Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Singapore Notes - Lakshmi's Blessings for the Hajj?

There’s a shop in Kampung Glam, somewhere between Arab Street and Haji Street, that sells everything you might need for the Hajj – prayer mats, skull caps, even sticks of neem that can be used to clean one’s teeth during the pilgrimage.

It’s not an unusual shop in this part of Singapore, an area presided over by the Sultan mosque and specializing in Malay, Arab, Turkish and subcontinental Muslim fare (including some fantastic food, incidentally).

But there is one thing a little unusual about this particular shop. If you look past the prayer rugs towards the back of the shop you notice pictures of the Goddess Lakshmi, a baby Krishna and a small, but distinctly Hindu, altar. The shop is run by Pankaj and Ramesh, Singaporean Hindus of Indian descent.

Does this deter their Muslim customers from shopping here in preparation for the Hajj? Not usually – at least not Singaporean Muslim customers. “We have our loyal customers who have supported us for years,” says Pankaj. After all, he says, this just happens to be his trade. “And we treat all the items with great respect,” he explains.

There was one customer who wasn’t convinced – not a Singaporean, as Pankaj is quick to point out. He selected a prayer rug and a few other things and then, as he was about to pay for the items he noticed the pictures at the back of the shop. He felt he couldn’t buy items for the Hajj from a non-Muslim and left without the things he had selected.

Pankaj and Ramesh take such incidences in their stride. “It’s the customer’s choice,” says Pankaj philosophically.