By Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin

Translated by Shabana Zahir Ahmad
Edited by Umm Hajar

The Malay community commonly associates Hari Raya with melancholia. This inclination is being stimulated further by our media. When Hari Raya comes, takbir (saying Allahu Akbar) is delivered the Malay style with melancholic tune, its melody exudes sadness and invites tears, the dramas and stories presented by the media are linked up to sad and sorrowful stories. The same trend is also being adopted in Hari Raya poems and songs. In Islam, is Hari Raya a day for sorrow or is it a day to celebrate victory and joy?

Firstly, we have to be aware of the fact that in Islam, Hari Raya is not a mere tradition or that it is an idea thought of by a specific party. Hari Raya was decreed by Allah and it has its own distinctive rules. It is the day that Allah has allocated for Muslims to glorify Allah, to celebrate victory and joy.

Allah says (translated as):

“The month of Ramadân in which was revealed the Qur’ân, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadân i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Saum (fasts) that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Saum (fasts) must be made up] from other days. Allâh intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allâh [i.e. to say Takbîr (Allâhu-Akbar; Allâh is the Most Great) on seeing the crescent of the months of Ramadân and Shawwâl] for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him.” (Surah al-Baqarah: verse 185).

This verse describes Hari Raya as the way for us to display our gratitude for all the favors that our Lord has bestowed upon us. Because of that, we are taught to recite the takbir and worship Allah on Hari Raya. All these are the symbols of success and happiness.

Additionally, there are many hadith illustrating that the celebration of Hari Raya performed during Prophet’s time was full of joy and cheerfulness. Ummu Atiyyah r.aha said:

“We used to be ordered to come out on the Day of ‘Id and even bring out the virgin girls from their houses and menstruating women so that they might stand behind the men and say Takbir along with them and invoke Allah along with them and hope for the blessings of that day and for purification from sins.” (Reported by Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad pbuh would traditionally perform Hari Raya prayer outdoors so that everyone would be able to participate in celebrating the victory and joy of that day. More importantly, the celebration is to display the strength, unity, success and happiness of the Muslims’ life.

Takbir on the Idul Fitri was delivered in an enthusiastic manner unlike the melancholic takbir being practiced by our Malay community. Try to listen to the takbir sounded in the Arab world and you can notice the different rhythm.

Also, when it comes to entertainment, Islam allows Muslims to rejoice in any way that they wish to as long as there is no transgression to the Islamic ruling. Islam is a noble religion that acknowledges the diverseness of the human soul. Entertainment is not an essential but whenever there is a need for it, it can help someone to enjoy life in certain conditions. It is alright if one does not desire it but we cannot prevent others from enjoying it.

Hari raya is a day of happiness. Entertainment that is bound in good disciplines and good manners enhances its jubilation and subsequently, brings out the gloriousness of this celebration.

Narrated Aisha: Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) came to my house while two girls were singing beside me the songs of Buath (a story about the war between the two tribes of the Ansar, the Khazraj and the Aus, before Islam). The Prophet (p.b.u.h) lay down and turned his face to the other side. Then Abu Bakr came and spoke to me harshly saying, “Musical instruments of Satan near the Prophet (p.b.u.h) ?” Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) turned his face towards him and said, “Leave them, Abu Bakr! Every race has their festive day and today is our Hari raya day.” (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim)

In another narration by Muslim, it is said that they beat the drums to accompany their singings.

The mellow attitude demonstrated by our Prophet pbuh was indeed appealing. Just imagine, how was it possible for these two girls to sing in the Prophet’s house? If the Prophet is a fierce and a rigid man, they would not dare to sing and beat the drum in his house right from the beginning.

Also, notice his reaction when Abu Bakr scolded them. He did not keep quiet but instead, he voiced his opinion that those were all permitted in Islam.

There is a view stating that the Prophet pbuh did not object the opinion voiced by Abu Bakr about singing being the voice of the devils and that he only allowed it specifically for that day since it was Hari Raya. This is a peculiar opinion. Just because it is the Hari Raya, it is permitted to listen to the devil’s voice? Or, is singing is not considered as the devil’s voice during Hari Raya but its status will change into the devil’s voice when Hari Raya has passed by? The Prophet’s reprehension stated in that hadith was a general objection to Abu Bakr’s statement.

The same hadith was also reported by Bukhari with the following narration to show the vastness of the teachings of Islam. Aishah narrated:

“It was the day of ‘Id, and the Black people were playing with shields and spears; so either I requested the Prophet (p.b.u.h) or he asked me whether I would like to see the display. I replied in the affirmative. Then the Prophet (p.b.u.h) made me stand behind him and my cheek was touching his cheek and he was saying, “Carry on! O Bani Arfida,” till I got tired. The Prophet (p.b.u.h) asked me, “Are you satisfied (Is that sufficient for you)?” I replied in the affirmative and he told me to leave.” (Reported by Bukhari)

The performance mentioned in the above hadith actually took place inside the Prophet’s mosque as described by other narration by Bukhari and Muslim. Therefore, the fairly narrow view and constricted opinion that limits entertainment only for Hari raya in fact constrains the way life’s daily affair should be conducted whereas Islam provides ample freedom for that.

Entertainment is not like specific ibadah which cannot be added or modified. Its fundamental ruling is “allowable” or falls within the general consent of Islamic rulings which is only to be forbidden when there is textual evidence supporting it. Entertainment is not like specific ibadah which cannot be added on.

Entertainment is an embodiment of human creativity and invention that is widely permitted as long as it does not contradict the principles and laws decreed by Islam.

Moreover, when the Prophet affirmed his consent on that day, he said:

“So that the Jewish will know that there is vastness of choice in our religion. Indeed, I was sent to advocate a direct and easy religion.” (Reported by Ahmad, ranked as sahih by al-Albani)

Today, many people think of Islam as a narrow and stiff religion. At the same time, the West and the Jews are also charging Islam with similar accusations. The Prophet pbuh provided ample freedom in expressing joyousness and in enjoying entertainment so as to avoid Islam being accused and slandered with such claims.

What I am trying to convey is that Hari Raya in Islam is a happy day, not a sad and gloomy day unlike the pictures being projected by the dramas and songs that are televised close to the festive day. Any activities which can stimulate happiness and do not contradict the Islamic laws are encouraged on Hari Raya. These include indulging in good food, visiting others, giving out money and gifts as well as getting involved in singing and other types of entertainment. Islam is a straight religion but easy and practical for human life.

It is unfortunate that in our society, in certain conditions; a sad day such as the death of a person is treated as if it is a joyful day with the preparation of a banquet, giving out money to those performing prayers to the deceased and various other things as if we are celebrating the death. Those are a part of the Islamic teachings. On the other hands, when are encouraged to be happy on Hari Raya, we submerge ourselves in melancholic tunes and dramas, crying at the grave and many more. We purposely reverse the condition. Hari Raya is not a gloomy day. Like the Prophet pbuh said: ““So that the Jewish will know that there is vastness of choice in our religion. Indeed, I was sent to advocate a direct and easy religion.”