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It’s what’s on the inside that counts


KUALA LUMPUR: When Sheahnee Iman Lee first decided to don the headscarf four years ago, she was concerned over what her two best friends might think.

Former television presenter Sheahnee is a Muslim convert of Chinese-Australian descent. Her two best friends – television producer Zabrina Fernandez and marketing and corporate communications senior manager Anis Yusof – were born Muslims who chose not to wear the headscarf.

“I asked them out to lunch and told them that I was going to start wearing the headscarf and that nothing would change between us,” Sheahnee recalled.

“I was afraid of being judged, and I admit I was also worried about people judging my friends, people who do not understand this bond between us,” she said.

Zabrina and Anis, however, responded with support and enthusiasm for their friend.

“It was never like she was not going to be my friend anymore,” said Zabrina. “I just knew the friendship was going to grow in a different direction and it would be for the better.”

Anis remembered saying that it did not matter whether any of them chose to wear the headscarf.

“It really is all about how you practise your faith,” said Anis. “It is inside of you and every religion teaches us to do good things, to be kind and compassionate.

“Nothing about our friendship has changed. In fact, I love my friends even more now,” she added.

Sheahnee began her study of Islam in 2005, converted to the faith three years later and married television host Nazrudin Rahman that same year.

She remains thankful to her friends. “They gave me the room to discover what Islam was and to grow into it at my own pace,” she said.

Moderation had been a primary factor in keeping the three friends close, despite their differences in appearance, thoughts and opinions.

“We have that kind of friendship where we can actually crack dumb jokes with each other and that will still be okay,” said Sheahnee.

“We have had serious disagreements before but we have appreciated where each other was coming from because we know at the end of the day, we just want what’s best for each other,” she said.

Zabrina is used to living around born Muslims and converts. Her father and her husband both converted to Islam, and for her, moderation began with her mother at home.

“We served beef rendang at an event in our house once, and when the caterers dumped the remnants near our Hindu neighbour’s house, my mother got very angry.

“She said everyone’s sensitivities must be respected. I learned that you need to have enough insight into different perspectives to practise moderation,” she said.

For Sheahnee, moderation cannot be achieved without understanding the people who lived around us.

“Moderation to some might be something very superficial but it comes with taking the effort to understand other people’s sensitivities, and accepting and loving them despite that.

“There are people who will disagree with us and there are people who will agree with us and that is okay,” she said.

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