Hari Raya Puasa is celebrated at the end of the Ramadan month every year to mark the end of the fasting season. It is celebrated in a grand scale in Malaysia whose population and administration are predominantly Muslim. Hari Raya Puasa is also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, or simply called Hari Raya for short, even though the latter term is also used for other Muslim celebrations throughout the year.
When translated Hari Raya Puasa literally means “Celebrate the fast” or “Feast of Breaking the Fast” and Aidilfitri also has a similar meaning in Arabic. As the celebration marks an end to the Ramadan month, the first day of the celebration would fall on the first day of the Sawal month.
Since the Muslim Calendar follows the cycle of the moon, the dates for Hari Raya Puasa changes each year on the Gregorian calendar. The exact date is announced each year when religious officials view the New Moon from various points of vantage around the country.
In Malaysia, the first two days of Syawal (the month after Ramadan) are observed as public holidays but among the Muslims, it is normal to take an entire week off to celebrate. Celebrations can also last for as long as a month.
Prior to the celebration, Muslims fast for a whole month in the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and considered the holiest of months in the calendar. During this month, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sexual intercourse during the day. The act of fasting and abstaining is intended to remind and teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah. It is a time of spiritual reflection and during this month, Muslims are expected to put in more effort into following the teachings of Islam. Dressing in a lewd manner, speaking ill of others and uncouthly attitude, lying, as well as looking at irreligious sights are extremely frowned upon. Only the sick are excused from fasting during this holy period. Fasting usually starts at dawn and ends at sunset and families and fellow Muslims usually break their fast together.
In the office, Muslims usually do not go for lunch as they have to fast. As a result, a large number of white collar office workers get to leave work an hour earlier. Seeing as the country is made up of a Muslim majority, the streets of major cities will usually be clogged by heavier traffic than usual from as early as 4pm as they make their way home to break fast at sundown.
During the last 10 days of the Ramadan fast, many Muslims keep vigil for Lailatul Qadr (The Night of Decree), the night when the holy Quran was descended from the heavens along with angels showering their blessings. On that night, Muslim homes are brightly decorated with oil lamps to mark the special occasion.
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Every Muslim is also deemed compulsory to pay the Zakat al-Fitr before the end of the fasting month as long as he or she is fit to do so. The Zakat al-Fitr is charity given to the poor. The main purpose of the Zakat al-Fitr is to ensure that even the poor have the means to break fast and celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri like the rest of their fellow Muslims. The amount of Zakat is the same for every Muslim regardless of income or stature. The minimum amount is one sa’ (four double handfuls) of food, grain or dried fruit for each member of the family. The Zakat cannot be owed or paid back after the deadline has passed which is the last day of the month of Ramadan, and if a Muslim has not paid the Zakat after the deadline has passed, he or she has sinned. Other than the zakat, doing charity in general to help the poor during this time is greatly revered upon and encouraged. It is not uncommon to see people giving food and donating old clothes to the homeless and to the poor as it is believed that doing charity is more rewarding at this time of the year than at any other time.
Prayer and reading of the Qur’an
As mentioned earlier, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are expected to put in more effort into praying and following the teachings and tenets of Islam. One of the most devoted and faithful acts that a Muslim can do is to read the entire Qur’an. Some Muslims recite the entire Qur’an through special prayers which are held every night in mosques. These recitals are called “Tarawih” and at every recital, a section of the Holy Qur’an is recited. There are an estimated 30 sections. Therefore, it is expected that the entire holy Qur’an is recited by the end of the month of Ramadan.
Preparing for the festival
Similar to the celebrations of the New Year in other cultures, Muslims prepare for the day of the festival by shopping for new clothes, spring cleaning the house thoroughly and baking and buying delicacies for visitors that will surely come during the celebration. At this time of the year, special delicacies can be found in the market such as dates, glutinous rice and cakes, savoury food such as lemang (glutinous rice and coconut milk steamed inside hollow bamboo sticks), ketupat (glutinous rice wrapped in a weaved pandan leaf) and mouth-watering biscuits and cookies. A lot of the food will be eaten when breaking fast daily as these culinary treats can be bought at Ramadan bazaars and fairs held at various neighbourhoods in the entire country. As one’s energy reserves during the day are usually low due to the fast of food and water, many people refrain from cooking and buy food instead from these bazaars. Besides, the special treats are only sold once a year during the Ramadan month so it would be a waste not to have a taste. Many malls and government buildings will be adorned with colourful decorations and the colour green would normally dominate as it is the colour commonly associated with Islamic items.
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Big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru will become quiet during the last few days prior to Hari Raya as many make their annual journey home to their hometowns in other states to be with their parents, and other family. This annual migration is usually affectionately dubbed as “Balik Kampung”. When literally translated, it means “Going Back Home” and many advertisements and promotions during the celebration is centred on this theme.
As Ramadan comes to an end, the day of celebration is determined by the sight of the new moon. On the day of celebration, Muslims start the day by waking up before dawn and praying (Salatul Fajr, the pre-sunrise prayer), and in keeping with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad on the day of Hari Raya, they will brush their teeth, take a shower, put on new clothes and apply perfume. After that, Muslims usually gather in mosques very early in the morning to perform special prayers. It is considered forbidden to fast on the day of Hari Raya and therefore, after prayer, it’s usually breakfast at home, followed by visits to the ancestral graves to pay respects to family members that have passed away. This is then followed by a bout of merry making.
Everyone puts on new clothes, usually brightly coloured traditional “baju kurung” for the ladies and baju Melayu for the men and visit each other’s houses. The young will ask for forgiveness from their elders for any grievances or sins done upon them in the previous year. They will usually salam (Muslim handshake) and then kiss the hands of the elder person as a sign of respect.
It is customary for children and old folks to be given gifts and tokens of money called “duit raya” by married relatives and friends. A unique heritage that has crossed over from the Chinese culture in Malaysia to the Muslim culture is the practice of giving the money in green packets. During Chinese New Year, children and unmarried individuals are given red packets of money called “ang pao” to signify luck and prosperity for the coming year. The first few days are held on a grander scale but throughout the entire month, there will be many parties held in the form of “open houses” where friends and neighbours of other faiths and races will be invited to join in on the celebrations. Generally the practice of Hari Raya every year is the same. However, there have been certain occasions where Hari Raya had coincided with other festivals in the country. Again, this is especially unique to Malaysia who has so many cultures and faiths living together. In the past, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year have coincidentally fallen on the same date and was together dubbed “Gongxi Raya”, the term a mash up of Malay and Mandarin. “Gongxi” is derived from the traditional Chinese New Year greeting of “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means “Wishing you a happy new year”. Ironically, it also means “shared” and Raya is translated into “celebration”. The last joint celebration was back in 1996 and was celebrated together until 1998. This event will not happen again until 2030.
Occasionally, Hari Raya Puasa also coincides with the Hindu faith’s Deepavali celebration. This joint celebration is usually coined the term “Deepa Raya”.
As always, no Malaysian celebration is complete without food. Delicious Malay food, usually spicy in origin will almost always be served at every dining table in every Muslim household. The ketupat is traditional Hari Raya fare and is often served with beef rendang, lontong (compressed rice cakes wrapped inside banana leaves), dodol (palm sugar sweets) curry chicken, satay (skewers of grilled meats dipped with peanut sauce) and nasi padang (rice with a variety of dishes). Dates are also a popular snack during this time as it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast each day by eating a date. Thus, it is also tradition for Muslims to break their fast each day by eating a date.
In Kuala Lumpur, many well known figures and politicians as well as the Agong and Permaisuri (King and Queen of Malaysia) would open the doors of their official residences to the public, serving up a feast of the best food for the visitors.
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Colours of Aidilfitri
Norra Shamiela Ruslan, 16, Penang
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the celebration all Muslims look forward to each year after a whole month of fasting. Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the Malay term for Eid ul-Fitr which literally means “Celebration Day of Fast”.
It falls on the first day of Syawal, the month after Ramadan in the Muslim calendar.
As that day draws closer, a to-do list is put together. The first would be spring cleaning. However, this is the one thing the majority of Muslim teenagers dread.
As if it is not tiring enough having to juggle fasting, school and extra-curricular activities, we now have to help clean up the house!
As the elder sister, I get assigned to heavy duty chores while my sisters have their feet on the table.
Next on the list is shopping for clothes. This is the chance for a teenager like me to update my wardrobe.
Ketupat Daun Palas
However, as it is a custom for the Malays to wear traditional clothes on the first day of Raya, a big part of the shopping spree is spent on checking out baju kurung or baju kebaya for the girls and baju Melayu for the guys.
Some people have their clothes tailor-made specially for Hari Raya.
The celebration these days gets more exciting with a bit of creative thinking. For example, some families have a colour theme where all members wear the same coloured attire with matching shoes.
Once the shopping is done, families are ready to pack up for their balik kampung trip.
The trip can be daunting as the highways and roads are often jammed with cars and buses in the balik kampung marathon.
The trip can be dreadful but for me and my family, it is always nice to get away from the big city and just relax in the countryside.
Every year, my family and I head down to Negeri Sembilan where both of my parents' kampungs are located. Though the trip can be boring at times, we always look forward to meeting other family members. This, to me, is the most important element of this festive season.
At the kampung, there is still work to be done. The first thing to do is put up the oil lamps known as pelita which my cousins and I do every year. As the rendang is being cooked outside the house in a big pot, my cousins and I get busy filling ketupat cases with rice. Besides ketupat and rendang, lemang and other traditional dishes are also cooked.
On the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, mosques echo with Muslims reciting the takbir as a sign of the end of Ramadan. In some communities, congregations will go from house to house reciting the takbir.
The next day, is Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Everyone is up early, eager and excited. After breakfast, everyone except the children, will go to the community mosque to attend Eid prayer. After that, it is common for Muslims to visit the graves of their departed loved ones.
In the kampung, oil lamps known as pelita are put up as part of the celebration
I go with my family to my grandfathers’ graves and recite the Al-fatihah and surah Yassin.
The rest of the day is filled with visits to homes of relatives and friends as well as receiving guests at home. How well do you and your partner click in the bedroom?
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a joyous occasion. Though it is celebrated by all Muslims in the country, each family celebrates it with the uniqueness that only the family itself can conjure up.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is not just a celebration. It is a wake up call to all Muslims to fill the day with forgiveness, a caring spirit, and colour.
Origins of Hari Raya Aidilfitri
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Hari Raya Aidilfitri (also Hari Raya Puasa, literally “Fasting Day of Celebration”) is the Malay term for the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr. Hari Raya is also known as Lebaran. Muslims in Malaysia and Singapore celebrate Eid like other Muslims throughout the world. The term “Hari Raya” literally means “Day of Celebration” — it is also occasionally used to refer to Eid ul-Adha in the form of “Hari Raya Aidiladha”. The main greeting used by Muslims in Malaysia and Singapore is “Selamat Hari Raya” which means “Happy Eid” in Malay. Another greeting is “maaf zahir dan batin” which translates loosely to “I seek forgiveness (from you) physically and spiritually”, for Hari Raya is a time to reconcile and renew relationships with others.
During the Muslim month of Ramadan leading up to Hari Raya, it is mandatory for Muslims to fast from dawn to dusk. All Muslims except the young, old or infirm must fast. This is often respected by non-Muslim Malaysians, who tend to avoid eating in front of their friends or colleagues. Many Muslims also abstain from pleasures such as cigarettes and sexual activities during the daylight of the fasting month.
Widely, markets, or ‘Ramadan bazaars’ are held in many areas around the country, where all sorts of food and kuih — traditional Malay delicacies — are sold for breaking fast or buka puasa. Hotels and restaurants have also exploited this situation to offer exorbitant Ramadan buffets. This practice of overindulging has been criticised by Muslim clerics, notably the mufti of the state of Kelantan.
On the eve of Hari Raya, Muslims will recite the takbir, which is held in mosques and surau (smaller place of worship). In some communities, there will be congregations reciting the takbir from house to house.
Hari Raya is very much commercialised in Malaysia. In big cities and towns, shopping malls and commercial centres will hold big promotions and price discounts for festive shoppers as people purchase clothes and supplies. Decorations are hung in public areas and Hari Raya songs will be played in shopping complexes. The media, such as the television will host various programs in conjunction with the celebrations.
Many people also traditionally return to their hometown generally from big metropolitan cities to rural areas. This is known as balik kampung — literally going back to one’s home town to celebrate Hari Raya with family and friends. At many times, the flux of vehicles on the roads nationwide increased the number of car accidents, including deadly ones, occurring during the festive season. Road safety campaigns are often launched by the authorities ahead of the festivities in the effort of lowering the discomforting number of accidents.
Usually on the eve of the celebrations, family members, especially mothers and housewives, will be busy preparing food, cakes, sweets, biscuits and various delicacies to be served on the day of Hari Raya. Delicacies such as ketupat or rice cake and a meat cuisine called rendang are among the most famous cuisines that are served during this day. Other family members will help in other chores such as decorating and cleaning up the house.
Days before Hari Raya, house compounds, particularly those in the countryside will be lit up with oil lamps known as pelita or panjut. This display of oil lamps will reach its height on the 27th night of Ramadan, called the Tujuh Likur night. ‘Likur’ literally meaning a figure between 20 and 30, hence ‘tujuh likur’ means twenty seven. Originally during the early days of the arrival of Islam among the Malays, the purpose of lighting the oil lamps was to attract spirits and angels to descend to people’s homes during the night of Lailatulqadar. However after ages has passed, such misconception is regarded counterfactual as much understanding of Islam were obtained. Nowadays the oil lamps are lit solely for decorational purposes.
It is customary for Malays to wear traditional Malay costumes. The dress for men is called baju Melayu while the women’s are known as baju kurung and baju kebaya. Traditional textiles such as songket and batik are worn favourably during this day.
Muslims will attend Eid prayer in the morning and consecrate together harmoniously while taking the chance to meet and greet each other. Once the prayer is done, it is also common for Muslims in Malaysia to visit the grave of their loved ones. During this visit, they will clean the grave, perform the recital of the Yasin — a chapter (surah) from the Qur’an and also the tahlil or prayers for the deceased. All these are done in hope that their loved ones are blessed by God and they are spared from the punishment in the grave.
The rest of the day is spent visiting relatives or serving visitors. Hari Raya is a very joyous day for children for this is the day where adults are extra generous. Children will be given token sums of money, also known as duit raya from their parents and elders.
During the night, there are often celebrations with sparklers and firecrackers, albeit restrictions on playing firecrackers enforced by the authorities. Most firecracker stocks are purchased and smuggled illegally from black markets. Safety issues, especially among children are raised and alarming cases relating to injuries caused by playing firecrackers are often reported, which initially led to the banning of playing firecrackers. Despite of the enforcement of banning firecrackers, more Malay children turn to home-made firecrackers such as meriam buluh (bamboo cannon) as alternatives to commercial fireworks. Usually the lighting of firecrackers begins a few days before the end of Ramadan, and continues for about a week afterwards.
As Malaysia has a substantial Chinese and Indian population, it also celebrates the Hindu holiday of Deepavali and the Chinese New Year. As these holidays occasionally fall near Hari Raya Aidilfitri on the Gregorian calendar, it is not uncommon for joint celebrations with open houses to be held. To describe this phenomenon, the portmanteaus DeepaRaya and Kongsi Raya have been coined.
However, some Muslims, notably the mufti of the state of Perak, have condemned the practice of using such portmanteaus as ‘mixing Muslim festivals with those of non-believers’ than can lead to syirik.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri Official name Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Hari Raya Puasa, Arabic: Eid ul-Fitr عيد الفطر Also called Translation: Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Eid, Idul Fitri, Lebaran (Indonesia), Shemai Eid (Bangladesh), Ramazan Bayramı (Turkey) Observed by Muslims Type Islamic Significance Marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting Date 1 Syawal 2006 date October 23 2007 date October 12 2008 date October 1 Celebrations Decorating, Feasting, Visiting Family and Friends, Lighting Oil Lamps, Balik Kampung Observances Prayer Related to Hari Raya Aidiladha, the other Islamic festival, which occurs approximately seventy days later
Eid ul-Fitr or Id-Ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr), often abbreviated as simply Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Fiṭr means “to break the fast” and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. On the day of the celebration, a typical Muslim family is awake very early and then after praying the first normal everyday prayer, is required to eat in a small quantity, symbolizing the end of Ramadan. They then attend special congregational prayers held only for this occasion in mosques, in large open areas, stadiums or arenas. The prayer is generally short, and is followed by a sermon (khuṭba). Worshippers greet and embrace each other in a spirit of peace and love after the congregational prayer. After the special prayers, festivities and merriment are commonly observed with visits to the homes of relatives and friends to thank God for all blessings.
For Muslims, Eid ul-Fitr is a joyous occasion with important religious significance, celebrating of the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory, peace of congregation, fellowship, brotherhood and unity. Muslims celebrate not only the end of fasting, but also thank God for the help and strength that they believe he gave them throughout the previous month to help them practice self-control. It is a time of giving and sharing, and many Muslims dress in holiday attire.
The first Eid was celebrated in 624 CE by The Prophet Muhammad with his companions and relatives after winning the Battle of Badr. This very occasion is celebrated annually in the lunar calendar as Eid Ul Fitr.
Because the day depends on the sighting of the moon, the sighting can only be possible just after sunset. Most Muslims check with local mosques or other members of the community to see if the moon has been sighted by authoritative parties. In Malaysia, they use both sighting of the moon and astronomical calculation to verify the date. But the calculation is only used to verify the sighting of the moon (i.e. the exact time of the visibility of the moon). For this reason there may be regional differences in the exact date of Eid, with some Muslims fasting for 29 days and some for 30 days.
Eid ul-Fitr commemorates the end of the month of Ramadan. Fasting is forbidden on this day as it marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. A Muslim is encouraged to rise early and partake of a light snack such as dates before then attending morning prayers with family members in the local community mosque
Eid ul-Fitr in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei
In Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Eid is also commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa. Hari Raya literally means Grand Day i.e. The Day. Muslims in Malaysia and Singapore celebrate Eid like other Muslims throughout the world. It is the biggest holiday in Malaysia, and is the most awaited one. Shopping malls and bazaars are filled with people days ahead of Hari Raya, causing a distinctive festive atmosphere throughout the country. Many banks, government and private offices are closed for this holiday, which usually lasts a week.
The night before Eid is with the takbir which is held in the mosques or musallas. In many parts of Malaysia, especially in rural areas, oil lamps or pelita/panjut are lit up in house compounds. Eid also witnesses a huge migratory pattern of Muslims, from big metropolitan cities to rural areas. This is known as balik kampung — literally going back to home town to celebrate Eid with ones parents. Special dishes like ketupat, dodol, lemang (a type of glutinous rice cake cooked in bamboo), and other Malay delicacies are served during this day.
It is common to greet people with “Selamat Hari Raya” or “Salam Aidilfitri” which means “Happy Eid”. Muslims also greet one another with “maaf zahir dan batin” which means “Forgive my physical and emotional (wrongdoings)”, due to the fact that Eid ul-Fitr is not only for celebrations, but also the time for Muslims to cleanse their sins and strengthen their ties with relatives and friends.
It is customary for Malays to wear traditional Malay costumes on the Eid. The dress for men is called baju melayu which is worn together with songket while the women’s are known as baju kurung and baju kebaya. It is also common to see non-Malay Muslims wear costumes of their culture.
Once the prayer is completed, it is also common for Muslims in Malaysia to visit the graves of loved ones. During this visit, they clean the grave, recite Ya-Seen, a chapter (surah) from the Qur’an and also perform the tahlil ceremony. All these are done to ask for God to forgive the dead and also those who are living.
The rest of the day is spent visiting relatives or serving visitors. Eid ul-Fitr is a very joyous day for children for on this day adults are especially generous. Children will be given token sums of money, also known as “duit raya” from their parents or elders
Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان, Ramaḍān) is an Islamic religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when the Qur’an was revealed. The name “Ramadan” is taken from the name of this month; the word itself derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground, and shortness of rations. It is considered the most venerated and blessed month of the Islamic year. Prayers, sawm (fasting), charity, and self-accountability are especially stressed at this time; religious observances associated with Ramadan are kept throughout the month.
Laylat al-Qadr, which falls during the last third, commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an and is considered the most holy night of the year. Ramadan ends with the holiday Eid ul-Fitr, on which feasts are held. During the month following Ramadan, called Shawaal, Muslims are encouraged to fast for a further six days.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, Ramadan migrates through the seasons. In 2007 (1428 AH), Ramadan lasts from September 13 to October 12.
The ill and travellers may substitute other days to perform their Ramadan obligations.[Qur'an 2:185] Children, the elderly and pregnant women are viewed as excused. Menstruating women also make up the days missed, usually in Shawwal.
Practices during Ramadan
The most prominent event of this month is the daytime fasting (sawm) practiced by most observant Muslims. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat (sahur) and perform their fajr prayer. They break their fast when the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib (sunset), is due.
During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam as well as refraining from lying, stealing, anger, envy, greed, lust, sarcastic retorts, backbiting, and gossip. Obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided; sexual activities during fasting hours are also forbidden.[Qur'an 2:187] Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm. It also allows Muslims to practise self-discipline, sacrifice, and sympathy for those who are less fortunate, intended to make Muslims more generous and charitable.
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an.
Sunni Muslims tend to perform the recitation of the entire Qur’an by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur’an (‘Juz’, which is 1/30 of the Qur’an) is recited, so that by the end of the month the entire Qur’an has been completed. Tarawih is an Arabic phrase referring to those extra prayers. This prayer is performed after salah of Isha’a, but before the Wit’r Rakat. These are done in remembrance of the fact that the revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad was begun during Ramadan.
Muslims also pay Zakaat (Islamic alms giving similar to a tax) during the month. For those who qualify to pay Zakaat, as per the Islamic ‘Nisab’ (that is those whose wealth exceeds their necessities), have to pay 2.5% of the leftover of their wealth earned in that Islamic calendar year. Although Zakaat can be paid any time of the year, it has to be calculated on a year to year basis, and many Muslims use Ramadan as the month for calculation and disbursement.
Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are supposed to slow down from their worldly affairs and focus on self reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment and establish the link between the God almighty and themselves by prayer, supplication, charity and showing good deeds, kindness and helping others.
Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it.
It is a festival time where Muslims buy new clothes, shoes, jewelery, other items of need, prepare special foods, invite people for Iftar (meal and snacks commemorating the breaking of Fast).
In many Muslim and non Muslim countries with large Muslim populations, markets close down in the evening to enable people to perform prayer, Iftar (break fast) and then re-open in the night, and stay open for a good part of night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours.
Events during and after Ramadan
Laylat al-Qadr (Arabic: لیلة القدر) (also known as Shab-e-Qadr in Farsi), literally the Night of Decree or Night of Measures, is the anniversary of two very important dates in Islam that occurred in the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe that it was the night of the Laylat al-Qadr that the Quran’s first verse was revealed. The exact night of the Laylat al-Qadr is unknown. The Prophet Muhammad indicated that it was one of the last ten odd nights of Ramadan.
The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر) marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast, a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor (‘Zakat al-Fitr’), everyone put on their best, preferably new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends. The prayer is two rakaahs only, and it is an optional prayer as opposed to the compulsory 5 daily prayers.
Muslims are encouraged to fast six days in Shawwal, the month following Ramadan that begins after Eid ul-Fitr; these days need not be consecutive. According to hadith, one who fasts the month of Ramadan and six days during Shawaal will be rewarded as though he fasted the entire year.
Sawm (Arabic: صوم) is an Arabic word for fasting regulated by Islamic jurisprudence. In the terminology of Islamic law, Sawm means ‘to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse. The observance of sawm during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, but is not confined to that month.
The word sawm is derived from Syriac sawmo. Literally, Sawm means ‘to abstain’.
For many Muslims, Arabic is not a first language, therefore, such Muslims may use other words to represent Sawm depending on their location and language. For example, the Muslims of Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, and Pakistan use the word rozah which comes from Persian. In Turkey, Sawm is called oruç, while the Malay community in Malaysia calls it puasa, which is derived from Sanskrit, upvaasa. Puasa is also used in Indonesia.
Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual intercourse from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib).Fasting is essentially a means of seeking nearness to Allah and increasing one’s piety. One of the remote aims of fasting is to sympathise with those less fortunate ones who do not always have food and drink readily available. Also one must try to avoid cursing and thinking evil thoughts. Fasting is also viewed as a means of controlling one’s desires (of hunger, thirst, sexuality, anger) and focusing more on devoting oneself to God.
Conditions of Fasting
For a fast to be valid in the first instance, an intention (niyyah) must be made beforehand; this is considered to form an oath.
Throughout the duration of the fast itself, Muslims will abstain from certain provisions that God has otherwise allowed; namely eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse. This is in addition to the standard obligation already observed by Muslims of avoiding that which is not permissible under Qur’anic or Shari’ah law (e.g. ignorant and indecent speech, arguing and fighting, and lustful thoughts). Without observing this standard obligation, Sawm is rendered useless, and is seen simply as an act of starvation.
If one is sick, nursing or travelling, one is considered exempt from fasting. According to the Qur’an, for all other cases, not fasting is only permitted when the act is potentially dangerous to one’s health – for example; those elderly who are too weak to fast for extended periods of time, diabetics, nursing, and pregnant women.
Observing the fast is not permitted for menstruating women. However, when a woman’s period has ceased, she must bathe and continue fasting. Any fasts broken/missed due to menstruation must be made up whenever she can before the next month of Ramadan. Women must fast at times when not menstruating, as God indicates that all religious duties are ordained for both men and women.
Breaking oaths and the consequences
During Ramadan, one who fasts and breaks the oath out of forgetfulness must nevertheless continue, since the fast will remain valid. If, however, one intentionally breaks the fast, by eating, drinking, or smoking,then they must continue for the rest of the day, add one day onto their fast and pay a “penalty’” (fidyah). A fidyah differ from schools of thought. In Malaysia however, a fidyah consists of the amount or rice equivalent of a meal.
However if one intentionally breaks the fast by having sex (without breaking it first by other means such eating etc) a set of “penalty” (kaffarra)shall apply. These exist in three forms, of which the person chooses one:
Fasting for an extra 60 consecutive days, if he/she couldn’t then;
Feeding and clothing 60 people in need, if he/she couldn’t then;
Freeing a muslim slave.
Penalties for voluntary fasts at other times of the year, are, however, more lenient; if an oath is given, and circumstances dictate that it be broken (or the one giving the oath deliberately breaks it), one needs to fast for three days consecutively if they cannot initially find 10 poor people to feed and provide clothing for (both of which are commanded before the act of fasting as a form of repentance). The penalties are harsher during Ramadan because all mentally able Muslims are expected to have an increased awareness of the fast at that time.
Beginning and ending the Fast
In accordance with traditions handed down from Muhammad, Muslims eat a pre-dawn meal called the suhoor. All eating and drinking must be finished before sunrise. Unlike the Salat-ul-Zuhr and Salat-ul-Maghrib prayers, which have clear astronomical definitions (noon and sunset), there are several definitions used in practice for the timing of “true dawn” (al-fajr as-sadq), as mentioned in the hadith. These range from when the center of the sun is 12 to 21 degrees below the horizon which equates to about 40 to 60 minutes before civil dawn. There are no restrictions on the morning meal other than the restrictions on Muslims diet. After completing the suhoor, Muslims recite the fajr prayer.
The meal eaten to end the fast is known as al-Iftar. Many Muslims, following the Sunnah of the Prophet, break the fast with dates and water before praying Salat-ul-Maghrib, after which they might eat a more wholesome meal.
Benefits of fasting
Fasting inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims can feel and experience that which their needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel. However, even the poor, needy, and hungry participate in the fast. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together, the latter offering more reward than if eating alone. Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to Allah. Faithful observance of the Sawm is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds and to help earn a place in paradise.
As briefly mentioned earlier, fasting can also be observed voluntarily (as part of the Greater Jihad ): Sawm is intended to teach believers patience and self-control in their personal conduct, to help control passions and temper, to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one’s faith. Fasting also serves the purpose of cleansing the inner soul and freeing it of harm.
While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribed certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as:
each Monday and Thursday of a week
the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of each lunar month
six days in the month of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan)
the Day of Arafat (9th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar)
Times when fasting is forbidden
Although fasting is considered a pious act in Islam, there are times when fasting is prohibited. There are certain days on which fasts are prohibited:
Ayyam at-Tashriq (the 11th, 12th and 13th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah).
Fasting is not allowed on a Friday which is not within the month of Ramadan, unless one has been fasting prior to Friday or intends to fast a day after it.
Fasting in the Qur’an
‘O those who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as were enjoined upon those before so that you be God-fearing.’ [Surah Baqarah, 183]
Fasting in other religions
In the Qur’an, in verse 183 of the second chapter (2:183), God says, “fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you.”
Lent in Christianity, Yom Kippur, Tisha B’av, Fast of Esther, Tzom Gedalia and the Fast of the Firstborn, all in Judaism, are also times of fasting. Nevertheless, the fasting practices are different from one another. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) generally fast for 24 hours on the first Sunday of each month. Like Muslims, they refrain from all drinking and eating unless they are children or are physically unable to fast. Fasting is also a feature of ascetic traditions in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Members of the Baha’i Faith observe a Nineteen Day Fast from sunrise to sunset during March each year.