By Nick Kellingley
WHAT is Ramadan?
Malaysia is a Muslim nation, though a visitor to Kuala Lumpur could be forgiven for thinking that the multi-cultural nature of the capital obscures this facet of daily life.
All Muslims are obliged to fast during the month of Ramadan; this means no smoking, no drinking, and no eating during daylight hours from sun up to sunset. Some stricter interpretations of the fast may include no singing, dancing or other recreational or enjoyable activity.
Ramadan is designed to enable Muslims to walk a mile in the shoes of the poor. It also teaches humility and gratitude for the gifts God bestows on people during the rest of their lives. It also fosters a spirit of charity and goodwill towards one’s fellow man, and during Ramadan each Muslim will pay zakat. Zakat is a charitable donation based on a percentage of a Muslim’s worldly wealth excluding certain essential items.
To an outsider, Ramadan can be difficult to understand, in particular the joy at which Muslims prepare to fast for a whole month. However, it is an extremely spiritual occasion and it brings out the best in the people – their generosity and caring shines through during the month.
How does Ramadan work from a practical perspective?
The day begins with prayer—all Muslims will pray five different times during the day—and a meal – many people rise before dawn for a light breakfast to see them through the day.
From then on, Muslims forego eating and drinking until sunset when the fast is broken at iftar. There is no set tradition for what an iftar meal should be made up of, but typically it will be a hearty and lengthy celebratory affair. If you are travelling during Ramadan don’t be surprised if you’re invited to join in this even with casual acquaintances.
It is not uncommon for Muslims to spend the evening (or even late into the night) visiting friends and family, and continuing to enjoy life’s little pleasures as they do so.
Where is the best place to visit during Ramadan?
Every community in Malaysia will celebrate Ramadan, and in places such as Kuala Lumpur you may find huge corporate sponsored iftar events to join in, having said that one of the nicest ways to experience Ramadan is outside the city in smaller communities. It’s in these rural communities where you can enjoy the freshest and most authentic Malay food.
Wherever you are keep an eye out for a Ramadan bazaar. These bazaars will be held all over the country and are where people come together to shop for food and to eat. They set up at around 3 pm even though sunset isn’t until much later.
Keep an eye out for impromptu fireworks displays of an evening too, and be careful as sometimes over enthusiastic revellers are a little less than careful with fireworks.
What kind of food will I find?
One of the most common Ramadan foods is bubur lambuk. This is a rice porridge seasoned with meat (most commonly beef) or prawns, as well as sweet potatoes and herbs. It’s very tasty and extremely filling so make sure you only take a small bowl.
Lontong rice cakes are a great accompaniment to a satay or a curry; you’ll find them in steaming banana leafs until they’re ready to be eaten.
Of course no trip to Malaysia is complete without a beef or chicken Rendang, which has been marinated in coconut milk and spices for hours to deliver a complex flavour.
On the East coast keep an eye out for ayam percik, a sort of chicken kebab on a skewer that’s slathered in a piquant coconut gravy and roasted on a charcoal burner.
If you like Indian influence at iftar try the Murtabak pastries traditionally filled with minced lamb or chicken and a little onion and egg. Today there are dozens of varieties including cheeses and seafood.
What marks the end of Ramadan?
Hari Raya or Eid-Al-Fitr is the three day feast that marks the end of Ramadan. It is a very joyous occasion and Muslims throughout Malaysia will gather with family and friends to give thanks.
So if you’re ever travelling to Malaysia during Ramadan don’t despair – it is definitely one of the most interesting, and tasty, times of the year to visit.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Nick Kellingley (UK)
Nick Kellingley is a full-time writer based between Shenzhen, China and Siem Reap, Cambodia. He has been published in many different media and is an award winning blogger. He spent his honeymoon in Malaysia and loves the country and its people.