Hookers, Hustlers and Holy Men:Â Dina Zaman on Being A Malaysian Muslim Today
Farish A. Noor
April 2, 2007
I Am Muslim. By Dina Zaman. Silverfish Books, Kuala Lumpur. 2007. 237 pages. Paperback.
Dina Zaman’s I Am Muslim is, in many ways, a timely book that states what should have been stated publicly long ago.
Indeed the very title of the book, taken from the title of her column, is already a statement in itself: “I am Muslim”. And what a statement it is, at once confessional as it is assertive, particular and yet curiously universal, an appeal for acceptance, understanding, sympathy, support, celebration and ever so commonsensical and commonplace.
I Am Muslim (IAM) is the edited collection of Dina Zaman’s columns that first appeared on the on-line newspaper Malaysiakini.com, and in them Dina explores the complex world of ordinary Malaysian Muslims living in the here-and-now of Kuala Lumpur as well as the Malay heartland somewhere out there in the unchartered region between Utopia and Nostalgia.
Those who have read Dina’s IAM articles would know that many of them were written in the somewhat hybrid format of narrative-interviews, an eclectic medium that suited the eclectic crowd she was trying to portray. Perhaps in the end this was the only way that such articles could have been written in the first place, for no degree of empirical certitude could be gauged by scientific studies on the subject; nor would the statistics (if any believable ones can still be found in the country) vouchsafe the testimonies of those whose voices come to life in these pieces. Interestingly, the articles appear to be better served by their publication in book format, for what the reader feels and gets from the individual pieces pales in comparison to the overall sense of pathos that emerges after having read many of them, and having taken some objective distance from the book. I Am Muslim is better (re)read in afterthought, for at the immediate moment of reading these stories we are confronted by contradictions so apparent, so poignant, and sometimes so ridiculous, in the lives of the subjects that little of it makes sense, if at all. But stepping back from them we view the subject in his or her complexity, with the pain, anguish, hope and longings of these people coming to life on a broader canvas.
The rationale behind these pieces was to catch a glimpse of the interior life of Muslims in Malaysia, be they pen-pushing religious bureaucrats, horny housewives, traditionally-dressed and modestly-attired hookers or urban hustlers running just one step ahead of their lagging guilt ad injured consciences. Nor does the author spare herself from the survey.
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