Singapore's historic Sultan Mosque is visited by one hundred Japanese tourists every day. Special Japanese language tours are conducted by two Japanese Muslim converts who reside in Singapore.
Singapore is a young nation, still writing its history. As far as mosques go, the Masjid Sultan is a fairly orthodox example of an onion domed mosque.
Singapore's oldest mosque, the Masjid Sultan, is located on Muscat Street
Within Malaya, it is an old mosque. Construction was completed in 1928. The present mosque stands on the site of the original mosque which was built in 1826 by Sultan Hussain Shah of Johor. The mosque was situated next to the Sultan's palace.
Ironically, the mosque was funded by the East India Company which had found its way into the region by the early 1800s.
However, it is the story of the Japanese converts that attracted my attention to the article.
Conversion to Islam is a painful process in Singapore. At least that is my understanding. There are classes to attend and tests to pass.
Other than the fact that I may not make the grade myself, I have some gripes about the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's (MUIS) views on conversion and marriage.
(MUIS must be tired of my ranting and raving but what can I do? I have a religious obligation to speak the truth as I see it!)
Firstly, conversion to Islam should not be a difficult process. Conversion should be encouraged and not discouraged. Singapore's system seems better designed to scare people away from Islam.
In the late 1970s, a Scotsman converted to Islam. His motivation was to marry my sister and meet the only condition laid down by my father before he blessed the union.
The conversion was conducted during a simple ceremony at London's Regents Park Mosque. He testified to his belief in the unity of Allah and the finality of the Prophethood, i.e. Mohammad as the last Prophet.
Poof! He became a Muslim. Nothing further is required to embrace Islam by any individual; certainly no tests.
A clearer understanding of Islamic theology and practices follows over time. For all Muslims, old and new, religion is a lifelong journey. It involves guidance but is a voluntary journey. A voyage each person makes at her own pace. Islam and one's relationship with God is an intensely personal affair.
In fact, Pakistani soldiers (and civilians) are dying in order to subdue mad clerics for many reasons. Amongst them is the simple fact that forcing a man to grow a beard or pray at a mosque with gun at his back does not make a society more Islamic.
On the contrary, the act of coercion is itself un-Islamic.
My second bone of contention with MUIS concerns the marriage of a Muslim male to a Christian or Jewish female. MUIS does not permit such inter-religious marriages. In Singapore, they can only occur under the auspices of Singapore's civil courts.
MUIS has confirmed that Islamic law permits marriage between a Muslim male and a Christian or Jewish female.
Lawful unto you in marriage are not only chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book [Christians and Jews], revealed before your time.
Surah 5:5 (Al-Maidah)
Subsequently, MUIS provided no clear reason explaining why such inter-religious marriages are not recognized. In fact, they stopped corresponding with me and invoked the Official Secrets Act.
Clearly, this is an example of the boundaries between Malay cultural practices and Islamic law being blurred.
To my existing list of rants about Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act one can now add two more.
Conversion to Islam is a privilege for the one doing the converting. My sister has almost certainly reserved a place in heaven for bringing another into the fold! The conversion process must be made as easy as possible, not a potentially intimidating process.
Inter-religious marriage between Muslim males and Christian or Jewish females is consistent with Islamic law. MUIS and Singapore's Sharia courts should recognize such marriages. If ultra conservative Wahabi clerics recognize such marriages then I fail to comprehend what rationale MUIS uses to justify its stand.
The Tokyo Mosque, constructed in Turkish style, replete with minaret
In its true form, Islam is an open and tolerant religion. Even drinking alcohol may not permanently shut the door to heaven, so I hope!
Perhaps I am reading too much into a simple case of tourists visiting mosques. Maybe the Japanese just wish to view a minaret. Minarets, after all, are as rare in Japan as they are in Switzerland.
PS – Unfortunately, Islamic law does not grant Hinduism and Buddhism the same status as the People of the Book. Thus, under Islamic law, a Muslim male cannot marry a Hindu or Buddhist woman. However, do note that one of my (many) first cousins married a Balinese Hindu woman. I imagine that God in His infinite mercy tends to overlook certain mortal flaws caused by Love.