The great Malay festival is preceded by Ramadan, the month of fasting and the ninth moon of the Muslim year. During this month, all Muslims refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Only the sick and ailing or those on a long journey are excused.
The evening just before the month of Ramadan is to begin, a unique rite takes place. Muslim religious officials gather at vantage points throught the country to sight the moon. The sighting is important to determine the accurate day for Muslims to begin fasting.
Puasa or fasting is a practice tought from childhood. It teaches the person to be patient, to be aware of human suffering and to dissolve enmity. By fasting, Muslims help to strenghten their characters. They learn to control themselves by not eating or drinking and they also learn how the poor suffer when they cannot afford enough food. A typical day of fasting begins with the sahur (late supper). The morning prayer, subur, follows shortly and puasa commences. Throughout the month, Muslims do not eat or drink from the moment the sun is first seen in the morning until after the sun has set. He manifests his faith by maintaining spiritual discipline in thoughts, words and deeds. In the evening when the call of Azan Maghrib (evening prayers) reverberates throught the country, the devout Muslims praises Allah for the inner strength and perserverance rendered during the day before the fast is broken.
Observing the fast is one of the most important pillars of the Islamic faith. During Ramadan, Al-Quran reading competitions are held to strenghten the love of the scriptures. A grand international Quran reading competition is held in Kuala Lumpur with participants coming from Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand and the Arabic In villages, towns and cities all over the country, the Muslim community eagerly awaits the dawn of Hari Raya Aidilfitri. The womenfolk buzz about with chores of cake-making and house-cleaning. The Armed Forces Family Affairs Association (BAKAT) busily packs cakes and greeting cards to be sent to soldiers on duty away from home during this auspicious period. It is an act of love and concern, remembering them and appreciating them for their services in preserving the security in the country.nations.
The last period of puasa, seven days before Hari Raya (Malam Tujuh Liku) is believed to be a time when the angel Gabriel (Malaikat Gibrail visits the homes of pious Muslims. Little oil lamps are placed around the house as a symbol of welcome to the angel Gabriel. Indeed they are a preety sight as they flicker and dance in the darkness. This week is also a time for more fervent prayers and ardent reading of the Quran.
Determining the actual day Hari Raya Aidilfitri fall is a serious affair. The sighting of the new moon of Syawal is done on the last day of Ramadan. As soon as the moon is sighted, the fasting month of Ramadan ands and Syawal, the tenth moon, begins. Although Hari Raya starts at night (the Muslim day starts when the sun has set), the celebrations do not begin until the following dawn.
Hari Raya is also a time to remember the less fortunate. Before the dawn of the Hari Raya celebrations, Muslims pay tithes (fitrah) to the chief of the mosque. This would be used to help the poor, the needy and orphans that they too might be able to enjoy the Hari Raya season.
On the morning of Hari Raya, the menfolk go for prayers at the mosque while the women stay behind to prepare for visitors. Later the family has a grand breakfast together. Children will ask for forgiveness and blessings from their parents and in turn receive money tokens. During this time, Muslims also remember their departed loved ones. They visit the gravesites and sprinkle bunga rampai as a sign of respect and rememberance.
Most Malaysian Muslims practise 'open house' where their friends of other races visit to share the joyous accasion. There will be a lavish spread on the table, full of biscuits, sweets and savouries to be eaten with ketupat and lontong (compressed rice).
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is an event looked forward to by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It signifies a reunion of families and friends, a renewal of faith and a time for rejoicing.