Malaysia Airlines flight 17

Malaysia mourns MH17 and MH370, even as it celebrates end of Ramadan

End of Ramadan should be a time for Muslims to celebrate. But Malaysians are struggling to come to terms with two aviation disasters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 11:27pm

Fireworks danced across the sky in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night, ahead of yesterday's Hari Raya Puasa holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

But Malaysia's festivities for Islam's most important holiday, known elsewhere as Eid ul-Fitr, were shrouded by a dark mood, as the country reeled from the aviation disasters of flights MH370 and MH17.

"Mummy, this year's Raya and the upcoming ones will not be Raya," tweeted 15-year-old Diyana Yazeera, whose mother, Dora Shahila Kassim, was chief stewardess on MH17. She perished with 297 others when the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over Ukraine.

"I'm not gonna celebrate it without you," wrote Yazeera.

The air tragedies have cast a long shadow, leaving Malaysians struggling to make sense of the twin disasters.

Not a trace has been found of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, which vanished in March with 239 passengers. Two weeks ago, flight 17 was downed, allegedly by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Over the weekend, Kuala Lumpur roads were jammed as tens of thousands of Malaysians rushed to their hometowns to be with their parents and relatives for the religious holiday.

But for many, thoughts turned to the relatives of those lost in the air disasters.

"This is the saddest Hari Raya I have ever experienced. But life must go on, because we if don't carry on, then it will be very difficult," said 35-year-old Mohammad Kassim, who works in the city centre. "We must ask God to help. I cannot even imagine what their pain must be like."

A taxi driver said even though he did not celebrate the festival, he could feel a sense of unity between Malaysians of all races.

"Over the last 10 years, it's been getting worse, the racism and religious divide... because the politicians are using religion to cause trouble," he said in Tamil. "But this time, I see everyone is thinking and praying for the families of the people on board the unfortunate flights. No matter who you are, you can't help but be sad for them."

During a special televised prayer session at the National Mosque, attended by Prime Minister Najib Razak, some wiped away tears at the mention of the ill-fated flights.

The face of Malaysia's response to the MH370 saga, defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein, described this year's holiday as "bitter sweet". It "won't be the same," he tweeted.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has applauded Najib's handling of the MH17 crisis, tweeted: "Whilst we rejoice, let's not forget #MH370 and #MH17."

Malaysia's most famous music export, the folk pop sensation Yuna, told her million-plus Twitter followers that her Hari Raya "is not whole knowing there are families who had just lost their loved ones".

In a speech televised live on Sunday, Najib spoke about the deal he brokered with Alexander Borodai, the leader of the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine whom the US strongly believes are responsible for downing Flight 17.

"During these anxious moments, negotiations were conducted with a lot of caution to get the desired result, and there were times that I had to work quietly in order to ensure a better outcome," Najib said. "All these tests and obstacles … have taught us useful lessons on the need to build on the strengths and resilience of the Muslims in this country to enable us to meet the challenges in all fields so as to emerge as a progressive and viable model Islamic nation."

There was initial hope that families of passengers of Flight 17 would get the remains of their loved ones home before the holiday. But in recent days Najib has said proper identification in the Netherlands would take weeks.

Perhaps then, there will finally be some closure for the victims' families and other Malaysians.