Ramadan is considered a sacred month during which Muslims focus on fasting and praying. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and it is believed that the Koran’s first verse was revealed during its last 10 nights.
Over half of the population in Malaysia is Muslim. For Muslims all around the world, the fasting month is regarded as the best month of the year for good deeds, doing charity, and prayers. Many pray an additional evening tarawih prayer at home or at the masjid. Many read and recite the Quran and give alms.
In Malaysia, the sun rises and sets at nearly the same time each day. Fasting is observed from the start of the early morning prayers (around 5.40 AM) until sunset (around 7.30 PM). Non-Muslims aren’t required to fast.
Ramadan is when families get together, and many try to make sure they break fast together. Malaysians live to eat, and the local characteristics of Ramadan are most notable at iftar time. Families have different traditions of breaking fast: some cook at home, others buy meals from one of the many pasar Ramadan, Ramadan food bazaars, or eat at the local mosque. Many hotels and restaurants offer lavish Ramadan buffets that are sometimes criticised for commercialising the religious tradition. Some of the dishes are only available at this time of the year, like a rice porridge called bubur lambuk.
Muslim-run eateries are closed until the afternoon, but especially in big cities other restaurants and cafés stay open as usual for those not fasting. The pasar Ramadan sell a variety of food and are patronised by both Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s good manners to not to tuck in at the market but take the food home to eat.
In the olden times, food was mostly prepared at home, and often shared with neighbours in the spirit of Ramadan. Some still follow this tradition. Kerosene lamps and sparklers are also part of the countryside traditions that many fondly remember from their childhood.
Traffic gridlocks in big cities change their pattern to follow the meal and prayer times. Commuters are spared from the morning traffic when people head to the office, but the jams build up in the afternoon with people rushing home or to the bazaars. The roads remain busy until late near the mosques and suraus.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Towards the end of the month, people start preparations for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, as Eid is called in Malaysia. On the to-do list are new clothes, delicacies, as well as new furniture and decoration for the houses. Lights and decoration in green, yellow, and gold are put up in shops, offices, and government agencies.
Hari Raya Aidifitri, or Hari Raya Puasa, is a three-day holiday marked by the exchanging of gifts, family visits, and vast meals. Hari Raya officially begins after the sighting of the crescent of the moon in the late evening on the last day of Ramadan, usually by religious officials at several vantage points throughout the country.
If the crescent is sighted, the next day is declared as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Hari Raya Aidilfitri prayers are held at mosques early in the morning, after which many visit graves of their loved ones already passed away.
The first days of Hari Raya are usually spent with family, but many hold open houses throughout the month. Open houses are typical for all Malaysian festivals – friends and neighbours are invited to share festive dishes. Children are given duit raya – gifts of money in small green packets. The first two days are public holidays but most will take a week off and return to their home towns – this exodus is called balik kampong (literally trip to home village). It causes massive traffic jams and leaves the cities empty.
Videos on Ramadan in Malaysia
The Malaysian cartoon Upin and Ipin sheds light on life in Malaysia, including the fasting month (with English subtitles):
A great way to get a glimpse of the traditions of Hari Raya are the television adverts produced by local companies during the festive season. They often paint a nostalgic picture of Hari Raya, like this one:
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