HOW was your Hari Raya? I hope everyone had a good break and enjoyed the holidays, regardless of whether you celebrate Hari Raya or not.
The joy of Hari Raya can be summarised into what I call the 4 Fs - family, friends, food and festivity.
There’s one more F that is calling out to be included, as more and more of us engage in it during the Hari Raya holidays, and that is being Fast asleep.
I mean, after all that food and ferrying the family around on visits to the homes of family and friends, you cannot help but feel dead tired, and the best cure for that is, of course, sleep.
For some people, doing “justice” to the Hari Raya feast alone - ketupat, nasi himpit, lemang, rendang ... you know, the usual suspects - is enough to induce a state of drowsiness.
Yes, I slept more than I usually do, in case you’re wondering. The naps helped a lot, especially the one I had before embarking on the journey back to Kuala Lumpur from Alor Star after Hari Raya.
As those who have made such balik kampung return trips before are fully aware, the drive back can be quite awe-inspiring.
For me, the highlight of this year’s trip on the highway was the two-hour plus crawl over the 50km or so between the Taiping exit and the Sungai Perak rest area.
The cause of it all? Not any accident or mishap on the road but the sheer volume of cars trying to pull up at the Sungai Perak rest area for some petrol. It got so bad that they had to close off the slip road, but that didn’t help much.
Fortunately, my children were asleep as, otherwise, they would have been exposed to the regular outburts of colourful language I let loose during the two-hour crawl, more so after I found out the reason for the jam.
But on the bright side, I arrived home safely and I am thankful for that, but ending your Hari Raya holidays in a sour mood can hardly be recommended.
It is ironic that a joyous occasion such as the Hari Raya holidays should be tainted by negativity. But that’s a small, personal matter on my part.
Hari Raya, or more accurately Hari Raya celebrations, have proved contentious on a much larger scale on one or two occasions in the past.
The first opinion piece I wrote for The Star several years ago was on so-called Kongsiraya open houses. Some people were of the opinion that such official, national-level “joint” celebrations are not in keeping with Islamic tenets and should not be held, even if the larger objective was to encourage the spirit of muhibbah among Malaysians.
The positive impact of such organised events was readily acknowledged, but it was argued that non-Islamic elements should not be integrated with celebrations having to do with Islam.
My take was that a Hari Raya open house is held in conjunction with Hari Raya; it is not held because it is required of Muslims by the religion.
It is certainly a commendable thing to do, and no one would be hard-pressed to find justification in Islam to say that it is so.
Having good relations with your neighbours is also a good thing. In fact, Islam requires it of its believers, unlike the open house, which is not compulsory.
So I came to the conclusion that all the fuss over Kongsiraya open houses was much ado over very little. Suffice to say I received some pretty interesting feedback on it.
Also interesting was the recent Hari Raya open house hosted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Muslim Cabinet ministers.
There was a huge crowd, with official estimates putting it at nearly 200,000 people.
I hope Pak Lah didn’t have to shake the hand of each and every one of the visitors, because even if it takes just a second to shake the hand of one person, he would have been at it for at least two days.
Most of the visitors probably just went straight for the food.
Some didn’t eat, like the Hindraf supporters who turned up and created quite a stir.
Now, I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure what happened. But Pak Lah was and this is his take on the incident.
Relating the incident to reporters, he said the police and security personnel, who initially denied the Hindraf group access, sought clearance from him.
“I discussed it with (Deputy Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the other mi- nisters,” said Abdullah, who was at the time welcoming visitors to the open house with his wife Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, and Najib and wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
“In that spirit, I told the security team to allow them in. They came in and there was a lot of noise, I don’t know why.
“I heard very clearly ‘Hapuskan ISA, Lepas- kan Hindraf’ (Repeal the ISA, Release the Hindraf detainees).”
He added that he did not know if another group of 70 people who arrived later had wished anyone, as he had left for prayers by then.
It seems that some of them met with the Prime Minister, including the six-year-old daughter of P. Waythamoorthy, who presented Pak Lah with a teddy bear and a Hari Raya card containing a message for the release of Hindraf leaders detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
No on can accuse the Hindraf supporters of gatecrashing the event, as this was an open house after all, and everyone was invited.
No one can say that they do not have a legitimate demand in seeking the release of the detainees, as apart from terrorists, there is no reasonable justification why anyone else should be held under the ISA.
But, my, what a way to treat the hosts of an event held in the spirit of goodwill, neighbourliness and festivity.
There were several Opposition politicians in the house, and they too harbour some negative opinions of the Barisan Nasional Government, including the use of the ISA, but they displayed the impeccable behaviour that one normally expects of people who visit open houses, regardless of whether such open houses are hosted by the Prime Minister or your next door neighbour.
I support the right of Malaysians to assemble and protest against matters they are unhappy with on the streets of Putrajaya or Kuala Lumpur if need be, but the Prime Minister’s open house simply was not the proper forum for the Hindraf supporters to air their grievances.
So, how was your Hari Raya, really? I bet you too have interesting stories to tell.