Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

Limit removed, SOP stays

Friday, July 10th, 2020
Come July 15, there will no longer be a limit on the number of participants for religious, social and official activities. - NST file picCome July 15, there will no longer be a limit on the number of participants for religious, social and official activities. – NST file pic

PUTRAJAYA: Come July 15, there will no longer be a limit on the number of participants for religious, social and official activities, as opposed to the previous restrictions in place under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO).

Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the decision was made by the special ministerial meeting on MCO implementation to standardise the number of attendees of such activities.

“We had previously limited the number of attendees for seminars and social activities to 250 people, as well as one-third of the building capacity for mosques and places of worship.

“To standardise this, the meeting has agreed that the number of participants will be based on area size, provided one-metre social distancing is maintained,” he told a press conference.

He said ease of restrictions on public activities were still subjected to the new normal and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

“Alhamdulillah, we managed to curb the Covid-19 virus by practising self-discipline, which resulted in zero local transmissions for two days in a row and 25 days without deaths.

“We must make sure that the virus outbreak does not recur by maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks, among others.”

By Nuradzimmah Daim.

Read more @

Education Ministry: Boarding school students can go back for Aidiladha

Friday, July 10th, 2020

PETALING JAYA: Boarding school students can return home for Hari Raya Aidiladha, says the Education Ministry.

With improvements made to the existing standard operating procedures (SOPs), the ministry said it had no objections to students wanting to return home.

“We take note of parents’ questions on this matter,” it said in a statement Thursday (July 9).

The ministry also said boarding school students for Form Four and Form Six semester 1 would be returning to their schools on July 15.

The two groups of students were being prioritised to give them sufficient time to prepare for their upcoming examinations in 2021, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Forms One to Three boarding school students will return to their schools on Aug 3.

Until then, the students will continue home-based learning.

“This decision applies to boarding schools, religious secondary schools, government-assisted religious schools, Sekolah Sukan Malaysia, Sekolah Sukan Negeri and Sekolah Seni Malaysia.

“The ministry takes all views into consideration to ensure all boarding school students can study in their schools in a safe environment,” it added.

Senegalese get by with ‘new normal’

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
Followers of the Layene community  praying 1.5m apart on the beach in front of the Yoff Layene Mosque in Dakar, Senegal, recently.  AFP PIC  Followers of the Layene community praying 1.5m apart on the beach in front of the Yoff Layene Mosque in Dakar, Senegal, recently. AFP PIC

AIDILFITRI has never been a big event in Senegal, overshadowed as it is by the Aidiladha sacrifices and the Magal Touba — another religious celebration which sees hundreds of thousands of Senegalese flock to the rural town of Touba, much like a pilgrimage of sorts.

Eid celebrations in this part of West Africa has always been a time for family. They don’t do the open house concept that we Malaysians do, and which we miss so much this year.

Therefore, there was no need for the government to limit the number of guests that they could have in the house. Aidilfitri was certainly different in Senegal. When the government instituted a state of emergency, it also banned all interstate travel. Because of the exorbitant rentals in Dakar, many of those who commute between their rooms in the capital and the family homes out of town found themselves truly alone for the first time in their lives during Eid.

Weirder still was perhaps Ramadan. In a society where everyone jogged, played football, basketball or did some sort of sport outdoors, Ramadan would be the month when those 5pm/6pm sports activities would be delayed until 8pm. This year, however, because of the curfew from 8pm to 6am, many Senegalese found themselves housebound after their fast was done.

Many of the upper echelons of the country’s society had made it a habit to have a very late supper at one of the restaurants, so families ended up unwittingly social distancing themselves from other families. For more than 20 years, one of my colleagues at the office has taken it upon himself to clean up his local mosque. Every month, except for Ramadan, he would rush home after office on Thursday to ensure that the mosque would be ready for the Friday prayers.

Every year in Ramadan, he would help clean up the mosque for night prayers. This year, when the state of emergency came into effect on March 18, for the first time in his adult life, my colleague had nowhere to go on a Thursday night, and no higher purpose to serve.

It took him one week when he finally decided that even if the mosques would not open, it still needed to be kept clean.

So every Thursday night, he would open the doors of his local mosque, perform his prayers alone, and then go about cleaning up the house of worship. When he told me this, I was reminded of the depiction of the cleaner praying alone in front of the Kaabah.

The new normal was not normal, but it suited them just fine. It was difficult for the president to convince the religious houses to not congregate, but he managed to do it for nearly two months. The final week of Ramadan arrived, and even the government had to admit defeat after much clamouring from the predominantly-devout Senegalese.

Measures were put in place so that each mosque would have to enforce social distancing. Depending on the size of the mosque, only a limited number of devotees would be allowed to enter. The trial run was set on May 15. Uniformed police were seen out in full force as devotees came, sanitising their hands, and taking their place on prayer mats placed 1.5 metres apart.

Those who could not enter spread out into the courtyard and beyond, determined to perform their first Friday prayers in almost two months. It was amazingly orderly. By the time Aidilfitri arrived, many were “old hands” at performing social-distancing prayers.

Strict adherence to health requirements did not stop many Senegalese from performing their prayers in this post-Covid world. For a country that has always had large congregations for almost every prayer, this level of restraint and commitment to their fellow men is truly remarkable.

By Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin.

Read more @

King, Queen convey Gawai greetings

Monday, June 1st, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah conveyed Gawai greetings on Monday (June 1) to all celebrating the festival.

The greeting posted on Istana Negara’s Instagram account Monday read,”Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai. Happy Gawai to all our friends in Sarawak, we wish you a wonderful celebration, filled with happiness, prosperity and peace.”

Gawai is celebrated on June 1 each year by the people of Sarawak, including the Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and other communities to mark the end of the padi harvesting season.

However, this year, Gawai is different as the nation is still under the conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) that was imposed to break the chain of Covid-19 infections.

Only small gatherings comprising family members are allowed without the tradition of “Ngabang” or visits, practised in previous years where people in the village or longhouses would gather to celebrate Gawai.

by Bernama.

Read more @

Less fanfare but Gawai joyously celebrated

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Traditional treats: Christine (third from right) and her family members showing the traditional Gawai delicacies they made at their home in Bau, Sarawak. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Unlike previous years, this year’s Gawai Dayak festival will be celebrated in a more subdued manner for Sarawakian Christine Lyana Raymond Mocheg.

The 30-year-old will mark this year’s celebration, which falls today and tomorrow, with just close family members due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.

“It feels a bit less festive as we can’t host or visit our relatives or friends.

“But, of course, I am still grateful to be able to celebrate this day with my beloved family, ” she said.

The administrative clerk will instead replace visits with video calls.

Despite the scaled-down celebration this year, Christine and her family were still dressed in their best festive attire to celebrate.

“We will still be dressed in our traditional clothes for the celebration.

“My family and I will also prepare the delicacies that are usually eaten during the Gawai Dayak festival, such as penganan, ” she said, adding that they started preparing the dishes a day before the celebration.

She added that lemang was also a staple during the festival.

Christine said that she and her family still felt the joy of celebrating the Gawai Dayak festival together.

“After all, the festival is meant to signify new beginnings (after the harvest season), ” she added.

Separately, National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique said even though Gawai Dayak would be a modest event this year, the people could still be united in the celebrations.

She wished all Malaysians who are celebrating the festival a “Happy Gawai Dayak”.

“In the past, we would celebrate Gawai Dayak with great fanfare at the end of the harvest season as a symbol of gratitude for the rice we are able to enjoy as well as to celebrate our fortitude in overcoming the challenges we faced.

“This year, our celebrations are more modest in line with the conditional movement control order (MCO), and as such, many will not be able to make the trip back to our respective hometowns, ” she said in a press statement.

She emphasised however that this was part of the collective sacrifice of Malaysians in support of the government’s efforts to break the chain of transmission of Covid-19.

“Although we differ in cultural practices and we are apart physically, we can still celebrate Gawai Dayak together as one in order to honour the traditions that have been preserved for generations.

“(These traditions are) translated into the context of a multicultural society that is mutually respectful in line with our aspiration for a united Malaysia.

“It gives me great pleasure to wish all Malaysians celebrating, happy Gawai Dayak, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai Lantang Senang Nguan Menua, ” Halimah said.


Read more @

Raya abnormalities

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

This year’s celebration is without the usual noise and activity. It is also a lesson to never take things for granted.

NORMALLY, these corridors would permit young relatives to run, jump, chase each other or play hide and seek. Occasionally they wonder about the portraits on the walls and the trinkets in crammed cabinets: memorabilia of ancestors who once played in the same hallways. This year, the planks stayed uncreaked, sweat-free.

Normally, this sitting room would be a hive of activity, as parents strain to hear the TV over the din of young adults playing board games, teenagers on mobile devices and kids comparing duit raya. The only punctuation is provided by the arrival of another family or the inevitable emergence of more food.

This year, the cushions sat perfectly fluffed, and no more Es disappeared from the Scrabble set.

Normally, this lobby would see a full assembly of staff, ready to receive gifts of appreciation and exchange Raya greetings.

Some have worked in the same institution for decades, and the interactions provide assurance and recognition. This year, representatives of each team were able to receive gifts on colleagues’ behalf in a pared-down, socially distanced ceremony.

Normally, this moonless night sky would be set alight by the pops and whistles of fireworks, reverberating across the valley in a syncopated fashion.

They follow the ceremonial booms of the cannon, a juxtaposed echo of artillery flushing out communists from nearby hills during the Emergency. This year… well, there were still impressive displays of pyrotechnics dotted across the area. We still haven’t worked out how so many people got hold of some rather grand fireworks.

Normally, this rural mosque would be unable to fit the congregation of newly returned urbanites eager to fulfil their Aidilfitri prayers.

Spilling onto the verandah, the rows of prayer mats provide a visualisation of the balik kampung that has overtaken merantau (migration) as the primary mover of our people.

This year, 12 of us prayed a metre apart (“jangan rapatkan saf”, I quipped, modifying the usual reminder for worshippers to stand close in formation), as kittens freely rolled around on the expanse of carpet behind.

Normally, this graveyard would be full of poignant colour, as families bedecked in new baju remember their departed with flowers.

With young children in tow, adults educate the next generation about how they are related to people who rest under tombstones. This year, these graves sat tranquilly, though caretakers tended the site still with utmost respect.

Normally, the perimeter of this field would resemble a thriving food market, as lemang grillers, rendang chefs, satay fanners, roast lamb carvers, cendol crushers and apam balik wizards purvey their foods.

The epitome of small businesses, they have prepared for this day for weeks, sourcing ingredients, electrifying supply chains, generating employment and powering the halal economy. This year, they did their best to adjust, offering take-aways and deliveries, but presumably more lamb than usual are still bleating (since their consumption requires volume).

Normally, the centre of this field would be covered by a massive tent, ready for 10,000 people to visit from near and far to fill their post-Ramadan tummies. They arrive with their families, but reconnect with their neighbours, acquaint with suku mates, make new friends and maybe get duit raya from me. This year, the grass was grateful to be undisturbed.

Normally, this mobile phone would be buzzing incessantly from a torrent of messages conveying peace and blessings, hope and forgiveness. From thoughtful mini-essays to creatively choreographed videos from family groups, finding the time to meaningfully reply to each is always a challenge. This year, the same has remained true.

Normally, this calendar would be full of upcoming open houses. Behind the scenes, schedules and intentions are exchanged between networks of PAs and secretaries to ensure that the biggest ones do not clash with one another, while wheelers and dealers plan who to ambush at targeted events to seal a deal, secure a contract, put a good word in for someone, pass a CV or a letter of recommendation. This year, the calendar is empty.

Normally, I would take for granted that all the above would happen, and that all the above would happen again next year. This year, I am grateful for the lesson of not taking that normality for granted, but aware too that many do not have this luxury, for their lives have suffered immensely and they need public policy solutions.

Normally, I would say that public policy solutions should address the needs of the people in a responsive yet democratic manner. This year, with parliamentary scrutiny at an abnormal low, and questions over the positions and appointments of many politicians at an abnormal high, more abnormalities may be exploited for abnormal reasons.

Eh, that one is normal lah.

Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir Batin.

By Tunku Zain Al-Abidin.

Read more @

Sacrifice necessary in Covid-19 fight – CM

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

KOTA KINABALU: Celebrating the Kaamatan Festival this year is more challenging because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal said the pandemic is impacting the entire world, including Malaysia and Sabah requires sacrifice from the people.

“Taking a lesson from Huminodun’s sacrifice, the people of today must also sacrifice a bit,” he said.

“We have to sacrifice our comfort and our freedom by not celebrating the festival on a large scale and abide by the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that has been set by the government,” said Shafie.

He reminded that the SOP implemented is not geared at stopping the freedom of people from celebrating but rather, to curb the spread of the virus.

He also said the people must unite with the government in this fight against Covid-19 since it can only be curbed when everyone is united.

In his address, Shafie also spoke of the Harvest Festival and its background.

He explained that the celebration centers around Huminodun, a local legend who sacrificed herself so that her people may be saved.

He added that during those days, it was said that food was scarce, and that people were struggling to survive.

“Now, the Harvest Festival is celebrated as a sign of thanksgiving for an abundant harvest,” he said.

Shafie reminded that although paddy planting is no longer a custom of the present community, it continues to be celebrated during the festival as a sign of gratitude.

At the same time, he also spoke of the uniqueness of Sabah, where the people hold firmly to traditional values that are passed down for generations.

“We live in harmony, together with other ethnic groups who are in the state,” he said.

He added that the unity now enjoyed in Sabah is the best example of understanding and unity present in Malaysia.

“I am confident that we can be proud to share our cultural heritage that we have, not just with other Malaysians but also with the world,” he said.


Read more @

Cabinet gives green light for 174 non-Muslim places of worship to reopen in Covid-19 green zones from June 10

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

PUTRAJAYA: The Cabinet has given the green light for 174 non-Muslim places of worship to reopen under strict Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOP) from June 10.

The approved places are only those within Covid-19 green zones – which means churches and temples in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are still not allowed to open.

Based on a 13-page list issued by the National Unity Ministry, approval was given to one Buddhist place of worship (Ipoh Buddhist Centre), three Roman Catholic churches, 64 Evangelical churches, 84 Hindu temples, eight Sikh gurdwara and 14 Taoist houses of worship.

The ministry said in a statement Thursday (May 28) that according to the SOP, the maximum number of people allowed during a service at one time is 30 – depending on the size of the approved house of worship.

The ministry also said marriage ceremonies at temples, churches or religious associations have been postponed to July 31, based on a letter by the National Registration Department director-general dated May 12.

As for the reopening of other places of worship, the ministry said applications must be made through their respective religious bodies after June 10.

“Applications that are made will be brought up by the ministry to the special Cabinet meeting, which will issue approvals from time to time, ” the ministry said.

For the full list, click here.



A Raya like never before

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020
Ahmad Shazwan Abdul Hamid (back row, right) with friends dressed in their best during Hari Raya last year.Ahmad Shazwan Abdul Hamid (back row, right) with friends dressed in their best during Hari Raya last year.

WITH the Covid-19 pandemic casting a shadow on social activities, many Muslim students had to observe Ramadan and celebrate Syawal in a distinctly different atmosphere.

Malaysian students abroad, and international students in Malaysia, not only took the challenges in stride, but also remained hopeful and shared their experience with Higher Ed in making the festive season meaningful.

Worried that he might get infected, Ahmad Shazwan Abdul Hamid, 21, a chemical engineering student minoring in studio art photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, decided not to fly home.

With no gatherings planned, this year’s Ramadan was an entirely new experience for him.

“I was not able to break my fast with friends or go to our local Islamic Centre. But my cooking improved after preparing iftar with my housemates everyday.”

While the lack of human interaction might be psychologically isolating for Shazwan, it also allowed him room for self-reflection and small accomplishments.

“I miss everyone back at home. Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri from my friends and I! Looking forward to our Aidilfitri celebration here in the US next year!” -Ahmad Shazwan Abdul Hamid, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States.“I miss everyone back at home. Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri from my friends and I! Looking forward to our Aidilfitri celebration here in the US next year!” -Ahmad Shazwan Abdul Hamid, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States.

“I feel de-motivated sometimes because I am so used to going out every day for classes and work.

“I need to constantly remind myself that it is okay to not always be productive during this global pandemic. I set small goals, such as waking up early, finishing my homework quickly, or editing travel photos to keep my motivation up.”

Shazwan longed for the big iftar and lively Raya celebrations with his family.

“My cousins and I would usually gather to help my mother and the aunts make ketupat and rendang. I definitely miss the sambal sotong and my aunt’s raya cookies, such as semperit and tarts.

“This year, I celebrated Raya with my housemates at home. It’s a sad but necessary step in this pandemic.”

Pursuing a bachelor of communications in public relations at the University of Queensland, Australia, Atiqah Mat Senin, 22, was advised by her sponsor, Mara, to remain abroad.

“With the borders closed, we’re worried about not being able to enter the country for the upcoming semester if we returned home.

“Despite the cold weather in Brisbane, I wish my family members“Despite the cold weather in Brisbane, I wish my family members

“We were told that in previous years, an iftar gathering and tarawih were held at our university’s multifaith chaplaincy. This year, we prayed at home and with classes being moved online, we had more time to prepare for iftar.”

Atiqah was touched by her lecturers and tutors’ efforts to regularly email students and ask how they were coping in the pandemic.

“Oftentimes, we tend to feel like we’re struggling alone, so it is crucial to stay connected. I now spend more time cooking, baking and watching movies with my housemates. I believe that physical distancing does not mean social disconnection.”

While it’s sad to spend the festive season away from home, she considered herself lucky to have friends whom she called her “Brisbane family”.

“We had a menu prepared for Raya, namely rendang and lodeh. I asked the recipes from my mother via video call as she is an amazing cook.”

Born and raised in Kuala Terengganu, University College Cork medical student Nur Afrina Nadia Abd Razak, 22, recently completed her final exams online in Ramadan.

“Selamat Hari Raya to everyone, especially my family in Selangor and Terengganu. It’s my first time celebrating Aidilfitri abroad without my family, but I am not alone, and I am excited to experience this! So to mum and dad, don’t worry too much.”- Nur Afrina Nadia Abd Razak, University College Cork, IrelandSelamat Hari Raya to everyone, especially my family in Selangor and Terengganu. It’s my first time celebrating Aidilfitri abroad without my family, but I am not alone, and I am excited to experience this! So to mum and dad, don’t worry too much.”- Nur Afrina Nadia Abd Razak, University College Cork, Ireland

“I had to take an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) exam, requiring me to examine patients and take their history. Instead of performing the actions, I had to type out my actions, which was a new experience to me.”

Nur Afrina also decided to spend her second Ramadan abroad to avoid any disruption to her studies.

However, the inability to go out and have iftar with her friends had left her feeling isolated.

“The Muslim community is small here in Cork, so it is a bit lonely having iftar all by myself. My two Malaysian housemates have gone home, so I’m only here with my Italian housemate. She’s very nice and would sometimes have dinner with me. This pandemic has brought us closer.”

During this difficult time, she came to appreciate the little things in life.

“As life takes a pause, we can now focus on personal growth. I used to complain about having to walk to class every morning and walk home very late at night, but I really miss it now.”

A family tradition that Nur Afrina loves is the weekly iftar at her grandmother’s place with more than 30 cousins.

“Despite that, I am actually excited for Raya because it is my first time celebrating it overseas. I planned to get my Italian housemate to wear a baju kurung and celebrate the day with me.”

Muhamad Zul Amin Zulkipli, 21, is pursuing actuarial science, applied statistics and mathematical economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, the US

“Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and ‘maaf zahir batin’ to my family, friends, teachers and coaches! You are always on my mind during this festive season. Even though we are miles apart, our hearts are always close together.” - Muhamad Zul Amin Zulkipli, Purdue University, Indiana, the United States.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and ‘maaf zahir batin’ to my family, friends, teachers and coaches! You are always on my mind during this festive season. Even though we are miles apart, our hearts are always close together.” – Muhamad Zul Amin Zulkipli, Purdue University, Indiana, the United States.

Hailing from Kota Baru, Kelantan, the Petronas scholar who remained abroad for summer classes initially struggled with campus closures.

“West Lafayette is a college town and now that everyone is off campus, I feel like I’m living in a ghost town. There are over 24,000 Covid-19 cases in Indiana now.”

With his three housemates, Zul Amin spent Ramadan trying out traditional kuih recipes to fulfill their cravings.

“So far, I have made akok, kuih cara, bingka, keria, and cek mek molek and shared them with other Malaysian students nearby. It is fascinating to see how exchanging food for iftar has become a new way to connect with each other.”

He would contact his family in Kota Baru every day, sharing pictures of his iftar dishes with his parents and siblings.

“Even though I wanted to experience raya perantauan, I still feel sad and miss my family. But, this is an opportunity to reflect, count my blessings, and to not take the chance of spending raya with my family for granted.”

By Rayyan Rafidi.

Read more @

KDCA says no to using Hongkod Koisaan for State Unduk Ngadau finals

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

KDCA does not allow Unduk Ngadau finals to be held in Hongkod Koisaan hall this year. – Bernama Photo/filepic

KOTA KINABALU: The State Unduk Ngadau organiser will have to look for other venues for the final event as the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) is sticking to its earlier decision not to hold Kaamatan celebration this year.

KDCA Deputy President Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan who is also Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister said, they would breach the Movement Control Order (MCO) if they allow the organiser to use the Hongkod Koisaan for the pageant’s final event.

“They (State Unduk Ngadau organiser) also talked about only allowing  50 people inside, but who is going to stop other people from going inside the hall?” he told a press conference, Wednesday.

“The Unduk Ngadau contestants will also need to have their make-up done, hair done, while we know that salons are also identified a hotspot for Covid-19 spread…so we have made the decision, and we will stick with the decision.

On Sunday, State Kaamatan organising chairman Datuk Peter Anthony who is also Infrastructure Development Minister announced that they will proceed with Sugandoi and Unduk Ngadau competitions this year.

While the finals for Sugandoi will be held virtually, the final stage for Unduk Ngadau was announced to take place at Hongkod Koisaan hall, on May 31.

However, the announcement received flak from netizens on social media with some had resorted to create an online petition against the holding of the annual pageant.

Read more @