Today, Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia are celebrating the “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast” or Hari Raya Adilfitri.
They celebrate this day to conclude a month of fasting or Ramadan during which they were required to resist satisfying their basic needs and urges between sunrise and sunset.
During Ramadan they abstain from sexual relations, food and drinks. More importantly, they have to keep their minds pure and purge all ill thoughts.
Aidilfitri is therefore regarded as a celebration as it marks a person’s success in resisting various temptations. It symbolises rebirth and refinement.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is self-fulfilling and gratifying, an experience that is beyond words.
For beginners, it’s really challenging to fast the whole day.
Ramadan falls this month because this is when the al-Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims hope they are at least slightly better in the eyes of Allah, having diligently complied with the duty of fasting from dawn to dusk for a month. Thus, they celebrate their day of victory, Aidilfitri, which means the “feast of breaking the fast”.
On the morning of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the men pray at their mosques. After that, children normally ask for forgiveness from their parents while kissing their hands and kneeling in front of them.
Children are also given ‘duit raya’ or ‘angpow’, the amount of which sometimes depend on their number of days they successfully fasted.
While the first three days of Hari Raya Aidilfitri are usually reserved for the family, throughout Syawal, friends and family members from far and near are invited to their open house.
Sarawak’s Aidilfitri features a week of celebrations that include special morning prayers. People greet each other with “Eid Mubarak,” meaning “Blessed Eid” and with formal hugging or embrace.
However, it is a common practice for people to continue visiting each other’s homes and open their houses to visitors.
They take this opportunity to catch up with friends and family members while enjoying various local and traditional delicacies.
Various curry dishes are prepared at home in addition to traditional cakes such as “kek lapis”, cookies and other dainties.
“Ketupat” and “lemang” are the must-haves at Hari Raya open houses. They are usually served together with “beef rending” together with satay.
Special food is prepared when friends from other ethnic groups and religions are invited over to celebrate. Gifts are given to children and the needy.
In fact, this is the time to forgive and seek forgiveness.
Aidilfitri is also regarded as a celebration of Allah’s spiritual provision of strength and endurance.
It is a time for charity known as Zakat al-Fitr. Eid is meant to be a time of joy and blessing and a time for distributing one’s wealth. Charity to the poor is highly emphasised in Islam. Muslims have been reminded that their daily prayers and even their fast are meaningless if they fail to pay their “zakat”.
The Quran repeatedly mentions “prayers and zakat” in one breath. Even Prophet Muhammad was not exempted from this obligation.
The Quran says, “Believe in Allah and his messenger, and give charity out of the (substance) that Allah has made you heirs of. For those of you who believe and give charity – for them is a great reward.”
In Malaysia, Aidilfitri is a national holiday when schools, offices and businesses are closed for two days so that families, friends and neighbours can enjoy the celebrations together.
Those working overseas and in towns and cities try their best to return to their hometowns to reunite with their families, parents and friends, leaving cities empty and quiet. Despite the challenges of going home to be together with family members it is worth it.
Over the last few days, Muslims were seen “balik kampung” (returning home) in large numbers. Express boats, airports, ferries were reported to be very busy handling the exodus.
The excitement builds up during the few days before the big day as families start to shop for new clothes and furnish their homes with new furniture and decorations.
A variety of cookies, candies and traditional delicacies are also bought to be served during the open houses.
It was reported that most shopping malls and shops throughout Sarawak experienced brisk business a few days before Aidilfitri which falls two days after Gawai Dayak.
Many Muslim families bought all sorts of stuffs to usher the celebration, some looking for ready-made clothes such as “baju Melayu”, “kain songket”, “songkok” and new shoes.
Housewives and single ladies have been busy buying cooking ingredients to prepare delicacies for their families and open houses.
Some searched for brightly-colored lights to decorate their houses and mosques.
For Sarawakians this is the time to rejoice and preserve unity and harmony, and to keep up the practice of visiting one another.
As the Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg pointed out in his Hari Raya Aidilfitri message, “Let’s come together and celebrate this festive season, regardless of race and religion.”
It’s a time for the various races in Sarawak to get together and further strengthen their relationship and unity through mutual understanding to make Sarawak a better place to stay and live.
- Associate Professor Dr Jeniri Amir is a lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.