Sunday night was the first night of Tarawih prayers here in Malaysia. By the grace of God, I was able to move into our new house Sunday afternoon, in time to walk to the surau, small mosque, in our new neighborhood for prayers. Now I’ve successfully survived a day of fasting in the tropics. The fasting period is considerably longer here than I’ve been accustomed to in Michigan, not to speak of the hot weather. By the end of a day of unpacking and settling house, I was parched and dizzy.
In Michigan right now, the nights are still longer than the days. Since I converted ten years ago, Ramadan has fallen in the winter months. My first fast was in March. Since the lunar calendar loses about ten days a year against the solar calendar, Ramadan has marched backwards through the months over the years. In December, the fasting interval was only around ten hours long. I think that is a hidden wisdom of the lunar calendar; if Ramadan was fixed to the solar calendar, those living further from the equator would be permanently struggling or having it easy. As it is, over the course of a lifetime, it balances out. So those of my friends laughing in Michigan right now, just wait another eight years till the fast is in July!
12 Rabiâ€™ul Awwal, the day our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saws) was born, is a national holiday in Malaysia as it is in every muslim country on earth except one. In the city of Kuching, Sarawak, to where I had just moved from America, there was to be a large parade that morning as there is every year. It was held at the Padang Merdeka or Independence Square, the parade ground in the heart of Kuchingâ€™s historic district. Padang Merdeka is ringed by huge spreading shade trees that are reminiscent of our American Elms. A stage had been erected to allow government ministers to speak to the crowds.
My son and I arrived too early, and so we had to stand for a good deal of speechifying from the assembled dignitaries. Although politiciansâ€™ speeches are much the same the world over, it was nonetheless impressive to see them gather at such an occasion to praise Allahâ€™s Praised One. Not catching much of the speech, we wandered through the crowd. All the contingents preparing to march stood with their banners and decorations. Many were splendidly dressed in loud colorful matching uniforms of pinks, reds, blues, and greens. Many gentlemen were wearing songkit, a fancy sarong woven with gold or silver threads that is worn over Baju Melayu on formal occasions. So many different patterns were on display! My son caught sight of a neighborhood friend and was soon weaving in and out of the colorful throngs, giving chase to his friends.
The day started to drizzle as the speeches ended and the various contingents from the public schools, villages, neighborhood mosques and government offices began to march. Soon the air was filled with sounds of praise for RasulAllah. The gathering gloom of rainclouds was enlivened by the colorful uniforms, and the nasheed and salawat sung out accompanied by kompang. The kompang is a hand drum about the size of a tambourine. It is always played as a group, with one half playing half the rhythm, the other half, the other. The full rhythm is heard as one when played well in unison. The love and devotion of the crowd was evident as they marched on, singing and drumming even as the rains thickened. Although our city is not a big one, I had the distinct feeling while standing there that, just as in salat, I was joining together with our muslim brothers and sisters around the world to please Allah (swt). Does not Allah (swt) say, â€œVerily, Allah and His angels are sending prayers upon the Prophet; O you who believe, send prayers upon him and blessings of peace.â€
Soon it began to pour, and, stowing my camera, my son and I dashed back to our parking garage. From the top level of the garage, we could see that the paraders had stuck to their route despite the downpour, and we soon heard them approaching the end of the route far below.
Following the parade, many people would retire back to more private gatherings in peopleâ€™s homes, where the evening would be spent commemorating Prophet Muhammadâ€™s life through recitation of the Mawlid Dibaâ€™i or the Mawlid Barzanji, interspersed with nasheed. We carry love for the Prophet, the Best of Creation, in our hearts throughout the year. How fitting it is to gather together and reaffirm our love publicly at every possible opportunity, not least on the blessed day of his birth!
We are now in the first week of the blessed month of Rabi’ al-Awwal, the month that Allah Almighty sent the Beloved, Our Master Muhammad , the Best of Creation, the Seal of the Prophets. His birth, or Mawlid, is celebrated on the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, and is an official holiday in every muslim country in the world, with one exception. Stay tuned for pictures from the celebration here in Kuching next week.
[Update: Within a half hour of posting, I recieved an email containing a short condemnation of Mawlid by Shaykh Al-Munajjad. I appreciate the brother for visiting the site and taking the time to write, but I was unimpressed with the fatwa. It begins by saying that the practive is bid’a, innovation, and ends with that ever-so-abused hadith that every new thing is an innovation and every innovation is in the fire, and there is not much in between. That is the one-two punch that the wahhabis have used to condemn countless good deeds, but it is soundly refuted here by the Imam Ahmed Raza Academy. Other notable shuyukh endorsing the celebration of mawlid in their fatwas are Sh. Yusuf Qardawi, Imam Ibn Kathir, and Imam As-Suyuti. There is even more, including the great merits of the Mawlid, at Mawlid.net. The site has Malay and Indonesian translations available.]
Here is an image of the mosque qubbah and grave of Sayyidatina Khadija, the Mother of the Muslims, the First Believer. When the Prophet received the first revelation from Archangel Gabriel in the cave, he was overwhelmed and terrified by it. He fled the cave to his home, shivering and trembling. It was Sayyidatina Khadija who comforted him and covered him with a blanket. It was she who assured him he was not mad or possessed, and she was the first to embrace Islam.
The mosque qubbah and her grave stood in Mecca, until they were demolished by the Saudi regime in 1343 AH, under the direction of the followers of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. May Allah have mercy on us.
On September 11, 2002, the [Islamic Supreme] Council unequivocally calls on all leaders of traditional Islamic communities and Muslims at-large to immediately establish “Community Watch” groups across the nation. While typically such groups are designed to prevent external threats, these community-based groups will protect our mosques, schools and centers from the threat within our ranks, the threat posed by extremist elements who attempt to hijack our peaceful religion. These watch groups will prevent extremists from using our places of worship for illegitimate and illegal purposes.
Wahhabism is so strong in the US because there’s very little shared memory of what traditional Islam should be. So we’re happy to hold hands with everybody in the interests of Muslim unity. But the article above shows how Wahhabism stands out in stark contrast to the lived Islam of the Kurdish community. Sadly, impoverished as they are, they have little way to resist the flood.
“Islam and Judaism and Christianity have flourished together in this region for more than 1,400 years,” said Mullah Mohammad Akrey, the most senior cleric in the group. “These Wahabis are not Muslims and do not represent Islam.” “…the mullahs told me that their countrymen had accepted the Saudi mosques for a simple reason — they couldn’t afford to build their own. But Mullah Talat Mantiq bitterly pointed out that in the years before the establishment of the U.N. Oil for Food Program in 1996, when people in the region were starving, the Saudis were building mosques — but were not, however, donating food, clothing or medicine.” Money with big strings attached. Similar is what happened in Bosnia, where centuries-old masjids built by the Ottomans, damaged by the war, were demolished and rebuilt as white-walled pillboxes.