Hari Raya in Penang

In accordance with the Muslim calendar, during the Ramadan month, those of Islamic faith fast from dusk to dawn. Once this fasting period is over, a celebration punctuates its end while marking the beginning of a new month, Syawal. The celebration is called Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.

During this religious festival, a distinct, melodic and sombre call of takbir will filter through the mosques and a morning prayer is performed before family and friends visit each other while feasting on the celebratory fare of fragrant ketupat which is rice wrapped in woven palm leaf and rendang, also lemang that is made out of sticky rice and festive sweets such as colourful Hari Raya cookies.

Syawal in Penang
On the eve of Hari Raya and the first two days of the festival in Penang, it is marked with bunga api or handheld sparkles by children outdoors. Bits and pieces of firework may light up the night sky today as compared to years ago when firework was a bigger thing. The morning of Hari Raya sees plenty visiting the Muslim graveyards, paying respects to their loved ones who have passed on and then on to the mosque for Hari Raya prayers. Flowers and sliced pandan leaves adorn graves for beautifying purposes.
Where: A nice spot to sit and soak in the Hari Raya atmosphere is at Masjid Kapitan Keling in George Town. Be there as early as 8am when they are going in for their prayers.

Hari Raya Feast
Hari Raya visits to family and friends happen at around lunchtime and are normally by invitation unless it is an open house where everyone is welcome. This is when the feasting begins and the special festival dishes are served to mark the occasion. However, you can also buy ketupat, lemang and rendang on the eve of Hari Raya in predominantly Malay neighbourhoods.
Where: Balik Pulau, Teluk Bahang, Batu Ferringhi, Bayan Lepas areas, Komtar and most places in Seberang Perai. They are only sold at this time of the year and for a limited time. Just lookout for sticks of bamboo filled with sticky rice cooking over open fire by the roadsides.

Cultural Observations
Syawal is the tenth month in the Islamic calendar and Hari Raya is a shifting festival that is at the mercy of the appearance of the new moon. Forgiveness of past slights and hurt are asked of each other during this festival and family members give each other duit raya or money packets as gifts. More often than not, children of friends visiting these homes are also given a token packet of duit raya.

Alcohol and non-halal food are not served in the homes celebrating this festival and neither are they welcomed as gifts. The Muslims are often in their traditional garb of baju kurung with a headscarf for female and baju melayu with songkok as head cover for male. Like most Malaysian traditional festivals, Hari Raya is made blindingly colourful through clothes.

Image credits: Su Aziz