By Muhaimin Merican
The festival of Eid, known in Malaysia as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa, falls on the first day of the month of Syawal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar.
Traditionally, it is a celebrated as a joyous occasion following the completion of one month of fasting during Ramadhan.
Unlike in the Middle East, Aidilfitri celebrations in Malaysia often outdo the festivities that accompany Hari Raya Aidiladha or Hari Raya Haji—the festival marking the successful completion of the haj pilgrimage season—which follows about three months later.
The term Hari Raya is Malay for ‘big (or grand) day’, thus denoting a festival day. Puasa is the Malay word for ‘fasting’, and the entire phrase, Hari Raya Puasa, is a rough translation of the Arabic term, Aidilfitri, which in itself means ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast’.
Malaysian culture has made Aidilfitri a little different here from how it is celebrated around the world. This ranges from the food served to the clothes worn, and to how the entire festive season is celebrated.
During the Aidilfitri season, children look forward to receiving duit raya—which can be roughly translated as ‘celebration money’.
The handing out of duit raya is a big part of the celebration during the Aidilfitri season and is based on the Muslim practice of giving alms or sedekah (charity) to the less fortunate. The tradition has grown beyond giving money to children, however, and has since evolved to include youth who are not yet married or not yet working.
Duit Raya is handed out in specially-made colourful packets, and this could be an influence of our Chinese friends who hand out ang pow or red packets of money during Chinese New Year.
However, the tradition is not limited to only Malaysia. The practice is also popular in other countries in the region, such as Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia. It is also practised in Sri Lanka, where money is given in notes and not in special envelopes. Much like in Malaysia, the custom is mostly limited to children but some homeowners do give money to unmarried youth.
This tradition is also popular in countries such as Bangladesh and Qatar. Due to the prosperity of the Middle East, the concept of Eidi, which roughly translates into ‘gift’, is often a more generous gesture. While usually only small bills are given to houseguests in Malaysia, Eidi in the Middle East can be a much larger amount.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is often celebrated around the world for one or two days, beginning on the first day when Muslims go to the mosque to pray and listen to the Aidilfitri khutbah (sermon). Then, on returning home, they receive guests and relatives who come to pay them a visit over the next two days.
The‘open house’ concept has been introduced over the past few decades, whereby hosts invite friends and relatives on a certain day to come to their house and a variety of traditional Hari Raya dishes are served. This concept has now been picked up by businesses to hold Hari Raya gatherings during this season.
In Brunei, the visiting of relatives is often followed by a tahlil or doa selamat—special prayer gatherings—where members of the family hold prayers for their loved ones who have passed away. Although the visiting the graves of loved ones is also practiced by some Muslims in Malaysia, it is much more prominently practised in Brunei.
If there is one thing uniquely Malaysian about how we celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malaysia, it is the Hari Raya songs that will be played on the radio and in shopping malls and bazaars. Radio listeners and shoppers will be serenaded with tunes that have become evergreen and are known to generations of Malaysians.
Since the first Hari Raya Aidilfitri song was created in 1936, such songs have enjoyed popularity among Malaysians and even Singaporeans and Indonesians. Some of Malaysia’s biggest names in the local music industry such as P. Ramlee, Sudirman, DJ Dave, Aishah and Siti Nurhaliza have created signature Hari Raya Aidilfitri hits that are played every year.
The catchy choruses and melodious tunes are awaited all year long by everyone of all ages.
These melodic gems along with the scrumptious food, duit raya and the ‘open house’ tradition are what make the Aidilfitri celebrations in Malaysia uniquely our own.
A Time for Rejoicing
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is celebrated by Muslims around the world. While there may be some variations, especially in the types of food served, the true essence of the festival is never forgotten: to celebrate the successful completion of one month of Ramadan fasting.
One of the most important parts of Hari Raya Aidilfitri that everyone looks forward to is the food. In Malaysia, each state has their own version of traditional dishes that are served to guests during this festive season.
Aside from ketupat, another very special rice dish that makes its way to the table during the Aidilfitri season is lemang, which is a glutinous rice dish. Both ketupat and lemang are usually served with rendang. Rendang is a dish made from stewing meat or chicken in coconut milk with spices until the liquid has evaporated and the meat is tender.
While it may appear like a humble rice cake, lemang is one of the most complicated local dishes to make. To make lemang, rice and coconut milk are first mixed to get the rich texture for which this dish is known. After this, the mixture is filled into the hollow sections of bamboos that have been lined with banana leaves on the inside in order to avoid the rice from sticking to the bamboo.
In our neighbouring country, Brunei, the must-serve dish during Hari Raya is ketupat, though rendang and dodol (a sticky confection made from coconut milk and palm sugar), which are served during Aidilfitri in Malaysia, are not popular there.
A dish that you would find in most Bruneian households during the Hari Raya season is satay, the regionally-famous grilled meat skewers.
In Bangladesh, sweets take centre spot on the dining table during the festive season. One of the most popular sweet dishes is a pudding called kheer. It is made by boiling with milk and sugar one of the following: rice, broken wheat, tapioca, vermicelli, sweet corn, and various others. It is most often flavoured with cardamom, raisins, saffron, cashews, pistachios, almonds or other dry fruits and nuts.
Another popular dish in the Middle East during Hari Raya is Om Ali. Roughly translating as ‘Ali’s Mother’, this dish is a type of pastry that is divided into pieces and blended with pistachios, coconut flakes, raisins and plenty of sugar. Milk, sometimes with cream, is poured over the mixture, which is then sprinkled with cinnamon. Finally, the mixture is baked in the oven until the surface is golden brown. It can be eaten hot or cold.
To find out what Hari Raya Aidilfitri meant for people around the world compared to how we celebrate it in Malaysia, we sat down with 7 people who had spent Hari Raya in different parts of the world like the Nusantara region, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and the West. This is what they had to say: