A Muslim Woman’s Guide to the Workplace

(This story is one of many in the book Perempuan: Muslim Women Speak Out. Click the link to buy a copy!)

by Raudah binte Abdul Rashid
___

Be understanding of the cultures and practises of others

Bonding session with senior management and the food served had pork. 

Me: Oh ok. Ya, I wasn’t hungry anyway.

——

Colleagues having a work-related discussion in Mandarin

Colleague: Raudah, what do you think?

Me: Oh, my opinion matters? I thought this conversation was for Chinese speaking people only. Don’t disturb me because unlike the rest of you, I’m actually doing work now.

——

Colleagues walking around the office speaking loudly in Mandarin, discussing a work-related issue.

Colleague: Raudah, what do you think?

Me: I don’t understand Mandarin; can you repeat the whole conversation in English?

——

Colleague: Raudah, you should learn mandarin.

Me: You should learn respect and diversity; you know our company’s core values. I wonder what HR will say when I tell them this.

Embrace the ‘language’ barrier

Me: What is with the people who always speak Mandarin? I can’t stand it! I’m gonna raise it with the management.

Other brown colleague: Don’t bother. They won’t change. It’s always been like that.

Me: But it shouldn’t. It’s not right. 

——

Me to 2ndboss: Some of the staff frequently speak Mandarin. I have to remind them to speak English.

2ndBoss: It’s because you’re too quiet, dear.

Me: That’s not good enough! HR hired everyone in English right?! English should the only language used in the office.

——

Me: How come you are not comfortable speaking English?

Colleague: I’m not used to it lah.

Me: What the heck? You’re born and schooled in Singapore. So your entire life, you have had little or no interaction with people of different skin tones isit?

Colleague: …

Dress professionally

Colleague: Eh you wear like this very nice! You look like Halimah Yaacob.

Me: OMG REALLY! Omg yes! Halimah and I are BFFs and we go shopping for clothes every weekend.

Colleague: …??? …

Me: What? Just because I wear formal attire izzit? You’re supposed to wear formal attire to work wat. So if a brown woman is dressed formally, she looks like Halimah izzit? You stupid ah?

Colleague: Oh…

P.S. Halimah gurl, we going shoe shopping this weekend. 

Later on during the day, I showed her a photo of an MP: Chinese, female, straight hair

Me: Eh Carol, you know her or not? She also Chinese and she got straight hair, just like you.

——

A new Muslim colleague joins the division but is having difficulty coping with the workload. The only thing we have in common is that we both don the hijab.

Colleague: So, how is Nuraishah? Are you two getting along well?

Me: We have nothing in common. There is no common ground to get along on. 

Colleague: I thought Malay who wear this one (gestures to my hijab) all can get along one.

——-

So (another) new Muslim colleague joins the division and she too wears the hijab.

Colleague: Hey, you two look the same!

Me: That’s rude! There’s only me and her – there are sooooo many more of you, Chinese straight hair – I don’t tell you “you all look the same”

——

Colleague: Why you wear all black? You minah izzit? (Hahahaha)

Me: Oh if you wear all black, it’s fashionable. When I wear black, I’m a minah.   

Never forget that you will always represent your ‘race’, religion, culture. 

Colleague: Raudah, where is my rendang?

Me: huh?

Colleague: Rendang for Hari Raya

Me: What the heck? You’re a woman too, why don’t you cook? Huh?

Colleague: I Chinese mah

Me: Oh so, just because I’m brown, I’m expected to know my way around the kitchen izzit! I have more work (I have a bigger portfolio than her) than you. You should have more free time to cook for your husband and baby.   

—–

Colleague: Eh Raudah, you Indian? But you Malay right. Your name not Indian-Muslim.

Me: <sighs>

——

Colleague: Eh Raudah, you Indian?! But your face is not Indian. Eh you Malay right?

Me: How are you still alive?

——

Colleague: Eh you got make the kuih or not or make cake?

Me: Nope.

Colleague: Huh! You never make kuih or cake for Raya?

Me: Carol, I have twice your workload and I’m busier than you. No, I do not have time to make or bake. You should have the time right? 

——

Service Provider: Eh, nothing personal. I don’t think you are a good fit for the work because our clients are mostly Chinese.

Me: Hmmm noted, but I do not serve as your additional headcount. I am here to help the team with the work and navigating the sector. I’m not your staff; I’m your programme manager.

——

Community partner: Wah, not bad ah, you Malay can be in charge.

Me: Ya, not all Malays are stupid and lazy.

Community partner: Ya, good, good.

——

Standing at the void deck, facing the car park whilst I wait for the other party to arrive for a home visit.

Member of public: Eh, you saman ah?!

Me: ….huh?

Member of public: You saman ah?

Me: Which one your car?

——

Person (about to shake my hand) “This is a rare moment for me”.

Me: “Yes, we Muslim women are made of the finest pearls.”

——

These are actual conversations I have had with my colleagues. I penned them down to share the challenges and additional barriers faced by ethnic minority women in today’s workforce.

My parting advice: Grow your own voice! Do not expect society or anyone else to make space for your thoughts, ideas and opinions if you do not make space for them. Seeds of self-awareness and social confidence need to be planted to ensure we have a generation of women who are more than just women; and who view other women as more. 

__ 

Raudah is a plus-size Indian-Muslim single woman who mostly wears black or dark-coloured hijabs because she gets food stains on them. Dreams of garnering an army of social workers to change the world and advocate for social justice and equity for all.  

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