Friday, April 10, 2009

The three masjids of Singapore

During a brief visit to Singapore recently, I took the opportunity to pray at three of the republic’s masjids. They were Masjid Abdul Gaffoor in Dunlop Street off Jalan Besar; Masjid Bencoolen at 51, Bencoolen Street and Masjid Al-Falah in Chairnhill Hill, near Orchard Street.

Among the three masjids, only one (Masjid Abdul Gaffor) stood on its own (its building on its own ground), the other two (Bencoolen and Al-Falah) are actually on the ground floor of huge buildings. Masjid Al-Falah is on the ground floor of a commercial complex (Chairnhill Place) while Masjid Bencoolen was on the ground floor of the Somerset Building.

For the ‘subuh’ (dawn) prayer, I joint the congregation at Masjid Abdul Gaffoor. It was in Little India. While waiting for the call for prayers (azan), I glimpsed upon the leaflets and info cards at the main entrance and managed to jot down this note about the masjid.

“You have just stepped into an oasis of peace, away from the bustle of Little India. Welcome to the Abdul Gaffoor Mosque. This info card is meant to highlight the history and unique features of this mosque as well as to provide you with a general understanding of Islam and some of its practices.

“This mosque, one of Singapore’s national treasures, was officially gazette as a protected National Monument in 1979. However, what you see before you today is very different from the simple wooden building that the early Indian Muslims of the area put in 1859. The mosque is named after the founder, Sheikh Abdul Gaffoor Sheikh Hyder, a South India lawyer’s clerk who found that there was a dire need to replace the dilapidated Al-Abrar Mosque which then stood on the site.

“It primarily catered in the vicinity, then known as Kampong Kapor (Limestone Village). The Abdul Gaffoor Mosque in its present form was built in 1907, Sheikh Abdul Gaffoor, who was also the trustee of the mosque at that time, successfully applied to construct shophouses near the mosque in 1887.

“Proceeds from the shophouses rental went towards funding the new mosque building. Although the plan to build the present mosque came up years earlier, it was in 1903 that work on the mosque began.”

Near the main entrance of the prayer room, there was a small section that exhibited several bottles of perfume which a note saying: “Donate for mosque renovation work. We are happy to announce that the money received from selling the perfumes will completely be used for the renovation work for our mosque.

“We kindly request you to buy the perfume bottles and participate in the construction work of our mosque and received the blessing of God.”

From the activities advertised, I guessed the masjid’s committees members had to work hard to finance the maintenance of the premises and to settle various bills such as electricity and water. It was reported that the bills to manage a masjid in Singapore amounted to S$7,000 – S$8,000 a month!

After ‘subuh’ prayers, there was a brief ‘tazkirah’ (lesson) but as it was conducted in Urdu or Tamil and as I could not understand, I left that session. During the ‘subuh’ prayers, ‘doa qunut’ was not recited, so I guessed the majority of the ‘jemaah’ were from the ‘Mazhab Hanafi’ (Hanafi Sect).

Since I was in Orchard Road during the Friday morning, I decided to say my Jumaah prayer at Masjid Al-Falah at Bideford Road. This masjid is situated on the ground floor of Chairnhill Place, a large commercial building, perhaps some 40 stories high. This masjid is a unique picture of busy Singapore, where land space is acute, it had to share roof with many entities.

Since I arrived early at the masjid, I asked one of its keepers where I could have Muslim’s food. He showed me to a small corner (the corridor) of the building where I found a husband and wife team selling ‘nasi lemak’, fried mee and other types of food – they had already been ‘bungkus’ (wrapped). I had lunch on the mats on the corridor of the masjid.

At about 1.15, the muezzin sounded the call for prayers, and for the Friday sermon, I was surprised it was conducted in ENGLISH. The ‘khatib’ (person who reads the sermon) among others spoke about the coming of the new Hegira year 1430. He advised the nearly 2,000 worshipers to upgrade their ‘iman’ (faith) and ‘amal’ (good deeds) in line with ‘amal maaruf nahi munkar’ (to do the best in good things and to refrain oneself and others from doing bad things).

He also reminded the ‘jemaah’ about the expectations of the hard times in the year 2009 which had also effected some of the masjid’s project. In fact before the ‘khutbah’ (sermon), several masjid’s keepers were seen busy displaying and bringing donation boxes to the ‘jemaah’ at all entrance of the masjid.

For the ‘maghrib’ (dusk) and ‘isyak’ (late evening) ‘jamak’ prayers (saying the two prayers one after another), I went to the Masjid Bencoolen. Like Masjid Al-Falah which had to share with other entities in a building, this masjid is located on the ground floor of the Somerset Building.

After saying my prayers and moving near the entrance of the masjid, I was taken aback to see a few sexily clad ladies mingling around there. A few seconds later, only I realized Masjid Bencoolen had actually a pub - ‘Twenty 02 Pub’ – as its neighbour!

Nevertheless at its entrance, there were many signs, information and advertisement asking the public to seek abode in the mosque. A big sign read: “Masjid Bencoolen Estd 1819; Ahlan Wasahlan. Assalamu alaikum (wbb). The Bencoolen Masjid warmly welcome you brothers. Please come in and pray the Mighty Allah SWT.”
On the walls of the masjid there were information about Islam including its Five Pillars – the syahadah, there is no god worthy of worship except God (Allah) and Muhammad is His messenger.

Then there is information about ‘salat’ (prayer); “salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God.”

About ‘zakat’ (charity) it says: “One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word ‘zakat’ means both purification and growth.”

For fasting, the information says: “Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from the first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drinks and sexual relations.”

About hajj, among others it says: “The annual pilgrimage to Makkah, the hajj is an obligatory for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.”

On the advertisement section, the masjid welcomes the public to rent its seminar and multipurpose halls for events like ‘kenduri; (feast) and wedding reception. The cost ranges from S$500 to S$700 per day.

In my opinion, the masjid committee members had to work hard in financing its activities. It is understandable because the cost to manage a masjid in Singapore is very high.

The republic’s Malay newspaper, Berita Harian on its front page report on the 25th December, says, donation to masjids had decline, many masjids had already proceed to cut their budgets. It was reported their collection had decrease about 5-10 percent.

For the year 2009, several masjid committee members were determined to cut cost in water and electricity bills and for some their religious and families activities. But the committee members were confident, ‘insya-Allah’ (God willing), the needs and comfortable aspects of the ‘jemaah’ would not be jeopardized.

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