On the job while fasting during Ramadan

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SINGAPORE: Ahead of Hari Raya Puasa, which celebrates the end of a month of fasting for Ramadan, Channel NewsAsia spoke with six Muslims about what it is like to fast while on physically demanding jobs – and what keeps them going.

Mohammed Rasel, 31, sweeper

Rasel sweeps the void decks daily. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Despite the blazing sun beating down on his neck and back, Mohammed Rasel shuffled his broomstick and dustpan deftly to sweep up litter strewn around HDB blocks. It was almost time for his usual lunch break, but his observance of Ramadan meant he was halfway through his day-long fast. Instead, the Bangladeshi native took a break with his other Muslim colleagues before resuming work.

“It is tiring because of the heat, but during fasting, we rest more. Everyone in my organisation are all Muslim also, so they know that (during the) fasting month (we) have to rest more” he said.

Rasel, a sweeper who hails from Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Meals for iftar and sahur are often prepared by Rasel and his colleagues. “We all stay together in one house, so we cook and eat together in the morning and evening. After that we go to the nearby mosque for tarawih prayers,” he added.

Rasel, who arrived in Singapore more than a year ago, would like to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri with his family back home in Dhaka, but the 31-year-old prefers not to do so.

“I’m happy to spend for family, but then however many times you go back, you also you need to buy them something. So better don’t go,” he explained.

Instead, he has remitted his monthly salary to his family back home, for them to buy necessities for the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

Favorite meal for iftar: Whatever is cooked at home.

Zarah keys in information into her device. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Zarah Bakab, 50, parking warden

“When people see me, they always get scared and run to their cars,” Zarah Bakab said candidly. “Every Friday when I am on duty near one of the mosques in Joo Chiat, when the uncles see me coming, they say alamak (‘Oh no’)! They tell me I am too ‘on the ball’,” she laughed.

As a parking warden of less than a year, Zarah noted that her first time fasting on the job has been difficult. Working 12 hours a day from 8am to 8pm, her job entails covering several car parks in the vicinity.

“The weather is very hot nowadays, so it is very tiring when I have to travel from car park to car park. I sweat a lot, and get tired easily when fasting.”

Zarah works 12 hours a day, from 8am to 8pm. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Rest means a short breather at a void deck or any place that is shaded. However, there have been times when she has been forced to take a sip of water mid-fast.

“If I feel very weak, then I have no choice – I will drink some water. I won’t eat anything though, just drink some water, and continue again. (I) must fast no matter what, because I am Muslim.”

Favorite meal for iftar: Rice and kueh.

Muhammad Fauzee Abdul Rahim (a.k.a Boncet), 29, UberEats rider

On his way to deliver a customer’s order. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

A look of relief washed over Fauzee’s face as he walked into the air-conditioned eatery. With his helmet still on and a large delivery bag in tow, he waited patiently at the counter for a woman behind an ice cream counter to put together an UberEats order.

Seconds after the order was secured, Fauzee, nicknamed Boncet (Malay for “bloated stomach”), was on his bike weaving his way through traffic to deliver the ice cream.

To “really earn money”, at least 20 orders have to be fulfilled daily, he revealed, and you would have to drive around the island in search of an order if there were none in the vicinity, he said.

Fauzee collects his order from the shop vendor. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

“The weather and constantly being on the road is difficult to handle when fasting. We get dehydrated very fast. Sometimes, some of us really cannot tahan (Malay for “handle”) because of the helmet and the heat. It is different when you are working outdoors because if you lose focus, it becomes dangerous,” Fauzee said.

Now in his second year with UberEats as a full-time rider, Fauzee recalled last year’s Ramadan as extremely challenging. He had not known how to juggle both breaking his fast and peak periods for customers, as the timings coincided.

“This year, my fellow riders and I planned everything out, taking into account UberEats’ schemes and peak hours.”

He and his band of 30 fellow riders meet up at different mosques to break their fasts daily after they coordinate their schedules. “There are 160 or more mosques in Singapore and we have 30 days, so we get to visit 30 mosques during Ramadan,” he adds.

Favorite meal for iftar: Whatever the mosque serves. Or else, after-work burgers and dendeng at Geylang.

Siti Nuraini Osman, 27, kindergarten teacher

Nuraini has always known that teaching was her calling. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Known affectionately as Teacher Aini to the children in her K2 class at Jamiyah Kindergarten, Nuraini, who has been a teacher for more than four years, said teaching during the month of Ramadan has been illuminating.

“You learn a lot about patience and yourself when you are teaching children, especially during fasting. At six years of age, the kids are finding out who they are. They are curious, they argue, rebel. They want to test waters and see what the teacher will do if they try something. And when you are fasting, you have to learn to be patient,” she said.

Nuraini marks her students’ homework. (Photo: Gayathiri Chandramohan)

Her job entails “talking a lot” to keep her young charges occupied. “The first few years of teaching and fasting were especially difficult when parent-teacher meetings coincided with Ramadan. After classes you have to prepare all the material, and talking continuously for hours is difficult because you can’t drink any water!”  

Today, she has gotten used to the process of teaching and fasting, bonding with Muslim co-workers during Ramadan.

“Sometimes we complain, ‘Ah, so tired!’ but then the rest would rally us on and say ‘A few more hours! Tahan!’ Those of us teaching the K1 and K2 classes also see some of the kids really try to fast too. Even though they only do half-day fasts, they also give us the moral support to fast!” she added.

When Nuraini heads home to break her fast after work, she often recalls how her late mother used to cook porridge for the family’s iftar meal.

“Her porridge was like the same kind mosques give out for free during iftar, but somehow, when a mother cooks it, it is very different. I have tried to cook it ever since, but I just cannot seem to make it the way she made it.”

Favourite meal for iftar: Her late mother’s homemade porridge

Mazlan Ayub, 55, postman

He rides his motorbike to deliver mail at blocks in his charge. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

With his eyes trained on the addresses, Mazlan Ayob slots mail into their corresponding letterboxes at such speed that his hands are barely visible. His adroitness is not surprising, given his 35 years of experience as a SingPost postman.  

Mazlan breaking his fast over a meal with friends at a nearby mosque. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

“Because of the very hot weather, it does get very tiring. But I have to continue on, and I do thank God that I can manage everything,” he said.

In charge of 16 to 20 blocks in a northeast Singapore neighbourhood, Mazlan zips from block to block on a motorbike for eight hours a day. While his motorbike is sheltered, the oppressive heat can get to him.

“When I am tired, I just go about slower and try not rush too much when I am doing my job. It (may) take a little more time to clear all my mail.”

After he delivers his last letter, Mazlan often heads over to the neighbourhood’s mosque to join his friends in breaking their fast and offering evening prayers.

Favorite meal for iftar: Porridge.

Mohammad Faritz Abdul Hameed, 27, footballer for S.League club Geylang International

Faritz and team doing footwork drills. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

On the eve of a match, Mohammad Faritz Abdul Hameed, who is Number 9 for Geylang International FC, showed off some fancy footwork. The 27-year-old kickstarted his career with the Young Lions in the S.League in 2009, and fasting while training or playing a match is something he is very much used to.

“I have been doing this for so long, and while it is not easy, when you think about it, training is only one-and-a-half hours of the fasting day. So we give everything during training, then after that, we get to enjoy a drink,” he said.

Faritz is a defender for the Geylang International Football Club. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

When he was younger and playing for the national youth team though, there had been a few times he felt like caving in, he recalled. ”Back then when we had our trainings, I was tempted to break my fast. But that was because we were younger then and not used to the intensity. We learned to get used it over the years,” he said.

“Defending is much more tiring than attacking, but, we still do have the energy to play. I think it is because we are Muslim and we believe that everything is from our God. He gives us the strength. When we fast and do our religious prayers, He will help us in a way.”

Favorite meal for iftar: Dates

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