Muslims gather in large groups for Hari Raya prayers, home visits for the first time in 3 years
Muslims in Singapore marked Hari Raya Aidilfitri with customary prayers early on Tuesday (May 3), congregating in large groups at mosques islandwide for the first time in three years to celebrate the religious holiday.
With most Covid-19 restrictions, including capacity limits on congregational worship services, lifted since April 26, thousands braved the rain in the early morning to join the prayer sessions after first booking a slot online.
The wearing of face masks indoors and the need to check in using SafeEntry were reminders that the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over, but the mood at the mosques was a joyous one as worshippers came dressed to the nines and exchanged greetings and hugs with family and friends.
Madam Rossnani Abdullah, 64, a patient relations executive and a volunteer at Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam, said: "It has been more than two years since we were able to come back here physically on Hari Raya. I feel emotional and very blessed."
Capacity limits for congregational worship services were imposed from 2020 as Singapore worked to contain the pandemic. Muslims were advised against visits or gatherings to mark Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which fell on May 24, after circuit breaker restrictions were introduced that year.
Last year, celebrations were also muted as the holiday, which fell on May 13, took place amid a wave of Delta variant infections.
In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this year's Hari Raya felt lively and special with the easing of restrictions, and Muslims here were able to return to more normality for the first time since the pandemic started.
"The last two years have been a very challenging and difficult time. Thank you for your sacrifices and understanding," Mr Lee said.
He urged people here to continue practising social responsibility, a call President Halimah Yacob also made in a Facebook post after she attended prayers at Sultan Mosque, which had about 5,000 congregants over the course of two sessions.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) previously said that a total of 153,250 prayer spaces would be offered at 66 mosques on Tuesday, with 51 mosques conducting at least two prayer sessions.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, performed his prayers at Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol, which received a total of about 9,000 worshippers.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad and North West District Mayor Alex Yam were at An-Nur Mosque in Admiralty Road, where about 7,000 devotees attended Aidilfitri prayers across two sessions.
Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said he was happy that this year's Hari Raya celebrations have been more cheerful and festive.
"Many of the congregants were telling me they are very appreciative that this year's Raya will be different... It is quite clear there is a great sense of relief, appreciation (and) gratitude," he told reporters on the sidelines of his visit.
Asked for his outlook as daily Covid-19 cases here continue to fall, Mr Wong said the hope is to maintain the current posture for as long as possible, unless any new mutations prove to be more aggressive or dangerous.
"We just need to have some perspective, recognise that this is not Freedom Day, the pandemic is not over. But during this period, we have the chance for a well-deserved breather, so let's make full use of it," he said.
Singapore's top Islamic leader, Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, warned against complacency in his sermon on Tuesday and reminded congregants that past lessons should not be forgotten.
"It is a significant loss if our disciplined attitude is replaced with negligence, our cleanliness and neat arrangement in the mosques are replaced with disorganisation, and our care towards officers and volunteers is replaced with selfishness," Dr Nazirudin said.
Mr Masagos said the Malay-Muslim community was thrilled to celebrate Hari Raya and observe the Ramadan fast in near-normal conditions.
With the lifting of size limits on social gatherings and other safe distancing rules, those celebrating were able to visit relatives they had not seen in years.
The minister added: "We have arrived at this position because of the empathy we have for one another, caring for one another, the discipline of going through the process through the crisis so that we will protect one another."
Mr Masagos also said that the way the prayer sessions were organised on Tuesday allowed congregants to have a more comfortable worship experience, reduced uncertainty and prevented the overcrowding that was seen before the pandemic.
These best practices will be retained for large-scale congregational prayers at mosques here, such as Friday prayers, moving forward, he said.
An-Nur Mosque executive chairman Juraiman Rahim said it was important for the community to be back physically at the mosque.
Mr Juraiman, 55, who is overseeing Hari Raya celebrations at the mosque for the first time after taking over as executive chairman in March, added: "It brings new hope for subsequent religious activities here."