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Ramadan at Singapore's Southern Islands
Yay, the festivities are here again.
It has been a while since I last wrote; I hope you have been keeping safe. As we welcome the month of Ramadan, I would like to share with you some information we've gathered in relation to this holy month. Were there places of worship for Muslims in maritime communities? What was Ramadan like on the islands?
Here are some facts that we thought were interesting:
Before redevelopment, there were Masjids (mosques) and Suraus (smaller physical structures with ritual functions similar to a mosque) on some of Singapore's offshore islands. They were found on:
Pulau Bukom Kechil
Pulau Ayer Melimau
Pulau Sekijang Pelepah (now Lazurus Island)
Pulau Blakang Mati (now Sentosa)
Pulau Sekijang Bendera (now St. John’s Island)
(and many more)
As more islanders resettled on the mainland in the 70s, the mosques were later demolished. Today, the only island in the above list that still has a mosque is Pulau Bukom. As it stands today, Pulau Bukom is prided as Shell's largest wholly-owned petrochemical refinery.
Pulau Bukom comprises a few islands; Pulau Bukom Besar, Pulau Bukom Kechil, Pulau Ular and Pulau Busing (by reclaimed land). The island appears as one large island on satellite imagery.
Masjid Pulau Bukom | Pulau Bukom Mosque
(Photo taken on Jan 2019 | Credit: Ashwat Shariff | Facebook)
While Masjid Pulau Bukom was a pitstop for islanders from neighbouring islands to pray before heading off for work, it also has a rich history.
On 18 January 1960, there was a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction for the mosque. The late Mr Yusof Bin Ishak, Singapore's first president, planted a marking stick on the site where the mosque would be built. Before Masjid Pulau Bukom was erected, the Muslim islanders did their prayers at a temporary wooden building. The mosque was completed on 22 May 1952 and was opened by the Chief Kathi. Following the construction of the 65ft by 50 ft mosque, a tea party was held at the new Malay club at Pulau Bukom.
One prominent feature of Masjid Pulau Bukom is its ability to broadcast calls to prayer, possibly loud enough to be heard by people on neighbouring islands.
Haji Yaccob Mohd during the opening of a religious school in Pulau Bukom Kechil. Sunday, 29 May 1966. PAP, Singapore Southern Islands Branch Anniversary Victory Celebration Souvenir (3rd anniversary, 1966)
Funding of the mosques
Our research noted that some of the mosques were funded by prominent figures like the Aw family, who was responsible for creating the widely-known brand of medicated oil, "Tiger Balm", and the construction of one of Singapore's oldest theme parks, Haw Par Villa.
In 1967, it was recorded that Mr Aw Cheng Chye donated $2,500 to the Southern islands to fund the construction of the mosque on Pulau Sudong and a religious school on Pulau Semakau and Pulau Bukom Kechil.
While visiting the offshore islands the same year, another family member, Mr Aw Kow, donated $1,000 to a religious school in Pulau Bukom Kechil, $1,000 for a Surau on Pulau Sudong and $500 for a religious school on Pulau Semakau.
Role of the mosques on the islands
While the mosque was a place of worship, it was also where islanders received help. In 1969, food aid was delivered by Pertubohan Kebangsaan Melayu to eight mosques on the Southern islands, including Pulau Semakau. Among the support given to the islanders were a sack of rice and two bags of sugar. This effort was meant to support the islanders during the fasting month of that year.
Orang Laut SG's Ramadan initiatives
On Saturday, 9 April 2022 from 4 pm to 5.30 pm, we would like to invite you to come to meet us for a chat and some Bubur Lambuk Ikan Tenggiri (spiced porridge with mackerel); a staple for us during Ramadan. It'll be lovingly prepared by Mak Noni and Mak Ani, the sisters from Pulau Semakau.
As this initiative is to welcome the month of Ramadan, Bubur Lambuk will be given away to individuals who have been giving us their love and support, and to individuals and families who are in need. If you would like to meet us and grab a bowl of porridge, you’re most welcome to do so!
In April, we are introducing a special menu on selected weekends to welcome the fasting month. This menu is tailored with Ramadan in mind, with a little less heat but still our favourite flavours. It includes a rendition of the Bubur Lambuk using fresh mackerel, prawns and squids, and presenting a new dish, Ikan Tenggiri Goreng Masak Asam (Fried Mackerel in Asam broth).
Mak Noni and Mak Ani are excited to cook our first batch this weekend! If you would like to give it a try, there are more details in the link below:
Till then, we wish our Muslim readers a pleasant Ramadan. Speak to you soon!
Orang Laut/Pulau Descendant
& Founder of Orang Laut SG