Culture & Religion

The holy month of Ramadan: A time of fasting for muslims

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Miri Mosque, Sarawak
Miri Mosque, Sarawak

This year, the month of Ramadan runs from June 6th to July 6th. For those who may not be aware of what it is, Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims who fast are not supposed to eat, drink, or engage in sexual activities from the morning prayer time (known as Fajr) at dawn until the evening prayer (Maghrib).

Before Fajr, they will commonly feast or have a heavy breakfast (Sahur) to carry themselves throughout the day. Then, in the evening at sundown, they will break their fast, traditionally beginning with dates and water, followed by dinner. Usually, the evening meal during Ramadan (called Iftar) sees the whole family coming together and having a feast. After the month of Ramadan, the Eid celebration will begin, better known as Hari Raya Puasa or Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malaysia.

Masjid Jamek
Jamek Mosque, Kuala Lumpur

Pregnant and menstruating women as well as children under the age of 12 are not required to fast. If one falls sick, they can also opt not to fast for the sake of their health and ‘replace’ their fasting days after Ramadan. The purpose of fasting during Ramadan is for Muslims to sacrifice and be reminded of the less fortunate, and to gain humility.

Like most festive seasons, it is also a time to appreciate family and friends and spend time with them. Also, many Muslims aim to be charitable, avoid conflict and animosity, be civil and kind to their friends and family, and refrain from unsavoury activities such as smoking and overindulgence during this time.

Changes during the month of Ramadan

Dates at a bazaar on Jalan Tungku Abdul Rahman

It is also quite challenging for them as the month of Ramadan is known to be the hottest time of the year, especially noticeable in temperate climates, so non-Muslims at school, the workplace, and in the general public typically try their best to not openly drink or eat in front of fasting Muslims. This is not compulsory, but rather, a considerate gesture.

Restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, and bars will still remain open for non-Muslims during Ramadan, although some may choose to close if they are operated by Muslims.

Several sports activities such as running/cycling events will not be held during this month out of respect to practising Muslims.

Given Malaysia’s large Muslim population, it is a significant month for the country and the changes during this time are hard to miss.

In Kuala Lumpur and other densely populated cities, traffic will be particularly heavy in the evenings as many Muslims will be leaving work a bit earlier, usually from 5pm to 6pm, to make it home or to a restaurant in time to pray and break their fast.

Many restaurants see their dining areas packed every night during the fasting month, and new expats are quick to notice this phenomenon.


If you have a flexible schedule, it is advised to plan your routes and time on the road well in advance to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam. Of course, the flip side is that during the time Muslims are breaking their fast, typically from around 7:30 to 8:30pm, most city roads are relatively clear!

Government offices as well as some private companies may also adjust their working hours, so it’s never a bad idea to check with them first if you are planning meetings or appointments during the month of Ramadan.

It’s a great time to try out local cuisine

buka puasa

Ramadan is also a great chance and the best time for non-Muslims to try local and Malay cuisine. Ramadan bazaars and food stalls will be cropping up everywhere, open to all races and religions. Several restaurants and hotels will also be offering special Ramadan promotions.

Some areas in Klang Valley where bazaars are popular are Bukit Bintang, Kelana Jaya, TTDI, Section 17, Masjid India, and Kampung Baru. Just be sure to get there early as around 6.30 to 7pm, most of the stall operators will close down and leave to break their own fast.

This article was originally published in The Expat magazine (June 2016) which is available online or in print via a free subscription

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