The Ramadhan-Bazaar Conundrum: A Way Forward | Wasat No. 27/Jun 2019


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The Ramadhan-Bazaar Conundrum: A Way Forward

01 June 2019 12:00 am // Written by Mohd Hafiz Bin Kusairi

Image Credit: Singapore Press Holdings

This article will look at the Ramadhan-Bazaar conundrum which rears its head yearly as the community wrestles with uplifting its spirituality vis-a-vis an entity which also holds its own justification for its existence.

The article acknowledges the rightful desires of a Muslim to enhance his or her spirituality in Ramadhan which also includes taking steps to avoid compromising this pursuit. This might include the decision to avoid the existing Ramadhan bazaars. However, the article will also try to present some justifications on the part of the vendors and patrons at the bazaar so that it creates a more nuanced understanding within society, which will prevent the prevalence of misplaced assumptions and judgements that will ironically, compromise the very exalted spirituality one is pursuing.

Basis for conundrum

Ramadhan is a month in which a Muslim seeks to elevate his or her state of spirituality; either through increasing the frequency of existing routines or seeking forgiveness from Allah.

The Prophet (pbuh) mentioned in a hadith:

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for Allah’s reward, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for Allah’s reward, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)

As such, Muslims are exhorted to seize the opportunity presented by this blessed month to not only perform good deeds and avoid the evil ones but to ensure that the premises for doing so is preserved as well. This will entail maximizing every temporal opportunity to pursue acts of goodness and minimizing the possibilities for the compromise of this pursuit. This includes minimizing the desire to sleep in abundance during the day and eating in excess at night. Imam Abdullah Al-Haddad mentioned in his Al-Nasaih Al-Diniyyah Wa Al-Wasaya Al-Imaniyyah (translated: Religious Counsels and Faith-based Advices):

“Among the etiquettes of fasting is to not sleep excessively during the day not eat excessively during the night, but to rather be moderate in that so that one feels the hunger and thirst and trains the self, weakens the passions and enlightens the heart. That is the secret of fasting and its purpose. The fasting person should avoid extravagance and excessive passion and delights as we have already mentioned.”

At the same time, like in most Muslim communities worldwide, the arrival of Ramadhan in Singapore brings with it the atmosphere of festivity in light of the celebratory month of Syawal succeeding it.

Credit: Berita Harian, Desmond Wee

This is most evidently manifested in the form of the bazaars; most prominently in the Geylang Serai district and increasingly in the heartlands too. Usually active from late noon till the wee hours of the morning on a weekday and almost the whole day through the night on weekends, the presence of these bazaars have traditionally attracted throngs of patrons especially in the final days of Ramadhan.

As such, at a time when one is striving to both preserve and raise his or her spirituality, another reality seemingly challenges this purpose. Some have even described the presence of such bazaars as having a corrosive effect on the sanctity of Ramadhan.

Call to caution

Indeed, the presence of bazaars have the potential to compromise the rewards one seeks to reap in the month of Ramadhan due to the prevalence of the very entities such as abundant food and entertainment that can veil one from appreciating Ramadhan in its truest form.

However, another undesirable outcome of this Ramadhan-Bazaar conundrum that is often overlooked is the tendency to cast a blanket accusation over those associated with the bazaar such as the vendors and patrons for their perceived ignorance of the significance of Ramadhan. Worse, one starts to develop the belief that those who appropriate time for the bazaar are inferior pursuers of Ramadhan.

Allah cautions against hurling wrongful accusations and developing superiority complex in the Qur’an:

“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers. O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Al-Hujurat, 11-2)

Credit: Berita Harian, Roslee Razak

A nuanced understanding of bazaars

First of all, in all theological matters, the original ruling must be established. On this regard, it is argued that the permissibility of operating bazaar falls under the fiqh maxim, “the principal ruling for all (mu`amalah) matters is mubah (permissible)”. Thus, it is upon those who claim the otherwise to offer the dalil for impermissiblity.

Critics argue that those involved in the bazaar, both vendors and patrons, have wasted their time during this precious time of Ramadhan in “wordly matters” when the time could have been better appropriated for acts of devotion.

While there is truth in some of these grievances, which include the act of some vendors selling food for open consumption by Muslims in broad daylight, there is a great need for nuanced understanding so as not to fall into the trap of making baseless accusations.

The Qur’an has addressed a similar issue in surah Al Baqarah verse 198,

“[However,] you will be committing no sin if [during the pilgrimage] you seek to obtain any bounty from your Sustainer. And when you surge downward in multitudes from `Arafat, remember God at the holy place, and remember Him as the One who guided you after you had indeed been lost on your way.”

The verse addressed the negative perception among Muslims towards those who involved themselves in trading while performing their pilgrimage during its season – a time when devotion to God should have been given priority.

Instead of condemning those who were involved in trade during the pilgrimage period, the verse seeks to console the traders.

Often, the general basis for vendors setting up their respective stalls in Ramadhan is to capitalize on the crowd size and reap returns that will exceed their normal margins outside of Ramadhan.

For these vendors, business in this form is their livelihood and capitalizing on Ramadhan can almost be similar to how some of us look forward to particular times of the year for our annual bonuses. These perks provide them with the income to at least meet their own needs and those under their care.

The Prophet (pbuh) mentioned in a hadith, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, if one of you were to carry a bundle of firewood on his back and sell it, that would be better for him than begging a man who may or may not give him anything.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)

Furthermore, while there is caution against the preoccupation with food in the month of Ramadhan, one must not make the simplistic assumption that those who are at bazaars are preoccupied with it and hence have compromised themselves in Ramadhan.

Credit: Berita Harian

There will be those who are purchasing food with the purpose of providing others with it. This can extend from family members, neighbours, colleagues or even the needy members of society.

The Prophet (pbuh) mentioned, “O people, exchange greetings of peace, feed people, establish ties of kinship, and be in night prayer when others are asleep, you will enter Jannah in peace.” (Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi)

In another hadith, he (pbuh) said, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to the people. The most beloved deed to Allah is to make a Muslim happy, or to remove one of his troubles, or to forgive his debt, or to feed his hunger.” (Narrated by Al-Thabarani)

Granted that one can always ‘fault’ patrons and vendors alike on various counts such as:

  1. not financially planning in advance hence resulting in a Ramadhan spent trying to reap wordly rewards at bazaars,
  2. not purchasing the necessary items for Hari Raya in advance hence having to be unnecessarily present at the bazaar doing so, and
  3. not having adequate appreciating home-cooked food and thus purchasing food at bazaars for novelty’s sake and hence having to spend precious time at the bazaar.


However, these do not justify the sweeping perceptions one should impose upon both patrons and vendors at bazaars.

In fact, patrons and vendors are known to have completed their Terawih prayers and tilawah (Quranic recitation) prior to making their way to the bazaar. There are also vendors who complete their terawih in the wee hours of the morning after they have completed their sales for the day.

Again, while the argument that arises from this claim would be how these trivial pursuits undermines the optimal attainment of Ramadhan’s rewards, this article is not focused on making comparisons between those who spend their Ramadhan in worship and those who frequent bazaars.

In fact, this article is trying to provide a possible way forward such that our Ramadhan is illuminated not only through our ardent acts of worship but also through a more considerate and balanced perspective towards others.

Moving forward

A wise Muslim should not just highlight shortcomings and see eradication as the sole solution to them.

Instead, he or she should strive to work out solutions that address these surfaced shortcomings head-on, yet constructively. A recent initiative called The Grand Bazaar in 2018 presented an insightful concept that addressed some of the concerns that have contributed to the Ramadhan-Bazaar conundrum.

There have been numerous reminders in Ramadhan for Muslims to honour its sanctity. They have often been directed towards those frequenting bazaars. This overlooks the underlying reasons why bazaars are frequented in the first place.

Far from trying to justify the undesirable acts that undeniably do exist at bazaars, this article calls for one to be most cautious of making sweeping assumptions.

While it is pertinent for one to hasten to goodness in Ramadhan, avoiding this goodness from being eradicated by unfounded assumptions is as pertinent, if not more.


In short, addressing the Ramadhan-Bazaar conundrum calls for an understanding on both parts which eventually points to a common outcome: that the preservation of the sacred month of Ramadhan calls for both and outward inward respect and understanding for both the month and those in it.

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