What it’s really like to be a Muslim Woman in Singapore

by Zubaidah Eusoff

Minorities, intersectionality, racism, islamophobia. This is the world we live in. Apart from the occasional rainbows and butterflies, there is a need to acknowledge that the society we live in is plagued with issues as such. What does it mean to be a Muslim woman in a world like this? There is a need for voices to be heard, for common understanding and for intention to be made - to accept, to celebrate and to co-exist. Not enough is said out there about the truths and struggles that minorities face, about their triumphs and failures, the inconveniences they face, the things they wished could have been done better. Here’s a look at three Muslim women, up close and personal.

Her community, her people, her faith.

Acknowledging that being part of a minority has both its merits and its struggles, Naila Nadeem, 21, a third year undergraduate at NUS is thankful she is surrounded by close friends who are accepting of who she is, her race and her religion.

"It takes a lot, a lot more than normal to face micro agressions on a day-to-day basis. Being in a minority basically subscribes you to being okay with feeling vulnerable, with having to explain your every choice and your every habit." 

Having to confront people who perpetuate Islamophobic stereotypes and remarks, Naila takes on the responsibility to educate the people around her on why she practices her faith in certain ways - why Muslims have to pray 5 times a day, why there are dietary restrictions and why Muslims fast. 

Naila speaks a lot on the importance of the right community. One that is supportive and accepting, one that pushes her to be who she is and one that motivates her to be better. A simple trip to Wardah Bookstore with her best friend, Salwa, opened her eyes to the softness and gentleness of Islam, one that she described as safe and comforting.

 Being a Pakistani Muslim, Naila describes herself as a minority within a minority, with majority of the Muslim population being Malay. Not a fluent Malay speaker, Naila admits that there are days where she feels a sense of disconnect. Despite the fact that Muslim-centric societies and activities exist, giving her a space and community, a safe space, it has also made her differences more profound. But more than anything, this reminds her of her self-worth, of her personal religious journey. 

A Muslim Women: No lack, No less

A very optimistic person by nature, nothing could come in the way of Liyana Sinwan, a lawyer. 

Liyana reminisces about a time in her youth where being a hijabi worried her. She feared if it would potentially hinder her future prospects but instead, now, at 31, she looks back fondly. Seeing how it has motivated her to be her best at what she is doing, with the intention of inspiring others. She quotes “We don’t see things as they are; We see them as we are” completely agreeing with that.

For Liyana, being a Muslim grounds her. It is the way of life. Her daily activities alongside the multiple roles that she has, a lawyer, mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend, she sees as an opportunity to fulfil her purpose of serving God. 

There is the relentless rigour of expectations that she is expected to uphold. “We are expected to raise our children like we do not work and at the same time expected to work like we do not have children. The mental load of motherhood is real,” she adds.

She wishes that more in the society knows that women in Islam are not oppressed. Giving the example of how the Quran has a whole chapter dedicated to women, “I think that itself speaks volumes,” she says. She adds that God has created her for a purpose and that is to serve him. Her role, as a Muslim woman and every other responsibility that comes with it is a vessel for her to fulfil just that.  

Chinese and Muslim, It’s Possible

From learning about Islam from a boy who is no longer in her life, Jojo (alias) chose to be a Muslim woman after learning about the religion - and everything just made sense. 

Practicing Islam for about six to seven years now, Jojo is still continuously learning. Now 26, she first tried to don the hijab back when she was 21 but realised that she was not ready for it. 

However, this year, she decided that it was time and currently dons the hijab. Jojo acknowledges that especially in Singapore, it is rare to see a Chinese woman donning a hijab. However, that fact hardly bothers her. Instead, the hijab associates her to her religion and she believes that it guides her to be a better muslim. Jojo who was born a Christian, and has now reverted to Islam admits that she is privileged to have not gone through any form of discrimination from the society for the choice that she has made.

“When i’m walking out there, wearing the hijab, I feel like I have a responsibility as a Muslim woman. That makes me very thankful,” Jojo adds.

“Maybe it's because I'm Chinese,” she says ever so frequently recognising her privilege. Jojo is extremely grateful that she has been received with open arms, and that she feels blessed for the experience that she has been going through.

Now that she is a hijabi, she is aware of the prejudices that are happening in the society, citing the current ‘hijab at work’ situation that has been the talk for quite some time and wishes that she will not have to deal with that, and that she can be accepted for who she is at work. 

Some may say that she, a Chinese Muslim donning the hijab might stick out like a sore thumb. But they’re wrong. She’s a rose among the thorns.