It is a day when Muslims remember the “almost sacrifice,” according to Islamic Scriptures, of Ishmael by Ibrahim on Mount Moriah in the vicinity of Mecca. Muslims believe that God commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice Ismael to test him, and he passed the test by being willing to obey even such an extreme command. But then, according to two stories believed by Muslims, God either changed Ishmael with a sheep or commanded Ibrahim to stop and replace Ishmael with a healthy sheep.
For four days, beginning on the 10th day of the month of Dhul-hijja, the final month on the Islamic calendar, Muslims all over the world celebrate the “sacrifice” of Ishmael. In Malaysia, as in most Muslim countries, it is a national holiday.
Officially, the date is declared in Malaysia by the moon-sighting committee on the first day of Dhul-hijja, for only then can the exact date of the holiday be determined, owing to its being on a lunar-based calendar. The announcement can be heard on both TV and radio nationwide.
In general, people celebrate by rising early to pray, going to mosque to hear a sermon, wearing new clothes, visiting family and friends, and eating a large, festive, meat-heavy meal. A goat or sheep may also be sacrificed, some of the meat or an equivalent amount of money being given to the poor so they can celebrate Hari Raya Haji as well. Mosques may also be decorated with lights, gifts may be exchanged, and fire crackers are sometimes set off at night. Non-Muslims are frequently invited to meals as a way to introduce them to Islamic culture.
To fulfil one of the Five Pillars of Islam, some may also go on pilgrimage to Mecca to perform the Hajj, but only those who can afford the trip are required to go.
Should you visit Malaysia during Hari Raya Haji, some things to do include:
- If you wish, see if a Muslim friend will invite you to a festive Hari Raya Haji feast or go to a slaughterhouse to buy meat and see how halal meat is prepared. Finally, you may wish to watch the crowds outside local mosques, which often have exquisite architecture.
- Besides just meat, try out Malaysian cuisine in general. It has many influences from Chinese and Indian culinary traditions but is still distinct. Try the national dish, nasi lemak, which is fragrant rice mixed with coconut milk. Also look for chapathi flat bread, mung bean porridge filled with beef curry, bean sprouts chicken, and pineapple tarts.
- Tour Malacca City, on the Malacca Straits, once a centre of power during the ancient Malacca Sultanate and now a major tourist hub. See the Malacca Sultanate Palace, Chinatown, Little India, Portuguese Settlement, the Dataran Pahlawan Malacca Megamall, the Maritime Museum, and the “carnival-ride-like,” 361-foot-tall Taming Sari Tower.
Malaysia is a very unique land, just waiting to be explored, and Hari Raya Haji adds further interest to an already interesting visit.