For the month of June, I am making a mental note not to ‘ta bao’ my lunch back to the office. No, it is not about how depressing it is to eat along in front of my laptop, which it is. Rather, I am mindful that the smell of food might be distracting for my Muslim colleague who is fasting during the month of Ramadan. Not that she has asked this of us, but out of respect, this is the least I can do as a colleague.
As someone who cannot go without food for more than 4 hours (sleep not included), fasting from dawn till dusk, abstaining from all food and water, is an arduous mental and physical challenge. For 30 days during the month of Ramadan, our Muslim friends will also refrain from unkind thoughts, do more charitable acts and pray at least five times a day.
This year, a group of young Singaporeans developed an app to bring the community closer together during this busy month of prayer. Terawhere is a free carpooling app for Muslims looking for a ride to the mosque. Developed by 15 young Singaporeans who call themselves MSociety, the app is named after “terawih” prayers, the central worship time at night during Ramadan. With no monetary transaction, the app will bring the community closer together, one car ride at a time.
Ramadan is also a time for many Muslim families to eat together as they break fast at the end of the day. With over 1000 stalls serving a wide variety of food, the annual Ramadan bazaar at Geylang Serai draws crowds of Singaporeans of all faiths. This year’s edition promises to out-hipster 2016 with even more colourful snacks and drinks. The bazaar will run till 24 June 2017.
This is a durian bomb, it's sweet creamy durian wrapped in a crunchy fried orange shell. It's da bomb.
A little down the road in ONEKM mall, there is a small exhibition on Ramadan by the Malay Heritage Centre. My favourite panel features interviews conducted by non-Muslim students from Tanjong Katong Secondary School with shop owners in Kampong Gelam about Hari Raya.
One student Lisa Lim shared that “Through the interviews [she] learnt more about the activities carried out during Ramadan and Hari Raya, such as the coming together of people in the spirit of ‘gotong royong’ to help each other prepare food.” The quotes from the other students showed how they all learnt something new through these conversations.
How many instances of ‘gotong royong’ can you spot?
Earlier in March, Minister Grace Fu launched an initiative called Broadening Religious or Racial Interaction through Dialogue and General Education, aptly shortened to BRIDGE, which aims to foster greater understanding of different faiths in Singapore. During the launch event, Ms Fu asked the audience, “Does Singapore enjoy harmony due to tolerance, or genuine acceptance of each other?”
It is a tough question, one that demands a hard look at ourselves and a constant questioning of how much we actually know. Like the students from Tanjong Katong Secondary School, I realise that I may not know enough about my friends’ religions and practices. I assuage myself that our differences do not define my friendships but in truth, what we take as racial and religious harmony might be better informed with deeper conversations.
So to my non-Chinese friends (you know who you are), expect long dinner conversations soon.
And to my Muslim friends, happy Ramadan.