Ramadhan will never be the same

The yearly Ramadhan practices of iftar gatherings and tarawih prayer have to be put on hold due to the pandemic

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN  / pic by BERNAMA

IT IS 9.20pm and Haji Borhanudin, dressed in a light long-sleeved shirt, black trousers and kopiah, is sitting at the end of the dining table at his home — waiting for a Zoom meeting to start.

Five minutes in, and a few other men appeared on the laptop screen, giving their salam, with the Quran in sight.

By 9.30pm, all 12 men who were invited to the session had joined in. “We will begin with the first juz (section) tonight,” said the ustaz (religious teacher). The small band of men are part of a tadarus (recital) group at Surau Al-Hijrah in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam, who have taken their religious practices online.

Previously, the group would gather after a congregational prayer at the surau where they would sit in a circle and take turns to read the Quran.

The coronavirus outbreak, however, has forced them to seek alternatives to meet and continue with their rituals within the safe confinements of their homes.

“Initially, I was sceptical about it. I was not sure if everyone would buy into the idea and participate in the video conference. But once we were all there, seeing each other on screen, that community feeling came to life. It was actually quite pleasant,” Haji Borhanudin said.

The holy month of Ramadhan will begin this week. Preparations for the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, where healthy adult Muslims will fast from dusk until dawn, have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic as infection topped two million people.

The yearly Ramadhan practices of iftar gatherings, the tarawih prayer and the every bustling bazaars are forced to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

For home bakery business Airi Delight, the disruption has prompted its owner to swiftly change her sales strategy.

The owner would typically sell her entire range of products at the local mall bazaar during Ramadhan. But as malls are shuttered, she is forced to take her business online and rely on a handful of agents. For many bakers, Ramadhan is the month of swift sales.

“That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. In fact, the trend has been weak since Christmas last year. By Chinese New Year, there were already talks of Covid-19, so I have been quite cautious in preparing for Ramadhan. I have been monitoring the market from my stall at the mall.

“Whatever products I have there have gone to waste. The mall is closed, so we can’t collect them. That itself is a loss of RM5,000 to RM10,000,” the small business owner said.

She has also had to limit the number of workers to just two this year, from the usual five in high season, to help with the business.

“I’ve tried selling some products on Shopee and the macaroon has done well so far. But for e-bazaars on Facebook, it has been relatively muted. The demand doesn’t seem to be there yet,” she said.

Malaysia is among the many countries around the world that have ordered their citizens to remain indoors. Many countries are battling to curb the spread of the virus which had killed almost 160,000 people.

The Movement Control Order (MCO), which first came into effect on March 18 in Malaysia, has been extended twice. The country is one of the hardest-hit in the region with over 5,000 confirmed cases and nearly 90 deaths. The current extension ends on April 28 — four days into Ramadhan.

For wholesale retailer Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd, the stakes are higher. Its MD Datuk Dr Ameer Ali Mydin said its hypermarkets had RM100 million worth of goods for Ramadhan in cold storage.

“Normally, people would buy new clothing items like telekung, baju kurung and baju Melayu for tarawih prayers in Ramadhan. But with the MCO, these items are lying in our stores.

“We are trying to sell them online, but it is not the same as a physical purchase. The stock we have is massive.

“Apart from apparels, we have also brought in prayer mats, decorative lights, canisters and perfume oils that we have ordered eight months ago,” he said.

“Now, we are stuck. It is not going to be sellable after Eid (Raya). The mood will be different. If we keep it for next year, the trend would change,” he added.

According to Ameer Ali, the government has also banned the sale of non-food items at hypermarkets. Out of the 69 Mydin stores nationwide, five are closed as they do not sell food products. Those that continue to operate are only utilising 30% of their floor space.

“We are open, but we are not allowed to sell all these telekungs and other items. Customers are coming in, some are looking to buy it for themselves and others to be donated. I don’t understand why this isn’t allowed. We are practising social distancing at all times,” he said.

What is definite, this year’s Ramadhan will challenge established norms and change the way people prepare and act. For Haji Borhanudin, the fundamentals remain the same.

“Of course, I would have preferred if we could congregate as one big community to celebrate this holy month. But there is wisdom in all of this. At the end of the day, Ramadhan is a time for us to reflect and improve ourselves,” he said. “What better way to do that than in isolation,” he said