By His Highness Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz
First published in The Borneo Post on August 1, 2014, Friday
I’M training for the upcoming Seremban Half Marathon so I went for a run before the final buka puasa of the month: a 3.33km heritage route around Seri Menanti that can be multiplied if necessary.
By Maghrib the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal had yet to inform the Rulers of the sighting of the new moon, so there was just the usual solitary blast of the cannon.
Dates, by now more shrivelled than a month ago, marked the final breaking of fast for Ramadan 1435, followed by proper chicken chop from Ah Meng (who happens to be Hainanese, but unlike certain Penangites I prefer individual tastes and the market, rather than government diktat, to determine who should cook food).
By isyak the Keeper of Rulers’ Seal had given his television announcement — always of Hari Raya Puasa, never of Aidilfitri, and always “in all states of Malaysia” rather than simply “in Malaysia”, since administration of Islam is still a state prerogative, though it has been decades since any state dissented from the majority view.
The soldiers of the Royal Electric & Mechanical Engineering Corps blasted the extra shots before the azan, and the prayer was done at the outdoor surau, followed by the takbir.
Fireworks were fewer in quantity this year, but pops and whistles echoed across the valley well past midnight, to the consternation of a mother cat and her terrified kittens.
Our taps had run dry earlier in the day — formerly a common occurrence — so everyone was abstemious even though water flowed the next morning.
Phone coverage, however, had collapsed: for competition’s sake, I’ll reveal that Maxis barely survived while Celcom was non-existent.
The khutbah in Masjid Diraja Tuanku Munawir spoke of Aidilfitri as celebrating a day of victory, analogous to but greater than celebrating Merdeka Day, for individual freedom from the devil is superior to a country’s freedom from foreign domination.
Unfortunately many parts of the Muslim world are still suffering from oppression, and we prayed that they will one day see their days of victory.
At the makam, we said our tahlil led by the state mufti, and then we visited individual graves to say prayers, sprinkle flower petals and pour water over them.
This custom has latterly been criticised as un-Islamic even though fatwa have been issued confirming its permissibility.
Such acts are to remember and honour — not worship — those who lived and died before us.
Ever more, the greatest threat to traditional Malay practices comes not from urban liberals, but from puritans who spit on their own heritage.
The former might ignore and forget, but the latter will seek and destroy, the rituals that define our adat.
Though many had cancelled or scaled back their open houses, taking their cue from the federal government, the Istano Terbuko went ahead.
In dark times, opportunities to provide happiness should surely be seized, and 8,449 people came to eat the traditional fare, receive duit rayo and take selfies.
Poignantly, given the content of the morning prayer, amongst the guests were students from Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia — the Tunku Ampuan Besar is its chancellor — who hailed from Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
As we read negative news of their homelands, I hope they write home positively about their festive excursion to Darul Khusus.
Other students were in attendance too: a group I had guest-taught at Sunway University made the journey, as did the kids of the Arioso Sinfonia I had performed with.
As usual, legislators from the opposition benches arrived strategically before the government side.
I told them that it was good that Negeri Sembilan has not been plagued by a disruptive tussle over the position of Menteri Besar.
The last time there was a major episode was in the nineties, and it nearly resulted in Negeri Sembilan having a woman MB: a most exciting story which allegedly has remarkable echoes in the present debacle in Selangor.
However, the majority of people, of all ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, came from towns and cities across the state, stopping to fulfil a glorious Malaysian tradition: to eat, to share goodwill, and to prove to the extremists that victory lies in moderation.
The departure of the final guests only marked the start of the fun with relatives, involving fried chicken, reminiscing and catching up and, most importantly, inducting the next generation to unique family traditions.
As I drove back to Kuala Lumpur the next afternoon, a drizzle attempted to attack the stifling haze, but failed.
It was going to be a miserable trip home, but then my phones beeped and buzzed: somewhere on the Lekas highway, mobile phone signals victoriously penetrated the smog, and they carried only the happiest wishes for Aidilfitri.