Selamat Hari Raya (Happy Hari Raya) to all Muslim readers of this blog, I know there are a few of you! This week I have been fully engrossed in the holiday of celebrating the end of fast for all Muslims in Malaysia and Singapore. Before I describe the events of the holiday I will explain to any non-Muslims some points about Islamic and Malay culture that will help you understand the importance of this exciting ceremony!
What is Hari Raya?
Hari Raya marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is celebrated by Muslims from all over the world, especially in Malaysia and Singapore. People are entitled to a couple of days off work and travel back home to celebrate with friends and family by enjoying a big feast of delicious food. Spiritually, it is a time for forgive and forget. All discrepancies and arguments that were encountered in the previous year between loved ones are put aside and forgotten as if they never happer
What gifts are given?
Hari Raya can be compared to a Westerners Christmas. However, rather than gifts, money is given in envelopes to friends and family of your choice. Children are usually the benefiters and receive the most money. It is uncommon for people to give money to friends or family who are older than them unless it is their parents. Usually a young married couple would give to teenagers and a husband and wife of 25 years would give to a young married couple. It is also noteworthy that unmarried Muslims rarely participate in the money exchanges compared to Married couples. A modest amount of money to give to a child by the person gifting the money is between 5-10 ringgit (£1-£2).
What do people wear?
One of the most fun parts of Hari Raya is dressing up in traditional Malay outfits. Women usually wear a Baju Kurong and men wear the male version along with a Kain Samping. It is common for men to wear Songkoks on their head also.
When is it celebrated?
Hari Raya is celebrated at the end of Ramadan in July. Expect 2 days of parties and celebrations.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the name given to the holy month of fasting that true Muslims must adhere to annually. Devotees must not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. However it is acceptable in certain situations if you are extremely ill. I have spoken to a Muslim during this Ramadan who needed to drink water for 2 days whilst extremely unwell. He will make up those 2 days of not fasting on the 2 consecutive days after Ramadan.
Why do Muslims Fast?
Muslims believe that an element of self denial and abstanance is obligatory when practising Islam during the holy month of Ramadan. Through the means of fasting between sunrise and sunset Muslims exert many social benefits including charity towards the poor aswell as spiritual benefits recognising their devotion towards the Prophet Mohammad. Fasting does not just include food but water, smoking, sexual pleasure and any other carnal gratification. With this restraint Muslims are able to differentiate themselves from their natural environment and their eternal conscious. They are pilgrims destined for paradise that goes way beyond this mortal existence.
*see note at bottom
Hari Raya 2016: My Humble Experience
Most of the guests at the resort were either Chinese or Indian, as the Malay people traditionally go home to celebrate with their families. So, the atmosphere wasn’t as festive as it might of been due to the Chinese and most Indians in Malaysia not being Muslim. Occasionally, it was difficult to converse in holiday wishes as when I approached people wishing them a Salamat Hari Raya (Happy Eid, Happy Holidays) people would look at me confused and explain they are not celebrating as they are not Muslim. It was at this point I learnt my new favourite word. Muhibah, in Malay literally translates as ‘harmony’. It is used in Malaysian culture in recognition of the harmony between Malay, Indian and Chinese people in the country, which makes up the majority of the population. However, it is not limited to the 3 races. It is a word designed to be used as a ‘Holy Grail’ of words that represents and is to be recognised by people of all cultures, race and religion in the country. Once I learned the word I responded to the people ‘Muhibah’ and they smiled and earnestly acknowledged my reply. By mid morning the festive atmosphere was underway. From the speakers you could hear the recognisable melodies of the Hari Raya holiday songs, which uncannily resembled Christian Christmas hymns. Families entered the resort smiling, children were teasing each other and nans and grandads looked happy to be out of their armchairs. Ordinarily I am a massive cynic when it comes to holidays in England and I think I know why. When children, adults and the like are gifted with presents and enjoy their food in England sometimes it can seem as if they are not appreciative of what they have been given, almost as if it is taken for granted. I think that my cynicism for holiday wishes and gift gifting is justified through the fact that people in the UK think that gifts, food and well wishes is something that they deserve, almost a like a legacy. Celebrating Eid and the end of fasting in Malaysia has made me see holidays differently. Muslims through the period of Ramadan sacrifice their thirst and appetite in appreciation of God and the poor and in return they should be rewarded with celebrations of all kinds, it seems more justified and dignified in a sense. I really understood their joy throughout the day but not just the guests but also the staff of the resort. As the day passed we played games with all of the guests including a diving competition, basketball contest and giant Jenga. As dusk began to set on the limestone horizon the chefs of the resort created and laid out the most delicious Satay buffet that possibly has ever existed. Chicken satay sticks, beef curry, vegetable rice, cucumber, red onion and pineapple salad was for main. For desert a wide selection of different biscuits and we had teh terek (iced hot tea) cendol (a cold brown sugar drink) and lychee juice on tap.
In the evening everyone wore their Baju Korongs and Songkoks and enjoyed the campfire under the starry eyed sky. The day went by so fast I barely sat down once and for the first time in a long time I truly understood the importance of a holiday that recognised people’s commitments to their beleifs.
This time next year I am unlikely to be in Malaysia but I will no doubt be somewhere in the world wishing all Malay people a Salamat Hari Raya and all Muslims Eid Mubarak.
*all of my knowledge was given to me by word of mouth so if any descriptions or details are incorrect about Muslim or Malay culture I apologise in advance, let me know!