Do you know which mosque in Singapore has a section made out of soya sauce bottles? Find out why at the end!
Just yesterday I had the great privilege of learning about the history and heritage of this Mosque and then had the opportunity to join my new friends to buka puasa (breaking fast) at sundown.
Prior to attending the “Ramadan Trail”, a free two-hour guided tour conducted by volunteers from Sultan Mosque on Arab Street, I knew little about Sultan Mosque and Ramadan. From discussions with my Muslim friends, I had vague ideas about why Muslims fasted during this month but after the tour, I have a whole new level of respect for them.
So my tour was conducted by a French convert to Islam. Lovely gentle lady who converted to Islam eight years ago when she married a Singapore Malay. She shared about ablution or the wudu, the steps that Muslims take to cleanse themselves before they approach Allah in prayer. Then she shared a bit about the history of the Mosque which was constructed between 1824 and 1828, and then we went into the Mosque to see the prayer hall.
There was an air of serenity in the prayer hall. It was so peaceful. It wasn’t the first mosque I’d been to as I’d been to quite a few when I went to Turkey, including the famous Blue Mosque and Ayasofya in Istanbul, but Sultan Mosque was beautiful in its own way. I loved how airy and cool the Mosque was and the rich green carpet and tapestry. I was so impressed by how humble the Mosque’s surroundings were. I was impressed by how there wasn’t a 50,000 strong amphitheatre with cutting edge sound system and surround sound (I don’t even know what this means!). They didn’t have wall-to-wall LED screens or the most expensive music equipment. In the prayer hall there was space for what mattered most. Prayer.
At the top of the prayer hall there were numbers which indicated the times Muslims must pray throughout the day, the time of sunrise (when they must start fasting) and the time of sunset when they can buka puasa.
Very interesting. We then walked up the steps to the roof where we saw the Mosque’s four minarets. It was so beautiful, to stand on the Mosque’s roof and listen to the Azan while the sun set over the busy city.
After the Azan, we went back downstairs and listened to a short talk in the Mosque’s auditorium about Ramadan and why Muslims fast. I think it’s best for me to link it here, just in case I don’t explain it properly. One of the reasons is that they want to feel compassion for the poor by understanding what they may actually go through everyday. Good way to keep humble and put life in perspective.
Unbeknownst to me, after the talk, we were invited to stay to break fast together with our hosts. It was so surprising and wonderful. As we were walking down from the roof, I saw huge plates of nasi briyani being carried out for the believers to buka puasa. It smelt delicious! I was so excited to find out that I was going to enjoy this briyani!
We “broke the fast” by eating an un-even number of dates and drinking water and then started on the main dish. Each plate of briyani is supposed to be for about four to five people. But as there was more food than people, I ended up sharing a plate with my friend. I thought at first, it was a great idea since I was so hungry. Until I found out that it is considered very rude to leave a plate full of food. We panicked! What were we supposed to do? How could two girls finish such a huge plate? Luckily one of the Muslim ladies came to join us and we managed to finish it.
One beautiful thing I noticed about the layout of mosques in general is how open and inviting the spaces are. They are open for all – rich, poor, young, old, physically challenged, mentally challenged. During our dinner, a young mentally challenged man walked in and straight away without hesitation the ladies stood up and cried out, “Come, brother. Come join us.” And then the ladies were rushing around getting him food and drink. Within minutes he was happily eating with a big smile on his face. I was so moved. So very very moved.
It was a beautiful end to a truly unforgettable evening.
Oh yes, and before I forget, the soya sauce bottles were included in the Mosque because during the construction of the Mosque, the people around the area wanted to donate something to the Mosque but as they were very poor they could only donate soya sauce bottles! Can you see the bottles? They form the dark section just underneath the golden dome.