Lisa Surihani, Journey To Hijab
On the Malaysian shores, Muslim female celebrities and their clothing often dominate the headlines for the entertainment news section. Actress Lisa Surihani is a name that has been widely mentioned among the media as well as the social media ecosystem as of late, thanks to her appearance.
From flaunting her gorgeous shoulder length hair, Lisa has made the personal choice of covering it with the veil. Admittedly, it triggered an overwhelming response from fans and media alike. A transformation like that couldn’t possibly go unnoticed. Lisa is one of the most celebrated award-winning artistes in Malaysia, with 3.8 million Instagram followers and an impressive career timeline.
But, the mother-of-two was careful to mention that she doesn’t approach her hijab look as a ‘new image’. Her interpretation of the hijab goes way beyond than just a piece of cloth to cover up the head. The team at SalamToday sat down with Lisa to discover her views on the hijab and what it means to her. This is her journey to hijab.
By the time this interview was held, Lisa had been bombarded with questions on her ‘new look’. There are reason she isn’t quite comfortable with that approach. For Lisa, there was no ‘aha!’ moment that made her turn her life around.
“To get to this point was not an overnight decision. It was years and years of me seeking and trying to understand and reconnect with my religion and Allah S.W.T,” she said.
“Whether or not I am absolutely right or if anybody is right, is pursuant to their understanding and their interpretation of it.
“In learning about modesty, it was something that has been rather confusing for me. I was exposed to different definitions and there were multiple debates on it. Especially in the light of the Internet and social media, there are various talks on it.”
Lisa recalled she attempted to complete the recitation of the Quran during Ramadan this year, and by doing so one needed to read 4 pages every time after each prayer.
“There was one day when I was about to start reading the Quran after Zohor prayers.
“I think He knew that I was confused and I was seeking and that I needed to seek for the clarity of this. So although my Quran was marked at a different page, when I opened the Quran, it went straight to the Surah An-Nur which describes about modesty.
“I found it so insightful that it was first addressed to the men. Only after that, they spoke about modesty dressing.
“My interpretation of that is gosh, here we are living in a society that be it men and even women are policing on other women about this clothing aspect when it is first actually addressed to the men.
“You could actually somewhat interpret that the term hijab is wider than the clothing context.
“Hijab is in the eyes, mouth, mindset. When I read that I thought it was so insightful. I wouldn’t say that was the turning point, but I had a better understanding of it.”
“That’s why I’m not too comfortable with people calling it just an image. I wish we would stop policing to other women who don’t wear or how they wear the scarf.
“Hijab is a way of thinking. All that is important as to how you carry yourself as a person or as a Muslim. But there’s that tendency of judgement because of what you see with your eyes.
“Don’t be so quick to judge a person’s appearance. Just because a person doesn’t wear the hijab, doesn’t mean she isn’t a good person. Maybe she never speaks ill of anyone or maybe she always helps those in need. You never know.
“We are quick to judge on the basis of clothing only. We can only pray that all of us will eventually dress modestly not for people, but for Allah SWT.”
WEARING THE HIJAB
Years and years of trying to understand the religion, Lisa wanted to know more about the beautiful values of Islam.
“It crossed my mind for years long to wear the hijab. But I just did not understand it. I got stuck because I was fixated on wanting to understand why I should wear it.
“I remember having a casual conversation with my friends years ago, she was casually saying don’t you find it remarkable that we the Muslims – we’re known as the believers, not the knowers? That set a different tone to how I approached things.”
“That was me being on the tangent as a knower, not a believer. That was when I humbly realised that if I keep asking without seeking or understanding the knowledge, then I’m not being fair to myself and my Creator,” she said.
From then on, Lisa decided to improve her practice by seeking more knowledge, reading the Quran, and listening to religious podcasts.
Fast forward to this year, she went to perform her Umrah last month. There in the Holy Land as she was reading duas for herself, family and friends there was another question that toyed in her mind.
“I was still seeking clarity of whether or not this is what Allah wants. I remembered there was a night after Isya’ prayers I prayed to Him and said, You know me more than I know myself.
“He knows that I stumbled upon that verse from Surah An-Nur during Ramadan. I wanted to seek clarity. In this day and age in 2019 -and Islam is indeed a religion of progress- is it still something that is required from Him? I just needed to understand whether it is so.”
She then shared that she had never done Tahajjud prayers before in her life, but decided to try it.
“I slept and woke up at 3am, and learned how to go about it and prayed for clarity.
“After that I got some shut eye while waiting for Subuh prayers. But when I opened my eyes there was this big feeling, so big that I can’t explain it. Bigger than my extremities. The feeling had urged me to wear the scarf.
“I continued with my Subuh prayers and spoke to my mother about it and I said that I wanted to wear the scarf.
“Suddenly there’s this thought that came in – it was matters of my job and clients. But then a second wave of ‘big feeling’ came and my worries instantly went away.
When she made her return to Malaysia, Lisa thought that the feeling would go away and that she would take off the hijab, but she just continued to keep it on.
“Wearing it itself did not make me feel uncomfortable. It was no big deal but the meeting of people, that invited certain uncomfortable feelings in my heart.
“I remembered coming home and giving a pep talk to myself to dismiss the negative feelings and doubts I had. Strangely I opened my Instagram to find a post by Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur’s Mufti, which was a post about a prayer to keep the heart strong to dismiss negative feelings.
“I told myself have faith in that prayer and kept reciting it. That is also the same reason why I did not want to come back and straight away post publicly about me wearing the hijab.”
“You can suspect and gage that there will be this reaction of overwhelmingness.
“I’m not going to lie, when there’s so many people praising you, if you’re not careful it will effect you.
“On one hand you appreciate the positivity of the act, but on the other I kept reminding myself to not be ‘takbur’ (boastful) with all of this.
“I’ve been praying so that my intentions remain for Allah S.W.T only and not because I seek praise from others.
“It’s been only a little bit more than a month since I left the Holy Land. We all have our own respective spiritual journeys, but I pray that we can all be steadfast in our deen and I hope that we all make it in a manner where it is balanced and moderate.
“I am still learning so much and I’m quite thankful that the beauty of this journey out of life.”
“Humbly, we have to admit that our iman can fluctuate over time. There are times we drift away because we are human after all.
“I’m hoping I have the capacity to understand a lot better about my religion. I think that we all want the same thing, which is to be better than yesterday. I still have a long way to go, there’s so much more I need to learn and understand,” she said.
HER HUSBAND’S REACTION
Lisa is married to a well-known actor-singer in Malaysia, Yusry Abdul Halim. She shared that when he found out about the hijab, he asked that if it was a decision she chose to stick to completely.
“My answer wasn’t a complete 100% yes, I said insyaAllah and asked why. He didn’t answer me, he just looked at me and smiled.
“It almost felt like he trusted me even to that extent. Years ago, I have asked him how he felt if I were to wear it.
“He said that for something like this, it had to come from me. That is his opinion because I think that he believes that in Islam, there’s no such thing as coercion.
“He knows fully well that if he told me to wear it I would. But he wanted the decision to come from me,” she said.
WORDS OF ADVICE
If there was something Lisa could say to women or girls out there who are also on this spiritual journey to seek clarity, Lisa advices them to continue.
“I remembered this video that I stumbled upon and it’s from One Path Network. It’s from a Muslim scholar from Australia who share their postings on Islam.
The video shared about people who feel they are not deserving enough to pray and submit themselves to Allah S.W.T due to their sins.
Regardless if one has drank alcohol, had premarital sex, they should still pray no matter what.
“It kind of made me realise that when are we ever clean sheets when we wake up everyday?
“Don’t allow for those whispers to say that you are not deserving to reach out to Him. You can. Go as you are in a manner where you communicate with Allah.
“Whether or not you think you’re filled with sins, just communicate with Him. InsyaAllah, in various ways you may have gained more clarity and peace of heart in that particular journey.
“No matter what, do not give up in calling out to Him, communicating with Him,” said Lisa.
The award-winning actress studied law at the HELP University College and Aberystwyth University in Wales, United Kingdom. Besides acting, Lisa is also a television host and is UNICEF’s National Ambassador in Malaysia. She is committed to using her talent and platform as a celebrity to speak to audiences, amplifying the voices of children in Malaysia. She started out in the entertainment industry as young as 11 years old, and she has appeared in numerous feature films, television shows and commercials. She has also been endorsed by brands like Freshlook, Marigold Peel Fresh, Oral-B, Body Shop, Lip Ice and more. Lisa and her husband Yusry have been married since 2012, and they have two children; Yahaira Leanne and Yusof Leonne.
Behind the Face of Salam
- Face of Salam : Lisa Surihani
Project Manager & Co-ordinator : Shah Shamshiri
- Text: Syahirah Mokhtazar
- Editor : Ili Farhana Mohamed
Photographer: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
- Graphic Designer: Asyraf Tamam
Stylist : Min Luna
- Hijab Stylist : Didiyana Ehsan
Make-up Artiste : Saidatulnisa Aminuddin
- Hijab: LILIT
- Outfit: Maarimaia
- Hijab: LILIT
- Outfit: LILIT
- Shoes: Mel & Molly