June 28, 2017

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by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think that with all the anti-Islam prejudice us Muslims chafe against, we would be better at recognising and weeding out the bigotry in our own backyard. Apparently not.

Last Monday’s (May 1) Yahoo article on the minority Ahmadiyyah community in Singapore drew a flurry of Facebook comments. This particular one bothered me:

Yes, Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim even though mainstream Muslims don’t, given the fundamental differences in some beliefs. Even so, neither threats nor anger are justified responses. I was hoping this blatant bigotry was a one-off incident but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Muslim community is not a homogenous one. Just like how Christianity has a multitude of denominations, Muslims are diverse, with many sects and groups approaching the faith in different ways. Broadly speaking, there are two mainstream Muslim sects: Shi’ism and Sunnism.

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Earlier this year, Minister for Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim spoke about the need for Muslims to embrace diversity in an interview with Malay-language newspaper Berita Minggu (BM). He specified the need for the majority Sunnis to respect the minority Shias (also known as Shi’ites), reported ST which had referred to the BM interview.

Said Dr Yaacob: “They pay MBMF (Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund). They come to our mosques. They pray together with us. They celebrate the same Hari Raya. So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?”

So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?

There are no firm numbers in Singapore, but a 2009 Pew report estimated less than 1 per cent of Muslims here are Shia. Over 457,000 Muslims reside here according to the G’s 2010 population census. Globally, up to 13 per cent are Shia.

There was no Shia-Sunni divide during Prophet Muhammad’s time. The split happened a few decades after his death over competing views on who should lead the Muslims. The political struggle evolved into a religious split as different interpretations emerged from different sources of authority, resulting in some differences in practices and theological views on certain issues.

There are many sub-sects within Sunnism and Sh’ism. A minority of Shias in Singapore are from the Dawoodi Bohra sub-sect. They tend to be Indian Muslims and they pray at Masjid Al-Burhani in City Hall, the only Shia mosque in Singapore. The majority Malay Muslim Shias tend to be from the Twelver branch.

Like Dr Yaacob said in the interview, Islam is “very diverse”. Nonetheless both Shias and Sunnis share the same fundamental tenets of the faith. In 1988, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) issued a fatwa (ruling) that Shias are Muslim. A MUIS spokesman said that the fatwa remains valid to this day.

Still, “there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia,” said Mr Yusuf Roslan. The 32-year old radiographer, who became Shia about 10 years ago, once overheard a Madrasah teacher praise the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing Shia Muslims. Another time Mr Yusuf’s friend was chased out of a mosque near little India when his turbah was spotted. Unlike Sunnis, some Shias rest their forehead on a clay tablet, or turbah, when prostrating during prayers.

there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia

Mr Habib Albaity has been involved in various Shia organising committees through the years. The 61-year old taxi driver said that there were times when the application to use mosque facilities for Shia events were unsuccessful. He is sure it had to do with them being Shia Muslims. While they have their own space on the second floor of a shophouse at Guillemard Road, it’s inadequate for larger events. They opened their new, larger, Shia centre yesterday (May 11).

When TMG emailed MUIS to ask if Shia Muslims can hold events at mosques, whether said events can be publicised on mosque property, and the possible reasons why they might be denied the use of mosque facilities, a spokesman only had this to say: “A mosque is an open, shared space for all Muslims regardless of orientation, to use for worship, learning and service. All Muslims are free to attend congregational worship together.”

It’s a curious response. Surely, a simple yes you can hold Shia events at mosques but like everyone else successful applications depend on availability, would have sufficed? There was no response to the question on publicity.

But the challenges are not from the Islamic authorities, said Mr Habib. It’s from the ground. People don’t understand Shi’ism and “give bad remarks as if we are not Muslims but very bad people”.

Since her school days, for example, 28-year old Ms Sakinah Abdul Aziz said she has heard offensive comments like “Shia are Kafirs (disbelievers)… oh they are orang sesat (deviant)”.

These are not benign stereotypes.

These are not benign stereotypes. In October 2015, a video of Shia Muslims singing and slapping their chest – a well-known practise – was uploaded on Youtube. There was public backlash significant enough that the owners of the private space near Bedok North, which they had rented, advised them not to apply the following year, said Mr Muhammad Al-Baqir. The 32-year old who was part of the organising committee added that the owners “have nothing against us… it was just the situation at that time”.

So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that mosque managers would prefer to avoid rocking the boat by disallowing Shia Muslim events to be held.

This discomfort with Shi’ism has taken a nasty turn up north. Shia Muslims face legal persecution by the authorities in Malaysia, said Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas. But it wasn’t always the case, added the National University of Singapore (NUS) academic who specialises in sociology of religion.

A 1984 fatwa by the Malaysian Islamic authority, JAKIM, made it clear that Shi’ism was acceptable. This was reversed in 1996. Anti-Shia fatwas were issued in various states in subsequent years. This is contrary to the views of leading Islamic scholars, like the Shaykh Al-Azhar and Shaykh Qaradawi, from around the world. Now, Shia Muslims are detained and harassed by Malaysian authorities, their places of worship raided. Hate speech is also allowed to circulate.

“The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this,” said Dr Farid. And it’s to a “very great” extent, he claimed.

The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this

I went online to see for myself. A quick search led me to posts and comments on social media and Youtube which demonised Shia Muslims as monkeys, satanic, kafir, sesat, and so on. There’s also a public Facebook group called Melayu Singapura Tolak Syiah (Singapore Malays reject Shi’ism) with over 1,800 members.

It’s not just online. A trip to some Muslim bookstores along North Bridge Road and Geylang Serai revealed some questionable material on Shi’ism – mostly from Malaysia – like this book for example:

Self-flagellation as shown on the cover was outlawed decades back by the highest Shia Muslim religious authorities, said Mr Habib. The blurb describes the book’s contents as a “clear” outline of the “ideological background, and threats posed by Shi’ism against the true Islam… a warning against falling prey to the calls of the Shi’ites.”

There are legitimate doctrinal differences to discuss but “usually these anti-Shia books present a caricature and attack that caricature… it’s substandard scholarship,” said Dr Farid. Traditionally in the Malay- Muslim world, he said, the majority “Sunnis are not anti-Shia” to the extent it is now. There are many reasons for this shift.

One reason is “the rise of more extremist Ulama (religious scholars) influenced by Salafism” which in turn is “partly related to the greater influence of Saudi Arabia in Malaysian affairs”, he said. Salafist anti-Shia propaganda from Saudi Arabia spread in response to the Iranian revolution in 1979 which saw a secular government replaced by a Shi’ite-oriented leadership.

While there is extremism in many branches of Islam, including Shi’ism, Dr Farid believes “Salafism is the most dominant form of extremism in the Muslim world today”. He stressed however that “the vast majority of Salafis do not condone physical violence and are in fact against terrorism”. He meant extremist “in the sense that” it is too “exclusivist” and “legalistic” to the extent that even Sunni branches of Islam like Sufism are also considered deviant and dangerous. That said, Salafists are Muslims and he is “not a fan of banning” them.

Exclusivism, or the idea that there is only one narrow interpretation of Islam, is at the heart of the discomfort with Shias. This poster from 2015 for example advertised a seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the “dangers of Shi’ism”:

Seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the dangers of Shi’ism to be held on the Deepavali holiday.

It’s not clear if the seminar went ahead or whether anyone had complained to the authorities.

It’s more difficult to hold such seminars now. Since Jan 1 this year, all religious teachers must register under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) to ensure what is taught takes Singapore’s context into account.

According to the Code of Ethics which must be followed, an Islamic teacher “must recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam and may choose to adopt and teach any of these” so long as it does not cause public disorder. Also teachers cannot claim any practice of Islam is “deviant or unacceptable” unless the “Fatwa Committee has pronounced it to be so in a ruling”.

This is good methinks but more can be done. Given what is found in some bookstores, on social media, and the personal accounts by Shia Muslim Singaporeans, it’s clear that anti-Shia sentiments in Singapore are not insignificant. While such sentiments cannot be banned out of existence, stereotypes that fuel bigotry need to be engaged directly by religious and community leaders of all stripes together along with the community.

MUIS’ azatizah code of ethics recognises that there are “diverse opinions and schools of thought” in Islam. Maybe MUIS can consider having exhibitions and seminars presenting the diversity of Islamic thought at the various mosques – a grassroots education programme. Intra-faith dialogues at mosques would also be a good start.

Recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam

There is a view that addressing differences in plain view – even if not sensationalised like the Imam video case – will blow the issue out of proportion riling people up unnecessarily. I think this misses the heart of the problem.

The point of the ARS is to ensure Islamic teaching is contextualised to our own society. But foreign celebrity preachers have the largest social media presence. Who vets them? Some like Zakir Naik are controversial and are banned from speaking here.

Yet through videos and social media posts, the ideas flow unchallenged, freely, online, publicly. Closed door engagement will never come close to the reach of viral videos. We risk having only one narrow interpretation of Islam dominating, that too a foreign one. Islam’s diversity in Singapore should be actively defended.

So public engagement should supplement closed door sessions. No doubt some will see engagement as a direct challenge and get upset. But it’s cowardly and wrong to stand by quietly while bigotry festers. Let’s take a stand, please.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by George Khoo

I saw the signs a couple of months before my daughter’s wedding. The year running up to this point had been rough. I was feeling upset, tired, irritable and angry almost every day. I teared up easily and was constantly thinking negative thoughts, sometimes even suicidal ones.

Even though I was so tired most days, I wasn’t able to sleep properly, often waking up in the wee hours of the morning. How I felt added to my fatigue, frustration, hopelessness, guilt and feelings of worthlessness.

While the truth that I was clinically depressed started to sink in, I was probably still in denial and hoped that with time, rest and exercise, things would improve. However, it just got worse and the low moods and negative thoughts persisted.

Part of the reason for not seeking help early was because I’m from the medical profession. I felt that admitting that I needed help would not reflect well on me – a healthcare provider who’s not even able to care for himself.

 

How did it get this bad?

It wasn’t the volume of work that affected me most but the issues in my relationships. I have always tried to live peacefully with my fellow man and it’s not in my nature to confront others. However, the leadership roles I’ve taken up at work and in my church have increasingly put me into situations that require confrontation.

I had patients that year that I expected would be grateful to me but turned around to question me on the wisdom of the recommendations I had made with their best interests at heart. I had a colleague who was pushing me to pursue something I was not comfortable with. And I had to confront people who had made wrong choices and required disciplinary action. Meanwhile, in church, a man told me to my face that he wanted me to step down as a church leader.

The worst was when a leader at work, unhappy with a policy I was trying to revise, accused me of being more interested in systems and policies than in caring for patients. I had spent sleepless nights worrying for my patients and trying to get them good healthcare and while what the leader said was absurd, it really hurt to hear him say that to me.

All of this played into my feelings of worthlessness and frustration, causing me to feel even more irritable and upset than I already was.

 

An unusual sense of loss

At some point, however, I realised that these were not the only causes for what I was feeling. It dawned on me that a big factor was the prospect of ‘losing’ my precious daughter once she gets married. That year, we must have attended close to 10 other weddings and I dreaded going to them because they just reminded me that soon, I was to give away my own daughter. Each wedding became more and more difficult to attend and the worst was the one two weeks before her wedding. I teared throughout the wedding thinking of what it was going to be like on that day!

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I was unable to make sense of how depressed this made me feel until I read Unmasking Male Depression by Archibald D. Hart:

“Then there was the time when my first daughter was going to be married. I found myself quite depressed a few months before the wedding. Finally, it dawned on me that my little girl was saying goodbye to me in favour of a young man who was not part of me. Like it or not, being excited for my daughter was not enough to overcome my sense of sadness. I was facing a loss that could never be replaced. There were those who said to me, “You’re not losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law.” What a ridiculous idea! What I was losing could not be counterbalanced by what I was gaining. Every father of a daughter knows that a son-in-law does not equal a daughter!”

Coming across that passage was like hitting the jackpot (not that I play). Finally, someone understood how I was feeling – he had been through the same thing and knew how I felt.

 

Getting help

I finally plucked up the courage to make an appointment with a psychiatrist to confirm my own suspicion. I needed to know for sure, to be fair to my family and my loved ones. In any case, I had reached a point where not much else mattered and I wasn’t bothered about the stigma associated with taking anti-depressants 

I had reached a point where not much else mattered and I wasn’t bothered about the stigma associated with taking anti-depressants

I was put on Lexapro (escitalopram) and during my review, three and half months after my first appointment, my psychiatrist doubled my dosage. I was definitely feeling better in terms of having less frequent thoughts of hopelessness and a stop to the suicidal thoughts but I was not “walking on clouds”. About a week later, I distinctly remember waking up one morning and thinking: “Oh, this is what it feels to be normal?” That morning, after many months of feeling down, moody and negative, I felt that burden lift. My medication was working well.

The other thing that helped me greatly was reading the Bible and other Christian literature on depression and burnout. I found them to be great in creating self-awareness and for self-therapy.

 

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”Psalm 27:13-14

“Despite being a dedicated gospel-hearted Christian who preached grace, the truth is that I was dangerously close to living a gospel of works, not grace.” – Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout

“The surprising truth is that the person who pauses long enough to refresh his soul along the way actually becomes more alert, more alive, more efficient.” – W. Phillip Keller, Strength of Soul

 

The other main factor on my road to recovery was the tremendous support given to me by my beloved wife and family. At the end of our family holiday, six weeks before my daughter’s wedding, I decided to be open with them at the airport while waiting for our flight back to Singapore. I am thankful that they took it very well and were very encouraging.

My wife, who knew my struggles all throughout, was a pillar of strength when my whole world was crumbling emotionally. She is not only my best confidante and my best friend, she also makes me laugh and reminded me to rest. She was ever patient with me when I was negative and moody and even scratches my back to help me sleep! God gave her the strength and grace to put up with me.

It’s been a two and a half year journey and while my psychiatrist has encouraged me to try weaning off the Lexapro, I realise that as long as I am in my current role, in church and at work, it would not be possible. I have tried weaning it off but have had to go back on my medication rather quickly. Nonetheless, my dosage has halved and my recovery has been steady.

Having been through the worst periods has helped me to be more disciplined about taking regular breaks. Now, I take a week off every three to four months and am intentional about observing the weekly Sabbath as a time of rest from work. As the writer Christopher Ash puts it in Zeal without Burnout, “God needs no day off. But I am not God, and I do.”

 

Stigma

I have chosen to be open about the fact that I am still on anti-depressants because there is a need to remove the stigma associated with it. In Singapore and in this part of the world, to be on anti-depressants is still very much taboo. Thankfully, I work in a Christian organization that fully understands and supports my stand. However, other employers may not be as understanding and that is probably one of the main reasons why people do not speak up – the fear of losing their jobs or not getting one should they be honest.

While it is probably too idealistic to expect no discrimination at all, I hope that we can help employers be open to accepting applicants with a history of mental illness but are stable on medication. They should be at least considered in the same way as those with other chronic illnesses such as hypertension or diabetes. As long as they are capable of performing the tasks and do not pose a danger to themselves or others, they should be given equal opportunities.

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; 
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. – Psalm 16:6

 

Dr George Khoo is a general practitioner in his late 50’s and serves as the Medical Advisor for a Christian organisation. George is married to Mabel and has two grown up children, both happily married. George and Mabel have a newborn grandchild and are expecting a second within the next few weeks.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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IF RUNNING a country is like building a house of cards, then perhaps there is one card that is more crucial than the others: Religion.

Few other forces have the kind of power religion does – that can either uplift the masses or stir hate. In dealing with this, governments tend to take a tough stance. We saw this play out in Singapore, when an Imam was fined $4,000 and repatriated for making offensive remarks about Christians and Jews.

Many of the world’s biggest countries try to keep religion in check through warnings and restrictions, according to a report released by the Pew Research Centre on Apr 13. But where there is fear, others see opportunity – some politicians are using religion as their trump card in the road to power.

And the past month has brought us no shortage of instances where the ‘R’ word changed the way politicians govern and people vote.

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1. Jakarta, Indonesia: In Anies vs. Ahok, hardliners triumph

Newly-elected Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan addresses worshippers at a mosque. Image from Mr Anies Baswedan’s Facebook page.

In a tight race for the governor of Jakarta, the once-popular incumbent Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or ‘Ahok’, lost his seat to contender Mr Anies Baswedan. Being a Christian politician in a Muslim-majority country had already put Mr Basuki in a precarious position – receiving constant fire from hardliners against his leadership.

And the hate campaign eventually tipped his tightrope over, when Mr Basuki found himself before a judge, accused of blaspheming Islam. The damage was too great, and the votes swung in favour of Mr Anies, a moderate Muslim who has met with hardline Islamists.

The election has been widely regarded as a litmus test for pluralism in Indonesia, which till recently, has been regarded a role model for religious tolerance. But a growing conservative movement in the establishment may upset this.

According to the Setara Institute, which monitors civil freedoms in the country, acts of religious intolerance rose by nearly 15 per cent from 2015 to 2016. Over half of the cases implicated government and military officials.

 

2. Paris, France: Once taboo, religion is now a talking point

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Image by Flickr user Global Panorama. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The French have had a grand tradition of keeping religion strictly personal, and well away from the political arena. But in this year’s presidential election, there are new kids on the block – and new rules to play by.

Far right candidate Marine Le Pen has brought religion to the front and center of the debate stage, with her extreme views against Islam, Judaism and other minority religions. Ms Le Pen has compared Muslim prayers to the Nazi invasion, while her aides are accused of Holocaust denial.

Meanwhile, main contender Emmanuel Macron has issued a rallying cry for secularism – except that his voice is barely as loud as the rhetoric of Ms Le Pen. With the ongoing refugee crisis and spate of terrorist attacks across Europe, far-right views on religion are more popular than ever.

Whether France will face the same outcome as Jakarta remains to be seen.

 

3. Moscow, Russia: Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Constitutional Court of Russia. Image by Савин А. С. from Wikimedia Commons.

“The supreme court’s ruling to shut down the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia,” said Ms Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Religious freedom in Russia is questionable and with the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses (April 20), hopes of religious freedom in Russia continue to fall short. Claiming more than 170,000 adherents in Russia, the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a restorationist Christian denomination with beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity, including a denial of the Holy Trinity.

Russia’s supreme court has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating in the country, accepting a request from the justice ministry that the religious organization be considered an extremist group. The court ordered the closure of the group’s Russian headquarters and its 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property.

Days after the imposition of the ban, Russia was labelled a “country of particular concern” by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It is the first time that Russia has been designated among the highest tier of violators of religious freedom. It joins 15 other countries, including Iran, Syria, Nigeria, Burma and China.

 

4. Beijing, China: Warning against “foreign infiltration” through religion

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Image by Flickr user Michel Temer. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Communist party members must adhere to Marxist principles and remain “staunchly atheist”, President Xi Jinping insisted on Apr 24. It appears that China is clamping down on religious freedom in the country. To justify the clampdown, Mr Xi emphasised that China must be on guard against foreign infiltration through religion and stop “extremists” spreading their ideology.

The ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate. The Chinese government is increasingly concerned about the perceived growing influence by Islamists in the Xinjiang region. Officials there have tightened enforcement of regulations banning overt signs of religious observance, like veils or beards. Separately, some Chinese Christians say that authorities are limiting their activities and taking down crosses on churches in coastal Zhejiang province.

China has historically followed ancient religions like Buddhism and Taoism for about 2,000 years, according to China’s State Council. But the country’s belief systems have become increasingly diverse. According to a map published by Reuters in 2015, based on information from Professor Fanggang Yang, the director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, China’s monotheistic religions, including Islam and Christianity, are beginning to occupy a significant proportion of the country.

Breakdown of Religion in China. Image by Reuters.

 

5. Ankara, Turkey: Religion propels Erdogan to victory

A 2016 pro-Erdogan rally in Istanbul, Turkey. Image by Flickr user Mike Norton. CC BY 2.0.

On Apr 17, a slim majority of Turks granted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broad powers, including the autonomy to choose the majority of senior judges and absolute discretion in dismissing Parliament. The role of the Prime Minister will also be removed.

And for many Turks who voted in favour of the president, religion was a key factor. Since the end of World War I, Turkey has been a constitutionally secular state, meaning that even though 99 per cent of residents are Muslim, there is no official state religion. However, this has left some rural voters disillusioned, especially by rules that forbade women working in the civil service and military from wearing headscarves.

President Erdogan, the political protege of a former Islamist politician, lifted the headscarf restrictions, and has since taken the country in a different direction. Last year, the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate declared that it would be “illicit” for Muslims to celebrate the Western new year. Rules on alcohol consumption have also been tightened, a move that would have been unthinkable up till recently.

With the result, President Erdogan may remain in power till 2029.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Ben McLeod. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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by Jonathan Leong

THERE is a new app in town for the Catholic community. Called CatholicSG and launched last Thursday (Nov 17), it’s the official Archdiocese app for Catholics in Singapore. Apart from providing information to devotees and teaching them more about the faith, the app also complements the Archdiocese’s official website and social media platforms.

You can download it for free, from Google Play Store for Android users, and Apple’s App Store for IOS users. The app has had more than 1,000 downloads since it was launched.

Some users said that features such as the directory for churches have come in handy when looking for a nearby church to attend mass. Others say that the app’s religious readings, reflections and prayer guides make learning about the faith much easier. For example, the app also has religious reflections by Archbishop William Goh, and includes a calendar that helps devotees keep track of religious events and dates.

One downside of the app is that it does not include a fully digitised version of the Bible. It is limited to daily readings for the day’s church service.

The CatholicSG app is the latest in a number of new mobile apps designed to help the faithful in Singapore practise their faith. There’s the Muslim Pro app for Muslims that was launched in 2010. It features prayer timings, locations of nearby mosques, and even halal eateries.

Then there’s The Ultimate Buddhism Library app for Buddhists which contains 50 books on Buddhism.

Here’s a list of some available apps for followers of different faiths:

 

CatholicSG

cat

Image is a screenshot from the CatholicSG App website

The app is an all-rounder app that includes daily reflections, readings, and information such as church services and their timings. The app however, does not include a digitised copy of the Bible. App users have said that they are happy with the information provided by the app.

The free app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here, or from the Play Store (Android) here.

 

Our Daily Bread

Image is a screenshot from the Play Store website

The app is free and offers users bible readings which they can download and read offline, making it easier for on the go use. Reviewers have said that while the monthly updates for the readings can be an issue, most enjoy the daily availability of religious readings.

The free app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here, or from the Play Store (Android) here.

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Muslim Pro

muslim

Image is a screenshot from the iTunes website

The app has a digitised version of the Quran. Prayer timings, as well as notifications for said prayers, are also available. It also has the fasting timetable for the period of Ramadan and a compass to show the direction of Mecca for prayers. Most users that reviewed the app welcomed the multitude of functions that the app provides.

The free app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here, or from the Play Store here (Android).

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QamarDeen

Image is a screenshot from the Play Store website

The free app helps to keep track of a devotee’s religious life, from prayer to fasting and helps to provide an analysis of the user’s behaviour. Users have said that the app works as advertised and they have been able to improve their religious lives because of it.

The free app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here, or from the Play Store here (Android).

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The Ultimate Buddhism Library

buddhist2

Image is a screenshot from the iTunes website

The app offers a range of 50 Buddhist books for the user. It is cited as an app that is suitable even for people that are new to the religion.

The app costs $0.99 and can only be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here.

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Buddhist Meditation Trainer

buddhist

Image is a screenshot from the Play Store website

The app features 10 levels of enlightenment accompanied with quotes to meditate on in every level. The app includes a meditation timer and audio cues to facilitate meditation. Reviewers have said that the app has helped to relieve stress.

The free app can only be downloaded from the Play Store (Android) here.

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Taoism

Image is a screenshot from the Play Store website

The app gives users quotes from classic Taoist philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi. The app comes with a widget that allows users the option to view quotes outside of the app, on their home screen and lock screen, every day. Reviewers have said that the quotes have inspired them. A few however said that they experienced difficulty setting up the app’s widget.

The free app can only be downloaded from the Play Store (Android) here.

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Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu 

Image is a screenshot from the App Store website

This app offers users an English translation of the classical Taoist book, Tao Te Ching. Users can select their favourite excerpts and share them with family and friends via email. However, they have to pay for full access. The free version only grants access to the first 20 passages.

The app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here and the paid version which cost $8.98 can be downloaded here.

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Hindu Gods And History

Image is a screenshot from the App Store website

The app helps people understand the different Hindu deities and festivals. It also comes with a Hindu calendar. While the app includes various videos and images to explain the religion, some reviewers felt it might be too brief to provide a comprehensive understanding of the religion.

The free app can be downloaded from the App Store (IOS) here, or from the Play Store (Android) here.

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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Najeer Yusof

FOR the past four years Muslim foreign workers from the dormitories along Kian Teck Avenue have been gathering along the pavements to pray the Eid Adha prayers. Since the nearest mosque is quite a distance from their dormitories, they have decided to organise their own prayers, just outside their dormitories.

There are about 2,000 Muslim foreign workers and a total of three different groups organising the prayers. Each group prays at a different time slot to cater to the population. TMG observed the group that conducted their prayers along Kian Teck Cresent. They began laying the canvas and setting up the sound system at around 6.30am and the prayers commenced at 7.30am.

 

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SERMON: The sermon for Eid Adha prayers are read from this book. They are in Arabic and come with Bengali translations. Two sermons were read out for the Eid Adha prayers. These sermons are similar to those read in all the mosques in Bangladesh.

 

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SOUND SYSTEM: A speaker secured to the trunk of a tree using raffia string. The Imam, who leads the prayers, wears a microphone set around his neck, as he delivers the sermon and the prayer commands. There are two speakers placed along the street to magnify the Imam’s dictation for the huge turnout of foreign workers. About 1,000 Muslim workers joined the prayers today and that has been the average turnout.

 

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NEW CLOTHES: A fellow worker ties a turban around the cap of his friend before heading for prayers. The wearing of the turban around the cap was a practice of Prophet Muhammad. Turbans have been worn by the Arabs even before Islam was adopted and the turban is worn in a reversed manner, with excess cloth hanging at the back of the turban for shielding’s one’s face during sandstorms.

 

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THE IMAM: Mr Mohammad Botchan, 26, has led both the Eid Adha and Eid Fitr prayers for four years. He has memorised the entire Quran, as part of his Islamic Studies in Bangladesh. After his parents passed away, he had to support his siblings and decided to come to Singapore to work as the pay was better. Since Islamic Studies would not land him a job in Singapore, he acquired the skills of piping and welding in Bangladesh. He came to Singapore in 2009 and has been working for Alpha Engineering Private Limited, in Keppel Shipyard, for seven years. “Anyone can come and pray. The police watch us every day, as we conduct our daily prayers here too, but there is no problem. The Singapore Government also understands that we are only conducting prayers and not misleading anyone. We just want to encourage our fellow men to continue practising the teachings of Islam and not be misled,” said Mr Botchan. Mr Botchan was able to get his siblings married off after coming to work in Singapore and plans to get married in Bangladesh after his work permit expires in July.

 

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ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS: Muslim foreign workers crying as they ask for forgiveness. After the prayer, the Imam leads the rest with asking for forgiveness and seeking blessings. This portion is done with the cupping of both hands as a symbol, and one can ask God for anything he wishes.

 

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‘EID MUBARAK’: Muslim foreign workers from the first group embracing one another after the prayers and wishing each other a blessed Eid Adha, as the second group, also about 1,000 strong, prepares for their prayers. There were two groups led by different Imams and they led their prayers at different time slots, one at 7.30am and another at 8am. The different time slots were to cater for the huge population of Muslim foreign workers from all the dormitories along Kian Teck Avenue.

 

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MEALTIME: Muslim foreign workers from the first group enjoying a meal together after the prayers. One of the fellow workers prepared the meal in the morning before the prayers. The meal was served in huge round plates and the workers sat in groups of fives, around each plate.

 

All images by Najeer Yusof.

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

BUILDING on his remarks on Tuesday, when he strongly condemned the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida which killed 49 people, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam is again stressing that there should be no tolerance against inflammatory comments on race and religion in Singapore. Pointing to the call by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and for some mosques to be put under surveillance, as well as to the anti-Islamic rhetoric of extremist political parties in Europe, Mr Shanmugam said that: “People aspiring to leadership positions should not do this – dividing their societies and alienating their Muslim communities.”

And since racial and religious harmony is “fragile, but precious”, the politicisation of race and religion in Singapore is “unacceptable” and “morally reprehensible”, the minister added.

A way to preserve or strengthen this harmony is for community and religious leaders in the country to condemn acts of violence perpetrated in the name of any religion, and to reject ideologies which may stoke hatred. At an interfaith dialogue organised by private-sector initiative Corporate Citizen Foundation, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman – noting attempts by terrorists and radicals who see multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore as an “attractive target” – said that “It is also important for our religious leaders to provide the moral compass and guidance for followers in practising religion within the context of multi-religious Singapore”, beyond mere tolerance of other religions.

Community projects could strengthen such harmony too, it would appear. The annual charity drive of self-help group Yayasan Mendaki this year focused on reading and the celebration of knowledge, with the distribution of book hampers. And across breaking fast events, Singaporeans of different faiths were brought together, while a “cultural heritage race” in Geylang Serai saw 20 non-Malay race participants learning more about the Malay-Muslim community. Over at the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, a book to help pre-schoolers find out about various racial and religious festivals was launched. Written in Chinese, children will learn language and culture through such festivals and tradition, and there are plans to eventually translate the book into English, Malay, and Tamil versions.

And finally in other news, the Singapore Institute of Technology – which wants to focus more on science and technology will stop offering its full-time degree on early childhood education, while SIM University will introduce a full-time four-year degree course in early childhood education from August next year, where experiential learning will also be emphasised. Over at the National Gallery, seven months since its official opening, the museum which focuses on art from Singapore and South East Asia welcomed its millionth visitor yesterday.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
The Faith Community Baptist Church in Marine Parade.

by Yen Feng

A CASE of Darwinists versus Goliath? A small group of atheists are taking on the pastor of one of Singapore’s largest churches over an upcoming series of sermons about Christianity, including one titled The Deception of Darwinism, which starts tomorrow.

In a sarcastic letter published on its website and Facebook page yesterday (April 1), the Humanist Society (Singapore) took issue with the sermons’ content, which appears to equate secularity with immorality, and challenge the theory of evolution. Humanists do not believe in God, but in scientific inquiry and the intrinsic value of each human being.

The five sermons are part of a new series called Developing a Christian Worldview, to be delivered this month over five weeks by Mr Lawrence Khong, a part-time magician and full-time senior pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church. He is also the founder of the church, which is one of Singapore’s largest with about 10,000 members.

The letter, titled Open Letter to Lawrence Khong and written by the society’s executive committee, follows a recent video released by the church on its Facebook page which shows Mr Khong introducing the sermon series. Since the video was posted on Tuesday, it has attracted about 15,000 views and 300 shares.

In its letter, the Humanist Society asked if Mr Khong would invite its own speakers to two of his sermons: The Deception of Darwinism, and No God, No Good or Bad. For the first sermon, it offered up four of its members – “a biologist, an anthropologist, a medical doctor, and a general scientist” – to be speakers, saying they would have “much to contribute to a discussion about Darwinism and evolution”.

The society said it was contemplating to attend another sermon, The Stars reveal the Truth, but decided not to, preferring to be “earthbound, as all good humanists know there is only one life on this Earth and we should make the very best of it”.

This is not the first time the Humanist Society has responded publicly to Mr Khong, a former national polo player who has a penchant for using both traditional and online media to evangelise conservative views on religion, homosexuality, and adultery, among other controversial subjects.

In a letter published in The Straits Times’ (ST) Forum page in September 2013, the society’s former president Paul Tobin corrected Mr Khong’s assertion in an ST interview about atheism, that “an atheist is very religious. He has a belief system. He believes there is no God”.

Mr Tobin wrote: “The prefix ‘a’ in front of ‘theism’ does not mean ‘the opposite of’ or ‘against’. It simply refers to the absence of theism. As Ricky Gervais, an atheist comedian, wittily puts it: ‘Saying atheism is a belief system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby. I have never been skiing. It’s my biggest hobby. I literally do it all the time.’”

That same year in 2013, the church attracted public controversy when it fired a pregnant staff member because of her alleged adulterous affair with another married co-worker. The Ministry of Manpower intervened, ordering the church to compensate the worker $7,000, which it did. It then took its case to the High Court, but withdrew its application last year.

Founded in 2010, the Humanist Society has a few hundred members, who identify themselves as “humanists, atheists, agnostics, (and) skeptics”. Since its founding, the society has sought to represent Singapore’s non-religious population and has been involved in discussions organised by the Inter-Religious Organisation of Singapore and the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.

A greater proportion of people in Singapore now identify themselves as having no religion. A report released last month by the Department of Statistics showed about 18.5 per cent of the resident population last year said they had no religious affiliation – up from 17 per cent in 2010.

 

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Casio digital alarm clock showing 8:30
8:30

You are at the MRT station with two schoolmates. You are in your school uniform. Then someone comes by and kicks you in the left thigh. The person swings something heavy in a plastic bag at one of your friends. Your third friend was hit in the eye. What do you do? You’re probably too shocked to react. Maybe you scream for help. Maybe some people come to your aid. After all, it’s 7.20am and there’s bound to be some kind of crowd at Paya Lebar MRT station. Or maybe, you and your friends continue your way to Madrasah Al-Ma’arif Al-Islamiah, which is in Geylang.

It strikes you that this cannot be an April Fool’s joke, some kind of prank. How can a grown man do this to three defenceless girls? In fact, you wonder if this was something that was bound to happen sooner or later. After all, your uniforms mark you out as students in a Madrasah. You and your friends wear the headscarf. The girls wear the tudung, something their counterparts in secular schools are not allowed to do.

You think back to the dialogue that was held three days ago with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. What did he say?

“In Singapore, you’re not going to see violence in the near term or maybe even the medium term, because we take a very strict approach. But what I fear is that as a reaction to all of this that’s going around the world, that the non-Muslim community will start developing a set of attitudes internally. People will be too politically correct to express them but internally they’ll start looking at Muslims differently and that’s something I think will be very destructive to the soul and spirit of Singapore that we’ve created.”

You would rather that people remained politically correct… That blow certainly hurts! You think about the fears that your fellow Muslims have expressed. Some who said that they worry about going to religious classes in mosques. Hah! And these are students in secular schools, not in Madrasahs which offer an Islamic education! There was even an occasion when “Islam murderers” was scribbled at a bus stop in Bukit Panjang.

You are wondering now about the rest of your fellow students in the six full-time Madrasahs here. You hope that they are not going to think that being in uniform makes them targets. You also hope that the opposite won’t happen – that they start becoming even more exclusive and view non-Muslims through a lens of fear. But wait a minute, the non-Muslims are probably looking at the Muslims that way too!

You worry. You are in the minority. You worry about the privileges you have that might now be resented. A Madrasah education is after all a privilege, given what the Chinese population had to give up in the past… People are talking about inter-faith dialogues but this is really preaching to the converted who already know the value of peace and harmony among the races and religions here. Non-Muslims have been advised to proactively reach out to Muslims. Maybe the Madrasahs should do the same too, like having joint CCAs with secular schools?

You nurse the blow to your thigh. You realise it’s not as bad a blow as the one to your psyche. You hope they catch the assailant – and find out what’s behind the attack. You remember the middle-aged man wearing a red T-shirt, light brown bermudas with black boots, and carrying a green backpack and white plastic bag. What was he thinking, hitting three girls?

Meanwhile, somewhere else in Singapore… There was a 13-hour stand-off that began on Thursday night between a suspected drug abuser and the authorities in an Ang Mo Kio flat. The man was holding his mother hostage. Some neighbours had to be evacuated for their safety. No worries, he was arrested in the end and everybody is safe.

And in the Internet world… There is a spat going on between a teen blogger who started a blog documenting the construction of the Thomson Line. He’s closed it down alleging threats made by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) which it, of course, denied.

And all over Singapore, it’s going to be hot and dry for the next two weeks. We know that already but the weatherman is saying so this time.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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Singapore flag with illustration of the silhouette of the HDB.

by Clare Thng

BILINGUALISM, housing and an aging population are just some of the several issues brought to the forefront after yesterday’s release of Singapore General Statistics 2015 household survey. With over 27,000 household participants, the report reveals various characteristics of the resident population and households of Singapore. Upon its release, results of the government survey made it to the headlines of over seven news outlets, including The Straits Times (ST), ChannelNewsAsia (CNA), TODAY, AsiaOne, Singapore Business Review (SBR), Lianhe Zaobao and even international names like ShanghaiDaily.

Under the top news section, The Straits Times ran its headline with “English most common home language in Singapore, bilingualism also up“. It provided substantial coverage of bilingualism and literacy rates, going into detail on the use of English and other dialects in households. Other key household changes such as the proportion of elderly in households and religion affiliation were given a brief overview in the form statistic diagrams.

TODAY’s headlines, on the other hand, read “Greater number of Singaporeans not identifying with any religion” with an entire article on religious affiliation alone. Statistics were based on ethnicity, education levels and racial demographics. Besides a breakdown of the statistics, TODAY aided readers by citing an expert opinion by National University of Singapore sociologist, Tan Ern Ser, on what the trend reflected.

Apart from religion, TODAY expanded on higher rates of home ownership and literacy rates with an article titled “More Singaporeans better educated, own homes“. It noted that the rise in post-secondary qualifications had seen an increment in all ages. Multi-language literacy had also become more prevalent where the proportion of those who can read two or more languages increased.

Headlines on CNA read “More Singaporeans, living in condos, fewer driving cars“. Along with Asiaone and Singapore Business review, all three were anchored on home ownership.

Aside from home ownership and modes of transport, CNA’s report also zoomed in on the ageing population of Singapore. With regard to the rising proportion of elderly in households, they spoke to a sociologist, Dr Paulin Straughan, on the infrastructure and social support needed to “support ageing in place”.

Laying out facts like which race held the highest proportion of home ownership and which were the most popular house types, SBR ran a short piece centred on the home ownership trend.

Out of the three reports, Asiaone had the most extensive coverage of households. Besides the general overview, it noted the shift towards smaller households was “most notable among Malay households, even though the community still had larger households on average than their Chinese and Indian counterparts.” While it had drilled down on education, marriage and transport statistics with several infographics, Asiaone expounded the least on religious affiliation.

Lianhe Zaobao ran a front page story with its headline “significant rise in the proportion of young singles“. It mainly delved into the topics of singlehood, education as well as home ownership, with little mention of religion and transport.

ShanghaiDaily picked up the news from Xinhua news, and its headline similarly reads: “proportion of singles among younger age groups in Singapore“. The report was kept succinct and straightforward by reporting the general statistics of the household survey.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Najeer Yusof

IF YOU want a feel of Singapore’s multiculturalism, there is no need to go further than the doorstep of a HDB flat.

That was a point raised by Mr Ong Ye Kung during his maiden speech in Parliament on Jan 25. As Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), Mr Ong had spoken about the need to forge a strong national identity, and mentioned that during his door to door visits, he noticed various religious symbols on the doors of numerous HDB units.

“Just within one block, I had stood before homes with Quran verses, crucifixes, statues of Ganesh and joss stick urns affixed above or around front doors,” he said.

Two days later, similar sentiments were echoed by Opposition member of parliament Mr Png Eng Huat. He said that these religious symbols signify religious tolerances among neighbours. He also expressed the need to educate the younger generation on racial and religious tolerance in school, so that they can recognise and refrain from adopting dangerous ideologies online.

In an annual reception organised by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), networking group Business China, and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre to celebrate Chinese New Year held two days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam touched on the topic of multiculturalism too.

He said that evolving, adapting and strengthening one’s culture was as important as taking a keen interest in other cultures and participating in them whenever possible. This would not dilute cultural identities or create a fusion of cultures. Instead, it would enable the deepening of Singapore’s multiculturalism, he said.

Back to the doors. We were curious as to exactly how these religious symbols look like and how many there were. So we decided to visit a few HDB blocks around our office in Commonwealth. Here’s what we saw.

HBD montage 1We visited Block 88 in Commonwealth Drive and saw these 12 religious symbols attached to the doors. These were only some of the many symbols that can be found on some of dozens of units in the 10 storey building. These symbols ranged from Christian crosses to Islamic verses, Hindu deities and Taoist Ba Gua mirrors. Since it was approaching the Chinese New Year, some of the doors were also decorated with festive banners. 

HBD montage 3These were 12 out of the many religious symbols that can be found on the unit doors of Block 89, Commonwealth Drive. It was common to find at least two such symbols on every floor. The 10 storey building had various other religious symbols such as Taoist paper talismans, Buddhist and Sikh scriptures. Taoists believe that the paper talismans will protect the occupants from harm and get rid of evil spirits.

HBD montage2These photos were taken from units belonging to Block 45 and 44 in Tanglin Halt Road. These two 10 storey buildings had fewer religious symbols than Block 88 and 89. But we were still able to spot symbols from the various religions, Christianity, Taoism, Islam and Hinduism. There were also doors which had mango leaves hanging on them and pictures of Hindu deities. The mango leaves are believed to attract good fortune to the household. 

 

 

Featured Image by Najeer Yusof.

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