Nurture peace, understanding and acceptance among cultures through Islamic Studies in schools
The month of Ramadhan is always special to all Muslims, young and old. While for most it is a time for reflection and intense prayer, for the children it is about new clothes, “duit raya” and fireworks.
A six year old girl was happy to come home to announce to her mother that school will be closed for a whole week to celebrate Hari Raya. She went on to say that Hari Raya is only for Malay children. Chinese and Indian children do not celebrate it.
Upon overhearing this conversation, for the umpteenth time as I had had to do with my own children a decade ago, I explained that Hari Raya is celebrated by Muslims all over the world and Muslims can be Malay, Chinese, Indian or just any other kind of people for that matter. How perplexed the girl was.
I wonder why this still happens over and over again. Is it because teachers find it too difficult, within the Malaysian context, to explain the concept of religion in a multi-cultural environment? Or is it because relating religion to a particular ethnic group is simple to understand and therefore less of a bother to explain even though contextually it is incorrect? The child if not corrected early will continue to believe that it is so.
The other misconception most often raised during the month of Ramadhan is the practice of fasting and abstinence which is conducted between sunrise and sunset. While we in Malaysia fast for approximately 14 hours, Muslims in Scandinavia do so for 18 hours and worst in Iceland if at all for 22 hours although to follow the time period Saudi Arabia adopts is permitted. Students find this difficult to conceptualise.
The question that arises is who is to show restraint when fasting? Many non Muslim Malaysians are almost apologetic when eating in the presence of Muslim friends and acquaintances. Muslims have no right to insist that non Muslims do not eat in their presence or worse to make them leave to consume food and drink elsewhere. The objective of fasting is to experience the hunger of the poor and destitute and which is best tested in the presence of eating and drinking non Muslims.
The other highlight of the Ramadhan month is the Tarawih prayers which begin as early as nine at night and lasts for 30 minutes or so, is voluntary, yet welcomes adults and the young alike. While these prayers can be conducted at home, it is recommended that Muslims do so in congregation at the mosque.
Masjid Sayyidina Umar Al-Khattab or fondly known as Masjid Bukit Damansara, is in the neighbourhood where I have been residing since the age of 12, having witnessed and benefited from its building and subsequent development over the decades. Special mention goes to the current organising committee that has over the past two years allowed us to enjoy the profound and positive teachings of Sheikh Sajid Umar, FD IT, FD MES, LL.B (Shariah), LL.M (Qadha’), LL.D, born in UK and bred in Zimbabwe, the series entitled “Blast From The Past”, extracts of lessons from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which are conducted completed in English. I do not know of any other mosque that does this. In fact, worshippers of other faiths are encouraged to listen in, appreciate and learn where possible in understanding multi faiths.
However the climax of Ramadhan is not the end of it but instead it is somewhere in the last ten odd days of the month but will start from the 21st but more so on the 27th or 29th and is called Lailatul Qadr’, the significance of which was the night the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), well over 1,400 years ago. Muslims believe that on this night the blessings and mercy of Allah are abundant, sins are forgiven, supplications are accepted, and angels descend to earth.
As parents we hope that teachers in departing religious knowledge to our children, realise and remember that the Quran has always advocated living together peacefully among all faiths, beliefs and religions. This we must not stray away from.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri nonetheless is a time for family reunions as they grow larger, for busy neighbours to strengthen friendships and to catch up with one another, and for workmates to banter over topics of common interest and social matters.
As Ramadhan comes to an end, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Eid Mubarak to fellow Muslims as we welcome this month of Syawal. For the bonus prize, fast for another six days during Syawal and it will be as though one has fasted all year round.