Time for forgiveness, reconciliation and celebration

Aqilah Rahman

Hari Raya Aidilfitri is one of the biggest celebrations in Brunei Darussalam. Celebrated throughout the whole month of Syawal after Ramadhan ends, Hari Raya is the time when families and friends reconcile and forgive each other’s past mistakes, among many others.

Much like how the first day of Ramadhan is determined by the new moon sighting, the first day of Hari Raya is also determined in the same way.

After a month of fasting, if the new moon is sighted that night marks the end of Ramadhan and Hari Raya is held the next day. If the new moon is not seen, then Ramadhan will be extended by another day.

On the eve of Hari Raya, it is common to see a number of houses lit up even into the late hours while people decorate their homes and prepare food for the next day.

HOW RAYA IS USUALLY CELEBRATED

While Hari Raya is celebrated throughout the whole month of Syawal, the excitement is most palpable on the first day.

On the first day of Hari Raya, Muslims go to the mosque and pray together to commemorate the occasion. After the prayers, some families visit the cemetery to pray for the departed and clean the cemetery together.

At home, family members traditionally engage in a salam or a handshake in accordance to the Malay culture, and ask for forgiveness.

The salam is usually initiated by the younger of the two who may bend down until their forehead comes in contact with the other person’s hand as a sign of respect. Alternatively, the younger may bend down and kiss the elderly’s hand.

It is common for the person who asks for forgiveness to say “Maaf zahir dan batin“, which roughly translates to “I seek forgiveness from you in body and spirit”.

For the rest of the day, Muslims visit their relatives and friends, dressed in vibrant traditional clothes. Men wear loose shirts and trousers called baju melayu, coupled with a sinjang and a songkok, whereas women wear baju kurung, a loose-fitting full-length blouse and skirt combination, or a more modern baju kebaya.

Food is arguably one of the highlights of Hari Raya, especially after a month of fasting. Each house has a wide selection of treats and local delicacies for visitors, neatly laid out on the table.

Some families hold an open house, welcoming all of their relatives, friends and colleagues to come over and enjoy a mouthwatering feast.

During the Hari Raya celebration, children and teenagers are typically given an envelope filled with money, also known as ang pao after asking for forgiveness from the elderly.

There isn’t a definitive age when a person stops receiving duit Raya. However, the general consensus is that once a young adult enters the workforce, they will no longer be given duit Raya. Instead, they may give duit Raya to their parents, younger siblings, nephews or nieces.

Similarly, there isn’t a rule on how much money should be in the envelope – what matters the most is the giver’s sincerity.

At night, houses are donned with colourful lights called cucul, complementing the festive spirits. These are used to indicate whether the house owner is present or accepting visitors. Typically, if the cucul are on, that means visitors are welcome to pop in.

Some of the more traditional houses have pelita (candles) lined up along their pavement, giving off an ambient atmosphere.

During Raya, it is a tradition for Bruneians to visit their relatives and friends in the country and the neighbouring region.

The first day of Raya is usually focussed on visiting and spending time with immediate families, while the following weeks are centred on visiting distant relatives and friends.

The first few days of Raya are celebrated as national holiday, and although the working life resumes normally after that, people still celebrate Raya during weekends or weekday evenings.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF RAYA

It would be an understatement to say that Brunei will be celebrating Hari Raya differently this year.

Some of the Raya activities mentioned above will have to be omitted or practised moderately to maintain social distancing and keep everyone safe during this pandemic.

Regardless, we should still welcome the month of Syawal with open arms and remember that the true meaning of Hari Raya is to reconcile and forgive each other.

As an alternative to visiting our distant relatives and friends, we can reach out to them via a video call for a virtual Raya visit to uphold our traditions and strengthen our bonds.

The public is reminded to follow the Ministry of Health (MoH)’s COVID-19 guidelines responsibly while celebrating Hari Raya and spending time with their loved ones.

The guidelines were announced by Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafarduring the daily press conference held at the MoH on May 21.

The minister said, “The celebration is only to be held with immediate family members. Large families must comply with mass gathering guidelines. Only 20-30 people at any one time are allowed according to the size of the home.

“Social visits to parents’ or siblings’ homes must be scheduled and taking turns when visiting. Members of the public are not allowed to hold ‘open houses’ or similar events. This includes hosting an open office at the workplace.”

He added, “Anyone with signs of infection or feeling unwell are not allowed to visit or be visited. The practice of shaking hands and hugs during Hari Raya must be avoided. It is sufficient to give a gesture of greeting by placing the hand over the chest, smiling, or nodding. Avoid any physical contacts as much as possible.

“Members of the public must maintain personal and environmental hygiene especially the cleanliness of hands. Avoid sharing food and drink utensils.”