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Located in the Southeast of Asia, Malaysia is a multiracial country in which Malaysians make up the biggest group with their major religion being Islam. Coming to Malaysia in late June, I was lucky enough to have a chance to participate in the vibrant festival of Hari Raya Aidilfitri (also called Eid al-Fitr).
Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Open House is the day that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of dawn to sunset fasting. Hari Raya Aidilfitri is one of the two most important celebrations for Muslims; the other is Hari Raya Haji – the festival of Abraham’s sacrifice.
Like Tet holiday in Vietnam, on Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Malay people wear their best traditional costumes and take turns to set aside time for this festival. They stay at home to receive and entertain neighbours, family, and other visitors. It is common to see non-Muslims made welcome during Eid al-Fitrat, and children will get token sums of money from their parents or elders, also known as “duit raya”. This custom is very similar to the giving of lucky money in Vietnam.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the chance for families and friends to seek forgiveness from each other, visit ancestors’ graves, pray at the mosque and visit relatives and friends to feast traditional Malay delicacies like ketupat, rendang, satay, lemang, and curry.
The place where I experienced the uniqueness of Malaysia’s culture is at the ground of the Royal Museum (the former Royal Palace).
Here, the night before Hari Raya, 28 members of the Mega FAM trip and I were so surprised to see the shimmering of Malaysian traditional bamboo cannons put along the road leading to the square.
The organisers led us to a kitchen area where we could witness and join the preparation of the food. Hundreds of people were busy cooking and arranging the food so that they can get ready for the next day at the party. They had worked hard all day to serve food and drinks for thousands of people. However, it seemed that Hari Raya is the day of sharing, so all of them were working with a smile on their face. They felt happy to serve, to share, and to say Selamat Hari Raya to each other.
The cooking and eating continued, while artists were concentrating on their rehearsals on stage. They wanted to give the best performances to the audiences on the official ceremony the next day, in which their Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism Malaysia, and thousands of locals and tourists were participating. Malaysians take pride in promoting their cultural beauty to the world.
On the next day of the festival, people came early to be entertained, to enjoy music and food, and talk with each other. Everyone smiled; there was no sign of worries or sadness on their faces.
Thousands of locals, as well as foreign visitors, were excited by a colourful cultural programme with traditional dance performances. Although we, the foreigners, did not understand the lyrics, we could still feel the happiness and joy around us. Through their performances, we could feel the enthusiasm and optimism of the Malaysian people, which left us with an unforgettable experience.