Ramadan in NUS

— personal report and experience from the first few days of being ARI-NUS graduate student fellow

1) Mosques.
Insofar as I know and have visited, there are two mosques near NUS campuses. One is Masjid Darussalam, ten-minute walk from NUS UTown residence. The other is Masjid Tentera Di Raja, located along Clementi Road, fifteen-minute walk from NUS Central Library, built in 1961 by Muslim members of the British Army. There is one near NUS’s Bukit Timah Campus at wich the institution for my fellowship is located, namely, Masjid Ba’alwie, a mosque of Arab origin, built by a well-respected imam from Alattas family, but I have yet to visit it. One more: I was once at Angullia Mosque, near the Mustafa Centre shopping mall in Little India where we, Indonesian fellows, bought rice, eggs, noodles, spices, and things needed to cook and eat them. The land upon which Angullia Mosque was built was purchased in 1890 by an Indian merchant named Mohammed Angullia. While people of the first mosques are mostly Malays following Shafi’i school, the last mosque is predominated by Indians following Hanafi school.

2) Daily prayers.
I heard no azan at all from my residence. The only occasion I can hear azan is when I’m inside mosques since the prayer call broadcasters are turned inward. There seems to be a regulation on this matter. (Muslims in Singapore are around 15 percent.) Public discussion of religious issues are generally monitored or censored. This apparently includes Friday sermons, and it may explain why, insofar as I have been listening to, they talk mostly about ritualistic piety rather than politics of Islamic identity (not to mention polemical and sectarian speeches) as recently found quite many in Indonesian major cities. The government strongly seeks to preserve religious harmony so that negative or inflammatory portrayals of other religions or other sects of the same religion are prohibited—good or bad this policy for democratic values, it helps prevent people from conflictuous religious polemics. Almost all religious practices of the Malay-predominated mosques I have been visiting are similar to those of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This is indicated by the kinds of salawat chanted, congregational dhikr/wirid after the daily salats, tawassul prayers by reciting Surah al-Fatiha, etc. The imams of mosques who deliver sermons or lead congregational prayers are eloquent (fasih) in reciting the Quran and prayers in classical Arabic using melody and rhythm (langgam) quite distinct to Nusantara Islam; and they have good voices. (Special note: Friday sermon at Tentera Di Raja is delivered in English.) I think those imams must have got a license to be an imam from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore or Majelis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS)—this is to put religious matters in ‘order’. As for ordinary Muslims’ life, I would say that, based on my still limited experience in this city-state, it is just similar to that of Indonesia’s traditional Muslims. It feels to me just “usual”, almost no culture shock. In fact, it’s in those mosques that I can feel at home the most. Except for one thing that is significantly different from Indonesia: smoking. Singapore is very strict about smoking, yet this doesn’t mean no designated legal places to light up cigarettes. (psst, I know those places, including the ones near mosques.) It is interesting to do research on how Islam is lived in everyday life by Singaporean Muslims using “everyday religion” approach, not political-based approach.

3) Iftar, or evening breakfast.
Iftar (or buka puasa for Malay) in Singapore is observed at 7:15 pm, while it’s at 5:35-45 pm in Java. Geographically, Singapore should be in line with Western Indonesian Time, yet the Singaporean clock corresponds to Central Indonesian Time; around one hour sooner than in Java—I don’t know why this is the case. You can have FREE meals and drinks for iftar in all mosques in Singapore. This means a big deal, since foods in Singapore, seen from Indonesian lower-middle class perspective, are very expensive. To give you an example: the cheapest iced tea I have bought so far is 1,3 SGD (= 12,700 IDR), while the standard price for iced tea in Jogja is 1,500-2,000 IDR (0,15-0,20 SGD). Now, think of this and explain: how come the prices have that gap while the tastes and the amount of water are not significantly different? Since I have no capability to popularize #SaveIcedTea or #SaveFoodPrices hashtags, I therefore choose to look for free meals, which is to save money. Hehehe. There are more than a hundred of those doing iftar at mosques. The way they eat reminds me of pesantren tradition: one big tray for four people, eating using hands, not spoons or forks, let alone knifes. The difference: you eat along with people you don’t know, and more likely from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds: Malay, South Asian, or maybe Arab. The tastes of the meals are not as good as those in my residence’s canteen, but they are not bad either; and they can make your stomach full or get glutened.

4) Tarawih prayers.
For most mosques, they are performed 20 rakaats. Some are combination of 20 and 8 rakaats, wherein after accomplishing 8 rakaats many usually leave, and the remaining can continue until the additional 3-rakaats witr prayers. 20-rakaat tarawih starts at around 9 pm and ends at 10 pm (the 8-rakaat ends at 9.20 pm). In Indonesia, it generally starts at 7.30 pm and ends at 8 pm. Tarawih in Singapore is performed on the basis of 2-by-2 rakaats division. After each 2 rakaats, there is a short break for salawat; and after the 8th rakaat, the break is longer, which is to give times to those who want to leave and made to recite a particular salawat/qasidah—at Tentera Di Raja and Darussalam, the break is to recite the qasidah “qad kafani ilmu rabbi”. For the most part, the way tarawih is performed here is, once again, not different from that of Indonesia’s NU.

5) Sahur, or pre-dawn meal before the fasting time starts.
The dawn prayer (subuh) in Singapore starts at 5:35 am (Java: 4:20 am) and sahur must be done before that. Sahur is arguably the hardest part of doing Ramadan fasting here. I find no 24-hour place to eat near my residence; the nearest is around 3-4 km away and to reach it at midnight only taxi is available if I don’t want to walk. So far we usually cook, while desiring variation apart from eggs and noodles.

That’s it. I’m planning to explore other mosques, especially the big ones. Hope I’d be able to do it in the next few days or weeks.

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