In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
"I have only created Jinns and Men,
that they may serve Me." (Zariyat 51:56)
I was born in 1962, the year of the tiger according to the Chinese calendar. What does the year of the tiger or in general Chinese New Year, really mean to me? What is my understanding of Gong Xi Fa Chai?
In 1977, when I was in Form Three, my Commerce teacher who was a Chinese, invited my friends and I to his house to celebrate Chinese New Year; to be exact a few days after the big day.
Being a simple man and perhaps being sensitive to Muslims obligations regarding food, he spread his table with packets of groundnuts, 'kuaci' (watermelon seeds), sweets, biscuits, ice-cream and bottled drinks, minus cooked food.
After wishing him Kong Hee Fat Choy (they spelled it this way those days) and exchanging gestures while munching the food, we were on our way. Boys being boys; we could not settle at a spot for a long time; we had some other 'important things' to do such as going to the 3.00pm cinema show.
It was a brief visit, but perhaps a step closer for us in learning about people from other races and their culture. Staying in a kampung with a few Chinese families living nearby during my yearly eyes, I only had glimpses of the Chinese and their culture, such as celebrating their new year.
It’s hard not to associate Chinese New Year with fire crackers. On the eve of the big day and nights after, the sound of explosives would reverberate our kampung. I had befriended some Chinese but none of them had ever invited me over to their homes. Perhaps they were thinking that food served would be inconsumable by Muslims.
In those days, kampung folks were dependent on Chinese sundry shops for their daily supplies. Before the Chinese retailers closed shops to celebrate the big day; villagers had to check their stock such as rice, flour and sugar.
For freshly products such as vegetables, the kampung folks had them from their backyard ‘kebun’ (garden) or bushes nearby. It was common for them to have ‘pucuk pakis' or 'paku' and 'ubi’ (young ferns and leaves of tapioca plants).
Once during the holidays, I went the kampung sundry shop. Seeing the front door closed, I slipped myself to the back. I was shocked to see a group of men busily gambling by playing cards there. Bottles of liquor were also seen by their side. So during my yearly years my thinking was that Chinese New Year was meant to be merry time for gambling and drinking.
In Primary Four, I learnt more about the Chinese and their celebration including their new year in a subject known as Civics. I learned that the Chinese would have a big ‘makan’ (reunion dinner) involving all family members on the eve of the big day. Floors should not be swept for a few days because it would be like sweeping away prosperity.
And I learned about Chap Goh Meh, the 15th lunar day when young women would throw oranges into rivers and seas; seeking for luck including wishing for Mr Right (would be husband). Some said; the Chinese celebrate Lantern Festival.
Before that celebration, I remembered some Chinese men living nearby would persuade my father to sell a pair of sugarcane plants without cutting their roots and leaves. Since the men said the ‘tebu’ were for ‘sembahyang’ (worshipping the Chinese gods), my father told them politely he would not sell them. He said it was against the teaching of Islam to have the plants being used for that purpose.
When I grew older I learned more about the Chinese New Year. Gong Xi Fa Chai means ‘wishing you to enlarge your wealth’. Gong Xi: means wishing/blessing while Fa: means enlarge(ment) and Chai: means wealth. So a literal translation is that you wish someone will become very rich, but the phrase is generally used as Happy New Year.
Regarding wealth and the Chinese, a few of my Chinese friends told me that they had to be wealthy in this world in order to be rich in the Hereafter. So that is why the Chinese work very hard to fulfill their ambitions to be rich in both worlds, they said.
In Islam, riches are not from abundance of worldly goods, but from a contented mind.
Wealth, properly employed, is a blessing; and a man should lawfully endeavour to increase it by honest means.
The son of Man grows and with him grows two things - the love of wealth and love of long life.
Ibn 'Abbas relates, he heard the Holy Prophet saying: "Even if there were for a man two valleys full of wealth he would aspire for a third one, and nothing could fill man's belly but dust, and Allah turns to him who turns to Allah.
Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: "Whenever one of you looks at him who has been graced with wealth and health to a greater extend than himself, let him also have a look at one who is below him in that respect."
I might be wrong in making my sweeping statement about the Chinese regarding wealth, so to my Chinese friends do correct me. I must admit that my knowledge and understanding about the Chinese was little, so when a friend of mine suggested that Muslims activists especially its leaders learn Mandarin and the Chinese culture, I couldn’t agree more.
He said its high time Muslims leaders learn to speak Mandarin. He said, if a husband's heart could be captured by his wife with her cooking (taking good care of his belly), the Chinese would adapt well if Muslims leaders could communicate in that language.
My friend said it is timely Malays picked up a third or fourth language, and Mandarin is a good option. He said Mandarin as a subject ought to be an offer beginning from primary school. Even though Arabic is emphasised in our primary education, sound knowledge in Mandarin could help ready younger generations to cope with the demanding work force needs and of course in this aspect, politics!
“As in politics, it is timely for the politicians to be able to converse in Mandarin and know the culture of the people they are representing,” said my friend. “And if it happens that the constituents he or she represented is densely Chinese populated, than of course the one who knew Mandarin would have the edge,” he said.
He also said Muslims should learned how their former spiritual leader, Tok Guru Menteri Besar Kelantan, Dato’ Nik Aziz Nik Mat before his death, has captured the hearts of non-Moslems especially the Chinese in his state.
He said from his experience in Kelantan, he felt the Chinese there had full respect to the Tok Guru. They too trust his government and of course had no obstacles in giving him and his party the mandate to govern the state continuously.
As for me, I am ‘roaring’ (like a tiger) to learn more about the Chinese, and that’s why when Chinese speakers such as Ann Wan Seng and Lim Jooi Soon turn up in my office for talks, I made a point to be present. To the Chinese, Gong Xi Fa Chai!