The festival of Aidil Fitri (or Eid ul-Fitr in Arabic) is celebrated by Muslims on the 1st day of the Muslim month of Shawal.
The Malays in Pahang and Malaysia also call the festival "Hari Raya Puasa" (Day of Celebration after Fasting).
Aidil Fitri marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, a month of self-purification, a month all Muslims strive to improve themselves spiritually.
It is thus a celebration of victory of one’s will-power over the inner urges of worldly comforts and sins of behavior and conduct.
The night of Aidil Fitri will be filled with the alluring chantings of the "Takbir" (Praises to Allah) until the next day of special day prayers. It is common for congregations in mosques and surau (musollahs) to go round the neighborhood singing the Takbir to praise Allah for successfully completing the Ramadan fast.
And during Aidil Fitri, and throughout the month of Shawal, Malaysians wish their Muslim friends "Selamat Hari Raya".
Wonder Why Some Muslims Also Fast In Shawal?
Well, although the month of Shawal is a month for Aidil Fitri celebration, it is also a month when Muslims are exhorted to also fast, for at least six days in the month, but only after the first day of celebrations.
In return, the fasting for a month in Ramadan and six days in Shawal would, in the eyes of the religion, be tantamount to fasting the whole year, with its concomitant rewards.
That is why we will sometimes find a Malay or Muslim friend fasting during that month. It is not only to repay the days that he missed fasting but also to get the benefit of the exhortation to fast six days in the month.
He thus will have reason to celebrate twice, meaning double joy, in Shawal, namely, on Aidil Fitri day, and when he ends his six days of fasting.
END OF SIDE-NOTE
In Malaysia, the Malays living in the towns usually go back to their hometown or kampung to celebrate Aidil Fitri. This migration from big urban cities to rural areas is known as the "Balik Kampung" phenomenon in Malaysia.
And it is so because it is always multiple the joys when celebrating the Hari Raya Puasa together with parents and siblings. And with two days of official holidays, it’s normally a week of celebrations.
So in the big cities like Kuala Lumpur, the last few days of Ramadan will be a time for traffic jams on the roads leading back to the home-towns and villages. It is also a time when accidents increase dramatically even with increased police monitoring and presence to deter speedsters and traffic offenders.
Well, it’s back to Kuantan for me and family, to celebrate at the home of my parents-in-law, as done every year since two decades ago.
So the day before Hari Raya Puasa, the whole family would pack our bags and take the two and a half hour’s journey from Kuala Lumpur on the "Balik Kampung" venture.
Here’s a brief description of how we normally spend celebrating Aidil Fitri in Pahang.
The day starts in the early dawn when my mother-in-law (I call her "Tok Mok", like my children do) wakes up at about 5.00 am to do her "Subuh" or dawn prayers. She also wakes up the other family members for the prayers.
After her prayers, it’s time for her to do her scheduled chores for the morning, with help by the children. Switching on the radio, the Takbir and joyful Hari Raya songs will be heard, providing the soothing back-ground music, so chores are happily carried out.
Among others, the traditional kueh and pastries are put into glass containers and arranged on the table, with the kettle of tea and coffee or jugs of soft drinks also prepared for visitors.
Tok Mok will also start warming up the rendang and the kuah kacang (satay sauce), the gravy for the nasi himpit, the family’s main dish for this year’s Hari Raya. The nasi himpit, chicken rendang and gravy have already been cooked and prepared the night before, helped by her daughters and sons-in-law.
Well, to continue ...
After the morning bath and the dawn prayers, we will all put on our new clothes of traditional Malay costumes, the baju Melayu and baju kurung and baju kebaya.
Afterwards a little breakfast is taken, since it is advisable to eat as a symbol or gesture that Ramadan or the fasting month is over.
And after the little breakfast, it’s time to go to the mosque for the Aidil Fitri prayers which starts at 8.30 am.
Usually I will take Tok Mok and family in the car to the main Kuantan State Mosque in the middle of Kuantan. But if I felt we won’t be on time, then I will just take them to the nearby mosque at Tanah Putih.
After Aidil Fitri prayers, back home, there will usually be another round of light eating, to reserve our tummies for the visits later.
By this time too, all other members of the family, about thirty of them, will be at Tok Mok's home congregating for the activities to follow - also a perfect time to take group family photos.
Then it’s time for salam and asking for forgiveness, starting with the patriarch and elders and then with other family members. The younger ones will hold and kiss the hands ("salam") of the elders.
Aidil Fitri is always a perfect time, when all are present, to ask for forgiveness from family members, relatives and friends, for wrongdoings, if any, whether done knowingly or unknowingly.
For the children this "salam" is the time that they anxiously look forward to because with the handshaking, they will be given small tokens of cash known as "duit raya" . Nowadays the duit raya is put into an envelope as an "ang pow" following the Chinese New Year tradition.
Working adults are extra generous on this day, so children can expect to collect substantial amounts when they go round visiting relatives, neighbors and friends.
Perhaps the most joyful session of Aidil Fitri is when we go round in convoys of cars, mpvs or vans visiting the homes of relatives. That’s because it is perhaps the only time, free from our usual daily busy schedules, when we could meet with uncles and aunts, cousins, relatives and long-time friends.
At their homes, we will be served with the main dish of the family and of course at all those homes, traditional Malay kueh or pastries abound. Nowadays most of these traditional kueh or pastries are available and bought ready-made at the Ramadan Bazaars and shops, although home-made ones always taste more delicious.
Normally the morning visits end at mid-day when there is no more room for any more food or drink in the tummy! Bloated with all kinds of food substances, it’s back to home to relax and rest and maybe take a short nap after the tiring (and filling) rounds.
After the afternoon Zohor prayers, (and the tummy has sort of thinned down a bit), then at about 3.00 pm further visits will be made to about two or three other relatives or friends in town, ending in the late evening, in time for Asar prayers.
Then after dinner and Maghrib prayers, the rest of the night is usually spent watching the many television entertainment shows. It is however common for friends and relatives to come by at night to visit.
And the night time is when children (and also adults) gather and play with sparklers and fireworks, providing the children with the joys of the celebrations. Playing with fires or fiery things at night is always fun for children.
Well, there are more fun and exciting things during Aidil Fitri, like all other festivals in Pahang and Malaysia, than I can ever write here.
It also means a month of open houses in the towns, and one in which all races in Malaysia share in celebrating, by visiting their Malay friends and neighbors – a Malaysian phenomenon rather unique in this world.
And foreigners and tourists in town usually join in this joyous occasion at the open houses of public officials and state dignitaries, and, of course, of their office friends and colleagues.
Visiting open houses during Aidil Fitri is a valuable and exciting experience no foreigner or tourist in Pahang and Malaysia should miss.
"SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDIL FITRI"
and as always, from me ...