The "New Normal": How Ramadan and Raya are different for me this year
It’s been around two to three weeks since Ramadan started (Is that right? Time escapes me these days), and all I can say is that this year has been the easiest of all to endure. I mean, if you think about it, Muslims basically pioneered intermittent fasting (#HotTake). In all seriousness, it’s been easy because the act of fasting itself isn’t the difficult part (though dehydration is and always will be my foil).
What really makes Ramadan challenging is having to go about life as normal while you fast (as you should); so, when the MCO has you cooped up at home, it’s a breeze. Expectedly, this year is different for a lot of reasons, but apart from the obvious pandemic in the way, there are a lot of other things that have set this year apart for me.
For one, the hours in Malaysia are far more forgiving than those in England—where I’ve spent the last couple of years of my life. Instead of the English summer time rota of Sahur at 2am and Iftar at 10pm, it’s a significantly shorter 6am to 7pm fasting day here. I’ve also now graduated from university, which means I don’t have any pesky exams to do while I fast.
Also, when I’m surrounded by people (aka my family) who are also fasting, everything is just a little more convenient: Sahur and Iftar are often already sorted with very little fuss—we have all the time in the world, now—as opposed to when it was just my brother and I, and every single meal had to be planned out ahead of time to fit into our busy schedules.
Of course, the ongoing MCO (now CMCO) has also left me with no responsibilities outside the comfort of my home during this Holy Month (my office life resumes after Ramadan ends), so there is literally zero stress on my body.
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword—with no structure in my life, fasting has also been so easy because I’m barely awake for any of it. Well, not really. What actually happens is that I wake at 4am every morning for Sahur and I can never get back to bed, so I end up starting work then and there until I inevitably crash sometime in the afternoon (talk about office hours, eh?).
As I was explaining all of this to my (concerned) friends, I was asked how Raya was going to be different this year. I don’t doubt that for a lot of people it’s going to feel very unnatural not being able to properly celebrate; no cheesy Hari Raya tunes in shopping malls, no open houses and certainly no balik kampung.
However, if I was completely honest, I don’t really think I’m going to notice the difference, personally. Don’t get me wrong: Raya is a huge thing for us. With both my parents being the eldest of their respective families, it’s their duty to take over from the matriarchs (aka, my dear sweet grans) and host the open house for the whole family. Growing up, I remember having every corner of our house brimming with people every single year. There was always mountains of food, cheesy loud music and lots of aunties to salam and kiss. So, it’s not that we don’t typically celebrate it, it’s mostly because I haven't been home.
Though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I haven’t celebrated at all while I’ve been away—it’s just that Raya has been very bare bones in recent memory.
Every single year since I left Malaysia has been different: If we had no plans to come home that year, Mum and Dad would come and join us (their kids) in our little flat in London. However, there was never any big shindig—we’d go out for dinner together, and if any extended family was in town too we’d have them join. Nothing too special, nothing major. In other years, if we were coming home, my parents would postpone the big party until we arrived. It was a very sweet gesture, but this would always be when Raya had already been and gone for months—much to the confusion of our guests—and at that point, it never really felt like Raya anyway.
Some years my family wasn’t around at all, so the occasion would call for makeshift festivities. For instance, last year Raya happened while I was on a cross-country road trip with my friends for graduation. We happened to be in Edinburgh that day, and seeing that I was a little blue, my lovely (non-Muslim) pals very kindly got me in the celebrating mood by blasting the only five Hari Raya songs in existence on repeat, and treating me to delicious food at the local mosque. A little unconventional, but lovely nonetheless.
All that considered, I have to say that I was excited for my first Raya home in years, and I’m definitely disappointed that I won’t get to experience it this time round. That said, it's not the end of the world—after all, there’s always next year, and I’m used to improvising anyway. Plus, to me, it also doesn’t really matter how I spend it–as long as I can surround myself with the people I love and who make me feel loved in return, that’s enough.
My family and I have our wonderful lavish traditions and I love them. But, I’ve also loved the weird little get-togethers with my wonderful (sometimes clueless) friends who—despite not sharing in it themselves—constantly go out of their way to help me celebrate my faith; whether it’s pushing dinner dates to 10pm (despite the inconvenience) or scouring the supermarkets for halal meat so I can actually eat what we’re cooking for dinner. Ultimately, the most important thing about Ramadan is remembering what you’re grateful for. For me, that’s the people in my life.
So, if you’re bummed that your Raya plans have been a little ruined this year, it definitely sucks, but try to find the silver lining. Take control and make the most of it: If you’re at home with your family, be present with them. If not, give them a call and let them know you love them. Tell your friends too. Cook delicious food and bask in their company either in person or virtually. While you’re at it, remember to pray together. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to forge new traditions.
On that note: Happy Ramadan and Selamat Hari Raya!