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After Ramadan in quarantine in 2020, foreign workers can now pray together, cook food as fasting month begins

SINGAPORE — Foreign worker Kazi Badruddoza spent Ramadan last year “distressed” because he was confined to his room unable to work when coronavirus infections soared in dormitories. As this year’s fasting month for Muslims gets under way, things are largely back to normal.

After Ramadan in quarantine in 2020, foreign workers can now pray together, cook food as fasting month begins

Foreign worker Al Amin, 27, breaking fast with friends on April 13, 2021.

  • Last year’s Ramadan was observed during the partial lockdown
  • Foreign workers were quarantined in dormitories as Covid-19 numbers surged
  • Now, they welcome a return to largely normal routines with most being able to pray together, for example
  • The workers are also pleased to be earning money again for their families overseas

 

SINGAPORE — Foreign worker Kazi Badruddoza spent Ramadan last year “distressed” because he was confined to his room unable to work when coronavirus infections soared in dormitories. As this year’s fasting month for Muslims gets under way, things are largely back to normal.

Mr Kazi and other foreign workers told TODAY that they can go out to work, cook their own meals and most are even allowed to pray together. They welcome the change, even though last year’s quarantine brought some benefits, such as more time to attend to religious observance.

Mr Kazi has been a resident of the Cochrane Lodge 2 dormitory in Sembawang for almost 10 years. He recalled that Ramadan last year started on April 23, when the circuit breaker period to restrict movements and acitivites was already in place.

As Covid-19 case numbers surged in dormitories last year, Mr Kazi and thousands of other foreign workers experienced a Ramadan in quarantine, where they received catered meals and were not allowed to leave their rooms.

“I was distressed. We were not able to work so I was not receiving my full salary. We were only given allowances, which was all that I could send home, but it was not enough,” he said, adding that his mental health also declined while being in isolation for so long.

Mr Kazi is the sole breadwinner of his family. His dependants back home include his parents, younger brother, wife and his nine-year-old son.

“All the money that I could send back (to my relatives in Bangladesh) was just used for them to survive. They did not buy new clothes for Eid last year. They couldn’t.”

Mr Kazi, a construction worker, has been working in Singapore for the past 12 years.

He added that while his family in Bangladesh had some savings that they could have used to celebrate Eid after Ramadan like they usually would, the economic situation there was “bad” and they did not want to spend money unnecessarily, placing a further burden on him since he did not know when restrictions would ease in Singapore.

This year, foreign workers of the Islamic faith can mark Ramadan more or less as they did in pre-pandemic times.

Most of them have to leave home for their worksites at around 6am, shortly after having their pre-dawn meals. Some of them have to break their fasts on the job before reaching home after 9pm or 10pm. 

But most workers such as Mr Kazi are happy about being able to earn money again to send home to their families.

Mr Almas Uddin, 39, who is also Bangladeshi, said: “This year’s Ramadan is better because I can work and I can take care of my family, so I am happy to earn money. Last year, I was getting S$500 allowance only.

"But for my body condition, I would say last year was better.” 

Mr Almas, who resides in Avery Lodge Dormitory near Jurong River, said that during the partial lockdown last year, he experienced Ramadan in a more relaxing way, where he would wake up to eat, pray and could get proper rest while fasting. He also got the chance to complete his five daily prayers.

This year, it is more of a “rush” he said, waking up at 5am daily before being picked up for work at around 6.30am. He often returns to the dormitory between 8pm and 10pm, where he will then have dinner and cook again for the next day.

“I have brought some dried fruits and nuts to work so that I can break fast. Later in the night, I’ll have some rice and vegetables with some meat for dinner. I’ll probably cook the same thing for tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Kazi, who also often returns to his room at about 10pm, said: “For one month, we will feel tired but we still enjoy it, especially since there are so many other Bangladeshis around me doing the same thing. It’s okay. For one month, we can do it.”

GOOD FOOD

Mr Shahin Hossain, 33, said he is grateful that he is allowed to visit recreation centres three times a week now after restrictions were eased in March. He is thus able to stock up on fresh ingredients to cook his meals during Ramadan, a luxury he did not have last year.

Workers may buy necessities at these centres that have food-and-beverage outlets, mini-marts and other communal facilities. They may also get haircuts and remit money home.

“We have a fridge at our worksite so I’ve brought some fruits like papaya, watermelon and mango last Sunday.’’ 

Mr Shahin will break fast at his worksite and return to the North Coast Lodge dormitory near Sembawang at about 9.45pm.

“We also brought some drinking water. I cooked some fish and rice and I’ll heat that up later, too.”

Mr Al Amin, 27, who stays at the Aspri-Westlite Papan dormitory near Jurong River, is happy that he can buy his own groceries and can “eat whatever I want” now.

“When we fast, the whole day we are not consuming food. That's why when it’s time to eat, we should try to take in quality food. Last year, while I appreciate the food the Government gave us, some of our Bangladeshi people were not comfortable with the food,” Mr Amin said, referring to how the food often did not suit their palates.

That was why in those days, he would just take water, dates and some biscuits.

'SPECIAL FEELINGS' 

Another thing Mr Amin is looking forward to is being able to complete his terawih prayers — performed only during Ramadan — with the other residents in his dorm. He said that up to 60 people are permitted in each prayer session.

“Inside our dorm, we have a prayer hall so we can pray together in this hall as long as we follow safe distancing measures. I really feel so happy this year because as Muslims, we like to pray together. We are so happy to be together and this year, we can do it. It’s one of the special feelings of this month,” he said.

However, this might not be the case for all dormitories.

Mr Khan Noor Alam, 46, said that there does not seem to be any communal praying areas in the Kian Teck Dormitory at Upper Jurong where he stays.

“I think there is still no 'mixing' of people and we have to pray on our own... I feel happy but Covid-19 is not over yet so some things are different, but at least some things are back to normal again,” he said.

Related topics

foreign workers dormitories Covid-19 circuit breaker Ramadan

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