Raya time is family time: How 5 Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri

(From left) Ms Maisurah Mokhsin, Mr Ismail Sapuan and Madam Mariah Abdul Hami, Ms Nur Aida Sa'ad and Mr Mohammed Mukul Hossine tell The Sunday Times how they will be celebrating Hari Raya and what Aidilfitri means to them.
(From left) Ms Maisurah Mokhsin, Mr Ismail Sapuan and Madam Mariah Abdul Hami, Ms Nur Aida Sa'ad and Mr Mohammed Mukul Hossine tell The Sunday Times how they will be celebrating Hari Raya and what Aidilfitri means to them.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, DESMOND FOO, LAU FOOK KONG

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.

Helping those in need get new clothes

When she was an undergraduate at Monash University, Ms Maisurah Mokhsin helped out in a Ramadan project two years ago, handing out daily staples to Rohingya refugees living in Melbourne.

One of them was a single mother who had moved there after living in Malaysia for close to two decades.

"She told us how she felt that Hari Raya in Melbourne was different and less vibrant. She mentioned not being able to find Raya outfits in Australia, so we went home and dug through our wardrobes to find some outfits for them," recalled Ms Maisurah, 25, a freelance writer.

"When we gave the clothes to the family, I couldn't forget the smiles on their faces. So when I returned to Singapore, I wanted to do something for our community."

That was the spark for Gift-A-Kurung, a project to collect baju kurung - a traditional Malay outfit - for the needy, among them zakat (an annual tithe given by Muslims) recipients and those staying in welfare homes.

"Most of us don't think twice about getting a new outfit or two for Hari Raya. And sometimes we wear them only once," she said.

Ms Maisurah Mokhsin started Gift-A-Kurung last year, to collect baju kurung for the needy.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"But, as some of our beneficiaries told us, if we didn't do this for them, they won't have a new outfit to celebrate with. Some have worn the same outfit for years now, some just wear a T-shirt and jeans."


Ms Maisurah started Gift-A-Kurung last year with her best friend Dayana Mahiuddin, 26, and roped in about 20 of their friends to help.

It was an overwhelming task for the team, she recalls. They spent several weeks before Hari Raya Aidilfitri fielding hundreds of messages from potential donors, zipping around Singapore to collect some 1,000 outfits, and sorting through the pieces to match them to requests. Homes became makeshift warehouses for the month as outfits piled up. This year, the team is 60-strong, and has seen vendors like popular shawl brand Hijab Collective come forward to donate their wares.

Ms Maisurah hopes to keep the momentum going.

She said: "For Hari Raya, you end fasting month, spend time with your family, and ask for forgiveness to start on a clean slate. New clothes can make a big difference. Then you can really feel the semangat raya (Hari Raya spirit)."

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. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

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.

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?"

She weaves festive favourites into her outfit

Ms Nur Aida Sa'ad's outfit and card designs feature familiar images such as families chatting away together and Aidilfitri goodies. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

From families chatting in the backs of trucks to youngsters snapping "outfit of the day" shots at the void deck, familiar festive scenes will make an unexpected appearance today on illustrator Nur Aida Sa'ad's Hari Raya Aidilfitri outfit.

She designed 20 scenarios depicting typically Singaporean behaviour during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and had them printed on fabric.

This was then sewn into the one-of-a-kind baju kurung Ms Aida, 26, will be wearing this year.

She had asked friends and followers on social media for their favourite festive sights and experiences. "I got a flood of suggestions, and a lot of them listed the same things. It really showed that we share these common experiences that form such a colourful part of our identity," she said. "And I wanted to wear these scenes out and about because I'm proud of our culture and traditions."

It is the third year she will be wearing an outfit of her own design. The past two years, she silkscreened her outfit with quirky prints of festive favourites, such as pineapple tarts and kuih lapis.

"Hari Raya is a big, fun personal project for me each year. I like finding new perspectives to play with, while still conveying what's so special and dear to us about the festivities in Singapore," Ms Aida said.

Ms Aida also creates Hari Raya Aidilfitri cards... They depict Aidilfitri goodies in monster form, with rhyming words of caution, such as makan ketupat, baju tak muat (If you eat ketupat, your clothes won't fit).

"Like my past two designs, my outfit features the 'silly' and more light-hearted side of Hari Raya that I like to celebrate in my designs, because I believe they make us who we are as much as the traditional themes and customs do."

Ms Aida also creates her own Hari Raya Aidilfitri cards to mail out to family and friends. They depict Aidilfitri goodies in monster form, accompanied by rhyming words of caution, such as makan ketupat, baju tak muat (If you eat ketupat, your clothes won't fit).

"We always like to joke about how 'Yeah, sure, you fasted for one month. But you gain all the weight you lost back in one day'," she says. "It's these little things about the day that all of us can relate to, and that I want to tap into. It's a day to celebrate what makes us us."

A day that brings tears, but also a time for charity

Mr Mohammed Mukul Hossine helping at a giveaway of food, clothing and other necessities to migrant workers last week. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

For Bangladeshi construction worker Mohammed Mukul Hossine, Hari Raya Aidilfitri starts at 5am with a teary long-distance phone call from his mother.

It used to be his favourite day of the year, but since he started working in Singapore seven years ago, Aidilfitri has lost its shine.

"I can only think, how are Mama and Papa? What are they doing today? And I know they will also think of me, and cannot enjoy," said Mr Mukul, 26, the second-youngest of eight siblings.

"When Mama calls me in the morning, I really cannot take it. She will ask, 'Have you woken up already? Have you showered? Why are you crying again? Don't cry!' But I just cry more."

He usually pools money with fellow workers at the dormitory to buy ingredients for briyani, which they cook the night before Aidilfitri. Then, he tries to distract himself from thoughts of his family.

The first year here, Mr Mukul went to the Singapore Zoo with friends. This year, he plans to have a day out at Sentosa.

When he was still living in Panbari village in Bangladesh, Aidilfitri was a time of mischief and merriness. He would spend the day playing pranks on family and friends, and on reunions with neighbours who were away most of the year working in cities.

"The two or three days before Hari Raya, all of us couldn't sleep well. There were so many people to meet, so many things to do: bring in sunflowers to decorate the house, buy new clothes," he said.

Mr Mukul recalls waking up to the smell of his mother's paesh, a Bengali-style rice pudding. He would then creep out with one of his sisters to collect duck eggs, and harvest some rice their father grew to give to needy villagers.

"We always see people in our village who have very little. And we were also very poor, but my sister and I felt we had enough, so we wanted to make people who need it happy on Hari Raya," said Mr Mukul, whose poetry book Me Migrant was published by Singapore's Ethos Books last year. "This is the happiest day of the year, so we wanted them to feel it too."

Even now, he sees Aidilfitri as a time for charity. He started working with volunteer group Migrant Matters last year to give out donated food, clothing and other necessities to migrant workers.

"Because Hari Raya is not the same like any other day, (whether) you are rich, or you are poor. On Hari Raya, we forget all about that, celebrate together, pray together, be together," said Mr Mukul.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Helping those in need get new clothes'. Print Edition | Subscribe