Friday, August 31, 2012

Brief Reflections On Independence Day, Open House and a Six-Day Fasting

Today, Malaysians celebrate Malaysia’s 55 years of Independence.

Actually, the above is not quite accurate. 

Malaysia was not formed until 1963.  In 1957, the country that gained independence from British was not Malaysia, but Malaya.

Malaysia was a federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak.  Singapore seceded from the Federation two years later, in 1965. 

The original idea is that Malaysia was to be officially formed by 31st August 1963, with Brunei included.  Brunei decided to remain under the British Colonial in the last minute, and hence the formation of Malaysia had to be postponed.  It was only sixteen days later, on 16th September 1963, that Malaysia was born.

The last minute changes, no doubt, gave some dilemma to the then Government of Malaysia, whether to celebrate the Independence on the 31st August, or on 16th September.  The former date was decided, and Malaysia celebrates her independence on that day ever since.  The 31st August was then called the Independence Day of Malaysia. 

Another dilemma surfaced.  Should it be counted from 1957, or 1963?  Conveniently, 1957 was chosen.  This year, therefore, is the 55th year of Malaysia’s Independence, although Malaysia is only 49 years old.  It is Malaya, now known as West Malaysia, which is 55 years old.

As long as I can recall, the Independence Day of Malaysia was always celebrated on 31st August, and it was only a one day celebration.  Since the last few years, however, the date of 16th September has been given its due importance.  The celebration is henceforth extended until that day. This suggests that the importance of Sabah and Sarawak (known as East Malaysia) started to be given their due consideration. Thus, instead of having only a one day celebration, Malaysia is nowadays celebrating her independence for 17 days. 

As is the habit of Malaysians, they like to engage in polemics, including the Independence Day.  Some say we are not really independent.  We merely change our masters, from the British to the Malay ruling party, which happens to be the same party since 1957.  This argument is quite odd, considering that any country, whether independent or colonized, must somehow be ruled by somebody.  Would Malaysia be independent in the truest sense of the word if their party rules it, instead of the current ruling party?  In short, we can dismiss it as a mere political talk.

Others argue it along the religious line.  Malaysia is not truly independent because we are still using the system devised and institutionalized by the Colonial Government.  What they mean is that since the majority of Malaysians are Muslims, Malaysia therefore would be truly independent if it is an Islamic State, instead of remaining a secular state with Islam as official religion.  This argument, however, is not about independence, but about aspiration.

Yet, some others argue that Malaysia is not truly independent because Malaysian minds are still influenced by the West.  We still look up to the West instead of ourselves.  But just what exactly is “The Malaysian Mind” would be anyone’s guess.

Luckily, Malaysians are sensible enough not to carry the matter too far.  I haven’t heard anyone suggests that we should not celebrate the Independence Day at all, on the ground that, being a sovereign nation, and already freed from the crutch of foreign powers for 55 years already, we should not celebrate the occasion that would remind us of being colonized at one time, and for many hundred years to boot.

Or to the idea that Malaysia was never colonized in the first place, being in existence only in 1963.  It was Malacca who fell to the Portuguese in 1511.  And that it was only a Malacca’s port, since most of Malacca Empire was still under the rule of their kings for many hundreds years thereafter.  Or that some sovereign states in Malaya fell to British only in the early 20th Century.

Or to the idea that there is no such thing as being independent, for one way of another, we are dependent upon something.  It is when are dependent only upon Allah can we be called truly independent.

Yes, we can count our blessings for not being too philosophical about everything, although in many ways, the polemics on our Independence is often senseless nevertheless.

Relatedly, it so happens that this year, the Independence Day celebration falls during the month of Eid al Fitri.

Month of Eid al Fitri?  But Eid al Fitri is only one day, you may argue. 

Well, in Malaysia, Eid al Fitri is celebrated one whole month.   Towards the end of Ramadan, people start to go back to their hometown to celebrate the Eid with their parents and loved ones.  Their houses are, therefore, left empty and hence closed.  When they come back from their hometown, they start to open their houses for others, such as friends, relatives and neighbors.  Many allocate one special day and have what they call Open House, where food and drinks will be served in abundant.

Companies and Government agencies also allocate a special day for this feasting purpose.  Since companies are not houses, they call it Open Day instead of Open House.  Since many houses and companies do that, everyday in Shawal is a feasting day.  After all, after having a fasting month, it is only appropriate that we have feasting month as well.

But this culture has made it difficult for some to have the benefit of fasting the whole year.  As we know, after a month of fasting in Ramadan, we will get the reward of fasting one whole year if we are to fast six days in Shawal, the following month of Ramadan.  This Open House or Open Day culture, good as it is, has made it difficult for those with less will power to get the benefit of fasting a mere 35 or 36 days, depending on whether Ramadan happens to be 29 or 30 days, to get the multiplied benefit of ten times.  

Of course there is no Divine proof for the above "arithmetic," other than the fact that the Prophet used to say, that those who fast the whole month of Ramadan, followed by six days of fasting in Shawal, would be like those who fast for the whole year.  In Islam, one year is 354 days.  Thus, if we fast for 35 or 36 days, but get the reward of 354 days, then the reward appears to be ten times over. 

If there is a will, however, there will always be a way.  Feasting is good, especially on other’s expenses, but completing the six days fasting is better, if we are to get the real reward from the Real Rewarder.

Let’s get the best of both worlds, as we always recite in our dua (supplication).