The Muslim-majority countries in ASEAN and across the world are observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which began on April 24 and is anticipated to conclude on May 23 this year. During this holy month, Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset, abstain from bad deeds, practice prayers, express empathy and strengthen a sense of community. However, when the whole world is facing the biggest threat from the spread of coronavirus, social distancing is strictly enforced to prevent the infection and keep human lives in good health. Ramadan under lockdown, therefore, turns into a challenge that all Muslims have to adopt different ways in observing these religious practices.
Why Ramadan is Important
The first day of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the new crescent moon. It marks the beginning of the fasting which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam taking place during the month of Ramadan. There is a verse in the Quran that prescribes fasting for all Muslims who are mature and healthy enough as a means to learn patience, an act of worship, a chance to get close to Allah and a way to become compassionate towards those in need. Muslims also exercise their self-reflection and self-discipline of not doing immoral behaviors, making sinful speech and expressing anger.
How Muslims Behave during Ramadan
Before sunrise, Muslims have the pre-dawn meal called suhoor and break the fast after sunset having the evening meal called iftar. Iftar is usually a communal meal and a time for social gathering among families and communities where guests are invited over. It is common for mosques to host iftar as a charitable banquet to offer food to the poor.
Tarawih, the nightly prayer, is performed in mosques after iftar and is optional apart from the mandatory 5 daily prayers. However, this mass congregational prayer during Ramadan amplifies the sense of individual spirituality and unity within the community. Quran recitation is also encouraged to be practiced. One part of the Quran is recited each night in tarawih, hence, the total 30 parts of the entire Quran would have been completed by the end of the month.
Zakat, another Pillar of Islam,is an obligatory charity for eligible Muslims to donate to the less fortunate. The charity takes place a few days before the end of fasting and it is believed that the reward of paying zakat during Ramadan will be multiplied.
After fast breaking at sunset, in some ASEAN countries e.g. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Ramadan bazaars are the destination where people go for late-night meals. The places are always packed with a huge variety of food, festive essentials, and a big crowd of hawkers and shoppers.
Embracing Changes and Adopting New Norms
This year is a difficult time for Muslims worldwide since they observe the holy month of Ramadan under lockdown and social restrictions. The true essence of Ramadan, which comprises charity, compassion and community, is still but articulated in different ways.
In Malaysia, to follow the government’s Movement Control Order (MCO), Muslims cannot perform the nightly terawih prayers in the mosques but at home. They can still get the same reward doing it at home with family members as in the mosque, as the intention to pray in a congregation is already evident. Malaysia’s city of Melaka allows congregational tarawih prayers in mosques but restricted to four mosques officials: mosque chairman, imam, bilal and siak, and they must adhere to the Standard Operating Procedure set by the Ministry of Health.
Iftar dinner after daily fast breaking is usually held as a community. The government of Indonesia, however, instructed people to stay home and refrain from the communal gatherings to curb the spread of the disease. Muhammadiyah, an Islamic Organization in Indonesia, has been promoting the hashtag #RamadandiRumah (Ramadan at home) to encourage Muslims to worship at home.
Muslims can support the Islamic community and those in need online. The charity of paying zakat in Malaysia can be done through, for example, the 24/7 zakat.com.my portal.
Despite the traditional, hustle-and-bustle Ramadan bazaar is called off, Singapore’s biggest Ramadan bazaar, Geylang Serai Bazaar, has partnered with the local digital platform kedaisujimy.com to bring small and medium business owners online. Moreover, ebazaar.sg is a big online market offering all essentials for Hari Raya or the celebration of breaking the fast. Several local vendors also start taking orders from customers on their WhatsApp or Facebook with delivery service.
Praying for a Happy and Peaceful Hari Raya
Eid al-Fitr, also known as Hari Raya Idul Fitri or Hari Raya Puasa in Southeast Asia, is the celebration that marks the end of the fasting month. The festive public holiday includes family gatherings, community sharing and hometown visits. However, this year’s Hari Raya exodus is not permitted in Indonesia and Malaysia to avoid the massive movement of the crowd and high risk of contagion. Despite the unprecedented restrictions, we still wish for safety, health, happiness and peace for the whole world in flattening the curve against the global threat to mankind.