Breaking Boundaries: Bunga, Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana, Nurul Shamsul

Young, gifted and spirited. Our three cover ladies this week are all that and a bit more. You just have to look beyond the skin colour and the hijab. Intentional or coincidental, these ladies have definitely made a mark for themselves and are out to break boundaries of perception.

Nurul Shamsul is Kuala Lumpur-born but raised in New Zealand. Last year, news of her went viral after she managed to score a place in the Top 5 spot of Miss Universe New Zealand.

While Bunga is a young rapper making a name for herself in the Malaysian music industry but her ‘hijab and baju kurung’ image has managed to attract attention from worldwide press.

And lastly, Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana is sweet and shy on the outside but tough as nails inside the wrestling ring. Yes, she’s the world’s first hijabi wrestler and also the receiver of the Wrestlecon Championship belt recently.

Read on to learn more about these amazing and brave ladies.



Bunga, Definitely Not A Wallflower

Malaysia has had a long line of female MCs from the likes of Lady D (of Naughtius Maximus/ Emberz of Soul) to Mizz Nina (of Teh Tarik Crew) in the late 90s and early Noughties and the recent ones such as Hunny Madu, Kayda, Arabyrd, and Zamaera.

In comes Bunga (real name: Noor Ayu Fatini Mohd Bakhari), cute as a button, spits out fiery lines, with an image twist— she dons the hijab and prefers to be on stage in a baju kurung (Malaysian Malay traditional outfit for female).

Bunga (also means ‘flower’) is also very young, in actual age and stage performance age. She’s 19 and has only started performing seriously this year. Student by weekdays, musician by weekends, Bunga is determined to make her mark in the Malaysia music industry.

Bunga started out with poetry at the age of 18 and then moved to rap during the second semester of her studies. A friend pushed her to enter a rap contest and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I didn’t know a thing about rapping. We had to post up a video of us rapping over a given beat and I did that and was chosen to enter the contest from there. During competition day, I was asked to ‘battle’ another rapper and I just stood there for two rounds. I didn’t know what to do. And then I was asked to perform my own song. I didn’t memorize the lyrics, so I had my phone in my hand and performed and that video went viral. From there, people said, “Oh this girl, she can rap.”

That was also the point where people started to approach her to help her with writing rhymes but she chose to stick to Aidyad, an underground rapper, as a mentor.

“I didn’t expect all this. I don’t even study writing or major in the language at university. Everything just fell into place. I try to consistently improve myself by posting up videos of me rapping every Friday.”

And then I got invited to 16 Baris (a popular cypher series shown on YouTube) and ran with it. I don’t know when else that chance will come again,” said Bunga.

An article about her and her unique image was written by the Associated Press in July and it was picked up by the press from all around the world, from the New York Times to Harpers Bazaar Arabia. But Bunga doesn’t want people to like her just because of how she dresses.

“I don’t want people to like me because of my baju kurung and stop there. Like me because of my skills and my lyrics.”

Bunga admits to receiving not just admiration but also brickbats because of her image. The hijab and baju kurung also reflects a lady’s demure self and not suited for a rap star.

“I strongly disagree with that. We determine our style of rapping. If you want to be all violent and ‘gangsta,’ go ahead. But that’s not me. I like traditional elements like gamelan, and that’s why I chose baju kurung as part of my identity. It might change in the future but it won’t be too far off. I might just wear baju melayu (Malaysian Malay traditional outfit for men) and hijab. And I know I want to incorporate more traditional music elements in my future singles.”

“I admit in terms of rapping I’m still finding my way and developing my style, flow, and cadence. I tried rapping to strong beats and tried to sound fierce. It was awkward! I prefer something a bit relaxed, and make lyrics that are inspirational or motivational and stories about life. I look up to local senior rappers like Altimet, Malique Ibrahim, Joe Flizzow and Sona One. Internationally, I think Eminem is a genius!”

Bunga understands that nothing is easy. Not only now she’s juggling studying and performing but also looking forward to trying new things in the showbiz and not to let naysayers pull her down.

“I tried acting recently. I shot seven scenes for a telemovie recently and it was an interesting experience. Being signed to a big label like Warner Music keeps me on my toes and helps to expose me to a multitude of experiences. I like that I’m earning my own money at this young age,” she said with giggled and that followed with a story of how she started her online beauty business selling rosewater and fake eyelashes prior to being a rapper.

Bunga recently released her first self-titled single. It’s produced by local legendary hip hop producer Tripdisz and co-written by Lady D. ‘Bunga’ the song is available on all streaming platforms such as JOOX, Spotify and KKBox, and the video is available now on YouTube. We can’t get enough of the boppy tune and can’t wait for the next single now. Enjoy the journey, Bunga!



Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana, World’s First Hijab-Wearing Pro Wrestler

Being a hijab-wearing Muslim female who stands at 153 cm and weighs 43kg doesn’t quite sum up the usual traits of a pro wrestler, what more when wrestling is a male-dominated sport. But as they say, you can do anything you put your mind to, so that’s exactly what Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana did. She defied the odds, broke down barriers and ignored society’s expectations in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a pro wrestler. No number on the weighing scale, her petite figure, her headscarf or her gender nor her religion was going to stop her.

In July, Diana grabbed international headlines when she became the first female to win the biggest wrestling tournament in Malaysia, the Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) Wrestlecon Championship defeating FOUR men in the ring!

‘Malaysia’s hijab-wearing wrestler pinning down men’, ‘Nor Phoenix Diana is the World’s First Hijabi Wrestler’, ‘Nor Phoenix Diana, the first hijab-wearing pro wrestler, is ready to face the world’, and many more can be found online.

“It felt surreal seeing my name all over the news. But alhamdulillah, I’ve waited a long time for this. There’s a lot of pressure now, but it’s a good kind of pressure.

“Some people might say I don’t deserve it, but I’ve worked hard for four years. I appreciate those who supported me from day one, and I’ve learned to not bat an eye when I receive negative comments from naysayers.”

So how did she beat four men to bag the championship title? Outside the ropes, she describes herself as someone that is very reserved and shy. For the first three years as a wrestler, she even wore a luchador (wrestling mask) when fighting in the ring. But losing a match in December 2018 led her to unmask herself and reveal her identity.

Whenever Diana enters the ring her alter ego, ‘Phoenix’ takes over. Agility and sophisticated body moves are what makes her able to throw a down rival larger than her.

“People often underestimate me, but once I enter the ring as Phoenix, I use speed and my small body to take down the opponent. My mindset is always in it to win it. I love wrestling because in the ring I become a totally different person as Phoenix,” she said.

When it comes to training, being female doesn’t earn her a free pass to train differently or less aggressively from her peers.

“I train just like the rest, I get slammed around too, everyone is treated equally. It gets painful I’m not going to lie, but as you train, you train yourself to get used to the pain,” she said.

She shared that one of her worst injuries was a back injury. “One day during a training session, I landed on a friend’s hand which resulted in torn back muscle. I couldn’t move and it took me about 2 to 3 months to recover. I cried every night at the thought of not being able to wrestle again,” she said.

Diana vividly remembers her first tryout with her coach Ayez Shaukat Fonseka Farid, whom she approached via Instagram asking him how to join pro wrestling.

“She recalled being extremely shy having to train with men, and the fact that has never played a single sport in her life. She had to build her stamina and strength from scratch.

“I brought my younger brother and father along for my first tryout for support,” she said.

In an interview with The Guardian, Farid described Diana as someone who is extremely committed, but the only issue was trying to break her out of her shell and timid self. “I saw potential in her from her first match because as soon as she came on, she just transformed into this whole different person.”

It was Diana’s brother who she shares a passion for wrestling. Playing wrestling video games and watching wrestling shows on TV with him when she was 14 was what sparked her interest in this sport.

“Wrestling has changed me. I stepped out of my comfort zone and am more confident now.

Pro wrestling is still in its infancy in Malaysia with only a few other females in the sport. Diana hopes that with her defying stigmas and expectations, she will inspire more women to go after their dreams and perhaps join her in the male-dominated sport.

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Nurul Shamsul, Winning Hearts, Oceania and Beyond

In 2016 Halima Aden, an American of Somali descent, received world-wide attention after competing in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, making her the first contestant in the pageant to wear a burkini and a hijab. She opened the eyes of the world and gave a new perspective towards Muslims around the planet. While Aden is now a top model signed to one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world and continues to inspire millions of other Muslims, another young lady on the other corner of the globe is also creating a ripple in the industry.

Born Nurul Zuriantie Binti Shamsul, Nurul, as she is affectionately known by many, is the first Hijabi Muslim to make it into the final round of the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant in 2018. The lovely 22-year old citizen of New Zealand was born in Malaysia and moved to the ‘land of the kiwis’ when she was only five years old. This also makes her the first contestant of Malay and Indonesian descent (her maternal grandparents moved from Indonesia to Malaysia) to ever achieve such an outstanding international recognition.

SalamToday is proud to have her as one of the three Faces of Salam this week and even more honored to share with our readers her visions, hopes, and dreams.

“I never thought of myself as a beauty pageant girl, or model or anything like that in the past. You can say that I actually joined the pageant by coincidence, or kind of at least,” Nurul started as we asked her how it all happened.

“I have a friend who is a photographer and he took pictures of the past pageant contestants, and the photos kept appearing on my Instagram timeline. Then I wondered what would happen if I tried out? So I applied online and totally forgot about it. A couple of months later I received an e-mail saying that I made it into the semi-finals and eventually when I found out that I got into the final round, then only did I tell my dad who didn’t know anything about me entering the competition,” said Nurul as she giggled during the interview.

After finishing fifth place, Nurul gained world-wide media coverage and gave more hope to Muslims globally (particularly women) who aspired to make a difference. Naturally, Nurul gained more fans and followers from her parents’ home country of Malaysia and Indonesia.

However, the overwhelming attention did not just bring in words of support but also raked in a fair share of negative comments on her social media platform.

“Well, of course, there were some people who said that I was plain or not physically worthy of the achievement I gained, but all I can think of is where do these people find the time to write all these long negative comments?” laughed Nurul in bewilderment.

Nurul simply brushes off negative comments that are not constructive and continues to focus on her main goal.

“I didn’t join the competition to win but I joined out of curiosity. And joining the pageant has taught me so much. I’ve learned that beauty pageant contestants are nothing like the stereotypical image we often have of them. My fellow contestants were very nice and positive ladies. To me, they are exactly how women should be when they are with one another. They are all very supportive and lift each other up.

I also appreciate how accepting they were of my different images and belief. Even the organizers were so accommodating. They made sure I had modest clothes to wear and during our trip to Thailand, they also made sure I had Halal food for my meals,” she explained.

Nurul’s experience shows how the world has truly evolved and how Muslims should always seize every opportunity that comes their way.

After creating such an impact for Muslims, especially Malaysian and Indonesian Muslim women, Nurul hopes to continue helping others in the future. The Psychology major who minored in Social Policy from the University of Waikato hopes to continue helping people achieve their life goals throughout her professional career.

“I hope everyone will realise that the only thing stopping them from attaining their goals and dreams is themselves, That is the only true obstacle in life. You must always believe in yourself if you want to achieve something and don’t be ashamed to ask for help and advice from others who know better. Life is full of opportunities, trust in God and trust in yourself, You will be surprised with what you can achieve!” ended Nurul on a happy note.

Nurul would also like to dedicate her achievement to her late grandfather who just recently passed away. He and her grandmother sacrificed many things to come to Malaysia for a better life. Without him, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

SalamToday wishes Nurul all the best and we hope many more will continue to follow her footsteps.



Behind the Face of Salam

  • Face of Salam : Bunga, Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana, Nurul Shamsul
  • Project Manager & Co-ordinator : Shah Shamshiri
  • Text: Ili Farhana (Bunga), SyahirahMokhtazar  (Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana), Shah Shamshiri (Nurul Shamsul)
  • Editor : Ili Farhana
    Photographer: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
  • Graphic Designer: Asyraf Tamam
  • Stylist: Zura Ahmad & Nurul Syafinaz Azaha
  • Hijab Stylist: Nurul Syafinaz Azaha
  • Make-up Artiste : Jibs Salim (Nurul Shamsul), Saidatulnisa Aminuddin (Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana), Fazz Ariffin (Bunga)
  • Wardrobe & Hijab:
  • Bunga
  • 1. Geometric scarf, Ameera Zaini
  • 2. Blouse and pants, Nurita Harith at Zalora
  • Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana
  • 1. Chiffon scarf, Ameera Zaini
  • 2. Teal dress, Mango at Zalora
  • Nurul Shamsul
  • 1. Turquoise scarf, Ameera Zaini
  • 2. Printed blue top and skirt, Ezzati Amira at Zalora