By Ruhie Jamshaid
The little island nation of Singapore is renowned to be a modern, urban ‘lion-city’. It is often recognized as the commercial heart of Asia. The levels of cleanliness and law and order found in this nation are somewhat legendary, with many cities, such as Dubai, Bahrain and Shanghai, modelling after it.
However, beyond the glitz and glamour of the heart of the far East, lies a nation that is admired for its sense of respect for all religions and races. A myriad of races from the Chinese to Malays and Indians live side by side on the island, practicing their religions. Needless to say, Islam, too, is practiced freely and widely in Singapore!
In fact, growing up in such a multi-cultural country as Singapore, I had the opportunity to learn about my religion from my Malay and Arab friends. Somehow, the religion of Islam and my culture as a Pakistani were often separate entities. Hence, I got a chance to study my religion for what it is, beyond cultural influences.
One of the most wonderful things about being a Muslim in Singapore is celebrating Ramadan. This holy month is always very special here. It is a common practice to go to the Masjid for Taraweeh prayers as a family. Every locality, or rather housing estate, has a mosque, although the volume of the Adhans has to be controlled for the sake of not disturbing non-Muslim residents. Iftar is organized in all the mosques for all and sundry. It is common to find people of such varied nationalities as Moroccons, Bangladeshis, Indonesians and the local Singaporean Malays sitting side by side and breaking their fasts. Taraweeh prayers are conducted with Tahleels and Dhikr sessions.
My family and I cherish the opportunity to go to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers. It is an opportunity for us to meet other Muslims and for our children to be aware of the spirit of Islam in a community. As many Muslims are foreigners, with only a few family members in Singapore, Eid-ul-Fitr prayers also offer an opportunity to connect with the Muslim community.
The Chinese Muslim community of Singapore, though small in number, is also an interesting aspect of the Muslim community found here. While they practice Islam, they also embrace certain Chinese cultural practices, such as the celebration of the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Ms. Mah, a Chinese Muslim, states: “We are basically all Chinese, except that we practice Islam. For instance, we avoid pork, which is often the preferred meat in Chinese households!” Many Chinese Muslims in Singapore have either embraced Islam through marriage and adoption, or their families are of Hui or Uyghur descent, having moved to Singapore from China in the 1920s.
It is quite easy to practice Islam in most areas of life in Singapore. Though there may not be special rooms allocated for Salah in most workplaces, it is typical for employers to make allowances for you to go to a quiet corner such as a staircase area or your own office cubicle to pray. Halal food is also easily available with most fast food restaurants being Halal. Wearing Hijab at workplaces can be an issue but in daily life, it is common to find Muslim ladies donning the Hijab at market places and restaurants.
Generally, Islam is seldom viewed suspiciously in Singapore. Therefore, the freedom to practice one’s religion without fear of being ostracized makes it all the worthwhile to be a Muslim in Singapore.