27 In Lifestyle

Let Your Inner Beauty Shine Bright

I met Afifah Mohd Salehan during a 7-month long Young Women Leadership Program in 2010.

I was immediately captivated by her enthusiasm, generosity, sense of humour, and the inner beauty that shone through. ‘Siti’ is the oldest (and shortest) of 6 siblings – 5 girls and 2 boys.


Siti’s Father is Javanese (from Jawa Island, located in Indonesia) and her Mother is Malay. She describes herself as ‘half Malay, half Indo’, a fact of which she only just found out this year after going back to Malaysia to visit some of her family. She had not been aware that her Father was Javanese, and that he could speak Jawa – a native Indonesian language.  This initially made Siti feel lost, and made her question what else she did not know about her family. Today, it makes her want to explore her heritage even further – she just doesn’t know where to start!

New Beginnings

Siti and her family came to Australia in 1994 when she was 3. At the time Siti could not speak a word of English. She recalls at the time wondering why people didn’t wear head scarves, and it wasn’t until she grew older (around year 5-6 years old) that she became conscious of people having different faiths, etc. Her mind was still in the progress of processing and understanding how the world worked.

Being ‘Different’

Siti recalls certain ‘memorable moments’ when she was young where she was perceived as ‘different’. At the age of 7, she was in the super market and a little boy – about her age – just kept looking at her. She also remembers overhearing a little girl asking her Mum why ‘she had that thing on her head’. It was nice to hear the Mum explain to the daughter that Siti was Muslim, and that she wore the head scarf because of her faith. Unfortunately, even in the present day, she still gets stared at for what she wears.

Cultural Beauty

Siti believes the most beautiful thing about Islam is that as long as they posses a sound relationship with Allah (God), then everything is okay. Siti explains that without him she would be lost. He plays an important role in her life – like a councillor in a way:

If there is no one to turn to, there is always prayer, and by the end of the day I get my answers – be it from other people, or from inside myself (the ‘unconscious process’ in psychology terms).

To Siti, the biggest misconception about her culture is regarding arranged marriages. Some people actually believe that within her culture parents arrange marriages for their children. Siti explains that within Islam, it is actually recognised that you DO have the right to choose who your partner is – as long as he is a Muslim and has faith in God.

Another misconception is that of the headscarf. Siti explains that rules are provided by Allah as to the where and how a woman is to wear a scarf, and for her – in a way – the scarf is protection. By wearing the headscarf, people understand that she doesn’t drink alcohol, do drugs, and it also protects her from sexual harassment. It also provides Siti with a feeling of security. As to where she should wear a head scar, she explains that it needs to be worn in the presence of someone she could marry (i.e. a man). She actually doesn’t have to wear it in her own backyard or around her family, or in the presence of other females.

The other cultural misconception is that all Muslims are terrorists. Siti has had the experience of being approached by a man at a train station, cursing and accusing her of bombing various places. This was, to Siti, scary and intimidating. It made her sad, and she cried a lot. (Note from author: This actually happened to my partner, who is Anglo-Indian – he is a tall, 40 something year old man. Siti is tiny, and doesn’t look like she could hurt a fly.)

I am asking everyone I interview to share some of their ‘words of wisdom’ as I believe quotes hold such power. This is one Siti shared with me:

A girls dream is to be perfect and to feel beautiful all of the time. A guys dream is to prove to himself and to the world that he is a true leader and that he is a leading man.

To Siti, this quote expresses the importance to a girl in feeling beautiful and special. It is a shame that a lot of people forget about that, with many girls starving themselves to attain what is perceived as the ‘perfect’ image as is portrayed in many magazines and on the cat walk.

Siti displays so many characteristics I adore – along with her youth and exuberance, she displays such wisdom and humour. I wanted to know what it was that she wanted others to be aware of, and here is what she shared with me:

Just because I’m covered, it doesn’t mean that I am always warm.  I do have my moments in winter when I shiver and am freezing…And just because I wear a scarf all of the time doesnt mean my head is always warm – it does get cold!

And with that, I will leave you to ponder Siti’s final words:

When communicating with people, don’t judge them. Treat people how you want to be treated. Prophet Muhammed says a true Muslim is one who loves people because of the way they want to be loved, the way they want to be treated.

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  • Stuart Nager
    September 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Nice for a first. Glad to meet Siti. It’s good to be proud of what you embrace.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • neanster77
      September 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks Stuart! Glad you liked : )

  • Kim Davies
    September 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Hi, Janine.

    I came over from Hajra’s post in We Blog Better and I’m glad that I did. Sitti is indeed quite a beautiful lady with great insights. For such a young lady, she already has her own ideas about what is really right and wrong and that is quite refreshing because there are so many girls her age who are just concerned about having fun and staying slim. So, thanks for sharing her story with us.

    For some reason, I could not subscribe to your RSS feed. Is there any other way that I can get a notification for your new posts?

    • neanster77
      September 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      Hi Kim, Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked Siti’s story : )

      I was actually just working on adding the subscription function back in. Unfortunately it dropped off on my migration over form WordPress.com to WordPress.org on Monday and I only just realised (and have only just found the time). Have a go now and let me know if there are any issues!

  • Adeline
    September 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Very nice story. It’s a shame though that there are so many people (Muslims and non-Muslims) perceive and see and approach people differently. What a better world we would have if we had more people that are just like Siti. Thanks for sharing.

    • neanster77
      September 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      That’s just beautiful. Thank you – I know Siti will be touched by that (she’s doing assignments at the moment and hasn’t had the time to check the amazing comments!).

  • cath
    September 1, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Wonderful way to break down communication barriers Janine. Knowledge is power, and dispels ignorance. Siti sounds like a very grounded young lady with some good goals to work toward. It was nice to learn more about the custom of the headscarf. I always respected the wearers, but wondered what it meant. Thanks for all the information you have given us.
    ~cath xo

    • neanster77
      September 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm

      I’m so glad you could learn something by it Cath. I know I only learnt about the head scarf last year, and still learn today even as for each person it has its own personal meaning or interpretation still).

  • Hocam
    September 2, 2011 at 12:40 am

    Great post Janine. I have found so many people think all Muslims are terrorists. What they don’t seem to realise is that there are fundementalists in every religion. The militant minority get all the headlines and the silent majority are then tainted with the one brush. We need more posts like this to break down traditional prejudices and misconceptions.

    • neanster77
      September 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm

      Thank you! I’m so glad to hear this : ) I’ll be bringing more your way – and I would also be interested in any of your stories / experiences…

  • kylie
    September 2, 2011 at 7:11 am

    What a beautiful interview Janine, we need more people in the world like Siti in the world, to have her as a friend, well that would be a honour and you are truly lucky to call her your friend.

    • neanster77
      September 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Kylie. They are the nicest words and Siti will be touched (and overwhelmed hehe). I’ll let her know as she’s busy studying at the moment. J x

  • Hajra
    September 3, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Hey Janine and Siti,

    This is such a beautiful post to begin with. I am a Muslim myself and could so relate. Especially with being called a terrorist. I have been stopped at airports once or twice being asked why questions. It becomes a trouble explaining them that there are fundamentalists in every religion and in no way does Islam mean terrorism. In fact the meaning of the world Islam is peace.

    The core problem lies in ignorance, ignorance of each others cultures, ethnicity, religion and many others. I am so glad we are coming together to share this beautiful experience. Celebrating differences will be an apt way to get over the prejudices involved.

    Thanks Siti for sharing your story.
    Thanks to Janine for this wonderful endeavor.

    • neanster77
      September 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Your comment is so eloquently written Hajra – I can hear the passion through your words. I am glad you appreciated what Siti said, the post and the endeavour. FYI I’ve finalised the draft for your post and it’s ready…I’ll let you know what date I’ve scheduled it for…when I schedule it. x

  • Khadija
    September 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Janine, beautiful post. I actually didnt get this one to my email. I love the pic of Siti when she was a little gal and as a young lady. I know she will do extraordinary things in her life.!Thankyou for using your blog to enlighten others about Islam and the head scarf. Yes, many muslimahs wear it for Allahswt (God as Creator), but have their own personal take for upholding this identity.

    • neanster77
      September 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Khadija, yes the subscriptions didnt move across when my blog was migrated. You may need to subscribe again – Im so sorry!
      Thank you for your feedback and I’m glad you liked – the pics of Siti are absolutely gorgeous (I think 🙂 ).

  • Zee
    September 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Hey girls,
    Wonderful story, makes me miss you both even more. Also thats a great words of wisdom from Siti. You have become more talented in writing Janine, i enjoy every word of it 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  • Lalia
    September 4, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Beautiful post Janine and Siti! I know I’m going to love this series. Thank you for showing people that different is beautiful

  • Siti Afifah Mohd Salehan
    September 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    thank you everyone for your comments. I am glad to see that Janine took my advice when I told her that she should use herself to empower people. Because she represents Australia in general, I thought that I should advice her to use herself to change people by her writing 🙂 Thanks for reading the blog. I do feel overwhelmed Janine.

  • Penelope J.
    September 9, 2011 at 5:23 am

    Janine, congratulations on “The Beauty of Difference.” Like the title/heading. Glad you decided on this one.

    Siti sounds like a lovely person and she is also an excellent spokesperson/goodwill ambassador for the Muslim faith. There is too much intolerance and ignorance on both sides of the fence. I was shocked to hear she was attacked, yet one woman on the phone called me a “terrorist” right after 9/11 because of my English accent.

    Our Western side can’t understand why Muslim women are perfectly comfortable and happy with wearing the headscarf, behaving themselves in public, not drinking, drugging or dressing like tarts, and not sleeping around before marriage. People tend to see them as caged rather than liberated, which many are. (I like to point out to Americans that there have been several female Prime Ministers/Presidents of Muslim countries while the U.S. has yet to elect one.) Also, too much ignorance about their adherence to and love of their religion. Siti gave a wonderful explanation. I only wish I could share her conviction and faith.

    • neanster77
      September 12, 2011 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Penelope. It was hard but that title just jumped out (and then I dream’t of it).

      You – a terrorist?! Wow. Unbelievable (yet believable). And great point about the female Presidents / PM’s.

      I wish I could share her conviction and faith also. I love talking to the girls I know about Islam, and have started reading the Qur’an. Blessings to my friends that they also listen to my perspective and want to gain an understanding of why I don’t ‘believe’ without wanting to convert me, unlike what many Christians have tried to do over my lifetime.

    • Siti Afifah
      September 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Penelope. Thank you for your comment. I cannot follow what you mean when you said that you wish to share my conviction and faith. However I am surprised that someone called you a terrorist on the phone because of your english accent. It doesn’t makes sense. Umm if you would like to gather more insight about the article that Janine wrote about me, please let me know. I will be happy to let you contact me.

  • Adriene
    September 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Great piece, Janine. Thank you for sharing Siti’s story.

    • neanster77
      September 12, 2011 at 9:16 am

      Thanks Adriene : )

  • Snapshot of The Beauty of Difference series | Reflections from a Red Head
    November 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    […] Inner Beauty Shining Bright: The first post in the series is special to me as, well, it was the first one, and after all it was a piece about a beautiful friend of mine – Afifah Mohd Salehan. […]

  • Blogging Highlights from 2011 | Reflections from a Red Head
    December 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    […] ‘Inner Beauty Shining Bright‘ is an important post to me, personally, as it was the first post for The Beauty of Difference series – the write-up of an interview I did with my dear friend Siti. Starting the series in September 2011, my vision was to share different stories, of different people, doing different things, and making a difference along the way.  I can truly say that the stories people have entrusted in me to share throughout the last four months of 2011 have succeeded in showing me a new path and in changing my life.  I feel truly blessed. […]

  • Don't EVER Settle for Normal! | Janine Ripper, Reflections from a Redhead
    November 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    […] If you liked this post, check out Inner Beauty Shining Bright. […]

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