Coronavirus pandemic

Fasting under lockdowns: Traditional Ramadan bazaar goes virtual in Malaysia

With the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan into its fourth day today, Muslims are adapting to the new normal as many countries have restricted movements to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Straits Times looks at how those in Indonesia, India and Pakistan - nations with the world's largest numbers of Muslims - are adapting. In Malaysia and other parts of Asean, too, the month of worship and eating out with close friends has changed.

With deliveries tied to the 10km travel limits during the movement control order, most of the social media groups and websites that have sprung up as traders promote their goods online are district-centric.
With deliveries tied to the 10km travel limits during the movement control order, most of the social media groups and websites that have sprung up as traders promote their goods online are district-centric. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

For more than 10 years, Madam Faridah Daud, 59, had sold pineapple juice at one of Malaysia's popular Ramadan bazaars, but this year she is grappling with a new challenge - how to deliver the juice to her customers in view of the country's stay-home orders.

Some of the issues she has to figure out include ensuring timely delivery before the breaking of fast at dusk, limiting orders to within the mandatory 10km travel limits under the movement control order (MCO) and securing payment.

"It's very challenging for us to make sure that we hit our sales target like in previous years for this Ramadan but we're trying our best," she told The Straits Times.

Her two children are helping her to advertise on social media, and orders are received via WhatsApp.

"Delivery is an issue but my husband has (become) the 'runner' by using his motorcycle. But there's a limitation to that as we can cover only a small area," she said.

Customers must pay online before delivery or pickup. "It's a bit of a hassle for both us and our customers as we prefer to deal in cash. But as it is, we are already facing a difficult situation, we can't bear more losses if some customers place an order, only to back out."

Many food traders are selling on online platforms called e-bazaars following a ban on Ramadan bazaars due to the virus outbreak.

Instead of tents and stalls in every neighbourhood, perennially packed with Muslim and non-Muslim customers looking for homemade food, drinks and cakes, social media groups and websites have sprung up with traders promoting their goods online.

Most are district-centric, as deliveries are tied to the 10km travel limits during the MCO put in place since March 18.

Many traders started selling food such as rendang, pulut, char kway teow and grilled lamb ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan which began last Friday, as they attempt to push sales online.

Those not tech-savvy are getting help from their children to post on social media while others are hiring independent delivery boys in case of a sudden surge in demand.

Ramadan is traditionally a highly profitable time for small traders who depend heavily on incomes made during the month, and a cash cow for local councils which rent out lots.

Some states have launched their own platforms, such as Selangor, which has 77 e-kitchens or distribution centres operating out of 10 multipurpose halls, and uses delivery firms like Grab and BungkusIt.

Madam Nur Raihan Thye, 32, who sells homemade kuih at the Taman Tun Dr Ismail market, is using the Lalamove platform, instead of hiring independent deliverymen, to make sure her goods are insured during delivery.

"Our challenges this year include finding enough packaging to pack our kuih as the factory is closed," she said, adding she did not have enough workers due to the travel limits. "We can cater to 50 orders a day. To make sure there is no shortage of deliverymen, I try to arrange a lot of deliveries in the morning as many mentioned there are hardly any jobs during that period."

University student Amirul Hakeem Abdul Qadir Osman, 21, who sells Western and Malay dishes with his mother on their Instagram page hangryby.aa, created an e-bazaar group on Facebook covering the Ampang district in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding neighbourhoods to help fellow traders and restaurant owners affected by the MCO, and to make it easier for shoppers to prepare for Ramadan and Hari Raya.

The group has more than 600 members, with traders making up about 40 per cent. "Traders who own physical stores are badly affected as they need to continue paying their overheads. This MCO has forced everyone to shift to online business and utilise all media platforms," said Mr Amirul.

In the meantime, Malaysians still get to enjoy local delicacies for their breaking of fast with the vast array of goodies available online, while supporting small and local businesses during the outbreak.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2020, with the headline Fasting under lockdowns: Traditional Ramadan bazaar goes virtual in Malaysia. Subscribe