Vietnam Muslims celebrate Tet

By Phan Duong   January 22, 2020 | 05:35 am PT
Vietnam Muslims celebrate Tet
Vu Thi Vui (second right) with her Muslim sisters in Hanoi in 2019. Photo courtesy of Vui.
Although prohibited from celebrating Tet, Vietnamese Muslims still return home to reunite with their families, give relatives money and make "banh chung".

Along the dyke in Vong La Commune, Hanoi's Dong Anh district, locals are preparing for Tet (Lunar New Year). Adults arrange peach flowers, dong leaves and kumquat trees while excited kids rummage through new clothes. However, in the small house of Vu Thi Vui, 42, the atmosphere is quite different, her family being Muslim. 

Vui adopted Islam in 2009 while employed in Saudi Arabia, attracted by its advocation of integrity and honesty. 

Muslims are not allowed to celebrate holidays outside their religion. However, Vui’s family still celebrates Vietnamese New Year to a certain extent.

Every Lunar New Year, her family returns to their hometown in northern Phu Tho Province, bringing along a dozen kilograms of chicken, lamb and beef. "While we do not eat pork, all other types of meat must be processed by Muslims. We enjoy plenty of vegetables and seafood too," Vui said. 

On the first day of spring, Vui gives her parents and relatives some money, but without calling it "li xi" (lucky money), considering it a normal act of kindness. "I also make "banh chung" (square sticky rice cake) for fun," she added. 

Three years ago, Nguyen Thi Hong, 33, from Ho Chi Minh City asked her parents in northern Nam Dinh Province when they would like her to return home, only to be told "Lunar New Year".

During Lunar New Year, Vietnamese families often visit graves and worship their ancestors. Hong, however, as the wife of a Malaysian who adopted Islam 9 years ago, is barred from such rituals. In her first few years as a Muslim, her family and relatives struggled to understand her stance, accusing her of "forgetting her roots".

Hong still tries to visit her hometown every Tet. "My father is a family-oriented person and wants people to gather together for the new year. Our religion teaches us to respect and care for our parents and grandparents while still alive," she explained.

Hong's father used to fear his daughter may suffer a disadvantage after conversion, especially after witnessing her exit the mosque in tears on her wedding day. However, over the years, seeing his child is happy, he gradually relaxed. 

"My parents no longer complain as much as they used to, however, some conflicts remain unresolved. Every time I go back home I am told to replace my headscarf with a woolen equivalent. I try to please my family within limitations," Hong said. 

Khanh Van, 38, from central Nghe An Province has been a practising Muslim since marrying an Indonesian four years ago. Ever since, Lunar New Year means little to her as "Muslims do not celebrate unassociated New Year holidays". 

"When I return home for Tet, I avoid temples and spend my time sightseeing. Giving money to relatives became an act of kindness rather than luck," she noted.

Despite ritual limitations, she appreciates the beauty of Islam. Since conversion, she lies less and is not suspicious of others. Islam also prohibits the consumption of alcohol so her husband is always home after work. Praying five times a day helps her enjoy more peace. 

Maria Nguyen and her husband are both Vietnamese Muslims but still look forward to Lunar New Year, trying their best to create a Tet atmosphere for their 9-year-old and 4-year-old daughters each year.

"Every Tet I make coconut preserve, "banh chung" with banana fillings and square cakes stuffed with chicken. I even make a pot of braised beef with eggs," she said. "On Lunar New Year's Eve, we do not make offerings to ancestors but still stay up late to drink tea and enjoy the first minutes of the year together. During early morning, I would give the two children some lucky money."

Banh chung with chicken and banana fillings alongside peanut candies prepared by Maria Nguyen’s family for Lunar New Year. Photo courtesy of Maria Nguyen. 

"Banh chung" with chicken and banana fillings alongside peanut candies prepared by Maria Nguyen’s family for Lunar New Year. Photo courtesy of Maria Nguyen. 

According to her, the majority of women who marry Muslim husbands no longer celebrate Lunar New Year. However, Maria's own family is still excited about Tet and only avoid activities strictly prohibited. 

"I will meet relatives and friends to eat and talk. I often make around 20-30 "banh chung" to hand out, since the traditional cakes warm up the atmosphere in a foreign country," she said. 

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