'Faith will see us through': Malaysians face a Ramadan unlike any before


Zamzarina with her husband Zolpairi Ismail, 48, and family will be breaking fast at their home in Taman Puncak Jalil daily for the first time in years. AZHAR MAHFOF/TheStar

Every year, Anissa Anis breaks fast surrounded by family and friends during the holy month of Ramadan. The first week is usually reserved for her mother and brother at their family home in Shah Alam, and the rest of the month is for meeting up with friends and family she hasn’t seen in a while.

This year, Anissa will be breaking fast alone or with her housemate in Ara Damansara, Selangor.

“It is going to be a lonely Ramadan for me because I can’t be with family and friends for buka puasa. As I am not staying with mum, I guess we will have to arrange a Zoom session to break fast together. I am sad because I will miss breaking fast with her.

Anissa and friends during a buka puasa gathering two years ago.Anissa and friends during a buka puasa gathering two years ago.“Ramadan is the only time in the year when I eat with people almost every night, and catch up with friends and family whom I don’t see the rest of the year. I foresee buku puasa being just a quick thing to get over as opposed to feeling the excitement of breaking fast with others. I guess I will be organising several Zoom sessions this Ramadan, ” says the 43-year-old lawyer.

Communal gatherings

The month of Ramadan heralds a season of communal praying, eating and charity work for Muslims in Malaysia and around the world. But physical distancing requirements under the movement control order to contain the spread of Covid-19 will certainly change the way Muslims observe Ramadan this year.

Mosques are shut and gatherings prohibited under the MCO. There will be no Ramadan bazaars this year. Prayers, the recitation of the Quran and meals will be confined to homes and for many, it means a solitary Ramadan.

Being unable to take part in communal prayers or to socialise with family and friends will make for a drastically different Ramadan in these unprecedented times, and may even be emotionally challenging for many.

Rashid Samad is sad that he will will miss his annual family tradition of breaking fast on the first day of Ramadan with his parents and siblings in Melaka. The 37-year-old sales manager says that he has been breaking fast and praying with his family on the first day of Ramadan since he was a child and even after moving to Kuala Lumpur to work 13 years ago.

“It will definitely be strange. For as long as I can remember, my two siblings and I have been breaking fast together on the first night of Ramadan. This is the first time I will be breaking fast alone. It will also be the first time I will not be able to have home-cooked meals the entire month because, unfortunately, I don’t cook. Maybe it’s time I learn.

“But what can we do? Staying home is something that we have to do if things are going to get better, right?” says Rashid.

However, although not able to pray and eat with his family, Rashid says that he is looking at the “postitive side of things”.

Zamzarina says that buka puasa this year will be much quieter and simpler than in previous years. Photo: The Star/Azhar MahfofZamzarina says that buka puasa this year will be much quieter and simpler than in previous years. Photo: The Star/Azhar Mahfof

“This Ramadan will be a time of introspection. Praying alone and breaking fast alone, I think, will make me reflect on things more and be grateful for what I have, ” says Rashid.Zamzarina Md Judyar says that this year will be the first year in five years that she and her family will buka puasa at home.

“For the past five years, the 10 (Muslim) families in my neighbourhood at Taman Puncak Jalil, have been breaking fast together at the surau here. Every family brings one dish and we have a pot luck. We usually break fast together every night except on Sundays. It is really festive and even outsiders who can’t make it to their home in time to break fast are welcome to eat with us.

“This year will be very different as it will be just me and my husband and our three children. Although eating at home with the family is nice, I will miss the bonding with my neighbours, ” says Zamzarina.

For artist Hassan Bahri, the thing he will miss most this Ramadan is the communal Terawih prayers at the surau near his home, particularly in the first week of Ramadan.

“The first week of Ramadan is usually very festive at the surau or mosque. After breaking fast with family, I would usually go to the surau to perform prayers and it’s usually full to the brim. It’s really nice to have everyone come together to pray, prepare and serve food to the community. Of course, Ramadan will not be any less special but I will miss that spirit of togetherness... the communal gatherings.

“Usually, even the days leading up to Ramadan will be festive but now everything is quiet. The roads are quiet, mosques are closed... it will be different, ” says Hassan.

Adapting to change

Muhammad Arif Aziz, 29, says that for bachelors like him and his six housemates, the absence of Ramadan Bazaars will pose a challenge. Although they do cook from time to time, this year they will have to prepare most of their meals for both sahur and iftar themselves.

Unable to buy food from Ramadan bazaars this year, Arif (fourth from right) and his housemates have planned what they will cook all month.Unable to buy food from Ramadan bazaars this year, Arif (fourth from right) and his housemates have planned what they will cook all month.

“We usually buy food from the bazaars to break fast. This year, as soon as the Prime Minister announced the third phase of the MCO, we decided to work out a menu for the entire month. For the first day of puasa, we plan to cook a variety of dishes, including traditional kuih muih so that even though we can’t go out, it will still be festive. We plan to sahur and break fast together and perform our terawih prayers together throughout the month.

“On the first week of Ramadan, I usually go back to my kampung in Kelantan to break fast with my mother and enjoy her delicious cooking. Although things are different this year, it will not stop us from performing our ibadah puasa. We will fast as usual. In fact, if anything, this year’s Ramadan will be more meaningful for Muslims despite the challenges, ” says Muhammad Arif.

For Nazlin Ibrahim, a quiet Ramadan is not necessarily all bad. The mother of three says that while she will be breaking fast with her family as usual at home, she is a little disappointed that she will not be able to be with her eldest daughter who is currently studying in Adelaide, Australia.

“We were planning to, like last year, spend the last week of Ramadan with her in Adelaide and celebrate Hari Raya as a family there. We’d already bought our flight tickets but of course, the flight has been cancelled now. So, this year we can’t go to her and she can’t come home.

“Still, with all this happening, I think I am more grateful that ever for what I have. With no Ramadan bazaars and all that, maybe this year we will learn to make do and be thankful, ” she says.

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