Hari Raya Aidil Adha and Past Practices

[I first wrote about Hari Raya Aidil Adha way back in 2008. I thought I will rewrite it with fresh material and published it in my Golden Legacy column on The Brunei Times edition 7th November 2011.]

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EID UL Adha (Aidil Adha) is Hari Raya Haji to Bruneians. Moon sighting at various locations in Brunei would be held at the end of Zulkaedah to determine when the beginning of Zulhijjah would be and hence would also affect when Aidil Adha will be celebrated in Brunei. In the past the moon sighting for Zulhijjah was not practiced and Zulhijjah was determined using hisab or calculation.

However the Aidil Adha celebrations in Brunei are not widespread compared to Eid ul Fitr or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to mark the end of the Ramadhan fasting month. Aidil Adha celebrations in Brunei are rather muted compared to most other Muslim countries.

Nowadays, after the Aidil Adha prayers at the mosque, many do not do anything. In most other Muslim countries, the Aidil Adha celebrations would be celebrated by visiting relatives and friends. In Brunei, there might be one or two families inviting their relatives and friends to come over for Aidil Adha open houses, however, this is still relatively rare and has not caught on with most Bruneians.

The one major change has been the korban or sacrificial slaughtering of the cows and sheep. In the past, this was not often done. The years after the World War Two had been difficult years for many Brunei people. It was only around the late 1970s that korban were more widespread. By then, Brunei people were fairly well off and could now afford to sacrifice those animals. Today, practically every Aidil Adha celebrations would be celebrated with these sacrifices.

However other aspects of the Aidil Adha celebrations have not been a tradition in Brunei whether now or in the past and there ends this article about the differences between Aidil Adha celebrations in the present and in the past. However many Bruneians did other things during this month of Zulhijjah mostly all in the hope of assisting their brethrens performing the haj in Mekah.

The Brunei Muslim faithfuls who are now performing the Haj in Mekah, must carry out their rituals and do nothing that would disrupt the Holy pilgrimage of their brothers. The Haj, is a sacred requirement of all able-bodied Muslims, one of the five pillars of Islam.

In the past, going to perform the Haj was a very difficult journey. Not only would it take months but the chances of one returning back to Brunei were considered slim. Going on Haj was hazardous. Thus whoever made it back to Brunei alive was feted and revered by all those who waited for his or her return. Those who returned were considered sacred as sacred as the Haj he has just performed.

Many practices in Brunei were born because of this belief. The practice of holding prayers for their family members had continued from the past. Some families continue to hold weekly prayers while many others only did the prayers during the period the pilgrims were performing the wukuf in Arafah. This practice is very much encouraged.

However, there are other practices which are not encouraged even though they were done in the same spirit of trying to help out their family members. Some of the practices are still carried out. Even though a number of these had been labeled as khurafat or "deviationist practice" by the authorities but that has not stopped from it being carried out by some small groups of people.

In the past, the Brunei people whose family members were in Mekah, did interesting things. One such practice was giving out food and other snacks on upside down trays. Keropok or prawn crackers would be served on upside down trays. The idea was that with the upside down trays, it is hoped that the pilgrims would feel very light in performing their pilgrimage.

Other sedekah or giving out alms or presents were also done with the intention of helping the pilgrims. So the gifts given out would be food or drinks which were cold such as ice cream or iced water so that the pilgrims would not feel thirsty or tired during their pilgrimage.

Other gifts include umbrellas so that the pilgrims would be sheltered from the sun; or rubber slippers so that the pilgrims feet would be protected; or sugar canes so that the pilgrims would have enough water supplies; or apam balik so as to ensure a safe return; and calak lambai so as to "lambai" or wave the pilgrims back home.

One interesting practice was to give an egg to a sleeping child. The egg would be placed beside the pillow of the child and many children when they woke up were surprised to see the eggs next to their pillows. This was done quite often in the past.

The idea was by doing so, the pilgrims would be very much assisted or would find it easier to collect pebbles in Mudzaliffah which they would be using to throw at the various stone pillars in Mina.

During meal times, the family members in Brunei would be cooking the pilgrims' favourite food and meals. The idea was that the pilgrims would be able to "smell" these food especially if they were their favourites. The family felt that the pilgrims would be searching for those food and would add to their appetite and hence would aid them in the performance of the haj.

Throughout their pilgrimage in Mekah, pilgrims' rooms or beds were not supposed to be disturbed. Their rooms would be locked and no one will be allowed to enter.

In Kampong Ayer houses, this will be taken a step further. This meant that boats were not even allowed to go under the houses of the pilgrims or during low tide, no one is allowed to walk under the houses or rooms of the pilgrims. To ensure that this was done, the area under the house or the particular room would be "di babang" or cordoned off with ropes. The empty rooms would be lighted by a small lantern.

The pilgrims' last meal in Brunei too was sometimes saved. The leftovers from the last meal taken by the pilgrims will be kept and not thrown away. The leftover would be left to dry until they returned back from their pilgrimage.

There have been many practices done by the Brunei people related to the haj in the past. One sincerely hopes that those quaint practices while interesting are no longer practiced now.

What is important is that we should remember and honour those who went as the haj is after all as some described as "small death" you died and you are reborn after returning from the Haj. But we should not get carried away to the point that some practices become khurafat. To avoid the khurafat practices, one must deepen one's knowledge of Islam so that we will know what is right and what is wrong.

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