Let’s go all Indian this Raya


In less than 24 hours, 1.6 billion Muslims from all around the world will be celebrating one of the most important days in the Muslim calendar – Eid al-Fitri. Better known as Hari Raya in our country, this day marks the important occasion when a Muslim’s month-long period of deep self-purification comes to an end.

The significance of the celebration is purely spiritual for many Muslims, who offer thanks to Allah for granting them strength, blessings and the will to endure the holy month of Ramadan. However, like many other festivities, the first of Syawal also involves observing a range of traditions, some of which includes donning our finest clothes, preparing traditional Raya treats, hosting family and friends at big gatherings, as well as eating and praying together.

However, over the years, the way in which Muslims in Malaysia celebrate this day has come under intense scrutiny. Of late, it’s been considered fashionable for Malaysian Muslims to wear Arabic attire during the eid celebration – thanks to the many boutiques mushrooming around the country offering jubah and headgear styles derived from that part of the world. Clothes aside, it has also become fashionable to greet each other the Arabic way – by hugging and kissing each other’s cheeks. Let’s not even talk about Nasi Arab and Biskut Arab!

This year, I was greatly pleased to read about local artiste and chef extraordinaire, Jaafar Onn, calling on his Malay-Muslim brothers and sisters, pakciks and makciks, to return to their true Malay roots by abandoning any tradition that did not showcase their authentic Malay identity.

Thanks to Jaafar Onn, I am inspired to do the same. While the good ol’ celebrity requests that Malays return to wearing the baju Melayu, sampin and songkok, I plead with my fellow Mamaks to return to wearing the kurta, dhoti, vesti, Punjabi dress, pavadai and saree. And while we are at it, let us also replace our usual songkok with our very own traditional white Indian cap (also known as Gandhi cap or Nehru cap).

For years the Malaysian Mamak community has been proudly wearing the traditional attire of the Malays, pretending to be a part of the Malay community (which we are clearly not). And while the Malays began drowning in Arabisation, we Mamaks have been drowning in what I like to call ‘Malaynisation.’

Since race plays an important role in the life of a typical Malaysian, and seems to define who we are in this multi-racial society of ours, I believe the time has come for us to stop upholding the Malay tradition and return to our origins.

Mamaks are not Malays. We are Indians with a history that goes back thousands of years and a pre-history that goes back hundreds of thousands of years. Hence why adopt the Malay tradition when we should be proud of our own Indian one?

So come on, my fellow Mamak comrades. Come this first of Syawal, let us sweep aside our baju melayu, baju kurung and songkok, and proudly visit the mosque and homes of family and friends in our Indian attire. And while at it, let us also begin greeting each other with “Khuda Hafiz” (instead of Assalamualaikum) and replace our usual nasi minyak and nasi tomato feast on Hari Raya with capati, naan and tosai.

Seriously, if every Malaysian with even a tinge of Indian blood starts honouring who they truly are, I bet easily 80% (or more) of Malaysian Muslim men visiting the mosques in the morning of Hari Raya would end up in kurtas. After all, even the word “Melayu” originated from the Tamil word “Malaya” or “Malaiur” (look it up!). And who knows, perhaps Jaafar Onn himself will be wearing a kurta too!

Have a wonderful Hari Raya everyone!