19 November 2008


Ramadan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar. The calendar is lunar, so the dates vary from year to year. This year, Ramadan coincided with most of the month of September. It represents the month when the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet, and it is a time when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.

Singapore has a large and observant Muslim community. During the day, it is a time of prayer and fasting. Night is a time for congregation, for replenishing oneself, and for preparing for the end of Ramadan. The holiday of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of fasting, and it is a time of great celebration and gift giving. In Malay, the holiday is known as Hari Raya Puasa, or Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It is one of the autumn celebrations of the many cultures here in Singapore, starting with the Mid-Autumn Festival and continuing through Deepavali and ending with Christmas.

I missed out on seeing any of the night festivities during Ramadan last year, but I was fortunate to be able to go with Farah to one of the largest street markets set up during the month, Eunos and Paya Lebar. We walked the few blocks from the MRT and found ourselves in a street filled with blue and gold lights and tents of food stalls and shops selling gifts and beautiful clothes for Hari Raya Puasa.

Our first goal was food. Although Farah was the one who had fasted during the day, I was hungry, as well. She found her favorite snack, thin beef slices cooked on an open grill. They were delicious. I opted for the more basic food - Ramly Burger. Ramly Burger is a Muslim food stall that you find only in temporary settings - usually Malay festivals and carnivals or other events that are held in a bazaar-like setting. I first had these in a field by the Tampines Mall near my office, and I love them! They are beef or chicken burgers that are grilled, then wrapped in an egg that is cooked alongside and smothered in yummy sauces. They are very popular stalls wherever I see them (think In-N-Out Burger popular). They also sold Roti John, a messy sandwich in a long French bread-type roll that contains multiple patties smothered in all kinds of sauces and egg. It is great! Although I am sure it is not low cholesterol.

After eating, we wondered through all kinds of stalls and shops, selling those beautiful clothes, little gifts for children (they love this time of year - it is like Christmas; presenting green packets - similar to the red packets in Chinese celebrations - is a time-honored tradition, and the packets usually contain money), and all kinds of other sundries. We even found one of Farah's favorites - a stall that apparently sells every kind of curtain ever made. It was great!

I really enjoyed the experience. Ramadan is the holiest of months for Muslims, and those in Singapore take it very seriously. But, they also take the time to spend the evening with their friends and family, rejuvenating themselves physically and socially, to complement the spiritual rejuvenation during the day. I was glad I got to see that.

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