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Jaded with Ramadan bazaars, Muslims turn to free ‘buka puasa’ at mosques as economy bites (VIDEO)

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Working in Cyberjaya, Selangor, it can sometimes take nearly two hours for Hidayat, 24, to arrive home in Shah Alam. If he leaves at 5pm, he would only get home with just around half an hour to spare before breaking his fast during Ramadan.

The software engineer said he lives alone, which would make cooking a hassle, but neither does he favour the Ramadan bazaars which he found to be overcrowded and can be overpriced. So he turned to the surau near his neighbourhood — now his 10th day in a row doing so this year so far.

“When you break your fast at the surau, the food is already prepared by the committee members,” he told Malay Mail when met at Surau Al-Islah, located across a row of two-storey terrace houses in Seksyen 7, Shah Alam.

“I don’t get anxious thinking if I have enough money and time to buy my meal,” he added.

Hidayat was among the growing number of urban Muslims here who break their fast at mosques or suraus before performing their maghrib prayers — a tradition that goes back for decades.

However, this tradition seems to have found a new meaning in the last few years due to the rising costs of living and the hectic working commute, with those polled by Malay Mail saying that they would visit different mosques and sometimes rotate between them over the month.

On that evening, Hidayat was served with rice, beef curry and vegetable dishes along with other sweet treats of kuih. Typically at these “iftar” events, the dishes would rotate every day, and are sponsored by different members of the local congregation each evening as a form of charity.

People break their fast at Perbadanan Putrajaya during the holy month of Ramadan in Putrajaya March 19, 2024. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
People break their fast at Perbadanan Putrajaya during the holy month of Ramadan in Putrajaya March 19, 2024. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

People break their fast at Perbadanan Putrajaya during the holy month of Ramadan in Putrajaya March 19, 2024. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Lawyer Hafidz Nasir, 34, shared Hidayat’s sentiments when met in Putrajaya. He said he would often opt to break his fast at the mosque to save money and to mingle around with the community in the area — this was his fifth different mosque so far.

Living in Gombak over 50km away, he said he is glad to see the diverse community found in large mosques from various backgrounds including working professionals, singles, couples, families, students and foreigners.

“I usually break my fast alone at home, which can feel quite lonely. Usually, I will turn on the TV or Netflix, but if I go to the mosque, at least I get to dispel that loneliness by talking with people, get to know them, share stories and observe those around me,” he told Malay Mail.

He said that during these communal experiences, he often gets to hear about local issues happening within the community.

“In areas like Gombak, where residents are fighting for their rights regarding the construction of the East Coast Rail Link route. If we are just a passerby, we would not know what’s happening, but sitting together at a table allows us to learn about the happenings in our community,” he added.

In the past few years, those who were constrained by time would usually visit Ramadan bazaars to buy their food and drinks, however Malay Mail reported that several Muslims have conceded that high prices and lacklustre quality of dishes being sold have turned them off from buying in the last few years and drove them to seek alternatives.

Malay Mail spoke to Hafidz before “iftar” in the Putrajaya Mosque in Precinct 3, Putrajaya — just a stone’s throw away from the mega Ramadan bazaar which has become the trademark and highlight of the administrative capital annually during Ramadan. This year, the bazaar offered close to 300 stalls.

Yet, the lawyer conceded that buyers may indulge themselves when visiting bazaars, as purchasing food while hungry tends to make everything appear delicious.

“I believe many would agree with me that the food prices are increasing now due to the rising price of goods. Sometimes the increase per kg of goods is just a few sen, but food prices also rise accordingly. The charges are expensive too, but the food is still disappointing,” he told Malay Mail.

He further explained that breaking fast at the mosques would lead him to just consume whatever food was provided without being selective, as it saves both time and money. That evening, the mosque served nasi tomato — rice cooked with ghee and tomato paste, usually served with chicken dish, curry and pickled vegetables of acar — and nasi Arab — a local riff of the “mandi” rice dish from Yemen.

Hafidz also noticed that many individuals now choose to break their fast at mosques, and he often encountered situations where the food ran out or was insufficient.

“Although some mosques have increased the quantity of food available, it still fails to meet the demand due to the substantial number of attendees.

“For me, this initiative is great, especially in this economy. It is even more beneficial for families because if you were to buy food at the bazaar for a family of four, it could easily cost around RM50,” he added.

Masjid India Muslim Ipoh, located in Jalan Seenivasagam, continue its annual tradition of preparing bubur lambuk throughout the month of Ramadan to be distributed to the public as an iftar meal. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Masjid India Muslim Ipoh, located in Jalan Seenivasagam, continue its annual tradition of preparing bubur lambuk throughout the month of Ramadan to be distributed to the public as an iftar meal. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Masjid India Muslim Ipoh, located in Jalan Seenivasagam, continue its annual tradition of preparing bubur lambuk throughout the month of Ramadan to be distributed to the public as an iftar meal. — Picture by Farhan Najib

“I don’t have to spend my money on food at the Ramadan bazaar, so I can save some money and still enjoy delicious meals,” he said.

He added that many people contribute donations to provide food at the mosque, which then encourages others to also frequent the mosque.

The community outreach coordinator mentioned that besides saving money, breaking fast at the mosque serves as a means to connect with fellow Muslims and uphold the sense of brotherhood within the community.

“So far, I have broken my fast at three mosques: Asy-Syakirin Mosque at the KLCC, Khairiyah Mosque in Taman Sri Gombak, and the National Mosque. They were all wonderful experiences,” he related.

“Not only can you break your fast there, but you can also contribute to charity, and most importantly, save money. The food portion provided by each mosque is typically more than sufficient for iftar.”

People take Bubur Lambuk for breaking fast distributed by Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kuala Lumpur March 20, 2024. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
People take Bubur Lambuk for breaking fast distributed by Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kuala Lumpur March 20, 2024. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

People take Bubur Lambuk for breaking fast distributed by Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kuala Lumpur March 20, 2024. — Picture by Firdaus Latif