Sunday, August 11, 2013

Quintimes: Ramadhan in Malaysia


My article 'Ramadhan in Malaysia' in Quintimes. 

This year, in Malaysia, Ramadhan starts on the evening of July 8th, 2013 and ends on Hari Raya Eid Fitri which marks the end of the Ramadhan on the evening of August ,7th 2012. This is the day we celebrate Hari Raya Eid Fitri, a national holiday.

Ramadan is known around the world as the Muslim’s month of fasting, during which Muslims refrain from eating anddrinking from dawn until sunset. Most think that Ramadhan is all about not eating, but in Malaysia it is about eating just not during the day. It can, however, be a festival of eating all night long. In Malaysia we are considered lucky as most of the time we fast around 14 hours as the day and the night is almost equal in time. Some parts of the world like Northern Europe can reach up to 20 hours of fasting. Whereby others, like Argentina, fast for only 5 hours.

In the early week of Ramadhan it is common to encounter some of people who are grumpy or just plain frustrated from not eating during the day, but once they adjust to not eating during the day everyone gets back to ‘normal’. Some may experience the days to be a bit slow and less vibrant but here, in Malaysia, people work, do business and exercise as usual even though we only can eat before the sunrise and after the sunset.

Malaysia Boleh!

In bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru or Georgetown, you will hardly notice anything different, mainly because the percentage of Muslims is much lower. For example Chinese or Indian residences will still eat during the day. However, in almost every popular tourist spot in Malaysia a meal can be had during the day. The same goes for the eateries within shopping malls. In more local areas like Kelantan, Kedah and Kuala Terengganu, it is clearly visible when shops and restaurants stay closed during the day. Only around noon are they open to sell food for later that day since you can only start eating after sundown.

During the day both cities seemed deserted, but at night it pleasantly comes back to life. Though days might be quiet and perhaps less vibrant, the nights absolutely make up for it. In the evenings you may notice a food court full with people while everybody sits quietly with a hot plate in front of them, yet nobody is eating. Once the ‘Adzan Maghrib’ starts, which is normally around 7:30 pm, it is the sign to ‘break the fast’ also known as ‘Berbuka Puasa or Iftar’ and soon after everyone begins to eat giving the food court its typical buzzing sound again.

During Ramadan all major hotels and restaurants have a special Ramadan buffet where you can eat as much as you want for a fixed price. Often the best hotels compete with each other for the best Ramadan dinner buffet. Most of the local muslim and the nonmuslim will bring their families to these restaurants to join the ‘break the fast’. It is quite a fascinating culture we have in Malaysia. It is also customary to invite people over for an intimate dinner at home as Ramadan is also about doing good things for others. Welcoming guests into our home is a symbol of friendliness towards others.

Every day during Ramadan you can witness the local Ramadan Bazaars. Here you can buy food, groceries, fruits and snacks. Some snacks that are typically sold during Ramadan are often very sweet. Food at the Bazaar is usually quite cheap. They usually open around 4:30 pm and close at 8:00 pm. Typical dishes you can buy at the Bazaar are fried chicken wings and legs, char kueh teow, roti murtabak, rendang, satay, ketupat and much more. Popular snacks are kuih lapis (in several colors), kuih dadar, ondeh ondeh, cucur, caramel, jelly cake and of course dodol. No Bazaar is complete without a sugar cane juice vendor. The great thing is that everything is prepared fresh on the spot.

After the ‘break the fast’, we have another activity in the mosques called ‘Terawih prayer” until around 11:00 pm.Normally during Ramadhan, we start our day as early as 4:00 am for ‘morning breakfast’ or “Sahur” and continue fasting during the day until we complete our day at 11:00 pm. Since Ramadhan is a holy month for the Muslim, everyone will try their best to follow the activities for next 30 days despite their day-to-day schedules.

The end of Ramadhan is the celebration of ‘Hari Raya Eidil Fitri’ where we go back to our normal routine…especially at the meal times. 

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and Maaf Zahir Batin.