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August 31, 2011

Raya The End of Ramadan

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – We begin with anticipation. Raya does not officially start until the new moon of the Islamic month of Syawal and has been sighted by the Islamic Rulers.


The men are in the mosque waiting for the word. At the time, a victory chant begins celebrating those who were successful during their fast. The Imam of the mosque chants Allah Akbar, God is Great! They celebrate until they are satisfied. The fasting of Ramadan is over with. Believe me, it’s hard. I did it.


My major problem was the mental confusion. I couldn’t write. Teaching was a struggle trying to keep the students. I sometimes would lose my place in the middle of lesson forgetting what I had covered and where I was supposed to go. Most understood and were very supportive of my brain lapses.


With the announcement, the women go into the kitchen and continue cooking for the feast the next day. During the past couple of days everybody has been to the stores to purchase new clothes. They will wear them during Raya. It reminds me, as a child about four decades ago, of getting dressed up for Easter Sunday. Do people still do that? I especially remember the hats. Some rivaled British royal weddings.


The morning after the announcement, we will go to Suriani’s (my wife) parent’s house to celebrate. Dzul and I will dress in baju Malayu, the traditional Malay attire. All nine of her brothers and sisters with their families will arrive throughout the day. By tradition each family will usually have five children, one for each call to prayer from the mosque.


When we enter the parents will perform the Bersalam ceremony. We will go up to each parent and we will seek forgiveness for whatever wrong we did to them in the past. It could have been yesterday or 10 years ago. They will accept our yearly apology and we will go on with the celebration.


The parents are also given money. Usually in passing in a quiet manner, an envelope is slipped to them and accepted quickly, deposited into a pocket. Performed to cause the least embarrassment to others who may not have the extra funds, the money is usually put toward the trip to Mecca for the Hajj, made only once in a lifetime.


Then the feasting, mainly local traditional dishes, especially curry, begins. My favorite is rendang, a concoction of beef or chicken mixed with curry, fresh spices, coconut milk (not the water) all mixed together. Fresh spices taste so much different than the McCormick’s in the states.


Eating will continue on and off during the day. The men will discuss politics, football (soccer, for the Americans), families, jobs and other topics. Women gather in the kitchen for food preparation and the exchange of family matters and children. Children will play with their cousins.


The first day is reserved for family while the other six (in Sarawak) are open to anyone and everyone. The neighbors come calling. They usually bring a sample of their home cooking in exchange for the cooking at the house being visited. Great quantities of food move back and forth in the “you try mine, I’ll try yours” tradition. We will also visit other houses to be served the finest in kampung cooking but with a different flair as only home chefs can prepare. Like everywhere in the world, there is nothing better than mom’s home cooked meals.


The customs vary throughout Malaysia and, indeed throughout the world. The main theme is family, friends, food and comradery. The people of the Moslem faith share the same values and traditions as humanity does everywhere. They should not be judged because of crazies who use the religion to further political endeavors.


For other article on Borneo, see Tom’s blog at


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