5 Reasons this Raya will be the best Raya yet

By Lay Chin Koh

I know, I know. There are many cynics and grumps out there who will disagree with me, but I think this Raya will be one of our most amazing ones yet. After four months (and more) of bad or negative news in relation to crime, politics, the narrowing of civil liberties and the prickling of sensitivities, some would say Malaysia has become a disturbing place to be in.

But I will try to show why I think Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia still have it good, and how this will mean a great Raya for us all. Here is why:

  1. Before, during, and after our General Election in May, some rabble-rousers tried to invoke the specter of 1969 as a warning for Malaysians. They tried to hint at riots or bloodshed if certain results took place, or if provocations were made. Some people even stocked up on supplies. Guess what? There were wins and losses, happiness and disappointments, and yes, all sorts of drama. But Malaysians learned that very complicated things can happen in the country without that huge bogeyman hanging over our heads. Guess what? Malaysians may argue, disagree and butt heads with each other, but we are like an extremely irritating, loving family that way. We are learning how to talk to each other. We are learning that we may fight ferociously, but by and large, we aren’t for violence. Some may continue to use 1969 in future to strike fear into people’s hearts, and we will tell them where to stick it.

  2. Our brothers and sisters from Sabah and Sarawak would say those in West Malaysia still have a lot to do, but we were more aware of the Kaamatan and Gawai celebrations this year. I guess after heated times, people just wanted to celebrate harder. They say we would not appreciate light if it wasn't for darkness, and our festivals and celebrations will continue to be a source of joy and mirth for all Malaysians. I know non-Muslim friends who absolutely cannot wait for Raya open houses and gatherings this year, a chance for us to sit, chat, eat, hug and bond with our friends celebrating Eid. It is a chance to soothe frayed nerves over rendang and kopi, talk about lighter topics like Apprentice Asia and perhaps complain about fail-safe topics like ‘The younger generation – they are so spoiled hor!’ Okay, maybe this scenario may not unfold for all Malaysians, certainly not those who took to mass ‘un-friending’ on Facebook et al. Aiyah, see? How will people invite you for celebrations now?

  3. We still obviously come together over things that matter to us, whether it is being furious about crime, celebrating Nicol David's third World Games gold, being moved by acts of kindness like Raven Murugesan’s sweet gesture to a fasting Muslim girl, or being really sad about something like this:

National hockey player Chua Boon Huat's death (Photo by The Star)

  1. As a nation, we are talking about issues like never before. And do you know of any other country where non-Muslims read, discuss or learn about Islam as much as Malaysians do? Many people in other countries don’t even have a clue about Islam, let alone what Ramadan means. Yes, the Alvivi furor, beauty pageant ban and Maznah Mohd Yusof case may have caused controversy, but non-Muslims have been learning more and more about Islam, thanks to wonderful folks who have made a point to share their knowledge. And some of them strong women too, like Norhayati Kaprawi and Zainah Anwar from Sisters in Islam and scholar Rusaslina Idrus. They took the time to write. Their articles led to people like me wanting to read more about things like different mazhab or schools of Islam, ijtihad or the differences between the Quran and hadith. The sharing of knowledge in a thoughtful and respectful manner never goes to waste. Due to my interest, my Vietnam-born, London-bred husband has picked up on the topic - he patiently explained, unaided, what Ramadan was to our young British housemate the previous evening. All the reading led me to this amazing video on faith versus tradition in Islam which I have shared with other non-Muslim friends:

  1. Which leads me to the final reason why we should not think in terms of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ when it comes to issues pertaining to religion in Malaysia. Where in the world will you find non-Muslims who want to fast alongside their Muslim friends? And I’m talking about making-it-public, I-want-to-tell-the-world acts of solidarity. There was this:

Mamat Cina Puasa Sehari

And this:

Soo Wincci fasting again this year

And this:

Netizens share fasting experience

Malaysians active on Twitter would also know Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming has been trying to fast the whole month of Ramadan. These are not just one-offs, Malaysian non-Muslims have been fasting for a while. And they badly want to tell you about it, but it's not to show off, or to get plaudits. They just badly want to say ‘I understand and I’m with you’. I should know. I'm one of these desperate eager beagers, although I tried fasting in London’s summer heat this year and only managed one pathetic day. My attempt itself was not much to be proud of, but the act of doing so and explaining what sahur and berbuka was to my Catholic husband was something I took pride in. Where else in the world do you have non-Muslims proudly fasting and telling the world why they fast? Perhaps this may be an insight as to why Malaysian non-Muslims have been vocal about issues to do with Islam. It has nothing to do with provocation or belittlement but everything to do with caring deeply about fellow Malaysians.

There is no deepening of relationships without the fighting, the making up, and the understanding derived from the whole experience. To all Muslim friends and all Malaysians, have the best Raya ever. Selamat Hari Raya. Maaf Zahir dan Batin.