Aug 27, 11
Malaysia is poised on the eve of yet another Aidilfitri celebration, spanning the entire month of Syawal. It is a joyous occasion for Muslims, as it signifies a personal triumph, and a victory of self-restraint and abstinence, symbolising purification and renewal.
The 'balik kampung' exodus is underway, nearly reducing the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur to a ghost town, as the Malay Muslim population throughout the nation move back to their 'kampung' homes to renew their connection with their ethnic roots.
Every year, I am deeply affected by this mood of national joy on the eve of another Aidilfitri. This is a fine multi-racial tradition in Malaysia, for we celebrate all the major festivals of the various races, with an abundance of joy.
For a few days at least, Malaysians will put aside their ethnic and religious divisions, and celebrate this, the most auspicious festival of the Muslim calendar, with one heart.
The average Malaysian Muslim is deeply religious. Usually, on the first day of the Aidilfitri celebration, after breakfast at home with the family, the Muslim faithful visits the graves of their departed forefathers, and offers up their prayers.
Asking for pardon from family members is performed with some ceremony, in order of seniority.
The younger members of a family approach their elders to seek forgiveness, to 'salam' (offer the Muslim equivalent of a handshake, a mark of peace) and then kiss the hands of the older person as a sign of respect.
Shared breaking fast feast
After a whole month of fasting, Aidilfitri is often marked by a real breaking of the fast, with each family serving up a feast prepared mainly by the womenfolk of the household.
This is a time when we invariably enjoy visiting our Muslim friends at their homes, for we can enjoy the secret recipes of so many different families, to our hearts' content.
Malaysia is still a paradise for people who love home-cooked meals, including the flavourful recipes of the Malays, which have found their way into the repertoire of all Malaysians.
In my home state of Sarawak, Aidilfitri is celebrated in a special way. Muslim homes are decorated by the full regalia of lights, lit up at the doorstep, and strung all along the front of the house.
You can see an outpouring of joy and a sign of welcome in these bright lights and twinkling oil lamps in every village throughout the vast state of Sarawak.
In Sarawak, this celebration will be shared by all the citizens. People of all races will visit their Muslim friends at their households, renewing old social ties and enjoying the incredible array of delicious and nutritious foods served up by the lady of the house.
A special mention must be made of the rich array of cakes and confectionary, often prepared at home with painstaking dedication, to entertain guests who come to visit the house.
Guests will also enjoy various tradtional festive delicacies, such as ketupat, lemang, rendang, curries, and various types of 'keropok' (prawn or fish crackers), 'kek lapis' (intricately made, multi-layered and near-kaleidoscopic cakes) and biscuits, specially handed down from generation to generation in Sarawak.
Children will be allowed to play with various sparklers and fire-crackers, although safety concerns are always on the minds of their parents.
This is also a time for children and old folks to be presented with 'duit raya' or gifts of money in small envelopes ('green packets') by their relatives and friends.
Throughout the country, all Muslims will visit their dear ones, families and friends, all dressed in their finest and most colourful clothes.
The joy that sweeps through the land, and her people, is so palpable that every visitor to Malaysia will be infected by the festive mood.
Muslims' toil through the years
The Malaysian Muslims have toiled through the years, in developing our nation and maintaining our political stability.
Despite some of the religious and ethnic flare-ups that beset our country from time to time, the social stability of the Malays still stands at the forefront of social progress in building our nation.
The average Malaysian Muslim has contributed in no small measure to our political progress and democratic awakening, and the physical development we have witnessed throughout multi-racial Malaysia.
As we share the universal joy of Aidilfitri, our hearts must go out to the suffering people of the Arab World. As we write, the Muslims in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are still trying to find their footing in their historic march towards democracy and progress.
Muslims in the unfortunate land of Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are now trapped in the birth pangs of a new social order.
These good and courageous Muslims deserve our support, in prayer and in solidarity.
We should count ourselves lucky to be living in Malaysia. We should treasure our multi-racial brotherhood and sisterhood, especially on this eve of another joyous Aidilfitri.
To all Muslims out there, I would like to wish all of you 'Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir dan Batin'!
SIM KWANG YANG was member of parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments are welcome.