Wattalapan (coconut flan), photo by sh.fernando.
Today was a holiday in Sri Lanka, a Muslim one. If anyone hates on Islam, I have one word for you. Wattalapan. It’s a sweet coconut flan, with cashews if you’re lucky. No it’s not Arab and it’s not especially religious, but it’s how Sri Lankan Muslims share their faith, and I think it helps everyone realize that we’re all human.
This Hajj a friend got a whole savan from a Muslim friend. This is one large bowl with enough food for five people, chicken, salad, rice, potatoes, peas, chili pickled onion. It’s great. The best part, however, is the creamy, cold wattalapan for desert. Later I flipped through a book about the story of Hajj.
Apparently Abraham – the grandfather of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – was told to leave his wife and child in the desert (by Allah). So great was his faith that he did, and his wife struggled to shield the infant under the sweltering sun. She ran back and forth looking for water but there was none. Then an angel, Jibril, appeared and pointed to Ismail, as a fountain sprung up beneath him. So I think the lesson is that Allah provides. Today pilgrims on Hajj go to that fountain, and walk between those two hills.
Perhaps more than any race or religion, Islam is misunderstood in Sri Lanka. Muslims have lived in relative peace for years, but now their population is growing and many Sinhalese and Tamils are scared. The English Speaking Elites are put off by people wearing Hijab, eastern and northern Tamils are scared of Muslims encroaching on business, Sinhalese are scared of being outbred.
However, as Muslims share food and their faith throughout all of their festivals, I think it helps us remember that we can share this island in relative peace and, I think, delight. For many Muslims a pilgrimage on Hajj is the pinnacle of life. It may be somewhat cretinous to talk about wattalapan, but as someone that’s not Muslim, that’s my most tangible experience of the time. This is a Sri Lankan Muslim thing, but I think it shows that Islam is not a closed faith, that it is a peaceful one, and extremely neighborly.
I’m still touched that someone would prepare so much food and deliver it to so many people. The person who gave us savan comes from a completely different socio-economic class and it must have been a real stretch to both buy and prepare for so many people, but she did. I know that throughout offices and homes in Sri Lanka people have had their festival treat or are waiting for it. Christians share food on Christmas and Easter, Buddhists share for dhanes (commemorations) and heathens still give birthday treats.
I was watching the Dalai Lama on MasterChef and he said sharing food is the basis of human relationships. And it kinda is. As diverse as Sri Lanka is, we still celebrate religious holidays together in that basic way, and it’s both both literally and figuratively sweet. Eid Mubarak everyone.