SINGAPORE - More than 18,000 people flocked to mosques across Singapore on Tuesday (July 20) for their congregational Hari Raya Haji prayers.
It was a quiet affair compared with pre-pandemic times, when more than 66,000 congregants across the 66 mosques - 1,000 per mosque on average - here would mark the day.
Prayers were conducted with full safe management measures in place.
Nineteen mosques offered multiple zones of 50 spaces for congregants who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have undergone pre-event testing, while 47 mosques could only take 50 people in a single zone.
Congregants had to make bookings online, since last Friday, to secure a space.
At Al-Istighfar Mosque in Pasir Ris, 750 slots were snapped up in minutes, said its chairman Azman Mohd Ariffin.
There were three sessions at the mosque, each with 250 people spread across five zones.
The Straits Times visited the mosque and observed that two zones were designated for women. All five zones had separate entry points, walkways and toilet facilities.
Congregants started to trickle in about 10 to 15 minutes before each session began.
In the prayer zones, individual boxes were demarcated on the floor for each congregant. The rooms were sanitised after every session.
Congregants also had to bring their own prayer mats. Those who came without could make a donation to get a new one at the mosque.
Said Mr Azman, 59: "We try to make things as easy as we can for the congregants, within the scope of the safe management measures.
"Things are different (compared with pre-Covid-19 years) but we don't feel anything is lacking. What is important is that, when we conduct our religious obligations, we do it in a proper manner."
The prepared text of a sermon, delivered at all mosques, also touched on the pandemic and social responsibility.
It urged people to get vaccinated, as well as to encourage their relatives, especially the elderly, to get the jab as well.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that while Muslims in Singapore have made many adjustments to their religious practices and celebrations due to the pandemic, "the spirit of Aidiladha remains".
He added: "(I am) glad that this Hari Raya Haji, more congregational spaces for Aidiladha prayers were opened up, with pre-event testing and vaccination requirements... As we move towards the new normal, let us all continue to be socially responsible and do our part to keep our community safe."
Congregants said they understood the need for the limited capacity and safe management measures.
Mr Muhammad Rushdy Abdul Razak, 30, who is fully vaccinated, managed to book a slot at Al-Istighfar Mosque by "camping" on the website 10 minutes before the booking period started.
The flight attendant said he did not mind taking the trouble to make the bookings as he enjoys the communal "vibe" at the mosque.
He added: "Before Covid-19, the mosque would be very crowded - when you exit the mosque, you would have to wait a while for the crowd to clear before you move out. Now, it's so different."
Madam Faridah Anwari, 62, was at the Al-Istighfar Mosque alone on Friday as her husband was not able to secure a slot there. He attended the prayer session at the Abdul Aleem Siddique Mosque in Telok Kurau instead.
Said the housewife: "It's much less crowded. We can't hug each other or shake hands and greet each other. It's very different."
Mr Asmat Tarmidzi Rahmat, 41, an aircraft maintenance engineer, booked a slot at Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang.
"The feeling, the spirit of praying at the mosque is just different from doing it at home. In pre-Covid-19 times, I would bring my whole family to the mosque. But my kids are too young, so I went alone," said Mr Asmat, who lives in Woodlands. His children are aged 12, nine, four and one.
He added: "Before Covid-19, the mosques were so full that they had to lay out a canvas outside for people. And after our prayers, even if we didn't know each other, we would shake hands, hug and greet those around us. Now, after our prayers, we just make our own way back. I miss it."
But the safe management measures are crucial and definitely needed, said Mr Asmat.
"Our responsibility to religion is one thing, but our responsibility as Singapore citizens is another. We have to balance the two."