Hari Raya to be celebrated with extra precautions in Taiwan
The world has been battling COVID-19 for months, yet the number of cases still rises and is now drawing close to 5 million. To contain the spread of this virus, many countries including Malaysia resorted to movement controls or various stages of lockdowns to flatten the infection curve. It is amidst such a situation that Muslims around the world are welcoming Hari Raya this year. It will be celebrated differently, and perhaps more melancholic because no big gatherings are allowed and Malaysians are advised not to travel for balik kampung. Although Malaysians are welcoming the month of Syawal under the new norms, Hari Raya will still be celebrated with a grateful and joyful heart.
With COVID-19 affecting 187 countries worldwide, Malaysians overseas too are expecting to welcome Syawal under the cloak of caution. Two Malaysians currently residing in Taiwan share their preparations and experience.
Nur Adibah Adammi, a 33-year old Malaysian went to Taiwan to study Mandarin. She quickly fell in love with the island and remained there for almost six years now. During this challenging period, Adibah shared that Hari Raya will be celebrated more muted among a small group of close friends and family as life in Taiwan is still normal but with extra precautions. “Usually, we will go to the mosque for Hari Raya prayers on the first day of Syawal. This is the time when we can meet up with fellow Malaysians and Muslims from different countries at one place to celebrate Hari Raya. It is so heart-warming to see Muslims united on a special day like this. Sadly, this year we are not allowed to have big group gatherings, therefore there will be no Hari Raya prayers in mosques,” Adibah shared.
She continued, “I am very thankful because fellow Malaysians here are very close with each other and we have a warm relationship. We bonded like a close-knit family and this helped make me feel a lot less lonely in a foreign land – away from my parents and family especially during big celebrations such as Hari Raya. Traditionally, there will be open houses for us to get-together and catch up. Usually to uplift the Hari Raya feel, all of us will dress up in our Hari Raya attire and we will bring traditional Raya dishes for potluck. Last year, I brought roti jala. We try to celebrate Hari Raya in Taiwan like how we always do in Malaysia, as close as possible. Although there are no big open houses expected this year, we are planning to have a small get-together with just a handful of close friends.”
Another Malaysian who will be celebrating Hari Raya in Taiwan is Amirah Hurzaid, 34, a PhD student who is currently pursuing her doctorate in Marine Oceanography at National Taiwan University. She has been living in Taiwan for four and a half years. “To get the Hari Raya vibes, I will play upbeat Raya songs all day long in my lab. Planning ahead, I will take time to write and send Hari Raya cards to my family and best friends in Malaysia. And to keep the Malaysian-way of Raya tradition, I will make sure there are Hari Raya goodies such as Almond London and chocolate chip cookies. Usually I will bake these cookies a week before but half of them are probably gone before the first day of Hari Raya,” said Amirah, laughing at her love of these delicious cookies.
“Being away from family and friends during Hari Raya definitely makes me miss them a lot more. Usually, I will video call them the night before Hari Raya just to update each other on the preparations. On the first day of Hari Raya, after prayer, other Malaysian friends and I will go to the house of one of the Malaysian representative office’s staff and celebrate the rest of the day with them. We will recite takbir several times and of course munch away on our favourite Hari Raya dishes! I do miss eating my mum’s ketupat jagung and lemang a lot. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find lemang in Taiwan. Since I have lab mates who are Taiwanese and from other countries, I often invite them to my house on Hari Raya for them to experience how we celebrate this joyous month. I will prepare traditional Hari Raya dishes such as rendang and ketupat for them to try.”
Asked about her opinion on Hari Raya during the pandemic, Amirah said, “This year’s Hari Raya is definitely going to be different. It will be the first time I am celebrating Hari Raya without my husband since there is no flight to Taiwan at the moment. I am not too sure if there will be gatherings amongst my Malaysian friends. Nevertheless, I will still prepare rendang and ketupat and share it with my lab mates.”
Taiwan has been held as a model island by many nations because of its swift and aggressive actions to stop COVID-19. At the moment, Taiwan has reported 440 cases, of which 79% are imported cases*. Since the situation is still under control on the island, Taiwan announced that a lockdown is not necessary but everyone is required to follow certain practices such as social distancing and no gathering of more than 100 people. The government also cancelled major celebration events to avoid public gathering.
Adibah and Amirah shared that the Taiwanese government acted on the situation very quickly and decisively. Taiwan took very early preventative measures before other countries did. With Taiwan’s processes being very systematic, people are able to easily follow the guidelines established by the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CECC). CECC also constantly advises the citizens to practise good hygiene and cleanliness, wear face masks when in public spaces and carry out social distancing. Hand sanitisers are also easy to find and it is available for free in most places.
Amirah is set to return to Malaysia in September 2020 after her graduation. She commented that Taiwan should be on everyone’s bucket list to experience and said, “Although at the moment travelling is not recommended, I hope when this is over, everyone will go and visit Taiwan, even Muslims. There are many sightseeing places with scenic views to enjoy. My three favourite places are Taroko Gorge National Park, Yangmingshan National Park and Hehuan Mountain. I love the nature here and these places have stunning views! For example, Taroko Gorge National Park has several amazing tunnels carved into the rock face, waterfalls out in the forest, hiking trails overlooking the gorge and turquoise blue hot springs right in the river. Meanwhile Yangmingshan National Park and Hehuan Mountain have their own attractions all year long. Yangmingshan is especially charming during spring season, great for sakura viewing. Those who want to experience snow can visit Hehuan during winter season. I am planning to do my own blog and share my experience in Taiwan very soon.”
Just like Malaysia, Taiwan is also a haven of food. Adibah, who makes her own sambal to sell (named Sambaldiba) shared that there are many halal local delicacies Muslim tourists can try in Taiwan. “The list of must-eat halal food in Taiwan is very long but if I have to choose, I suggest to try the beef noodles, mango shaved ice and of course, bubble tea! Muslim tourists can find halal food in Taiwan and its different outlets through phone applications. I would really recommend downloading the Halal.TW App. This app does not only show a list of halal restaurants and shops but also guides tourists to find the nearest mosques and hotels that are Muslim-friendly. Alternatively, Muslim tourists can look for vegetarian restaurants, which are available in many places in Taiwan. I really hope my Malaysian friends can visit Taiwan when COVID-19 is over.”