When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the extension of the circuit breaker until June 1, there’s one thing that’s running through the minds of those in the Malay-Muslim community: there’s no Hari Raya this year.
It’s only the second week of Ramadan — a holy month when Muslims observe fasting — and the sombre mood is apparent.
With Singapore’s circuit breaker measures prohibiting large gatherings and meetings between family members from different households, Ramadan this year just isn’t the same.
Ramadan Bazaars Are Cancelled
When People’s Association first announced that it would cancel the Ramadan bazaars on March 18 to avoid large crowds during the pandemic, many were saddened by the news — consumers and vendors alike — but it was deemed a necessary move.
Besides the iconic Geylang Serai bazaar, those at Tampines and Woodlands have also been suspended. The Geylang light-up — which adds to the festive cheer — is also not happening this year since the country’s in ‘circuit breaker’ mode.
It’s not an understatement to say that many Singaporeans feel that Ramadan does not feel complete without a trip to the bazaar. In fact, I know many others who make multiple trips to the bazaar(s) within the month.
Despite the stifling crowds and sweltering heat, there’s this unspoken nostalgic charm about Ramadan bazaars. Although many contend that it has pivoted to food for hipsters, there’s no denying that we actually love trying out the various novelty snacks.
Even if you’re not there to buy the food or shop for Hari Raya essentials and outfits, many still head over to bask in the festive atmosphere with Hari Raya songs booming from every stall.
With the cancellation of bazaars, some organisers are trying to recreate bazaars online to keep the cheer going.
According to lifestyle portal Have Halal Will Travel, two online flea markets and an online bazaar are taking place in April and May. The Bazaar Ramadhan Singapore 2020 Facebook group also has more than 50,000 members to date.
While virtual bazaars are not the same as walking around a ‘live’ bazaar, such initiatives are definitely commendable as it supports sellers and other small businesses that are impacted by the suspension.
No Communal Breaking Fast
For the many Muslim members of our community, the fasting period of Ramadan sees families and groups of friends coming together each evening for Iftar to break their fast.
Personally, the first weekend of Ramadan is typically spent breaking fast with my extended family at my grandmother’s house — Saturday for maternal side, Sunday for paternal side.
Our Iftar are held ‘potluck’-style, where each family would have to bring their own dish.
However, with ‘circuit breaker’ measures in place such as dining-in ban and the restriction of visiting others from different households, we are now unable to get together to break fast.
While this meant that we get to spend more time with our own families that live with us, it also makes us miss our family and friends a little bit more than usual.
Many families however are turning to video-conferencing tools like Zoom to virtually break fast together. While it’s not the same as physically being together, it has definitely helped to bridge the distance.
Mosques Are Closed
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) announced on March 24 that it will close all 70 mosques in Singapore until further notice to prevent any further spread of Covid-19.
This means that Muslims cannot head to the mosques to do their prayers, including the congregational tarawih prayers.
Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours, but also essential to this holy month are gatherings to share meals and take part in communal prayers — known as tarawih, or night prayers.
Congregational prayers are generally a big part of the lives of many Muslims, but even more so during Ramadan with tarawih prayers held daily at many mosques across the country.
Now that mosques are closed, MUIS urges Muslims to conduct their prayers at home instead.
Despite the closure, mosques are making religious lectures and prayer guides for Ramadan available online. Meanwhile, the needy will still get free meals delivered to their home with the usual safe-distancing measures in place.
While many look forward to praying congregation and meeting friends at the mosque during Ramadan, there are actually many benefits to praying at home.
We can now focus on praying with our families, which helps to strengthen family bonds.
So Is Hari Raya ‘Cancelled’?
Of course, there is no official word that Hari Raya is truly ‘cancelled’ but it looks like we will be sparing the usual festive celebrations this year.
Malaysia is currently mulling the possibility of deferring its Hari Raya public holidays, but Singapore government has not shed any intentions to make a similar move.
That said, we will most likely be spending a quiet Hari Raya at home this year. So is there really a point in buying new furnishings, kuihs, and Hari Raya clothes as we do every single year?
With visiting other’s houses prohibited, it also begs the point of Hari Raya — beyond the celebrations and feasting with loved ones, Hari Raya is also a time to ask for forgiveness, reconcile and renew relationships with others.
Will it still be possible to achieve these virtually? I don’t think so. Doing it virtually — by test, phone or video call — is never the same as doing it face-to-face.
While we’ve established that Hari Raya will not be the same this year, Singaporeans are clearly trying its hardest to keep the festive spirit alive.
Featured Image Credit: Hello! Singapore Tours