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'Much more festive’: Muslim families rejoice in large gatherings for Hari Raya Puasa for first time in 3 years

SINGAPORE — With Covid-19 restrictions in the last two years limiting the number of people who can gather together, Hari Raya celebrations for Mr Muhammad Ridhwan Ismail Johari, 28, took place largely online, but meeting relatives via video conferencing applications was an "obstacle". 

'Much more festive’: Muslim families rejoice in large gatherings for Hari Raya Puasa for first time in 3 years

Mr Muhammad Ridhwan Ismail Johari, 28, (top left, in red) with his family and relatives gathering at his granduncle’s Kaki Bukit home for Hari Raya Puasa on May 3, 2022.

  • Hari Raya Puasa on Tuesday (May 3) marked the first festival in Singapore to take place after Covid-19 restrictions were eased on April 26
  • Muslims interviewed by TODAY said they were glad to be finally able to meet up with relatives
  • Most were doing so for the first time in three years

SINGAPORE — With Covid-19 restrictions in the last two years limiting the number of people who can gather together, Hari Raya celebrations for Mr Muhammad Ridhwan Ismail Johari, 28, took place largely online, but meeting relatives via video conferencing applications was an "obstacle". 

"We would try to guide our elders as much as possible but there was an instance that they couldn’t activate the camera so it was just via voice call on Zoom," the sales manager told TODAY in an interview on Tuesday (May 3), which is Hari Raya Puasa.

There were other technical issues too, such as when some relatives rotated the camera the wrong way.

"Differing microphone qualities between different families meant that we would constantly ask them to repeat their questions when it’s too soft for us to hear." 

So not surprisingly, Mr Muhammad Ridhwan was delighted that on Tuesday, his extended family could finally get together physically to celebrate the end of Ramadan, in what is the first festival in Singapore to take place after Covid-19 restrictions were eased on April 26.

Mr Muhammad Ridhwan said that not being able to meet with his 31 extended family members in-person has even caused him to "sense a drift" with them, since most of them meet and catch up during Hari Raya celebrations. 

Describing the gathering at his granduncle's Kaki Bukit home on Tuesday afternoon, he said: "We’re feasting on festive dishes."

"Some families brought over food like serunding (spiced grated coconut) and honey chicken wings to add to the potluck. We get to see and play with the newborns from other young families and catch up with our second cousins." 

When asked what he missed most about large family gatherings, he replied: "Interact individually with other members of our extended family. Personally shaking their hands and giving green packets and play with the cute babies and toddlers." 

Last year, Hari Raya Puasa coincided with a tightening of Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore, with authorities reducing the maximum number of people allowed to gather from eight to five to stem the spread of rising infections in the community.

Muslims interviewed by TODAY then described how they had to adjust their plans

In 2020, Muslims marked Hari Raya Puasa during the circuit breaker period when gatherings with those outside of one's household was not allowed.

Ms Aisya Amira Adam Malik, 25 (in brown, front row), with her maternal side of the family celebrating Hari Raya Puasa at her home on May 3, 2022.

Besides Mr Muhammad Ridhwan, other Muslims whom TODAY spoke to also rejoiced at being able to celebrate the festival with loved ones without such restrictions this year.

Some of them said that the safe management measures were tougher on their older relatives who are more used to physical gatherings, but with some sense of normalcy returning, they are looking forward to larger gatherings this year. 

Ms Aisya Amira Adam Malik, 25, a bank analyst, said that she spent the last two Hari Raya Puasas only with her immediate family members.

“This made our past two Rayas more intimate and lasted a lot shorter than it used to," she said.

She said that she bought new sarong kebaya for the special occasion this year, the first time she has done so in three years.

This will be the first time since the start of the pandemic that she will be able to meet some 50 members of her extended family at different times throughout the day. 

“I am excited to meet cousins and relatives that I rarely meet on normal occasions," she said.

"This year will also be the first year that I will be preparing Raya packets for kids and older relatives so it will be different and something new for me.” 

Another Muslim who wanted to be known only as Ms Nurul, 24, said that her grandmother was "very sad" that relatives could not visit her in the last two years.

"(She) kept asking us if it was possible for us to come over even for a while. But...we wanted to keep her safe more than anything else," said Ms Nurul

“This year she’s all smiles, even behind a mask because we still want to keep her safe, and I can see the twinkle in her eyes when she sees us at her house for Raya.”

Others, who have Malaysian relatives, are happy to reunite with them after two years. 

Ms Tatiana Rosli, 25, a marketing content specialist, is looking forward to the visit by three sets of visiting relatives from Kuala Lumpur who will gather at her grandmother’s home this weekend.

There will be five families coming together, with about 20 guests in all.

"But there could be more because in the last two years, my cousins gave birth and I haven’t been able to meet their babies yet,” she said.

"This year's Hari Raya feels just so much more festive, now that everyone is coming together again."  

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