Large-scale Ramadan prayers for migrant workers return, though first session drew small turnout

Muslim migrant workers performing their special night prayers at Kranji Recreation Centre on April 8, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - For the first time in three years, Muslim migrant workers here will be able to perform their special night prayers (terawih) together in a large congregation of up to 500 devotees during Ramadan.

Kranji Recreation Centre will host 500 migrant workers for their Friday night communal prayers for the next three Fridays until April 29, and food will be prepared for the workers so they can enjoy their iftar (break fast meal) together.

There will also be an event at Tuas South Recreation Centre on May 3 to mark the end of Ramadan, and to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

These gatherings have been made possible by the easing of safe management measures that began on March 29, which include no longer requiring safe distancing in mask-on settings. This means mass prayers can be conducted without people having to maintain gaps between each other.

The first run of the communal prayers last Friday (April 8), however, was plagued with communication problems.

Organisers had prepared to host 500 workers at Kranji Recreation Centre last week, with meals catered by non-profit organisation Free Food For All for the same number of congregants, but only a small number of workers showed up.

When The Straits Times arrived to cover the event at about 7pm, only about 20 workers were preparing to break fast in the recreation centre's canteen.

After consuming their meals, fewer than five of the workers headed to a hall set up as a prayer space. They were led in prayers by a religious leader from An-Nur Mosque.

At about 8pm, when it seemed unlikely that any more workers would show up, Hope Initiative Alliance (HIA) president Ezekiel Tan gathered members of the media to apologise for the situation, and said it was not clear to him why the no-show had occurred. The unconsumed food was redistributed to dormitories, said Reverend Tan.

The mass prayers initiative is organised by the Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach (AGWO) in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), JTC Corporation, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, An-Nur Mosque and Free Food For All. AGWO is a movement under HIA, a non-governmental organisation.

Seeing that no more workers were arriving, mosque representatives left at 8.30pm, though the event was supposed to last until 9.30pm. Another 11 workers, who were part of the group that had broken their fast together in the canteen, then prayed in the largely empty hall.

ST understands that HIA, which typically organises its events for migrant workers in Tuas, had put together Friday's prayer session in Kranji at the request of the authorities.

It had thus brought together the logistics needed for the event, with the understanding that the agencies would direct the workers to the centre for prayers.

On Monday, MOM and JTC said in response to media queries that details of the Ramadan prayer event were confirmed late, and that information about the event was shared with migrant workers staying at nearby dormitories only on Friday morning, the day of the event.

In Islam, communal prayers during Ramadan are more rewarding than prayers done individually, and also foster kinship and familial relationships. In 2020, migrant workers staying in dormitories largely had to pray on their own or with their roommates during Ramadan. The situation improved last year, when up to 200 workers a day could attend congregational prayer sessions in each dormitory every day.

"The short notice could have led to the poor turnout... We will learn from this episode to better coordinate future events with our partners," said MOM and JTC.

"We will also consider scheduling such events on weekends when more migrant workers visit the recreation centres."

MOM and JTC said they will continue to facilitate congregational prayer sessions at recreation centres and dormitories here.

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