Hari Raya celebration goes online as physical visits go offline during the circuit breaker
By Rachel Yap, Commentary Editor
It would be just past the break of dawn when Murni’s father would pay his visits to the mosque to do Eid prayers while Murni would get herself ready to start the first day of Hari Raya. As she welcomes her father back home, she starts with the rite of seeking forgiveness as other Muslims would do the same to their elders.
When the morning is over, Murni would be surrounded by the laughter and chatter of her relatives the size of about 6 to 7 families as they hop from one house to another, celebrating and kicking back to some Kuehs and festive treats during this special occasion.
“The face to face interaction, physically meeting people and seeking for forgiveness - I think that is the beauty of Hari Raya,” Ms Murni Kamsani, 20, NUS undergraduate, said as she reflected on how her annual Hari Raya celebration is usually surrounded by big family gatherings.
However, amidst the pandemic and the extended circuit breaker restrictions, this year’s celebration is expected to be quieter, lonelier and without its usual festive hype.
Dampen spirits but Renewed Joy
As Ramadan is coming to an end and Hari Raya is drawing closer, The Convergence interviewed six Singaporean-Muslim students as they took this opportunity to reflect on how the pandemic has affected the spirit of Ramadan and Hari Raya but injected the festival with a renewed sense of positivity.
Ramadan is religiously significant to Muslims as it marks the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, signifying the month of fasting, prayer, reflection and giving back to the community.
“When you’re not eating or drinking during the fasting period, you’re supposed to reflect and empathise for those people who go about their daily lives without these basic needs,” Ms Nurul Syazana Bte Sahar, 20, an NUS student said.
Since the circuit breaker overlaps with the period of Ramadan, Murni thought that by staying home rather than going on with life as per usual, “defeats the purpose of Ramadan which is all about endurance”.
Aside from fasting, undergraduate Ms Siti Nurdalila Binte Mohd Azmi, 20, also reflected on the challenges posed by the pandemic in efforts to give back to the communities during the Ramadan period. Before the pandemic, Muslims usually go to Mosque to help out with the preparations of “breaking fast, donations and more”.
“The mosques are now closed and many people feel this sense of emptiness inside of them because they don’t get to help out and contribute back to their communities as they would usually do,” Nurdalila said.
Syazana also highlighted that the pandemic has affected Tarawih, a ritual prayer only practised during the holy month of Ramadan, where the community gathers at the mosque and prays together.
Coming from a small family of three, the NTU undergraduate Ms Nurshabrina Nurshahid, 20, also pointed out that “there’s not much of a festive mood now that there aren’t physical gatherings with loved ones”. Therefore, the celebration will be a lot quieter this year.
"I'm used to (having) a lot of relatives on the first day of Raya, and I always look forward to that. But now, it feels only like another day at home," she said.
Despite the many impacts on Ramadan, the interviewees continue to find new meaning and happiness in Ramadan amidst the pandemic through various means as they await for Hari Raya to begin.
“There are many ups and downs due to the pandemic, but we ultimately choose to have a positive outlook,” Nurshabrina said.
Virtual turn to Hari Raya
To make up for the absence of physical meetings during the circuit breaker, the use of technology in the form of online meet-ups through Zoom and e-services has become increasingly popular to meet up with loved ones virtually for Hari Raya celebrations.
Ms Rossazlin Rosman, 20, student, said that the significance of Hari Raya lies in visiting and seeking forgiveness from their elders. As she is not staying with her grandparents, they have decided to take the tradition online through Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp video call. Since her grandparents are less tech savvy, the video call will be assisted by a helper who has been staying with her grandparents.
“(While we cannot be there physically), at least there is still someone (helper) around to celebrate with them in person.”
The online platform has also provided innovative ways for Muslims to give back to the community during the season. For example, through various e-services that enable e-donations to the Mosques during this Ramadan period as well as to support e-businesses selling Raya clothes and treats during this difficult time.
Nurdalila said that during this time, technology has become “the easiest way” for people to connect with one another and to contribute back to society.
“(I saw) on Instagram, people upload food drives and account numbers for PayNow (that) we can use to donate to the Mosque,” Nurdalila said as she used this opportunity to make e-donations to the Mosque in place of physical volunteering this Ramadan.
In turn, this period of circuit breaker has enabled the believers to grow closer to their religion and immediate family through technology while doing more good deeds during Ramadan by showing greater compassion and empathy towards their loved ones.
Redefining Ramadan and Hari Raya This Year
Nurshabrina reflected on how the situation creates greater intimacy among immediate families. “We cannot pray at the Mosques as a community, as a result, we have to do everything together as a family. We even get to break fast together every day and night.”
For Syazana, she believes that the pandemic had enabled her and many other Muslims to better engage with the Islamic faith. With the circuit breaker measures in place, the usual preoccupation with hectic schedules have now dialled down which is “the best time to sit down and learn more about the religion on your own”.
“It's sort of a blessing in disguise. This is the most positive thing to come out of celebrating Raya amidst the pandemic,” Syazana said.
Similarly, Ms Nurul Nadhirah Bte Haizad, 20, undergraduate, reflected on how Muslims can continue to give back to the community.
“We can try to be more disciplined and to give back to the community. For example, some people have already started by giving out food to the needy. I think this is a good start,” Nadhirah said.
Instead of expecting to receive the usual green packets, they chose to focus on the things that truly matter in the time of Ramadan and Hari Raya.
“It might be a bit tough now especially during this time where everyone is struggling in some way or another so expecting green packets is a little bad. If it comes, it comes,” Nurdalila said.
“A lot of people, who I know, their salaries are affected because of COVID19. So, to expect is not so nice,” Nadhirah said, as she highlighted the financial burden that the pandemic had caused to many people in Singapore.
Nurdalila mentioned how the pandemic would not stop her from stuffing herself with Raya sweets, dolling herself up with makeup and Raya clothing as well as taking pictures of herself with her family as she continues to liven and hype up this Raya celebration to the best of her ability.
Most of the interviewees also told The Convergence that they are not expecting much from Hari Raya this year and are grateful to celebrate it in ways they can.
“Just do the things that are important: Pray, ask for forgiveness and spend time with family,” Syazana said.
The Convergence would like to take this opportunity to wish all our Muslim friends in advance - Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri!
Rachel Yap is a Year 1 Political Science major who is currently a Commentary Editor for The Convergence. She believes in the importance of knowledge and awareness in current affairs and hopes that every contribution can be a step forward in understanding the world we live in today. When she’s not writing, she’s probably watching Netflix, speaking broken Japanese or trying to be the next Masterchef in her kitchen as she rethinks about her priorities in life.