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Muslim but not Malay: Hari Raya in the home of a Chinese convert

Muhammad Ridhuan Lau Abdullah, wearing a purple samfu, poses for a family portrait at his home in Sungai Sikamat, Seremban, ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Muhammad Ridhuan Lau Abdullah, who celebrates Hari Raya in a samfu, says there is a difference between religion and culture.

Each year as Hari Raya Aidilfitri rolls around, familiar songs are heard on the radio and in the malls and shops which are decked out in every shade of green, the traditional colour for the celebration.

Shoppers hurry to buy new clothes and to put the finishing touches to their homes before flinging wide their doors to welcome family members and friends on the day itself.

The smell of cooking fills the air as dish after dish of delicious food, centred around the stars of the festive season – rendang and ketupat – are borne from the kitchen and placed on the table.

But in the home of Muhammad Ridhuan Lau Abdullah, things are very different.

There are very few of the outward signs of celebration normally associated with Hari Raya. Low-key might be the most appropriate way to describe his family’s observance of the occasion.

Muhammad Ridhuan Lau Abdullah pastes a Hari Raya poster on his living room wall – one of the few decorations his family has put up for the occasion.

Ridhuan, a Chinese Muslim, converted to Islam 21 years ago. While he and his family mark Hari Raya every year, they do not follow the Malay traditions which dominate the celebration.

“We don’t need to buy baju Melayu to celebrate Aidilfitri,” the 42-year-old said in a recent interview with MalaysiaNow.

“Even if we celebrate wearing our normal clothes or without decorating the house, it is still all right. The important thing is for us to focus on what our religion says. Any other cultural aspects can follow according to what we can afford.”

Ridhuan, who has six children, prefers to maintain his own culture and the practices with which he grew up. For him, Malay traditions have no connection to his upbringing.

Instead, he celebrates Aidilfitri wearing a samfu – a traditional Chinese outfit comprising a shirt and trousers – which he finishes off with a samping in order to give it a Malay twist.

Although he is now a Muslim, he is proud to have been born a Chinese and does not see his ethnic roots as an obstacle to his religion.

His family does not hold open houses during Hari Raya as is the norm in many households. Instead, they visit his adoptive family in Puncak Alam and his mother who lives in Port Dickson.

To ensure that his children do not forget their Chinese roots, he encourages them to speak to their grandmother in Mandarin whenever they go to see her.

Muhammad Ridhuan Lau Abdullah and his family pass around bottles of Raya cookies in their living room.

For him, there is a difference between cultural and religious practices, and he constantly reminds his fellow converts of this.

“There are some who cannot differentiate between being Malay and being a Muslim,” he said.

“There are also some who lack knowledge about the teachings of Islam, and who force those from other races to take on the Malay culture because they consider it a religious demand.

“This is wrong. I always remind Muslims to refer to the Quran or the hadiths, or at the very least to those who are knowledgeable about the teachings of Islam.”

He also said that converts are free to participate in their traditional and cultural activities as long as these do not violate Islamic law.

He himself attended his father’s funeral in 2006 which was conducted according to Chinese tradition.

“Some people advised me not to participate in the ceremony, but the ustaz who guided me said there was nothing wrong with this as I was there to show my respect for my father and my cultural traditions.”

For Ridhuan, it is very simple.

“Islam is my religion and I worship Allah alone.”

Azzman Abdul Jamal

Mengenai Penulis

SBN Admin

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