Celebrating Chinese New Year As Muslims: Here's 6 Stories That'll Warm Your Heart


 •  Jan 18, 2023

Many people might have the perception that Muslims only celebrate Hari Raya, but that's not the case at all! Muslims hail from many different races and celebrate different occasions apart from Hari Raya. We talked to 6 Chinese Muslims to find out their heartwarming stories and how they celebrate Chinese New Year. ?

Lynn Melanie Mohan, Malaysia

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey of how you found Islam. 

I am a Chindian (Indian father, Chinese mother). I lost my father when I was 20. My parents were free-thinkers but we did grow up practising a bit of Hinduism. I remember going to the Hindu temple every Friday and occasionally being a vegetarian on Fridays. We celebrated Deepavali and Chinese New Year.

I did not know my mother’s family much except my grandmother, as we were told that the rest of them stayed away from us when she married my father who was Indian. I went to a Methodist school when I was growing up; my parents wanted to send me to a Chinese school so that I can excel in Mathematics and speak good Mandarin but in the end, they were worried about me not having a good command of English. I attended Chapel classes in school and got some exposure to Christianity.

So growing up I was exposed to so many religions/cultures that made me basically confused.

One distinct incident stayed in my memory over the years. I was 10 or so I think and I dreamt about dying; I woke up with so much fear. And not knowing what would happen to me after I died. I woke up and asked my mother and she couldn’t provide me with the answers. And that started my curiosity and my questions. But I couldn’t get anyone to answer my questions about why we did the things we did.

As a young adult, I went through almost the same experiences; I had friends from different backgrounds. The funny thing was that I was not drawn to Islam even though I did have a couple of Muslim friends, one of whom was even my housemate. What I remember throughout my young adult life was I always felt alone, disappointed by people around me, and always looking for something to close that empty/void feeling. And nothing could fill that void. I was exposed to discussions on comparative religion around the time I met my husband.

The more I read about Islam the more it appealed to me.

The first few things I did was attend English classes on Islam (which at that time was tough to find). I enjoyed the Tafseer class I was attending weekly but I was the only Non-Muslim person in that class and someone during one of the classes asked me bluntly what I was waiting for which made me very uncomfortable. I felt that the approach was wrong and I stopped attending classes after that. I also had a very demoralizing experience with another organization which gave me the impression that the approach was very difficult to stomach if you were not brought up as a Muslim. After a lengthy 2 years, I finally reverted Alhamdulillah. My experience was a special one although I did not get much support from my family or friends as well as fellow Muslims (except my husband), Allah gave me all the support I needed and was with me all the step of the way.

2. Do you think there are misconceptions about Chinese Muslims?

Almost the same misconceptions that affect all reverts probably. That we are expected to automatically know the A to Z about Islam. Everything in Malaysia then was most of the time very Malay. And the misconception was most of the time that if you ‘converted’ that you have become ‘Malay’. No offence to anyone but I am proud of my Chinese and Indian heritage. We were created to know and recognize each other; I think that verse of the Quran is especially of significance in this context as well; even though we may be different we are ultimately one ummah.

3. Do you remember your first time celebrating CNY as a Muslim?

It was special as it was more of me showing my Malay husband what was important to me; the Chinese reunion dinner (which I made it a point to plan, and cook for him and my mom), the (usual) things we do during Chinese New Year etc.

4. How do you include your old traditions into your new ones (as a Muslim) during CNY?

As long as it does not go against Islam, I would try to incorporate them into the festivity. Like family gatherings, the opportunity to meet up with distant family and friends and giving gifts of biscuits, oranges and clothing.

5. What’s your advice for other Muslim Chinese reverts?

To embrace your Chinese heritage. Always pray to Allah to make you strong in facing the challenges most reverts face. And to remember this priceless gift from Allah.

P.S. Read this story of how our co-founder, Mikhail, celebrate Chinese New Year!

Rahimah, Singapore

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey of how you found Islam. 

It has been more than 30 years ago when I developed the love for Islam. Back in my younger days, we had a restroom at our workplace. Some of my Muslim colleagues would use the room to pray. I was intrigued. I grew up in a Taoist family, and have never witnessed such faith where people will come together at a specific time to pray. Slowly, I wanted to know more about the religion.

It helped that my colleague at that time (who is now my husband) explained to me the basics of being a Muslim. We were interested in each other but if there’s one thing I can say for sure – it’s that the love for the religion came first, followed by my love for my husband. Which is why I reverted, even before I married him.

2. Do you think there are misconceptions about Chinese Muslims?

The misconception that I had was the initial acceptance from my family and friends because they feared that I would not be the same person after I become a Muslim. But nothing much has changed since I became a Muslim, I still hang out with my family members and relatives except for a difference in dietary preferences. I was very fortunate to have a good spouse and relatives who understood my restrictions. Even after so many years, I still get questions like - 'no pork and lard, so can eat la?' I have to explain to them that it’s not just because its no pork no lard - the food should also be Halal-certified.

3. Do you remember your first time celebrating CNY as a Muslim?

I was a revert before I got married and that must have been more than 32 or 33 years ago. I remembered my family sacrificing for me as my mother actually changed all the pots and pans, and everything else that came into contact with pork previously. It was also the year that we had a CNY reunion minus the famous egg roll that my family used to have during our steamboat reunion dinner and no alcohol as well.

4. How different is it to celebrating Chinese New Year since being a revert? 

CNY means spring cleaning and decorations, which I still practice now even though I do not have guests coming over during CNY. There was this one time when someone noticed the CNY decoration on the main door and also an Ayat. The guy was wondering if our house is a Chinese or Muslim house and I had to explain the situation to that guy.

5. What’s your advice for other Muslim Chinese reverts?

I wanted to share my personal experience as a revert, I am fortunate to have a supportive spouse and understanding relatives who have been very accommodating throughout all these years. It does take a lot of effort from them so that I can celebrate the festivities with family and relatives with ease. My advice is not to be too pressured into fitting in during this season as it is meant to be a joyous occasion. Even if your host serves foodstuffs that are not suitable for our consumption, just reject them politely but still blend in the atmosphere on a high note. InShaAllah, they will understand.

Nur 'Arisyah Tan, Singapore

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey of how you found Islam.

Hi, My name is Nur 'Arisyah Tan, I am a Revert since 29th Feb 2012 - its the Leap Year! I am married to my soulmate and have 2 young ones, age 4 and 1.

I was surrounded by many Muslim colleagues, so I grew closer to Islam even before I dated my husband in 2006. Seeing them practising the faith, made me want to know the religion more, especially with my husband coming into my life then. That couple of years, I was affected by some issues at work hence I was searching for the Faith in life. And I found Islam to be the way. 

So I enrolled in the Basic course with Darul Arqam and started my journey. I have a group of wonderful ladies who are also Chinese Reverts. We call ourselves the Fusion Wives Club - where we give each encouragement and support.

2. Do you think there are misconceptions about Chinese Muslims?

I have many friends who asked me if I still celebrate CNY! It's absurd as there are still many confused between Race and Religion/Faith. Typically, my reply is, "'Why not?' I am still a Chinese and will always be a Chinese, Islam is my Faith, I am also a Muslim and I practise Islam". Many times, I had to quote Christmas and Vesak Day as examples to enlighten them, since the majority are Christians and Buddhist. 

3. Do you remember your first time celebrating CNY as a Muslim?

Not much a difference actually! I would say the difference is only when it comes to meal preparations. When I was still single and staying with my family, they ensured the food, especially the meat sources are Halal-certified.

My family is very traditional, so it is a must to have steamboat at home for our Reunion dinner. I took charge of the grocery shopping then, along with my mother and sisters who will consult me on the things to get or to take note of.  Aside from having the traditional steamboat, my mother will whip up some dishes such as braised duck and vegetables. She will specially source for the Halal ones so I can dig in. The effort from my family was overwhelming! 

Some old folk tales say the children need to stay up late on the eve of CNY to bless longevity to their parents. Well, I did - by accompanying my folks to Chinatown for the last-minute bargains as well as to experience the festivity!

On the first day of CNY, nothing unusual, I hold 2x mandarin oranges and wish my parents a great Lunar New Year, giving them blessings and a token of red packet for good health. There aren't any significant differences I would say. But it's exciting more towards how my relatives and friends perceive me (as a Muslim) celebrating the occasion.

4. How do you include your old traditions into your new one (as a Muslim) during CNY?

The traditional Spring Cleaning has to be done, I would take this opportunity to do a clean-up during the early season of the year and include small elements like a tray of mandarin orange with same red packets on them as decor in the house. Of course, visiting my parents and close relatives have to be fulfilled.  

5. What’s your advice for other Muslim Chinese reverts?

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Lunar New Year to you. As we submit to the Faith, lets still celebrate the festive [part of] our heritage with our family and [loved ones], whilst always, always remembering our intentions.

Danial Leong, Singapore

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and how it is like growing up as a Muslim in Singapore.

My dad is a Chinese convert. My mom is mixed but brought up in a Malay-Muslim household (Chinese grandma was adopted by a Malay family).

I grew up having very few Malay/Muslim friends which were made worse by entering a Catholic secondary school and JC. It was very hard for me to practice the religion in those days given that everyone in Maris Stella were non-Muslims. Subsequently, I made more Muslim friends in the SCDF which was a great thing. I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life - met a friend who's mixed Kiwi-Malay and met others like myself too! At SMU, I joined Malay events to meet more people outside my social circle and met many amazing schoolmates along the way.

2. Do you think there are misconceptions about Chinese Muslims?

Yes. Definitely. People are still unable to wrap their heads around the differences between race and religion - most likely due to ignorance. While this view is prevalent among the older generation, it's quite shocking to see many university undergraduates having this misconception as well. To the Chinese, I am Malay. To the Malays, I am Chinese. It has always been difficult for people to see me as I am, without having pre-existing notions as to who I am.

To the Chinese, especially, a severe checkbox to determine whether you're Chinese or not is whether you eat pork. It's quite sad to see thousands of years of Chinese tradition being diluted to what you put in your mouth.

But I think moving forward, the best way to correct this kind of mindset would be to educate them with facts in an amicable way that generates positive discussion. Raising awareness is crucial.

3. Living in a non-Muslim majority country, how has this shaped your CNY experience?

CNY (besides gambling and drinking) is about family and the most important thing to do as a Muslim would be to spend time with the people you love the most.

4. What’s your advice for other Chinese Muslims?

Do be patient with stereotypes and how you are being labelled as a "Malay". Patience is key and many Chinese Muslims face the same issue. If your old friends start to treat you differently, do try to educate them and if they still insist on being discriminatory/insulting, leave them. Perhaps, they are not the right group of friends for you :)

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Zafirah Soh, Singapore

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey of how you found Islam.

I am a Singaporean born Chinese Buddhist and I found Islam through my husband, who showed me a lot of greatness of Islam since we dated. He was courteous and showed me greatness in family values.

2. Do you think there are misconceptions about Chinese Muslims?

Yes, the misconception that I always experience is that I have become a Malay. When I travel to Arab countries, they would think I am an Indonesian. When I am in western countries, they would think I am an Arab. Many local people think we are very traditionally blinded Muslims. But actually, everything in Islam has its reasons.

3. Do you remember your first time celebrating CNY as a Muslim?

My first time celebrating CNY was exciting. Even my relatives were excited yet nervous as they do not know what to serve me. One of my Aunts set a table separately with a rose for my husband and me for lunch.

4. Living in a non-Muslim majority country, how has this shaped your CNY experience?

A lot of sharing of differences in culture helps. A lot more respect when visiting non-muslim relatives is very important. I wouldn't like them to feel like we are 'haram police' and everything is about us only. Overall, I have learnt to respect others more.

5. How different is it celebrating Chinese New Year since being a revert?

Sometimes people don't understand why a hijabi needs to celebrate Chinese New Year. They thought that we should only celebrate Hari Raya. But before I put on a hijab, people used to say that I need to celebrate CNY as it is my culture. (?‍♀️ *confused*)

6. How do you include your old traditions into your new one (as a Muslim) during CNY?

I still 守岁 (Note: 'Shou sui' is a Chinese New Year tradition where children will stay up late to ensure their parents' longevity) for my parents with extra prayers and zikir for them at night; Reunion dinner and visiting is a must; I would also try to educate my kids on feasible traditions. We still pray 5 times a day as Muslims even while we are celebrating CNY.


 Meryem Chin, Singapore

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey of how you found Islam.

My idea of what Islam was came from vague impressions formed by 9/11, the Iraq war – really everything about violence. I did not understand why women wore the hijabs or the niqabs, I even thought Islam made women inferior to men. Looking back now, I am astounded at how much negativity and misinformation one can get just by being uninterested in the subject. I guess this was also one of the reasons why I was reluctant to even put a toe towards the path of Islam (though it felt so right).

But eventually, I did put that toe in. I read the Quran. Where was the violence? Where was the oppression of women? There was none. In fact, it was all the opposite.

People told me that the search for God should take a few years, but frankly, can you even put a time frame to such a thing? Being a Muslim is simple. One just has to declare their belief that there is no other God but God alone, and that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w is His Messenger. There was no big revelation, or dreaming of a bright light, or a deep voice telling me to just do it. It was simple. I just knew I had to say out what was in my heart. And I remember that when I did say it, the azan was sounding in the background. It was pure coincidence, but I felt it was God’s way of welcoming me to the start of my journey with Him.

2. Do you remember your first time celebrating CNY as a Muslim?

The first time I celebrated CNY as a Muslim, only my immediate family knew about it. But they told my grandmother, so instead of the usual dishes which included pork for our reunion dinner, she replaced it with chicken :) And for the rest of CNY, I just didn't touch the food that I thought questionable.

3. Living in a non-Muslim majority country (if it's Japan), how has this shaped your CNY experience?

I had always been in Singapore most of the time during CNY, rarely overseas. But during those times when I was, it got pretty lonely. I would be looking at pictures of reunion gatherings on Instagram and sometimes I'd wish I was back in Singapore. :(

4. How different is it celebrating Chinese New Year since being a revert?

Apart from the food and the occasional "EH, you look like a Malay now!" exclamations from some distant relatives (and then I have to say to them "My dad and mom are still Chinese leh!"), nothing has changed pretty much. When I first reverted I was being VERY particular about the food I consumed, who made it and where it came from, but I realised that it broke many hearts especially of the people close to me.

And I remember a question someone asked my late Ustaz (May Allah bless his soul!) that went around this line, "If you're living with your non-Muslim family and washing the dishes, do you have to wash them 7 times and with earth?" and he said that if you are able to hear the "eek-eek" squeak of the plates after you wash them, doesn't it mean they're clean enough? :)

Tolerance should go both ways, and after living in a country like Japan where practically everything is non-halal (I mean literally everything, even vegetarian pizzas have pork in them!) I realised that if we try our best to avoid what's haram, Allah will make things easy for us. So when I go home for CNY, I just don't touch the pork and alcohol, and don't make a big fuss over who cooked it or where it was cooked. I'm not saying that everyone should do the same, after all everyone has different levels of tolerance, but I learnt that family ties are one of the most important relationships one should treasure, and that has shaped how I communicate and act around my non-Muslim family.

5. How do you include your old traditions into your new one (as a Muslim) during CNY?

My traditions are still the same since I'm pretty much still Chinese. My family is Roman Catholic so we didn't have the religious aspect of the occasion. We still go around visiting relatives and wishing good.

6. What’s your advice for other Muslim Chinese reverts?

Don't get too affected by the kaypoh questions or advice that always comes along during CNY- take what's good and leave the rest! After all, we know our own journey and whatever we have gone through should make us better Muslims and better humans.

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