Raya time is family time

First Aidilfitri together for old newlyweds

Mr Ismail Sapuan and Madam Mariah Abdul Hamid met in March at a seniors activity centre and got married last month.
Mr Ismail Sapuan and Madam Mariah Abdul Hamid met in March at a seniors activity centre and got married last month.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Muslims around the world celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri today, marking the end of the fasting month. In Singapore, many will get together with family, friends and neighbours - including those from different races and religions. It is, after all, a time for food, charity and renewing bonds of friendship and kinship. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh finds out how five Muslims will celebrate and what Aidilfitri means to them.

After his previous wife died of cancer in 2014, retired driver Ismail Sapuan resigned himself to celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri alone for the rest of his life.

He is estranged from his siblings and his only child, so in the three years after his wife's death, he would spend the day puttering around his home silently, drinking coffee and picking at slices of bread.

"Usually, I'm fine. I don't need people (around)," said the 62-year-old in Malay. "But being alone on Hari Raya is different from being alone on any other day. I've never felt lonelier than I've felt on Hari Raya."

He will not have to suffer through the festivities in silence this year.

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Mr Ismail, who has been married five times before, is a newlywed once more - and his wife, Madam Mariah Abdul Hamid, is bent on making up for three years worth of loneliness.

"I'm taking him to visit my side of the family. We are very loud, very cheerful, very kecoh ("boisterous" in Malay). I'll make him remember what Hari Raya is about: family and food," says the 70-year-old who used to work at a polyclinic before retiring. She has three daughters from two previous marriages.

She was a widow of 29 years before Mr Ismail came into her life.

They met in March at the Sunlove-Kampong Chai Chee Seniors Activity Centre in Chai Chee Avenue and tied the knot last month.

It was a whirlwind romance that unfolded over long chats in food centres in Geylang and Changi Village.

"I told her, we have fun being together, we can also take care of each other when we are sick. Let's get married," recalled Mr Ismail.

Both of them have diabetes and high blood pressure, and had kept each other company on trips to the hospital for check-ups.

It will be a modest Aidilfitri celebration for the couple: They did not want to splurge on new clothes for the day, and will not be cooking.

But the seniors activity centre will send over some festive favourites, such as ketupat, sayur lodeh, serunding and ayam masak merah, cooked by donors.

"What if I can't eat any of it?" grumbles Mr Ismail, who was hospitalised last year over a heart blockage and must now watch his diet.

For this, he gets a gentle rap on the arm from Madam Mariah, who tells him: "Just smell it, lah. It smells like Hari Raya. You don't need to taste it."

She added: "All you ate was bread the last few years. Now that you can have a proper Hari Raya and celebrate with actual people, what are you complaining about?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'First Aidilfitri together for old newlyweds'. Print Edition | Subscribe