30 September, 2008

Hari Raya


In a few days, Muslims will be celebrating the Eid Ul Fitr or Hari Raya Aidilfitri. In Muslim households everywhere preparations are being made in earnest. In the Kampungs in particular, one can almost feel the celebration in the air, as everyone prepares to welcome their family members home for the holidays, and hold a big feast abundant with all kinds of traditional dishes like Lemang, Ketupat and Rendang.
In the cities and towns too, people are busy making their last minute preparations. I noticed that over the years, more and more people are opting to spend their Hari Raya in town instead of returning to their Kampungs. Perhaps it’s a sign of how society is changing, with rural-urban migration steadily increasing along side the nation’s economic growth.
The vibrance of Kuala Lumpur was certainly evident on Saturday, when my wife and I went into town to do some last minute Hari Raya shopping. We saw that there were still throngs of people at the shopping malls and on the streets, even though the Great “Balik Kampung” Exodus was said to have already begun. It’s always hectic to shop during this peak period just before a major festival. But I enjoyed being amongst the frantic shoppers, many of whom took time to come over and say hello and wish my wife and I Selamat Hari Raya.

What I enjoyed most was watching how all Malaysians, regardless of race, were side by side enjoying the festive mood. Chinese and Indian Malaysians were just as busy as their Malay counterparts, shopping, browsing and looking for bargains. Actually this has always been evident during festive seasons. Even throughout Ramadan, it was not just the Malays enjoying the sumptuous Ramadan Buffets and the Ramadan Bazaars across the country. Malaysians of all races and ethnicities joined their Muslim brothers and sisters to partake in the Buka Puasa ritual. When I hosted a number of Buka Puasa events in our home earlier in Ramadan, many of our non-Muslim friends graciously joined us, and followed the traditions of Buka Puasa accordingly, listening for the “Azan” before starting to eat and patiently waiting for their Muslim friends to complete their prayers before the rest of the evening continued.
To me, I always view this as a heartening display of the camaraderie and the spirit of brotherhood that still thrive among all Malaysians. In any multi-racial country, there will be bumps along the way, and there will be ups and downs in our journey into the future. I view it as a natural process of self-discovery for our country, a part of our nation’s process of maturity which will eventually lead to greater understanding and stronger unity.
This Hari Raya will hopefully showcase to the world once again that the spirit of Muhibbah is alive and well in this country we collectively call our home. I look forward to welcoming the tens of thousands of Malaysians who for years have never failed to make their way to the Hari Raya Open House jointly hosted by the Prime Minister, myself and my cabinet colleagues at the Putra World Trade Center (PWTC) on the first day of Hari Raya. I’ve often been asked whether I felt tired at every Hari Raya Open House, having to stand for hours, shaking hands with all the thousands of guests who arrive in a steady stream from morning right up to early evening. In all honesty, the tiredness comes later. And I do take breaks from time to time to grab a bite and chat with friends and family members. But most of the time, meeting the rakyat after they have come all the way and braved long queues just to wish us Selamat Hari Raya is in and of itself so rewarding that one hardly realizes how long one’s been standing. I’m sure this year’s Hari Raya Open House will once again be a wonderfully joyous occasion.
To all Malaysians going away for the Hari Raya holidays I urge them to be careful on the roads. The authorities can only do so much to ensure road safety. The main responsibility is still that of the road users. Always think of your family and loved ones when you are driving or riding a motorcycle. I pray that all of you will complete your respective journeys in comfort and safety. I wish you all a pleasant holiday.
Finally, to all Muslims I wish them “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin”.