The peaceful exterior of the Sultan Abubacker Mosque in Johore, the southerly state of Malaya, hides the excitement and curiosity inside.
The peaceful exterior of the Sultan Abubacker Mosque in Johore, the southerly state of Malaya, hides the excitement and curiosity inside. Like Moslems all over the world, the chief priest in the mosque is watching for the moon - for unless the moon is sighted it means another day of fast to the faithful who have been undergoing this ordeal of purification for a month.
Fortunately the moon is sighted, and the signalize broadcast to the anxious people waiting outside. It is time to break fast and to celebrate the end of the Ramadan month, and to usher in the Moslem New Year. The chief priest himself initiate the fast-breaking.
The announcement of the sighting of the moon is the signal for mass prayers in the mosque, and devotees who have been waiting outside assemble inside the mosque. Moslem, like Hindus in India, pray barefooted and rows of shoes pile up outside the prayer hall indicating that the prayer is on. The Moslem religion also insists that devotees clean themselves by washing their face and feet before entering the prayer hall, and in every mosque wash pipes are provided for the purpose.
Kneeling towards the west, the belief being that you look to Mecca, the holy place of pilgrimage for Moslems all over the world, the crowd joins the Imam (Priest) in saying prayers and expressing their thanks to Allah the Almighty.
Prayers over, it is time to celebrate. For Moslems in Malaya it was a particular festive occasion - it was the most trouble-free year after the armed Communist insurrection started some ten years ago and the end of the rebellion was almost in sight.
The traditional Moslem spirit that everybody is equal before the God pervades at least on this happy day and the palace of the Sultan of Johore is open to anybody who cares to drop in and partake of the refreshments. Here Princess Kulsum bents (daughter of) Abdullah, a British convert to Islam and her consort Prince Mahmood the heir to The Johore Throne greet people who call at the palace. The Princess is the daughter of a London chief barman whom the Prince met in London fell in love and later married. (Informatively, the name Kulsum is a Moslem name and "daughter of Abdullah" just means daughter of God).
High and low alike celebrate this suspicious day. It is a rare occasion for a middle-class and poor families to forget the daily household chores - and they celebrate it by a picnic or a family gatherings either in streets or on beaches.
New Year means new clothes and dressed in their best the young and old stroll in the streets shaking hands and exchanging greetings. Moslem believe that New Year is an occasion to forget past quarrels. In the shake-hand or the greeting is an implied p apology and forgiveness.
The fruit vendor also knows that it is hay day, there are hundreds of people about who have been fasting four a month and are celebrating the end of the rigorous ordeal.
The New Year is here, and with it hopes of a better period ahead - for on that optimistic note rests the future of humanity.