Indonesian, Malaysian Muslims celebrate ‘post-COVID’ Eid

Muslims perform Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan on a street in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, April 22, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

JAKARTA – Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia gathered in large groups to usher in the Eid al-Fitr festival on Saturday, relieved to be able to celebrate freely after the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions.

Authorities in Indonesia and Malaysia have, however, urged the public to remain cautious amid reports of rising COVID cases

For the first time after three years of restrictions, many in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, could step on the long-awaited journey home and celebrate the Eid fully and heartily this year.

Hundreds of worshippers turned up for morning prayers at the historic port of Sunda Kelapa in North Jakarta to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

"I'm very happy that we're free (of COVID curbs) now," said Laila, 35, who goes by one name like many Indonesians.

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Another worshipper, 30-year old Adit Chandra, said: "I hope it gets better from here on, and that we can gather together with our families after the last three years of not being able to go back to our hometown".

This year the Indonesian government has granted a public holiday across the Southeast Asian country from April 19 to April 25. Many people left for their hometowns days ahead of April 19 to avoid the huge traffic congestion expected at major toll road stations and seaports.

According to Ministry of Transportation projections before the public holiday, more than 123 million Indonesians would travel back to their hometowns for the Eid celebration this year, a 46 percent increase from a year earlier. 

At least 18 million travelers of the total would depart from Greater Jakarta, one of the world's most densely populated areas.

In neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia, devotees also celebrated with families.

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"We can visit the extended family, and do so without suspicious feelings … during the pandemic we were cautious," said Khairul Soryati, a 39-year-old resident of Kuala Lumpur.

Muhd Nur Afham, 31, who works in Singapore said he could finally celebrate with the family in Malaysia this year after not being able to travel during the pandemic.

"I'm grateful I can meet with my families … last time we only met through video call," he said.

People struggle to grab offerings believed to bring fortune during a ceremony called "Grebeg Syawal," a part of traditional Eid al-Fitr celebrations, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, April 22, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

The movement of people to their hometowns is especially felt in the capital Kuala Lumpur, with the usually busy roads being relatively free, with more tourists than locals walking around in parts of the city.

This contrasts with heavy traffic along the country's main interstate highways, with the Malaysian Highway Authority expecting an increased volume of 2.3 million cars daily over the festival period.

The country's king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah urged Malaysians to be grateful for the peaceful coexistence of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country, who are free to conduct worship and celebrate their respective festivals with joy and excitement.

"Transcending borders and differences, Malaysians celebrate holy festivals of various religions in harmony and by visiting each other. Malaysians can also continue their daily lives with a sense of tolerance and without any gaps between races and religions," he said in a televised speech.

Authorities in both countries have, however, urged the public to remain cautious amid reports of rising COVID cases.