Ayesah Abubakar's "A Malaysian Hariraya"

Technically, this is an essay. I know that. It's from the book Children of the Ever-Changing Moon: Essays by Young Moro Writers edited by Gutierrez Mangansakan II. But, sometimes, things are best pictured, not through fiction but by the retelling of an actual experience.
The book describes the writer, Ayesah Abubakar in the following manner:

[The writer] was born in Davao City. She is proud of her Chinese and Spanish roots from the small town of Cateel, Davao Oriental, and her Maguindanao heritage from Kidapawan, Cotabato... [She] is not based in Penang Island in Malaysia, where she lives with her husband...[She] continues to pursue her aspirations for freedom and peace for the Bansamoro and the peopls of Mindanao through her work as a peace scholar and practicioner.

In his introduction, the editor of the book says this about his work:

"This anthology presents new voices that offer a glimpse into the life of a people whose opinion, history, and circumstance have somehow been stifled, giving them an important and distinct place in our national imagination."

The feelings may not be apparent while you read the essay, as it seems almost like a report. But, the amount of detail, which is reminiscent of how an excited child would tell a story, speaks of an underlying pride and joy which stems from how much one loves his or her cultural heritage. At the same time, there appears to be a feeling of wonder from the writer, a kind of awe at the Hariraya, she had always wanted. Personally, I see this as a story of the natural esteem we have for the beliefs that molded us and the innate yearning in all of us to be accepted simply for who we are.

This is the third Ramadan that I am spending in Malaysia. On the first occasion, I was lucky enough to be joined by another Moro girl who was doing her internship in the university where I work. Our Eid'l Fitr, the culminating celebration day of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, was a little melancholic since we were missing home, stuck in our apartment with no families and friends to celebrate with. During last year's Eid, however, I was more than glad to have gone home to Manila, supposedly on time for the big masjid prayers; but it turned out that my family and the entire Muslim community in the Philippines convened for the congregational prayer just the day before I arrived.

The celebration of Hariraya, a local term for Eid'l Fitr, is done with little fanfare in Manila as compared here in Malaysia. Still, Muslim families in the Philippines take great importance in attending the Eid prayers at the local masjid. We would go home after prayers and enjoy a "special little meal than normal" that my mother prepared for that day. We would get together with other families and visit relatives and do house-hopping. It is unfortunate, though, that the rest of our family lives in Mindanao. We content ourselves with spending the occasion as really more of a family "quiet time" at home. Sometimes, I would celebrate it with a number of Muslim friends who are in the vicinity of Metro Manila.
My Ramadan and Eid'l Fitr is a very important occasion this year since I am doing my fasting together with my husband. We are a new couple. Mak and Aba, my parents-in-law, have joined us in welcoming the celebrations in our new home. My husband wanted this to be special for me. Early this month he decorated our apartment balcony with "Raya lights" similar to the Christmas light in the Philippines, as well as other ornaments to dress up our home.

My husband and I are always proud of the breathtaking view from our apartment building here in Penang Island. From our balconies and windows, one can see clearly the Penang Bridge and the mainland peninsular Malaysia. The small flickering light bulbs from our balconies add to the festive ambience in the evenings.
We indulge in the motions of "Raya shopping" that involve buying new furniture and other household items, and baju--traditional clothes of kebaya and baju-kurong, prayer clothes, and the modern clothes as well.

Apart from the material acquisitions, the Raya culture invokes the spirit of sharing among people. Muslims contribute zakat and sadaqa to their respective masjid where they would attend prayers. During Ramadan, it is usual for people to go to the masjid for their buka puasa that is often sponsored by the masjid out of the zakat and sadaqa contributions, and attend the tarawih prayers that could last for more than two hours each night. There are also those who would jointly organize sahur for the less privileged.

Beside the activities in the masjid, Muslims in Malaysia are also active in charity work. Among groups of friends, they can make contributions for a sickly person or help a Muslim minority from a neighboring Southeast Asian country who could be studying in one of the universities here. This year, I am grateful that a small group of lawyers helped me in raising money to buy Islamic children's books which I have sent to a masjid in my hometown Kidapawan. It's a small project, but it's really the Raya spirit of sharing all the way to Mindanao that is making it very special.

We are only two days from Raya day, Insha Allah. Still busy signing Raya cards, just like Christmas cards, to friends and families, shopping for the traditional kuih to be served during Eid, and making schedules when-to-invite-who and when-to-visit-who in the next month or so as the Hariraya spirit envelopes the whole of Malaysia.

Come Raya day, I will be doing the traditional ritual of asking for forgiveness from elders on my bended knees, in this case, my parents-in-law, and saying the words "Maaf zahir batin" meaning "Please forgive me for the things I have done wrong". On the other hand, my husband's younger cousins, nieces and nephews would have to be doing the same to me. And with it, I would have to give them a duit Raya or Raya money (similar to the Chinese ampaw tradition).

Having been brought up in a non-Muslim community like Manila, i am pleasantly enjoying the celebration of Ramadan in Malaysia. I remember what it was like as an envious child watching our neighbors celebrate Christmas with much festivity. This Malaysian Hariraya is making me like a child again. It must be the same joyful and excited feeling for boys and girls especially during Christmas in the Philippines. At the same time, however, I am starting to miss that "quiet time" with my family on this comine Eid.

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