Hari Raya Aidilfitri isn’t just about eating after a long period of abstinence. Here’s what you should know about this special holiday.
What is it?
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the festival of Eid al-Fitri, celebrating victory over the fleshly body after a month-long period of abstinence (hence “puasa,” which translates into “fasting”).
This sacred day falls on the first day of 10th month of the Islamic calendar (the Hijrah calendar), when all who have been obedient and hungry come out of their houses to enjoy a day of feasting, communion, and celebration.
Who celebrates it in Malaysia?
Muslims. In Malaysia, these include all ethnic Malays (since ethnic Malays are Muslims by law), Indian Muslims, as well as voluntarily converted Muslims of any ethnicity.
The day of Hari Raya begins with an early prayer at the mosque, followed by a visit to the cemetery to pray for departed souls.
After this, the traditional ‘Open House’ welcomes neighbours, friends, and relatives for a joyous sharing in of mouth-watering delicacies, such as the diamond-shaped Ketupat, the sweet Dodol, and the thick, porridgey Bubur Lambuk. (Yum!)
Typically, new baju kurung’s (women’s traditional wear) and baju melayu‘s (men’s traditional attire) are purchased for this occasion, and the house is given a thorough spring clean. If money and circumstance afford it, home furnishings may be given an upgrade, too.
Those who keep to older traditions may also choose to light up the pelita (oil lamp) in their compounds.
What about food?
Curious about the nosh you’ll be served when attending an Open House?
The rice dumpling, Ketupat, will be the star of the show. This baby looks like an ornament (and indeed, sometimes it is the main feature in Hari Raya decorations), but it’s definitely edible. Wrapped and cooked in a woven palm leaf pouch, this is a “packed rice” dumpling that needs to be peeled open before going into your mouth.
It goes delightfully well with the spicy Rendang, a meat dish cooked with an extensive range of spices, including turmeric leaves, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, chilis and garlic. And coconut milk, too, of course — you’re in the tropics, after all.
If you’re lucky, Satays will also make an appearance at the buffet table. Together with sweet peanut sauce, this seasoned and skewered meat dish will inflame your taste buds, especially after a month of self-restraint.
Bubur Lambuk is usually served at mosques during the month of Ramadan, but you may find this at Open Houses, too. This thick porridge is cooked with aniseed, cardamom, star anise, clover, and fenugreek, and has a special history with the holy fasting month.
For dessert, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the sticky, soft, toffee-like Dodol. Made with rice flour, coconut milk, and Gula Melaka (palm sugar derived from the state of Malacca), Dodol comes in many flavours, including pandan, durian, and jackfruit.
What about gifts?
Fellow Muslims usually exchange cookies, sweets, and gift baskets. Sometimes, spiritual books and CDs will be given (this is a sacred festival, after all). Children and young adults may receive “green packets” if they’re not working yet.
If you’ve been invited to an Open House, your host won’t mind if you go empty-handed — but if you wish to bring them something anyway, a thoughtful card will be sufficient. And remember to wish them “Selamat Hari Raya!”
If you’re eating with your hands, as your hosts may do, remember to eat with your right hand. Your left is usually associated with less polite, non-eating activities.
If you wish to beri salam (greet your host), do so by meeting both of your hands with theirs, and then bringing one hand to your chest.
It’s also best to refrain from exchanging salam with the opposite gender, unless initiated by the other person.
Enjoy your Hari Raya!