We’re all racist

We’re all a little racist.

There is this misconception that racist acts are limited to slurs or extreme acts of physical or verbal violence, but many don’t know that those are the less common acts of racism.

It’s the subtle ones that often go unnoticed that often happen.

From talking to a person of colour differently or to unconsciously assuming that they can’t really speak English properly just because they have an accent (don’t try to deny it. You HAVE thought of it). To the fetishization of certain ethnicities just because their stereotype paints them as submissive to lowering your standards of their work just because of the colour of their skin.

If you see or treat someone differently from the way you would treat someone of the same ethnicity as you, that’s racism.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are different cultural nuances and there’s a respectful way to treat everyone the same while being mindful of their different worldviews and beliefs. But society and media (we can’t blame one without the other because they’re the reflection of each other) has ingrained in us to always see race and to talk about race except when it truly matters.

It is without a doubt that we do believe in the stereotypes shaped by society and reinforced by the things we read and watch. It’s how we make sense of the world.

However, it is important for us to take a step back and question the way we see people. We don’t like to be generalised so why do we do that with others? Although it is human nature to put people into categories, it can grow to toxic to a point where we treat people differently and look down on people without realising it and our actions can create a snowball effect and worsen the situation.

We can be racist. We can be toxic. And we need to stop talking about the problem only when it becomes major. If we want to tackle the more blatant acts of racism, we need to first fix the smaller ones, especially within ourselves.

The Black and White Truth of Colourism

“You’re lucky that you don’t have to get a tan.” Said one of my caucasian Australian friends back when I was living in a residential college.

Ever since I was 12, I used beauty products with bleaching properties because the Malaysian sun and my heritage made me tan easily. I was praised for being fair (for a south east Asian at least). Growing up in South East Asia meant I was always surrounded by commercials and beauty products that encouraged people to be fairer. I was also constantly exposed to media that whitewashed characters or created negative stereotypes of those who weren’t fair-skinned.

So it’s not surprising really that I grew up hating being tanned. It had been ingrained in me ever since I was a little girl that if I was fairer, I would be more beautiful and I would be able to go far in life

And then I came to Australia and lived in a residential college with mainly Caucasian Australians. I lived in a community where I was surrounded by girls who got spray tans and wanted to get tanned to be beautiful. And when one of them expressed their jealousy at the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting a tan, I bristled with indignation. Because here they were trying to make their skin darker to be beautiful while back home, women especially had to lighten their skin in order to be deemed as beautiful and to have a higher chance of being successful.

I was angry and still am angry but not at the girls who wanted to get a tan (it’s not their fault). Neither am I angry at the girls, myself included, who lighten their skin (it’s not our fault either).

I am angry at the situation; at the fact that those who are light-skinned and privileged can afford to change their skin tone just for beauty and make themselves appear darker without having to worry about being discriminated, while the rest of us have to lighten our skin in order to be successful or to at least be treated with respect (after all, society is kinder to those they deem beautiful).

I am furious at the fact that colorism is still evident in this day and age and that we feel the need to change the colour of our skin to feel beautiful (because really, whether we’re extremely pale or dark or in between, we are all still beautiful). Although movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” has opened doors to an increase in representation in media, there’s no denying that colourism still plays a large role. POC characters who look and dress according to the Caucasian/Western standards of beauty and those who are on the lighter end of the spectrum get hired, leaving their darker-skinned counterparts struggling to get by or even worse: hired to play the help.

And how can I not feel frustrated even though I’m technically on the lighter end of the spectrum? Because colorism goes beyond racism. Where racism involves us discriminating each other based on the other person’s ethnicity, colorism makes us discriminate the people whom we share the same ethnicity with. Yes it is important for us to acknowledge and fight for our rights when we are discriminated because of our ethnicity and the colour of our skin, but we also need to be aware of our own internal (and toxic) mindset that may lead us to unconsciously discriminate others not just based on the colour of their skin but the shade itself.

Disclaimer: All opinion pieces are my opinion and mine alone, and do not represent the views or the organisations I have worked for or am working for.

Unity: The strength of the people

We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation.

— Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s 1st Prime Minister

August 31, 2017 —

Today mark’s the 60th year we celebrate our independence.

59 years may not seem long and it isn’t. It is true that we are still a somewhat new and developing country. And like any every other country, we are flawed. We are not perfect and we may not ever be.

We have gone through so much as a nation from colonisation to major disagreements; and both have led to racial polarisation that still happens even in supposedly ‘advanced’ cities like KL.

Really what is race anyway? Perhaps during the war the term ‘race’ was evident from the way some of us were brought into the country and segregated.

But that was then. Now the term ‘race’ is merely a social construct to further divide us. Sure ‘ethnicity’ is still a thing, and our ethnic origins and cultures may vary, but no one is purely Malay, or Chinese, or Indian, or Iban, or Kadazan (or any of the other beautiful ethnicities our country has). In this current day and age, a majority of us were born in Malaysia and/or are citizens. At the end of the day, we are all Malaysians.

We may look different and we may speak different languages but different doesn’t always equal to bad.

Our differences is what makes our country and its people beautiful and unique. And it should take so much more than our religion or the colour of our skin or our customs or our ethnic background to divide us.

It’s so easy to see and place the blame on others but we need to realise that if we want to see change, we need to put ourselves responsible for that change as well. The “Us vs. Them” mindset that we have when something goes wrong needs to go; and those emotions should be channeled into working together to move forward.

Dividing ourselves will only make us weak. It will only slow down our progress and we need to realise that if we want to rise as a nation, we need to act as one unified unit instead of segregating ourselves.

I have faith in us. I have faith in our ability to come out stronger. We have gone through so much and although we may shake and stumble, we are still strong. We are all still similar.

Similar in the way we have the same goal to move forward; the same vision for our country to develop into one that is both developed yet still rich with culture; and most importantly the same love for our country.

And those similarities should be more than enough to unite us.



If They Are Sinners Then We Are Too

“Just because a religion tells you that something is a sin, it isn’t an excuse to discriminate the sinner in any way or to treat them cruelly.”

Recently, two women in Malaysia were sentenced to a public caning when they were found guilty and charged with performing lesbian sex.

Personally I think it’s disgusting (the punishment, not the act).

What irks me even more are the commenters who claim that the religion and the Quran encourages harsh punishments on those who carry out homosexual acts. And don’t get me started on the homophobic comments (and these come from people from other religious beliefs as well, not just Muslims so shame on all of you).

First of all, it is none of our business what a person does between closed doors, or what their relationship with God is like. None of us are perfect, stop having a holier than thou attitude. We learnt in Islamic class in High School that the way to treat homosexuality is by putting them away from that situation. There is NOTHING about mistreating them or abusing them or criminalising them.

Two, stop picking and choosing the sins you want to punish people for. A man carries out pedophilia and marries a child who was already underage under Islamic Law? SILENCE and people claiming that there are exceptions to the rule.

Muslims drinking in clubs and Muslim men missing Friday prayer? Silence. And everyone turns a blind eye (like don’t people who drink alcohol get caned as well, where is their punishment and education aye?).

Men looking at women who don’t cover themselves and objectify them? Nope, no silence. The anger is taken out on the women themselves even though Allah has decreed for men to lower their gaze.

But oooh suddenly when it comes to homosexuality everyone is verbal about it. And it’s not just the caning, it’s about how we look down on people who fit the so-called gay stereotype or who express these tendencies. Just because a religion (and I’m not just calling out Muslims here because other religions such as Christianity are just as bad in expressing their homophobia) tells you that something is a sin, it isn’t an excuse to discriminate the sinner in any way or to treat them cruelly.

God hates those who don’t treat people with dignity, or who discriminate just because we have different views. For you to openly punish someone for their sins,  you have committed a bigger sin in not treating them with dignity, for criminalising them and their family, for backbiting them and for not holding your tongue and lashing out on them.

Having empathy for the way these people are suffering doesn’t make you a sinner and doesn’t mean you’re saying ‘go forth and sin, children’.  After all, doesn’t the true teaching of Islam all about having humanity and empathy?

There were many instances when the prophet showed empathy and kindness and humanity towards the people who didn’t follow the Islamic teachings. If we’re going to follow the Quran then we should follow the Sunnah (the way of the Prophet) as well.

Did God not say that fitnah (spreading rumours and gossiping) is worse than killing 100 people? That the lowest level of hell is reserved for the hypocrites?

So fine, go on and continue to be narrow-minded, but remember this.

The next time you try to tell someone that their sexuality is going to make them burn in hell, remember that your hypocrisy will make you the fire’s fuel.

Disclaimer: All opinion pieces are my opinion and mine alone, and do not represent the views or the organisations I have worked for or am working for.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #6 : Mercy

“In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful’

[Ramadan Chats with Neryssa # : Mercy]

This post will be a little different from my usual Ramadan Chats with Neryssa posts. Where my past posts aimed to explain certain terms and concepts in Islam, I am using this project as a platform to talk about certain issues in the context of the Islamic religion and also reach out to my fellow Muslims.

Today I would like to talk about mercy.

I remember back before I started wearing the headscarf and started practicing the religion, and I would be subjected to direct and indirect attempts to shame me into practicing the religion. I remember once my religious studies teacher tried to shame me by calling me up on stage because it was Ramadan and I was wearing a pinafore and not the baju kurung which was the alternative uniform that was much more covering.

Or how ‘religous scholars’ or some of the much more ‘conservative’ Muslims would talk about hellfire and punishment towards those who don’t practice the religion.

And I remember being so turned off by the religion,because hearing them talk about how God was full of hatred and punishment had me thinking ‘well if I’m going to get punished anyway, I might as well be happy and do what I want first’/

Not to mention the internalised misogyny that came with these people ‘preaching’ about religion who mainly targetted women, especially those who didn’t wear the headscarf while guys who didn’t even pray or go for Friday prayers are often let off the hook which is pretty dumb because praying is one of the the five pillars of the religion, not the way you dress, so you would think they would actually focus more on the latter.

But what turned me towards the religion wasn’t their words that aimed to spark fear into submission towards God and religion. It was those who talked about the stories of how God loves His Creations

And how one time there was a man who wasn’t that good of a person but he showed compassion one day towards a dog by giving it water so God granted him paradise.

And how Umar (who was the third caliph) who used to hate the religion and condemn the prophet where he tried to kill him, only to fall in love with the religion through Prophet Muhammad’s kindness towards him despite how he treated him.

And so on…

In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful.

And it should be obvious to us. Do we not start our prayers with “Bismillahi rahmani rahim” which directly translates to  “In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful”?

I’m not saying that the rules in Islam are unimportant and that we shouldn’t follow them. However, we also shouldn’t be quick to condemn and assume someone is going to Hell just because they went against those rules.

Who are you to do that? Who are you to play God and make that kind of judgement? By doing so, you’re acting as if you’re God which you know is something that is against the religion. Who are you to assume that that person won’t change for the better?

Who are you to assume that you won’t change for the worse?

It’s good to give people advice but shaming them and using fear won’t make them love the religion. Nor would it make them listen to you. There are tactful ways of educating someone, and calling them out publicly shows that you don’t really want them to learn, you just want to make yourself look good.

Show kindness. Show compassion. Show mercy.  For how do you expect God to be those things towards you when you won’t do so with His creations?

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #5 : Jihad Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the true meaning of the word ‘Jihad”. This word is often misunderstood and has negative connotations that were either created or cultivated by mainstream media and Islamophobic stereotypes.

I also talked (albeit briefly) about the two forms of jihad; ‘lesser jihad’ which involves holding onto your faith when facing others, and ‘greater jihad’ which involves holding onto your faith when facing yourself (i.e. your inner demons, pride, etc).

Although it is true that combat is part of the ‘lesser’ form of jihad, the meaning of ‘lesser jihad’ is NOT limited to combat.

Combat is permissible but there are loads and loads of rules and criterias that must be fulfilled. Some of the rules/criterias that must be fulfilled in order for combat to be permissible are:

  1. If there is no other peaceful alternative to solve the issue.
  2. If it is in self defence.It shouldn’t be simply because the other person doesn’t share our beliefs. It should be because the other party is fighting us.
  1. If the person we’re fighting chooses peace, WE MUST stop fighting and choose the peace. Regardless of whether we think they’re sincere or not, in the event where the choice of solving things in peace is available, we must always choose peace.

It is these rules along with the other rules of combat in Islam that prove that the actions of extremists such as ISIS do not reflect Islam and Muslims.

How Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) handled conflict back then is a prime example of how combat should be handled in Islam, in particular during the conquest of Mecca.

Before Islam came about, there was a time of ignorance. Dishonesty and brutal acts were a norm, and women were mistreated to a level where baby girls were buried alive.

Islam then came and changed that.

Interest, gambling, and polytheism, and mistreatment of women is a No-No in the religion which were the things the people of Quraysh (the tribe that controlled Mecca) enjoyed. The Quraysh rejected the religion and for nearly 20 years, the Prophet and the other Muslims suffered. They had to endure the murder of loved ones, torture, and ridicule. The Prophet was even publicly mocked up to a point where he had dung thrown at him. Eventually the Muslims in Mecca were driven out of their homes and it was then did they migrate to Madinah.

After years of staying in Madinah, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH Peace Be Upon Him) received instructions to try and return to Mecca because that’s where Muslims could actually carry out their pilgrimage.

Of course things didn’t go that smoothly. They couldn’t simply return to Mecca. A treaty was formed and although most of the terms in the treaty favoured the Quraysh in Mecca, the Prophet agreed anyway.

However after 2 years, the treaty was broken by the people of Quraysh when they attacked a tribe that was in alliance with the Prophet and massacred them even in the sanctuary of Mecca. It was then did the Prophet determined to finally put a stop to the reign of injustice and oppression which had lasted for so long. He immediately gathered ten thousand men to march against the Quraysh and set out to Mecca on the 1st of January 630.

This is probably the part where you’d expect bloodshed.

Well you’re wrong.

Despite the fact that they conquered Mekkah with an army, no blood was shed.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) specifically instructed that-

  1. No harm is to be brought to animals, homes, and plants.
  2. No harm is to be brought to women, children, and those with disabilities.
  3. Do not attack anyone in their homes.
  4. If the enemy repents or would like to talk it out or to resolve matters peacefully, you MUST and ALWAYS SHOULD choose peace. Regardless of whether you think that person is sincere or would betray you or not, it is NOT up to you to decide that. Always. Choose. Peace.

And that was how the Prophet and his army managed to conquer Mecca with peace and no bloodshed.

The people of Quraysh not only drove him and the Muslims out of their homes, but also killed their loves ones, ridiculed the prophet up to a point where they threw dung at him, and tortured Muslims for almost 20 years. The prophet had the right to seek revenge but he didn’t.

Instead he forgave every one of them. He granted them general amnesty.

And that really says a lot about him and what the religion is all about. Forgiveness and peace is one of the main teachings of Islam, and Prophet Muhammad is a perfect example of what a muslim should be like.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are Muslims who misrepresent the religion by acting against the teachings of the Quran and the prophet. Their actions along with the negative connotations related to Islam that mainstream media cultivates has led to Islamophobic stereotypes.


I do acknowledge that the existence of Islamophobic stereotypes may not be entirely baseless due to the actions of extremists and I would like to apologise for that. However, I would like you to understand that the actions of those extremists do not reflect the religion. That their actions also damage the lives of Muslims. 

There are people who attempt to be ‘pious’ (and this isn’t only restricted to Muslims, but to other religions as well) who go out of their way to maintain a good relationship with God. But they forget that one of the ways to maintain a good relationship with God is to maintain a relationship with His creations as well.

After all, isn’t it hypocritical to expect God to be kind and forgiving towards you, when you’re not willing to do so with His creations?

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #4 : Jihad Part 1

The word ‘jihad’ tends to stir negative emotions among non-Muslims as it is often associated with terrorism.

A lot of people assume that the meaning of the word jihad involves war and Muslims attacking people, and this assumption is often cultivated by most mainstream media and some religious extremists (who really if compared to the more than 1 billion muslims in the world, make up less than 1 percent of the whole Muslim population).

That’s not what jihad means. Jihad does not involve terrorism, military acts, or violence.

The word ‘jihad’ is the Arabic word for ‘struggle’, and in an Islamic context, it is defined as the struggle as a Muslim.

In Islam, there are two forms of jihad, a ‘lesser Jihad’ and a ‘greater Jihad’.

‘Lesser Jihad’ involves the external struggle of holding onto your faith as a Muslim when you’re facing oppression or injustice; especially if said oppression or injustice happens simply because you’re a Muslim.

For example, when I was 18, I applied for a job at a few retail stores in Malaysia and ended up being told that if I wanted the job, I had to compromise with my religious beliefs and take off my headscarf. The fact that I didn’t choose to compromise and still held on to what I believed in is a form of jihad.

‘Greater Jihad’ involves the internal struggle within oneself, in particular the spiritual struggle one has with oneself when it comes to being a good Muslim. Where ‘lesser jihad’ involves you holding onto your faith when facing others, ‘greater jihad’ involves holding onto your faith when facing yourself.

Any form of struggle that you have especially the ones that involve you struggling against your inner demons and flaws is a form of ‘greater jihad’.

A man who is an alcoholic who wants to stop drinking and does whatever he can to stop even though it’s a huge struggle; that’s ‘jihad’.

Someone who chooses to start praying consistently even though waking up for morning prayers is such a difficult task for them; that’s ‘jihad’.

My mother choosing to cover herself and wear a scarf around her head even though it led to her being disconnected from some of the people in her life; that’s ‘jihad’.

A person with depression or anxiety or any form of illness that involves battling their inner demons even though it’s not an easy thing to do; that’s ‘jihad’.

Pride and arrogance is frowned upon in Islam. We are always encouraged to be humble for it is with humility that we will be able to accept our flaws and work towards improving them.

It is so so easy to point out the wrongdoings of others, but it’s not as easy to point out our own. Too often do we let our pride get in the way of seeing our own flaws and mistakes (because let’s face it, no one likes to admit, let alone think that they did something wrong).

But if we want to improve as a person and make things right, we must first acknowledge what is wrong with ourselves in the first place. And of course finding out and acknowledging what is wrong with ourselves is easier said than done which is why even the simple act of attempting to recognise and improve our own weaknesses is a form of jihad.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #3 : Fasting in Ramadan

Muslims fast during the month of ‘Ramadan’, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The act of fasting starts from sunrise to sunset, and during that period we are not permitted to eat or drink. Fasting is compulsory once a person reaches puberty but you are exempted if you are old and sick. Children are encouraged to learn how to fast and this is done by easing them into it slowly such as having them fast for a few days during the fasting month, or by having them fast for half a day*

But the act of fasting isn’t really about abstaining yourself from eating or drinking during the day. It’s about self-control and is more about abstaining yourself from committing sin such as backbiting, being unkind to others, letting out anger get the best of us etcetera. If one can control themselves to not impulsively eat or drink which is a core basic need, then they will be able to control themselves from acting in a negative manner.

The fasting month is a month where we ‘cleanse’ ourselves (and when I say ‘cleanse’, I don’t mean the detox kind). It’s a month where we focus on leaving behind our bad habits and form good habits for us to practice the rest of the year because during the month of Ramadan, we are encouraged to do more good deeds and improve ourselves not just between ourselves and God, but with His creations as well.

Of course the aim of fasting in this context isn’t be a perfect Muslim or human being (because no one is perfect and human beings are prone to making errors). The aim here is to be a better version of yourself.

Fasting sounds like a big deal and if I had a penny for every time someone looks at me disbelief because ‘You can’t even drink?’, I would be richer than Bill Gates. But really, if you think about it, fasting is something practiced by other religions other than Islam. Christians fast during ‘Lent’. Buddhists and Hindus fast as well.

Fasting for less than a day isn’t actually a horrible thing because it lets you take a step back and focus on yourself and your values, and helps you be grateful for being able to at least eat in the end. There are so many people, especially children, who are in poverty who go on for much longer than that without eating or drinking.

You are not going to die for not eating for less than a day. Instead of focusing on the hours you spend not eating or drinking, you learn to focus on fasting from another angle and that is the fact that at the end of the day, you will still be able to eat and drink which is a privilege that not many have.



*My parents did this with me. I was a mischievous child though and sometimes I ‘forgot’ that I was fasting and only remembered after taking a sip of water. After that I would assume that my fast wasn’t valid anymore and continued to eat and drink.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #2 : Allahu Akbar

Some of you may know that Muslims call God “Allah”. Nouman Ali Khan, a Muslim speaker who studied the Quran along with Modern Standard, Classical, and Quranic Arabic, explains the linguistic origins of the word Allah in this video here. There are two major scholarly opinions. Either Allah is a compound of al (the) and ilah (god) or it is a unique word not derived from any other word.

Allah has a lot of names such as “The Most Merciful”, “The Most Gracious”, “The All-Knowing” etc. Despite the many names we may call our Creator, we essentially believe that there is only One.

So what does Allahu Akbar mean?

There are certain phrases that Muslims use to praise God,


  1. Alhamdulillah (Pronounced: Al-hamd-doo-lee-lah)

“Praise be to Allah.”

  1. SubhanAllah (Pronounced: Su-ba-han Al-lah)

“Glory to God”

  1. Allahu Akbar (Pronounced: Al-lah hoo-ak-bar)

“God is [the] greatest”

These three praises are usually uttered whenever Muslims are in awe. Whenever we are reminded of Allah’s greatness (for example, when we see a beautiful or magnificent view and marvel at the fact that Allah created the beauty before us. Or when we come across a scientific fact and are reminded of how powerful and great Allah is for creating science and a wide range of knowledge that keeps on expanding), we recite at least one of the above praises.

The praises are innocent and are supposed to be used in a peaceful, innocent, and humbling context. However and unfortunately , Muslim extremists and the way some mainstream media demonises Muslims has led to praises such as “Allahu Akbar” to have negative connotations.

When really in actual fact, they are not only recited to praise Allah and to remember His greatness, but to humble ourselves as well. Too often do we think too highly of ourselves to a point that we become arrogant. Which is why it is important to remind ourselves that no matter how highly we may perceive ourselves or someone, Allah is without a doubt much greater; greatest even.


On another note:

There was once an issue in Malaysia in regards to using the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay translation of the Bible, and it sparked a lot of debate. Although I do understand the reason why it was seen as okay since Allah is the word for God and the Christians in Arab countries use the word ‘Allah’/’Ilah’ in their translation of the Bible, I also understand why using it may spark confusion.

Just like there’s Classical English and the modern English language that we use today, the same applies to every other language, Arabic included. There’s Quranic Arabic, Classical Arabic, and the modern Arabic language that is used today. And just like how you would be able to distinguish the level of English language used when you compare Shakespeare with a book like Harry Potter, those who really know and speak Arabic would be able to differentiate the Quran with an Arabic translation of the bible. The same can’t be applied in Malaysia.

The Malay translation of both the Bible and the Quran use modern-day Malay. Therefore if someone were to read either one, they wouldn’t be able to know which text is from which scripture unless they double checked beforehand (which would be such a hassle and is highly unlikely since it’s not like we fact check every single thing we read anyway).