after fajr prayer, you could hear the birds chirping and waiting for sunrise. Since I also left for school earlier than usual, I was rewarded with beautiful red-streaked sunrises from the train platform. Here, sahur is a quiet affair interspersed with sounds from the street of drunk people or cyclists. It's also more than two hours before sunrise, so staying up is an option only if you're going to sleep all day.

At 4 or 5pm there would come my inevitable dip in energy levels and sense of humour, after a full day of school together with walking in the hot tropical sun. I remember being five or six years old with glucose levels at absolute zero (and not much fat reserves to draw upon!) and lying motionless on the carpet in the living room. I didn't want to break my fast and I was probably to weak to make it to the kitchen anyway. But clearly I survived :)

After iftar, or the breaking of the fast, I would have to quickly pray maghrib at home if I wanted to make it to the mosque for tarawih prayers. It was also fun to pick out tarawih-appropriate clothes: the most important being a hijab long enough to also pass for a telekung (a large and long prayer headscarf, often white and much-loved by many non-Southeast Asian Muslims) which had to be pinned down at the back to keep it in place when prostrating under huge ceiling fans.

The air at night is humid, but cooler. Cycling home, there would be crickets chirping and frogs croaking in the grass along the sidewalk. It would only be 9pm or 10pm -- still a whole night ahead for extra prayers or assignments.

There's no doubt that these sights, smells and sounds were part of what it meant to me, to be a practising Muslim then. This Ramadan is so different, in a different house, country, family, climate, and diet -- I am still finding my way to feeling as spiritual as before. Because this is not a religion of nostalgia, and I should be able to find things that make me feel as Muslim as I always have.
Read other Ramadan reflections here: 
#1 What is abstinence?
#2 Physical considerations
#3 The shortest terawih

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Five minutes of fame.

My post describing Ramadan and Eid in Singapore, originally written for Al-Nisa monthly has been kindly cross-posted over at the cool people at Muslimah Media Watch. 

You can read it here. Be sure to also check out the other posts on Ramadan by writers from different countries here!

We're halfway through Ramadan. I hope everyone is finding their own spiritual way in this month!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Received a recycled, handmade envelope?

If you're here, you probably bought or received a handmade, recycled envelope or book.

100% of the money from these labelled envelopes went to supporting the children of the town of Nabi Saleh in West Bank, Palestine.

With this money, the children of Nabi Saleh received cameras as part of an art therapy project to help them overcome the trauma that they experience everyday. The funds are transferred directly to the leader of the project, Ms. Manal Tamimi.

For updates on what is happening in Nabi Saleh, go here. If you wish to donate or get more information, email me at nurulsyahirah[a]

Thank you for your support and may God bless you.


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