“… اِعۡدِلُوۡا هُوَ اَقۡرَبُ لِلتَّقۡوٰى …”
“… Act justly – that is nearer to God-consciousness…”
– Surah Al-Maaidah – Verse 8.
I have always been a believer in standing up for what is right and upholding justice because I believe that it is a responsibility. I believe that I am heavily influenced by my faith and my religious upbringing. ‘’Adaalah’ – Justice. ‘Haq’ – Truth. ‘Ma’ruuf’ – Right. The Qur’an and ahadith are filled with verses on a Muslim’s responsibility to uphold justice and stand up for what is right, and my parents and teachers would always talk about the gravity of having responsibilities and carrying them out properly. “Kita semua bertanggung-jawab dan akan disoal pada Hari Kiamat nanti.” – We will all be held responsible and we will be questioned on the Day of Judgement.
The very thought of being held accountable is both thrilling and scary. Thrilling because God knows that I am capable of fulfilling these big responsibilities because He created me to have that capacity. It’s a feeling that God trusts me, which is a feeling of empowerment that can move me to tears. But at the same time, it’s scary because what if I don’t do my best? How will I answer Him? How can I stand before God and say “I didn’t do my best.” even with everything He’s given me? Oh God, I cannot even imagine being so ungrateful and disrespectful.
It’s also the idea of being a member of a larger community. It’s knowing that whatever I do, or don’t do, will have an impact on the lives and wellbeing of other people. When I stand up for the rights of other people, there’s a chance that they might get better lives. Even if it’s slim, there is still a chance, so I’ll take it. When people say my one voice won’t change anything, I think of Mulan’s emperor saying: a single grain of rice can tip the scale. If I speak out, things may or may not change. But when we don’t fight for the rights of others, it is almost definite that change will never take place and I do not want to be complicit in enabling a system that causes pain and difficulty for other people. That is not Islamic, and that is not something I can live with.
” إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ لَفِي خُسۡرٍ. إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ ٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتِ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ “
“Indeed, mankind is in loss. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.”
– Surah Al-Asr – Verse 2 & 3.
Being a middle-low class, Malay/Indian Muslim woman in Singapore would open anybody’s eyes to the many forms of injustice that still exists. There’s so much to work on. And I want to do it all. But to what lengths would I go to in the pursuit of a fairer society? I find myself asking this often. What am I willing to risk to even speak against a system that is much bigger than myself? I find other people asking me this too.
Anyone who knows me to any degree would probably say that I’m vocal. Some may even agree with you if you called me a troublemaker or a person who likes to look for problems. I actively engage myself in Malay/Muslim circles and the issues that we face. But doing this has subjected me to some of the worst attacks and threats I’ve received in my life, be it on the internet or in real life. I once spoke about the possibility of racial profiling in our country, and somebody I didn’t know messaged me privately, threatening to report me to the authorities and employers while hurling insults at me.
I also spoke about the anti-blackness and racism the larger Malay community has against South Asians and I received streams of personal attacks, calling me fat, stupid, illogical, divisive and so on. One person even uploaded pictures of me on their Twitter account that was dedicated specifically to fat and slut-shaming women. I’ve spoken about issues that exist in Muslim communities, and people of higher influence and authority decided that I needed to know my place as a person of low rank in the hierarchy. As a result, they used their authority to penalise me for ‘unrelated reasons’.
But I still can’t stop myself. When I feel like something needs to be said, I cannot stop myself from speaking. As I reflect, I wonder if this is an ego problem that I have, or if I am truly coming from a place of wanting positive change. Am I just a person who thrives on drama and negativity or do I genuinely want to do what is right? Maybe it’s all of these combined? Who’s to say that all these feelings or reasons are mutually exclusive? I’m still figuring it out. My most recent opinion is that I want to be more strategic (maybe even selective) about what I talk about and how I speak about it so that I don’t burn out. I don’t have to win all fights when I’m trying to win the bigger war.
” مَنْ رَأَى مِنْكُمْ مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُغَيِّرْهُ بِيَدِهِ، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ، وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الْإِيمَانِ “
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”
Imam Nawawi’s compilation of 40 Hadiths – Reported by Muslim.
“Do you want to join the End Sunat Perempuan group?” someone asked me. I immediately said: “I don’t think so, but I’ll think about it.” And boy, were thoughts being thunk. Initially, I thought about how advocating against Female Circumcision during a pandemic sounds a bit distasteful. Shouldn’t we focus on other issues that are more important? I just left my job because people started to report my social media account to my organisation, do I really want to draw that kind of attention to myself and potentially affect my livelihood again? How will the Muslim community take this? I had to ask myself so many questions.
But at the end of it, I always arrived at the same questions: “Do I think Female Circumcision is wrong?” Yes. Undoubtedly. When I found out that I was cut as a child because society didn’t want me to be promiscuous, I felt rage. When I found out that there were alternative views by prominent scholars in Islam, I felt betrayed that I was fed myths. “Do I want to put an end to female genital cutting?” Yes.
And then, I started to find more answers. There are so many issues in the world, and even if we solve the ones that are ‘more important’, other ‘more important’ issues will come up. And issues arent mutually exclusive; I can (and I am) working on more than just ending FGC in my time. I work to end unemployment, I work to help the elderly, I work to support women, I work to support queer Muslims, I work for mainstream Muslim rights, I work to end Islamophobia and racism. I do talk about ‘more important’ issues. In any case, if we have this mentality of ‘more’ or ‘less’ important, the ones deemed less important will be swept under the rug almost indefinitely because it will never be important enough to anyone. And the only issues that are not important enough to us are issues that do not affect us personally. Not realising that I am unaffected by this issue would be not realising my privilege, and not speaking about an issue just because it doesn’t affect me would be selfish, and an abuse of my privilege. That wouldn’t be right. I am not here to be self-serving.
No matter what I talk about, there will always be someone who will disagree. No matter what I talk about, eyes are already on me whether I like it or not. Will it affect my livelihood? The income that I earn or the people I mix with? Maybe. But if I’m not allowed to have my own voice and opinions with my friends and relatives, then they probably aren’t very good company. If they cannot give me the benefit of the doubt to assume that I am trying to do what is right and immediately assume that I’m doing what I do out of bad faith, naivety and lack of education, then I’m not sure that I’m the problem.
How will the Muslim community take this? Probably not well. But what do I expect? I don’t doubt that my community did this out of good faith. They genuinely think/thought that FGC is medically beneficial and religiously necessary and they just did what they were taught was right. Now, I am telling them that something they’ve believed to be good all this time is not and that they have done something undesirable to their children. This is a tough pill for anyone to swallow and I have to understand that this will not be an easy transition. I have to respect their feelings and give the community the space to process what we are fighting against too. I’m sure that those who want to do what’s right will at least give us a chance and hear us out.
I decided. I want to join the End FGC group.
” يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا كُوۡنُوۡا قَوَّامِيۡنَ بِالۡقِسۡطِ شُهَدَآءَ لِلّٰهِ وَلَوۡ عَلٰٓى اَنۡفُسِكُمۡ اَوِ الۡوَالِدَيۡنِ وَالۡاَقۡرَبِيۡنَ ؕ اِنۡ يَّكُنۡ غَنِيًّا اَوۡ فَقِيۡرًا فَاللّٰهُ اَوۡلٰى بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الۡهَوٰٓى اَنۡ تَعۡدِلُوۡا ۚ وَاِنۡ تَلۡوٗۤا اَوۡ تُعۡرِضُوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ خَبِيۡرًا “
“O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺. If you distort the testimony or refuse to give it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.”
Surah An-Nisaa – Verse 135
Predictably, we had bad days. At one point in time, a large part of the community started attacking us. “Kafir”, “Sesat”, “Pandai-pandai”, “Problem-makers”, “Naive”- so many heavy terms were thrown around so lightly. It was personally difficult for me because I had relatives talking about me and I foresee that they will bring it up during family gatherings in the future. I had a family member speak about me on her very public platform, exposing my identity, without my consent. I had someone who I considered a friend, indirectly speaking about us on their podcast that had so many followers even though we have offered to speak with them about this issue on their platform way before it blew up. It was quite hurtful, and I foresee that this will happen again sometime soon.
But the work continues. The End FGC group continues to churn out Social Media posts to promote critical thinking. We come on different podcasts and have discussions about this with various government leaders, officials. medical professionals, asatizah and the community. We successfully conducted 3 webinars: A panel of parents who decided not to cut their daughters, a workshop for FGC survivors and a panel with Asatizah. The panel with the Asatizah was especially touching for me. We had 400 sign-ups and the asatizahs filled me with a sense of hope. It reassured me that I’m not what all these people are calling us, that I’m not baseless in my beliefs.
In the pursuit of justice, especially when what we advocate for goes against the norm we have been raised with, many people will belittle our faith in God and our practice of Islam. And sometimes, that gets internalised, and it affects my relationship with God. But I always find myself being reassured that I do have a basis for my beliefs and that Allah will always be aware of what I do, why I do it and what my beliefs are. He will for sure know that I’m trying my best to do right by Him, and that is enough for me. Nobody gets to speak on behalf of God in my personal relationship with Him.
I’m incredibly grateful to have been chosen to partake in this cause for justice. I recently looked back at a piece I published in a book as a teenager about FGC.
“So I take strength in the fact that I am now more informed. I will continue to search and equip myself with knowledge and wisdom, so that one day I can do my part in ensuring other girls won’t get treated the way I was, God willing.”
Hey, 18 year-old me. God Willed.
‘A is a part of the End FGC SG working group and wants to have a part in bringing back critical thinking, intellectual discussions and compassion in the Muslim community. She hopes that in this process, one day, Sunnat Perempuan can be permanently stopped as well.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu