SINGAPORE – When Mr Khairudin Hashim and his family arrived at Al-Muttaqin Mosque in Ang Mo Kio on the morning of Hari Raya Aidilfitri in 2022, they did so with prayer mats in hand and masks on.
It was a very different scene on Saturday morning as the family of five turned up at the mosque empty-handed for Hari Raya prayers, with Covid-19 rules such as mask-wearing lifted and congregants no longer advised to take along their own prayer mats.
Pointing to some congregants who stayed behind after prayers to chat and greet one another, Mr Khairudin said he felt like the pre-pandemic atmosphere had returned, as he did not feel like he had to “just pray and leave”.
The 60-year-old technician, who was at the mosque with his wife and three sons, was among thousands of Muslims who gathered across the island on Saturday to mark Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which is also known as Hari Raya Puasa and comes at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
About 240,000 prayer spaces were provided by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) this year, up from 153,250 in 2022.
Most of the spaces – about 230,000 – were at 68 mosques, with five of them offering a single prayer session, 51 offering two sessions, and 12 offering three sessions.
In addition, 22 supplementary venues – located in common spaces in Housing Board estates such as basketball courts – featured about 10,000 spaces.
Muis noted that the total number of spaces provided far exceeded those normally available for Friday prayers.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who participated in the second prayer session at Al-Muttaqin Mosque that began at 8.45am, said of the provision of prayer spaces: “We have learnt from Covid-19 that we need to do our prayers in a way that gives us comfort and ensures the safety of one another.”
Overcrowding will not achieve this, he said, adding that spreading the crowd over three prayer sessions is among the best ways to manage demand for spaces and increase prayer capacity.
Bookings for prayer slots, which were required for Hari Raya prayers in 2022, were also dropped this year, except for the first prayer session at five mosques that typically see high demand.
While capacity limits on congregational worship services were lifted before Hari Raya in 2022, mask-wearing indoors was still compulsory.
Mr Masagos said the supplementary spaces have helped Muis to cater to various needs and groups, such as elderly people with mobility challenges, as well as migrant workers staying in dormitories who prefer to pray in mosques.
“I’m glad that with the cooperation of everybody, reports that I have from all the mosques are that transitions have been good,” he said, adding that capacity had not been overwhelmed and prayer sessions were orderly.
Al-Muttaqin Mosque executive chairman Mohd Fairus Abd Manaf said the mosque received about 3,000 worshippers over two sessions on Saturday, about 50 per cent more than in 2022.
Asked about keeping congregants safe amid the recent wave of Covid-19 infections, Mr Fairus said congregants are reminded to maintain a high level of personal hygiene, adding that the mosque is SG Clean-certified.
Mr Maliq Khalil, 48, who attended the first prayer session, said he was satisfied with the arrangements and glad that the booking system had been largely done away with, allowing Muslims from all walks of life to come together easily to pray.
The workplace safety coordinator, who noted that a significant number of those attending prayers at the mosque were migrant workers, said he felt encouraged when fulfilling religious commitments with others.
Another congregant, Mr Ahmad Samsun, 25, felt the prayers were a lot more organised than in 2022. He attributed this to the end of prayer slot bookings as there was no need to deny entry to anyone without a booking.
President Halimah Yacob, who attended the 7.15am prayer session at Sultan Mosque on Saturday, noted that the mosque was full despite the early hour and thanked volunteers for helping to manage the crowd.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wished Muslims a joyous and blessed Hari Raya in a Facebook post on Saturday, and encouraged them to stay safe and healthy while gathering with loved ones.
“I visited the Bazaar Raya Geylang Serai last weekend and enjoyed the festive atmosphere and all the happy smiles,” he said.
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