Ever since my arrival in Besut, Malaysia in January, the Malay people in my community have enthusiastically told me about the highly anticipated Ramadhan. I had heard of Ramadhan before, but never did I think I would have the unique opportunity to live within a community that honors and recognizes this custom.
Ramadhan began on July 21st, and during Ramadhan, Muslims all over the world fast daily from sunrise to sunset. They call their fasting, “puasa,” and they fast to remind themselves that others are not as fortunate as they are. This is a time of deep prayer, charity and reflection for the Muslim community.
Ramadhan concludes after one lunar month, with the sighting of a new moon. At that time, Muslims then celebrate Hari Raya Puasa. Hari Raya Puasa is a festival that can take place for seven or more days, and it is a time of joy and celebration after one month of fasting during Ramadhan. Family and friends visit each other and every family usually hosts an open house to invite friends and relatives to join in celebration.
As many people in my American hometown anxiously prepare for Christmas during the Holiday Season, similar anticipation can be experienced and witnessed as Muslims are busy buying new beautiful Hari Raya clothes, ordering special desserts, preparing elaborate meals and doing all they can to prepare for Hari Raya. In fact, during Hari Raya stores nationwide host huge sales and promotions. Even the Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur run a “Buy 1, Get 1 on Us this Ramadhan” promotion, and include Hari Raya in their advertisements stating, “Wishing you a safe journey this Hari Raya!” The cities and larger towns of Malaysia are filled with traffic and heavy shopping crowds.
|This is "Ayam Satay," which translate as chicken satay. It|
is delicious, seasoned chicken on a skewer that is grilled.
It is my favorite Malay food, and it is especially popular
for Hari Raya!
Meanwhile, as I wait in anticipation to witness my first Hari Raya, I can definitely sense the presence of Ramadhan currently underway. All the restaurants that were once busy from morning to night, as well as the school cafeteria are closed to honor the daily fasting. In addition, my students are no longer sipping their juices and actively eating their snacks during recess. Instead, they are napping. Moreover, the fields that once were filled after school with boys playing soccer are now home to wild dogs and cows grazing, as children are tired and resting after school.
|Much work to be done at the Bazaar Ramadhan!|
However, while the town may seem sleepy, everyone can be found at the local Bazaar Ramadhan buying food and ingredients for the large, special family dinners they enjoy every night after the sun sets during Ramadhan. In fact, my female students and female teachers prepare huge feasts for their families everyday after school, and often they try new, special Ramadhan recipes during this time. When the sun sets, usually around 7:30pm, the town is absolutely empty as families are at home “buka puasa,” which means “breaking fast.”
|Bazaar Ramadhans are very busy with people buying foods|
and ingredients for their "buka puasa" meals!
Personally, it has been an interesting experience to be in the heart of an Islamic community during Ramadhan, and it is an experience I could never have elsewhere. In Besut, Ramadhan may seem like a calm, reflective time of sacrifice, but when Hari Raya arrives next weekend, the town will ignite and explode with people, celebration and of course, food!