Celebrating Hari Raya 2020
In a few days, Muslims around the world will be celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a celebration after one month of fasting, from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. It is also a month that encourages followers to focus on purification, charitable acts, prayers, and an overall increased closeness to God. For most Muslims, it is generally a communal observance with a gathering for meals between friends and families that break the fast called iftar, preceded by joining the evening congregational prayers held daily in mosques.
This year, followers observed the month of Ramadan while grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. Ramadan came while most countries were observing restricted movements or lockdowns, which limited the communal activities for most Muslims in those countries. In Singapore, mosques were closed, and in countries like Australia, Malaysia, and India, social distancing meant that Muslims were adapting to a new norm while practising their faith. Iftar was a virtual social gathering event in many locations, and the absence of congregational prayers in mosques required bringing prayers into homes with family members praying together, strengthening their bonds. This year, while the celebrations are not like anything we are used to, people made accommodations that provided some comfort.
Eid al-Fitr (Hari Raya)
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and the start of a new month for Muslims, Shawal. Eid al-Fitr translates to “the feast of breaking the fast” and is the only day that Muslims are not permitted to fast. In the days before Eid al-Fitr, Muslims around the world would typically be making plans marking the end of the month-long fasting. For some, the preparation is more significant than others. In Indonesia and Malaysia, there is a longstanding tradition of expats or Muslims returning to their ancestral villages and home towns.
Eid al-Fitr is also commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa in Southeast Asian countries. Hari Raya falls on the first day of the 10th month in the Islamic calendar, Syawal. Since the Islamic calendar year is shorter than the solar Gregorian calendar year by 10 to 12 days, the dates for Ramadan and Hari Raya on the Gregorian calendar can vary from year to year.
For Muslims in Singapore, it is a significant celebration recognising self-restraint during Ramadan, and symbolises purification and renewal. It is also a time of forgiveness where Muslims often visit their elders to ask for forgiveness for any offenses committed during the previous year.
Muslims will also decorate their homes with sparkling lights and don new traditional clothes on Hari Raya. The men often wear Baju Melayu (a loose shirt with trousers) with kain samping (a short sarong), while women often wear the Baju Kurung. Some families in Singapore may opt to dress in the same colour to represent unity.
Traditionally, on the first of Hari Raya, Muslims go to the mosques for Hari Raya prayers early in the morning. After the prayer, we celebrate with family members in the same household, over specially prepared home-cooked traditional dishes unique to Hari Raya. Some common Hari Raya dishes usually include ketupat, beef rendang, satay, sambal sotong, ketupat and lontong followed by lemang, cookies, cakes, biscuits, sweets and pineapple tarts. Duit raya, or green envelopes containing gifts of money, are often given to children and the elderly during Hari Raya. The rest of the day entails house-visiting, starting with the eldest (most likely the matriarch in the family), and branching out to the extended family as the day goes on. Every year Muslims look forward to these traditions, and this year especially most are longing for this congregation and liveliness.
The customary greeting in Southeast Asia is "Selamat Hari Raya" or "Eid Mubarak" internationally, which means to wish a joyous day of celebration. The celebration of Hari Raya Puasa extends into three days and, for some, up to the whole month of Syawal, which gives us more time to visit all our extended families during weekends.
This year, Hari Raya in Singapore falls on Sunday, May 24th, and the following Monday will be a public holiday. In many countries with large Muslim populations, Hari Raya is a national holiday. Schools, offices, and businesses are closed so everyone can enjoy the celebrations together.
A Different Kind of Celebration for Hari Raya: Celebrating Hari Raya in the Middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Hari Raya celebrations in Singapore will inevitably differ from the previous years as we are amid the "circuit breaker" mode where social gathering is restricted.
Traditionally, Muslims look forward to the first day of Hari Raya and the excitement of putting on our best clothes and visiting our elders. We gather, feast, and admire each family’s outfits and enjoy the company of relatives. This year, we will not be able to head to our elders’ place for traditional meals, and family members from other countries, like Malaysia, can’t travel because the Movement Control Order has been extended until 9th June 2020.
This year’s celebrations, though they may be more solemn, will be more meaningful and intimate between immediate family members. The "circuit breaker" has given us more time to spend with our immediate family in the days leading up to Hari Raya, and I am certainly grateful for it. The opportunity to work from home and the school closures meant that we could break fast together as a family every day of Ramadan. There have been days in previous years where I have had to work late, and the kids would come home from school late, making it difficult to be together to break fast.
As a family, we can get more involved with Hari Raya preparation, such as baking pineapple tarts, sugi, and other Raya goodies. This year, to keep the festive spirit alive, I will still cook the usual Raya dishes for my family. We will still don our best Raya outfits, take that compulsory Raya family photo in the morning, and continue with the exchange of forgiveness, an important Hari Raya custom. Despite being physically apart from my in-laws and relatives, the celebrations and festivities shall still take place with the help of virtual meetings and What’s App video calls.
Hari Raya 2020 may be different, but it will truly be memorable. It is essential that we stay safe, and if we utilize the virtual opportunities we are mastering during lockdown to connect with family and friends, we will be able to do so.
We at Cartus would like to take this opportunity to wish all Muslims around the world a “Selamat Hari Raya,” and may we stay safe and emerge from the current situation stronger and more united.
Co-written with Liyana Liwarja, Language Consultant, APAC, Intercultural & Language Solutions