Merdeka… really?

Opinion  |  Fa Abdul
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Zaleha is a young, vibrant Muslim woman who is keen on trying new things and exploring the world. On her 25th birthday, she decides to try something new – Zaleha wants to get her nose pierced.

Knowing her parents too well, she decides to inform them beforehand, as a sign of respect. Zaleha did not want her conservative parents throwing a fit after she had got her piercing done – the same way they did when she had her hair coloured in purple a couple of years ago (only to end up colouring back in black).

She thought she could talk to them, make them see that there was nothing wrong with getting her nose done.

As expected, Zaleha’s parents were not pleased with the idea.

“Why do you want to alter your God-given nose by getting it pierced?” they debated.

“If ear piercing is acceptable, why not nose piercing?” asked Zaleha.

“Islam never encourages women to accessorise themselves. If you get your nose pierced, you will attract attention, and that is not in accordance with the teachings of Islam.” Her parents were firm.

Zaleha smiled.

“How about accessorising hijab with shiny brooches? How about wearing different styles of hijab as per the latest trend? How about purchasing branded hijabs worth hundreds of ringgit? Those attract attention as well but you don’t have any qualms about that.”

Zaleha wasn’t going to give up so easily.

She made good points that her parents had to think before saying anything further.

“I will ask the imam at the mosque later in the evening,” her father replied after a while.

Zaleha bit her lips, she knew the imam in her neighbourhood would share her parent’s insight regarding nose piercing.

“Let’s Google it. There are more knowledgeable religious scholars out there than our kampung imam.” Assuring them, Zaleha began browsing on her smartphone, squeezed on both sides by her parents.

“Ustaz Azhar Idrus, he should give us good advice!” Zaleha’s mum exclaims as she points at the phone screen.

Hoping for the best, Zaleha clicks on the YouTube channel.

“Getting nose pierced is a practice of Hindus, not Muslims. Therefore, it is haram for Muslims to pierce any other parts of their body except for the ear,” said Ustaz Azhar in his Kelantan dialect in one of his YouTube videos.

Almost instantly, Zaleha’s parents gave her the “I told you so” look.

Taking a deep breath, Zaleha managed to persuade them to get a second opinion from another Islamic website. Sadly, the result, too, wasn’t to her advantage.

“Nose piercing is acceptable for those of Indian origin such as Indian Muslims. However, for those whose cultures do not practice nose piercing, it is haram,” it read.

Zaleha was baffled.

“How can religion be culturally sensitive?” she thought.

Radio station no help

She explained to her parents that whatever that is deemed halal and haram should cover all Muslims. She stressed that it did not make sense to have Islamic rules which forbid certain things for certain races while allowing it for others, as in the case of nose piercing.

Unfortunately, Zaleha’s parents had made up their minds.

As a last resort, Zaleha called in during an Islamic question-and-answer session on a radio station one Friday noon to ask for advice.

“Assalamualaikum, ustaz. I would like to know the hukum of nose piercing,” she asked.

“Nose piercing is haram for Muslims. Nose piercing is what Hindus do, not Muslims. And trying to imitate any practice of other religion is haram,” the answer was straightforward.

Zaleha was frustrated. She knew there is nothing wrong in getting her nose pierced, yet she had no choice but to abide as she did not wish to anger her parents.

For many, Zaleha and her wish to get her nose pierced may not seem like a big deal. You may argue, a 25-year old like her should have the courage to live her life as she wishes without bothering about what others think. You may blame Zaleha as not having the guts to stand up for herself.

But for Zaleha who has been brought up since birth to fit into the Muslim box, things are not that easy. Everything she does or plans to do has to go through a microscope of religion.

From the clothes she wears to the men she dates, she has to conform to certain rules - and her struggle to get her nose pierced is among one of them.

There are many Zalehas among us in Malaysia today. They struggle to live their lives freely because of the religion they are born into. Their conduct is often confined within what is religiously and culturally deemed acceptable by the society they live in.

Malaysia may be celebrating its 61st year of independence but for many Malaysian Muslims, their personal independence is something they can never achieve. Not while they reside in this country and not while they hope to maintain a good relationship with their families.

So much for Merdeka, huh?


FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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