Rhythmic sounds of the Malay drums (the kompang) created a festive air as young Malay boys clad in smart royal blue costumes beat their hand-held drums to welcome guest of honour, Yatiman Yusof (MP for Tampines GRC) and other guests from various faiths. Among them were Msgr Eugene Vaz, who together with Father Bruno Saint Girons, MEP, some religious sisters and a lay Catholic couple represented Christianity.
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Children, aged 2 to 18 years, from the Children's Home, played host for the evening. The Children's Home is managed by the charity, Jamiyah (the Muslim Missionary Society Singapore), which also runs a home for the aged, a nursing home, a half way house and a business school.
Jamiyah's president, Abu Bakar Maidin, convinced of the value of inter-religious encounters, invited other faiths to join the children for the Iftar meal. "We are all brothers and sisters," he said.
"We have different languages and are of different races but we are all from the same source. Our religion taught us to respect other religions and especially in Singapore, which is a secular state, multi-racial harmony is very important. We have to help and enrich one another, keep up the good spirit, and get on well together. But we must practise it, not just talk about it. We have to get to know each other and have an exchange of views. We have many common grounds we can work together for mankind."
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Participating in the Iftar, which began with a prayer, provided an opportunity for non-Muslims to discover more about Islam. Canossian Sister Christine Santhou was glad she was present. "I'm interested to know how they break fast and also to participate in it," she confided.
Philip Chan, who came with his wife, Jenny, is an active supporter of IRO activities. He shared, "It's very meaningful for me to mix with my Muslim friends and to break fast with the children. To know about other religions and culture is important for racial harmony. When I know their culture and religion, I won't simply criticise their beliefs but instead respect them."
The fast during the month of Ramadan, known in Muslim circles as Siyam, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars being Shahada (affirmation) - to recite the creed; Salat (prayer) - to worship the One God in prayer five times each day; Zakat (almsgiving) - to distribute alms and to help the needy; and Hajj (pilgrimage) - to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
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Just as Catholics fast to set our sights on God and the goal of our human life by self-denial as Christ did in the desert, fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is a time for renewing their spiritual lives - for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control.
Msgr Eugene Vaz was happy to represent Archbishop Nicholas Chia at the gathering, "In the spirit of inter-religious dialogue, it's good to share with our Muslim brothers and sisters their preparation for Hari Raya Puasa, and to break fast with the children. The real spirit of dialogue is to respect and be open to each other and be friends."
Father Bruno, who has been attending inter-religious encounters since he came to Singapore last year shares, "I think that during this first year in Singapore, it's the Muslim community that has been for me the best witness of a God who invites and welcomes all peoples."
Ramadan concludes with Aidilfitri (the Feast of Fast Breaking), more commonly known as Hari Raya Puasa, celebrated on Nov 3 in Singapore.