Two converts to Islam adjust to their new faith and experience their first Ramadan as Muslims

fait sg

Mr Muhammad Joy Kumar Paul is all smiles as he gets a warm welcome as a convert from the community at Assyakirin Mosque after prayers.

Neo Xiaobin
SINGAPORE

WHEN train captain Muhammad Joy Kumar Paul turned 25 in May, he celebrated by converting to Islam.

The ceremony was held at the Muslim Converts’ Association (MCAS) and witnessed by his closest friends and fiancee’s family. That same day, he attended his first Friday prayers as a Muslim at Assyakirin Mosque, near his home in Taman Jurong.

Mr Muhammad was brought up in a Buddhist family, but growing up with Malay friends, he knew “how a Muslim behaves, what they are supposed to do and what they do not do”.

Still, he never expected to become a Muslim until he met Ms Syuhaidah Sha’ada, a 24-year-old pre-school teacher.

The couple got engaged in June but it was not an easy decision. They had a serious talk about their relationship in the long term and considered breaking up.

On his own accord, however, he researched and watched videos by Islamic scholars online, as well as talked to Muslim friends, to learn more about the religion.

Mr Muhammad lives with his mother, who is divorced, and elder sister. Both felt it was his decision to make. He also attended beginner courses at MCAS last year.

Every year, about 600 people convert to Islam at the three-storey building located in Onan Road in Joo Chiat.

Also known as Darul Arqam Singapore, the one-stop centre for converts was set up in 1980 to oversee the welfare, religious guidance and problems of new converts.

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All prospective converts are encouraged to take up basic courses on Islam. Mr Muhammad went through Ramadan as a Muslim for the first time this year. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is a holy period of fasting, reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice observed by Muslims around the world.

While there have been challenges, he has been touched by the support of his loved ones.

His mother, a Buddhist, cooks the food he wants to eat and made sure there was food in the morning when he woke up to break fast during Ramadan. She buys meat and produce that is certified halal for his sake.

Like Mr Muhammad, Ms Rachel Aryssa Chung, 39, converted to Islam two months ago. The customer insight and communications manager at a gas company found fasting during Ramadan to be particularly challenging.

“What’s more, coffee is not recommended because it dehydrates the body but I don’t function well without coffee. I always tell my colleagues I’m not human until I have my coffee,” she said, laughing.

Divorced for 10 years, Ms Chung has two daughters. She has been dating a Muslim for a year and is still learning about her new faith.

It was her own decision to convert. She said of her new faith: “I feel that it’s a very comprehensive and disciplined faith. How you should treat other people, how you should behave as a person. We’re encouraged to pray five times a day. When you do things like that, I feel that it changes you as a person.”

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-faith-new-lives

faith 2 muslimah

Ms Cachola and Ms Bondoc taking a picture with the registration officer after completing the conversion ceremony

http://allexpatnews.com/hungry-and-parched-muslim-converts-find-their-first-ramadan-the-hardest/

 

 

 

 

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‘The Straits Times’ says: Mosque’s outreach a shining example

MASJID SPORE

SINGAPORE

THE one-year-old Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol, which has already built close ties with neighbouring institutions and residents, embodies ways in which places of worship can help create a more resilient society in these trying times. While the primary purpose of a religious institution is to serve followers, reaching out to the wider community shows the value it places on face-to-face relations. Al-Islah demonstrates this by partnering nearby schools to distribute food to poor families in the neighbourhood. It also opens its doors to others for free guided tours of its premises. Steps like these help to dispel misconceptions of what mainstream Islam stands for. This is especially important given the way some extremist organisations have taken the religion’s name in vain to cloak their dastardly attacks in a semblance of piety.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore notes that the mosque stands as “an important bulwark of Muslim identity and community integrity” in Singapore, where Muslims constitute a minority living in a society undergoing far-reaching changes. Community-friendly initiatives that benefit both Muslims and non-Muslims, such as blood donation drives and assistance to low-income families, help to integrate mosques into the wider life of the nation.

MASJID ALISLAH

Masjid Al-Islah, Kampong Punjol, Singapore

Mosques are not just the focus of religious activities – although that is an essential function – but must act as centres of social development, too. It is in that spirit that they embrace their social calling in a secular state. Muslims, like followers of other religions in Singapore, are reassured that their religious obligations are respected. Simultaneously, they must acknowledge that no community of believers exists in a vacuum, but as part of a larger whole.

This is where Singapore’s model of religious harmony differs from practices in countries that dichotomise religion and public life to the extent that one becomes an affront to the other. Here, religion is accepted as a legitimate influence on social outcomes so long as no faith claims the right to influence these exclusively. Overlapping spheres of belief are anchored in a national centre. A national consensus has emerged on this policy, which treats all religious communities equally. It will be tested from time to time. Insistent foreign influences, travelling via the Internet, do and will make their way into Singapore. Having no stake in Singapore’s common religious and racial future, these groups have no qualms in dividing people. So that they do not lead impressionable minds astray, it is essential for Singapore to curb such influences with its local resources.

In their very co-existence, mosques and other places of worship show that Singaporeans are capable of not just living with religious diversity but also of thriving on it.

The Straits Times
Wednesday, 6 July 2016

MASJID AL-ISLAH

Muslims performing prayer and reading al-Quran at Masjid Al-islah in Kampung Punjol, Singapore.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mosques-outreach-a-shining-example

Islamic tourism: The next big thing?

tour fam

Joan Henderson
SINGAPORE

DEMAND for leisure travel by Muslims is mounting in parallel with the expanding Muslim population worldwide. The phrase Islamic tourism is frequently used to describe travel by Muslims for whom compliance with religious observances when away from home is an important consideration. Among other labels are halal tourism and Muslim-friendly tourism.

Muslim travellers have several unique features. Their distinctiveness creates challenges for suppliers of services as well as destination marketers in ensuring proper provision while balancing the needs of Muslim and non-Muslim customers. At the same time, there is diversity within the overall market, based on factors such as age and nationality alongside religiosity.

Commercial interest in Muslim consumers as a whole reflects the size, growth and increasing affluence of the population. According to Pew Research, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims globally in 2010 and this figure is predicted to reach 2.8 billion in 2050, about 30 per cent of the world total. Over 60 per cent reside in the Asia-Pacific region, 20 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa (where they make up 93 per cent of the resident population), 3 per cent in Europe and 1 per cent in North America.

Demand for leisure travel by Muslims is mounting in parallel with the expanding Muslim population worldwide. The phrase Islamic tourism is frequently used to describe travel by Muslims for whom compliance with religious observances when away from home is an important consideration. Among other labels are halal tourism and Muslim-friendly tourism.

Muslim travellers have several unique features. Their distinctiveness creates challenges for suppliers of services as well as destination marketers in ensuring proper provision while balancing the needs of Muslim and non-Muslim customers. At the same time, there is diversity within the overall market, based on factors such as age and nationality alongside religiosity.

Commercial interest in Muslim consumers as a whole reflects the size, growth and increasing affluence of the population. According to Pew Research, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims globally in 2010 and this figure is predicted to reach 2.8 billion in 2050, about 30 per cent of the world total. Over 60 per cent reside in the Asia-Pacific region, 20 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa (where they make up 93 per cent of the resident population), 3 per cent in Europe and 1 per cent in North America.

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The accommodation sector is a provider of food and other services essential to the tourist experience. Greater attention is now being given to the notion of halal hotels, characterised by prayer facilities, halal food, a ban on alcohol and gender segregation for certain amenities. The term “syariah-compliant” is sometimes applied and is accurate for properties in conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are already bound by syariah law, whereas Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is less restrictive.

Hotels in popular tourist regions of predominantly Muslim countries, such as those of North Africa and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, which rely heavily on non-Muslim foreign guests, are also more relaxed. It is probably unrealistic because of reasons of finance and practicality for most hotels outside the Islamic world to seek full syariah compliance, but recent surveys show that Middle Eastern and Asian Muslims are keen to visit new long-haul destinations.

Muslims travelling for purposes of business must also be taken into account. Hoteliers should therefore be familiar with Muslim needs and address concerns about food and prayers as far as possible. This can be achieved by ensuring that menus are suitable, copies of the Quran are placed in hotel rooms and information about places of worship is readily available.

The rest of the tourism industry is also responding to rising demand from Muslims as reported by growth strategy research and advisory firm DinarStandard. The number of specialist travel agents and tour operators, some based in Western countries, is expanding and mainstream companies, such as Kuoni, are exploring opportunities. Appropriate facilities are being introduced at airports, railway stations and attraction sites and more airlines are serving halal menus. A dedicated halal kitchen was opened at London’s Heathrow in 2014 as part of a larger new facility serving international airlines at one of the world’s busiest airports.

The importance of Islamic tourism is appreciated by many national tourism organisations around the world. Promotional websites such as those of Japan, Korea and Hong Kong offer guides to halal dining and the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched a special app last year. Malaysia is positioning itself as a global hub for the production of halal goods and services, incorporating tourism, with an official Islamic Tourism Centre responsible for market development. However, the Malaysian and other authorities must also advertise and cater to non-Muslim tourists and there are possibilities of friction between the expectations and desired experiences of the two groups which have to be managed.

Singapore has a competitive advantage over some rivals due to its Muslim community, supporting infrastructure of religious-related facilities and services, and halal certification programmes. MasterCard and CrescentRating’s 2016 Global Muslim Travel Index ranked it the most Muslim-friendly destination for tourists outside of Islamic countries.

Islamic tourism, of which halal food is a critical component, is a striking phenomenon yielding valuable opportunities for the tourism industry worldwide and not least in Singapore. To realise these opportunities, tourism businesses must understand the requirements of Muslim tourists and take the necessary measures to satisfy them without inconveniencing non-Muslim customers. It is also necessary to communicate effectively with Muslim markets.

Joan Henderson is an associate professor of marketing and international business, and fellow at the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University.

The Straits Times

Mon, 16 May 2016

Tour Ind

 

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/islamic-tourism-the-next-big-thing

Record for longest chain of knotted sarongs set at inaugural Mosque Family Day in Singapore

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Lee Min Kok and Lim Yi Han

SINGAPORE

THE first ever Mosque Family Day was attended by more than 7,000 members from Singapore’s 69 mosques, who gathered at Pasir Ris Park on Sunday (Jan 31) for a day of bonding activities.

A Singapore record for the longest chain of knotted sarongs – measuring 530m – was also set at the event, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said in a press release.

More than 500 people were involved in tying the sarongs from one end to the other, symbolising close bonds within the community and the nation.

Mosque Family Day was held in recognition of the mosque volunteers who had sacrificed their time to serve the Muslim community, with six families given the inaugural Mosque exemplary Family Awards to honour their contributions.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, Muis president Mohd Alami Musa, Muis chief executive Abdul Razak Maricar, and Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram attended the event.

Speaking to the media, Dr Yaacob, who was guest of honour, said that the mosques have become “significant nodes within the national grid”, contributing to social cohesion through their close links with grassroots organisations, Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles, social service offices and other voluntary welfare organisations.

He cited the examples of mosques actively partnering with national agencies such as the Health Promotion Board to promote a healthy lifestyle, and the National Environment Agency to care for the environment.

Moving forward, mosques will continue to open their doors to the wider community regardless or race or religion, Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, added.

The Straits Times

Sunday, 31 January 2016

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http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/record-for-longest-chain-of-knotted-sarongs-set-at-inaugural-mosque-family-day

 

Malay population the most unhealthy group in Singapore

malay-villageSalma Khalik
Senior Health Correspondent

The Malay population is the unhealthiest in Singapore.

Latest statistics from the national disease registry reveal that a disproportionate number of diabetics and patients with kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes come from this group.

Although Malays account for 13.5 per cent of the population, they make up 24.4 per cent of people on dialysis. Once diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, patients need either a transplant or dialysis for the rest of their lives.

The proportion of Malays who have had kidney transplants rose from 8.5 per cent in 2003 to 10.1 per cent last year.

Malays – both men and woman – are also at significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke than people of other races. Malay men are 1.5 times more likely to suffer one compared to Chinese men for instance.

Age-standardised stroke rates for every 100,000 men last year was 296 for Malays, 199 for Indians and 184 for Chinese. For women, it was 195 for Malays, 131 for Indians and 105 for Chinese. Age-standardisation removes the influence of age distribution in each group and allows for a fair comparison.

Malays are also more likely to suffer heart attacks. Since 2010, they have surged past Indians as the ethnic group with the highest rate of heart attacks.

The report said: “The higher incidence of acute myocardial infarction among Malays is likely to be due to their higher proportions of hypertension and high cholesterol compared to the other ethnic groups.”

It added that most Malays are unaware of their conditions compared to people of other races.

malay_stat_demon-cratic-singapore-malay-populationThe only major illness which the Malay population is not the most likely to get is cancer. This is most prominent among the Chinese.

Former storekeeper Mohamad Raihan Yaakub, 68, suffers from diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. He rarely exercises but has cut down from one pack of cigarettes a day to one every three days.

The unemployed man started dialysis four years ago and lost his older brother to kidney failure.

He had a blocked artery and had a stent inserted more than a decade ago. His children have no major health problems, but his son has taken up smoking too.

“I tell him not to smoke, but he doesn’t listen,” he said.

In Singapore, smokers make up almost a quarter of heart attack and stroke sufferers.

Mr Sukandar Kastam, 49, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was only 25 years old. He has been on dialysis for the past six years.

He used to weigh 120kg but has since lost 50kg. He too is unemployed and says he has been turned down time and again for jobs because of his need for dialysis three times a week.

He admits that he does not exercise “because lazy lah”. Although he lives fairly near the National Kidney Foundation’s dialysis centre in Kim Keat Road, he would ride his motorbike there rather than walk.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said community groups and mosques have been organising health-related activities for the Malay community, but a more concerted effort is needed.

“A lot of the pushing will have to be done at the community level and we should partner health-care providers like the hospitals and polyclinics for this effort,” she said.

“Also, we should catch them young when habits are not yet formed on eating, exercising and prevention. Taking care of our health is our own responsibility.”

salma@sph.com.sg

The Straits Times
Sunday, 21December 2014

malay spor

http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/health/story/malay-population-the-most-unhealthy-group-singapore-20141221

Shisha ban to kick in on Friday: Ministry of Health

A customer smokes a shisha or "hookah" pipe at a cafe on Bussorah St on Nov 4, 2014. The importation, distribution and sale of shisha tobacco will be illegal in Singapore as of Friday,  Nov 28, 2014, Photo: TST/Mark Cheong

A customer smokes a shisha or “hookah” pipe at a cafe on Bussorah St on Nov 4, 2014. The importation, distribution and sale of shisha tobacco will be illegal in Singapore as of Friday, Nov 28, 2014, Photo: TST/Mark Cheong

Amir Hussain
SINGAPORE

THE importation, distribution and sale of shisha tobacco will be illegal in Singapore as of Friday.

The ban, announced in Parliament earlier this month, will however allow existing importers and retailers to sell the product until July 31, 2016.

“This is to allow them ample time to deplete their stock and restructure their businesses away from shisha,” the Ministry of Health said on Thursday.

Anyone who contravenes the ban will be liable, on conviction, to a maximum fine of $10,000 or up to 6 months imprisonment, or both. Repeat offenders face a fine of up to $20,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.

The Ministry of Health urged members of the public who have information on the importation, distribution, sale or offer of shisha tobacco by unlicensed operators to report the matter to the Health Sciences Authority at the following numbers during office hours: 66842036 or 66842037.

The Strait Times
Thu, Nov 27, 2014

http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/shisha-ban-kick-friday-20141127#sthash.RgUCJqy9.dpuf

Have halal, will travel

A view inside the 'Caravasar de Qurtuba' halal restaurant located near the historic mosque of Cordoba, Spain. Photo: EPA/TST/ANN

A view inside the ‘Caravasar de Qurtuba’ halal restaurant located near the historic mosque of Cordoba, Spain. Photo: EPA/TST/ANN


Lydia Vasko
SINGAPORE

AS ECONOMIES around the world sputter and stagnate, the tourism industry has found an eager and underdeveloped market in the Muslim community, which is expected to spend US$140 billion ($181 billion) on international travel this year, according to CrescentRating, a Muslim travel industry consultancy.

Until a couple of years ago, Muslim travellers around the world largely spent their travel dollars on other Muslim destinations such as Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.

Now, as the tourism industry becomes more aware of what Muslim travellers need — catering predominantly to the need for halal food and access to prayer facilities — Muslims are venturing farther into Europe and Asia. Favourite destinations include France, Italy, South Korea and Japan.

Due to stable or growing economies and large populations in Muslim countries, Muslim travel expenditure is projected to rise to US$200 billion by 2020.

Says Fazal Bahardeen, 51, founder and chief executive of CrescentRating, a Singapore-based Muslim hospitality ranking and consulting firm: “Muslim countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia are fast-growing economies where populations are beginning to have the disposable income they did not have 10 to 15 years ago.”

There are 1.6 billion Muslims globally, accounting for almost a quarter of the world’s population. About half are under the age of 25, making it a young and rapidly growing market.

Until two or three years ago, many destinations such as Italy or South Korea were impractical for Muslims. The main barrier was the lack of halal food, the top concern for close to 70 per cent of Muslim travellers, according to a 2012 study by CrescentRating and DinarStandard, a New York-based research and advisory firm.

Non-Muslim countries were either unaware or unprepared to meet halal requirements. This meant that Muslim travellers were forced to rely on packaged food such as instant noodles, bread and fruit, or take time-consuming diversions to find halal restaurants, including in destinations such as South Korea and Japan.

Korean food is largely pork-based and while Japanese seafood is halal, its typical preparation with soya sauce, which often contains alcohol, or mirin, a Japanese rice wine, makes it haram, or forbidden, by Islamic law. Other meats such as beef and chicken are not halal-certified.

This is slowly changing, however, as Korean and Japanese tourism boards eager to attract Muslim tourists are partnering with Muslim travel agents and consulting agencies such as CrescentRating to meet Muslim needs.

Japan and South Korea are hot destinations for Muslim travellers, who are enamoured of those cultures and excited by the prospect of visiting countries that were once less convenient.

The Japan National Tourism Organisation in Singapore started researching the Muslim market in 2011, according to its deputy director, Susan Ong.

Since then, Narita International in Tokyo, Kansai International in Osaka and Central International Airport in Nagoya have renovated their facilities to include prayer rooms and a number of halal restaurants.

In 2012, Japan opened its first halal ski resort, The Rusutsu Ski Resort in Hokkaido. Last year, the tourism organisation published a guide to Muslim restaurants and hotels and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents to help promote Japan as a Muslim tourist destination.

Last year, an estimated 300,000 Muslim tourists visited Japan. The number is expected to rise to one million by 2020.

Travel agents and tour organisers are also helping to make it easier for Muslim travellers to venture abroad.

Until a few years ago, most mainstream travel agents here, such as Dynasty Travel and CTC Travel, did not offer halal tours and Muslim tour operators largely focused their business on religious pilgrimages.

These local travel companies have since started Muslim tour subsidiaries and expanded their itineraries to include non-Muslim destinations in Asia and Europe.

Chan Brothers Travel launched Chan’s World Holidays to cater to Muslims in 2011. It started with tours to popular destinations such as Turkey and Australia and have since included tours to South Korea, Italy and Iceland.

Bookings have increased by 30 per cent year on year, according to a Chan Brothers spokesman.

Anita Sahari, 47, who is self-employed, travels with her husband and three daughters at least once a year. Ten years ago, she went only to Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, they have more halal tour options.

When travelling around Southeast Asia or to Muslim countries, she plans the trips on her own, but she always travels with a tour group when visiting Europe or non-Muslim countries in Asia.

In the past two years, her family have been to South Korea and Australia with Chan’s World Holidays. They are looking forward to an 11-day tour of Europe next month.

“I like my trip to be prepared by tour guides so that I don’t have to think about where we are going to stay and where to find a halal restaurant. I want to be able to relax on vacation, free to sight-see and enjoy everything. It gets easier every year,” she says.

The family can pray in their hotel rooms if there is no mosque nearby, and use a compass or their phones to point the way.

Muslim-centric smartphone apps and websites are also helping independent Muslim travellers to plan trips.

HalalTrip, a website designed as a consumer-focused branch of CrescentRating, includes listings of 360,000 hotels via Bookings.com.

About 400 of these hotels have been rated on a scale of one to seven by staff of HalalTrip, based on their ability to meet the needs of Muslim customers, including prayer rooms, separate facilities for men and women and whether the hotel has a halal restaurant or serves alcohol.

Every hotel listing will show travellers nearby halal restaurants and mosques, so travellers do not have to hunt for them on their own.

The website has 5,000 listings for halal restaurants around the world and aims to have 30,000 listings by the middle of next year.

Independent traveller Yusof Kassim, 46, a technical consultant, does extensive research on destinations using websites such as HalalTrip, Airbnb and Booking.com.

The extra work is worth it as he and his family of four prefer to plan their own itinerary based on Muslim historic and cultural sites.

Next month, they will take a train trip around Europe, covering cities such as Munich, Venice and Paris. They will rent apartments with kitchen facilities so that they can cook.

In Venice, they hope to visit two Islamic centres, and eat at halal restaurants in Munich, which is home to a substantial Muslim population who are mostly Turkish.

Says Yusof: “As Muslim Singaporeans, we are a minority and we’d like to learn about other Muslim cultures and to see how other Muslims live and deal with daily pressures.”

He is heartened to meet people willing to cater to Muslims and fondly recalls a family trip to visit the homeground of Manchester United Football Club in England two years ago.

At the Premier Inn in Manchester, a manager was able to point the family in the direction of Mekah and make sure their food was halal.

Says Yusof: “He was a young white boy who had a Muslim best friend. Little gestures like his really go a long way in making us feel comfortable and welcome. It was one of our best travel experiences.”

Muslim travellers are set to spend US$140 billion this year

The Straits Times/ANN/The Brunei Times
Tue, 18 November 2014

http://www.bt.com.bn/features/2014/11/18/have-halal-will-travel