THE arrival of Ramadan brings with it familiar sights and sounds – though I learnt in an interview with BFM’s Umapagan Ampikaipakan to promote my book (‘Roaming Beyond the Fence’ featuring forewords by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Tony Pua, RM39.90 for the paperback at all good bookstores!) – Hari Raya songs are regulated and can only be aired within a certain period either side of Aidilfitri. Until then we will make do with the somehow fortissimo whispers of the Yusuf Taiyoob advertisements.
There are also familiar changes of behaviour. Some people have already invoked the holy month as a justification to be lazy, as happens with every cultural or religious festival in our diverse country – though of course earlier this year we got the relatively novel ‘wait until after the election’ excuse.
Maybe that is a bit harsh – undeniably, there is more traffic, less parking at malls and hotels, more grumpiness on the roads (at least for the first few days when the hunger pangs and nicotine withdrawal symptoms are more penetrating (I am told) and many people do try to increase their religiosity (whether for public consumption or private fulfilment) albeit at the expense of their secular duties.
Certainly, the Ramadan calendar is filling up quickly. For me, the schedule will be dominated by evenings in the different luak of the Tanah Mengandung where I will be joining local communities at humble mosques for the breaking of fast followed by maghrib prayers, dinner, isya’ and terawih prayers, and finally supper which we call moreh featuring uniquely Negeri Sembilan delights such as kuih kelopong and kuih sopang – reassuring reminders that despite the efforts of centralisers in Putrajaya, local peculiarities in our observance of the holy month continue to survive.
Even more unique to Negeri Sembilan is the special position of Malam 20 Ramadan when the Yang di-Pertuan Besar, the four Undangs and the Tunku Besar Tampin host buka puasa and prayers at their official residences in anticipation of the anniversary of Lailatul Qadr – the Night of Destiny when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad SAW on one of the last 10 nights of the month. This tradition was one of the ancient customs referenced by the 1898 Agreement between the Ruler and Ruling Chiefs of Negeri Sembilan.
Iftar invitations for the remainder of the month come from charities, educational institutions, army corps, embassies and businesses using buka puasa buffets as a means of delivering corporate hospitality. Indeed, evening meals during Ramadan can be on average more grandiose than during the rest of year. From an individual’s point of view this can seem peculiar and contrary to the spirit of abstention, but the hosts will argue that it is their obligation to be more generous during the holy month.
Thankfully, the foundations of which I am trustee are also grateful recipients of increased generosity, too. One organisation reports that the children under its care look forward to Ramadan as the quality of meals is augmented significantly as a result of corporates lining up to host a buka puasa for them. Some might deride this phenomenon as a cheap way to be seen to dole out corporate responsibility – not so the children.
Several breaking of fast evenings will be combined with other commemorations, such as tahlils to remember lost loved ones. Exactly two years ago Raja Aziz Addruse passed away, and many in the legal fraternity will remember the day with sadness. Although every patriotic Malaysian should be familiar with this towering figure, less well known is his participation in 1997 in the Kuala Lumpur Society for Transparency and Integrity (KLSTI), which later evolved to become the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International (TI-M). (A fuller description is provided in Ideas’ new book ‘Combating Corruption’ by our senior fellow Anis Yusal Yusoff (formerly honorary secretary of KLSTI) and researchers Sri Murniati and Jenny Gryzelius.)
Recently, TI-M has been in the news for reasons that any organisation would rather avoid. My friends in civil society say that it is more about a clash of personalities than a political conspiracy; although allegations have been made about past office-bearers being traitors to the cause, that is not a reason to taint the entire organisation, which should be judged on the actions of those who currently hold office.
Unfortunately the melee overshadowed the release of the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 (www.transparency.org/gcb2013). The results for Malaysia were disappointing and the attempted defence of the results by the government was painful, essentially amounting to: “Yes we are bad but others are worse. And it’s a global phenomenon.” That’s not good enough: we are holding you to the promises that you made, not the incompetence of other governments.
Tunku Abidin Muhriz is founding president of Ideas.