Ten years have passed since Dina Zaman’s first book I Am Muslim appeared in bookstores.
Her writing has been met with mixed reviews – anything from angry criticism to accolades and prestigious awards.
Holy Men, Holy Women was published last year, a poignant collection of stories gleaned from the two-year journey made by Dina across the length of Peninsular Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak. What surprises did she unearth on these candid adventures? And what started her desire to turn the literary spotlight on a topic as sensitive as religion in Malaysia?
You’ll have to read the book to answer the first question. The second is best answered in her own words below, accompanied by brief reflections on her past and the goings-on at IMAN, a think tank she co-founded which seeks to provide information and actionable insights on matters of religion, society and perception in Malaysia.
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When did your curiosity about religion start?
I think it started from young. I have a dad who worked for Wisma Putra and a mum who loved history, and like all Malaysians, religions were exposed to me at a young age. I went to a missionary school as well as international ones, so when we were kids, we'd ask, “What are you? Who are you?” I think that conversation in the playground just became the background to my curiosity. In hindsight, I wish now, I had never studied Communications and Literature - I should have pursued Anthropology!
So it’s safe to say that your childhood experiences have helped prepare you for the career you’re in now?
I suppose it would be resilience. Being a Third Culture Kid teaches you that you will never fit in, no matter what you do, so you learn to keep things lean: a small circle of trustworthy friends. Secondly, it taught me faith in one's religion –hey, I may not wear the tudung, but I do my best to be a good Muslim. And the exposure to other cultures and backgrounds has taught me not to judge.
Growing up, was there a particular author that inspired you?
There were many: Enid Blyton. Gerald Durrell. Anais Nin. Marguerite Duras. Alfred Wallace Russell. But I will admit that Tintin the comic book hero was the one who inspired me to go on adventures.