Thinking of home
|Syazwan Zainal is a reluctant law student at The University of Warwick, writer-wannabe, actor-aspirant, professional procrastinator who dreams of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor and Nobel Prize for Literature. He is a fierce idealist and non-conformist and would love to rid the world of football. He also writes for CEKU at www.ceku.org.|
MAY 16 — For most students in the UK (this writer included), this is a torturous period: exam time. More often than not, such distressing moments bring on a huge wave of nostalgia.
Homesickness: Ramadan in Malaysia
Sometimes homesickness causes my mind to wander to the Ramadan months in Malaysia. The atmosphere is magical. Being forced to wake up by my mum or dad (groggily) at five in the morning every day to make sure that I eat my sahur, is an experience that I value. Eating with my whole family for sahur and buka puasa every day is something that I look forward to, as is the case I am sure for most other Muslims.
Then at night, there’s the festival of ibadah at the local mosque. My dad and I would drive to our local mosque together in his Kancil. This for me is a brief respite from the insanity of the world. People would flock to the mosque starting at 7pm to prepare for buka puasa.
The meal at the local mosque depends on the local socio-economic standard, people’s generosity or how near it is to election time. If you’re lucky, you will get to compensate (maybe even overcompensate) the time that you withheld food with exotic meals like kambing bakar and the amount of food can be mountainous.
It is common to see the mosque committee going into overdrive, organizing various activities for the local Muslim community. Every night, you would have the tarawikh prayers, talks by ustaz and ustazah on multiple issues, tilawah Al-Quran and so on.
But possibly the most secular tradition during the fasting month in Malaysia (secular because it’s not “religious” per se and Malaysians who are not Muslims can join in the fun too) is the Ramadan bazaar. So pertinent has it become to our local culture that there are television shows devoted to this food paradise. Only the most religiously conscious or health-pious can resist the gravitational pull of such places.
Different facets of Islam
It is my opinion that the reason why the month of Ramadan appeals to me so much is because of the multitude of experiences of religion that one can admire.
The ritualistic part of religion for example is a godsend. The prayers and the Quran recitations have a calming effect, at least to me. There is a social aspect to this too, especially when you practise your faith at the local mosque with your neighbours and friends.
There is the spiritual side of Islam, which deals with matters of the heart and soul, hence the command by God to always remember Him and do dzikr. There is also the legal side of Islam, which not only deals with crime and punishment but also our everyday lives and how Muslims conduct ourselves.
Political Islam exists as well, in examples shown by the Prophet s.a.w. in administering Madinah. There is also “Islamic economics”, which is in vogue now in certain jurisdictions, like Kuala Lumpur and Dubai after the collapse of the global financial system due to what many deem to be the utter failure of the conventional economic system.
But then there is also the social side of Islam, which overlaps with the local culture and tradition. Nothing can beat the Ramadan bazaar as the perfect evidence for this proposition. Eating is a central part of the Malaysian experience.
Food like the traditional kueh, nasi lemak with ayam kukus are sold in the afternoon at the Ramadan bazaar for those who are either too lazy or too busy to cook at home. Late night sessions at the mamak immediately after tarawikh prayers are all uniquely Malaysian.
Unfortunately there have been suggestions that even going to the bazaar is un-Islamic. There is no shortage of speakers who have sneered at people who set up stalls at the bazaar, saying that they should be focusing only on praying and reading the Quran during the fasting month.
Our obsession with legality
This conveniently brings me to my assertion that I think at times, we can be so obsessed with right and wrong that we lose sight of the bigger picture. I am always wary of those who view the world in black and white, rather than acknowledging the multiple shades of colour in humanity.
Even more worrying is that certain factions in our community cannot seem to grasp the different facets of Islam; they only view the religion in its legal and moral sense. This explains why Bersih 3.0 (possibly for political reasons), Mother’s Day (the latest issue to crop up), Valentine’s Day, and many other completely harmless things are doomed to be “haram.” Culture and tradition are at times blamed. Some have suggested that “bersanding” and “menepung tawar” are haram.
It is incumbent upon those who invoke these rulings to explain themselves as to why and how they have arrived at these rulings. An explanation on the possible alternatives must also be done. Most importantly, it must be sufficiently publicised.
The apathy and fear of the average Joe
But the danger with such an invocation is that the layman will not ask why. The layman might even swallow the ruling without thinking about the possible flexibility inherent in human life and our very own religion. What most people will remember is “it is haram.”
Human life has been reduced to snippets and one-liners. We are blind to the complexities and shades of colour inherent in life. I have met these people many times. When confronted with a moral dilemma, they retreat to these rulings, their safe zones.
“But it’s haram,” they protest, without bothering to look at the different arguments for and against the dilemma. And I understand why they do so. It frightens me too because as a devout Muslim, I am scared of anything deemed to be “haram.” It is sinful and one cannot help but think of Hell when the word is invoked.
For me, such a ruling will put a stop to critical thinking, a spirit of inquiry and discourse. It frustrates me that those who use these words do not seem to realize the different shades of intentions and actions of countless individuals, all of which have been deemed to be wrong.
It is one thing to have differing opinions when describing an elephant, especially when all of the observers are blind. But it is a whole different issue to condemn those who disagree with you to Hell.
I think we need to take a deep breath and relax. An appreciation of the different facets of Islam is much needed.
In one of my previous articles, a comment struck a chord with me. The commenter asked why some of my articles, at face value, seem to be attacking Islam. Darling, the moment when I stop criticising what is dear to me is when I no longer care. I pray that the moment will never come.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist