Musings

The One on Body Acceptance

“Do you know Shams?”

“Oh you mean the big, tall and loud girl? Yeah I know her.”

Big, tall and loud – that has become my identifier since I can ever remember. I grew up larger than most of my peers, and even as a child, I was bound to stand out from the rest. I never let it get to my head that the way I looked was more important than the person I am – that is until I hit puberty.

At thirteen, I grew a lot taller all of a sudden. My body developed way too quickly for my mind to adapt to. Boys and peer acceptance started to change the way I looked at myself. I was more conscious of my body, particularly how much I weigh and why I had a bigger built than my friends. I began hating the way I looked and starved my body of the nutrients I needed. For a short period of my adolescence, I kept a secret from everyone I knew – I was bulimic.

For a year, I coped with my parents’ divorce by vomiting out whatever I ate. I would not finish my food and run to the washroom after each meal on the pretext that my teeth hurt from my newly fixed braces. Truth is, I wanted to fit in and look like pretty like my skinny friends in school. I wanted a size 2 figure and long legs that never seem to end. I wanted to look like the models that graced magazine covers. I wanted a 24-inch waist so I could buy that pair of jeans everyone else in school had. I wanted to be everyone else but myself.

It was only when I realized that my bulimia was affecting my canoeing training that I stopped depriving my body of the nutrients and calories I need. I began focusing on my training and working out, supposedly losing weight the healthy way. At fifteen, I was at my fittest and slimmest. Then again, I still had people calling me fat, thick and big behind my back. And I still wasn’t happy.

Then at seventeen, I emotionally ate my way through junior college. I gained back all the weight I lost, with no regrets at all. Life was at a stand still through out the two years because I was just focusing on getting over with the A level exams. It was only when I was due to enter university at nineteen that I realized; I need to start taking care of myself.

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At my biggest in 2009/2010

I began loving my body by loving myself. I started treating my body like a temple (a mosque, if you prefer that analogy) and ate good food that no calories could be wasted on. Jamie Oliver keeps saying that if you want to eat, waste your calories only on good food made out of the freshest ingredients. I frequented the gym and did all sorts of sports activities from rock climbing, to Muay Thai to yoga. I challenged myself to push my physical limits by participating in marathons and scaling mountains. All I wanted to do was to be healthy and feel good.

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Gunung Ledang in 2010

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Conquering Kinabalu in June 2013

The past five years has had its fair share of ups and downs. I have had former partners telling me I was too fat for their liking so they had to leave me. I have had aunts and uncles telling me I did not fit in with the rest of the family because I was too tall and big. I have gotten my heart broken by people I loved because I did not fit the mould they call love.

The truth is, we live in a superficial world. We lust over beautiful images and we yearn for things that are almost impossible for us to achieve. We want to be surrounded by things that are only captivating to the eyes. We want to look like celebrities and wear what they are wearing. We so badly want to be accepted by society.

It took a long time to love myself but I had to. I want to empower women who were facing the same struggles as me. I want to let other women know that they were not fighting this battle themselves. I want them to know that the way they look does not matter, nor does the size of their dress or the number on the scale.

It is their heart that matters.

“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.”

Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim

Battling with body image issues may be your jihad and the test Allah has given you to heighten your faith in Him. Take that step to improve your health for the His sake so that you can use your time wisely to be a useful member of the ummah.

This goes out to my fellow big and beautiful sisters who may or may not be heartbroken simply because of the way they look:

“A woman is married for four reasons, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her piety. So you should marry the pious woman otherwise you will be losers.”

Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Sahih al-Bukhari & Muslim

Beauty is after all, in the eye of the beholder. Love yourself, and love will come to you, inshaAllah.

This article was first published on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project.

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Adventure, Love, Musings, Travel

The One on Finding a Place Called Home

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Photographed by Noor Iskandar

The past ten months has been nothing short of freedom and independence to me. I enjoy the ability to pack up and leave for another country in an instant. I enjoy the flexibility of working on my own. And most of all, I enjoy the fact that I am alone responsible for my own happiness.

Recently, Singapore has been crowned Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2015. I stopped in my tracks to read the article on my phone to be sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. Yes, I sure do love my country, but what have I missed about my homeland that makes it a top destination for travelers from around the world?

I thought about what makes Singapore so attractive to foreigners. Some said it was the efficiency that impressed them, others loved how safe this country is and the rest just enjoyed Singapore’s little quirks. There was a New Yorker I met in Morocco who got so excited when I told him I am from Singapore, “Dude! Your subways are like fifty years into the future!”

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Man sleeping on the job, Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2013

When I travel, I look for experiences that I cannot find in Singapore. I seek adventure. I seek the wilderness. I seek ruggedness. And most of all, I seek the country life. Perhaps I have always been the kampung girl at heart, preferring the outdoors to city skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls, and my idea of retirement is having a home with enough land for me to grow vegetables organically with love and a butcher who knows me by my name and choice of cut.

I love traveling in ruggedness, not having plans for the day and just sitting down somewhere with a drink and a book to read. I have been approached by fellow travelers asking me about my religion and why I chose to cover my head with the hijab. I make friends with people from all over the world and make it a point to keep in touch just in case I drop by their hometown in my future travels. I thrive on spontaneity and randomness – it makes me feel less guarded and wary, of which I usually am.

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Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia, 2014 

Last year, I left Singapore for Europe without a job waiting for me back home. I wanted to do something crazy and bold. I wanted to know what it feels like to be invisible and not know what to expect. I left Singapore for a trip to open my heart and mind. I left Singapore without attaching my heart to anything, or anyone for that matter. I left Singapore knowing that there was a possibility I would not come back.

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Brighton Beach, Victoria, Australia, 2014

In my pursuit to find myself, I realize I enjoyed being anonymous and not having any worry for the uncertainty that lies ahead of me. A friend once told me that this lack of worry is because of a heightened faith in God – like what they say, do not pray for God to make things easier for you, but pray for the strength so you can go through challenges better. When we travel, we learn to let fate take its course while we take a back seat. In essence, we accept whatever happens to us because God has already willed for it happen in our lives, anyways.

Halfway through my month-long trip, I broke down. I was missing my family. I missed my mother, my three cats, my sisters and brother. Most of all, I was missing my nieces and nephews a lot. When I got home after 28 days away, my room was filled with about a hundred balloons. My brother would probably kill me for telling the world about this but he blew each and every one of the balloons. I went over to my sister’s place with presents for my nieces and nephews only to be greeted with hugs, kisses, and fights as to who gets to sit on Aunty Ida’s lap.

My then four-year-old nephew Yan Yan looked me in the eye and asked me, “Where did you go for so long, Aunty Ida? Don’t you love me anymore?”

There are a million reasons for you to go away, but find one that keeps you coming back – I found mine.

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Mia Familia, 2013

This article first appeared on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project on http://www.theshawllabel.com.

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Adventure, Food, Travel

On Being the Only Muslim in Town

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Little Mosque on the Prairie was one of my favorite TV shows back when I was in university. Set in a little town in Canada, it tells the story of a growing community of Muslims living with the Anglo-Christian majority. I was always intrigued by the existence of Muslims in areas where there weren’t any Islamic governing bodies or authority.

Having born a Muslim and lived in a country and region where Islam thrives, it is pretty much easy to take everything for granted. Halal certifications are aplenty in Singapore, and halal certified or Muslim-owned cafes are sprouting like wild mushrooms. Across the Straits we have Malaysia, where almost everything is halal for Muslim consumption. Needless to say, Singapore and the Southeast Asian region makes being Muslim fairly easy.

I never had the chance to live abroad but my wanderlust needs have brought me far and wide across the globe in search of my true existence as a Muslim. I struggle with my faith sometimes so traveling helps me to strengthen my love for Islam and my Creator. In my few years of traveling, never have I been faced with a huge challenge until quite recently.

I packed my bags for Daylesford, Victoria in Australia for a food photography workshop with Ewen Bell and Iron Chef Shellie. Truth be told, I did not do a lot of research for this trip. I did not look at the map to figure out where exactly Daylesford is, and neither did I Google “halal restaurants in Daylesford”. Shellie did most of the cooking and baking, so I merely wrote in to Ewen saying that I do not mind seafood, but strictly no meat of any kind.

The best thing about Australia to me is the ease of being vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, kosher, halal and whatever-allergies-or-food-preference-you-have. The diversity coming from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds is taken into account to form an accepting and open society. Sure, there will be always a small minority who thinks the whole world is against them and stir up trouble, putting a bad name on the beautiful and kind majority of Australians.

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On my way to Daylesford with another participant, Atlanta, we discussed the food scene in Melbourne because after all, Melbourne is the city to be in if you are a foodie, cafe enthusiast, caffeine addict and avid Instagrammer. Basically, hipster was born in Melbourne. It was a very exciting experience for me to hear first-hand stories behind the ever-thriving food industry in Melbourne. Atlanta is a manager of a Middle-Eastern restaurant in the city so she would definitely know a thing or two about running a restaurant.

Upon our arrival in Daylesford, I was greeted with even more food lovers. Olivia is a stay at home mum who makes everything from scratch – even butter; Winston is an avid cook who runs his own blog; Leslie is a grandmom who takes beautiful photos and of course, there’s Ewen and Shellie. I was to spend my weekend with not just foodies – they were food connoisseurs.

And there I was, the city girl whose biggest accomplishments when it comes to food is to make her own pasta and lasagna sheets. Needless to say, I was about to get schooled about food and my biggest assignment was to ensure they were halal for my consumption. It was a “rusa masuk kampung” moment whenever I entered a restaurant for dinner as heads turn towards me. I felt a bit like Cinderella because I stood out from the rest with the obvious headscarf covering my hair

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I had no clue on what to expect during the first dinner. We had the Degustation menu where food magically appears for 5 or 8 courses. It was my first experience with fine dining and I was superbly excited. Thankfully, Olivia is a vegetarian so I didn’t feel like such a party pooper for having a special dietary requirement. I went vegetarian for the entire weekend and truth be told, vegetarian food has never been so delicious. Although there were times the beef or quail or chicken the others had look amazingly delicious, and there I was with puppy eyes wishing I could have some.

On top of making sure there was no meat on my plate, I had to ask about every single thing that was on my plate. I really did not have to worry but I wanted to be sure I knew what I was eating. One of the entrees we were served was a garden of seasonal vegetables and flowers, and it was served with some black little crispy things which I thought was blackened garlic. To my amusement, it was in fact a type of edible soil. It was a literally “makan rumput’ moment for me.

While I wished I could have some of the chicken or kangaroo meat that was served, I relish the fact that I was able to experience something out of the ordinary during the workshop. Food is such an integral part of my life, and experiencing food in a way that was beyond amazing is something I am thankful for. I came back from the weekend inspired and ready to try out some flavours and vegetables I never knew would go so well together.

I am thankful for living in a city where halal food is readily available, and I can only empathise with Muslims who live in far-flung places having to always question how halal the food is for their consumption. It is certainly not an easy task, to dictate for yourself and put in real effort as to what is halal and what is not given your living situation but it is also a blessing because it is when you are the only Muslim around do you really test your faith as well as your understanding of the religion your believe in.

Wallahua’lam.

This article first appeared on Halalfoodhunt’s Halal Diaries.

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Food, Recipes from the Heart

Poulet roti au vin rouge

Sometime last year, I went for Rachel Khoo’s meet and greet session at Kinokuniya. I haven’t gotten around to cooking any of the recipes from her My Little French Kitchen. It’s mostly because of the laziness and the fact that I have not been spending much time in the kitchen. But of course, my trip Down Under rekindled my love for food and especially food photography so I just had to try the simplest recipe in this book.

Let me be honest, I have about 10 recipe books lying around in my room but I’ve only had made about 10 recipes from the hundreds of recipes I have. Let’s just say I’m using the book as inspiration to my photography work. Truly though, some of the ingredients in my books are very difficult to come by. Not to mention how expensive they can be. I’ve yet to find any local celebrity chefs who have published a book that’s attractive enough for my eye. After all, I do get turned on by food photos and styling that are impeccable.

Anyways, the recipe calls for red wine, but for obvious reasons that I only eat halal, I replaced the wine with chicken stock instead. This would be a very fast and easy Ang Moh version of ayam masak merah, I think.

kanelbular-1Roast Red Wine Chicken – Le Halal Version (Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s My Little French Kitchen)

Serves 4-6 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Marinating time: 30 minutes or overnight

Cooking time: 1 hour

150ml hot water

1 cube of chicken stock

100g tomato paste

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked (I used rosemary because I was out of thyme – hahahha get it?)

3 sprigs of fresh marjoram, leaves picked (I used tarragon as I was in a major rut – okay I should stop)

100ml red wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper (please do not ever use white pepper)

500g baby potatoes, washed and quartered

3 onions, peeled and quartered

6 carrots, peeled and quartered lengthways

  1. Wash and clean the chicken pieces. Rub them with a bit of salt to enhance the flavour of the chicken.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees under the grill setting.
  3. In a deep roasting pan, add hot water, tomato paste and chicken stock together and stir till the stock dissolves.
  4. Add in the apple cider vinegar.
  5. Rub chicken with the herbs of your choice, and generously add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Arrange the chicken nicely in the pan, and add in the onions, carrots and potatoes in between the pieces of chicken.
  7. Leave to marinate overnight or 30 minutes. I was too hungry so I placed it in the oven immediately.
  8. Cover the pan with a piece of aluminium foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
  9. After the first 30 minutes, remove the foil and continue cooking the chicken for another 30 minutes, or until the skin is crisp.
  10. Serve with couscous or some freshly baked bread.
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Food, Recipes from the Heart

Biscotti

Ever since I came back from Daylesford three weeks ago, I’ve been inspired to do a bit more baking and cooking in the kitchen. You see, I’ve been busy taking wedding and portrait photos that I lost touch on the very reason I picked up a camera – food. I used to make magic in the kitchen all the time. Now that I’m busy working, and the fact that I photograph food for Halalfoodhunt all the time, my kitchen skills got a bit rusty.

Thank god I still know my way around the kitchen. I scavenged my pantry and found enough things for me to make these. Here’s a quick biscotti recipe I adapted from here that’s great with coffee or some warm milk.

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  • 113 grams butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups self rising flour
  • half cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 200 grams dark chocolate

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet or sheet pan.
  2. Mix the butter and sugar, until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and beat well.
  4. Add flour to butter mixture and mix until incorporated.
  5. Divide  the dough in half and shape each half into a 9inch by 2 inch log.  The mixture will be quite sticky so wet your hands with cold water for easier handling.
  6. Place logs several inches apart.  The logs will spread, so allow 2-3 inches between logs.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and cool logs for 5 minutes.  Move logs to a wire rack to cool further, about 10-15 minutes.
  9. Slice the logs, using a serrated knife.
  10. Place the slices cut side down onto an ungreased cookie sheet or sheet pan.
  11. Bake 5 minutes, turn the slices to the other cut side and bake for 5 more minutes.
  12. Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container.
  13. Melt the chocolate using a double boiler.
  14. Dip half of the biscotti lengthwise into the chocolate.
  15. Serve with hot coffee or warm milk.
  16. Keep in the fridge as our tropical climate is bad for the chocolate!
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Musings

How to be Happy

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I know of a girl whose parents parted ways and she cried all night listening to Pink’s Family Portrait. She woke up dizzy each morning but was always ready to put on a smile the second she left home. She drowned herself in school – studying and spending all her time with school activities. She avoided going home early, except for days she misses her cats. She seemed like a goody-two-shoes but she still got into trouble sometimes. She was always up to mischief but she charmed her way around others. She makes unintentional jokes while in the principal’s office and tries to crack some with her friends. To others, she was happy being a clown.

I know of a girl who was a victim of bullying. She was physically, mentally and emotionally abused. She woke up with her eyes swollen each morning but was always ready to put on a smile the second she left home. She developed a relationship with food, finding comfort in each bite she took. While her peers were dating or enjoying themselves, she read cookbooks in the school library, oftentimes going AWOL during classes she despised. She tries staying up in the classes she loved even though she would rather lie on the big couch in the corner of the school library. She found respite in sneaking food into the temple of books knowing for a fact the consequence of her actions. To others, she was happy doing things in the spur of the moment.

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I know of a girl, who used to hate men, fall in love only to get her heart shattered. She woke up weak and with only enough appetite to get through the day. She gave the love she wanted hoping for it to be reciprocated. She was happy so she made beautiful food because she thought love deserves to be fed well. She stopped making magic the day love stopped loving her. To others, she deserves to be happy. To her, she was happy with love.

I know of a girl who finally broke free. She woke up smelling the roses and courage to get through the day. She gave life the love it deserves and learned that for her to be happy she had to love herself. For her to be happy she had to be grateful for what was served to her on a plate. For her to be happy she had to know her intentions for every single action she takes. For her to be happy she had to give up certain things and people she surrounded herself with. For her to be happy she had to always be grateful for everything that comes her way, even calamities that seem disastrous to others.For her to be happy she had to see a sunshine after every rain.

For her to be happy, she had to be free.

This is part of the Life Lessons series which is actually a weekly assignment for my class with Safinah Institute’s Life Lessons from the Big Screen. Inshallah I will be sharing my assignment write up weekly, if time permits. Hope you enjoy this piece!

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Uncategorized

Thank You

I celebrate the first anniversary of my photography business tomorrow, and while it took me a while to decide which date I want to make it my company’s birthday, I wanted to be sure it’s a date that is significant not just for me but for those who helped built my business. I decided to make 10 April 2014 my company’s birthday because it is the also the day of my first overseas photography trip. It’s the day my beautiful clients Sadiyah and Masri got married in Perth last year.

It was really by chance that I saw Nora Zee’s Facebook status in March 2014 when a friend of mine tagged me in her post saying she was looking for a photographer to accompany her to Perth. I was still unemployed, and I was not sure if I wanted to do photography for real. I was freelancing as a trainer, doing odd jobs and relief teaching here and there. I’m no stranger to working without a stable income since that was what I was doing through out university. But after a year and a half in the teaching force, I must I admit, I was stuck.

As much as I got rid of the idea of a monthly pay check in my head, those around me could not do so. Sadly, my mother took the biggest blow. She could not accept the fact that I was running a business. Or rather, trying to run a business. I can deny this fact as much as I want but I knew she had her insecurities because my father ran businesses before and that took a toll on her marriage – I basically reminded her of my dad.

An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I am proud to say I am my mother and father’s daughter. Though my dad has not been in my life for a while now, I thank him for making me who I am today. I learnt through his mistakes so that I would not make the same mistakes as a young entrepreneur. I thank him for that one time in primary school I got into trouble for reselling erasers I bought from the school bookshop to my friends – in my defence, I was being entrepreneurial.

So exactly a year ago, when I headed to Perth with Nora for Sadiyah and Masri’s wedding, I told myself that it was now or never. I am barely 25, single, no student debt or loans to clear and basically have a lot of time on my hands. This past year has not been easy. Yet each time I’m faced with a difficulty or obstacle, Allah shows me to the right direction. Each time I had doubts on myself, He shows me signs as if saying “Girl, you’re on the right track. Don’t bother turning back.”

While He definitely took away some things or people away from my life, He is indeed the most just. I believe on that not just a rainbow would appear after the storm, but a pot of gold awaits at the end of the rainbow.

As I write this in the comfort of my friend’s apartment in Melbourne, I cannot thank Allah enough. I thank Allah for letting me meet wonderful colleagues, partners and clients who believe in me. I thank Him for letting me cross paths with amazing photographers who are willing to share their tips and always giving me feedback when it comes to photos.

I thank Allah for the life He has bestowed upon me.

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