Celebrating Aidil Fitri with a difference amidst the pandemic

By Aznan Mat Piah

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Muslims in Malaysia will be celebrating Aidil Fitri on Sunday (24 May) with a difference, by conforming to the new normal and observing strict discipline to curb the spread of virus infections. There will be no exodus or rush for ‘balik kampung’ and many instead choose to celebrate behind closed door within the confine of family household.

Senior Minister (security cluster), Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently revealed that three quarters of respondents from government’s public survey remained guarded about COVID-19 even as the deadly outbreak appeared to have abated over the last two weeks.

Around 74 per cent of those polled had indicated unwillingness to celebrate the country’s biggest festivity with people outside their own household while 20 per cent said they would visit relatives. Another six per cent said they would open their homes to neighbours.

In Malaysia, ethnic Malays who are by legal default Muslims, form close to 70 per cent of the country’s 33 million population. Unlike Muslims in other countries, Aidil Fitri is culturally a much bigger celebration here. It is normal each year to see the exodus of city dwellers returning to their respective hometowns crossing states to celebrate the Aidil Fitri with their parents, extended families and close relatives.

In major towns and cities, it has also become customary for Muslims to organise Hari Raya ‘open house’ to celebrate the occasion by inviting family members, neighbours and close friends to their functions, a practice that often extends for the entire month of Syawal.

With restrictions enforced by the lockdown now being relaxed, there is a concern that increased movement during the Raya celebration could spark a new surge of infections. For that reason, some public health experts have called on the authorities to lock the country down again and prohibit any celebration apart from those within the same household.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has called on the public to practise self-discipline in ensuring social distancing and observing personal hygiene during the festivity to curb the spread of the pandemic. Its Director General, Datuk Noor Hisham Abdullah advised the community to take upon themselves the responsibility in ensuring that the virus will not spread.

Still the National Security Council or Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN) has decided that families could celebrate for a day, and that not more than 20 family members can be in one place at a time. It should be carried out within the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the authorities and the role expected of community empowerment to help contain the spread of the virus.

The Minister has therefore advised the people to confine their movement within their own district and not to ‘balik kampung’ by crossing states which is strictly prohibited.

The warning against inter-state crossing is to ensure that the conditional movement control order (CMCO), aimed at curbing the COVID-19 outbreak, continues to be enforced. The Minister said the police have been directed to act firmly against individuals keen to try their luck by violating the ruling.

Despite warnings and regulations in place, it was reported that thousands of motorists have gone on the road giving all kinds of excuses to head to their destinations outside the state where they reside. The police, however, have taken necessary actions through road blocks and compounds issued to violators to force them to make a turn back. So, it is not really worth to make the ‘effort’.

Muslims should therefore be more contented to spend their Aidil Fitri celebration within closed door with family members in their house. No doubt it is going to be a ‘watered down’ celebration, but it is much desired for public safety to avoid a surge of infections. We need to learn from mistakes of others as has been cited in countries relaxing their movement control which later saw an upsurge of new cases. 

Wishing all readers Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. Have a blessed celebration. ***

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