Tuesday, October 24, 2006

RELIGION/COMMENT: Religious festivals back-to-back

This year, 2 major festivals of 2 major world religions will coincide.

Over the weekend, Hindus will commemorate the Festival of Lights, otherwise known as Divali (or Dipavali in southern India) commemorating the reunion of Lord Rama with his bride Sita (known in Indonesia as “Cinta”).

The story of Rama and Sita is found in the ancient Hindu epic called the Ramayana. In India, the birthplace of Rama (the north Indian city of Ayodhya) has become a warzone, Hindu militants destroying a medieval mosque in 1992 leading to religious riots in which tens of thousands have been killed across northern India.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Muslim actors regularly perform the Ramayana ballet to largely Muslim audiences. In January, I was fortunate enough to see a traditional Ramayana ballet performed in Yogyakarta. The ballet was performed in the shadow of one of the oldest Hindu temples on earth.

But what made the performance amazing was not the music, the instruments or costumes. It was that this ballet was being performed as a cultural performance in the world’s largest Muslim country. Indonesian Muslims take their Hindu heritage seriously.

Speaking of Muslims, this morning most Muslims across Australia conclude their fasting month of Ramadan with prayers and a feast. The festival (called Eid by Arabs, Bayram by Turks and Hari Raya by Malays and Indonesians) is traditionally a time for visiting families as well as praying for the souls of departed loved ones.

Not all Muslims will be celebrating the end of the fasting month tomorrow. I realise some people out there believe imams and other Muslims are part of a huge conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation, plotting and planning our downfall through violence and terror.

The reality is that imams cannot even agree on how to determine the precise dates of major festivals! In November, three Muslim comics from North America will be performing their Allah Made Me Funny comedy show in Sydney and Melbourne. One of their number, Chicago lawyer Azhar Usman, tells of one of his colleagues telling him: “Listen, Azhar, I have absolutely no interest in organised religion.”

Azhar’s response? “Well, then, become a Muslim. We are the most disorganised religion on earth!”

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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