Catholic visitors to the Ba’alwie Mosque pose for a photo with Imam Habib Hassan (second row, third from left) and prominent members of the mosque.

Imam Habib Hassan of Ba’alwie Mosque shares his faith with his guests.

It was a valuable interfaith experience for a group of Catholics when they visited the Ba’alwie Mosque to learn more about Islam.

The Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD) organised the May 10 visit to the mosque, located at 2 Lewis Road.

Days prior to the visit, the 14 participants attended a formation and orientation session on the Church’s teachings on interreligious dialogue.

Upon arrival at the mosque, the visitors removed their footwear while the women donned headscarves as a mark of

They were warmly welcomed by Syed Hassan Al-Attas, imam and head of the mosque; his son, Syed Ahmed Al-Attas; and several friends.

Syed Hassan Al-Attas, also known as Imam Habib Hassan, then  opened the dialogue session by sharing how he grew up with Catholics – such as Fr Adrian Yeo – as his neighbours, and so is familiar with Catholicism.

He then patiently answered questions from the visitors such as the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites, what sufism is, and how one becomes an imam.

He also explained how Muslims must prepare themselves to be physically and spiritually clean before entering a mosque to pray, and shared how Muslims use 99 prayer beads, which look similar to the Catholic rosary.

The Catholics were then shown around the interior of the mosque including the wall niche which indicated the Qiblah – the direction Muslims face to pray – and the women’s section of the mosque.

The imam also showed his visitors collections of printed Qur’ans from various countries. Other parts of the mosque also held collections such as incense holders and musical instruments from various parts of the world.

Guests were then led to a small air-conditioned room containing holy books in glass cases.

The room houses what is probably the largest collection of handwritten Qur’anic manuscripts in Singapore, written on materials like sheep skin and mulberry leaves, from different parts of the world.

A highlight of the trip was the mosque’s glass case of antique Bibles, the oldest being a French Bible from 1665. There were also Bibles written in Javanese,  French, Latin, English and Welsh.

The imam shared that Islam regards Christians as “People of the Book” and that the Qur’an contains books similar to the Bible’s, such as the psalms of David and teachings of Moses.

The visit closed with Imam Habib Hassan expressing how he strongly believes that “religion unites the heart” and emphasised that Islam does not advocate terrorism.

The Catholic visitors said they learnt much from their interfaith encounter.

“Before this, I did not know much about Islam and would avoid talking about faith with my Muslim friends,” said Ms Joy Tan, 40, from the Church of the Risen Christ. “Now, I feel more comfortable engaging in discussion.”

Ms Aleksandra Kruz from the Church of St Bernadette remarked, “It was a unique opportunity to meet such a friendly imam who answered our questions, and witness a prayer session in the mosque”.

Ms Clara Mok, 64, from the Church of the Holy Spirit  said, “It was very important to hear how Islam is strongly against terrorism and stands for peace and harmony.”

Mr Chin Wah Seng, 71, from the Church of St Michael agreed, saying the imam “helped to clarify any wrong impressions of the religion we may form” from media reports.

For those interested in future interreligious dialogue activities/events, email Gerald Kong at [email protected]

By Michelle Scully