When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the circuit breaker would be extended until June 1, one thing is going through the minds of the Malay Muslim community: there is no Hari Raya this year.
It is only the second week of Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims to watch the fast – and the gloomy mood is evident.
With Singapore circuit breaker measures banning large gatherings and gatherings between family members from different households, Ramadan is simply not the same this year.
Ramadan bazaars are canceled
When the People's Union first announced on March 18 that it would cancel the Ramadan bazaars to avoid large crowds during the pandemic, many of the news were sad – consumers and sellers alike – but this was seen as a necessary step.
In addition to the legendary Geylang Serai bazaar, those in Tampines and Woodlands were also abandoned. The Geylang glow, which intensifies the festive cheers, does not take place this year either, because the country is in the "circuit breaker" mode.
It's no understatement to say that many Singaporeans feel that Ramadan doesn't feel complete without a visit to the bazaar. In fact, I know many others who make several trips to the bazaars within a month.
Despite the oppressive crowd and oppressive heat, Ramadan bazaars have this unspoken nostalgic charm. Although many claim it's hipster food, there's no denying that we really love trying the different new snacks.
Even if you're not there to buy food or buy Hari Raya essentials and outfits, many enjoy the festive atmosphere with Hari Raya songs booming from every stand.
With the cancellation of bazaars, some organizers are trying to recreate bazaars online to keep the jubilation going.
According to the lifestyle portal Have Halal Will Travel, two online flea markets and one online bazaar take place in April and May. The Facebook group Bazaar Ramadhan Singapore 2020 has more than 50,000 members to date.
While virtual bazaars are not the same as walking around a “living” bazaar, such initiatives are definitely commendable because they support vendors and other small businesses that are exposed to the suspension.
No communal fast break
Photo credit: Paya Lebar Quarter via Facebook
For the many Muslim members of our community, families and groups of friends come together every night during Ramadan so that Iftar can break their fast.
Personally, the first weekend of Ramadan is usually spent with my extended family in my grandmother's house – Saturday for the motherly side, Sunday for the fatherly side.
Our Iftar are held in the Potluck style, with each family having to bring their own dish.
With the circuit breaker measures such as prohibiting eating and restricting people from different households from visiting, we can no longer get together to break quickly.
This means that we can spend more time with our own families who live with us, but we also miss our family and friends a bit more than usual.
However, many families turn to video conferencing tools like Zoom to practically collapse. While it's not the same as being physically together, it definitely helped bridge the distance.
Mosques are closed
Photo credit: Prayer in Islam
The Singapore Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) announced on March 24 that it would close all 70 mosques in Singapore until further notice to prevent Covid-19 from spreading further.
This means that Muslims cannot go to mosques to do their prayers, including the community's Tarawih prayers.
Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting in daylight, but gatherings are also important for this holy month to share meals and participate in common prayers – known as tarawih or night prayers.
Congregational prayers are generally a big part of many Muslims' lives, but especially during Ramadan with Tarawih prayers that are held daily in many mosques across the country.
After the mosques are closed, MUIS asks Muslims to do their prayers at home instead.
Despite the closure, mosques provide religious lectures and prayer guides for Ramadan online. In the meantime, those in need continue to receive free meals with the usual home security measures.
While many look forward to praying at the mosque and meeting friends during Ramadan, praying at home actually has many advantages.
We can now focus on praying with our families, which helps strengthen family ties.
So is Hari Raya "canceled"?
Of course there is no official word that Hari Raya is really "canceled", but it looks like we will spare the usual festivities this year.
Malaysia is currently considering the option to postpone its holidays in Hari Raya, but the Singapore government has not rejected any intentions for a similar move.
Nevertheless, we will most likely be spending a quiet Hari Raya at home this year. So is there really a reason to buy new furniture, Kuihs and Hari Raya clothing like every year?
Photo credit: Expat Living Singapore
Since visiting other homes is prohibited, so is Hari Raya – Hari Raya is not just a time to ask forgiveness, to be reconciled, and to renew relationships with others.
Will it still be possible to reach them virtually? I do not believe that. Doing it virtually – by test, phone, or video call – is never the same as face to face.
While we have determined that Hari Raya will not be the same this year, Singaporeans are clearly trying their best to keep the festive spirit alive.
Selected image source: Hello! Singapore tours