In Malaysia, Muslims celebrate Hari Raya for 30 days. Here are some of the conversations I had that took place at open houses over the last three weekends.
They centred around the appointment of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief and questions over its validity. Everyone agreed it was a good appointment but that we should not let the prime minister off on the role of the select committee.
There was also a discussion about the deaths of the Orang Asli, their malnutrition and the pollution in their waters.
We also had an interesting chat with some of our Chinese guests.
They spoke about how under Pakatan Harapan (PH), the tax system is still difficult to understand. They also mentioned the rise of religious extremism among some Malays, and how they are worried about it.
Another favourite topic was Muslims who make frequent trips to Mecca.
A friend said he had to fork out RM60,000 for a trip, while another explained the different price packages for two separate trips. The lowest package costs RM12,000 but one would have to wait sometimes 15 years for a turn.
Muslims are taught to fulfil ritual obligations. But we rarely ask the simple question of which is more important: spending money to help others, or going for a personal pilgrimage twice or thrice.
What if Muslims had a different perspective of financial management when it comes to spirituality, which could solve much of the poverty in the Muslim world?
Another hot topic during these Raya visits was the rising “liberalism” of the PH government, a concern among senior civil servants, many of whom still support Umno.
When I asked them what they understood by liberalism, they gave several interesting observations.
For example, they said the buka puasa event at a Gurdwara was wrong because the place is “unclean and so was the food preparation”.
To these people, non-Muslims are unclean and so are their places of worship. When I said that it is important for Muslims to mix with others, and reminded them of how Islam permits interfaith marriage, they said it would cause issues over the upbringing of children whom they said could end up in hell!
They also said that too much “liberalism” would make Muslims deviant, and mentioned groups like the Ayah Pin cult or the Shia Muslim community.
There was no way of convincing this group of civil servants otherwise. They are hardworking Malays and many have won excellence awards in their duties. They are also very active in helping the Malays in their circles.
But they, the cream of the crop in Malay society, seem to be bigots and extremists when it comes to Islam and non-Muslims.
My Hari Raya conversations showed that non-Malays are unhappy with the rising conservatism among Muslims. They work hard to ensure a future for their children, but feel that the country is no longer safe for them.
On the other hand, there is the rising conservatism among Malay Muslims. They are of two categories. One consists of those who understand Islam as a ritual and spend a lot of money on performing rituals. They probably do not care about underprivileged Malays because to them, the road to heaven is through rituals like the haj.
The other group comprises those in the way of efforts to counter religious and racist views. These are the people who crowd the ceramah circles of Malay clerics, leaders and politicians who provide their “Islam under siege” narrative.
What are we to do?
Some Malays seem fine with spending tonnes of money on pilgrimage and rituals, while the Orang Asli struggle with malnutrition and a lack of education.
Hari Raya is supposed to mark one’s success in avoiding material things. But I do not think the message of the Prophet about what really matters in spirituality got through to us.
We are in an exclusive Muslim-only club, where outsiders are treated as hostile. This seems to be the accepted narrative. No cleric or Islamic organisation of repute is trying to counter this.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.