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Singaporeans on Faith, Religion, & Spirituality in the Time of COVID-19

In a bid to explore how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we live, I decided to dig deep into something that often provides many people strength in such trying times—Faith.

With the current circuit breaker measures in place, places of worship have been forced to shut their doors in the name of social responsibility. It is an abrupt move sparked by a ‘tabligh’ cluster in Malaysia that saw a possible domino effect rippling throughout all mosques in Singapore. Though a bitter pill to swallow, I applaud the cooperation between the government and religious organisations in Singapore as places of worship have adhered to these measures.

To better understand faith and humanity in a time of a pandemic, I’ve reached out to people from different walks of life to see how they stay connected to their religion in these extraordinarily uncertain times.

Some questions I’ve asked them include how their faith practices have changed after COVID-19, how they navigate their worship practices amongst these strict circuit breaker measures, and how their faith has helped them pull through these times.

While their responses do not explicitly represent their religion as a whole, it is a valuable insight into the minds of the faithful and affords us a peek into how their relationship with faith has evolved to accommodate the current situation of the world today, and fundamentally reflects their relationship with their respective faiths.

Oliver Lim — Christian

Credit; St Andrews Cathedral

The key is to seek the omnipresent God

“My name is Ollie and I am a Masters student of Divinity at Claremont School of Theology. I consider myself a progressive Christian from the Anglican tradition and am spiritually fluid in that I find wisdom in all of the world’s religious traditions. Usually, I would attend church and participate in Bible study once a week. But now that COVID-19 has hit, most of my church and shrine visits are conducted online.

Because of the strict circuit breaker measures, I feel a big part of my religious practice has been removed, although just temporarily. It is tough for an extrovert like me who thrives in the company of others. Inevitably, I find myself having to modify the way I worship and encounter God.

I firmly believe that God is both transcendent and immanent. The key is to seek the omnipresent God, which can be done through meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Knowing that God is incarnate in everyone helps me pull through these trying times.

Looking at the bigger picture of this pandemic, I think my faith has been instrumental in enabling a deep reflection on how our activities have hurt the world environmentally and each other socially. There’s also a better, more lucid understanding of how borders have hindered cross-country cooperation and a realisation that the people most affected by the virus and lockdowns worldwide are mostly those stricken by poverty. and how those of us stricken by poverty are the most affected by the virus and by lockdowns happening across the world.”

Jes Sy — Bahá’í

Credit; Bahai House of Worship at the foot of the Andes outside Santiago, Chile.⁠

Humanity will ultimately get through this ordeal

“My name is Jes, and I am a Philippines-born Singaporean. I am married with two children and am a medical doctor by training. I was raised in a Christian family but became a Bahá’í at the age of 15. My faith practices as a Bahá’í revolve around engaging myself and others in the process of learning and applying spiritual principles to different facets of our lives.

For example, I assist in neighbourhood children’s classes that focus on character building, where children learn how to apply spiritual principles such as love, unity, truthfulness, and kindness to their own lives, families, and friends. On top of service, I also practice my faith by enriching my soul with prayers and fasting for 19 days during the last month of the Bahá’í calendar.

Some of our neighbourhood Bahá’í communities are also supporting efforts by helping community centres distribute reusable masks and hand sanitizers, and also help out as Safe Distancing Ambassadors.

With the circuit breaker measures in place, all activities such as the children’s classes, Junior Youth Programme, and Study Circles are conducted online. The devotional gatherings at home, the community gatherings every 19 days (Bahá’í month) and celebrations of Bahá’í Holy Days are all held via video conferencing platforms. The Bahá’ís are uniting in prayer on virtual platforms to supplicate the Almighty for the health and protection of all humanity and to engage them in meaningful conversations that engender a spirit of unity and common endeavour.

Our community has faith that “[h]owever difficult matters are at present, and however close to the limits of their endurance some sections of societies are brought, humanity will ultimately get through this ordeal, and will emerge on the other side with greater insight and a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence”.”

Irene Tham — Buddhist

Credit; Buddhist temple in the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam

We need to be more open-minded and religion-tolerant

My name is Irene Tham, and I am a Buddhist practising Lord Buddha’s teachings on the philosophy of life. I believe that the stricter circuit measures allow one to practice generosity, patience, and tolerance while remaining at home with your family. Personally, these times have inspired me to be selfless—to put the community before oneself. In reflection of that, I have volunteered with Tampines Green RC to distribute reusable masks to the community.

Meditating daily has helped me to calm my mind and not be too affected by the grave news happening worldwide. I chant daily to radiate love, kindness, and compassion to all sentient beings and make the transference of merits to those deceased from COVID-19 to aid them in a better afterlife.

I hold the belief that all religions teach us to be good, to avoid evil, and to purify our minds. Unity is strength regardless of race or religion. We need to be more open-minded and religion-tolerant, particularly in a multi-racial country like ours.

Shamini Ned — Hindu

Credit; Lord Ganesh Statue

One does not need to go to the temple to be a devotee

“My name is Shamini, I am a Hindu, and my religion is Hinduism. Before this, I used to visit the temple with friends and family as frequently as I could. Still, with the recent COVID-19 measures, that has taken a step back involuntarily.

To be honest, I was disappointed to learn that Hindu temples were being closed to devotees. The annual Panguni Uthiram festival was cancelled, and that was upsetting enough as it. But I understand that due to the massive crowd this festival draws that it’s only fair that the officials have to cancel the festivities.

It’s a conflictual feeling as, on the one hand, I understand it’s to prevent new clusters from forming. On the other hand, I have to forgo the physical experience I would get by being in the temple. There are online streams of the prayers by different temples on the Hindu Endowment Board’s Facebook page which is excellent. Still, nothing beats the solace and feeling you get when you enter the temple. It’s a personal experience that online streaming simply cannot replicate.

But, I believe that one does not need to go to the temple to be a devotee. Every one of us has our ways of praying and showing faith. I have an altar at home—that’s my temple. I have my conversations with God whenever I need to bury my problems, and that’s my inner sanctum.

The temples have to be closed to the public for a good reason, but it doesn’t, in any way or form, affect my connection with God because right now, we have to prioritise our well-being.”

Muhammad Tarmizi Bin Abdul Wahid — Muslim

Credit; Sultan Mosque Singapore

We believe that God is the most loving, most kind

“My name is Muhammad Tarmizi Bin Abdul Wahid, and I am a Muslim. I am a religious teacher, and I teach Islam to Muslim adults at Safinah Institute, which I founded 11 years ago. There, I conduct programs for Muslim adults on Islamic sciences and lifestyle matters such as family and parenting issues.

My company would typically hold events but are not able to now due to the circuit breaker measures. However, this has not deterred people from seeking alternative ways to continue learning. Safinah institute has been conducting our events online since the beginning of February 2020, and we are overwhelmed by the response. I hope this continues even after the circuit breaker measures ends. Perhaps, this may even be the norm for the future.

Like all Muslims, I believe and observe the mandatory practice of praying five times a day. Muslims are also obligated to fast during the entire month of Ramadan, which, coincidentally, is coming in a few weeks. Perhaps, fasting for Muslims could be more manageable now with everyone working and staying at home. However, with the inability to access more than 70 mosques in Singapore right now, Muslims are unable to perform their daily prayers, attend classes, or send their children for their weekend religious classes.

Despite all of this, Muslims are still able to perform their acts of worship from home. This does not make a Muslim any less spiritual or religious for only being able to conduct their religious affairs at home instead of the mosque. Our Mufti has declared that it is a permissible act according to the fatwa due to the dire circumstances we are experiencing right now.

Personally, in these trying times, my prayers give me strength and my faith helps me pull through because I believe wholeheartedly that everyone will be able to get through this together. We believe that God is the most loving, most kind, and He will always provide for us, both in good and bad times such as the one we’re facing now.”

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