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Hari Raya Haji

Date : 17 November 2010

Hari Raya Haji

Hari Raya Haji marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage period and is called the 'Festival of the Pilgrimage'. It is celebrated 2 months after Aidilfitri and is in the 12th month of the Muslim Calendar. Learn more about by Hari Raya Haji clicking here.

The Straits Times - Breaking with tradition

21 November 2010

Muslims new to Singapore may find local cultural traditions as foreign as Muslim Singaporeans find theirs. Yen Feng finds out how four families - originally from Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia - usually celebrate Hari Raya Haji in their own countries, and how they did so in Singapore last week, all for the first time.

Not only are there more foreign- born Muslims in Singapore, but many are also taking a more active role in the community.

In the last few years, mosques and cultural groups have reported a steady increase in such membership.

Among these groups, people from Bangladesh form one of the fastest-growing communities. Figures from the High Commission of Bangladesh have shown a net increase of 20,000 every year since 2008. There are at present about 100,000 Bangladeshi nationals, with more than 90 per cent of them Muslim.

There is no available data on the number of foreign-born Muslims over the years. But current estimates indicate that two in seven of the roughly 750,000 Muslims are foreign-born.

Mr Imran Nasrullah, secretary of the Singapore Pakistani Association, estimates that there are currently 450 Pakistani families, up 10 per cent from three years ago.

Meanwhile, the number of Turks in Singapore has increased from about 300 in 2008 to 450 now, said the director of the Turkish Cultural Centre, Mr Necmettin Eskici.

And although Saudis remain a small community, the number of students from that country has doubled from 12 to 25 over the last two years.

Interviews with a number of mosques bear out the trend of more foreigners among their worshippers.

Muslim leaders were unable to give definite numbers with regard to the size of their foreign-born congregation, but they said the increase was discernible from the number of foreign-born volunteers who turn up to help out during such occasions as Hari Raya Haji last week.

At the Assyakirin Mosque in Jurong, for example, the number of Bangladeshi volunteers doubled to 200 this year, from 100 in 2008.

This growing trend had prompted Mr Alami Musa, president of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), to call on local Muslims last year to be more tolerant of foreign-born Muslims.

In 2008, Muis founded a project called the New Singaporean Muslim Group.

The project pairs foreign-born groups with local mosques. Both parties then work out ways to meet their social and religious needs.

Earlier this year, several such groups - including the Singapore Pakistani Association and the Turkish Cultural Centre - got together for the first time to deliver food hampers to needy local Muslims during the Ramadan month.

Said Mr Nasrullah: 'We are part of the Singapore society. As one with other Muslims, we want to be equal participants in giving back to our community.'


A festive atmosphere stretching kilometres

It is the same Muslim ritual - the slaughter of an animal as a cleansing act. But while locals in Singapore use sheep or goats, Mr Tareq Mohammad Atiqur Rashid, a Bangladeshi, said cattle are preferred back home.

The 37-year-old added that the atmosphere in his country, on the day before the slaughter begins, would be similar to a 'pasar malam' (night market) here. 'In Bangladesh, farmers take their cattle to the nearest town and, on the eve of Hari Raya Haji, thousands of people are at these markets, looking around, bargaining - all night long.'

Mr Tareq, a safety quality manager for a shipping company, moved here in 2007 with his wife and two young children. They are permanent residents.

He used to live in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. While he and his two brothers walk 7km to the market, they would catch up with one another and take their time picking out a cow.

The markets there are usually set up in open fields and stretch for several kilometres.

'It's part of our tradition, just as in Singapore, you have your tradition too.'

In Singapore, livestock is brought in by a state-appointed vendor and distributed to mosques, and the animals are sacrificed on the day of Hari Raya Haji.

This is the first time Mr Tareq and his family are away from their home country during the religious holiday. 'Every year we had gone back, but not this year,' he said.

Instead, the family spent the holiday at home with close friends after visiting a mosque for morning prayers.

Mr Tareq said he did not slaughter any animals last week. 'I prefer to pick my own - and I still prefer cows.'


Ritual slaughter a grand affair at home

Back in Turkey, Mr Serdar Candemir's father would plan ahead of Hari Raya Haji.

While many other families buy their ritual sheep only a day or two ahead, his father would have bought his sometimes up to four months in advance.

'He would take the sheep to a farm in the mountains and collect it when it was time,' said the 34-year-old Turk, who moved to Singapore as a bachelor in 2007.

'I grew up in a small town, so my father knew some people who he knew would take good care of the sheep.

'He always thought the meat tasted better when the sheep is free to eat what it wants in the mountains,' said the marketing executive.

Hari Raya Haji was always a grand affair because the ritual slaughter took place at home, he added.

The first day was the most important. Family members would visit his father's home, and by evening, there were usually more than 20 people in the house.

These traditions are dear to Mr Candemir, all the more after his father died in 2007. But this year, Mr Candemir is doing things a little differently.

He has good reason - he got married six months ago and his wife Esra, 26, recently moved to Singapore.

So, rather than return home to Turkey, the couple joined their friends at the Turkish Cultural Centre in Stevens Road last Wednesday for a Hari Raya breakfast.

It is the first time his wife is spending the Hari Raya holiday in Singapore.

Of course, some traditions stay the same. 'Every Hari Raya, I go to the mosque and pray for my father,' said Mr Candemir.

'That is not going to change.'


A sweet tradition that crosses borders

As far as Hari Raya Haji traditions go, Mr Kamran Khan's are a mixed bag - save for one thing: sheer khurma.

The Pakistani dessert made of milk, vermicelli, nuts and dried dates is prepared on the morning of the holiday, wherever the World Bank director is.

He has lived in Pakistan, India, the United States and now, Singapore.

'I wait a whole year to eat this dish - it's a big moment,' said Mr Khan, 46, who moved with his family to Singapore last year.

Before joining the World Bank, the American worked in the US foreign service. His wife, Saima Siddiqui, 42, also an American, is a board member of a US-based think-tank that researches on topics related to the American Muslim community.

The couple have two children: Azraf, nine, and Naba, 12.

The family's way of celebrating Hari Raya Haji is perhaps a reflection of their multi-cultural experience.

The children will receive their presents on the eve of Hari Raya Haji, which they can open only the next morning.

When visiting friends and family on the day itself, the couple typically carry a lot of cash to give to the children as extra pocket money.

Last Wednesday, continuing their 'open house' tradition, the Khan family hosted some 70 local and foreign guests at their Orchard Road home.

'We had people of different races and religions come by. That, I think, is very Singaporean,' Mr Khan said.

The guests were greeted with the traditional 'Eid Mubarak', meaning congratulations.

Each guest was then given three hugs.

'The greeting is not so uncommon but the three hugs - that's a Pakistani thing,' said Mr Khan.

'Oh, and the sheer khurma too, of course.'


A time for family and paying respects

In Saudi Arabia, workers get four days off to celebrate Hari Raya Haji. This may seem like a lot to Singaporeans, but not to Mr Ibrahim Al-Garni.

The Saudi Petroleum manager, 40, who moved to Singapore six months ago with his family, said it is a Saudi tradition during the holiday to visit relatives, in the order of family seniority.

On the first day, the patriarch - or the oldest male member of the family - receives the first visit.

On the second day, the second-eldest is visited, and so on. One sheep is slaughtered for each family, for each day.

'The exception is the first day. That day we slaughter two sheep - one for my father, and the other in memory of my grandfather,' Mr Al-Garni said.

Saudi Arabians have conservative traditions. Apart from family hierarchy, women and men - unless related to one another - generally do not socialise in public.

On Hari Raya Haji, the Saudi Embassy hosted not one, but two lunches at the Shangri-La hotel - one for men, the other for women.

When asked to pose for a family photograph at the event, Mr Al-Garni said it was inappropriate to ask his wife and young daughter in the other room to join in the picture.

Mr Al-Garni has a large family of six brothers and two sisters; this is the first time he did not spend the holiday with them. He plans to live in Singapore for the next three years. This year, he said, the sheep sacrifice in Saudi Arabia would have to go on without him.

His five-year-old son Faisal did not seem as saddened at having to miss out on the extended family reunion.

'He will still get to see some animals,' Mr Al-Garni said last Wednesday. 'We are planning to go to the Night Safari tonight.'

(With thanks to SPH - StraitsTimes.com)

Note : No reproduction or downloading of this Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) article is allowed in any medium. Permission has to be obtained from SPH.



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This year's celebrations, at an open field in Dunman Road, are the largest so far, a reflection of how the Bengali community here has grown, said a spokesman for the Bengali Association Singapore, which organised the event.

Its membership has doubled to about 1,800 since about four years ago, said the spokesman. This figure does not reflect the size of the entire community, which is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000.

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(With thanks to SPH - StraitsTimes.com)

Note : No reproduction or downloading of this Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) article is allowed in any medium. Permission has to be obtained from SPH.



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