Islam, Life

On interfaith dialogue and looking racially ambiguous


I just came back from a great gathering of 15 or so young Christian women. They wanted to hear what it’s like to be a Muslim women, so I gave them a brief rundown on my life, and left time for questions at the end.

The kinds of questions they asked me were interesting. One of the first questions was about arranged marriages. I made a joke while I was telling my story that yes, my marriage was arranged – I arranged it. lol. But back to the young woman’s question – I said it all depends on the individual. Some people get introduced to their spouses through friends, others through family members, while others randomly meet them at uni, volunteer events, or  – true story – the bus. The most important point is that the bride must give consent, otherwise the marriage contract isn’t valid.

It was a lovely gathering, and they gave me pretty flowers 🙂 This made me happy.

On another note, I read this article on looking racially ambigous by Chris, on the Peril blog. It made me laugh. A must-read! Here’s quote:


Some guy at uni: “Chris? Is he that black guy?”


Some high school kid I was teaching: “Are you a wog, sir?”


The neighbourhood bully when I was a kid: “Watch yourself, black boy.”


Some stupid kid when I walked into the milk bar as a kid: “Hey look Mum, it’s a Ching-Chong.”


The most common comment that I get for people who can’t spot that I’m (mostly) Malay is, “But you look Chinese!”

Recently, I was on the train, iPod headphones in, listening to Tamora Pierce’s Wolfspeaker. An youngish Asian man boards the carriage and sits right across from me. I look up, we make eye contact, he smiles, then the Awkward Racial Conversation begins:

“Where are you from?”

“Um. I was born in Singapore.”

“What’s your race?”

“I’m mixed. Mostly Malay, some Chinese and Indian.”

“You have more of a Chinese look.”

“Uh. Yeah. Okay.”

“I think you’re very pretty.”

“Uh. Thank you.”

At this stage, he gets off the train, smiling away. I don’t know if I’m meant to be offended or flattered, so I return to listening to my audiobook. It’s like my interesting combination of looking Chinese and wearing a hijab/headscarf gave him the green light to suddenly ask me all these random personal questions!

This reminds me of an incident at least ten years ago when a woman on the train (again, sitting right across from me) starts talking very loudly to her daughter about how it’s such a shame that Muslim women cover their hair. Sigh. Seriously, wearing a hijab doesn’t make me deaf. I ended up talking to her directly instead of just passively sitting there, and by the end of our conversation, she was a lot nicer. Yes, it’s all very voluntary, and I’m happy to have a conversation about it if you ask nicely.

3 thoughts on “On interfaith dialogue and looking racially ambiguous”

  1. I can *so* relate to racial ambiguity. I’ve been told I look like so many different races from Mexican to Indian to Indonesian. Most of the time I just smile and laugh. When people ask me where I’m from and I reply America, I know that won’t be enough as then they ask, “No, where are you really *from*?” and instead of replying that I really *am* from America, I tell them my ethnicity and that dissolves the confused looks 🙂

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