By Hannah Griffiths (Hannah is in Year 10 at Tanglin Trust School and is currently doing an internship at Expat Living)
Since the start of this month, you might have seen mosques packed full of people every evening, then, once the sun has set, these same people filling up restaurants and bazaars. If you haven’t been living in Singapore long, you may be wondering: what is going on? The answer is simple. Muslims all over the world, including Singapore, are observing Ramadan! If you’re not sure exactly what it entails, don’t worry – by the end of this article, you’ll certainly know your iftar from your suhur.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. However, if you’ve heard the term before, you probably know it as the holy month of fasting in Islam. You may also have heard it called Eid, but that’s not actually correct – Eid (or to be precise, Eid al-Fitr) is the day that Ramadan ends.
When is it?
As mentioned, it takes place during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. However, the dates of this aren’t set in stone. They go by the lunar calendar, which changes each year and relates to the monthly cycles of the moon. The Judicial High Court in Saudi Arabia declares when Ramadan starts, but some prefer to go by their own sighting of the new moon at the start of the ninth month. Different countries tend to start on different days, depending on visibility and weather conditions. This year, Ramadan began in Singapore on 5 May, and will end on 4 June.
Why does it happen?
Of course, all of this doesn’t happen for no reason – Ramadan is a period of self-restraint, in line with sawm (which means ‘to restrain’ in Arabic), one of the pillars of Islam. As well as this, Muslims believe that Allah forgives the past sins of those who observe the holy month faithfully.
How does it work?
You would be forgiven for thinking that Ramadan involves just refraining from eating and drinking, but that’s not actually the whole of it. It also involves the obligation to refrain from sexual activity and immoral behaviour, including unkind thoughts and deeds, between dawn and dusk. Breaking these commitments would have the same implications as eating or drinking during daylight.
What happens daily during Ramadan?
- As soon as the sun sets, Muslims break their fast with a meal called iftar. Shortly after the regular sunset prayers, this meal is shared with friends and extended family, usually at the mosque or at home, and it begins with the traditional dates or apricots and water or sweetened milk.
- Extra prayers happen at night, called tarawih prayers. These are performed in addition to the five prayers performed daily throughout the year. Ideally, they should be done at the mosque in a congregation, but they can happen at home too. Over the course of the month, the entire Quran may be recited during these prayers.
- Finally, just before the sun rises, the pre-dawn meal is eaten, called suhur. It has to be a big meal, and as nutritious as possible – you can’t do much about it if you get peckish during the day!
- In order to cope with the extra prayers and meals, some Muslim-majority countries change or reduce their working hours. In Singapore, flexi-time or reduced time is available, but unfortunately isn’t implemented nation-wide.
What happens at the end?
At the end of such a tough month, you might expect an extravagant celebration – and you would be completely right. Eid al-Fitr (known better in Singapore as Hari Raya Puasa) is celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Muslims wake up early in the morning and visit the mosque, to thank God for all that He has given them. People then go home and gather as family groups, exchanging gifts, visiting the graves of ancestors and eating delicious meals. Children dress in new clothes and women dress in white. It’s a joyous celebration for all!
Things to do:
#1 Geylang Serai Bazaar
The famous Geylang Serai Bazaar has already opened, and is packed to the brim with culinary treats (highlights include Belgian waffle pops, boba soft serve and prata waffles) and exciting activities (you can play carnival games and visit shopping booths).
1 Geylang Serai, Singapore 402001
Open from 3 May to 5 June, late afternoon to midnight
#2 Hari Raya Light Up 2019
The excitement in Geylang Serai doesn’t end with the bazaar – from now until 16 June, Changi Road, Geylang Road and Sims Avenue will also boast a collection of colourful lights, following the theme of ‘Celebrating the Kampung Spirit’. Lighting fixtures include a variety of icons closely related to Malay culture – golden domes surrounded by full blooms, a kampung house and a gendang, or traditional Malay drum, are just some of the highlights.
Parts of Changi Road, Geylang Road and Sims Avenue.
Visit at night for maximum effect!
#3 Cultural Heritage Race 2019
Now in its sixth year, the Cultural Heritage Race features teams of three (including a non-Malay Singapore-born citizen and a new Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident or Employment Pass holder) racing around the Geylang Serai Bazaar and Geylang Serai Heritage Trail. Their mission? To discover info about Singapore’s Malay heritage. This year, prizes include vouchers worth $1,400, $700 and $450 for the first three finishers, and consolation prizes of $150 vouchers. Sign-ups are still open!
1 Engku Aman Turn, Singapore 408528
Wisma Geylang Serai Level 4, Multi-Purpose Hall (Starting point)
18 May, 3-8.30pm
Email Deanise_Kwong@pa.gov.sg or visit Geylang Serai Community Club (Wisma Geylang Serai, 1 Engku Aman Road) to register.
#4 Kampong Glam Bazaars
If you fancy something a little more low-key than the big Geylang Serai Bazaar, try the bazaars around Kampong Glam, near the Sultan Mosque. These are more traditional, and serve more authentic food options, as opposed to the modern food choices and non-food stalls at Geylang Serai. The area also boasts some beautiful shophouses and restaurants to try, as well as the Sultan Mosque itself (which gives tours to visitors, though they are suspended over the Ramadan period).
85 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198501
For more helpful tips, head to our Living in Singapore section.