Hari Raya Aidilfitri is an annually celebrated event that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month, also known as Ramadan. Typically on the first day of Syawal, the tenth month of the Hijrah (Islamic) calendar, there are joyful celebrations that are loud, raucous, and — after a month of abstinence — well-deserved. This day is also known as Hari Raya Puasa (puasa means “fasting”).
Prior to this day, Muslims located in the cities typically balik kampung (return to their home towns) in order to celebrate Hari Raya with their families. This day is usually also a national holiday, so school children and working adults can spend time with their family without worrying about formal obligations.
The day itself opens with an early-morning prayer at the mosque, where Muslims give thanks for their blessings. They also seek forgiveness from family and friends for any trespasses, believing that peace and harmony is the way for all. Some families may also choose to visit the graves of departed loved ones, in order to pray for their souls, and more traditional communities may also light up the pelita (lamp) in their homes.
Muslims also tend to dress up for the occasion. Women wear the baju kurung (traditional Malay dress), baju kebaya (traditional blouse-dress), or a jubah (long one-piece dress), while men typically don a songkok (traditional hat) and the baju Melayu (traditional men’s wear).
Of course, no Hari Raya is complete without the excellent cuisine typically offered up at “open houses.” Usually, Muslims invite their friends and family (including non-Muslims) to their home to partake in traditional delicacies like the ketupat (rice dumpling cooked in a palm leaf pouch), rendang (meat stewed in spices), dodol (sticky, soft, toffee-like sweet), and satay (skewered meat). This invitation is extended in the spirit of love, harmony, and community.
On this special occasion, you may wish to attend state-organized open houses. Depending on the state, this may be hosted at the Sultan’s palace, a state-owned building, or even an open public land. This is usually lots of fun, because you get to meet people of different backgrounds (race, socio-economic class, etc.) and everyone is relaxed and smiling.
If you’ve been invited to a friend’s open house, be sure to arrive in respectable wear (nothing too revealing, as this is a family occasion after all). Muslims do not usually expect gifts (the “green packet” tradition is typically reserved for children, to be given by their elders), but if you don’t feel comfortable arriving at an open house without a gift, then a card or a gift of traditional sweets will do.
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that you should not present any form of alcohol as a gift, as this is considered non-halal.
Finally, if you wish to emulate the locals and eat with your hand, be sure to eat with your right, as the left is considered rude (and reserved for less-savory activities). Guests and hosts may also choose to sit on the floor, as per tradition.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably ready for your first Hari Raya celebration! Have fun and say “Selamat Hari Raya!”