Governments in Southeast Asia are gradually lifting restrictions in place to control the spread of the coronavirus. However, the changes did not come in time for millions of Muslims across the region to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in the usual fashion.
For the millions of Muslims in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Eid al-Fitr fell on May 24 this year. With celebrations far from normal due to restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic, here’s how the region’s media covered the story.
A different type of Eid experience
Against the backdrop of rising infections and fears of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, this will have been an Eid to remember for many Muslims, but not necessarily for happy reasons.
Channel News Asia shared the story of a plumber named Wasito, who said this was the first Eid since he moved to Malaysia from Indonesia that he had been unable to send money back to his family.
“My wife has been calling every day and crying…We have to cancel Eid celebrations this year,” he lamented. Indonesian Workers Union spokesperson Maizadah Salas added: “This will certainly be the saddest Eid for migrant workers and their family members.”
Sadness was a word used by many Muslims who are used to meeting their families at this time of year. Malaysian doctor Muhammad Syahidd Al-Hatim told Reuters that the situation had dampened the mood at his hospital.
“Usually, they (colleagues) would go back (to their hometowns) to spend time with their families, and they’re not getting the chance to do that. So yeah, it brings a sad mood to the working area,” he said.
Anisah Shukry and Grace Sihombong, writing for Bloomberg, reported that shopkeepers and market traders saw their takings drop as Muslims either bought food and clothing online or saved their money.
“The pandemic and measures aimed at curbing infections have battered this year’s Eid retail sales in Malaysia and Indonesia,” they wrote, adding that Indonesia and Malaysia have seen sales plummet by an estimated 90% and 80% respectively.
In The Jakarta Post, Made Anthony Iswara described what lockdown restrictions meant for Muslims, who usually congregate in large numbers to celebrate Eid. “Those praying and celebrating at home say they find solace in solemn and modest virtual festivities, but others infringe physical distancing orders,” he wrote.
Those that broke restrictions could pay a heavy penalty
Tashny Sukumaran, in The South China Morning Post, reported that thousands of Malaysians were disregarding a ban on interstate travel. “Thousands of Malaysians have ignored the directive and attempted to travel to their hometowns to celebrate the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan anyway,” she wrote. “A reported 5,000 cars were turned back from police roadblocks between Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Free Malaysia Today revealed that across Asia, families were ignoring restrictions and heading to markets while others were heading further afield. “In Indonesia…people are turning to smugglers and fake travel documents to get around bans on the annual end-of-Ramadan travel that could send infections soaring,” it reported.
Several migrant workers in Malaysia, mainly from Indonesia, are known to have headed home to celebrate. For them, there will be no official way back as the government revealed it would tighten security.
“For example, Indonesians who have working permits here who returned to their country to celebrate Eid, we will not allow them to come back,” said Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yakoob, according to a report in The Edge.
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, there were more positive experiences
In the Philippines, where Muslims make up 8% of the population, GMA News Online reported how they stayed at home and avoided popular gatherings. Instead of heading out, they tuned in to TV broadcasts which aired prayers.
In Thailand, where some restrictions have already been eased, The Bangkok Post reported that Muslims were able to head to mosques and pray while adhering to social distancing protocols by staying at least one metre apart.
Muhammad Syahidd told Reuters that non-Muslims had helped cover shifts for Muslims at his hospital while they broke fast at sunset. On a lighter note, 40 Muslim comedians organised a virtual event named “The Socially Distant Eid Comedy Night”, according to Free Malaysia Today.
And in Singapore, businessman Dushyant Kumar, his wife and a team of cooks served up 600 servings of biryani for Muslims who were quarantined after a coronavirus outbreak in their living quarters. “The smile on their face gives you a lot of satisfaction,” said Kumar to NDTV, his comments a prime example of how, in some ways, the impact of COVID-19 has brought those of different faiths closer together.