Ramadan and Hari Raya in Malaysia

Islam was brought to the part of the world that is now known as Malaysia in 12th century by Arab traders. About 60 percent (more than 50% of which Malays) of the multi-cultural population of Malaysia are now Muslims and Islam is the official religion recognised by the Malaysian government. Hence, the month of Ramadan and the festivities of Hari Raya are very important in Malaysia
Ketupat - a package of compressed rice - a symbol of Hari Raya

the month of Ramadan

Ramadan (also sometimes spelled as Ramadhan) is the month of fasting. That means Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink or have sex from the morning prayer (Fajr) at dawn until the evening prayer (Maghrib). In Malaysia that means from about 6am in the morning to 7.30pm in the evening. The early morning meal is called Sahur. The evening meal, Iftar, is known in Malaysia as "berbuka puasa" (literally: to open the fast).

Fasting in Malaysia is quite a challenge due to the hot and humid weather, therefore you should be considerate towards Muslims during the fasting month. The sacrifice during the month of Ramadan is supposed to remind people of those who are less fortunate and to learn to be humble again. But Ramadan also means a time to get to together with friends and family to break the fast together in the evening. Hence, Ramadan is als the time of the year when you can find the best Malay food at the Bazaar Ramadhan, the Ramadan food markets, that pop up everywhere in the country. These markets can be visited by anyone, not only Muslims. So all Non-Muslim travellers should experience a Bazaar Ramadhan if they happen to be in Malaysia during the fasting month.

Ramadan market in Kuala Lumpur
Bazaar Ramadhan in Bukit Bintang Kuala Lumpur
more abour Ramadan markets in Kuala Lumpur


Hari Raya

Hari Raya or Hari Raya Puasa or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri is the biggest holiday of the year in Malaysia (Chinese New Year comes in second). It is the holiday that celebrates the end of the fasting month. Hari Raya is internationally known as Eid al-Fitr. Hari Raya results in two public holiday during which people return to the home towns and villages - the famous Balik Kampung happens. Balik Kampung literally means back to the village. Thus, during the Hari Raya week half of the country is on the road to go back home to celebrate the holidays with their families. It also means that Kuala Lumpur, which usually chokes from traffic congestion, becomes quiet and peaceful for a few days. For Muslims Hari Raya means performing the Hari Raya Pusa prayers and visiting the graves of relatives. Hari Raya also means eating, eating, eating and visiting friends and relatives where even more food is served. Malaysia also has the tradition of holding Open Houses where the house is open for everyone to come in and say hello and eat something together.


How does Ramadan and Hari Raya effect me as traveller and backpacker?
Due to the multi-cultural society of Malaysia it is no problem to find food during the day. Most restaurant remain open and serve food and drinks as usual.

However, the Hari Raya celebrations cause half of the country to head back home (Balik Kampung) and hit the road. That means all forms of transport whether public (airplanes, buses, trains) or private (cars jamming the highways) will be very busy. So if you plan to travel during Hari Raya (usually in particular the weekend before and after Hari Raya, depending on what weekday Hari Raya falls on), book your tickets early!

When is Ramdadan and Hari Raya in Malaysia?
Since Ramadan and Hari Raya follows the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar, the dates will move by 11 or 12 days each year. The lunar calendar is shorter and begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted.