Friday, 27 September 2013

Of Cherish & Worship

Today is the exact date of Qing Ming festival, whereby it gives the living family members (especially Buddhists/Taoists) to reconnect with their deceased loved ones. Usually, this is done by visiting and cleaning the deceased's grave and perform religious rituals on it. The visiting can also be done a week earlier or a week after the supposed date. 

This tradition is in line with Confucianism teachings of filial piety. There are many versions of this festival's origins. One of the notable story tells about a Chinese emperor of Han dynasty (around 206AD) who succeeded in claiming the throne over previous dynasty. However, his parents had passed away long ago and their graves are lost in the war-torn state. Thus, he decided to search his beloved parents' graves with the help of his ministers. Once found, he immediately clean off the dirt from the tombstone and kneel down, exclaiming, "My mother, my father! Your unfilial son has just return!". Later, his people started visiting their beloved's graves which is still practised until now.

What about the joss sticks (烧香) and those cardboard-made objects and prayer papers that are burned there?

Yes, those are religious side of it. These items enable the living family to have a sense of connection with the deceased (by "sending" these items to another world). Remembrance is the principle foundation of this festival, whereas the religious rituals are to give this festival a meaning to the family, as the people at that time practised Buddhists and Taoists.

Thus, for a Chinese who has bear witness that Allah Almighty is his Only Creator and Muhammad (pbuh) as his Prophet and best examplar of humankind, leave the religious side of it, but you may keep the remembrance. It is permissible to help clean the grave, and perhaps when possible, pray in your heart that may Allah grant your living family members the Hidayah.

For those who have already reverted to Islam, but still need to hide their faith due to safety reasons, you may first try your best to avoid the rituals. Otherwise, you may do it, but telling yourself in heart that only Allah is worthy to be worshipped.
As for reverts whom their deceased family members are also Muslim reverts too (Alhamduliah), it is better for you to visit their graves anytime, not just during this festival. However, it's also up to you to visit or otherwise, as it is not compulsory for Muslims. It is better to personally pray to Allah in your Du'a to forgive their souls.

Narrated 'Abdur Rahman bin Abi Laila:
Sahl bin Hunaif and Qais bin Sad were sitting in the city of Al-Qadisiya. A funeral procession passed in front of them and they stood up. They were told that funeral procession was of one of the inhabitants of the land i.e. of a non-believer, under the protection of Muslims. They said, "A funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet and he stood up. When he was told that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, "Is he not a living being (soul)?"
(Sahih Bukhari Hadith:: Book 2 :: Volume 23 :: Hadith no. 399)

The great importance of respecting parents as part of the wholesomeness of an individual has been emphasized by Confucius when he said:

"At home, a young man should be a good son, when outside he should treat others like his brothers, his behavior should be one of trustworthy and proper, and should love the multitude at large and keep himself close to people of benevolence and morality. If after all these activities, he has any energy to spare, he should read widely to stay cultivated."
- The Analects (论语), chapter 1, verse 6

In Islam itself, there are plenty of Qur'an verses and Hadith that priotise the same thing. Among them, Allah Almighty commands:

وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوٓا۟ إِلَّآ إِيَّاهُ وَبِٱلْوَلِدَيْنِ إِحْسَنًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ ٱلْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَآ أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّۢ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًۭا كَرِيمًۭا * وَٱخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ ٱلذُّلِّ مِنَ ٱلرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ٱرْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِى صَغِيرًۭا

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small."”
~Qur'an 17:23-24

Hence, it is indeed very important to understand its background in order to differentiate between the cultural significance and the religious side of this festival.
Hopefully, may this passage not only enable readers to have a clear picture of this festival, but also to able to help reverts who are facing this challenge during this time.

p/s: More information about joss sticks:

(Image from 國際道家學術總會粉絲專頁)

Originally posted in MRM @ 4 April 2013

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