Religious gatherings aren’t currently allowed in Malaysia because of the conditional movement control order. For Muslims, that’s especially hard right now, because this is the holy month of Ramadan.
The best part about this month is visiting food bazaars, gathering with families and friends at iftar, followed by performing taraweeh at the mosque (a communal prayer that can only be done during Ramadan).
This practice is so widespread that solitary iftar meals are considered a sad affair.
With long fasting days and lonely worshipping nights, Ramadan 2020 can be the loneliest time for Muslims who are estranged or live away from their family members.
We spoke to 4 Malaysians who are spending the holy month away from their family, and here’s what they told us.
Baking Burnt Pineapple Tarts With Her Mother
29-year-old Fariza hasn’t seen her family since January, and she was deeply saddened when the lockdown was announced.
As a person who came from a tight-knit family, spending Ramadan (and ultimately Raya) alone, never came across her mind at all.
“I might cry hard during the first day of Raya. It’s supposed to be filled with excitement. As your family members prepare food like rendang, ketupat, lemang, you worry about your raya outfit, how to match it with your headscarf and so on.”
The moment she cherishes the most is hanging out with her mother, who spends a lot of time baking kuih raya after tarawih.
One particular memory that stands out is when they made burnt pineapple tarts.
“We were busy talking while watching TV, and forgot about the tarts because the timer didn’t make any sound. By the time we checked, everything was already burnt and looked like charcoal, haha!”
Fariza is still hoping for a better update about this year’s Raya celebration, but if that doesn’t happen, she will hang out with her family through video calls.
“Living miles away from my family is hard, so I always keep them in my prayers as a way to feel their presence whenever I miss them.”
Playing Rock, Paper, Scissors To Decide Whose Turn To Do The Dishes
26-year-old Faiz from Kuala Krai is currently residing in Kuala Lumpur alone, having moved there for work.
Celebrating Raya via video calls will be a first for Faiz.
“I’m still going to wear my Baju Melayu for the photo session, and I’m sure that most Raya portraits this year will be full of photoshop edits.”
He has quietly accepted that this may be the only way to hang out with his family on Eid this year.
But Faiz is less concerned about his own living situation and more worried about how his elderly parents would cope.
“I’m relieved that my sister managed to get back to them before the MCO came into force. Now I know they will be in good hands and that they don’t have to celebrate Ramadan alone,” he confided.
His mother has also promised to send a care package for him, containing her home cooked sambal bilis. For Faiz, it’s a perfect addition to any sahur and iftar dishes.
What he will miss the most (funnily enough) is the annoying stuff, like quarrelling with his younger brother.
“After iftar, my brother and I would fight over who’s doing the dishes. So we’d play rock paper scissors — the winner would get to choose between sahur (pre-fasting dawn meal) or iftar (post-fasting evening meal).”
“Obviously, I’d pick sahur so that my brother has to do the heavy-duty dish cleanup from iftar.”
Making Her Brothers Do The Chores That She Doesn’t Like
Currently based in Manchester in the UK, architecture student Hani Namirra is no stranger to long distance calls.
For Raya, Hani had plans to have a potluck for iftar with some locals, but that’s been cancelled by the British government’s lockdown measures.
Undaunted, fellow Malaysians in Manchester have started offering food delivery services during Ramadan, selling a variety of local cuisines ranging from Tauhu Begedil to Nasi Lemak.
It just goes to show that, through thick and thin, Malaysians will always find a way to connect to each other with food.
Still, Hani says nothing beats hanging out with her brothers, especially while setting up the house for Raya.
“Some chores are easy to do, while some.. well, let’s just say I’m lucky to have brothers who can be persuaded to deal with the annoying tasks, even though they were assigned to me. Haha!”
Baking Honey Cornflakes For Guests, But Finishing Them On The Same Night
As the holy month begins, Temerloh-born Syafiq feels worried about his parents, who eagerly count the days before they’re reunited again over mouth-watering feasts.
“I know they are disappointed that I’m not home on the first day of Ramadan. They are alone at the village because my siblings are busy working in the city.”
Although safe from the virus, many of his peers from the same hometown try to be responsible by staying where they are. Going back to see their parents might be a dangerous effort, as they pose higher risk of infection.
Since Raya will be celebrated differently this year, Syafiq can’t help but to miss the old times.
“There was one Raya where my sister and I made Honey Cornflakes together the night before raya, but both of us ended up eating most of it.”
Ah, warm Honey Cornflakes are simply the best.
Bustling markets, street decorations, and iftar invitations are essential parts when it comes to the holy month of Ramadan.
Although many feel disappointed that we have to celebrate it a little differently this year, Malaysians understand that the core of the holy month will likely increase the number of victims of the pandemic.
On the other hand, this experience is a blessing in disguise, as it opens up a chance for Muslims to abstain from pleasures and pray to become closer to God.
Ramadan has always been a time for people to shop excessively, a reason to showcase their wealth on Eid.
However, many seem to forget about the true spirit of Ramadan — gratitude, humility, and self-restraint.
This year’s celebration may be less fun, but it’s the best time for Muslims to embrace the true purpose of the holy month.
For more stories like this, read: Eating in Front of a Faster: Yes or No? Malaysians Weigh In and 5 Types of People During the MCO and How They Are Coping.