Monday, July 4, 2016

Ramadan & Aidilfitri

The months of Ramadan and Shawwal are auspicious to Muslims. More than a billion across the globe reach out for the same aspiration, to emancipate spiritually. To some, these months are more meaningful than individual birthdays.

As a child it was difficult to comprehend the true meaning of Ramadan. We were taught that fasting is an integral part of our religion and thus, the need to exercise physical and emotional restraints. We performed these obligations obediently. 

As we blossomed in life, our perspectives changed. Spiritual pursuits are no longer looked upon as mere obligations but an expression of one's love and total surrender to Allah, the Beloved Creator.

Each Ramadan is welcomed by me with mixed emotions of joy and sadness. Sadly soon, I will once again bid farewell to this auspicious month, and pray that I be blessed to welcome its next arrival.

(Right) With the late Sharifah Aini & the late Latiff Ibrahim to commemorate the arrival of Hari Raya Aidilfitri. (May their souls rest in peace). 

Early experiences
My first fasting experience was when I was 5 years of age. My parents reluctantly agreed that I could commence by fasting half a day and thereon, to slowly increase the hours. It was particularly challenging for me as two other relatives, a few years older were also commencing their fasts alongside. 

Initially, it was fun being awakened in the wee hours. More so, were the hot delicious food spread across the table that made fasting really worth waking up for. The experience was great but what awaited the following day was totally unanticipated.  8 am at my usual breakfast time, my stomach was demanding for food and did not take into account the food it had consumed earlier.

I then observed that my other relatives aged 8 and 9 were looking half dead as I was. My mind was wheeling with thoughts on how to resolve my problem without being laughed at. A half-day fast actually meant that I could only eat at 1 pm and the clock did not seem to move at all. What would become of me until then? I became frantic and regretted that I had initiated my own starvation.

Soon, the 3 hungry juniors gathered for a meeting. Although I was the youngest, they had treated me as their peer and asked me for my opinion on the next line of action. The final outcome - everyone sneaked into the bathroom with goodies and ended the fast. This was something that I regretted immediately and sheepishly confided to my grandfather. He consoled me that I was only a minor then and stressed the fact that fasting should be an act of devotion to Allah and not to please anyone.

The following day, I attempted fasting again and survived half a day. It was made easier for me with the spread of goodies placed strategically to entice me to remain steadfast until 1 pm. Despite the intolerable hunger pangs, I successfully completed my half day of fasting. It was only at the age of 7 that I was able to complete the full daily fasts. I commended myself for my will power in restraining food alongside other requirements of Ramadan.

There were no Ramadan stalls then. Our elders joyously prepared food moderately for the families to avoid any form of wastage. The food consumed was freshly cooked and if at all there were left-overs, they were never placed on the table again. Families assembled for the breaking fast and commenced with prayers. Everyone was cautioned to not overeat as this would defeat the very purpose of fasting and also cause indigestion.

We were given valuable tips on what food to avoid especially during this month and what was best to consume for our individual metabolism, etc. These tips were mostly alien not only to us, but to the laypersons of those times. My grandfather was a very knowledgeable person proficient in medicine - both contemporary and complementary. From him I gathered much valuable information on health preservation.

The beginning of Shawal  
The celebration marking the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Shawal is traditionally referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Preparations were made days in advance with cookies, rendang, ketupat, etc. as highlights of festivities. Homes were decorated with flickering lights. Folks even changed new curtains, carpets, bedcovers etc. -  a lavish tradition which I believe, still carries on!    

The Hari Raya celebration that instantly comes to mind, was in a Kampong (village) where I lived for a short period when I was 9. Here, communities were like families. Children were welcomed into any home regardless of ethnicity. Everyone received the same hospitality and “duit raya” (token).

Likewise, our home was open to everyone. Adults and children, friends, neighbours, alongside relatives thronged our home, throughout the day, until nightfall.

Mum was exceptionally good with baking and I miss her cookies, jellies, tomato rice, and other special recipes.  As a tradition, I would duplicate some of her recipes, in her memory, at every Hari Raya celebration. (photo - some of my favourites)

Today, I notice that the trend has somewhat changed.  Many are comfortable greeting one another “Eid Mubarak” instead of “Selamat Hari Raya”.

I prefer to remain traditional. To me, words, food, traditions, are attachments to precious memories, of my past, and the people I loved. For that I will not change, as these memories are inerasable. Songs like this, particularly by Saloma, brings back fond memories of Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Incidentally, this was one of the songs that I sang at a competition during Hari Raya, and received my first trophy (photo right).

Most nostalgic is the “Takbir” Hari Raya, on the eve, and on Hari Raya morning. Tears of joy and sadness would never cease to flow, as I remember the good times, and sad moments.  My life would flash like the pages of a book, as I recall the faces of the people who have left me. Places, food, events that occurred in my life, also left a trail of memories – both pleasant and painful.

Fond Memories of  Sharifah Aini.
I remember vividly, the day the above photo was taken. We shared some happy times together. She was a friend that I trusted, and likewise, the feeling was mutual.

On that particular day, Aini, had accidently left an imitation jewellery at my home (the same chain that she wore in this photo).  I reminded her to collect, but she never did. We then lost contact with each other, after I left the entertainment world.

In the late 2013, after a lapse of 35 years, she contacted me on Facebook, and we were reconnected. We chatted on the phone several times, and I told her that I was still keeping the chain that she had left behind. She could not remember the chain, but told me to keep it, as a souvenir. We then fixed a date for a reunion, over dinner. Sadly, that same morning, her friend contacted me and told that she was hospitalized the night before.  The reunion that we both were excited about, did not take place. We were not destined to meet again, in this world.  Sadly, Sharifah Aini departed on 5th July, 2014. Alfatihah. May her soul rest in peace. 

My focus now, is on my immediate family, and to spend quality time together. Life is a mystery, and we never know what’s in store tomorrow. Grateful I am, that I’m still blessed to enjoy a fairly healthy body, and mind, enabling me to harness the spiritual benefits of Ramadan, and Shawwal. Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.



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