10 things about: Melati, DAP’s niqab activist

Jamila Rahim, talks about her passion for disability rights and gender equality, what the veil—or niqab—means to her, and why she chose to join the DAP, a predominantly-Chinese secular political party. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Jamila Rahim, talks about her passion for disability rights and gender equality, what the veil—or niqab—means to her, and why she chose to join the DAP, a predominantly-Chinese secular political party. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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SHAH ALAM, Oct 3 — Jamila Rahim, a young Muslim woman who wears a black veil that leaves only her eyes visible, has been called a whore for joining the DAP.

However the plucky 22-year-old novelist and activist, better known as Melati, shrugs off the attacks and says she’s fine. In her own words: “Saya biasa je.

Melati, who graduated from Selangor University with a diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), has also written a novel titled Pelacur Kelas Pertama (First Class Prostitute) about mistreated women; a prostitute, an abused wife and a kidnapped bride.

The young woman from Johor is currently working at a welfare home in Teluk Intan, Perak, that houses 70 residents, including senior citizens, people with physical and mental disabilities and orphans, and just four workers.

Here, the vivacious Melati talks about her passion for disability rights and gender equality, what the veil—or niqab—means to her, and why she chose to join the DAP, a predominantly-Chinese secular political party.

In her own words:

Just because I joined the DAP doesn’t mean I converted; I’m still a Muslim.

I love writing and I love to talk. I want to be a journalist. In five years’ time, I want to open my own welfare home for children with disabilities and children of single parents.

I was threatened at the protest for free education at Dataran Merdeka last year. They threatened to rape us, beat us. I was scared. But I thought then that if I died, at least I’d die in glory.

It’s up to you to wear the niqab or not. I chose to wear it because non-Muslims are wary of approaching you if you’re wearing it, and I wanted to break that barrier. Whether we wear it or not, we’re all the same… for the past two years, I feel that I’ve broken down those barriers.

Those who wear the “tudung” (headscarf) are not necessarily good. And those who don’t wear the tudung are not necessarily evil. That’s an individual right.

I believe that my religion is beautiful and full of love. It’s not true that it says wives can be beaten. About the four wives bit, I have two mothers myself. I’m the daughter of the first wife. If men want to help widows and marry them for that purpose, it’s fine. He must really want to help. He must be able to afford it and he must be fair. But those who are simply horny should not practise polygamy. It’s wicked.

God has never given us the right to insult prostitutes or any of His servants… don’t call women that. It tarnishes not just my honour, but my family’s honour. It affects everyone around me, even my friends. My best friend’s friends told her not to be friends with me. I pity my friends. Of course, they’re trying to protect me.

I’ve been following the DAP’s programmes since GE13. I feel that the DAP is very professional. They don’t publicise their internal party problems. Why would we want to show our weaknesses to our enemies?

The DAP has values that Islam fights for. All Malay and Islamic parties must reflect and find out why young people are choosing the DAP instead of them. Malaysia doesn’t just comprise the Malays. There are other races. So they must look at their weaknesses and mistakes in reaching out to a multi-racial population.

Islam has never labelled anyone. In the Quran, there are no conservative or liberal labels. I don’t want to label myself. I’m a Muslim. That’s it. We don’t have to label ourselves conservative or liberal to be Muslim.

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