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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Selamat Hari Raya 'Idilfitri

Selamat Hari Raya ‘Idilfitri

Selamat Hari Raya ‘Idilfitri! Ma’af, Dzahir dan Batin! That is my wish for all my Malay readers; for my Indian readers, Happy Deepavalli; and to all, happy holidays!

Those words are more than just simple and obligatory adornments on our Hari Raya cards and greetings.

“Selamat” means peace or safe. Looking at the world around us, we cannot take peace or safety for granted. Nearby we see the wretched fate of the Sri Lankans; further away the agony of the Iraqis. Praise be to Allah, Malaysians are blessed for the country is at peace and our young are not at war at home or abroad. America may be prosperous but many an American family is in turmoil over the fate of their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The wish for peace extends inwards. May we also be at peace with ourselves and with our family, colleagues and neighbors. May we renew our bonds of friendship and ties of kinship. For far too many, the season of holidays and festivities is also the time when familial and social bonds are severely stressed. Child and spousal abuse peaks during such times, bringing neither peace nor safety to the family.

A safe Hari Raya is what we all should strive for. Sadly, the rush for balek kampong far too often turns out to be a rush to meet our Maker. Hari Raya and other holidays are fast degenerating into a season of carnage on our highways, the anticipated joys abruptly and rudely replaced by mourning, the tears of joy turning to tears of sadness. So far this season is proving to be unusually lethal.

Where there is no peace, there is no safety. The “selamat “ thus incorporates both meanings. We take it for granted that when we go to the store or movie house we will return safely. Not so for the poor Iraqis and Sri Lankans. They literally take their lives in their own hands when they leave the security of their homes. Even when they are at home, they are not always safe.

We may take the “Selamat” in “Selamat Hari Raya” for granted; for others less fortunate, it is the hope that helps them through their travails.

The ‘Idilfitri separates this Hari Raya from the one we celebrate together with the pilgrims finishing their Hajj. That Hari Raya Eid-ul-Adha is the feast of sacrifice, of thanksgiving for having completed the journey, both the literal journey of pilgrimage as well as our figurative journey of life we are now traversing. I liken Eid-ul-Adha to the American and Canadian Thanksgiving, a largely secular holiday that is fast becoming the premier celebration day for families.

‘Idilfitri (from the Arabic Eid-ul-Fitra) is the celebration of fitrah, the end of fasting (Ramadan). It is indeed appropriate that Ramadan, a month of piety, restraint and meditation, be capped by zakat fitrah, the giving of tithe that is mandatory of all adult and sane Muslims on behalf of themselves as well as their dependents. Fasting during Ramadan and the giving of zakat (charity) constitute two of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat means purification, of our wealth and souls. Zakat fitrah purifies our earlier fasting.

We celebrate by giving, by being generous with our wealth and of ourselves. The zakat is a manifestation of our generosity to those less fortunate. We must also be generous with our spirit.

The “Open House,” very much part of Hari Raya in the kampong, is a manifestation of this generosity. We open not only our homes but also our hearts to our friends, colleagues and neighbors. It is gratifying that what was once only a Hari Raya phenomenon is now very much part of the Malaysian holiday scene. This is what I treasure and miss most about Malaysia.

Leaders and citizens alike partake in this most Malaysian of holiday rituals. It is truly a marvel to behold, especially for non-Malaysians, to see ordinary citizens trotting up in troves to Putrajaya to see the Prime Minister. Yes, visitors may enter the White House but only on a tour, and only after going through the metal screening and personal search. If they are lucky, they may get a glimpse of its prime tenant.

This generosity of spirit and renewal of our inner being are encapsulated in the accompanying “maaf, dzahir dan batin” to our traditional wishes and greetings.

Ma’af means saying that you are sorry. In the spirit of the season, we seek forgiveness from each other, and we in turn should be forgiving. The morning of Hari Raya would see family members shaking each other’s hands, the children seeking their parents’ forgiveness; parents, their children’s. We do likewise with our friends and colleagues. It is these gestures, expressed more so during Hari Raya, that lubricates and nourishes our relationships.

After ma’af comes dzahir, the renewal of our inner being, our batin.

Let us practice them in our homes, workplace and roadways. If we are more generous and more forgiving on the roads and highways, we may even reduce the carnage.

Let us in the spirit of Hari Raya wish each other “Selamat” - peace and safety – and to be generous to each other and to ourselves. Let us practice the spirit of gratitude and forgiveness, and resolve for the renewal or rebirth of our inner being as implied in Maaf, Dzahir dan Batin during this joyful month of Syawal as well as throughout the year.

That is my wish upon my readers and myself.

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