"And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter's clay of black mud altered." (the Qur'an)
Monday, September 08, 2008
Ramadan has held different significance to me over the years, reflecting my growth as a person, and my journey through life.
Recalling the Ramadans I have toiled through so far, I realise how they paint a series of milestones in the timeline of my life's journey thus far.
One of the more memorable ones would include the Ramadan I spent in the Army, desolate and soaking wet from the all-day monsoon rain of the rainforest in Brunei's Temburong Jungle.
It was the first time I was fasting and "celebrating" Hari Raya away from my family.
After several weeks in the jungle, I was covered in blisters, cuts and bruises and a terrible skin infection as a result from the continuous wearing of damp camouflage uniform.
On the morning of Hari Raya (Eid), one of the soldiers did a spontaneous takbir, and I swear I cried, as did most of the other Muslim troops in my company.
It was surreal to see 20-year old infantry soldiers at the peak of physical fitness decked out with our weaponry and ammo, weep llike children.
Our first Hari Raya away from home, and instead of the being home and eating cookies, we were in the wretched forest eating canned sardines and dog biscuits.
The only feasting was being done by the maddening swarms of mosquitoes and leeches.
From then on, I knew the meaning of being with family on Hari Raya.
I had an elder sister who was a flight stewardess.
She was often not at home, flying off on her international routes for weeks on end.
We were used to her not being around, and suddenly being around, and then being gone again.
One Hari Raya, whilst I was in university, my sister was away, I think in Europe.
Those were the days before we could call someone on the other side of the world via a mobile phone, so there was no choice but just to wait for my sister to come home on schedule later.
Most of us did not notice her absence, until after we returned from the mosque, and did the traditional kneeling before the parents to ask for forgiveness for our sins of the year.
When we had all finished (and were about to hit the food) my mother suddenly, and to the shock of everybody, broke down and cried.
She cried because my sister was not with us that year for Hari Raya.
It took all our powers of persuasion and coaxing to calm her down.
The memory of my mother crying will never leave me to the end of my life, and I am sure of the remaining siblings who saw it too.
Since then, none of us ever missed being home on Hari Raya again, no matter where we were in the world.
Nothing is worth your mother's tears.
A year or so later, on the morning of Hari Raya, we got a telephone call from my aunt that my grandmother had died early that morning.
We dropped everything and went over to my grandmother's house for the funerary arrangements.
It was the first time I had been old enough to see a person being buried.
We were there for 3 days, until her burial had been completed.
I remember being so exhausted going home, only to go into our flat and walking into a thick dank smell of stale lontong and rendang which my mother and sisters had worked so hard to cook on Hari Raya Eve and had not been served at all.
How unimportant all the celebratory preparations had been, when intruded into by the rude face of death.
On that Hari Raya, I met all my relatives without having to visit them; for they were all at the funeral.
A few years later I got to know that a friend of mine who had converted to Islam a few years earlier, had decided to renounce it.
It was a point of extreme disappointment to me, as I had known her when she stepped into Darul Arqam for classes on Islam, put on hijab even before she converted, and later met a Muslim boy and asked me to be her representative at her engagement.
So when news came to me that she had gone to MUIS to register her de-conversion and refused to discuss it with anyone, all I felt was disappointment - with myself.
I blamed myself for assuming that she was fine after her engagement to the Muslim boy, and that she would live happily ever after, and forgetting to keep in touch with her thereafter.
I did not realise that she went through a broken engagement, and lost her faith in the process.
By the time I found out, I had lost so much contact with her and there was no way I could reach her, and she became an item of my past that I wished to forget, but could not. It led to a disillusionment in me and myself, and in some way it contributed to my decision to leave Darul Arqam.
It had been my practice to keep the last 10 nights of Ramadan in vigil at Baalwie mosque.
I distinctly remember how I begged Allah for forgiveness for my neglect of her.
Then a few Ramadans later I received information that she had come back to Islam - I got the news just a few days before Hari Raya.
I remember how I could not ever feel more thankful to Allah than I did on that day.
There was a man who had converted into Islam and married the woman of his dreams, who was my friend.
They were the most beautiful couple I had known. They helped me out in my Darul Arqam classes, and volunteered to help new Muslims understand the religion and settle in.
A few years ago, they got divorced.
During the divorce, his bitterness ran so deep that he reviled everything that had anything to do with her, including his faith.
He renounced Islam, and left everything angrily and bitterly.
That was about 4 years ago.
His wife remarried and is happy.
He didn't and is not.
I saw him on the train on the way home from work last year, and he avoided me.