Sunday, 30 August 2009

Singapore’s Secularism – Fast or Feast during Ramadan!

It's good to be a Muslim (or at least a half-Muslim) in Singapore.
During the fasting month of Ramadan, which began a few days ago, I can eat freely in public. If I wish, I can even join friends for a drink in the evening.
Perhaps if I had more (practising) Muslim friends the peer pressure on me to conform may be greater? Until then, I continue to enjoy the unfettered virtues of secularism offered by the Republic.
Like me, my co-religionists in Singapore can choose to fast or feast depending on their own personal inclination.
Unfortunately, the noose of religiosity is slowly tightening among our neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. The freedom of choice is moving away from an individual's conscience to a blind enforcement of collective social values.
The Malaysian state of Selangor has now empowered mosque officials to detain and arrest Muslims caught drinking alcohol in public or eating, drinking and smoking during Ramadan. In Indonesia, under pressure from Islamic groups the police have dropped a plan to monitor Friday sermons despite evidence that some preach hatred and violence.
Let's be clear, religious clerics in the form of Imams have just been handed judicial powers by the Malaysian state of Selangor!
If Malaysia continues on this path then it is only a matter of time before a Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Discouragement of Vice (a la Saudi Arabia) comes into being.
The month of Ramadan is perhaps the greatest expression of the importance of secularism in a multi-religious society like Singapore.  
Singapore's legal framework must continue to ensure that civil liberties of all citizens are protected. This is especially crucial in light of the increasing religiosity that pervades the countries surrounding our Little Red Dot.
In due course, I will answer to Allah why I violated His edicts.
Until that day, I am not prepared to justify my behaviour to someone who feels they can appropriate God's role in this material world – no matter how long their beard.


  1. Amen brother.

    I, too, personally feel that I and I alone shall be answerable to God come Judgement Day. I don't need anyone telling how to practice the religion (unless of course I'm clearly violating the teachings of the Holy Book). Whatever I do, that's between me and God.

  2. Hi Mustafa,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to post a comment.

    I am glad we agree that religion is an extremely personal matter and one of individual conscience. I would suggest that even if someone is clearly violating religious edicts then a gentle reminder 1-2 times is sufficient for you to have done your duty.

    There is no compulsion in religion and if someone is unwilling or unable to reform then we will not be responsible for their behaviour.

    I hope you will continue to read my blog and I look forward to your comments again in the future.

    Kind regards,


  3. Verse 256 of Surah Al-Barqarah begins: "La ikrah fid-deen", translation, there shall be no coercion in religion or matters of faith. According to the commentary on this verse by Muhammad Asad, a most respected Islamic scholar, the Arabic word "deen" used in this verse for "religion or faith", encompasses the contents of the religious doctrine as well as an individual's compliance with the laws of said religion in day-to-day practice. The word "deen" therefore signifies "religion" in its widest sense: its doctrine, its practice and the attitude of its adherents towards the object of worship. Mohammad Asad, in his commentary, goes on to say that on the strength of this verse, all Islamic jurists are unanimous in their opinion that forcible conversion to Islam or enforced practice of its tenets or practices are categorically prohibited and a grievous sin. Self-appointed guardians of Islam, whether in Malaysia or elsewhere, should take note and read their Quran more carefully.

  4. Hi Saadia,

    Thanks again for visiting and taking the time to post such a useful and important comment.

    I know that the Asad commentaries are highly regarded among Islamic jurists so his interpretation carries a lot of weight among Islamic scholars.

    As you may note from many of my posts, I am becoming increasingly morose about events in Malaysia. I almost have a sense of 'deja vu' - as if I have seen all this play out before in Pakistan.

    I am also very, very concerned about the spillover into Singapore.

    As you know, Singapore already has a parallel judiciary for Muslims (half-Muslims or not) and with the 'race based politics' prevalent in the region I am afraid that Singapore may start to devolve more powers to MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) and its Mufti to further regulate the lives of Muslims in Singapore.

    You may be interested to note that I have corresponded with MUIS about a number of 'Malay' specific issues, i.e. the practice of female circumcision and the burying of a new born's placenta. You can expect to read more about both in the future.

    It is really nice of you to take the time to educate me (and other readers) about the specific Koranic verse which empowers those of us who are fighting the creeping spread of peer pressure among the region's Islamic communities.

    Please do keep visiting and commenting.

    Kind regards,


  5. I would love to see you write about female circumcision. It is a horrific barbaric practice, an African tribal custom, justified as Islamic, just as honour killings are in Pakistan, that have absolutely no basis in the Quran or Hadith. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  6. Hi Saadia,

    You are preaching to the converted!

    I think you will enjoy the article when it finally appears.

    Incidentally, the number of horror killings in countries like Jordan and even Turkey rival the numbers coming out of Pakistan. It is a far more widespread practice than one may presume.

    Kind regards,