Face, Faith And Future: The ABCs Of A Global Muslim

It is close to midnight. Ninety seconds, to be precise. That is the thing about the modern world, every minute, every second is palpable. Almost a month into the new year and life seems to be devoid of purposeful connections, still.

For the past couple of years, life has been gripped by gloomy ambiguities compounded by crippling uncertainties. Though it has been, and continues to be, widely reported that life on Earth is gradually being pieced back together of whatever remaining shreds and sense of normalcy, everyone has been affected. That is the painful reality check. In many supreme ways, life demands a period of healing.

The ersatz digital landscape has paved the path to a proliferation of online content competing for attention and eyeballs.

Naurah keeps on scrolling. Such thoughts keep swirling in her mind, eating into her sleep. Earlier, in the afternoon heat while commuting to work, her friend shared a link to an article – 10 Must-Have Apps for Every Muslim 2023. Intrigued, she decided to download the Muslim Pro app, in the very next minute. She has been devouring its Muslim lifestyle content, specifically, the articles.

At times, she has been experiencing faith fatigue. The ersatz digital landscape crowded by an array of social media platforms has paved the path to a proliferation of online content competing for attention and eyeballs. Mostly, chasing profits at the expense of people and planet.

For the past several months, Naurah has been drowning in an endless array of notifications and redundant content that mostly veered towards prescriptive preaching of religious content. What that experience has taught her is there are many individuals, organisations and companies that seek to inject their opinions and influence the quotidian lives of millions of Muslims sans any understanding of the many faces, degrees of faith and future of Islam and its adherents.

However, this article of Muslim Pro app is different. In fact, this is the twentieth article from the app that is also available on its lifestyle blog that Naurah is reading, since this afternoon. On the Connect website, Naurah stumbles upon this article – Am I Muslim Enough? Without realising, she catches herself smiling. Her reflection on her phone mirrors her inner thoughts. A couple of ideas profoundly resonate with her:

Ironically, there are people who seem to have reached a level of delicate control in leading a balanced life. As a first step, it is expressed in outward fashion, tangible forms of piety through clothing, such as the hijab, or having installed a prayer app in their phones. Look around. These are people you might very well know.

Naurah chuckles to herself. “I could definitely name a few, now,” she mumbles absent-mindedly.

An admirable act, indeed. However, it bears remembering and repeating that a life of righteousness is partly informed by genuine connections that are not reflected by outward tangible portrayal of spiritual piety alone.

What is our religious worth, if we think about it at all, in addition to our paper-thin spiritual piety at the moment?

Again, she nods her head in agreement. Helmy, the writer, has managed to articulate her own thoughts buried deep inside her soul for so long. Her religious worth is not measured by people. It is between her and Allah. What is more important, instead of pondering and worrying over the judgment and expectations of others is to avoid an ‘engagement in hypocritical religious piety.’

Naurah glaces at the time. It is past midnight. Still, it is not too late. It is never late to choose to do the right thing. After tossing her phone onto her bed, she reaches for her yellow notepad on the table and grabbed a blue pen from her bag on the floor next to her.

She jots down the following:

The ABCs Of A Global Muslim

A – Always actively choose kindness. For myself and others.

B – Build daily connections – with myself, those around me and spiritually.

C – Create opportunities and space to unplug from the online world by being present in the moment.

Always actively choose kindness.

The basic fundamentals of being a Muslim remain intact. What she intends to do more of is to be truly conscious of her choices at every step and opt for positivity and happiness. Yes, there is no such thing as a Hallmark-Card happiness wrapped up in a bubble of perfection. And, in moving forward, it is not about subscribing to the sinning now, repent later mentality either, which is akin to the buy now, pay later phenomenon. A mounting spiritual debt is best avoided before it is too late. InshaAllah.

Build daily connections – with yourself, those around you and spiritually.

At the bottom of the page, she scribbles the words ‘careers@Bitsmedia‘. Something for her to browse during her commute to work later. A career switch in technology that bridges faith seems worthy of exploration. And, she believes she has a voice and point of view to be shared with the global Muslim communities.

Be present in the moment.

Naurah puts aside her notepad and pen. She also makes a mental note to check out Qalbox, the recent addition of the streaming space that aims to complement one’s spiritual journey. Having the option to enjoy a wide range of content that is not just limited to entertainment, but inclusive of faith-based content is an attractive proposition to her.

As Naurah switches off her phone and stares at her bedroom ceiling, she is reminded of the following sentiment from the article she finishes reading just moments ago:

We begin with Bismillah in everything we do and hopefully, remember to utter Alhamdullilah for both the blessings and challenges that develop our maturity to become better beings, not only to those around us and our Creator, but also ourselves.

Begin with Bismillah and remember to utter Alhamdullilah for both the blessings and challenges encountered.
Disclaimer: This is a work of flash fiction. Any names or characters, places, events or incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Rendezvous: Shadowless Entanglements

‘The Rendezvous’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

Mystery. Intrigue. Manipulation. Deceit. Betrayal. Let the fierce winds of enigma fade into the sand dunes while revealing an adventure of a lifetime. Or, perhaps, unveil instead the inevitable countdown of the end of days?

A tale cloaked in suspense from the very beginning to end. It all starts with one tragic death in the deserts of Amman, Jordan. The Rendezvous begins with the shocking demise of Dr Rachel Rozman’s brother, David. A brother she has not seen in three years died under gruesome circumstances with his left hand handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car. Abandoned in the desert heat with the front tyres shot out. The heartbreaking news is delivered by Jake Al-Shandi, a United States Department employee.

It is definitely not an accident. Perhaps, a planned murder, or an elaborate suicide? With several clues left by David, would it be a wise choice for Rachel to follow the bloody breadcrumbs and try to unravel the truth(s) behind David’s sudden demise? Is the glass half full or empty, here? It is a difficult decision. As time slips past us all quietly, shadowless and unnoticed, would smashing the proverbial glass instead matter at all when it emerges to be a viable option?

Shadowless Entanglements

A still from The Rendezvous, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Any death of a family member is an absolute traumatic and life-altering occurrence. Rachel hardly has the time to process her grief when she is pressed by the authorities for answers. Answers that elude everyone, including Rachel initially. Answers that surface based on a trail of scattered clues of a dead brother, which translates into shadowless entanglements for Rachel.

Utter confusion and frustrations set in fast; forcing Rachel to articulate them in exasperation to Jake: “You know, if I had the answers to your questions, I would not be sitting here trying to answer your questions.”

From California, United States to Jordan then Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and back to Petra in Jordan, David’s shadow looms large as Rachel is made to confront a painful reality. Her entanglements with people and things because of David that would lead to the unravelling of something sinister. Possibly the truth, or just an accelerated descent into a brewing conspiracy of fanatical individuals and groups.

Rachel’s steely determination to get to the bottom of things betrays her outward display of confidence. It rips apart her fragile sense of purpose and direction with the unmasking of feelings of guilt towards David: “… I cannot leave until I find out what happened to David.”

It appears that before his untimely death, David was in possession of an ancient artefact that is being hunted by many powerful, and at times dangerous, individuals and groups, including the United States government. Rachel has to painstakingly piece together a trail of clues with the help of Jake. All the while racing against time in seeking answers and not getting killed!

One of the several suspicious characters to look out for is Beltran Reyes, a friend of David. He has the following words to remind Rachel and Jake, and by extension an implicit reminder to us, the audience, as well: “When your enemy is invisible, it is wise to be paranoid.”

A still from The Rendezvous, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Who is a friend? Could a friend also be her foe? Is there anyone left for Rachel to trust?

“Dr Rozman, I am afraid you have no idea how entangled you are in a very dangerous business,” warned Charles Du Plessis, an eccentric French millionaire.

Inevitable End Of Days?

The very dangerous business in spotlight is linked to artefacts of ancient cultures. Quasi-religious manuscripts, to be exact. Fragments of truths following what is left of prophetic evidences suffering from the ravages of time, for instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls. It does not end there. Instead, there are more such valuable scrolls to be unearthed. Specifically, the fittingly named Armageddon Scroll, in The Rendezvous. What if these precious, ancient artefacts fall into the wrong hands? Why does it matter at all?

According to Fawaz Azzam, David’s university professor: “Anything can be a weapon for the right kind of imagination.” Thus, Rachel has been provided an added motivation to continue following David’s clues.

Allegedly, these scrolls provide answers to age-old questions, which certainly have gripped, suffocated the imaginations and fascinations of many generations. Prophecies or a roadmap in spelling out the end of the world? A treasure-hunting, of sorts, seems to be the next logical step. Sounds preposterous, maybe. However, that has not stopped many from hunting for such artefacts. And, generally the truth is stranger than fiction, at times.

What more would Rachel have to do when faced with the choice of saving the world? Too big a burden? The belief in world peace and its related ideals is not just a supremely forgotten dream often deemed as mere wishful thinking of the naive.

What is the truth, for Rachel? What exactly is she seeking? Justice for her brother, or something else altogether, something beyond her control and capacity to understand? Is world peace to remain a stale and superficial regurgitation of annual pageantry on stage? More importantly, are there any winners in this adventure? What are the chances for Rachel?

It is alright to critically engage with the film by avoiding passing snap judgments that serve to poke holes in the overall plot as the credits roll. Return to the source for a more comprehensive viewing. For those of us who are bibliophiles at heart, a reading of ‘A New Song’, by Sarah Isaias, which the The Rendezvous is based on might provide comfort in certain artistic licenses taken in the film adaptation.

A still from The Rendezvous, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Presently, set a date and time to watch The Rendezvous. In actuality, it would be best done in the next hour and a half. And, as Jake sarcastically takes a jab at Rachel’s detective instinct: “I am guessing lonely nights, watching Sherlock Holmes on TV with ice cream and flannel PJs.”

“… A lot can be gleaned from watching Sherlock Holmes,” retorts Rachel. And, rightly so. No one would be judging you if the above-mentioned description is a fitting mirror image of yourself. Get set, be ready to be entertained; stream it now!

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

My Love Is Soup: A Thai Love Recipe

‘My Love Is Soup’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

Forget the fiery, literally and figuratively, situation of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen season after season that has established itself as a mainstay of reality television and popular culture zeitgeist. It has and continues to successfully capture the imagination and eyeballs of millions, for more than a decade. Instead, delve into a very different kitchen of My Love Is Soup (Rak Na, Soup Soup) a romantic comedy [romcom] film hailing from the land of smiles, Thailand.

A palate cleansing.

A Brew Of Love, Pride And Prejudice

Minnie has a lot to live up to. As the descendant of a royal cuisiner originating in southern Thailand, she takes pride in her illustrious family lineage and aspires to be a chef in Bangkok, the food mecca of Thailand. A simple girl with big city dreams and aspirations. However, she finds out that it takes a lot more to be accepted as part of the industry. This, for better or worse, does not blunt her steely resolve as she casually remarks to her friend after failing to clinch a position in Bangkok despite her impressive academic resume due to her unemployment in the industry, in the past five years:

“Do you understand the word ‘talent’? If I am talented in cooking, whatever I do to the food, it will be delicious.”

A still from My Love Is Soup, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Is it inherent pride that helps to build her (false sense of) confidence? Untapped potential? Perhaps, a dash of egotistical-driven aspirations anchored in a sense of entitlement? Or, quite simply, fragile mere delusions?

Soon, Minnie starts working for the famous Hunsas Restaurant, which prides itself in serving the best Malay-style cuisine. The Muslim Star award (branded after the Michelin Star) is a source of pride for its owner, the seemingly cold and distant young owner, Hunsas.

As any other typical romcom fashion, love blossoms at first sight. The meet cute scene, a romantic chance encounter wrapped up in a comedic manner, between Minnie and Hunsas occurs way before Minnie starts working at Hunsas Restaurant. As the audience, you would be able to forgive the simple and cliched approach of the film’s protagonists’ first meeting as it manages to evade the banal damsel in distress portrayal by not slipping into automated saving mode on the part of Hunsas.

Patient slurping of all the romantic cliches interspersed with comedic scenes would reward the audience with nuances of the main characters. Slowly, but surely.

Alas, a whirlwind of accidental mistake compounded by an act of sabotage leads to Hunsas Restaurant losing its coveted Muslim Star. Of course, Minnie becomes embroiled in all of it. Though reinstating the restaurant’s reputation is not the only thing on Hunsas’ mind, it leads to a delayed love confession. It serves to only add more distance between him and Minnie through his playful teasing easily misconstrued as rudeness. Would Minnie ever be able to peel away her superficial prejudice towards her boss, Hunsas?

Rich Food And Heritage

Minnie’s journey of redemption in the eyes of Hunsas and her co-workers kickstarts the active exploration of the rich food heritage of Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, with nuances from every corner of the country. It serves as an undercurrent narrative by exploring the overlapping identities, languages, cultures and traditions through food, unrestricted by geography, differences in languages and/or religions.

Hunsas Restaurant’s redemption rests on the legendary beef soup of Minnie’s ancestor. As the head chef explains to Minnie: “The royal chef gave the secret recipe of this soup only to relatives, especially the family.” Thus, Minnie has to unlock her past memories and unearth the secret recipe that is now chained to their collective redemption.

Moreover, is the forbidden royal recipe only served to and reserved for the aristocrats?

“I believe you [Minnie] have tasted it before. This soup was not actually made for the Sultan in the palace [past kingdom of Patani Malays in southern Thailand], but he made it for gatherings and it became very famous in the past.”

A still from My Love Is Soup, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Subsequently, the head chef confesses his apparent failure to replicate the legendary beef soup to Hunsas, realising that recipes, as a living heritage, with the ever-looming threat of being buried with the dead and become lost forever. This is the painful reality that the younger generation of chefs and cooks have to grapple with.

“If it is the true recipe of the royal chef’s soup, it would be better than this. It will not just taste delicious or different from other soups, but will be imprinted in the hearts of those who have tasted it.”

What is the secret recipe of this joyous tear-inducing beef soup? Before you lunge into the kitchen to cook after googling beef soup recipe, consider the following first. Are we forever to be haunted by glorious shadows of the past in order to emerge the best in the present? Is that even realistic? Therefore, an insurmountable task for Minnie and her colleagues in the kitchen?

If change is the only constant, an indicator of moving with the times, does revamping the menu and its success depends alone on a legendary recipe from the past? Hunsas Restaurant not only lost the prestigious Muslim Star award, a stamp of approval that translates to profits, but also its pride bruised for being knocked off the top spot and facing stiff rivalry from its competitors in the cut-throat food business. Does that translate into discarding the old and embracing the new? It is about reframing the conversation into a question of authenticity that is heavy on the shoulders of the new generation.

Without the legendary beef soup, is budu sauce and spicy rice salad the winning alternative? Has Hunsas Restuarant truly reached its peak and now fading in the twilight?

What Is Your Love Recipe?

Never mind the mouth-watering Tom Yum Goong, Pad Thai or Pad Krapow.

What is the recipe to a happy and successful life, especially relationships? There is no one right answer or formula. Balance as exemplified through Minnie’s journey centres on the sharing of “kindness, love, happiness and family bonding time.”

The above-mentioned is complementary of what Hunsas, from a young age, learnt from his father: “My father used to teach me that whatever the prize it is, even though it is a precious reward, it is still just an award. It is not as important as the people around us.”

By the way, have you figured out yet the saboteur(s) of Hunsas Restaurant from the very beginning?

A still from My Love Is Soup, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Ultimately, this romcom is a story about redemption. To give a second chance to others and yourself. The ability to find the strength to forgive mistakes and bad choices while accepting flaws and shortcomings. Embrace sincerity in relationships guided by love is what matters more than worldly fame and wealth.

Now, head into the kitchen and start cooking your very own beef soup.

Psst! You can now watch Qalbox on TV and Media Boxes with Chromecast built-in. Simply choose the film or show you want to watch and press on the cast icon.

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

The Mecca Clock Tower: Scaling Soaring Heavenly Ambitions

‘The Mecca Clock Tower’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

A construction of an extremely tall superstructure with its own unique set of challenges and engineering breakthroughs all rolled into one mega project. A clock tower that is 35 times larger than the Big Ben in London, the United Kingdom! The Mecca Clock Tower tracks the erection of a massive clock tower that would leave anyone in awe of its majestic, towering ambitions. During and after its completion, it managed to break over 30 world records, then!

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Heavenly Clock Tower On Earth

“This clock is by far the tallest in the whole world. We could not refer back to anything. We were in completely new territory.”

Heinrich Perrot, Mechanical Engineer

An architectural masterpiece is not built overnight. Most importantly, it demands the best of the best in terms of expertise and materials on top of careful and meticulous coordination. Ultimately, it is teamwork on an immense scale, crossing geographical boundaries with the involvement of construction firms from 10 countries.

At a dizzying height of 600 metres, the clock tower is embellished with 98 million mosaic tiles with nearly one third covered in 24 karat gold leaf. In addition to over two million LEDs (light-emitting diode) adorning the outer facade.

“The entire design came about in close collaboration with the clients. Lots of people contributed their ideas. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.”

Dr Mahmoud Bodo Rasch, Architect

A German firm pitched a total of 107 design ideas to choose from! Its aesthetics combined traditional forms and modern designs. One of the world’s best calligraphers, Efdaluddin Kilic, from Istanbul, Turkey, was tasked with creating the drafts on paper for the huge monument that was then replicated a hundred times bigger on the faces of the clock tower. The intricacies and attention to detail at every stage were astounding.

Labour Of Science Under Pressure

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

In 2006, Saudi Arabia decided to include a clock tower on an already existing tower, that effectively increased its height from 450 metres to 600 metres. It was a monumental task working within a very tight schedule; a four-year deadline. Simply: Religion meets science at the intersection of beauty overlapping Islamic aesthetics.

Interestingly, the Eiffel Tower served as a model to the German engineers due to the challenge in weight distribution. As such height would only be made possible using a highly efficient steel construction.

The millions of mosaic tiles took a year to produce in the city of Venice, Italy, which has centuries of experience in the field. However, to solely rely on traditional manufacturing methods was not feasible. Thus, the decision to turn to automation whereby the ancient traditional handicraft was then propelled to meet state-of-the-art 21st century technology. Even then, quality was not compromised; only completely flawless mosaic tiles were picked.

“When you analyse the issue as per usual, in research and development, you often just come to more questions. With every answer, you get five new questions.”

Professor Dr Christian Bartenbach, Electrical Engineer

The clock tower has to be readable day and night at a distance of 500 metres. Thus, what colours are to be chosen? Red, blue, white or green? Researchers in Austria performed a field test. What we see now is not at the whim and fancy of the Saudi Kingdom, or inexperienced individuals dictating without specific expertise. It was a thoughtful approach in decision making that considered the capacity of human eyes based on its physiological characteristics.

The building of the biggest and strongest clock mechanism in the world was no accident. It was the result of multiple research opportunities that gave birth to the masterpiece of German engineering ingenuity. There were so many calculated risks to consider, including climatic conditions such as sudden changes to weather patterns ranging from scorching heat of the desert to torrential rain and thunderstorms. Also, architects had to examine the aerodynamics characteristics of the clock tower.

As such, the different exterior elements of the outer facade were made of carbon fibre components, a material that has been dubbed as material of the future.

“Logistics was one of the major challenges in the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project and, in particular, the clock tower because of the scale of the project and its location next to the Haram [Al-Masjid Al-Haram Mosque].”

Mohamed Afanah, Site Manager
A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

One major hurdle that is ever-present being that only Muslims are allowed to enter the construction site located in the holy site, Mecca. Therefore, extremely meticulous planning, scheduling and coordination were required for a smooth installation of the superstructure. Clear communication was key in the equation.

“The installation of the clock drive on site is a special moment. It felt as if I could not be there for the birth of my own daughter…. Making the right decision at the right time when you are not on site is a real challenge.”

Andreas Perrot, Mechanical Engineer

Still, the joint effort and coordination provided new and exciting challenges and experiences for all parties involved in the project.

Whose Legacy Exactly?

A gripping tale of engineering feat compounded by science and made possible by brilliant minds and sweat of the thousands of professional individuals and labourers, masters of their fields across the world paid for in billions of dollar.

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Yet, the hilal (crescent moon) at the top of the tower, which houses the tallest prayer room in Mecca is ironically reserved for a few high ranking dignitaries. As it has been observed, even in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, there are some kids whom would be just a tad happier compared to the rest because of their premium tickets. Special passes that allow them to jump any queue. In Mecca, ironically, not all Muslims have access to such earthly privilege – the opportunity to pray in the hilal, at 600 metres high.

Again, let’s be reminded of the overall price tag? Estimated at USD$ 2 billion.

Is it a giant monstrosity that reeks of ugly ambitions propelled by the greed of one kingdom’s chase after eternal legacy? Or, simply scaling of humanly effort in reaching soaring, heavenly ambitions? Has the kingdom of Saudi Arabia truly left a legacy of epic proportions?

For whom precisely?

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

I Am Muslim: Hear My Voice

‘I Am Muslim’ series is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

How do you measure your religious piety? What are the struggles and sins that diminish your effort in maintaining your religious quotient? Have you done enough to step into the hereafter without any regrets? More importantly, have you being a good Muslim in the very present moment?

Are you Muslim enough?

Ironically, there are people who seem to have reached a level of delicate control in leading a balanced life as a faithful. It is often expressed in outward fashion, tangible forms of piety through clothing, such as the hijab, or having installed a prayer app in their phones. Look around. These are people you might very well know.

However, your faith is not yours alone. Your judgments of your fellow Muslims do not matter. You do not own the exclusive purview when it comes to matters of faith. Pockets of Muslim communities around the globe are also rightful adherents of Islam. Our differences do not necessarily weaken our individual, and by extension, collective faith. Instead, it is an opportunity to learn, share, grow and mature.

I Am Muslim, a Qalbox original series presents bite-sized chunks of the varying realities of Muslims. It taps into the potential to open up conversations; however difficult it might be at the start.

Life Is Always A Challenge

Meet three inspiring Muslims who have gone through (and still are!) the ups and downs of life. At times, they seemed to have hit the bottomless pit of sin and despair that threaten to swallow whole their humanity, hope and faith.

A still from I Am Muslim series, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Alfie Afandy achieved fame in his early twenties and became a household name following his acting career since his teenage years, in Indonesia. Alas, his life was consumed by daily drug usage, which resulted in three overdose experiences that almost snatched his life away! Fame and money led him to a pathway of self-destruction.

“Di situlah mulai dunia hitam. Di situlah aku mulai merasakan kegelapan malam, kenikmatan dunia malam.” (“That was the start of a dark time. That was when I felt the darkness of night, the pleasures of night.”)

Alfie Afandy, founder of Bikers Dakwah

What was the impetus for the biggest turning point in his life? More importantly, it is odd, at times, how art imitates life and vice versa with every loss or gain is balanced accordingly.

On the other end of the spectrum, Eka Shereen, a Malaysian residing in Kuala Lumpur, her drug addiction was a dangerous coping mechanism, which served to soothe her emotional pains that started with the death of her father when she was just four years old.

“So, in my teenage years I was always looking for something outside of myself to fill that void.”

Eka Shereen, co-founder of Hope Valley
A still from I Am Muslim series, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

She started smoking at 15 years old, tried marijuana at 16 and was introduced to methamphetamines in her early twenties. It later snowballed and manifested into an existential crisis anchored in faith.

“The minute I put substance into my system, it helped me escape. It helped numb my feelings. I just did not want to feel.”


Eka’s struggles with substance abuse was something that shackled her and kept her away from recovery for more than a decade. Her one frank revelation that many of us would have experienced at one point, or another in life: “God, why me?”

Meanwhile, in Bogor, Indonesia, Hesti Yusuf’s acts of kindness to stray animals, in particular dogs, were and continue to be met with disdain and fierce disapprovals from her immediate family, community and even strangers whom have never met her.

Her choices guided by her faith have been slammed and questioned by others following videos of her handling dogs that went viral and made headlines in 2018 and 2021. Alas, her decision to realise her dream of building a haven, a harmonious setting for stray animals that are considered as a nuisance to the community was met with protests.

Ironically, in her case, which is not uncommon, it was not an individual’s failings and weaknesses instead her community has failed her by not being able to see beyond the superficial. Though a dog’s saliva is considered uncleaned in Islam, it could still be cleansed accordingly. As Hesti tearfully shared, words hurt more. Its emotional wounds and scarring are not that easily forgotten. Have those around her acted fairly? Have they been good Muslims to themselves and to Hesti?

I Am Muslim – A New Dawn Awaits

“Kita gak boleh mensia-siakan mereka yang ada di dunia ini. Sedikit apa pun yang kita miliki, kita punya kewajipan untuk berbagi pada mahluk-mahluknya Allah itu.” (“We cannot take anything or anyone for granted. Whatever little we have, we have a responsibility to all of Allah’s creatures.”)

Hesti Yusuf, owner of Greenhouse, a home for stray animals
A still from I Am Muslim series, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Rising from the ashes, these brave Muslims did not give up on themselves and their faith. Hesti’s Greenhouse is presently home to some 100 stray dogs and more than 50 cats. She did not give up on her dream or the stray animals in her care.

“Because my whole life, I was always looking for happiness in all the wrong places either through people, places, things or situations.”


As for Eka, she channelled her past dark experiences by being a co-founder of a substance abuse rehabilitation programme – Hope Valley. Having been sober since 5th September 2017, Eka is determined to share her experiences in helping others’ recovery process. She created a purpose in her life that is meaningful.

Alfie, is the founder of Bikers Dakwah, a Jakarta-based biker gang that aims to build up a spiritually healthy community since 2018. He has managed to grow this network into 48 chapters in Indonesia!

“Hidup tidak selamanya indah.” (“Life is not going to be beautiful forever.”)


Alfie knows that his methods and way of doing things would inevitably be met with criticisms. For one thing, his naysayers have said that he is too young to realise the duty of spreading Islamic teachings and leading young Muslims. And, he is not the cookie cutter religious teachers, especially in appearance, that society is generally used to and expect. Yet, humility has always been his approach and lens through which he views such feedback. His sense of duty is always driven by mutual respect.

Sure, flaws exist. Is there room for improvement just like for these three inspiring individuals and the pockets of Muslim community worldwide? Yes, definitely! That has been one of the main learning points that these three individuals shared.

And similarly, flaws exist like any other human work, thus inviting criticisms to be levelled against the series whether justly or otherwise. For instance, the visuals editing could have been better. The questions put forward could have been more nuanced. Perceived bias towards these three individuals sans other interviewees seems to be an issue, too.

Change is not easy and does not happen overnight. Same goes for changing of hearts and mindsets, especially naysayers and pessimists. Still, it serves as a starting point for further exploration and growth for both Muslim Pro and Qalbox and together with the wider contemporary global Muslims to reflect on their own faith.

Be open to hearing the voices of Muslims.

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

Qalbox Short Films: Open Your Heart To Another World

Several entertaining, perceptive and thought-provoking short films are available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

As we commute to work or school in the morning, typically we would indulge in some sort of entertainment to chase away the morning blues overlapping with sleepiness. This in addition to crafting plans to unwind after a long day. Something to look forward to. Between the start of most mornings and end of each day, most would choose to stream content as a form of escapism, even choosing mindless enjoyment at times. No judgment here. It is our prerogative.

Yet, our enjoyment does not have to result in absolute sense of hollowness once it ends. It is an opportunity to not only unwind but also plug in the gaps of our knowledge in a passive fashion, or otherwise, through enjoyable watching of streaming content.

Open Your Heart In Under 30 Minutes

With Qalbox, choose any short film ranging from three minutes to 23 minutes! It is certainly not daunting compared to a film or series. Discover unsettling hidden realities that would paint a totally different picture of Muslim communities across the world. Perhaps, something that you might not be familiar with, nevertheless worth exploring every second. Realistically (and reductively!), three minutes is of no consequence compared to more than 60 minutes.

A still from Zaina 46, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

In Zaina 46, Abdel an undocumented migrant worker living and working in a cafe in France, in 2006, seems to present the all-too-familiar narrative one is used to reading in the newspapers. Thus, Abdel’s heartache of not having seen his wife and family in five years is something that is not too far removed from reality for us, the audience. In 22 minutes, we are made aware of the physical distance that has begun to tear apart Abdel’s emotional bandwidth and mental attachments to his home that he attempts to grapple with in solitary by making connections, both hardware and heartware, through Skype.

Nothing could fill that emptiness, a void lay waste. As Abdel unwittingly accepts the painful reality of his circumstances by telling his wife the following: “No tears, they are pointless.”

In flipping the script about undocumented migrants crossing man-made borders, Tunisia 2045 is a poignant narrative set in a future dystopia. This time, it involves a French father and daughter, again, in desperate attempts to make connections with the female, Tunisian border staff.

A still from Tunisia 2045, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

“What would it cost you to put the right stamp on? For you, it is nothing, but for us it means three months of survival.”

An arresting and haunting emotional appeal that is captured in just under three minutes of exchange. Do we begin to lose a pinch of our humanity while defending what is ours? What are we protecting, really?

Women’s issues are also front and centre in explorations and depictions. In Extra Safe, a child’s curiosity sparked a fierce and loud contestation of viewpoints that quickly descended into chaos fairly quickly, within just nine minutes, in a neighbourhood pharmacy. The innocent inquiry in question:

“What is that in her hands?”

A still from Extra Safe, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

It is easy to paint conversations on issues such as intimacy, contraceptions and women’s freedom to choose that are largely deemed as taboo by certain groups, into large strokes of black and white. Yet, it does not help in moving the conversation forward. It is not merely about modernity versus traditionalism whereby the former is almost always negatively associated with sexual freedom, unchecked liberty and promiscuity. More importantly, the need to have ongoing conversations on women’s empowerment based on informed and responsible thoughts and words towards building understanding by fighting ignorance. A snapshot captured in Extra Safe is a good start for discussions.

A still from Eyebrows, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Another must-watch is Eyebrows, a tensed exchange between a couple of burqa-clad friends on several matters pertaining life and faith. Gender identity tied to patriarchy, at times more than religion. A simple act of eating ice-cream that many of us take for granted is not the same for Aiesha and Sally. Sally reprimands her friend, which the audience could interpret in many ways; has she overstepped her boundary as a friend and Muslim in an attempt to impose the practice of (unjust and overly harsh) public self-censorship that put other Muslim women in mental distress, or just simply being a good friend?

“How were you going to lick the cone in public?”

“I would have slipped it under my veil.”

“I am talking about the act itself. May God protect you from lustfulness.”

“But I love cones … I like their smell.”

At every juncture of life, one is always at the crossroads. To make a choice. What would Aiesha choose after expressing her inner anguish and turmoil to Sally in the 23 minutes that they are in a shopping mall?

“I have been told to not think for the past 29 years.”

Would her small expression of protest snowball into something significant?

Explore other short films on Qalbox.

Do not miss the opportunity to watch other short films such as This Is My Night (16 minutes) and Habib (22 minutes).

No One Right Answer To Life

No one right answer to life, whether real or imagined. And, if any of these short films have made you uncomfortable in any fashion then it is only fair to engage in nuanced conversations about the issues at hand.

Aiesha’s words should serve as a great reminder to all faithfuls: “We have to calculate everything. Because the way to heaven is tough.”

These are short films that you would return to watch multiple times on different occasions and stages of your life. Why? They are akin to gems being polished. You would continue to discover more nuances and insights based on your active, or unconscious peeling of the issues presented through compact dialogues and visuals.

And, my dear reader, now what is your choice?

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

17 Goals For Girls: It Is A Woman’s Game, Too

‘17 Goals For Girls’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

The journey to greatness has never been an easy road. Trials and tribulations are to be expected and even deemed as a rite of passage for anyone with the desire to emerge at the top after proving their mettle.

17 Goals For Girls follows the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team in their quest to beat their rivals in the then upcoming 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup to be held in Jordan. This documentary unveils the ugly truths that these young female footballers had to experience on top of the literal blood, sweat and tears they have had to shed and sacrifice along the way.

Great Dreams Demand Greater Sacrifices

A still from 17 Goals For Girls, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Football is not just a sport. And, it certainly is not a sport that is positively associated with girls and women in the middle east. However, such negativity is not just limited to these young, ambitious and talented footballers. Their families, too have to deal with objections even within their immediate social circles before stepping outside into the world and having to deal with more backlash. Their supposed crime is for supporting these young footballers’ dreams.

“Leen’s story with football began in this neighbourhood…. And she played with boys more than she did with girls…. Leen went on her first training camp abroad when she was 10…. Her school principal objected to her participation. Her teachers, her uncles objected, our family and friends. But, I insisted that Leen goes on that trip, and the outcome was great.”

Leen Btoush’s father on supporting unleashing her daughter’s football talent during a pivotal moment in 2013. Leen goes on to become a midfielder for the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team, in 2016.

The reality is great dreams demands even greater sacrifices. And, the outcome when talent is nurtured and allowed to flourish, particularly for young women, they soar to be among the best. In Leen’s case, she was voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2013. Unrestrained, Leen was able to achieve excellence in a sport deemed to be the exclusive domain of males. She became a sought after player not just in her neighbourhood but on the national stage.

Even if some of these teenage footballers are fortunate enough to have their family’s backing, support outside their immediate familial circle is still hard to come by.

A banter caught on camera between mother and daughter, Luna Sahlou (team captain) provides an illuminating look into her academic situation – frank, heartfelt peppered with disappointment and frustrations. The severe lack of support whenever she comes back from training abroad thus having to miss school for a few months and requiring a special arrangement is not welcomed. Though she is different from her average peers in having to juggle academics and representing her country in the football field on an international level. Instead, her school principal’s response has been one of a reductive approach to a nuanced set of circumstances:

“Whenever I got back from a camp abroad I would go to the principal’s office. I would tell her that I was back and I would ask if I could skip the exams to catch up…. And she told me that I was just like any other student and I could not not sit for the exams…. So, I told her that we are playing for the World Cup, do not I get some support for this? … It got me so exhausted to the point I got depressed. I just wanted someone to help me!”

Luna Sahloul, Team Captain of Jordanian under-17 women’s football team

At the same time, it is not just about dreaming of great things; it is also about putting those beliefs into action. As the obstacles are varied and seem to be never-ending.

A still from 17 Goals For Girls, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

These teenage female footballers have had to toughen up fast by developing certain coping mechanisms to protect themselves from pervasive social ills. Social nuisance that have morphed into almost socially acceptable annoyances in a patriarchal setting, from verbal sexual harassments through catcalling to being gripped with constant fear of commuting alone as young girls and women are vulnerable to attacks. This is what Al-Anoud Ghazi, who plays defense, has to deal with on a daily basis as she commutes to football practice by foot.

“I was not so confident in the beginning. I did not expect to play for the national team. Or, that I would have a future in Jordanian football because I have that deep fear of it. I used to be afraid of getting hurt. And everyone here thinks that football is for guys, not girls.”

Al-Anoud Ghazi, Defense for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team

We come to learn that everything is on the line for these girls, even more so for some than others. As playing for the national team comes with handsome financial rewards. Albeit, it does not begin to pay for what they have to go through while playing football, in and out of the pitch.

In addition, these girls learn that they are never really accepted as insiders though their family might have been more supportive. They are still perceived as outsiders based on gender. Even within the all-girls team, there are unique dynamics to be navigated such as pertaining to the wearing of hijab. It is a choice made at every step of the way, in other words, these young teenage girls have to grow up fast emotionally to be able to navigate their life decisions with maturity.

“Amman Little League was all boys and it was really tough because they would all sit together and share inside jokes and I would sit by myself, clueless.”

Jeeda Al-Naber, Right Wing for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team

“I was shy at first when I took off my headscarf when we headed to England. You know, from the girls. Especially those who wore the headscarf…. But then, I said I am free to do what I want. Whoever wants to talk will talk, but this is totally up to me. It is my misdeed and no one will pay for it except me.”

Anound Imad, Midfielder for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team

A Tapestry Of Friendship And Hope

Challenges abound every single day, no doubt; however, that does not mean they hang up their soccer cleats and walk away in despair. Moments of disappointments and anguish only serve to further strengthen their resilience and unwavering commitment to the sport.

A still from 17 Goals For Girls, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

A positive support network at home is always encouraging to watch.

“Her environment is supportive of sports. Me, her father, her grandfather, her grandmother, we all support sports. We believe a girl should play sports. She should be able to express what she loves, whatever it is. Even if it was football, and people think it is exclusive to boys. But no, this is something she loves and we gave her the freedom to learn it and play it.”

Jeeda Al-Naber’s mother

And, within the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team itself the path is not always lined with roses. Internal dynamics ranging from clash of personalities to as simple as English usage in communications surface challenges to building and sustaining an effective teamwork.

“When the team is split into cliques, it kind of frustrates everyone and makes us anxious, as it affects our decision[s] on who to pass the ball to…. And that really is not nice, especially in front of the fans…. So, I really hope … we become tighter and work hand in hand and do a really great job on the pitch.”

Anound Imad

However, all is not lost as they keep their eyes on the prize. To make Jordan proud on the football pitch in whatever match. The blood, sweat and tears literally, together with a shared dream bonded them together.

“I used to argue with them a lot [her football team mates]…. And, then, as the years passed, we got closer and closer. And now, I only believe in friendships I have formed in this team.”

Luna Sahloul

To be the best of the best, talent is not sufficient. Yes, resilience and a can-do attitude nurture talent over the long term. However, there needs to be a sustainable support system from the get-go. 17 Goals For Girls is about opportunities.

“I really hope I never stop playing for the national team.”

Al-Anoud Ghazi

Though the historic chapter for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team has been written in the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, what have the world learnt exactly about their potential and future?

A still from 17 Goals For Girls, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Do read other similar articles with a focus on football right after you share this article with your colleagues, friends and loved ones:

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

Chomel: Wonder Cat To The Rescue

Chomel’ is available to watch on Qalbox (*Territories apply). New users enjoy a 7-day free trial, which also gives access to the full features of the Muslim Pro app ad-free! Claim your free trial today!

Most of us would have had a pet cat when we were younger. Or, at the very least, we continually come across strays in our neighbourhoods that we have been feeding for weeks, months or even years. It seems that we just cannot resist these cute (comel, in the Malay language) yet mischievous four-legged snuggly fur balls.

Any animal lover would be thrilled to watch a film featuring a cat as one the main protagonists. Chomel deals with heavy family issues, such as the death of a wife/parent and the aftermath of such a major and painful shift in family dynamics that need to continue with life and start healing in the process. Yet, the film is still filled with lighthearted and comedic moments that are interspersed aptly throughout, largely due to the mischief and antics of Chomel, an adopted stray cat and its 9-year-old owner, Mimi.

Shades Of Grief

Mimi is the youngest of two children in the family. With the recent passing of her mother, it inevitably leaves a huge hole in her life, emotionally and physically. The heavy responsibilities of having to care for Mimi and her older sister, Nora, naturally falls on the shoulders of their father, Imran, a batik artist. Now, a single father juggling work and familial duties without his wife’s help. Adding to Imran’s stress, his mother-in-law, Wan, is also challenging for full custody of her granddaughters in court.

A still from Chomel, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Akin to the gradient colours of a batik painting, each of them is dealing with the grief of permanent loss differently. Blame, guilt, confusion and frustration all rolled into one huge turbulent emotional wave that creates more distance among them.

During a family dinner such emotional outbursts, just like a cat and mouse argument typical of siblings escalated very quickly. It barely scratches the surface of the family dynamics that had shifted as they are constantly confronted with a painful reality:

Kak Nora jahat!” (“You are mean!”)

Mimi nak apa lagi?!” (“Mimi, what else do you want?!”)

Mimi nak mama!” (“Mimi wants mama!”)

Mama dah tak ada!” (“Mama is no longer with us!”)

A still from Chomel, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Later, Imran’s outburst at Mimi and Chomel after the cat accidentally ruined his batik work is indicative of his hidden emotional turmoil compounded over time. As evident, adults do not always have the answer after all; albeit Imran is trying his best:

Dah berapa kali dah ayah cakap. Ayah, ayah dah ada banyak benda tahu tak nak settle dalam rumah ni! Dah lah ayah sorang-sorang aje. Apa susah sangat nak faham ni, Mimi?! Allah! Dah sekarang ni ayah dah lambat tahu tak, ayah nak pergi present semua. Ayah tahu ayah balik nanti, ayah tak mahu tengok lagi binatang ni!” (“How many times have I said so. I, I have so many things to settle in this house, you know! I am all alone. What is so hard for Mimi to understand?! Allah! Now, I am late, I have to go do the presentation and all. When I get home later, I do not want to see this animal here!”)

Wonder Cat Without A Cape

A still from Chomel, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

At times, we rely more on our pet cats than we care to acknowledge or even realise. As portrayed in Mimi’s situation who readily accepted Chomel into her life to subconsciously fill an emotional gap. Everyday heroes could very well be people around us who do not possess mutant powers, including our beloved pets! Our everyday heroes do not need to don a cape to have made and continue to contribute to positive changes in our lives. Chomel’s subtle messaging here is clear.

Furthermore, no matter what animal we come across or choose to have as our pets, we need to treat it right. Same goes for our family, friends and colleagues, even strangers, despite our skin deep differences and fierce disagreements, especially when we stand our ground, it is a choice to stick to our beliefs and uphold our cherished principles that are being challenged from time to time. Be it between Imran and Wan, or Mimi and Diva Girlz, a group of bullies in her neighbourhood. Acceptance beyond mere tolerance is key.

And, most importantly to do what is right. Chomel’s sudden intrusion into Imran’s family is a hidden blessing that created opportunities for family bonding to happen and their familial healing to start:

Ayah tahu sejak mama dah tak ada ni hidup kita dah tak sama dah, kan? Tapi, ayah akan cuba jadi ayah yang terbaik di Malaysia. Tak nak, di serata dunia … janji.” (“I know that since mama passed away, our life together has never been the same, right? But, I will try to be the best father in Malaysia. No, in the whole world … promise.”)

Alas as Nora, Mimi together with Chomel in tow attended a birthday party, chaos ensued. Not to mention in a subsequent court hearing for the custodial battle.

Ultimately, what is Chomel’s fate? Is Imran able to keep his family from being torn apart? The answers would have to wait until you watch Chomel by streaming it on Qalbox.

A still from Chomel, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Do explore other similar articles with a focus on Malaysian titles, which are available to stream on Qalbox now:

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Written by: Helmy Sa’at

Istanbul United: Unity In Discord

Istanbul United’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

Besiktas. Fenerbahce. Galatasaray.

No these are not new names of houses at Hogwarts, the imaginary wizarding school popularised through the global phenomenon that is the Harry Potter series. These are football teams. The three biggest football teams in Istanbul, Turkey to be exact.

Istanbul United would make anyone forget about the serenity of the Hagia Sophia mosque or the majestic Topkapi Palace typically printed on glossy travel brochures and on full display as top attractions to visit on travel websites as one is scrolling and planning his or her revenge travel. This documentary offers an intimate look into a whole different face of Istanbul through the powerful subculture in football. Based on the legendary mutual rivalry, which has generated fanatical fandoms also known as the ‘Ultra’ fans.

A still from Istanbul United, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Football Is A Serious Business Everywhere

“I never had my uncle running to me or hugging me or throwing me around or kissing me other than the times Galatasaray scored. As a kid I remember, even without noticing what football was or what it is about, I would wait and expect Galatasaray to score, so we would have a party atmosphere at home.”

Kerem Gurbuz, Fan of Galatasaray or better known as an Ultraslan

Loud, crowded and sweaty. All of it before even watching any matches in the stadium. Is it authentic zeal based on undying passion for the sport? A form of escapism for the many supporters who seek to feel a sense of belonging through such extreme allegiance? Or, truth be told, just another distraction from real world issues by making these groups of men succumb into delusions that they are making their voices heard when their chants are heard roaring and echoing in the stadiums?

There are many reasons for such voluntary fandom to have such supporters. As evident in the frank and chilling sentiments expressed and shared in the following:

“Being part of the supporters … to me it means creating banners, helping with the organisation and creating special choreography on match days … To develop slogans that represent the Ultra movement and anti-industrial, anti-capitalistic football. To publish fanzines and write articles on the topic. To live my idea of life inside the fans’ curve as well. That’s my understanding of being a real fan.”

Cahit Binici, Fan of Fenerbahce

“I have spent my whole life in front of stadiums, at away games, on the streets. In every bit of mortar, in every bit of mud in Besiktas, there is a bit of me … I constantly think about how we can develop Besiktas and Turkish football further … Our biggest weapons are still our pens and our words.”

Ayhan Guner, Fan of Besiktas

“When I see someone wearing a Galatasaray jersey outside, of course I automatically sympathise. Feel some familiarity. We sometimes would smile at each other. And, you know like maybe back then I would be more willing to [give] help to that person just because he has the jersey.”

Kerem Gurbuz

From the outside, peering in as part of the audience, we would be at a loss to really pin the reason for their fanatical loyalties. Loyalties that extend outside the parameters of the football pitches, the stadiums and out into the public spaces. It is mind boggling to say the least. At the end of the day, it is apparent that there is a blurring of distinctions between love and hate. The question: Which is a more powerful impetus for driving such fanatical zeal that sets such football passion on the surface into overdrive thus bubbling over, at times, into ugly acts of violence?

“My first name is Black and my last name is White. I love the Black in Besiktas most. Black and White for us is like life and death without distinction. For us, there is nothing in between. There is no grey … When we love or hate, we do it to the death.”

Ayhan Guner sharing what the team’s colours represent and mean to him and the fandom.

Are they truly driven by love for the teams, and the game by extension or, immense hatred for the competitor alone? Ironically, football here has morphed into some sort of religion, into something black and white with no grey areas, for these fandoms.

Building Unity In Discord

“I would have never thought to see Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray fans next to each other… And when I saw these groups together I thought, if they can come together, then we can really accomplish anything.”

Bilgesu Kaya, Gezi protester
A still from Istanbul United, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Interestingly, hope reveals itself during one of the most distressed period of Turkey’s recent political history. The mass protests around Taksim Square, in 2013 organically created a united front. Also known as the Gezi Park protests, it was a pivotal moment for these fanatical fandoms to face their biggest challenge yet.

“It is connected to our different political views and opinions. When the match begins, nobody cares about ideologies or religion. Everybody is united under the Fenerbahce flag or whatever other flag and shares the same colours and euphoria with everybody else.”

Cahit Binici
A still from Istanbul United, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Amid the continual hissing of gas canisters, water cannons unleashed on the people emerged an alliance among the three biggest football fandoms – Istanbul United. Their iconic chants echoing mighty loud in every direction with a clear message: “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance!” That collective dynamic injected energy that earlier was almost drowned out by screams of pain and agony in the middle of widespread chaos and police brutality that escalated the domestic political unrest then. For a brief period, they put their eternal rivalries on the back-burner for an even bigger calling – democratic freedom.

A pivotal point to contend with remains ambiguous and blurry, literally and figuratively, akin to the foggy air caused by the release of gas canisters in an effort to control, intimidate and disperse protesting crowds: Who was the real enemy and did the short-lived alliance, Istanbul United, deserve to be revered and judged to be on the right side of history no matter how fleeting?

The final verdict: You decide; for better or worse.

Written by: Helmy Sa’at

Aku, Bunga: “I Am Just Me”

Aku, Bunga’ is available to watch on Qalbox (*Territories apply). New users enjoy a 7-day free trial, which also gives access to the full features of the Muslim Pro app ad-free! Claim your free trial today!

Unrequited love. Money. Family deceit. A house fire stemming from an evil scheme. All of it wrapped up into a love triangle. In the middle of it all is Bunga, a young woman with big dreams and even bigger talent.

Will love stand in her way of chasing her dreams? Is her unresolved family issues that have been holding her back all along? Or, in actuality, is she the one being the biggest hurdle to herself on her journey to hip hop music stardom?

Hip Hop In Hijab And Baju Kurung

A still from Aku, Bunga, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Atypical character for a young Muslim woman living within the parameters of a rather conservative Muslim community. Working as a helper at her father’s dessert stall during the day and dabbling in hip hop at night. Bunga does not succumb to the rules of a patriarchal society in both spheres whereby her father is supposed to be the leader in the family and the hip hop scene is generally dominated by men.

Aku, Bunga (I Am, Bunga) seeks to break such stereotypes, especially associated with Muslim women by chipping away at the surface and revealing the many facets of any Muslim woman. Her dreams and aspirations. Her talents, needs and wants. And, in this film, what Bunga is able to do and achieve when she is left unconstrained by society’s biases and prejudices that usually have their roots in lacking of understanding compounded by the almost non-existent urge to understand in the first place. This was summarily captured by Bunga’s father’s observation of her young daughter’s proclivity towards rapping: “Itu menyanyi ke apa tu? Nak bercakap tak, nak cakap menyanyi, hmpfh?!” (“Is that singing or what? Not really talking, not singing either, hmpfh?!”)

Later, a social rebuke of the above-mentioned is delivered through Bunga’s female best friend to Shaq, Bunga’s love interest, who has very little knowledge about the local hip hop scene: “Google aje nama 10 artis hip hop yang terkenal kat Malaysia, settled.” (“Just Google the top 10 names of hip hop artistes in Malaysia, settled.”)

Bunga’s love for music, hip hop in particular, does not stop her from pursuing it though she wears the hijab and traditional clothes such as the baju kurung, which are anchored in modest fashion. Instead, this made her stronger. The multiplicity of her identities, as a young Muslim Malaysian woman, who is also a rapper in the making work to her advantage instead of casting her out altogether.

A still from Aku, Bunga, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

As her male best friend, Kahoe reminded her: “Kau kena practise lah, baru lah boleh mantap kan. Imej kena jaga. Tau. Itu kalau kau nak pergi jauh lah. Kalau.” (“You have to practise, then it is possible to be good. You need to take care of your image. You know. That is if you want to go far. If.”) A double-edged sword indeed. Her unique identity partly on display through her modest fashion is what makes her different, interesting and a value-add to the local hip hop scene. Ultimately, what makes her unique could also just be a temporary allure as she needs to support her talent with discipline and hard work in order to make an impact in the industry, in the long run. If she chooses to do so.

The rapping scenes in the film seem to have been almost like an afterthought in the plot development though it mirrors Bunga’s life trajectory as other issues crept up and overshadowed her musical passion. It nevertheless shows the audience that rapping serves as a healthy avenue for Bunga to channel her frustrations when she carved out time for it.

The bottomline is: There is no hiding who we are, other than staying true to ourselves. This sentiment was perfectly captured in a verse of Bunga’s rap during a hip hop contest – “Aku cuma aku.” (“I am just me.”)

Love All Around: “I Am Just Me”

Take it or leave it. Do we have to change ourselves for love? There seems to be no one right answer. One thing that is apparent to Bunga as she is faced with a multitude of hurdles is that love requires sacrifices. Be it for Shaq, or her music.

Love has and would never be limited to a very myopic style and approach, which Shaq also painfully learned from his mother:

Mummy bakar rumah Bunga?” (“Mummy, you burn Bunga’s house?”)

Itu aje cara yang terbaik untuk kita semua, Shaq.” (“That is the best solution for all of us, Shaq.”)

Tapi untuk siapa?” (“But for whom?”)

Untuk Syaq, untuk mummy, untuk Bunga dan bapa Bunga.” (“For you, for me, for Bunga and her father.”)

Patutlah daddy tinggalkan mummy. Mummy hati kering.” (“It is no wonder that daddy left you. You are cold-hearted.”)

Tak perlu nak sebut nama orang yang tak reti bersyukur.” (“There is no need to mention the name of someone who does not know to be grateful.”)

Apa yang mummy buat ni berdosa.” (“What you have done is sinful.”)

Ini bukan dosa, Shaq. Ini adalah cinta.” (“This is not sin, Shaq. This is love.”)

A still from Aku, Bunga, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Cinta or love has many forms and its manifestations could at times be twisted and demented suffering from delusions to justify one’s choices and behaviours. As adults, we have grown to learn that fairytales are often elusive and belong exclusively to the domain of fiction.

Still, the key to happiness and love is one’s self-determination. Bunga’s late mum’s wise words would serve us, the audience, well : “Jangan sedih-sedih. Hidup kita ni sebenarnya mudah, indah bergantung bagaimana kita melihatnya.” (“Do not be sad. Our life is actually easy, beautiful as it depends on how we perceive it.”)

After all, there is no growth without pain and life is certainly full of it whether justly or otherwise.

Written by: Helmy Sa’at