There is much to see and capture in the Islamic celebration known as Eid al Fitr. Akin to the Christmas season for Christians, Eid al Fitr is met with as much anticipation. This is the celebration of breaking the fast, a month-long practice during Ramadan, which is perhaps the most sacred of times in the Islamic calendar. It is a celebration of thanksgiving to God for giving followers the strength to pull through a month’s worth of fasting, as well as a time of gift giving to children, making amends with foes and remembering the dead. The date of Eid al Fitr varies from year to year, since the Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles.
Every year, people will see urban settlers on an annual pilgrimage to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al Fitr with their families. In the days leading to the festivities, shopping malls and bazaars are abuzz with people purchasing goods in preparation for the festivities. Traffic jams are also a common thing to contend with, but people remain unconcerned about the hassles of the preparations and go through them with a festive air. In Indonesia, it is called Hari Raya Idul Fitri, which is Arabic for “becoming holy again,” though it is known by its more popular name Lebaran.
On the last night of fasting, traditional bedug drums are played beginning at maghrib (prayers after sunset), to signify the breaking of the fast. It continues well into the night, greeting the much-anticipated Lebaran at dawn. It is a sight worth recording on video, with drums played from almost everywhere, causing people to gather and celebrate the breaking of their month-long fast. At times, fireworks are also lit.
The celebration begins with early morning prayers usually held in public places such as mosques, streets, or open spaces where people can see Muslims positioned. Film artists can take a shot of row upon row of women garbed in white prayer gowns called mukena, and men wearing the traditional sarong while they perform these prayer rituals. It is a most interesting event to capture on film, what with whole communities converging in synchronized prayer movements, wearing almost identical clothing. After this, Muslims visit friends and relatives to ask for forgiveness for past mistakes. In these visits, food is served to visitors, and it is considered impolite to refuse. Major cemeteries are also full to the brim with Muslims visiting the graves of their dearly departed on this holiday.
Gift giving to children is a common practice during these visits that can last for a few days – others will go around the poorer neighborhoods giving money and gifts to children. To also allow the under-privileged population to celebrate this annual occasion, bazaars organized by charitable groups are opened with food clothes and other wares sold at less expensive prices, creating a rather festive public gathering.
In Malaysia and Singapore, houses and mosques are alight with lamps beginning on the 20th day of Ramadan all the way to Eid al Fitr which they call Hari Raya Puasa. This symbolizes the welcoming of the angels believed to visit the earth through the last seven days of the Ramadan. Throughout this time, most of the city flickers with decorative lanterns in various shapes and sizes. In the midst of this colorful swirl of lights, people in beautiful costumes parading through the streets as well as fireworks displays are a must-see for anyone looking to capture the grandeur of Hari Raya Puasa on video.
The customary greeting in Malaysia is “Selamat Hari Raya” which means “Happy Eid.” On this day, as with many other Muslim followers, people clean and decorate their houses and serve traditional food for the holiday, among them spicy delicacies such as beef rendang, which is beef in a mix of spices and coconut milk; ketupat, rice cooked in woven palm leaves, and lontong, rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. Hari Raya Puasa in Malaysia is observed through the whole month of Syawal following Ramadan, but celebrations are concentrated on the first two to three days of the month. Still, many families keep their houses open to visitors for the rest of the month, making the Hari Raya Puasa among the best of Islamic celebrations. Make it a point to join the celebration of Eid al Fitr this year and do not forget to bring your video camera with you.