Sunday, October 22, 2006

Violence in Singapore Mosque

It is indeed hilarious when some people are more sensitive about issues most people wouldn't care about. Like one of my friends, HH, gets very aggressive if you try to crack gay jokes on him. Or when some guys are very secretive about their usage of 'feminine' products - curl relaxants, for instance. Or how some feel complexed or 'unmanly' about not having enough facial hair. And how some women go on and on about their weight issues.

But sometimes it is not hilarious, rather downright serious. Last friday, my friend AR was breaking fast at a mosque near the NUS campus and he felt more thirsty than hungry, so he decided to have a drink [Bandung] to break his fast. It may be noted here, that it is a custom among most Muslims to break fast with either a date or water, since that is our Prophet's [P.B.U.H.] tradition as it has been passed down over centuries. As AR got up to have the drink, a Malay-Singaporean man stood up and told him to "break fast first!". AR tried explaining to him that he had already broken it and just wanted to have a drink. AR's response was returned with a glass bowl full of hot porridge being thrown in his face with such sheer force that it broke as it hit!

Luckily for AR, he didn't suffer from any serious injury and keeping in the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, he controlled his rage. He left the mosque immediately. Then he called the Police, which claims to have an 8-minute response time in the NUS area, but arrived 45 minutes later in this case. A policeman and woman got out of the car and started interrogating AR in a manner that made him feel like he was the criminal instead. He felt a vibe of racism since both the inquirers were Malay-Singaporeans. AR explained the incident to them exactly as it had occurred and they got similar accounts confirming the episode from bystanders in the mosque.

Eyeing AR's friends who had accompanied him, the Policeman asked him, "Why you bring so many friends, you want to do riot haa?" They didn't listen to a word from AR's friends and dismissed all of them, while they continued to converse with other spectators in Malay language. As it turned out, the offender was also a major donator to the mosque, which further changed the attitude of the Police. After much speculation, the Police presented AR with two options: sue the offender, or drop the case. It seemed the Police were not interested in taking any stringent action to justify the physical assault against AR.

It was also unclear as to what the offender was sensitive too; maybe he didn't believe a fast could be broken with a silent prayer; or with Bandung rather than a date or a glass of water. Or maybe he just didn't appreciate foreigners coming and eating for free from the money he had donated to the mosque. [AR has enough money to break fasts by himself - he just prefers going to the mosque because the reward is higher for praying at the mosque.] Some say the man was just being racist. Racism can never be hilarious.

AR told the Police he wanted to sue, but in addition said he wanted protection, feeling rather out-numbered by the Malay-Singaporean majority. To this one of the Police-persons said, "Forgive and forget lah!", and added that they could not be liable for AR's protection. He was advised by them that he would be better off dropping the case.

Seeing that the Police were not interested in taking an action against the offender, and partly pertaining to the fact that AR had been visiting this mosque since more than two years, and also after apologies from the Imam himself, AR did the only thing a sensible guy would have done in his shoes: he dropped the case.

AR didn't feel it was a personal issue; "It could have happened to anyone at that time. Breaking a glass bowl at my face could have injured me to any severity. Allah saved me at that time." He had a point there, what if next time someone has a similar outburst and another person is injured violably. It has been suggested to AR that a formal complaint be registered with Majlis Islam Singapura and the Pakistan High Commission.

One of AR's well-wishers said, "Had this happened to an American or a Brit their embassies would be all over the Police by now."

Personally, I am intrigued by the whole episode. How is it that one person can feel the right to impose his views on another? The holy month of Ramadan is about patience; about tolerance; about having control over your desires and your anger. But still I would never tolerate it if a random person tries to 'correct' my beliefs. Beliefs are personal, and the actions that originate from those beliefs are as personal. My oldest friend is a Shiya Muslim and our actions in the way we say our prayers vary greatly, but neither of us have ever tried to impose our views on each other. If a person you know since 18 years doesn't have the right to advocate his beliefs, how can a complete stranger have the right to enforce his views? That too, I might add, in such a violent manner.

All in all, many Pakistanis feel let down by the Singapore Police Force. It seems that in Singapore, any person can approach you, smash a glass object in your face, and get away with it. Most of the Pakistanis do realise though, that their impression of Malay-Singaporeans as friendly and easy-going people is not going to change because of the action of just one individual in the Malay community.

Another conclusion that can be drawn from this incident is that Singapore is mostly neutral to all religions, yes, but when it comes to conflicts within the same religion's sects, you can expect some form of discrimination against the minority.

Fact: Islam has two major schools of thought or denominations - Shiyas and Sunnis. Sunnis are further divided into four sects, of which Shafi and Hanafi are two. Most South Asians follow the Hanafi tradition, while the Shafi tradition is followed mostly in Southeast Asian countries.


imran said...

That is a very interesting story. I really can't imagine why somebody would do that. Your friend has indeed been done injustice, but I think he only has to gain if he purges himself of the anger and move on. God willing I will never be like that.


Nabeel K said...

After some 'important' people had been informed about the incident, the offender and the Imam sent in their apologies. It has been decided there was no issue of racism or inter-religion-sect violence to begin with.

The offender is not a rich person who donates money to the mosque, rather a very noble man in the sense that he is not well-off yet he donates - his wife makes the food for the mosque.

He has been known to do things like shun people from talking in the mosque, even while eating, by saying things like, "respect the food".

His 'nobility' wouldn't justify the violent action though, but his apology sure does.

Caffiene Study Mate said...


i guess its more like an isolated case.

Whatever it is, i felt sorry for your friend. i believe he is not at fault.

The offender should have realised that he is just a mere living thing made of clay, just like every one of us. He may have his good intention but his actions only seems to show his inferiority and weakness in controlling his pride and lust for superiority towards his brothers-in-Islam.

i believe Allah s.w.t is
All-Knowing for all that has happened and let Justice be decided by Him.