The biggest religious festival in Malaysia is Eid-ul Fitri, or known as Hari Raya in Malaysia. In Malay, Hari Raya means 'Celebration Day.' Hari Raya marks the end of the very auspicious month-long Ramadan, which is the month of fasting. Syawal is a month of victory and success for Muslims after a month of fasting and the spirit of Hari Raya is celebrated throughout the whole month. It is a joyous month where Muslims all around the world shows a common goal of unity and blessing. If you are looking for something different, visiting Malaysia during this religious festival month can be an outstanding experience. It is a perfect time to experience and understand the beauty of Hari Raya festival.
In Malaysia, Hari Raya is celebrated in a large scale because 60% of the Malaysian population is Muslim and Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. Hari Raya celebrations lasts a whole month although the whole country is typically in a merry affair a few weeks before Syawal with shopping malls packed with people and Hari Raya songs blaring away in the background.
The first and second day of Syawal are observed as public holidays. However, most Malaysians will take a week off and return to their hometowns a few days before Hari Raya to visit and reunite with their parents and family members. They would spend the whole day before Hari Raya preparing delicious traditional foods, baking cookies and cleaning.
A typical Hari Raya morning can be described as a hive of activities. Malaysian Muslims would start the day dressed in new traditional clothes; men in loose shirts with trousers known as 'baju Melayu' and the women in 'baju kurung', a loose-fitting full-length blouse and skirt combination. Then they would seek for forgiveness of their parents, siblings and other family members. After that they would proceed to the mosques to congregate for Hari Raya prayer. Right after prayer, they will pay a visit to the graves of their loved ones, and then attend 'open houses' hosted by their family and friends.
The most unique thing about Hari Raya in Malaysia is the tradition of hosting ‘open houses’. It is held at almost every residence throughout Malaysia. This tradition is part of the way Malaysians celebrate Hari Raya and can be considered as a favourite local tradition. On this day, the house is ‘open’ to all guests--family, friends and even strangers-- to enjoy good food, good company and a good time. Children are usually the ones most excited to attend open houses as they will receive ‘duit raya’ or gifts of money in small colourful paper as an act of giving. Guests are served an array of the finest traditional Malay dishes. The highlights are ketupat and rendang, which are must haves on Hari Raya. Ketupat is dumpling made from rice packed inside a diamond-shaped container while rendang is meat cooked with coconut milk and Malay spices.
Hari Raya open houses showcase the harmonious and joyous gathering of Malaysia’s multicultural population. Some will take the opportunity to attend open houses every weekend for the whole Syawal month, as open houses are also a chance for renewing bonds, friendship and kinship. All these elements, though significant to Malay culture, is a great exposure for everyone to experience.