1. Background

On June 10th 2015 national gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi won a gold medal for Malaysia at the SEA Games [1]. Following her victory a photo of her striking a pose was shared on Buletin TV3’s Facebook page which drew criticism. Muslim users began commenting that she was exposing her aurat (intimate areas) by wearing a leotard. Other Muslim users said it is wrong to criticise her. This debate started to play out online.

On June 12th news broke about people criticising Farah’s attire [2]. This prompted more users to join the conversation. On June 13th Farah Ann hit back at her critics saying, “Empty cans make the most noise” [3].

Remarks about Farah Ann and aurat continued over the next few days.

2. Connections between Two Conversations

Unlike our previous analyses, examining the tweets about Farah Ann was challenging. This is because many people were tweeting about her without mentioning her name e.g. talking about gymnasts and Islam. There were also insufficient users tweeting about the topic who were present in our current database of Twitter users based in Malaysia.

When we looked at tweets that mention her specifically it was largely comprised of people supporting her, especially tweets in English. When we examined tweets about aurat, a pattern emerged where tweets about aurat increased following the news story. There appeared to be a connection.

This is the graph of tweets per hour showing the number of users tweeting about Farah or her aurat; and users tweeting about aurat:


Tweets about Farah were higher than tweets about aurat on June 12th. After she hit back at her critics on June 13th more users began to tweet about aurat.

Popular tweets about aurat during this period were often religious advice on the importance of covering aurat, particularly for women. This may be indicative of defensive behaviour by religious users.


The diagram above shows how users tweeting about both topics are connected. The red circle on the left represents the Farah Ann topic while the purple circle on the right represents the topic of Aurat. All other circles represent users. Each user is connected to topics if they mentioned them in their tweets.

The resulting cluster in the middle represents users who are tweeting about both topics. They comprise 10.1% of the total users in the diagram.


This network diagram shows how users tweeting about Farah and aurat are connected based on their retweets and conversations. Each user is represented by a node (circle) that is coloured based on the number of their tweets that were retweeted and the number of tweets sent to them. The more attention they receive, the larger the node. Any node that retweets another node or tweets to another node is connected.

Nodes are positioned based on their connections to other nodes – strong connections pull them closer. Large nodes are considered influential within the network. Connected nodes form communities, which we have coloured accordingly.

The blue community dominating the center of the diagram is made up of 90.72% of the users who are indirectly connected to each other through conversations. The position of Farah Ann’s Twitter handle (@farahannhadi) is indicated by the letter F in the diagram.

The shape of the network is also indicative of the connection between users talking about Farah and users talking about aurat. It does not mean that 90.72% of the users are talking about both topics – it is only indicative of a connection.

We know from the previous diagram that 10.1% of the users tweeted about both topics. One pattern that we observed is:

  1. Some of these users tweeted about Farah
  2. They then started tweeting or retweeting tweets about aurat
  3. Tweets about aurat were then widely retweeted, causing the spike in mentions of aurat on Twitter

Because we have indicators of connectivity between users tweeting about Farah and users tweeting about aurat, it is worth analysing tweets from both groups to see what they were really saying.

3. Our Analysis

We collected a total of 52,546 tweets from 33,828 users from June 12th – June 15th 2015 covering keywords that mentioned Farah Ann; aurat; and Bahasa Malaysia equivalents for terms such as women’s gymnastics. This was to cover as many users possible who were talking about the issue of female gymnast attire in addition to Farah Ann.

Not all users tweeting about aurat are from Malaysia or even talking about this issue, but using wide search parameters was necessary. We limited our sample to those users who were most likely to be tweeting about the issue who are likely from Malaysia.

From this total, 24,532 users tweeted in Bahasa Malaysia/Bahasa Indonesia/similar languages and 11,448 users tweeted in English. There is some overlap between speakers of both languages.

Some of the tweets in Bahasa Malaysia were actually tweets from Pakistan and other countries because ‘aurat’ is used in their language as well. Foreign tweets were not difficult to filter out during analysis, however they were present in the previous diagrams.

In order to perform a detailed analysis we had to go with a simple keyword-based analysis. This means the results will not be balanced by Malaysian states; and will include overseas users. This process involved reading tweets from users and trying to determine their opinions on the issue.

We chose to focus on users tweeting in Bahasa Malaysia. This is due to the bias among the English tweets and to increase the likelihood that the result is reflective of Twitter users in Malaysia who tweet primarily in Bahasa Malaysia. User profile details were also taken into account.

However this analysis may still include Indonesian users. We have done our best to filter out Indonesian users from our sample based on their timeline and profile details.

We analysed a filtered sample of 416 users from the total 24,532 users tweeting about both topics in Bahasa Malaysia.

Based on this analysis we categorised users as belonging to one of the following categories:

  1. Support Farah or her attire / Non-issue
  2. Farah’s Attire is Wrong But Don’t Harass Her
  3. Critical of Farah’s Attire
  4. Aurat – Women Must Cover Up
  5. Aurat – Women Must Cover Up, Men Must Avert Their Gaze
  6. Aurat – Other

The results are shown in the following chart:



Category Users
Support Farah or her attire / Non-issue 125
Farah’s Attire is Wrong But Don’t Harass Her 63
Critical of Farah’s Attire 57
Aurat – Women Must Cover Up 80
Aurat – Women Must Cover Up, Men Must Avert Their Gaze 16
Aurat – Other 75


4. Findings

What follows are the findings for each category.

4.1 Support Farah or her attire / Non-issue

125 users

These users were supportive of Farah and saw no issue with her attire. Among the reasons they stated were:

  • Highlighting hypocrisy of Malays:
    • “Why criticise Farah when they are smoking? Smoking is haram”
    • “Why criticise Farah instead of Malay artistes, sportsmen and celebrities?”
  • critical of people pretending to be ustaz/ustazah and preaching
  • pointed out male athletes such as Sazali Samad who is more exposed than Farah but not criticised
  • pointed out that Malaysia has been competing in women’s gymnastics for years without issue
  • Malays that criticise her are supporting a medieval version of Islam
  • doesn’t make sense to ask a gymnast to cover up as she can’t perform her sport

4.2 Farah’s Attire is Wrong But Don’t Harass Her

63 users

Users who said Farah is wrong for showing her aurat or her attire is inappropriate. However they felt that we (Muslims) shouldn’t harass or condemn her – giving her advice should be enough. Some users were supportive of keeping quiet instead because it is her problem and not theirs.

In their own way they were siding with the critics. Common opinions expressed by this group were:

  • her sins are not your problem, it is her choice
  • hope she can change/improve; or leave gymnastics
  • It is not appropriate for Muslims to find fault with others, because the matter of aurat is between them and God
  • there are examples of athletes from other countries who make the effort to cover up (refer to Appendix 1)

4.3 Critical of Farah’s Attire

57 users

Users who were critical of Farah’s attire. These criticisms were not made in a harsh tone of voice e.g. name-calling or swear words. The impression given is that she should either change her attire or not compete in the sport.

Common reasons given were:

  • did not approve of her exposing ‘too much’
  • think it is inappropriate to accept her attire (as halal) just because she is an athlete, or because she won a gold medal
  • highlighted images of women in other sports from other countries who covered their aurat
  • it is wrong (for women) to show aurat regardless of the reason
  • Malaysia is an Islamic country and our athletes’ attire should reflect that
  • it is our (Muslim) duty to advise those who don’t cover up
  • unhappy that liberals / secularists are getting their way on this issue
  • unfair to compare with men in other sports because the rules for aurat are different. It is also not appropriate to justify one’s failing to cover up by pointing at someone else
  • feeling grateful that their message (to cover up) got across due to social media
  • questioned why gymnastics is ok but beauty pageants are not ok for Malay women
  • shouldn’t criticise us (the critics) because we are only advising her, not making death threats
  • in favour of setting guidelines for sporting attire
  • there are examples of athletes from other countries who make the effort to cover up (refer to Appendix 1)

4.4 Aurat – Women Must Cover Up

80 users

Mostly comprised of users who were stating that Muslim women are obligated to cover their aurat. Men’s responsibility to cover up was mentioned by a minority of users who also supported the view on women. Common opinions expressed by this group were:

  • repeated emphasis that women should cover up and wear a hijab
  • “It is a woman’s responsibility to cover her aurat and a man’s responsibility to remind her”
  • It is ok to take part in sports but never forget the obligation to cover up
  • reminders that women should cover their feet as well
  • men should be responsible about keeping their aurat covered as well; criticism of men who wear shorts that show the knees
  • the requirement for men to cover their aurat doesn’t cover as much area as it does for women
  • It is a sin to remove the hijab
  • consider women who cover themselves to be more pious / beautiful / perfect

4.5 Aurat – Women Must Cover Up, Men Must Avert Their Gaze

16 users

Users who shared similar views on the requirement for Muslim women to cover up, but also emphasised that men should look away and not stare.

4.6 Aurat – Other

75 users

A variety of opinions about aurat, mostly in the form of religious advice. Some examples are:

  • “It is a must to cover your aurat” (no gender specified)
  • “It is a sin to look at a photo that exposes aurat”
  • “It is a sin to distribute photos that exposes aurat”
  • tweets about Muslim behaviour (primarily women) because ‘aurat’ is more than just attire
  • covering your aurat should be for religious reasons and not fashion
  • criticism of men who wear shorts, with no comment on women’s aurat
  • “It is our (Muslim) duty to advise those who don’t cover up” (unclear whether it is related to Farah)

5. Conclusion

It is important to note that this analysis is not as detailed as our analyses on other topics; however the results may still prove insightful.

The analysis indicates that there was a link between users tweeting about Farah Ann and users tweeting about aurat in general. We found many users who were clearly talking about the issue of her sporting attire but using the word ‘aurat’ and not mentioning Farah’s name. The timing of their religious advice and defensive tweets justifying the act of giving advice emphasised the link further.

A small number of users also felt that non-Muslims should not comment on this issue and the concept of ‘tutup aurat’ was being made fun of.

Men and women were present in all opinion categories, based on their names and profile photos. When we combine the categories to simplify the graph, we get the following result:


It is clear from the chart that more users were supportive of Farah than critical, but the margin is very small.

It is likely that users who were suddenly tweeting about the importance of covering up would support a change of attire for women’s gymnastics. It seems unlikely that they would express support for the current sportswear worn by women athletes. The way they were expressing themselves and quoting online preachers gave the impression that support for this change will grow over time.

6. Popular Tweets About Aurat

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared tweets / images about aurat.

7. Popular Tweets About Farah Ann

The following tweets were among the most popularly shared tweets / images about Farah Ann.

8. Appendix 1

The following photos of women in other sports were frequently shared and reposted by users tweeting about aurat to demonstrate that it is possible to play sports while covered:

9. References[1] (2015, June 10) Gymnast Farah Ann dances her way to floor exercise gold. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/sports/article/gymnast-farah-ann-dances-her-way-to-floor-exercise-gold

[2] (2015, June 12) Malaysian gymnast gets brickbats for showing ‘aurat’, ‘vagina shape’ despite winning gold. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/malaysian-gymnast-gets-brickbats-for-showing-aurat-vagina-shape-despite-win

[3] (2015, June 13) Gold medallist Farah ann hits back at ‘aurat’ trolls. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/gold-medallist-farah-ann-hits-back-at-aurat-trolls

Published On: June 22nd, 2015 / Categories: Analyses, Social Media / Tags: , , , /