Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Am Muslim

I am a great Dina fan.

I first discovered her through her first blog The Gongkapas Times and was totally beguiled - by the honesty of the writing, by the humour, by the colourful characters who inhabit Dina's world, by the fact that she has a gift for writing dialogue which reflects how Malaysians really talk (switching constantly between languages), and by the gossipy readability of it.

We became friends when she asked me to read some of her stories and give her feedback. I'm a very reluctant editor, since most people are extremely sensitive about what they write. But when I sit with Dina in Starbucks, wielding a pen over her work, I feel I can be absolutely honest about what works and what doesn't: to go back to the washing instructions analogy I love to use, Dina is hot wash, fast spin, line dry. But she's also crinkle free, no iron, shrink proof and colourfast. A real pleasure to work with.

I was familiar with quite a lot of the material in Dina Zaman's I Am Muslim long before the book was published. I'd read some of the columns on the Malaysiakini website, some on Dina's previous blog (now defunct), and heard some of them in readings at Borders and at Seksan's.

Least folks be put off the book by the title, expecting a heavy religious tome, let me hasten to add the book reflects all that is best about Dina's writing. Her writing displays a lightness of touch, but is never lightweight in terms of the value of the discussion. It's also written with warmth, humanity and humour.

Raman's website describes the books as "a selfish journey of faith" and I really do take issue with the word "selfish" to describe this very personal search for meaning and truth because, although Dina describes an inward journey, she opens the book outward to record the voices of a whole range of individual voices working through their own (often very difficult) questions about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. Dina, to her credit, doesn't set herself up as any kind of an expert to answer them, but in this self-censoring society it takes a great deal of courage even to raise issues (particularly about relationships and sex) publicly.

The portraits are often deeply affecting, the characters as fully realized as in any piece of fiction. The episode I most love for its lyrical beauty and narrative flow is The Student and The Teacher.

I Am Muslim is also an intriguing exposé of the urban middle-class Malay in Kuala Lumpur: Dina is a lady with her ear firmly to the ground. I didn't know about the expense of keeping up with appearances with designer telekungs (prayer shrouds), costly religious classes and "jet-set umrahs" andam now much enlightened. And there is an eye-popping account of the sexual prefences of boarding school educated Malay men which is going to be very hotly denied, I think. (But Dina has her informants ...).

My only criticism of the book is that there are places where I'd have loved her to escape the short article format and developed arguments further, and some form of afterword would have drawn the book together rather better. Having proofread the book towards the end, I'm glad that the ouchy bits have gone, and commend Raman on doing a good job with the editing.

Copies can be bought online from Silverfish and shipped anywhere in the world. I would love to see I Am Muslim in the hands of readers outside Malaysia, particularly as so much of the world equates Islam with terrorism and extremism and the oppression of women and this book presents a refreshing counterbalance to the stereotypical images.

And Dina, you gotta autograph my copy!


Debbie Shiamay said...

It sounds pretty good... i can't get it at other bookstores?

bibliobibuli said...

in malaysia? yes, of course. it might not be in the major stores quite yet, but should be soon.

Dina Zaman said...

wow. i sure was not expecting this.

now that the book's out - ive noticed a few typos, gremlins and yes. there's a lot more to expand on.

a lot of readers want the column to continue but i dont want to be defined by the book. i'll think about it :)

debbie - mph, kino, borders, times stock my book.

bibliobibuli said...

i know it's the gremlins you notice as an author, but the big picture is fine.

yeah ... i wasn't sure i was going to write this until i sat down to write it this morning. i am so behind with the things i mean to blog too, but i should stick more reviews up.

i think the book stands well by itself - don't worry about adding to it. i think you should send copies to some agents overseas. it should be read elsewhere.

next is the stories! you must get them done. and out. and then move on to the next project. all these things have been bubbling under for a long time, haven't they?

suanie said...

just bought online via silverfish. thanks for the recommendation :D

Antares said...

Welcome to the Zaman of Dina! I've been an ardent admirer since I first saw this feisty read her work at - of all places - an American diplomat's house. What a gorgeous and generous review, Sharon. How lucky Dina is!

the legend said...

congratulations dina zaman...

all the best to you...

Chet said...

Do you have the special edition of I Am Muslim? Go check the last few pages.

Berisman said...

Congratulations to Dina for her latest book. I bought a copy yesterday at Silverfish.

bibliobibuli said...

chet - must go check my pages but i think it is okay

ask raman to change it

berisman - i like your record of your book addiction on your blog very much!

Chet said...

Sharon - But I dowan to change my copy of IAM, wor.

Chet said...

I went to Silverfish this evening to collect my name tag and goody bag. Told Raman about my special copy of IAM, he said I could take it back to change, and I said no, I want to keep that special copy! I also bought another copy, plus Silverfish New Writing 6 and Antares' Tanah Tujuh. There were more books in the goody bag! Really worth every sen of my registration fee. Even better if I can take time off to attend the LitFest, but I can't. Well ... maybe Thursday afternoon off.

Berisman said...

I have taken a few photos of the event at The Marmalade.You can view them at my flickr:

Btw, someone likes your earrings;-)

Adib aka Berisman

Dean said...


I tried to send you an email, but I can't locate it. If you send me an emeil from your email account, I can send you my address.


April said...

i got it last week. Not knowing what to expect, but boy - am i impressed..they were like my thots pop out of me in words, I am a convert by marriage and has been divorced since last year by the man i "sunjung and work to-my-bones for" you see, how those words of Dina just "pops" out !

bibliobibuli said...

glad you can identify with it april. am so sorry though for all you have been through. maybe you would like to write about your experience for "i am muslim 2"? dina hopes to encourage more voices ...

World Laugher said...

Hi Sharon

I hope that all is well with you!

Here is the information about the laughter project. It will be lovely to chuckle with you for a few seconds at 1pm GMT that Saturday and any other you choose to join in!

I hope that the project will grow, but it is wonderful to know that there are people across the world laughing with each other!

Very best wishes


With Rainbows of Laughter come laugh with me!
Launch of the World Laughter Pledge : Saturday 30th August 1pm GMT

Remember how you feel after a good laugh? Now imagine how the World would feel if we all laughed together!

Initiated by World Laughter Master, Belachew Girma (Laughter Therapist in Ethiopia and world record holder for continuous laughter at over 3 hours), and World Laugher Robin Graham (UK based Therapist, piloting ‘Laughter on Prescription’, and co-Founder of The Laughter Network), the pledge aims to get people of the World laughing together at the same time every Saturday - for a few seconds or a few minutes.

Belachew is living testament that people can laugh despite adversity. His wife was HIV+ and died some years ago, and his business was destroyed twice - by fire and by flood. Yet he has established the Ethiopian Laughter Day with support from his government and uses Laughter as a tool for healing.

With laughter we can be happier and healthier and less stressed, with greater clarity, creativity and calmness to enable us to face life’s challenges more effectively. And laughter is a ‘Diplomacy Pass Key’ which can promote peace and joy.

On Saturday 30th August, people will be laughing in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Indian sub-continent and Australasia at 1pm GMT. Everyone can join in, wherever they are, on their own or in groups. Friends and family who live apart can link with laughter and remember each other.

How to start a laugh? You don’t need jokes! You might set an alarm for one minute before 1pm GMT, and focus on happy images and thoughts. If there are people with you, make eye contact with someone; otherwise if you like, look in a mirror! Then with every out breath, just gently chuckle. Let the smile cross your face and let the laughter grow! Take a few seconds to take a step back from everyday life. We can change this World with laughter! We can cross this World with rainbows of laughter!

Inspired by the play, ‘A Different Place’: “Every week from today, at exactly this time, I will stand on a street corner wherever I am, and laugh. I give you my word. And if you choose to, you can laugh with me. We can cross this World with laughter. We can change this World with laughter. I give you my word'.

For more information contact: Robin Graham +44-161-831-9385 or +44-7930-570140, or visit

It only needs us to make the choice. So let’s do it!
Every Saturday for a few seconds or minutes, across the World at1pm GMT!