Malaysians celebrate Hajj with food and togetherness

Malaysians celebrate Hajj with food and togetherness

KUALA LUMPUR: As Muslims around the world celebrated the end of Hajj with the slaughtering and feasting of animals, Muslims in Malaysia celebrated Hajj on Wednesday by gathering with family and loved ones in the spirit of togetherness.

Malaysia is a multicultural nation and 60 percent of its population are Muslims.

The Hajj celebration, fondly called "Hari Raya Hajji" in Malay, is considered a holy day for Muslims in Malaysia. Most Muslims would celebrate the day with prayers, alms and visiting family members and relatives.

At dawn in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the calls of prayers were heard throughout the compound of Masjid Negara, the national mosque with its blue origami dome and Islamic art architecture. The calls of prayers continued in a never-ending loop until 8 o’clock, where thousands of Muslims from all walks of life performed the morning prayers of Hajj celebration.

This included the family of Siti Asiah Kamaruddin, 30, a housewife who is also active in her home business of baking and catering based in Kuala Lumpur. Like many, she and her family went to the Masjid Negara to perform their morning prayer. Afterwards, they drove for an hour to her mother’s home where most of her relatives congregated.

Malaysia is a country that celebrates food and culture as way to bond with people. Usually the Hajj celebration is celebrated more modestly as the focus is usually on giving alms and family-gathering. “I visit the homes of friends and my in-laws too, but the atmosphere is always jubilant here because everyone is very close to each other,” she said.

It is tradition for a cow or a lamb to be slaughtered for “Korban” (in Malay) during the Hajj celebration. The slaughtering of animals is considered a holy symbol following the story of Prophet Abraham and his son.

In Malaysia, it is common for the well-to-do to donate and slaughter cows or lambs and distribute the meat to close kin, neighbors and the poor. This act is considered alms and welfare among Muslims in Malaysia to strengthen their faith to Allah.

It has been a tradition in the Siti Asiah’s large family to purchase animals for Korban, although this year they skipped the Korban ritual. “We do it once every two years for budgeting reason,” said Siti Asiah, adding that she always looks forward to the slaughtering of animals and even helped in the distribution of the Korban meat whenever possible.

“This is (the slaughtering of animals) an important symbol to our family to create a sense of togetherness through gotong-royong and helping each other,” told Siti Asiah. “We usually cook the Korban meat, half of them will be donated to the poor, tahfiz (students from religious schools) and our neighbors, the rest will be consumed by our large family,” she added.

Siti Asiah’s mother, Karminah Abu Bakar, had prepared a variety of delicious local dishes where they were displayed in buffet-style on the table. These include beef’s liver rendang, kuah kacang (peanut sauce), ketupat (rice inside the pouch of woven palm leaves), lodeh (vegetables cooked in coconut milk), roti jala (net bread), and many more.

“One day before the celebration we did a lot of food preparation and cooking since our family is huge,” said Siti Asiah, adding that her favorite dish is “Ayam Masak Merah” or chicken cooked in chilli and tomato sauce.

Despite being in country with the most holidays in the world, many young families like Siti Asiah’s are busy with their own lives and see the Hajj celebration as the perfect time to bond with long-distance relatives and families in a laid-back atmosphere. “With everyone’s busy schedule, it is hard to find one time where everyone is free to gather, thus today is a special day to us all as we could do a lot of catching up and gossip,” Siti Asiah said.

Meanwhile outside of the compound, her younger ones ran around and played with her sisters’ and her cousins’ children. At the house’s veranda, her husband joined with a group of male relatives discussing politics and worldly matters. The conversation continued with more helpings from the buffet, adding a merrier feeling of family bonding.

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