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The Beginner’s Guide To Ramadan And Hari Raya Puasa In Singapore

Celebrate Ramadan this Year in the know.

Before the feasting, there’s the fasting… And we’ve got a list of everything you need to know about the holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

Hari Raya Puasa (or also known as Eid al-Fitri) is an integral part of Islam culture. It’s a time for Muslims to focus on alms-giving and familial bonds. But before we get to the good food and celebrations, there is first a month of abstinence known as Ramadan. Get yourself clued in with these…

What is Ramadan?

It is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and a period of fasting prior to the Hari Raya Puasa festivities. Ramadan also is one of the Five Pillars of the Islamic faith.

During Ramadan (this year, it will last from 12 April to 12 May 2021), the Muslim community refrains from eating or drinking from dawn until dusk. The fasting is meant to bring Muslims closer to God by detaching themselves from worldly pleasures, as well as to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate. It’s also a time for physical and spiritual discipline and charity, and is considered to be an auspicious month for Muslims.

The 5 Pillars of Islam

1. Shahada (The Profession of Faith): This asserts the monotheistic aspect of Islam – the belief there is no other God than the one God of the Quoran (the Islam Holy Bible), the source of all existence.

2. Salah (Prayer): Prayer is an integral part of Islam. To profess one’s faith, Muslims pray five times a day to remain close to God. It also serves as a reminder that the prayers recited are instrumental to a person’s soul from birth to death. These prayers are at set strict times, with the individual facing the direction of Mecca (the holiest city of Islam and also the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad). These prayers are performed at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night.

3. Zakat (Almsgiving): Through charity and almsgiving, zakat is performed to purify the soul. A common practice is to donate certain amounts of one’s income to support the Islamic community or to give assistance to those in need or impoverished. Zakat is obligatory for all Muslims who are able to do so. Zakat instils the value that it is the responsibility of every Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive towards eliminating inequality.

4. Sawm (Fasting): Fasting takes place during Ramadan, which is the holy month in the Islamic calendar. The fast takes place from dawn to dusk each day. It is a period of reflection when Muslims are called upon to recharge their faith, increment their charity and seek forgiveness.

5. Hajj (Pilgrimage): The final Pillar is the Hajj, or pilgrimage. During one’s lifetime, Muslims are required to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during the 12th month of the lunar calendar. This ritual involves of making journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia wearing only two white sheets – so as to emphasise that there is no class distinction among pilgrims.

So what then, is Hari Raya Puasa?

ramadan singapore

Hari Raya Puasa (also known as Eid al-Fitr or simply, Eid) is Arabic for “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the start of a Muslim New Year, but a celebration to mark the end of Ramadan – the fasting month. While Hari Raya Puasa may be known differently across the world depending on the language spoken, they all refer to the same holiday.

How does a typical day of fasting go?

The day begins with a pre-dawn meal known as sahur, followed by the fast until sunset, when families and friends gather for the iftar. This is when the fast is broken with dates before a full meal.

What are some of the traditions practiced during Hari Raya Puasa?

On the morning of Hari Raya Puasa, members of the family seek forgiveness from their elders after prayers at the mosque, and young children are given little green packets of money, similar to the Chinese hong bao (red packet). Some families visit the cemetery on the morning of Hari Raya Puasa to pay their respects to departed relatives and loved ones. You’ll also see families dressed in outfits of the same colour, which is a common way of displaying unity.

The specificity of its traditions vary across the world. However, there are similarities that occur regardless of location. On the morning of Hari Raya Puasa, members of the family seek forgiveness from their elders after prayers at the mosque, and young children are given little green packets of money (called “duit raya” in places like Malaysia and Singapore). Some families visit the cemetery on the morning of Hari Raya Puasa to pay their respects to departed relatives and loved ones. You’ll also see families dressed in outfits of the same colour, which is a common way of displaying unity. Read more below to learn how different countries celebrate this holiday!

Should I bring a gift if I’m invited to a friend’s home for Hari Raya Puasa?

While these are not required, you can bring along a small gift, or buah tangan, if you like. Recommended gift ideas include desserts such as cookies, cakes or traditional Malay kueh to share with visitors. You can find these at bakeries or supermarkets. But steer clear of all things alcohol and, of course, avoid pork.

Eid al-Fitr, as known and celebrated across the world

Hari Raya Puasa is known by many monikers across the world. But regardless of language, they all point to the same celebration to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

1. Africa

Eid is also referred to as “Korité” in some places of West Africa. The Hausa language is widely spoken among Muslims throughout West Africa. Their equivalent Eid greetings in Hausa is “Barka da Sallah”, which translates to “blessed Eid prayers”.

2. Middle East

In Middle Eastern countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the celebration of the holiday may differ across communities. But they all point to the same essence: To give thanks.

In Turkey, the holiday is known as “Ramadan Byram” or “Seyker Bayrami”. According to journalist Gozde Bayar, it’s customary for children to go door-to-door and wish everyone a “Happy Bayram”. In return, they receive candy, chocolates, traditional sweets such as baklava and Turkish Delight, or a small amount of money.

Over at Afghanistan, preparations for the Eid al-Fitr festival can happen up to ten days prior. During then, Afghans will clean their homes, visit their local bazaars to buy new clothes, sweets, and snacks. “Kochnai Akhtar” (Blessed Eid) is a common greeting among the Pashto-speaking community, while “Eid Murabak” is similarly used during the holiday.

3. South Asia

According to M A Niazi from The Nation, Eid al-Fitr is known as “Choti Eid” (the Lesser Eid) in Pakistan. The Islamic Republic News Agency also notes that a common practice in Pakistan is to give obligatory charity to the needy before Eid day – so that all to share in the joy of Eid. At home, family members enjoy special Eid breakfast with various types of sweets and desserts. Eid is mainly enjoyed by the kids, as they mostly receive money in cash called “Eidi” as gift from their relatives and elders. For this reason, the State Bank of Pakistan issues fresh currency notes annually.

In places like Bangladesh, India and also Pakistan, “Chaan Raat” (Night of the Moon) is used to refer to Eid al-Fitr to celebrate the night of the new moon. “Chaand Raat Mubarak” (Meaning: have a blessed night of the new moon) and “Eid Mubarak” (Meaning: Blessings of the Eid day) are some common greetings used too. In Bangladesh, children gather at open fields to see the new moon of the month. Girls, in particular, decorate their hands with Mehndi – temporary body art made with dye from the henna plant.

4. Southeast Asia

Eid is known as “Hari Raya Idul-Fitri” or “Lebaran” in Indonesia, reports Arno Maierbrugger. According to The Jakarta Post, it is also the largest national holiday of Indonesia, complete with a large exodus known as “mudik” where people return to their hometown or city to celebrate the occasion and simultaneously ask for forgiveness from their elders. It is also common, as noted Islamic Professor Nelly Doorn-Harder in her paper titled “Southeast Asian Culture And Islam”, for Muslims in Indonesia to visit the graves of relatives to ritually clean the graves.

Over at Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand – Eid is commonly referred to as “Hari Raya Puasa”, while the common greeting used is “Selamat Hari Raya Puasa”. The Malaysian New Straits Times also reported that children are often given money packed in green envelopes (“duit raya”) – an adaptation from the red packets given during the Chinese Lunar Year. In Singapore (and before Covid), heritage streets like Geylang Serai and Arab Street were transformed into a colourful world of food and fabric during the month of Ramadan. To buy traditional Malay outfits, Arab Street is the go-to for beautiful fabrics and ready-made traditional wear like “baju kurung” for women, and the “baju melayu” for men.

In the Philippines, “Hari Raya”, “Buka”, “Hari Raya Buka”, or “Hari Raya Buka Puasa” are common terms for the Eid holiday. The three-day celebration typically involves dancing, boat races, horse races, and buffalo-fighting taking place in cities and towns with significant Muslim populations. In Metro Manila, the celebrations are usually held at the Manila Golden Mosque and the Quirino Grandstand.

By Hazel Vincent De Paul, The Finder, June 2016 / Additional reporting by Pinky Chng + Willaine G. Tan, April 2021 / Images: The Straits Times + 123RF.com

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