With Islam accounting for a quarter of the world’s population, the effect of the sacred time of Ramadan on our global community is awe-inspiring beyond measure.
In Malaysia, Islam is the most commonplace religion, accounting for some 19.5 million Malaysian citizens, that’s 61.3% of the population.
In a society where Islam dominates the religious dialogue, Ramadan is a joyous occasion on a scale that just isn’t possible in other places around the world.
At InsightAsia, our focus is always on real people and their experiences of everyday life. What better way to mark this occasion than by examining what Ramadan means to the people of Malaysia, giving our friends around the globe a meaningful glimpse into their lives?
Our focus here is on breaking the fast, a time considered one of the most important in terms of togetherness and community here. You can also take a look at our full gallery of images from Malaysians breaking their fast here.
How do Muslims break their fast in Malaysia?
In particular, breaking fast should be a simple time for Muslims. Prayer and the companionship of loved ones take centre stage, but when it comes to food and drink there’s all sorts of room for expression. When gathering with friends and family, meals become feasts all on their own.
Heavier, more substantial foods like rice-based dishes make up the mainstay of the menu. These are often accompanied by side dishes with noodles and murtabak, stuffed pancakes filled with meat and served with curry or gravy.
Desserts and sweet snacks come in the form of kuih, steamed rice-based treats which are a beloved Malaysian institution, along with pastries more commonly found around the world.
Washing it all down, drinks are commonly made more substantial with various inclusions. Soy with grass jelly is a refreshing favourite, or coconut water with coconut jelly, watermelon juice with nata-de-coco and thick fruit punches. We can’t talk about Malaysian favourites without mentioning cendol. This is a drink made from coconut milk, jelly noodles shaved ice and palm sugar. With any number of variations on this simple recipe, you’re sure to find cendol washing down a great many Malaysians’ Ramadan feasts.
Breaking fast outside the home
Because of this focus on freshly-prepared feasts, pre-packaged food isn’t much of a winner at this time of year. Even the simplicity offered by packaged snacks and desserts like ice cream and yoghurt doesn’t seem to tempt people away from fresh local kuih, but this doesn’t stop big retailers trying to coax consumers with seasonal promotions.
Pre-prepared drinks are still popular, but ultimately people want to know their food has been prepared with love and attention befitting this special time. Because of this, restaurants and hotels will offer special buffets for Muslims to break their fast in the wider community.
Especially in the final two weekends of Ramadan, restaurants will try to capitalise on the extra seasonal business with extended opening hours and special deals or menus, even if they normally cater to a more international market.
Ramadan bazaars are also a huge part of the community culture in Malaysia, just like in other parts of Southeast Asia. Local councils assign places for street vendors to sell food and the result is a fantastic carnival of rich flavours and textures. It’s also big business, with people more than willing to part with between 30 and 50 Malaysian Ringgits (£5-£8.50 or $8-$13) on different items of food.
Ramadan in the Malaysian community
Ultimately breaking the Ramadan fast is a time for family, and certain members of the family can make their growling stomachs heard above others. It’s no secret that children have far more ‘pester power’ during Ramadan, with parents more willing to accommodate their requests for specially cooked dishes or treats. These often take the form of rewards for completing their fasting… not much different to appeasing kids anywhere!
In the wider community, breaking fast often takes place with the less fortunate in Mosques and orphanages to reinforce this message of togetherness. Sponsors and brands have recently become involved to make sure these acts of charity have the biggest impact and help as many people as possible with donations of food and promotion.
Has this whet your appetite for more glimpses into different cultures in Asia? Are you celebrating Ramadan in your own way around the world? Leave a comment to let us know what you found most interesting. In the meantime, here’s wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Hari Raya Celebration from InsightAsia!