Ramadan is going online this year. Yup, thanks to circuit breaker regulations due to COVID-19, there will be no Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar this year. All other events are also cancelled. However, Ramadan still goes on. Ramadan is the Muslim holy month, marked by daily fasting from dawn to sunset, ending with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Muslims practice Ramadan every year on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Muslim communities across Singapore will be celebrating Ramadan from 24 April to 23 May. Unfamiliar with Ramadan and its practices? This guide will help you understand the significance of the festival for the Muslim community. On top of that, you can find out how to be thoughtful towards your Muslim friends during this time.
Why does Ramadan happen?
Ramadan is a special season on the Islamic calendar. During this time, Muslims practice one of the pillars of Islam — self-restraint. It is an opportunity to purify the soul. Hence Muslims fast, repent and reflect, as well as abstain from negative thoughts and vices. When Muslims meet during Ramadan, they greet each other with “Selamat berpuasa” (meaning blessed fasting), “Ramadan Mubarak”, and “Ramadan Kareem.”
What happens during Ramadan?
Muslims fast throughout the day — between dawn and dusk. This fasting is to instil the value of compassion towards others and to ensure empathy for the most vulnerable communities.
Before dawn, Muslims start the day with a pre-dawn meal (“suhoor” in Malay) and lots of water for hydration. Bubur lambuk, a non-spicy rice porridge with a variety of ingredients such as beef and potatoes, is a common favourite.
After the sun sets, evening prayers are made. Friends and family then get together at the mosque or at home to break their fast. This is called “iftar” in Arabic, or “buka puasa” in Malay. Traditionally, Muslims eat dates to break their fast. Then comes prayer, and finally, a delicious meal. Well known favourites include ketupat served with satay and rendang.
In addition to the five daily prayers, Terawih prayers may be performed. These are the main form of worship during the fasting month; they cannot be performed at other months. These special prayers involve reading portions of the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book, as well as performing “rakahs”, which are cycles of movement involved in prayer.
During Ramadan, Muslims are also obliged to give religious tithe (“zakat fitrah”) to the poor. This symbolises Islamic social justice — that wealth should be circulated. In addition it is also believed to purify a Muslim’s growing wealth.
Who has to fast?
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All Muslims fast, including children! The exceptions are for those who are elderly, and young children. Pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, menstruating women are also exempt. Finally, those who are ill, or those for whom fasting will lead to serious detriment to their health, do not need to fast.
Typically, children ease into fasting around the time they start Primary school. Beginning in Primary One, they fast for half a day, progressing to a full fast as they get older.
What is Hari Raya Puasa?
Hari Raya Puasa (known as Eid-al-Fitr or Hari Raya Aidilfitri overseas) marks the end of Ramadan. The traditional greeting is “Selamat Hari Raya,” or “Eid Murabak” which means Happy Hari Raya and “Maaf Zahir dan Batin” which most closely means “I seek forgiveness from you.”
Lasting a month, it symbolises purification and renewal, and is a time where families decorate their homes, dress in their Raya best, and visit the mosques, families, and friends to seek forgiveness from elders.
Working adults give green envelopes of money to children and to the elderly. Everyone, young and old, gets together to feast on specialities like beef rendang, satay, lotong, ayam masak merah, kueh and pineapple tarts.
How can we support our Muslim friends during Ramadan?
For most Muslims, getting home on time to break fast at sunset with family is a priority. Hence we should be understanding if our Muslim friends and colleagues need to leave a meeting early. We can schedule meetings to take place in the morning, or be mindful of what time they need to end (and stick to it). In addition, we can be more forgiving if our colleagues and friends prefer not to meet up for dinners. Finally, not probing about the reasons why someone isn’t fasting would be considerate too.
Did you know…
… That Hari Raya Puasa, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali have overlapped before? From 1996 to 1998, Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year fell on the same week, and the term ‘Gongxi Raya’ was coined to celebrate the two festivals. From 2004 to 2006 Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali fell within days of each other, and the term ‘Deepa Raya’ was coined!
In Singapore, we are fortunate to enjoy religious and cultural harmony. We can also take the time to chat with the Muslims in our life to learn about the festival, traditions and significance of the holiday to them. We wish all members of the Muslim community selamat berpuasa!