Special celebrations Singaporeans
relish and cherish
“According to a study of 232 countries by the Pew Research Centre based in Washington, Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world. If there was an Olympics for religious diversity, we would have won the gold medal,” says Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, Head of Studies in Inter-religious Relations in Plural Societies (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies) as given in an opinion piece, “Inter-faith dialogue in Singapore must go deeper”, published in The Straits Times of 27 October 2017.
Yes, Singaporeans are people of various races, cultures and faiths and they live together harmoniously.
“In the last 50 years, there has not been a single religious conflict in Singapore. But this is not the situation in the world today. Pew Research Centre has shown that the number of religious-based conflicts faced by many countries has gone up,” continues Mr Mohammad of the Muis Council. Muis, abbreviation for Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, is the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
“As a Muslim, I know more about Islam if I know more about other religions,” Mr Mohammad adds. Indeed Singapore Muslims ought to know some facts, at least about the special days of people of other faiths. Similarly, people of other faiths ought to have some knowledge about Islam and other religions of Singaporeans.
In this short article, only the celebrations and commemorations of four main religions are given – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Taoism. Such knowledge will make us understand the meaning and significance of these special celebratory days and motivate Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-cultural people to come closer to each other to uphold peace and harmony among us.
Visiting friends during their festive celebrations is among the social activities that foster friendship and enhance harmony.
The article begins with the celebrations of Muslims.
The major celebrations/commemorations of Muslims are:
Islamic New Year
The Islamic New Year falls on the first day of the first month, Muharram, of the Islamic calendar. For example, this year, 2017, the Muslim Year is 1439H (“H” stands for Hijrah or migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina) coincided with 22 September 2017.
As the Islamic day begins after sundown of the previous day, the ushering in of the New Year 1439H was on the evening of 21 September after 7:02 pm (exact time of the sundown on 21 September 2017).
In the mosques, Muslims gathered about an hour before sundown to recite collective dua (supplications) for the end of the Muslim year 1438H. Then, after performing the congregational maghrib obligatory prayer (fourth prayer of the day), which began in Singapore at 7:02 pm on that day, the congregation read certain chapters of the Qur’an and recited the 1439H New Year dua.
The Islamic calendar starts from the Hijrah (migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina). The migration took place because the Prophet was persecuted in Mecca for his preaching of Islam. The Hijrah coincides with the Gregorian date of 16 July 622.
The Hijrah is significant in the life of Muslims because it highlights the accomplishment of a goal by way of a change in strategy or lifestyle. It signifies growth, progress and success. Muslims take lessons from the significance of the Hijrah to better their lives by way of education, hard work and practising proper teachings of Islam as well as embracing compassion and friendship towards people of any race or creed.
Birthday of Prophet Muhammad
Known as “Mawlid Nabi”, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday falls on 12th of the third month (Rabi’ul Awal) on the Islamic calendar. (This date is not fixed on the English (Gregorian) calendar as the Islamic year is shorter by 11 days and so advances by 11 days in each English year.) Muslims mark this day by attending lectures, remembering the life of the Prophet and learning about his exemplary character in the pursuit to emulate those examples.
Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice)
Also spelt as Aidiladha, the day (in Zulhijjah, the twelfth month, marks the culmination of the pilgrimage in Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia, called the Haj. The pilgrimage is the Fifth Pillar of Islam and all Muslims aspire to perform it at least once in their lifetime, if they can afford it.
Aidiladha, also referred to as Hari Raya Haji, starts publicly with morning prayers in the mosques. After that, livestock such as sheep are sacrificed at designated places and the meat is donated to the poor and needy.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Muslims fast the whole of Ramadan as fasting in this month is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims abstain from food, drink (and smoking for those who smoke), and seek to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds like giving to charity. This reminds Muslims of the values of patience, sacrifice and humility. In the evening after the Ishak prayer (final prayer of the day), Muslims perform the special Ramadan night prayers, called terawih prayers, in the mosque or at home.
Eid ul-Fitri (Festival of Charity)
On this day (first Shawal, tenth month), also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting month (Ramadan) with special morning prayers at the mosque. It is customary for Muslims to spend the day by visiting relatives and friends while seeking forgiveness from each other, greeting one another with such phrases as “Assalamu-alaikum (Peace be upon you). Selamat Hari Raya (Happy festive day). Ma’af zahir dan batin. (Forgive me if I have offended you knowingly or unknowingly)” Muslims also give charity to the needy and give monetary gifts to the elderly and children in packets, and enjoying festive goodies at home and in the homes they visit.
The major celebrations/prayers of Christians are:
A season of love and giving, Christmas (on 25 December) commemorates the birth of Jesus and is widely celebrated with exchanging of gifts, decoration of Christmas trees, displaying of nativity scenes and mistletoes, and going for church services and festive parties.
On this day, Christians commemorate the passion and suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, or crucifixion.
The major celebrations/commemorations of Chinese/Taoists are:
Chinese New Year
Also known as the Spring Festival, and popularly referred to as the Lunar New Year because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar; it uses both the moon phase and the solar year.
In preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year, it is traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck, happiness and longevity. Usually, Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner on the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day. Monetary gifts are given to the elderly and the young in red paper envelopes.
Legend has it that Chang’e, wife of the archer Houyi, flew to the moon after swallowing his pill of immortality. The tale goes that since her ascension, she has been worshipped by the Chinese as a Moon Goddess. The Chinese celebrate by carrying lanterns and enjoying mooncakes while admiring the full moon.
Hungry Ghost Festival
The Taoists believe that the Gates of Hell open on the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. To appease the wondering spirits, they burn hell money, offer food, hold “getai” (road concerts), opera shows and dinner auctions.
Qing Ming Festival
Also known as “All Souls Day”, the festival is observed by the Chinese by paying their respects to their ancestors by sweeping their tombstones, making food offerings and burning joss sticks.
The major celebrations/prayers of Hindus are:
Also known as “Festival of Lights”, Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil, the way Lord Krishna destroyed the demon of Narakasura. Hindus celebrate by lighting up oil lamps at home.
Honouring the Hindu deity Subramanian (Lord Murugan), Thaipusam is a day of prayer and thanksgiving for wishes granted and vows fulfilled.
The major celebration/commemoration of Buddhists is:
On Vesak Day, Buddhists commemorate Buddha’s birth and enlightenment (Nirvana) by performing good deeds, fasting or going on a vegetarian diet.
There are many other celebrations/commemorations, including the Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of Sikhism, and Naw-Ruz (New Day), the first day of the Persian New Year, celebrated by the followers of Baha’i Faith.
The Qur’an instructs Muslims to be friendly with people of all religions and cultures as what is honourable is righteousness: good behaviour, friendliness and compassion. Addressing everybody, irrespective of ethnicity or creed, God says in the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes (races) so that you may know (and be friendly with) each other (not to despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most righteous.” (49:13)
Righteousness is the cornerstone of Islam, and Muslims honour it by enhancing peace and harmony in the society.
(Information on the various celebrations/commemorations have largely been taken from the table calendar of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC). IRCCs serve as important bridges between religions, ethnic and community groups at the local level. They also aim to deepen people’s understanding of the various faiths, beliefs and practices.)
15 November 2017