Singapore is a tiny country that prides itself on being multi-racial and multi-religious. Here, there are about 750,000 Muslims who make up 15% of its population. There are 70 mosques, most of which cater to Sunni Muslims. Malays constitute the majority of Muslims in Singapore, followed by a sizeable number of Indian Muslims.
And Ramadan Begins
Ramadan starts with a niyyah that can be stated between Maghrib (around 7.15pm) and Subuh (around 5.40am) before the first day of fasting. Typically, sahur consists of rice and simple dishes such as fried chicken and stir-fried vegetables.
Efforts by the Community for the Community
What’s heartening to see every Ramadan, is the surge in volunteering and food distribution initiatives all around the island. Suspended meals and drinks are more apparent this year, with many paying in advance for food and beverages. These items are then offered to people who cannot afford them. One of the generous donators, Mr Shafiee Barahim, did it last year on 25 June to remember his late father’s birthday. He assumed that it was going to be one-off thing. To his surprise, he received continuous encouragement and support from Muslims and non-Muslims. As a result, 283 bottles of kathira and 80 bottles of red syrup with lime have since been contributed to support this project.
Iftar: a communal affair
During Ramadan, there is an increased emphasis on eating together, on the same tray. Malays refer to this practice as ‘makan dulang’. It is not uncommon for non-Muslims to be invited to join in as well. Some of them are so brave that they even fast together with their Muslim friends during the day!
It’s normal for the supply of food to increase tremendously. All mosques around Singapore start distributing “bubur” (porridge) for free after Asar prayers. The porridge can be liberally collected by everyone, regardless of race or religion. Back at home, neighbours, friends and relatives freely exchange food. Sometimes, what’s hilarious is that five different people may have cooked the same dish, so you end up eating multiple versions of local food like mee soto and briyani. Unfortunately, it may also be possible that the abundance of food leads to wastage.
“There’s no space for Terawih!”
Said no Singaporean Muslim ever. Muslims are spoilt for choice when it comes to venues for terawih prayers. They can choose to pray in the comfort of their homes or at multi-purpose halls, void decks, open fields and mosques. It’s not uncommon for parents to fret about bringing their children to mosques for terawih prayers. They fear that their children may throw a tantrum and distract people who are praying. One solution would be to ask parents to leave their children at home. However, some mosques in Singapore have decided to embrace the presence of our little ones instead. For example, mosques such as Al-Iman Mosque and al-Istiqamah offer child minding services. While parents concentrate on their prayers, the children are kept occupied with educational activities such as storytelling and art and craft.
Consumerism during Ramadan
No one can talk about Ramadan in Singapore without mentioning the Ramadan bazaars. Although there was only one at Geylang Serai in the past, bazaars are now popping up like mushrooms after rain. Everything that you need for Hari Raya (Eid) can be found here – from colourful curtains, trendy clothes and the ever-popular ‘lampu lap-lip’ (colourful fairy lights) to hipster money packets, hand-knotted carpets and shiny, new furniture.
Some vendors have even started selling and renting cars that can be used during Hari Raya visiting. Some choose to break their fast here because there is a wide variety of food and drinks. A drink that is especially popular during Ramadan is ‘air kathira’. The main ingredients of this milky, unique drink are kathira gum, basil seeds, pandan flavouring, sugar and evaporated milk.