The Singapore way: Bringing Muslims and non-Muslims together
Singapore Muslims value peace and harmony as advocated by Islam. This augurs well with Singapore’s way of keeping the values of cohesion and integration to maintain peace and harmony among its multi-racial, multi-cultural people.
The importance of living harmoniously with people of other faiths is an Islamic value. The Qur’an says that God made people “into nations and races so that they may know each other (not to despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is he who is most righteous.” (Qur’an, 49:13)
Righteousness, in Islam, includes giving of charity, helping people, having compassion for humans and animals, promoting friendship and social integration, and ensuring that the country of residence enjoys peace and harmony.
As Islam is a religion of peace, Muslims ought to begin the initiative of extending their hands in salam to non-Muslims for them to appreciate Muslims and Islam.
Such a move is slowly but surely taking root in Singapore in the last few years or so. The Singapore Muslims are playing a wholesome role in inter-faith efforts by making fellow Singaporeans of other faiths understand Islam and its teachings to show that nothing in Islam supports terrorism.
Terrorists have also been attacking Muslims in some Muslim countries and even in Islam’s second holiest city, Medina, recently, near Islam’s second holiest mosque, Masjid Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque), killing a few Muslims.
God says in the Qur’an that if one killed an innocent person, it is as if he had killed the whole mankind; and if he saves a life, it is as if he has saved the whole mankind. (Qur’an, 5:32)
By killing people, it simply shows that these terrorists recognise neither religion nor possess any form of righteousness, especially the value of life. Many non-Muslims do realise this – that 2.6 billion Muslims are peaceful people but only a tiny number, who know not Islam, is involved in terrorism. They also want to understand Islam and Muslims better, so it is an act of righteousness to embrace them in friendship and togetherness.
Concrete initiatives in getting non-Muslims come closer to Muslims are taking place. For instance, mosques open their doors to visitors of other faiths during off-prayer times. The most prominent of this “open-door” initiative is seen at the Sultan Mosque where tourists love to stop to admire the architectural beauty of the mosque. These curious people are allowed to view the mosque’s interior, providing cloaks to those inappropriately attired, from the external hall where they can also read the information posters and watch individuals at prayer in the spacious main prayer hall from there, often accompanied by a volunteer guide to answer their queries.
Iftar (breaking of fast) has become a well-known word among non-Muslims, a word that helps to bind people. Mosques and Muslim organisations enhance the spirit of the annual Ramadan by inviting non-Muslims friends and neighbours for iftar on their premises.
In this year’s Ramadan, we see many mosques inviting non-Muslim dignitaries and Ministers for iftar with Muslims. Even President Tony Tan Keng Yam was invited for iftar at the Al-Ansar Mosque on 17 June. (“President joins in breaking of fast”; Straits Times, June 18)
Residents too do their part in bringing non-Muslims nearer during Ramadan. Last year (2015), the Muslim residents of a flat invited their non-Muslim neighbours for iftar along the corridor of the block. This initiative was not the first time; there had been several occasions in the last few years when non-Muslims were invited in the homes to breakfast together with the Muslim hosts. This is a worthy effort to spread goodwill. [But, Muslims find it inconvenient to invite their non-Muslim friends to their home for iftar because they have to rush in breaking their fast at sunset, perform their maghrib prayer (the after sunset prayer) and then rush to the nearest mosque for the isyak prayer (the fifth obligatory prayer of the day at around 8:20 pm) followed by the long Ramadan night prayer called terawih, although all these prayers can be done at home but congregational prayer earns more spiritual benefits in Islam.]
I am also doing my part in fostering good relationship with my non-Muslim friends. My mother-in-law lives in another constituency and it is customary for Muslims to visit their closest relatives on Eid ul-Fitri (Festival of Charity), commonly referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Singapore, but in the last 15 years I would visit my in-laws on the following day to allow my non-Muslim friends to visit us on Hari Raya itself as it is a public holiday.
When my non-Muslim friends come to my home, we would eat ketupat and rendang and home-cooked briyani and sip teh tarik or cold drinks and savour the raya kuih-kuih while we chit-chatted away. Such a move helps to strengthen friendship and fraternity bonding.
No invitation is required for Hari Raya. Anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim friend, is welcomed.
Still, this year (2016), on 3 July, I wrote this note to some of my non-Muslim friends:
Dear old friends
Long time no see you.
So, you know why I write this note. You are right: Hari Raya is just next week, Wed, 6 July. So, if you are in Singapore (not jalan jalan to some corners of the world), and also if you are free (not jalan jalan with your wife/husband the whole day), do come over to my place for Hari Raya as usual for chats and renewing our already established friendship.
To suit your convenience, come any time from 1 pm to 9 pm.
And if you have forgotten the location, here are my address and telephone number (indicated in the email).
Regards and cheers.
While a few replied saying they were unable to come, giving their reasons, the others came, including:
Long-time friends Ms Lim Bee Choo and Ms Jenny Koh, and Joey Koh Eng Hwa who I met at a conference 2016 in Cambodia in April.
Joey is a first-time visitor to my home and he occupied himself by taking some photos from various corners of my HBD flat. He sent me some photos he took with comments, such as:
- “The only way to take a photo with your entire family with your son and daughter is to take a selfie in front of your family portrait. Nice!” (See photo below.)
- “Enjoying the finger-licking good nasi briyani, cuttle fish sambal, beef rendang and ketupat, chicken curry, cucumber-carrot and pineapple achar, vegetable dalcha and other food items as well as kueh-kueh. Thanks for the delicious food. Enjoyed every dish prepared by your lively & lovely wife.”
Normally dalcha is mutton-based but my wife cooked the vegetable dalcha especially for our husband-wife Hindu visitors who are vegetarians.
Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Joey for his initiative in connecting me to my long-lost (26 years exactly) foster daughter, Ms Shamsiah Zainuddin, a Malaysian. The photo below shows her name card in 1990, which I still keep, and she today:
For the Hari Raya visit, a couple, my long-time friends, Ms Tan Shee Lah and Mr Bernard Koh, were with us for over two hours but strangely I forgot to take a proper front photo of them. One was taken of a family eating at the dining table and in the background was Shee Lah talking to Jenny and Joey, which I cropped for focus as shown below.
Yesterday (7 July), Shee Lah emailed me: “Thanks for having us Shaik. Always a pleasure to see you and Khairon.”
Another couple, Mr Loganantham Kuppan and MsThilaga Balakerishnan, stayed for over seven hours with Thila helping my wife in serving food to the guests (close relatives came) as well as making masala tea for me after our dinner.
Another long-time friend and historical blogger is James Seah.
James made some comments in his Facebook and tagged me. He wrote:
“Thanks to my good friend Shaik Kadir to invite me to his home for Hari Raya lunch today. His wife served us the best home-cooked nasi-bryani and our favorite spicy local dishes.”
Reproducing my letter to him (as shown above) in his Facebook, he added: “How nice of Shaik for the gracious invitation and to meet his family, including his 3-year-old cheerful and active granddaughter, Nur Iffah, who liked a bouncing toy I gave her. Appreciate Shaik and his wife for their warm hospitality and memorable Hari Raya 2016.”
When James was at my home, my son, his wife and their daughter, Nur Iffah Imran, came. Iffah is exactly two years this Hari Raya, not three as James mentioned in his comments. When informed later, he said in my Facebook: “I am glad to meet your granddaughter and her parents as they were leaving the house after the visit. Nur Iffah is a big girl at 2 yrs and I thought she is 3 yrs old.”
I love to provide Iffah’s photo here, but since I have a grandson (my daughter’s son, Adam Rayan Dula), a few months older than Nur Iffah Imran, and in Sydney and, as I am always thinking of him, I shall also provide his photo here.
In the spirit of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr (Celebration of Charity) or Hari Raya Aidilfitri as commonly known in Singapore, Muslims not only strive to become good human beings themselves in line with the objective of the Ramadan fast but strive to spread goodwill to non-Muslim Singaporeans.
This is the Singapore Muslim way of extending goodwill and togetherness, and in helping to further promote peace and harmony in multi-racial, multi-cultural Singapore.
8 July 2016