Why ‘Hijabsta Ballet’ Should Have Not Been Pulled Out Of Cinemas After Two Weeks Of Screening

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There was a time when I doubted my decision to don the hijab as I viewed my religious obligation as a form of restriction. It wasn’t until I was (slightly) older and understood the context behind the hijab did I learn to appreciate its significance.

But as I began to immerse myself in understanding my faith, it came to my attention that many share my prior sentiment – even amongst the men – as for some unfathomable reason we saw the hijab as something we should don because God said so, rather than donning it for our love of God.

And this was the essence that brought ‘Hijabsta Ballet’ to the big screen as it tells a tale of an aspiring young ballerina being thrown into a major conundrum when she decides to don the hijab – despite the art having a rigid dress code.

“Ballet itu terbuka, hijab itu tertutup, (Ballet is exposed, hijab is covered),” was the apt notion that echoed in the mind of Adele Syakiri (played by Puteh Maimun Zahrah) as she contemplated between her passion and her faith.

While those around her incessantly urged her to forego the hijab as it cannot coexist with ballet, Adele remained adamant in proving to her family, contemporaries and community that her faith, let alone her choice to don the hijab, is not a hindrance.

But as the movie progresses, the hurdles and resentment endured by Adele overwhelmed her – so much so that she pushed her woes away and questioned herself if she made the right decision by donning the hijab.

She eventually found her inner strength (and peace), and through it all she found a way for her passion and her faith to coexist; by continuing to don the hijab and perform ballet for an all-women audience.

As the end credits came rolling in, I applaud Syed Zulkifli Syed Masir for directing a movie that not only did I find to be relatable but resonates with me as I am reminded that my faith is never a hindrance, especially when it concerns the hijab.

However, I was perplexed to learn that cinemas nationwide had ceased from screening ‘Hijabsta Ballet’, two weeks after its release this August, due to lack of demand (despite film distributors from Japan, China, Australia, South Korea and United Kingdom showing interest in the movie) ─ then I realised that it isn’t exactly Malaysians’ cup of tea.

Faith Is Never A Hindrance

Seasoned journalist Zan Azlee even shared his two cents that the movie imposes its religious beliefs upon its audiences as Islam is uncontestably the best religion – specifically referencing Adele’s choice in ‘forgoing’ her passion for her faith.

Albeit I acknowledge that the scarce backstory concerning the hijab can influence one to form such an opinion, I do believe that the core of the movie is that passion and religion can in fact coexist aside from highlighting the struggles that women in hijab do face around the world.

In fact, Puteh Maimun Zahrah, was kind enough to share with me that many girls have got in touch with her following the movie’s release to relay that they have faced a similar ordeal as Adele.

“Of course in the movie it is exaggerated, but nonetheless these girls are going through discrimination in everyday life,” Maimun pointed out.

“One mother in particular contacted me through Facebook and thanked me because she knows what Adele was going through – her daughter attends ballet classes and also dons the hijab.”

To say the hijab is not a hindrance is an understatement as many hijab-donning women are proving this statement through accomplishments, and just to name a few:

1. Zahra Lari – who became the first UAE figure skater to compete internationally, subsequently becoming the first in her field to compete whilst donning the hijab;

Pic: The IndependentPic: The Independent

2. Ibtihaj Muhammad – the first US hijab-donning athlete to compete in the Olympics and took home the bronze medal for fencing in the 2016 Rio Olympics;

Pic: The IndependentPic: The Independent

3. Halima Aden – the first hijab-wearing model to grace the covers of Allure magazine;

Pic: Hindustan TimesPic: Hindustan Times

4. Ginella Massa – who made history by becoming the first hijab-clad news anchor for one of Canada’s major broadcaster;

Pic: Female MagazinePic: Female Magazine

5. Yunalis Mat Zara'ai – our Kedah-born lass who is gracing the globe with a melodious voice and musical talent and interpreting the hijab in her own unique way;

Pic: NSTPic: NST

6. And our very own Siti Noor Iasah is also leaving her mark in the athletics field while wearing the hijab

Donning The Hijab Does Not Make Us Saints

But sadly, naysayers were quick to criticise that these ladies who are breaking boundaries and making headlines are neither wearing the hijab nor covering their aurat ‘properly.’

What’s even more disheartening is that these acts of discrimination also occur within the Muslim community – even amongst us everyday folks. I was asked multiple times to remove my hijab for not covering my chest and for my lack of modesty when I speak and surely others have encountered a similar situation, if not worse.

Yuna too had previously expressed her disappointment over how her worst critics came from Malaysian-Muslims and not from her foreign counterparts, who persisted to exude a holier-than-thou demeanour over her choice of attires.

It seems that people have forgotten that those who don the hijab are not saints, just as how those who chose to be free-hair are not ‘lost souls’ and that at the end of the day, their relationship with God is between them and God. Period.

Indeed the hijab is a mandatory obligation in Islam and certain expectations are expected of the wearer. But as Maimun underlined, people have different level of understanding to what the hijab and aurat are and so they’ll have different ways in showing their love for God and their faith.

But speaking from a (very) personal perspective, I think it’s important for people to understand that wearing the hijab goes beyond ‘wearing it’ or just for the sake of covering our aurat.

Hijab As A Symbol Of ‘Hijrah’

“People have asked me why I don’t wear the hijab, even though I play a character that is passionate of the hijab’s importance. I believe there’s more to donning the hijab – the need to don the hijab has to come from within and I feel like I myself am not ready for this step yet,” Maimun confessed to me, and honestly, that is okay in my opinion.

I started donning the hijab when I was 12 years old – when I hit puberty – and I remember shedding tears as deep in my heart, I knew I wasn’t ready to bear the societal expectations that came along with it… and the fact that I’m now accountable for my sins.

For many years I donned the hijab because it was expected of me. But it was only when I’m in my early 20’s that I began to understand that in Islam, the hijab signifies the principle of modesty which includes mannerisms and dressing.

And the more I began to understand this principle, the more I became wary of how I dress, how I spoke and above all, how I carry myself. Though I still regard myself as a work-in-progress, I owe my credit to my hijab. As my ‘hijrah’ (transition) to becoming a better Muslim than I was yesterday, came from first donning the hijab and understanding its significance later.

But for some, their ‘hijrah’ may first begin by immersing themselves in the meaning of modesty and the hijab, and only then will they choose to don the hijab – which is not a crime in my eyes.

Whether you chose to the don the hijab first and understand its significance later or the other way around, it doesn’t stipulate that one is better than the other as what’s most important is that we do it for our love of God.

For Adele, she may have reiterated that Islam stressed that the hijab is mandatory for women and therefore the hijab is how she honours her faith; she cannot be scrutinised if that is how her ‘hijrah’ first came.

Hijabsta Ballet Was The Movie Malaysians Should’ve Given A Chance

As Maimun aptly relayed, ‘Hijabsta Ballet’ is a love story that depicts how a girl expresses her love for her faith and her passion for ballet in a society that deemed both elements cannot coexist due to it being two opposing elements.

Surely the significance of the hijab could’ve been conveyed more eloquently, but this doesn’t dismiss the fact that this movie could’ve served as a reminder for society that carrying out our religious obligations and understanding its significance goes hand in hand to holistically practising our faith.

The film industry is recognised for its fluidity for expressionism but amidst the progressive digital enhancement and editing, audiences have forgotten that movies can be educational – but may require audiences to read between the lines to transcribe its messages.

Although the title ‘Hijabsta Ballet’ sounds controversial, perhaps for future references, audiences should hinder from viewing such movies from a negative perception.

Each movie was sparked from a certain source of inspiration. Questioning the inspiration that inspired the movie is a better route to take prior to forming any form of judgement.


*When not writing for Malaysian Digest, Hana Maher always has her nose in a book. Although she is a hijabsta who has no interest in ballet, she's a pint-sized Gooner for life!

This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malaysian Digest.

- Malaysian Digest