Being a Singaporean, we are somewhat lucky because of our racial diversity. There are a variety of festivals celebrated by the different ethnic groups. Due to that, we enjoy more public holidays compared to countries that are less diversified.
In the Malay calendar of festivities, there are several highly visible events that Malay-Muslims Singaporeans share in common with other Muslims around the world although each with their own unique influence.
The two most important events in the Malay-Muslim calendars are Hari Raya Idul-Fitri and Hari Raya Idul-Adha. Hari is day and Raya is celebration thus Hari Raya means Day of Celebration.
Another event that most Malay-Muslims celebrate is Maulud Nabi. It is the birthday of our Prophet Muhammad saw.
Hari Raya Idul-Fitri
Hari Raya Idul-Fitri marks the end of the fasting month, Ramadhan and the arrival of the new month, Syawal. Ramadhan is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. It is mainly a time of discipline and self-control. Muslims undergo a fast during daylight hours in this holy month abstaining from food, drink and any sexual activity.
The preoccupation to satisfy physical needs or fulfilling your desires are suppressed to encourage spiritual reflection. This is the month where you set aside for worship, sadaqah or contribute to charity, perform as many good deeds as possible, repent, seek forgiveness and recite the Quran as much as possible, these are also strongly encouraged for other months.
The purpose of fast is to experience and remember the less fortunate, learning to be thankful of what you have and appreciate with what God has blessed you. Fasting in the month of Ramadhan is obligatory although there are exceptions for the sick, elderly, expecting or menstruating women and travelers.
The daily fast starts at daybreak and ends at sunset. Before we start our fast, we have our pre-dawn meal, sahur and we break our fast, iftar, at sunset. After we break our fast, we will proceed with a special night prayer, tarawih. Normally we congregate in mosques or designated prayer places like a mulit-purpose hall to perform this prayer. During the holy month, Muslims strive to worship as much as possible.
The end of Ramadhan is decided upon the local sighting of the new moon in each country. Thus this may result a different Hari Raya Idul-Fitri date, however, usually the difference is only by a day. Why the moon? Because Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the months begin when a first crescent of a new moon is sighted. For more information on the Islamic Calendar.
Once the new moon is sighted, our Singapore Mufti, an authorized and appointed Islamic scholar, will then announce publicly via radio and TV broadcast informing Muslims in Singapore the end of Ramadhan and the arrival of Syawal.
How it is celebrated in Singapore
Traditionally, days before the end of Ramadhan, most Malay households are busy preparing varieties of Hari Raya cookies or cakes, spring cleaning the house or buying the groceries to prepare traditional Malay dishes to cook for the big day. Typical Malay dishes cooked for Hari Raya are Rendang, Serunding, Sambal Goreng, Sayur Lodeh and Ayam Masak Merah. Each household have their own favorite or unique dishes. All these dishes are normally eaten with several types of rice or rice cakes called ketupat, lontong, lemang or lepat.
Most common of rice cakes are ketupat which is compressed rice wrapped in coconut leaves and lontong compressed rice wrapped in banana leaves. These are either home-made, store bought or ordered from a caterer. The making of these rice cakes requires skills and time which many find it is more convenient to buy instead. Likewise for the Hari Raya cookies, except for some many Malay Singaporeans, finds it more convenient to buy or order instead of making them at home. It is also more economical and the quality acceptable to be presented to their guests.
During the month of Ramadhan, many Malay households decorate their window grilles, balconies or the corridor along their house with fanciful lights to signify the festive season. Setting off firecrackers are not allowed in Singapore.
On the morning of Hari Raya Idul-FItri, Malays dress up in their traditional new clothes and attend the Solat Hari Raya or Thanksgiving prayers in mosques or designated places for large congregation normally at void decks or multipurpose halls. After the prayers, all will return home to get ready to visit the relatives or for those elderly folks, they will wait a home for the arrival of their younger guests.
Just as important, family members will seek forgiveness from and also forgive one another in the morning of Hari Raya Idul Fitri. This is usually done after the Solat Hari Raya or Thanksgiving prayers in the morning.
Sometimes, some visits the graves of their loved ones on Hari Raya Idul-Fitri though it is not encouraged to do so in the first day of Hari Raya.
Visiting the houses of relatives have its rule of thumb, Malays will visit the eldest and closest relative first then followed by distant relatives. For example, I will visit my parent’s and in-law’s house first before I visit my grandparent’s, then oldest and older siblings followed by my aunts or uncles. As for my younger siblings or relatives, they will visit my house before I visit theirs because I am older. These may seem daunting but this is to signify respect towards our elders and closest. Friends’ homes are usually visited last. These visits will take place during the month of Syawal.
During recent times the rules are more relaxed and younger families are only visiting close relatives. Nowadays these visits don’t last a month long, usually it will be completed within three weekends or even earlier.
Though not a requirement, married and working couples usually hand out duit raya or cash gifts enclosed in small envelopes to children or unmarried or unemployed young individuals. The amount depends on the closeness of the giver and receiver.
Hari Raya Idul-Adha
This is another religious event celebrated by the Malay community. It is celebrated much like Hari Raya Idul-Fitri except there are no home visits thus there are hardly cookies or special dishes to mark the event.
Hari Raya Idul-Adha commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to obey God’s command. God was so pleased with the readiness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son that He commanded believers to observe this day as Id ul-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice.
On this day, Muslims congregates and perform a prayer. After the prayer the animals will be slaughtered and the meat will be distributed to the poor and needy as ant act of worship. Sheep, cows, goats or camels are animals that can be used for sacrifice. Animals are slaughtered in the most humane ways as taught in Islam so that the animals do not suffer pain in death.
These sacrifices can be done from the 10th to 12th of the month of Dzulhijjah before sunset are usually carried out in mosques or any Islamic center in Singapore.
How it is celebrated in Singapore
Hari Raya Idul-Adha is a rather low-key event in Singapore but it is still celebrated nonetheless. Much of the activities are in the mosques or Islamic Centers that performs the slaughtering of animals for sacrifice and the meat distributed to the needy.
It is a more visible event in Mecca where pilgrims are performing the Haj (pilgrimage) at this time. Some Malays mark the event by visiting relatives whom have performed the haj before.
Maulud Nabi is a religious celebration than a cultural one. It is to mark the birthday of our Prophet Muhammad saw. It is celebrated during during the month of Rabi al-Awwal. This event is marked by presentations of sermons and recitation of the Quran.
Dear readers, most of the above facts I have stated are based on my own experiences and knowledge from family members, friends and research either online or from printed books which are rather limited. I am certain that there are more Malay customs and traditions that I did not mention here and I am still uncovering, discovering and learning.
This page is always in progress because as I unraveled more Malay traditions I will update this page or relevant pages in my blog. I hope you can stay tune and give me your support by sharing with me what I have yet to mention or anything that you are curious about that may lead to many more discoveries about the Malay traditions.
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