Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year will be a bittersweet celebration for Mohamad Mahfuz Shaharudin.
Bitter because he won’t get to balik kampung to his hometown in Kelantan. Sweet because both his parents have recently recovered from Covid-19.
“Covid-19 personally affected my family as both my parents got infected with the virus. Thankfully they have fully recovered and have been discharged, all thanks to the frontliners at Hospital Sungai Buloh, ” the 30-year-old management consultant says.
Mahfuz’s father, who is a doctor, contracted the virus when he was treating a patient. Dr Shaharudin Mohamad then transmitted it to his wife.
“My dad had it worse because he got admitted into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for more than a month, ” Mahfuz explains.
That harrowing experience made the family more appreciative towards the movement control order (MCO) and subsequently the conditional movement control order (CMCO) that were implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
But the measures to fight the coronavirus also means that Hari Raya celebrations will be a very different one for Malaysians this year.
When Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the CMCO is extended until June 9, he also confirmed that interstate movement to balik kampung is not allowed.
Mahfuz thinks it’s a good decision which can reduce the risk of infections spreading across states.
“We are still in the middle of containing the virus, so it is not wise to be travelling across the state which will increase the possibility of virus infections especially to the old people which are very vulnerable to the virus, ” he says.
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Apart from the restrictions on interstate travel, Malaysians are only allowed to hold celebrations on the first day of Hari Raya. A maximum of 20 people are allowed in a house, provided the space is large enough to comfortably accommodate that many visitors.
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob advised the public to use their discretion on how many people should be together at one time.
Staying put in the city
For many Malaysians, the balik kampung (returning to one’s hometown) experience is an emotional call that is part and parcel of many major celebrations.
It’s also one of the main forms of domestic travel in the country, and travel advisory alerts are regularly issued to reduce congestion on interstate highways.
This year, Mahfuz is celebrating Hari Raya with just his nuclear family in Kuala Lumpur.
He says he will miss the festive environment in Kota Baru, Kelantan.
“Both our paternal and maternal grandparents’ house is quite near, so every Hari Raya morning we will visit both places and celebrate with everyone.
“Hari Raya at the kampung is very lively and festive as our family is big and that is one of the times which all of us can gather together, ” Mahfuz says, adding that he always looks forward to the traditional Kelantanese dish, ayam kuzi.
Although he is sad he won’t be able to celebrate Hari Raya with the extended family in Kelantan, Mahfuz says they plan to stay connected using technology.
“We will leverage on any video conferencing app either by using Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime. Our plan is to be fully clothed in our Hari Raya attire and celebrate through video call.
“We are also planning to record each family’s Hari Raya wishes and send it to everyone, ” he says.
'Loneliest Hari Raya'
Another important aspect of Hari Raya for Muslims is the kissing of their parents’ hands to seek forgiveness. Iklil Fatihah Kamal Redzuan, unfortunately, will not be able to embrace her parents this Hari Raya.
Iklil is based in KL where she works as a public relations officer at a government enforcement agency, while the rest of her immediate family members are in Johor Baru.
Her family would usually return to her father’s hometown in Perak. But they will be celebrating Hari Raya in Johor this year, without Iklil.
“I am the only one living far away from the family home. All my family members are in one roof except for me.
“I have never thought about celebrating Hari Raya on my own without my family by my side. And the fact that it is only three-and-a-half hours’ drive; we are so close, yet so far, ” the 24-year-old fresh graduate says.
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Iklil hasn’t had any physical contact with her loved ones since the MCO started on March 18. She gathers that she will probably celebrate the first day of Hari Raya at the office – or not celebrate at all.
“I have bought new baju kurung, so perhaps I would wear it on the first day of Hari Raya, watch sad Hari Raya advertisements and cry all day long, ” she says, with a little laugh.
Although it’s possible to celebrate with friends who are also stuck in the city, Iklil says there are a lot of precautionary measures to think about. She would rather not take any chances.
“I think it would be the loneliest Hari Raya I have ever encountered in my life, ” she shares.
Ironically, Iklil says she will miss the traffic jam encountered during the trip back to her hometown.
“Other than that, I will miss collecting duit raya from my relatives and the gotong-royong (spirit of cooperation) during malam Hari Raya like making lemang, cooking rendang and ketupat, and also eating together with the whole family, ” she explains.
Close to heart
Like Mahfuz, Iklil is turning to technology to help ease a little bit of that loneliness.
“We will do a video call asking for forgiveness and take pictures together. I would ask my family to livestream themselves cooking to feel the Hari Raya vibe so I don’t feel left out, ” she says.
According to Iklil, food has provided some semblance of comfort for her during this difficult period. She has been cooking her mother’s recipes to help with the homesickness.
“Since the start of the MCO, I have been trying a lot of my mum’s recipes like asam pedas, sambal udang and more.
“I asked my mum to deliver her cookies like kuih siput and popia simpul to me so that I can have a bit of the Hari Raya vibe, even though we are not celebrating it together, ” she explains.
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Iklil hopes that the health crisis will pass soon and things will return to normal. The pandemic has affected both herself and her family.
“My dad is a retiree and is currently running a food and beverage business. The business is affected due to MCO as he could not operate his restaurant, ” she says.
Apart from that, Iklil’s convocation ceremony, which was supposed to be held on March 26, had been postponed indefinitely.
That said, Iklil is thankful for all efforts to curb the coronavirus.
“I want to express my gratitude to all frontliners, backliners and Malaysians who provide endless contribution while dealing with this pandemic. It is a tough time for everyone but we all need to make sure that we stop the pandemic from affecting everyone, ” she says.
Mahfuz agrees, and adds that everyone should do their part in fighting Covid-19. Malaysians should not let their guard down, even during Hari Raya.
“If possible, try to celebrate in as small a group as you can. Please practise good hygiene, social distancing and do not visit anyone if you are sick or exhibit any Covid-19 symptoms.
“We are still in CMCO period and the fight against Covid-19 is ongoing. So, please help and do your part in reducing the impact of the pandemic.
“Together we can flatten the curve and get rid of Covid-19, ” he concludes.