Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ramadan and Eid Malaysian Style, Part 2

As Eid neared, I wondered what to expect of our first in Kuala Lumpur. Lonely, I imagined. But deep down inside, I dreamed that our friends Erwan and Feezah would rescue us.

The locals expected Eid, or Hari Raya, to be an occasion marked by family and good food, as are our big holidays in the U.S.  

Most would be leaving KL to visit family in their hometowns. But before leaving for these more remote and traditional areas, they would take advantage of life in the big city for any last minute preparations and purchases. 

Impressed by the crowds, my husband snapped the photo above in a department store two days before Hari Raya.

My family and I got lucky (blessed) again when friends let us use their car for the last few days of Ramadan. My husband convinced me that this was my opportunity to experience Ramadan in a KL mosque, I better take it.

Generally, I tend to think more about race than gender dynamics, except when I step into a mosque. Arriving at the courtyard of Masjid Wilayah, my Islamic feminist side was quite pleased. Families sat together to break their fast, in contrast to my experience in some U.S. mosques where gender segregation trumps family cohesion, (logistics and attitudes playing a part).  

At the mosque, we prayed before having our main meal (for the relevance of this, see Part 1 of this post).  A woman and her daughter befriended me as we left the prayer ranks, escorting me back to the courtyard for our meal. 

They confirmed the good stereotype that Malaysians are the nicest Muslims in the ummah. In the self-serve food line, the daughter grabbed my plate and filled it with rice from oversize pots. 

As for the night prayers, it was impossible for both my husband and I to perform them with the two boys. My husband suggested that we take turns. He prayed the last portion of the prayers while I watched the boys in the courtyard.

Ready to go home at this point, I watched Indonesian women workers bring out trays of food. I noticed one woman leaving her circle of family on a courtyard mat to help herself to the late night treats, beating the crowd of worshippers who would later line up for snacks after the prayer.

I eyed the green dessert she piled on her plate, but dismissed it. Up to that point I wasn't too excited about Malaysian desserts, many of which have the consistency of jello which I've never liked.

But gratefully my husband joined the food line and brought a plate of the green dessert, also known as seri muka, to me and Yahya, and I couldn't help but try. I was delighted to find a gluten-free dessert that I really liked. I ate at least three pieces.

I've since found a place to buy seri muka, which explains this photo of the dessert on my table. However, I'm still looking for a place to buy it in Mont Kiara.  Anyone out there who knows a place, let me know.

The sweetness of this sacred time and space didn't stop that night at Masjid Wilayah. We made plans to spend Eid with other expat Muslims at a brunch in a nice KL hotel.

We looked forward to our time with the other expats. We did not expect it to feel like Eid at home given that we are new to this community, but this would be the local ummah with which we would most connect and depend upon during our time here.

At the same time, we were granted the wish of an inside view into a Malaysian Eid when Erwan and Feezah came to the rescue as I secretly hoped. They invited us to Feezah's aunt's home the eve of Hari Raya. On Eid day, we spent the night at Erwan's parents.

As you can see, Feezah's aunt insisted that we feel at home. Lut and Yahya received Hari Raya envelopes with money as though they were children in the family. When I asked more about this tradition, I discovered that Malays generally don't buy Eid gifts for spouses and parents but focus on giving these money-filled envelopes to children.

This made me wonder about the extent to which Eid gift-giving patterns among American Muslims are influenced by our larger culture. With the Christmas shopping frenzy in mind, I asked, "If gift giving isn't the focus, then what about all the Hari Raya shopping and sales?" Feezah explained that this was a time for wearing new clothes to the endless Eid parties, called Open Houses, that go on for weeks.

After iftar, the family chanted the Eid takbir. It was during the dhikr that I felt most vividly how Eid traditions in Malaysia are linked more to family than community as I am accustomed. As the daughter of converts, the community was my Muslim family. My strongest Eid memories as a child are ones in the midst of community members, not in another family member's home. This is changing, I explained to Feezah and her mother, as my extended family members are increasingly Muslim. Yahya and Lut have Muslim grandparents and cousins on both sides of the family while I have none.

The next morning, we spent Eid prayer at Masjid Wilayah. Here a woman kindly takes a photo with me. Feezah let me borrow the scarf which is the latest hijab style here. Influenced by Indonesian hijabs (though some disagree about origins), it is commonly called the express hijab because there is no tying or tucking.

Lut sits in the arms of an expat Muslim from South Africa. Most of the expat Muslims here are from the UK, and most are of South Asian descent. As I find myself on the other side of the world among women with Indian features conversing in British accents, I think about the myth that Arabs dominate the global ummah. No, desis do.

Here we are at brunch at Erwan's parents' on the second day of Eid after spending the night there. Erwan's mother and her helpers were constantly preparing fresh dishes. With several hands to help with and engage Yahya, I rested in the guest room whenever I pleased, and woke up to delicious food. This I would miss.

The following weekend we attended an open house at an Indian Malaysian's home. The majority of Indian Malaysians are non-Muslim, but there are some who are Muslim. I'm curious to discover how their culture and outlook compare to others in the Indian Muslim diaspora.

"Have all the seri muka you like," the hostess of the party warmly told me.


  1. As-salaamu-alaikum,
    Beautiful entry! I felt like i was there with you. I had the pleasure of meeting you and your sister in 1998 at the young adult convention in Atlanta. Thank you for shedding light on the Malaysian Eid experience. It's on my bucket list now. I look forward to following your blog from now on. Much success and love to your family. Good work Dr.
    - Haqqa

  2. Love the desis are the dominate Muslim community comment!

  3. Asalaamu Alaykum. Great entry. Malaysians now how to celebrate EID. I heard the Malaysian weddings are 7-10 days long is this true?


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