With the public still practising social distancing, this year’s Raya celebrations will be different
By Joseph Wong firstname.lastname@example.org
The way Malaysians celebrate religious festivals and other major occasions may be forever changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent movement control order (MCO). Certainly, this year’s observance of Ramadan, leading to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration already has a different feel to it.
With the majority of the population practising social distancing to combat the deadly pandemic, one wonders if there is any reason for celebration at all. But amidst all the projected gloom and doom, this year’s countdown to the celebration offers the spark of renewed hope.
Ramadan, after all, is a time of reflection and the coronavirus scenario, on the brighter side of things, has made this month of fasting a more appropriate time for this task. But with the MCO in place, this year’s Ramadan means no communal gatherings in mosques or masjids for ‘tarawih’ night prayers and no ‘iftar’ dinners with family and friends at sunset to break the fast.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It involves fasting from food and water from dawn to dusk for a month, ending with the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration. Indeed, many Muslims are feeling the added pressure of going through Ramadan with the MCO as this is the period when communities get together.
Missing is also the usual Ramadan bazaars and the Raya buffets that are normally feted during this month. Ho Chin Soon Research Sdn Bhd CEO Ishmael Ho pointed out that this is an immediate big change. “How we go through Ramadan would probably feel a little strange as there are no more bazaars and corporate buffets,” he said.
For Ishmael, Hari Raya appears to be a “duduk di rumah (stay at home)” with plenty of hand sanitizer instead of receiving guests and offering them the food and treats that are common with the celebration. He is of the opinion that the MCO will only be fully lifted after Hari Raya, which has dampened the festival mood that comes with this celebration.
“Of course, we expect the celebration to be less eventful, but as we are all clear on why we need to go through this. On the upside, definitely there’s plenty of savings as there won’t be the usual Hari Raya expenditure,” he said.
People should also be wary about giving and receiving the green packets of money or “duit Raya” as money is one of the easiest mediums of transmitting Covid-19, he said. The silver lining is that his kampung has always been in Kuala Lumpur where his family members are, so there will be no interstate travelling for them.
For many would-be celebrants, they have shelved their plans to fly home to celebrate Hari Raya. Most families have accepted this as necessary to keep everyone safe. Like thousands of others, Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers honourary secretary Sharifah Suzana Simmonds will not “balik Kampung” this year despite it being very important to her.
“So far in my life, I have not celebrated Hari Raya or balik kampung only three times. To me, family gathering, visiting, cooking big for the family and extended family is a must. I shall miss this dearly. We always wanted to instil the spirit of togetherness and closeness to the younger generation.
“Our cousins and my family have a routine each Raya. The first day to my late Mak Long’s house and the second to my late mom’s house– they are twins and the eldest in their family. Since their passing, we make a promise, to continue with the spirit of Syawal and visiting. “I am talking about a gathering close to 100 people or more in one day. For the second day of Raya, my family and I will prepare Penang Assam Laksa - about 20 kilos of laksa preparation with 10 kilos of fish, to feed the ‘troupe’. I shall miss all that,” she lamented.
Hari Raya is about the journey, the pain, the tiredness, the never-ending “are we there yet” question from children, planning menu for big groups of people at any one time, going to the wet market, and of course, visiting families and schools friends, she said. For this year, the gathering of family is going to be limited to just five family members, she said.
“My eldest brother is here in Kajang. I don’t think we will be visiting him this year,” she added. “With VC, the children will still able to show off their Raya baju, and we will still do the salam and bermaafan - virtually.
However, Sharifah is in discussions with her siblings in Jitra, Kajang and in her kampung to use video conferencing (VC) to connect with her family. It’s in the pipeline,” she said. Others are also turning to technology to help keep the celebration as lively as possible. This form of communication has already been used by many corporations whereby they meet with staff and clients via VC.
This may work to a certain degree with the younger generations. But what of the elder folks who are unfamiliar with this form of communication? “We can definitely do online visiting but there’ll be those aunties and neneks who have no access to these means, which makes it tricky.
They might feel truly excluded during this festive celebration,” Ishmael said. One celebrant said this was an excellent opportunity for grandchildren to connect with their grandparents by introducing this technology to them. “It will also act as a bonding mechanism between these two generations,” he said.
What of companies?
This is the first celebration to be affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent movement control order (MCO) to prevent the further spread of the virus. Corporations which normally hold their buka puasa gathering during Ramadan are now mindful of the consequences of hosting them.
“Sime Darby Property Bhd is mindful of playing our part in flattening the pandemic curve by ensuring there are no large gatherings even if the MCO is lifted. Hence, we will not be hosting our annual buka puasa event and Hari Raya open house this year.
“Instead, we will focus our efforts to help the less fortunate. Sime Darby Property has supported generations of sustainable communities through our township developments, and we aim to continue playing an active role throughout this outbreak. We have always tended to the underprivileged community and welfare homes within and around our townships.
“During this MCO period, Sime Darby Property will continue to work with Yayasan Sime Darby to provide food assistance to welfare home(s) during Ramadan so the community can still enjoy a good fasting period, albeit the mood is a little different,” said Sime Darby Property’s new group managing director Datuk Azmir Merican Azmi Merican.
The developer’s leisure and hospitality developments - Sime Darby Convention Centre, TPC Kuala Lumpur and Impian Golf and Country Club - will not be hosting Ramadan and Raya dine-in promotions but will instead focus on delivery and takeaway promotions and expanding the reach of its cashless payment System. Sime Darby Property will also forego Raya decorations, sampul Raya, and events at our sales galleries this year.
The funds that would normally be spent on these items will be channelled towards producing 1,000 PPE Scrub Sets through the Social Textiles COVID-19 relief initiative. Social Textiles is a community of social impact organisations that are joining together to ensure those at the frontlines are well equipped with the PPEs they require, while also mobilising a community as a whole towards better livelihoods through meaningful opportunities, especially during such troubled economic times.
Like many other big developers, Sime Darby Property is ensuring that safety protocols are in place and social distancing among employees and beneficiaries are practised during this period as set by the National Security and Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and other government standards.
“We are in close contact with relevant authorities to ensure that all guidelines and standards are being adhered to,” Azmir said.
Limitation to celebrations
“Sime Darby Property has always engaged our customers, business stakeholders, and staff physically and digitally even before this. However due to social distancing, this Raya, we will leverage our online platforms more efficaciously than ever before.
“Raya is about connecting with our families, friends and loved ones. It’s about sharing joy and memorable moments with them, although this year it is slightly altered because of social distancing. Through our #BERSAMA Beraya di Rumah campaign, we hope to offer a platform where people can re-establish that element of connection, even though we are all physically apart,” he said.
While the whole scenario seems dampening for the coming celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, it is a necessary move to flatten the curve and ultimately put a stop to the spread of Covid-19. In addition, for the non-Muslims, it means that they too have to avoid visiting their Muslim friends during the celebration. But Malaysians should hold their heads high that each-and everyone are playing their role in defeating the pandemic.