Raya at Home... and Away


(From right) Anom Ahmad with her mother and sister.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations are about kinship, strengthening ties – and food! Three childhood friends relate how they each celebrate Hari Raya – both at home and abroad.

Anom Ahmad, researcher, the UK

“In another life, we would never have been friends,” says Anom Ahmad, when asked about how she met her best friends, Anfaal Nawawi and Hazrina Zainul Azizdin, in 1996.

“Anfaal and Hazrina represented characters that I was not. We came from different backgrounds entirely and had very different interests. We also had very different experiences in our lives. And for us, this combination works,” she says.

Anom, whose parents separated when she was in primary school, went to live with her mother in Kelantan for a few years. When her mother migrated to the UK, Anom came back to Penang and stayed with her father instead. She attended St. George’s Girls School, where she met Hazrina and Anfaal.

“Hazrina had the aspirations of a relatively typical Malaysian teenager – mainly to do well academically. She was also the most local: she knew the accent better, she knew where things were around the island, and she was probably the one with the most comfortable sense of identity. She was boisterous and confident.

“Anfaal was academic not so much by choice, but through expectation. And she is naturally gifted too. Always with the best grades, it was effortless for her.”

Anom, who spent most of her childhood and adult life in the UK and the US, perceives Hari Raya differently from her best friends. “I celebrated raya away from Malaysia quite a lot. It’s not a very big occasion in my family. The first day of fasting is, however. It’s typically a small, immediate family gathering centred around the feelings of being grateful.

“This Hari Raya, I will celebrate with lots of food and in the company of my children, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and mother, who all also live in the UK. I will take a day off work, and my children will take a day off school for it,” says Anom.

Anfaal Nawawi, technical writer, the Netherlands

For Anfaal, this Hari Raya will be different as it will be the first time she celebrates it away from home.

Anfaal, now 37 years old, moved to the Netherlands in 2018 with her husband. “I was offered to relocate to the head office in the Netherlands. My husband also saw it as an opportunity, so he quit his job to relocate with me.”

(From left) Anfaal Nawawi and her husband.

When asked about how she is celebrating Hari Raya this year, she says, “We initially planned to visit my sister-in-law in London to celebrate Hari Raya together. But after realising that I have a work event throughout the whole week when raya falls, I think we’re OK with raya being just another workday.

“We’ll plan something for that weekend though. Most probably I will gather my Dutch colleagues for a small celebration to introduce them to Malaysian culture. They’ve been asking to try Malay food for a while now, so this is a good reason to do something that reminds me of home,” says Anfaal.

Hazrina Zainul Azizdin, PR Director, Penang

Although Hazrina will be celebrating Hari Raya in Penang this year, she had quite a festive Hari Raya when she was living in the UK in 2015. “Even though I didn’t know how to cook, I was adamant about bringing raya food and traditions from Penang to Birmingham. I spoke to my mum daily to ask for the steps and recipes for my favourite dishes such as rendang, kuah kacang, ayam masak merah and daging masala. I even had to order certain ingredients online from a Thai grocery store in London about a week in advance, such as galangal, turmeric and kerisik, as they are hard to come by over there. I was also on the phone for a few hours with my mum in Penang while I cooked in the UK on the eve of raya.

“It was worth the trouble though as my friends and family there enjoyed traditional Penang-Malay raya food. The best part was seeing my English friends persevering against the spiciness and finishing their food despite turning all red and sweaty,” says Hazrina.

(From left) Anfaal, Hazrina Zainul Azizdin and Anom.

At home, Hari Raya is a joyous occasion. “My mother would cook raya dishes such as beef rendang, nasi impit with kuah kacang, and lontong. But usually for lunch, it is nasi minyak, ayam masak merah, daging masala and kerabu timun,” says Hazrina.

I ask if these dishes are spread across two days. “Just for the first day alone. We have quite a big family, and we are also gluttons,” she says with a laugh.

According to Hazrina, who works in KL, Hari Raya holiday begins a few days before the end of Ramadan. “I will drive back to Penang a few days before raya and will spend those last days shopping for kuih, clothes and ingredients to cook for the first day with my mum, my sister and her kids.

“On the eve, we will prepare kuih raya and put them in glass containers, as well as cook our Raya staple dishes. I will also prepare duit raya for the kids.”

Unlike the Chinese custom of giving out ang pau after one is married, Malays are required to give duit raya once they start working.

“On the first day, we will wake up early and head to the mosque for solat Aidilfitri first. Once we return, my family and I will have our private ritual where we will kneel on the floor and ask for forgiveness from our parents, who will be sitting on chairs, for any transgressions over the past year. Likewise, they will also do the same with us. This is my favourite part of the day as it is a very poignant, intimate and significant moment for us as a family. This is followed by me giving them duit raya, which used to be the other way around before I started working. We would then get ready in our raya clothes and eat together. In between, friends and neighbours would also come in and out of our house to eat and celebrate.

“My parents’ house is in Taman Tun Sardon. It’s a Malay majority area, so it is extremely festive over there. Children will show up all day asking for duit raya, which is quite fun as it’s like our Malaysian version of trick or treat.

“By mid-afternoon, the crowd at our house would have dwindled, and we will then leave for my grandmother’s house, which is 15 minutes away, to spend time with my cousins, aunts and close relatives – and where more food, talking and duit raya are involved.

“We will usually only go out to visit friends and extended relatives starting on the second day. And I would see Anom and Anfaal for our private raya sessions from the third day onwards. But this year, we might Skype with each other. I miss them dearly, and I can’t wait for the day we will get to spend raya together again,” says Hazrina.

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