Unveiling Choice by Maryam Lee

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DISCLAIMER: The novel is given by the author in exchange of an honest review. All the review written is not related to any personal issues or connection.

TRIGGER: This is a non-fiction book. Several discussions related to hijab, Koran, hadith mixed with personal experience and personal opinions are included. 

Maryam Lee and I met in one of the universities at Yogyakarta, Indonesia over a discussion in the round table of a feminist forum- LOL. She-to me- is an activist who is blessed with great intelligence and greater personality as she is witty and she always make people around her laughing. She brings happiness to the people around her. She also has the ability to challenge the male domination with her talents. She- to me- is a mentor, a friend either for the discussions and also a shoulder to lean on. Cik Yam – that’s how I call her – is also very generous for sending me her book. Yay, she makes me the luckiest girl in the book land. And as soon as I read the book, I said to my self, “Whew…the book rises such a controversial issue. This is so-Cik Yam!”

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The book is Maryam’s personal experience and her experience related to the use of hijab or tudung– so they called in Malaysia. Maryam starts telling the readers about her experience and the obligation for wearing a veil when she was a kid. She even recalled her childhood memories when she yelled at a girl saying, “Have you no shame?” for not wearing any veils. Little that Maryam knew, later in the future, that little Mariam would wear no veils either. What can I say? What comes around goes around…hehehe. 

Concerning the book, most people may think that as this book tells about Maryam’s experience, they can take it lightly. Heck, no! Maryam indeed tells her story here but she also rises the issues of hijab particularly in Malaysia and its relation in the socio-arena. In the first chapter of the book is the example. In that section, Maryam provides her readers with the arguments like Why hijabbing? Why now? . She mentions that in the past, the need for wearing a hijab is not as problematical as now. Women in  Malaysia around 1970s including the wives of ulemas did not wear any hijab, instead a scarf that loosely covered their head. Therefore, where does this obligation of covering the whole hair come? why does it later become so political and problematic?

The article provided by Maryam in the first chapter entitled Village of Veiled Women published by the Strait Times, 5 January 1964  highlighting the novelty of Arab-style veils among Malay women is also interesting. The writer Ahmad Ramli writes about a village close to Kuala Lumpur whose women are using veil. It is also interesting because one can see the use of hijab and the culture are also changing in that article when Ramli says.

“Everything in the kampong was free. All a man had to do was build a shelter for himself and his family. The sheikh looked after the rest. He has no difficulty in supporting his flock as gifts came from Sultans as Rajas and rich Malays…One of the things he insisted on, was that all the women must wear the Arab-style veils. His 600 women followers obeyed…His death was also the beginning of the end of the kampong’s strange custom….Today of the 100 women in the kampong, only five still wear veils and they are all old.”

In addition to the statement, Maryam also tries to offer her readers a different perspective in this matter. She tells the readers what she has been through before dehijabbing herself and it was not an easy moment for her. She  firstly questioned herself and others a lot..as she’s doubting. She also looked for some validation including meeting the ulemas and professors. She would have to go through the process of denial and often face several people scoffing at her with their cynical gazes. Yet she brilliantly gives an example of a short discussion by Prof. Muhammad Quraish Shihab she attended in Jakarta long time ago to strengthen her argument. Prof. Quraish Shihab is an Arab Indonesian Muslim scholar in the sciences of the Koran. He is also a cleric, author and former Minister of Religion Affairs back in 1998. During Maryam and her friends’ visit, the discussion also covered the necessity of wearing a hijab. Prof. Shihab says that

“The Koran said women should now reveal their ornaments (or beauty; depending on interpretation) unless they are commonly seen. Now, there are plenty of disagreements among the ulemas on that this means.”

One disagreement as Prof. Shihab said is the notion of “ornaments.” It extended to the level of “what ornaments?” another one is the word “unless they are commonly seen” so what does it mean? what is so common and not-so-common?

People also suggested to look at the hadith. The prof. says that there is one hadith but it is often dispute in terms of authenticity. Even the Prophet said that women should not reveal anything of herself but then the Prophet also continued saying “except for this and that.” 

I personally do not want to comment on the hadith, the Koran or what Prof. Shihab have mentioned; simply because it is not my capacity to comment on that. I do not have enough knowledge to challenge, debate or agree with those things.

Concerning that notion, I also think like Maryam in which hijab or hijabbing has become social conditioned nowadays. Pardon me for saying this: Despite of what is written in Koran and hadith, I often question those people’s motives in wearing a hijab. Is it because they are obliged to do so; therefore, they have to wear it at once? Is it because they want other people’s approval? – let’s say, the society somehow tells us to do so; therefore, I have to do this. Is it because they want to look nice?

I saw several people wearing hijab and they do look nice in it. Yet their heart or character do not reflect the hijab they are wearing. I am thinking this way and once again- this is my personal opinion. Once one decides to put a hijab on them, she should do that not only because the Koran tells her to do so but also because her heart tells her to do so. It also means that she is ready to change herself to a better one. Wearing hijab as what the Koran says also comes with certain obligations somehow. If one decides to wear a hijab but her characters are still rude and do not reflect the highest values of Koran and the beauty of Allah then … there is no point of wearing a hijab. However, that is my personal opinion! As aforementioned, I am not in the capacity to talk about Koran and hadith in the way a scholar would interpret it. 

Returning to Maryam’s book; in the position of a reviewer, I get the impression that this visit seems like giving Maryam an enlightenment about dehijabbing as Prof. Shihab says;

“..Everything comes down to interpretation. Some would say that the religion wants what is easy for you. There was a time when shoes were not invented yet, so the feet could be seen. These are differences in opinion. The majority would say they want to find what is safe. So to be safe, the aurah then is everything but the face and the hands But if you don’t want to cover everything, then don’t cover everything, because the Koran says to lower your gaze. To lower your gaze does not mean you asking other people to cover but we put the restraints on ourselves. Isn’t that right?”

At least, as conclusion, I would strongly recommended people to read this book. The book is  cheap but this semi academic book also comes with its great quality. One can learn so many things and see things from different angles and perspectives from this book. One thing should be noted: Maryam does not invite or encourage others to dehijab or avoide the use of hijab. It all depends on the person herself to take or use the hijab. This book is her journey to the last stage when she decided to take her veil  off and she also provides her arguments in a systematic  and good manner. 

My favourite quote of all is 

Allah do not say, “I am sorry, you do not have hijab, so I cannot accept your prayer.’ That’s not the way Allah looks at a human being, because Allah already sees all the way through. Not through our clothes only, but through our hearts. Allah says that the best dress is the dress of khairul taqwa, that’s the dress of God consciousness.”

– Amina Wadud as stated in Maryam Lee’s Unveiling Choice

NOTE: Maryam Lee’s book Unveiling Choice can be purchased at Gerak Budaya bookstore. What you can do is simply clicking this: Maryam Lee’s Unveiling Choice . You can also drop her a text or DM her Instagram at minah_movie. 

One thought on “Unveiling Choice by Maryam Lee

  1. Thank you for the nice review. Haven’t read the book yet but I would be interested to know more.

    I kinda disagree in your opinion when you say “Once one decides to put a hijab on them, she should do that not only because the Koran tells her to do so but also because her heart tells her to do so”
    Cause as believing Muslim we are supposed to perform what has been commanded by Allah in the Quran.
    Let’s take for example fasting which is clearly mentioned that is obligatory to all believing Muslims (mu’minun).
    If we were to take the logic that you’ve mentioned then does it mean that we have to wait for our hearts to tell us to fast only then we perform fasting?
    What’s your opinion?
    Furthermore Allah says in the Quran (Al Baqarah: 216)
    “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”

    This verse is about fighting against the enemies of the Muslim at that time and yes some of the Prophet’s companion did not want to fight then again as what is mentioned from that verse things you do not like might be good for you later.

    Love to further the discussion if you have the free time.


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