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  • Nabilah from ELEVEN

Reflections from Layl Ash-Shayr

8 April — As night falls and shops close for the day, Wardah Books remains open for those who know. Its shutters are snapped shut but warm light glows through the glass front door, illuminating the night like a beacon.  


Among the last to straggle in, I am ushered upstairs where the once expansive area meant for languishing among books has been converted to a makeshift stage. Stools and foldable chairs take up most of the room and its occupants wait with anticipation for what’s to come.  


It was my first time, but sitting there amidst random strangers, I knew it wouldn’t be my last.  



Layl Ash-Shayr (LAS), which translates to ‘poetry night’, began in 2023, and is the brainchild of two long-time friends, Laili and Zubaidah.

The team behind LAS currently consists of 5 members -- three heads: Laili as Head of Outreach, Zubaidah as Head of Marketing, and Sarah as Head of Admin. They are also joined by Mudaafi' who is responsible for all tech and audio matters, and Thasneem, their talented photographer.

Picture taken by LAS team, from left to right: Sarah, Laili, Mudaafi', Zubaidah, and Thasneem

Additionally, LAS is also supported by around 10 active & lovely volunteers in terms of ushering, helping to prepare marketing materials, and more recently, work both on admin and outreach tasks. 

Their platform aims to provide a safe space for Muslim writers and non-writers who share an appreciation for poetry to come together and give voice to their written works through open-mic and spoken word sessions. 

LAS is also expanding to host other events such as writing circles and will be releasing their first anthology, but ultimately their main goal is to nurture and grow the Muslim Literary scene in Singapore.  

In a short interview with Laili over Telegram, she shared that ELEVEN was part of the reason she launched LAS (mashaAllah!). An active contributor to the publication during her student days, Laili finally joined in her final year at NTU and was moved by how wholesome and encouraging ELEVEN was. 

Hoping to replicate a similar atmosphere for general Muslims outside of university, Laili and Zubaidah planned to start their own digital literary publication space but decided to alter their tracks.  


Surrounded by open mic/spoken word events that often took place in inappropriate venues or contain explicit content, LAS was created to allow Muslim individuals to feel at ease when taking part in similar events without compromising their deen.

“We realised (there) might be a gap in the market for a Muslim open mic scene because we noticed a lot of open mics/spoken word events tended to serve alcohol or be held at times that clash with our prayer times/days (like during Ramadan or starting at 7 pm). We wanted to provide a space (to) ensure these considerations were looked into.”  


And that they did when I attended their 9th session at Wardah Books. Not only did the event exude a warm and welcoming atmosphere, but also room for vulnerability. The works of the 5 selected open-mic talents are a testament to LAS as a safe space for people from all walks of life to share what makes them smile, cry, or ponder.  


The theme for the session I attended was aptly named ‘Eid/Let’s Get Eid Started’ in celebration of the month of Eid. Alongside two special guests – Azeena and Shazza – the 5 selected poets were: Bani Iyad, Iman, Nur Afiqah, Shikyn, and Rashidah. While the poems they recited mainly focused on Eid, each speaker delved into avenues unique to their person and experiences, including mental health and spirituality.  


One of my favourite poets was Rashidah, who incorporated rap into her poetry reading. She touched on the end of Ramadhan and with it, the release of shaytan. I loved her play on words and witty prose that I couldn't help but be enraptured by her entire performance. Rashidah is the Muslimah version of a cool girl and I can't help but be a fan of her work!

Perhaps what solidified my continued attendance at LAS was the discovery of so many wonderful literary talents that would have remained hidden had I not encountered them myself. I think many of us (myself included) make assumptions about the people we meet based on what we see on the outside. Only when we know the person on a deeper level or are lucky enough to be in the same room as them when the right opportunity arises, do we get to see them pull back their layers to reveal how special and different they truly are.

Many of the poets appeared unassuming -- just like the rest of us seated in the audience -- but the words that flowed out of their mouths, a message delivered from the depth of their hearts, projected perspectives that we would have never imagined from cursory judgments.  


It felt like I was part of a tapestry in motion -- new scenes and colours were added the more stories were shared. And it was not just the performers but the audience as well that hinted at their own lived experiences through the enthusiastic flicks of their fingers, or the stomps of their feet, sounds of agreement and relatability. Their narrative, while not directly exposed to the world just yet was still woven into the memories of that night, a souvenir for everyone to hold on to. 


The event highlighted the limitless potential of our local Muslims and showed me that, as cringy as it may sound, we all contain a multitude of facets to ourselves, no matter where we come from. It’s also a reminder that every one of us has something meaningful to share with the world, and even if it may appear small and inconsequential, someone else might appreciate and find value in it.  


That night was just a prelude for me, in a series that InshaAllah will continue every month with new characters and stories waiting to be uncovered through LAS. Since May has arrived, the team recently announced their upcoming 10th session at Wardah Books with special guests that you don’t want to miss out on.

If you’d like to be among the 5 selected poets of the night, there is an open call for participants to sign up on their Instagram page. For the ones who simply wish to spectate like I did and will do, don't forget to grab yourself a ticket. More details can be found in their poster, or feel free to click the link below!  


Layl Ash-Shayr


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