After a month of fasting, special prayers and charity amid the Ramadan period, Muslims mark Hari Raya Puasa today.
During the month of Ramadan, mosques become busier, with preparations for iftar (breaking of fast) and the holding of the long, late-evening prayers called terawih, which start around 9 pm.
Iftar in the mosque is a community occasion for bonding with people in the neighbourhood. Bubur, or spiced rice porridge, is the trademark food item for iftar.
The special porridge, sponsored by worshippers and cooked by seasoned volunteers in the mosque compound, is for those who break fast in the mosque and for anyone - Muslim or non-Muslim - from the neighbourhood, who comes to collect it. After putting aside a sufficient portion of the bubur for those breaking fast in the mosque, the rest is distributed to the public from around 4pm.
Traditionally, iftar is undertaken, first, with one or two dates, followed by a small bowl of bubur and water. Other food items, all donated by worshippers, include murtabak and bananas. The Khalid Mosque in Joo Chiat, for instance, serves briyani at weekends, also cooked on the mosque premises.
People break their fast when the prayer call for the maghrib - the fourth prayer of the day just after sunset - is made.
Inviting people of different faiths for iftar is encouraged in Islam. Such an invitation has been extended by several Muslim organisations, including Jamiyah Singapore, the Muslim Kidney Action Association and the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore. For Buddhist and Hindu guests, vegetarian food is arranged.
This year's Ramadan saw many ministers attending iftar sessions in the mosques, and even sitting on the covered floor with those breaking fast. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was one of them; he was at the iftar gathering at the Al-Ansar Mosque recently.
Ramadan is a period when mosques can invite non-Muslims for iftar. The visitors could be allowed to watch Muslims perform their congregational maghrib prayer from a convenient location outside the prayer hall, with a mosque official as a guide.
Through such intermingling, non-Muslims will observe the discipline in the mosque - Muslims taking ablution, waiting for the maghrib prayer call with the food spread before them, then breaking their fast quickly to get ready for the maghrib prayer.
Such knowledge-sharing provides the opportunity to people of other faiths to understand Islam better. The intermingling also strengthens relations and further builds rapport and friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The end of Ramadan ushers in Aidil Fitri (Festival of Charity), commonly referred to as Hari Raya (Grand Day). The first activity of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri is the congregational prayer held for about an hour from 8.30am in all mosques, where worshippers attend in overflowing droves.
After the Hari Raya prayers it is time for social visits to the homes of relatives and friends, during which greetings like "Selamat Hari Raya" are exchanged, and a variety of food, from ketupat to nasi briyani and kueh, is served.
As the idea of Hari Raya is to strengthen bonds, and seek and give forgiveness, the mood of Hari Raya lingers for at least two weeks.
Over the last 15 years, instead of visiting my mother-in-law on Hari Raya, my wife, our two children and I visit her on the evening of the second day. On the first day, we receive guests of other faiths.
About a week before Hari Raya, I would have invited them via e-mail. It would be a sort of open house, just for them. Some invite both their non-Muslim friends and relatives for an open house held on a weekend day.
Such invitations to non-Muslims enable them to appreciate Muslim traditions, and open doors to racial integration and cultural appreciation and, along the way, strengthen the bonds of friendship and neighbourliness.
There are many inter-faith marriages nowadays.
In my own family and circle of relatives and friends, there are many who have married other races (upon conversion). My own daughter and niece married Americans.
During the Hari Raya congregational prayers, it is no longer strange to see many Chinese and Westerners who have converted to Islam in the mosque.
This is a facet of Singapore, a tapestry of different faiths and races. We are a unique country where intermingling among those of various faiths is encouraged, and where the promotion and maintenance of peace and harmony is our way of life.
- The writer is a retired senior lecturer at the Institute of Technical Education and the author of Inside Islam: 101 Questions And Answers.