I am so blessed and so lucky that I was able to celebrate Eid at my parents’ house this year even though we are still under the conditional movement control order. There was a time, not so long ago that I thought I would not be able to come back to Alor Setar for Eid and might need to remain in Johor Bahru where I was doing my clinical attachment. Alhamdulillah, things worked out quite beautifully in the end, the details of which I wouldn’t bother you guys with. But it did involve going to the police station and getting the head of the police station to sign a letter of approval saying that I had a valid reason to come back home to Alor Setar. So I was able to make the journey home without much trouble once I had obtained the police’s approval. I made the journey on the very last day of Gerak Malaysia which was on the 10th of May 2020, on Sunday.
Eid while dealing with Covid is a unique experience that hopefully will never be repeated in our lifetime.
So, I thought it would be nice to just have a record of how the Muslims celebrate Eid with Covid-19 in our midst. If this is something you are curious to know, keep on reading. Otherwise, please do something more productive with your time as what I am going to write below is just my own personal experience and I am not going to be imparting any kind of thoughts or opinions on any current issues or any matter related to medicine or psychiatry. I know some of you who read my blog are medical students or HOs or MOs… and you are busy people who lead busy life. It is very important to prioritize in how we spend our time.
So, now that I have written that disclaimer, proceed at your own risk. LOL
Breaking Fast With Mom’s Delicious Cooking
Upon arriving in Alor Setar, I did self-quarantine in my own house before seeing my own parents and other family members (because I came from JB which used to be a red zone and Alor Setar was a green zone at that time. Now sadly, Alor Star is no longer a green zone.) It is really convenient that my parents and I, even though we live in the same town, keep separate household. It comes in handy during the time of pandemic because there will be times when my job as a healthcare worker might involve me having to limit contact with my parents and the rest of the family members, so as not to put them at risk. But my mom, being a loving mother that she is, always came over to send me food for iftaar ever since I got back to Alor Setar. (Ah… one of the best reason to be in my hometown when there were still some days left of Ramadhan was the opportunity to break my fast with my mom’s delicious cooking. Seriously, after staying in a nursing hostel for 6 months when I was in JB, I have had enough of Grab food. I actually missed doing my own cooking, would you believe it? I don’t even LIKE to cook most of the time.)
Being an adult who is still able to enjoy the presence and the support of her mother and father during this trying time of Covid-19 Pandemic is one of the many blessings I have in my life. There were many times when I had found myself wondering how do other people cope without their parents support? Does anyone ever get used to losing their parents even though they are already an adult? Alhamdulillah, thank you Allah, for still allowing me the blessing of having my parents with me.
In The Memory of My Tok Wan…
One of the many things I did after being done with self-quarantine was visiting the grave of my paternal grandfather… my Tok Wan. Heartbreakingly, I lost my Tok Wan while I was in JB in the first few days of Movement Control Order. He passed away on Friday afternoon, 20th of March 2020.
I was not able to pay my last respect to him and most of my siblings were also not around at that time and could not cross borders. The fact that my father had to hasten the funeral because of the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for me to reach home in time for the funeral to pay my last respect. I checked out various airlines websites, and I found out that even if I could make the arrangement to travel home, the funeral would be over before I could even board the plane. He was buried on the very same day after the Isya’ prayer.
I will always remember him in all my prayers.
I have always known that I was his favourite grandchild. Because he made it so obvious that all my siblings could not fail to notice it, even when we were just young kids. Initially when they first accused me of being the favourite, I had denied it because I felt like he surely loved us all the same. But after some time, we all accepted it as a fact and I didn’t bother denying it anymore hahaha.
He bought me a piece of gold jewellery to reward me for my UPSR result… he never bought any of my siblings any present for their exam results even though they scored straight As too. He never asked my father where my other siblings were if they didn’t turn up to his house. But if I didn’t turn up to his house (well, I was abroad for my medical study and could not make it home for Raya or for some family events sometimes) he would notice and ask about me. It was me that my parents would ask to persuade my grandfather to be compliant to all his medication. It was me who would teach my grandfather how to use his puffer and when I noticed he could not use his puffer properly I then convinced him to use a spacer with his puffer.
With my parents, none of us knew which one of us is the favourite. We could speculate, but we couldn’t tell for sure, as our parents would treat us mostly the same, and any variations in their treatment of us was not obvious Hahah. I would say my Kak Long is the favourite but she would deny it and cite some other occasions and references in which it appeared as though it was I, or Wani or Izati or Alida who were the favourite. Really, we have no idea who is the favourite child and it remains a mystery for us until now.
But with my grandfather, I was clearly the preferred granddaughter. I think my grandfather loved me best because I had once stayed at his house for a few weeks of school holiday when I was 7 years old. None of my siblings wanted to spend their holiday in a kampung at that time. But as a child, I was fascinated by the rubber trees, the rubber fruits and the process of turning the rubber liquid into rubber sheets that I didn’t mind being the only one spending the holiday with my paternal grandparents without the rest of my siblings. I made some friends in the kampung too and I was spoiled rotten by the kids in the kampung because I was this young city girl who was having a vacation in a kampung (not that Alor Setar is REALLY a city haha… but compared to Baling, of course lah! Haha). They gave up their hammock for me whenever I wanted to sit on that hammock, I still remember. After awhile, I felt like that hammock was mine and it was my due to sit on it whenever I felt like it. And they allowed it too. Hahha. I was so bad but they were so nice to me; perhaps because I was the youngest among them. I had a great time in my grandfather’s house even though it was a modest house in the middle of a huge rubber estate. Until now, I love being amidst a lot of trees and quiet nature … one of the reasons I love hiking was because there were a lot of trees. It was calming to my mind to be in nature and greeneries.
I was really sad that I could not be with him in his last moments. This wasn’t how I envision his passing would be. I wasn’t able to write about this a few months ago when I was still dealing with the grief. But now that I have visited his grave and paid my respect, I feel like writing a tribute about him is how I properly put a closure to this. He was the last grandparent we had…. for a long time, he was the ONLY grandparent we had (because my other grandparents on my mom’s side had passed away since we were little kids).
And with his passing, I have no grandparents left.
I visited his grave a few days before Eid. A lot of Malays like to visit the graves of their loved ones on the day of Eid itself. Actually, this is not advisable and very much discouraged in Islam. Eid is the day of happiness and victory. It is SUNNAH to be happy on the day of Eid. And therefore I made it a point to NOT visit his grave during Eid and wanted to do it before Eid. All sadness must end with happiness. Eid is for us to be happy and jovial. Not for us to be sad and disheartened.
But this was our first Eid without our grandfather.
May Allah forgive the sins of my grandfather and bless his soul with mercy and love. And may Allah grant him an abode in paradise. Amiin, Ya Rabb.
First Day of Eid : The Eid Prayer
As you guys well know, because of the conditional MCO, congregational Eid prayer in the mosque was banned and the Muslims were encouraged to pray at home with their family members.
For Eid, there were only my parents, and the three middle sisters (me, Izati and Alida) as well as my two brother-in-laws (Izati and Alida’s husbands) and Alida’s three children (Ammar, Arissa and Alana) who would be celebrating together. The eldest and the youngest sister were not around as they could not cross the state borders to balik kampung (Kak Long and Wani, you were in our thoughts as we were eating ketupat, rendang and nasi arab. But never fear, our appetite was not affected by your absence regardless of how much we DO miss you. Heheh)
My father is not used to leading any congregational prayer. I think he has some form of performance anxiety about any kind of public speaking or public performance haha. So, he volunteered to perform the post-prayer doa, instead. Zul (Izati’s husband) also refused to lead the congregational prayer and volunteered to read out the khutbah (religious preaching after prayer) instead. So, it was left to Fairuz (Alida’s husband) to lead the congregational prayer because he was the last one to arrive at our makeshift praying area and did not yet volunteer for anything. So we told him that it was his job to lead the prayer because he was late. He was nervous but he did it. (Being late has a pretty dire consequence in the culture of my family. We are all pretty punctual people. But before Covid-19, none of the consequences involved having to be an Imam hahaha)
But I must admit, it was really FUNNY having someone other than the usual and experienced Imam leading our prayer. We had to bite our lips and suck our cheeks hard to prevent ourselves from laughing hysterically during prayer. It was obvious that Fairuz was NOT used to leading a congregational prayer. It was the shortest Eid prayer I have ever had as Fairuz had only chosen very short Quranic surahs to recite LOL. Understandably, he was quite nervous for suddenly being given this responsibility just because he happened to arrive late at the place of prayer. Adeh.
And my dad’s recitation of the doa were not without some hitches and pauses too. My mom was red in the face as she tried not to burst out laughing. The khutbah however was not bad as it only required Zul to read the text off his handset but a real Imam would have performed it with more calibre, of course.
But all in all, we did it! We completed our Eid congregational prayer on our own well enough for the first time.
I was proud of the men in my family that they had stepped up and were able to perform the task of an imam, bilal and preacher eventually. Unfortunately, I think they knew that us the girls were finding it hard to control our amusement at the back. Alida who could not pray had taken our pictures while we were praying… and was it her voice I heard sputtering with suppressed mirth? She made it so difficult for me to NOT laugh while I was praying. So, I just smiled instead while simultaneously biting my lips hard. Needless to say, it was not a very khusyu’ prayer. Forgive me, oh Allah.
I remembered learning many years ago that smiling or grinning does not invalidate our prayer but I still experienced some niggling doubts about the validity of my prayer (because of my excessive smiling with intermittent lip biting while praying). So, afterwards, to REALLY calm myself down and settle the doubts, I googled whether or not smiling or grinning could invalidate your prayer. Haha. Good news! It didn’t.
First Day of Eid: The ‘Beraya’ Session
In our Malay culture we have what we call as ‘sesi beraya’ in which we would kiss the hands of our parents and hug them while asking for their forgiveness. And then we will repeat the same process with everyone in the family.
I am not entirely sure whether this practice is in the sunnah or not. I am pretty sure it wasn’t something that was specifically done for Eid during the Prophet’s time. I couldn’t recall learning anything like this in the sunnah. But I do know that during Eid, it is Sunnah to greet each other by saying Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (Meaning: May Allah accept the good deeds from us and from you). So that is how I always say in my Eid Mubarak wishes to others. It is easy pahala to follow this sunnah, right? Just say the words as it was said by the Prophet.
(However, the beraya session is not exactly against the Islamic practice. It is just cultural and it happens to be good practice to always ask forgiveness from each other. However please note that asking for forgiveness should be done whenever we make mistakes and this practice should not be allocated only for Raya time as it was not really done this way during the Prophet’s era. Allocating a specific practice for a specific time when it was NOT done by the Prophet could be construed as an innovation in the religion (Bid’ah) and it is very much frowned upon. Just to clarify that! Muslims should practice based on evidence.)
Below are the pictures of our Beraya session, which is also the time we would usually receive our Raya money. As they are my own family members and we have been living together for one week already, we do not practice social distancing with each other in this session because it would be pointless to do it. We have been inter-mingling so freely for many days already.
And afterwards, we had our family Eid picture taken. We took many variations of the family picture… formal and cheeky ones of various poses were snapped in rapid succession. All of my sisters love posing in front of the camera and when I am with them I tend to get swept along by their excitement of having their pictures taken. I hardly take any picture or selfie when I am by myself but when I am with them I will play along and actually enjoy the process.
As usual, me and the sisters had our indoor and outdoor photoshoot session. This is usually the time when we would miss the other sisters who could not make it for Raya the most. We didn’t miss them that much while eating our Eid food… but during photoshoot session, they were greatly and fondly remembered LOL. The outdoor photoshoot session has been our siblings’s peak Raya moments since we were small children, when we would pose in our new clothes pretending to be a model (without the height or the beauty. Hahah.) It is our siblings’ tradition! It is the pinnacle of what Raya fun is all about in the family. (Well, this is what you get when all your siblings are girls… no brothers to put us in our place or check our sense of misplaced vanity Hahha.)
Aggravatingly, my sisters did not think much of my Raya look this year (and ALSO any other year).
Look, I admit, I have never been much of a fashionista. Alida and Izati are the fashion enthusiast of the family. Whenever I shop for clothes, I prioritize comfort, practicality and economy over beauty or brands. If the outfit is TOO MUCH (too sparkly, too flowy, too difficult to iron) chances are I probably would not wear it again. So I won’t buy such an outfit. And as I am also not a frequent kenduri attendee and nor am I a social butterfly, I have no occasion to wear that kind of fancy clothes again. It just does NOT make sense to spend all that money for such an outfit which is only going to be worn once. Might as well I spend it on gold jewelries (I LOVE gold jewelries, guys…which are ALSO sparkly, but practical… something I can accessorize my plain clothes with. And it is an asset that can be easily liquidated should I be desperate for cash. So, I bought them as an investment… at least, that’s what I told myself. And I could never get enough #MamiJarumIsMe hahah. There was one time when I had a patient who was crying as she told me how her drug-addict husband had pawned off all her jewelries. In my mind I was like “Hmm…so, where did you hide his body after you murdered him?” LOL. Okay, just kidding. Please, don’t murder your husband if he took your gold jewelries. But heck, I would feel quite murderous towards those who stole my gold jewelries from me, guys. I am telling you!)
So below is the pic of my Raya #OOTD.
Alida was like “Kak Ngah, why is it so grey? Why is it so dull? Will you at least wear a bright hijab with it? Wear a red hijab!”
And then Izati said, “I thought it was cadar, at first.” (Cadar means bedsheet, guys! Bedsheet! How insulting!)
Can you believe my sisters? Hahah.
Of course I had no choice but to defend my outfit by telling them “Hey, this is in trend. My Raya concept is called monochromatic minimalist look. Google it. My sense of style is impeccable” Well, I had to say that, didn’t I? Cannot allow them to think I have a deficient sense of style.
They just rolled their eyes and continued to tell me how my sense of style is no style at all. The nerve!
Sadly, even my mother did not really like my Raya look. But she was not as blunt as my sisters in criticizing it. I remember when she used to say how difficult it was to shop for my Raya clothes when I was studying overseas because I had so many conditions about my clothing. “No manik, no labuci, not too much flowers or patterns. Preferrably ONLY one colour without any corak. If got embroideries, the colour must be the same colour as the cloth.” My mom would be like “Susah la kak ngah ni. Mana ada orang jual baju raya macam tu. Pakai ja apa yang mak beli!” (At that time, the term “monochromatic minimalist” look was not popular yet so I came out with all the conditions for my Raya clothes. Obviously, I was ahead of my time (LOL) and did not yet know that the ‘monochromatic minimalist look’ was the words I was looking for as I was describing my taste to my mom 10 years ago. Seriously Raya clothes is getting ridiculous these days. Like my friends had said in one of her Facebook postings “Depa ni jual baju raya ka baju kahwin?” Hahah. We are doctors… we are practical people. If we are going to buy clothes, we want to make sure we can wear it to work too. And as I don’t really wear baju kurung to work, I don’t really like to buy it.)
Eid Pot Luck With Beloved Friends
I still remember how sad I had felt when I thought I was probably going to be stuck in a nursing hostel in JB for Eid. Not exactly an uplifting thought that was. Even though I was not the sort of person who gets severely homesick, but I must admit that after MCO was enforced (and therefore I could not return home to pay my last respect to my Tok Wan and neither could I return home once a month as I had first planned when I decided to do my attachments in JB), I started to feel very acutely the bitterness of being separated from my family. I enjoyed the actual postings themselves and learned a lot too but at the same time, I REALLY just wanted to be home. It was a blessing that Gerak Malaysia happened just in time to coincide with my end of posting.
So I felt so sorry for my friends who could not cross borders to be with their family. It must be so difficult for them. I thought it would be nice if I could spend some portion of my 1st and 2nd Syawal with them too and celebrate with them so that they wouldn’t feel so sad or bored. (Because I could be pretty entertaining when I put my mind to it. Hahaha. Excuse my perasan thought.)
On the first day of Syawal, Hafilah organized the makan-makan first for Isma and Dayah, the two friends of ours who could not cross the state borders. We went to Hafilah’s house in the afternoon and had a great chat about how people are stigmatizing doctors and healthcare workers during Eid. I heard that some people did not allow their family members who are health care workers to balik kampung even though they are in the same home town. My God!
In the social media you guys hailed us as heroes. But at the same time, you don’t want us around you for Raya even though we are in the same home town as you? This is ridiculous. Thank God my family is not like that. And if they are like that, I have all the facts and figures to correct their stigma. (Statistically speaking, the public have a higher chance of contracting Covid-19 compared to health care workers, ok! We wear our PPE all the time while attending to patients. Whereas the public can ALSO contract Covid-19 while doing their grocery shopping without wearing proper PPE and they wouldn’t even realize it. The head of the family could return home after shopping and bring back the virus to the rest of the family members too; just like the health care workers could bring back the virus to her family. But unlike the public, the health care workers are super vigilant about hygiene and using the PPE. So in terms of risks, we are not that different. In fact I would argue that the public have even worse risk when we look at the statistics. There are not many front-liners or healthcare workers who are infected with Covid-19. What makes you think that you are less risky to your parents than your family members who are health care workers, then?)
Anyway, after that hot discussion, we took some outdoor pictures while still maintaining social distancing. Below are some of the pictures that we took while doing our Eid visit at Hafilah’s home. Please note how we maintained our social distancing while taking our Raya pics hahha
On the 2nd Day of Syawal, it was my turn to organize a Pot Luck party for Isma and Dayah. Hafilah and Isma requested that I cook the meal myself as I have always jokingly told them how my cooking skill is not so bad. I told them that I cooked very tasty nasi goreng and my Pek Nga is just out of this world. Haha. They were like “Prove it, Afiza. Words are cheap!”
I told them “Takkan raya nak makan nasi goreng!” I wanted to just order something for my Pot Luck party. But they wanted me to prove that I could cook. Hahah. I regretted boasting about my cooking… because it REALLY was a boast.
So I decided to cook bihun goreng instead. And then I bought some chickens from KFC to eat with my bihun goreng. I also bought carbonated drinks (Pepsi, because I couldn’t find Coke in the gas station shop), to have with my bihun goreng, brownies and kek lapis Sarawak. (Bihun goreng with Coca-Cola have always been my favourite kind of pairing. I still remember how I had insisted that I want bihun goreng and Coca-Cola for my Majlis Khatam Quran when I was a child. My mom was horrified when she said “Kak Ngah, majlis khatam Quran orang buat pulut kuning dgn air sirap. Mana ada orang buat bihun dengan Coca-Cola. Ish, mak hairan la dengan kak ngah ni.” Hahha. But I was so adamant about getting bihun goreng and Coca Cola because I felt like they should give me what I liked to eat as this was a celebration of my achievement. My dad finally said that I should get what I wanted and so my mom gave in eventually. And really, all the kids in my surau enjoyed the meal too. They said it was the best meal they had ever had for a Majlis Khatam Quran. So, when I chose to cook Bihun Goreng for my Pot Luck contribution, I was also reminiscing my glorious childhood days in which I could get away with doing something weird and against the norm but it turned out splendidly well, anyway. Seriously, who made it a rule that for khatam Quran, you MUST have pulut kuning? Where is it written anywhere that we cannot change our menu if we don’t like pulut kuning? Hahha. But really, looking back, I was blessed to have my parents who entertained my weird ways. Even though they were pretty strict parents, in some ways they were quite indulgent.)
I hosted my Pot Luck at my own house instead of at my parents’ house because I wanted to minimize the risk of unnecessary contact with strangers for my elderly parents and my nieces and nephews. Before this, all types of Raya gatherings were hosted at my parents’ house with very minimal effort on my part as everything was cooked and prepared by my mother and we only helped out here and there. This was the first time I entertained my own guests in my own house and prepared everything myself. It was pretty hard work, guys. After the Subuh prayer, I straightaway came down to the kitchen to prepare my Bihun and only THEN I really appreciated how effortful it is to organize a party. (I felt like such an adult hahah. And it took Covid-19 MCO for me to volunteer as a host. Without MCO, I would never have done it).
To tell you the truth, I am not the sort of person who entertain people in my own house. When I want to hang out with friends, I find ways that we can hang out and talk with very minimal effort on my part. Let’s just go out and eat and talk. Simple and less time-consuming and more efficient, right? Minimal input that yields the best output!
For me to invite you into the privacy of my own home, you must be pretty close to me. For me to be going through all these efforts, Isma and Dayah must be feeling pretty special (Hahahaa just kidding) I don’t do these sort of things for just anyone, you know. And it might not happen again in the future LOL. So I hope they really had a good time because I certainly did. God knows when I would be hosting again. Next time, I am more likely to just ask them to choose a restaurant instead.
Izati and Alida were like, “Since when are you so sweet to cook for your friends?”
See? Inilah hikmah Covid-19! It brings out the dormant sweet nature in me into the open. Haha.
Dayah and Isma brought so much more food and they were all yummy. There were lontong, kuah kacang, ketupat pulut, ketupat nasi, daging palembang (sedap gila this one!) and a lot of kuih raya too. Hafilah brought ice cubes because I forgot that I didn’t have them in my house (Alas, a great host, I am NOT).
Below are the pics of our Pot Luck party. In one of the pictures, you can see Hafilah and Dayah eating durian at the front door of my house. They insisted to buy Durian and eat them straightaway. I was like “Please eat your durian by the front door to minimize the smell of it in the air inside the house. After you eat, please throw everything in the bin outside the house.” Hahahaa. (I know I am a terrible host. But that is the beauty of an intimate gathering between ONLY close friends… straight talking is expected and encouraged. Me and Isma are not a fan of Durian. We could eat it occasionally, but we do not like it THAT much. The smell of Durian can be migraine-inducing for Isma. Adeh! But see how we can tolerate our friends’ habits when our friends are worth tolerating? I have my own bad habits that I am sure they have been tolerating pretty patiently all these while. They keep saying I am pretty rigid haha. Thank God for friends who are understanding and accepting of you but at the same time will improve your manners and call you out when you slack off. We all need that type of friends.)
A trip to Poh Kong And Habib Jewels
Ah… we lose to temptation, guys. We surrendered to the lure of the Raya sales.
Dayah is a fan of gold jewelries too. And I think Isma was heavily influenced (or peer-pressured? haha) by Dayah and me to take an interest in gold too. Whereas Hafilah is more into white-gold, platinum and diamond kind of jewelries. (Well, Hafilah exists at another level altogether with a lot more money to burn than the rest of us hahah.)
So when we found out that Habib Jewels got sales, we went to Aman Central to check it out. #TheTemptationIsTooGreat
Dayah and Isma bought something from Habib Jewels. And I bought something from Poh Kong. We think of it as #InvestmentDuringCov-Eid, in order to soothe the guilt and justify our spending.
Usually, I am not the type who goes to the mall on the day of Eid. But it so happened that because of Covid-19, there were no houses to visit and there really was not much to do at home. At the same time my birthday was just one day before Eid. So, my parents had given me some money as a birthday gift so that I could buy a nice handbag with it. However, since I knew that Habib Jewels got sales, I wasn’t too keen to spend money on handbags. Like I said, I am NOT a fashionista and I am NOT brand conscious. I am not going to spend so much money on branded handbags and I’d rather use the birthday money to buy gold jewelries. (There are only two things I really like as a gift: books and gold. A meal is lovely too. You know, I like practical stuff that I can use or consume Hahha).
Some people think that it is high-maintenance of us to spend money on gold jewelries. As though we are materialistic. That is so short-sighted! Gold is the only easily-liquidated asset that is worth buying. Gold could see you through bad times. When desperate, it can be pawned off immediately with minimal fuss or paperwork and it can sustain you for quite some time. No other investment is easily liquidated like that.
I will NOT spend money on brands…. I think people who are brand-conscious are the real high-maintenance people. Not us, gold lovers. I prefer to spend money on things that are INHERENTLY and INTRINSICALLY valuable; not because the society says it is valuable… but because it just REALLY is. When something is inherently valuable, its worth will be INDEPENDENT of other people’s opinions and thoughts and its value will stand the test of time. Can you say the same thing for fashion brands? No! Brands are dependent on society’s opinions and people’s tastes and the society’s constant fickle-mindedness. And they are NOT intrinsically and inherently valuable. (Therefore when I have to spend my money on other things – that are NOT gold and NOT knowledge/travel/experience and NOT food hahha – I am very stingy and I always stick to the principles of ‘sekadar cukup’)
So when I got home and showed my parents what I bought, my dad was like “Awat tak beli handbag?” Hahaha. Maybe he also despaired of my lack of style and wanted to induce me to buy something nice other than gold. But ah… old habit dies hard, guys. I would probably buy a handbag as my father had asked me to do if there was no Habib Jewel sales. But the timing was just too coincidental… it was Raya and it was my birthday and there were sales at jewelry shops. See? The stars were perfectly aligned to induce my manic buying. LOL. And look, it was peer pressure as well…Dayah and Isma bought gold too (even though I bought it first at Poh Kong hahah. So maybe it was I who pressure them?) So the element of peer pressure was very real this time when everyone in the group is into gold. (Well… when your action cannot be justified, you blame peer pressure. Classic, am I not? 😉 )
So…anyway, despite Covid, it was actually a pretty happy Eid, guys. Alhamdulillah for the happiness of having awesome family and friends that Allah surrounds me with. After the despair of possibly not being able to come home for Eid, this was a great blessing, indeed.
Book of The Month
Of course the book of the month I will be writing about is The Quran as we have just exited the month of Ramadhan and is currently in the early days of Syawal. I spent my whole Ramadhan only reading the Quran because I did not have much time to read anything else.
This review is a simple review for the non-Muslims who may not know that much about the Quran and would like to have a general idea of what the Quran is.
As a Muslim kid, it was my mother who first taught me how to read the Quran. I was 5 years old when she started teaching me how to spell in Arabic. Later, I was sent to the local surau to learn my Quranic recitation with an ustazah. I was pretty good at tajweed and I was among the fluent ones who were later asked by the ustazah to teach the younger kids. It was common practice back then for the fluent senior reciters to help teach the more junior reciters especially when the ustazah was busy.
But I didn’t understand what I was so fluently reading.
Because the Quran is in Arabic.
The peculiar thing about being a non-Arab Muslim is that it will be hard for us to understand what we are reciting of the Quran without reading the translation, unless we have learned the Arabic language. (And 80% of Muslims are NOT Arabs. Arabs are the minority among Muslims). We can read the Arabic text of the Quran and articulate the words the way they were supposed to be articulated, but not all of us understand the meanings of what we are reciting.
It is like knowing how to spell and read in Hindi and knowing how to make all the sounds that correspond to the combination of alphabets in the Hindi language but you do not understand a single thing of what you are saying. Well, imagine being able to read out the lyrics of a Hindi song that is written in the Hindi language but you could not understand what you are singing. (It is a bit like receptive aphasia. You read it and say it perfectly right because you had known how the combination of the alphabets SHOULD sound, but you cannot know what all the sounds mean without reading the translation).
This is due to the fact that non-Arab Muslims MUST learn Quranic recitation in its original Arabic language because our 5 daily worships and some of our special do’a are in arabic. Our worships are not valid in any other language. So the arabic language is the lingua franca in our prayers. Everyone recite the same surah Al-Fatihah for prayers and everything in the prayer is standardized by the usage of the Arabic language. So if I go to a mosque in Australia, or in the UK or Uganda, or Spain, or just anywhere on earth, I can just join the congregational prayer as usual because the prayer is the same anywhere on earth. All of us might come from various different nationalities, but we all pray using the same unified language of worship – the Arabic language. An Ugandan Imam can lead the prayer for other nationalities behind him and they all would know what to say and what to do while the prayer was being led by the Ugandan Imam because we ALL use the lingua franca of worship while performing our worship – i.e. the Quranic Arabic language.
That’s why my brother-in-law can be an Imam to lead our congregational prayer when we had to do our Eid prayer at home (even though he did appear and sound a bit awkward when he did it hahaha). Because all Muslims practice the same way in worshipping…. and therefore anyone can take over the job of leading a prayer if they are confident enough or when desperate times call for their lead. I can lead a prayer too when I am just praying among girls because the words in the prayer are standardized in Arabic. And anyone can do it. (In Australia, me and my housemates took turn leading the Terawih prayers during Ramadhan. Initially, we did laugh at each other’s awkwardness and choice of short surahs. But by the end of Ramadhan, we did actually improve our performance.)
At the end of our standard worship, we can later add on our own specific do’a and our own special prayer/requests to God in our own language – this is the non-obligatory part of the worship where we can have our own unique style of making the do’a and use our own words for it. This is the part where we naturally talk to God in our own way. (In the past, this is the part where I would pray hard that God let me pass all my exams. Haha)
I have explained before, that access to God is granted equally to all Muslims. There is no such a thing as an extra holy practice for the scholars compared to the non-scholar Muslims. So everyone can be an Imam when we have to… and Covid-19 Pandemic has highlighted that part beautifully. We just need to practice more to be less awkward in performing it.
The Quran still exists in its original Arabic language word-by-word without a single alteration…because we always use it in our daily lives when we are performing our 5 daily worships… and this has been going on for the past 1400 years. The continuity of the tradition is amazing. Arabic is an alive language and is still used very widely (unlike Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Aramaic… they are no longer that frequently used in conversation or in anything academic. Language that are no longer used will eventually become a dead language. Languages that have become a dead language will not be efficient in transmitting information. So, for any holy book that has its original form existing in a dead language, the knowledge transmission cannot be widely distributed to all practitioners and thus only very few real scholars can access the message of the book and the majority of non-scholars will be left in the dark. Furthermore, translations are full of limitations… and the accuracy of any translation cannot be guaranteed. Have you tried translating any text from one language to another before? I had to do a lot of article translation as a child because that was how my father taught me and my siblings our English and Malay… it can be frustrating when you cannot translate the text just right because of the limitation that is inherent in one language or the other.)
So, understanding the meaning of what we utter in Arabic would require some extra effort for non-Arabs. We must read the translation in order to know what we are saying. But at least we do know that the Arabic language is still a very alive language and therefore Quranic messages are still preserved in its pristine and unchanged form and the messages are accessible to all the Arabs and also to the non-Arabs who have studied the language.
So whenever I read the Quran during Ramadhan… I have to be really efficient with my time because I need to do double the work; I have to read the Arabic text first (to get the pahala of reciting the Quran in its original form) before going on to read the translation of the Quran (to understand the meaning and the message, which would also give you pahala). So I was pretty much in a rush to finish the Quran during Ramadhan, knowing that I have more work to do because I don’t know Arabic. (I become even more particular about not wanting people to waste my time when I am in the month of Ramadhan.)
When I was just a child, I only read the Arabic version without really feeling like I need to know the meaning of the Quran. I only memorized the translations of some of the frequently used surahs during prayer but I did not bother to know the meanings of the ENTIRE Quran. However while I was doing my IB study as an 18 year old teenager, I finally felt like it was time for me to know the message of the entire Quran. This sudden interest started after my ex-classmate passed away in a car accident. It made me think a bit deeper about life when she passed away. And since then, I always read the Quran in Arabic together with its translation. I started to read the Malay translation first and later on, I moved on to the English translation too (I must admit that I prefer the English one for accuracy)
It was then that I knew how ridiculous it was for any Muslim to NOT know the message of the entire Quran and only reciting them in Arabic. Sure, you will still get the pahala of reciting the Quran in its original language, but in terms of understanding the text and the context of the Quran, how is it different from me singing Hindi songs without knowing what I was singing?
Looking back, I felt like the ustazah in my surau should have insisted that all the kids use the Quran with translations included. It would have been nice to have learned the meanings of the Quran while simultaneously learning my Quranic recitation in Arabic as a child. Children can absorb language pretty fast and I wonder if I could have obtained a more intuitive understanding of the Arabic language if I was exposed to the meaning of the Quran much sooner.
When you read the Quran, you will find that it is not the same as reading a story book. The structure of the Quran is entirely unique and it doesn’t follow the chronological order of the usual book. There were no words like “Once upon a time… in the beginning…”
Nope! Instead, when you read the Quran you really DO feel like it is God who is directly talking to you. Because the Quran is the instruction of God to our prophet. God was instructing, advising, directing, calming and soothing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in many different contexts and situations. God directly told our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on what to tell the masses whenever a specific question was asked. So our Prophet only repeated what God had said to him.
So when you read the Quran, you will find words that are instructive and conversational in nature. God himself taught Prophet Muhammad how to answer it when people asked him about the nature of God by revealing these four sentences from Surah Al-Ikhlas.
1)Say (O Muhammad) “He is Allah, the One and Only (Unique)”
2)Allah, the Eternal Refuge
3)He begets not, nor was he begotten
4) And none is comparable to him
So in the above sentences we knew that it was God’s own words telling our Prophet (PBUH) how to answer his audience about the nature of God. We really do feel like we are reading the words of God. So we don’t get passive storybook sentences like “One day, God told Muhammad regarding how he should describe the nature of God to those who had asked. Muhammad was informed by God to say that the nature of God is that God is uniquely One, and does not beget a son nor is He begotten. Muhammad was also asked to emphasize to the masses that none can be compared to Him….”
Do you see the difference? Storybook sentences are a retelling by someone else who is NOT God. You feel like you are reading the words of a NARRATOR instead of God, Himself. And this is NOT how Quran’s language style is. Quran’s language style is God’s own words. And we repeat them in our daily prayers 5 times a day. Amazing, isn’t it?!
So if you read the Quran expecting to read it like you are reading a story book, you probably wouldn’t get it. You would be confused at first. Take it from me… I was confused too when I first tried to read the translations of the Quran. Because my mind was so used to the usual storybook style and structure that I was quite disoriented at first. But as I continued to read it, I was blown away. I was REALLY reading God’s words… not the words of a narrator retelling a story. I was reading from the direct source; from God himself.
Now that I have passed all my exams, I am quite free with my time. I am thinking that maybe I should start learning Arabic so that my recitation will be more efficient. If I am good in Arabic, I don’t have to do double the work anymore or read everything twice in order to understand the meanings. If any of you have any recommendation of a good Arabic class nearby in Alor Setar, do let me know. Otherwise, I might need to do it online.
The contents of the Quran consisted of 114 chapters and each chapter (except one: Chapter At-Taubah) begins with the words Bismillahhirahmanirrahim which is translated to “In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”.
In general, the Quran contained topics such as:
- The Nature of the Spiritual World
- The Law and Commandments
- Historical Accounts
- The Wisdom
- The Prophecies
When you read the original Arabic version, you will get a sense as though you are reading an epic poem because the sentences rhymed beautifully in the end. When translated into other languages, the rhyme and rhythm are lost to give way for accuracy of meaning in another language. That is the limitation of understanding the Quran from translations. And that is why we need to learn Arabic if we have the means and the time to do it.
Wish me luck, won’t you?
I hope you guys have a sense of what Quran is all about by reading the review above. Do check it out as it is very easily accessible. Even Popular Bookstore sells the Quran.
Until next time, my dear readers.
Eid Mubarak. Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum. Much love and may Allah bless all of us.