Due to the rising rates of Islamophobia, one cannot deny that studying overseas in a place you are unfamiliar in makes you do a double take. What if people don’t accept you for who you are? Are you going to worry about whether you can get to class safe or will you experience verbal abuse in class?
I’m not saying that you will experience this in Singapore or in any other country, but if you are a type of person who has concerns about this at all, let me assure you that those concerns are valid and has to be addressed globally. However, this is simply impossible right now with Trump meddling in the Israel-Palestinian affairs. That aside, as a Muslim exchange student, I (rightfully) assume that you might want to spend your 6 months enjoying a country’s culture safely.
And let me tell you that Singapore is really the place for you to be in for your student exchange experience. I will tell you why!
This is the simplest reason, especially when you do not want to cook every day. While I was in South Korea, my area (Hoegi) didn’t have many halal options. If I wanted to have halal options, I literally had to walk to the station (5 minutes) and take the train (45 minutes) in the hot summer heat. Plus, the line was one of the oldest lines in South Korea, so lots of people use that line to commute to work and school. So my roomie and I often cooked in our dorm. We definitely harnessed our domestic skills and upped our eligibility for marriage, yes?
In Singapore, we have an Islamic body that is recognised globally called the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS). That name is spelled out in Malay, so in English, it is called the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. They have a department that goes around stalls, food establishments as well as produce factories to see whether the food is determined halal and they issue the certificate if these food sources are indeed done according to the halal way. Of course, not all food establishments apply for this certificate because of the owners’ personal reasons and they are not forced to comply because Singapore is a secular country. It just so happens that if they want to appeal to a greater Muslim market.
Of course, there are some food establishments like bakeries that sometimes put up “No Pork No Lard” signs. For Muslim students, you may/may not want to patron these stalls. It is up to your own discretion on that issue. Of course, majority of Muslims depend on this halal certificate sign that looks like…
(img from MUIS.gov.sg)
However, please be aware that some stalls paste this sticker anyhow on their store fronts and did not get certified legitimately. That is illegal. Usually (and by right), all certified halal shops have to have a certificate that informs the expiry of the halal certification. This symbol and that certificate have to go hand in hand. If I were you, I would definitely trust the “No Pork No Lard” shop over a fake certified halal shop!
I love Singapore because of the food. You can easily get halal East Asian dishes such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese food easily. Cue Singfood, Nanyang 1983, 4Fingers, Seoul Garden, Makisan, Hei Sushi… I cannot deny that these foods are much better in their non-halal counterparts (Sakae sushi anyone?) — and no I haven’t tried Din Tai Fung and probably never will.
The point is, you are able to get the cuisine you want to eat. Middle Eastern food? Head to Arab Street. Indian food? Indian food is everywhere! American food? McDonald’s is certified halal! (Almost all of our fast-food restaurants are halal certified, except for Subway and MOS Burger I think!)
You are really spoilt for choice! If you want to have a variety of choices located in one spot, I totally recommend Al-Azhar and Al-Iman restaurant. Totally amazing 5*! 🙂
Now, that’s not all! If you’re not looking to eat out every time (which you probably shouldn’t to save your wallet), cooking in your dorms is the best way to go. For my university, Nanyang Technological University, the dorms have kitchens that available for students’ use. Just… clean up after yourself!
We have a variety of supermarket franchises – NTUC, Sheng Siong, Prime, Cold Storage. We also have a wet market that sells things in much smaller quantities – you can get curry leaves for 20 cents?! Fish and vegetables sold at wet markets are considerably fresher and you can sometimes haggle (based on my home’s market). Best part? Halal meat can be found in both supermarkets and wet markets! And they are pretty affordable too.
For supermarkets, you can just look for the same halal sign on the packaging. For wet markets, just patron the shops that either are Muslim-owned or have the halal sign (this one isn’t so restricted unless you make it to be).
Grocery shopping is literally heaven on Earth for me, because 80% are halal and I don’t need to be so worried that some ingredients are unavailable. However, if you come from a more Western family, certain stuffs like cheeses are way more expensive. Regional produces are much cheaper. Don’t say I never warn you…
Mosque and other Places of Worship
Like I said earlier on, Islamophobia is on the rise. There is more uncertainty on who is to be trusted, but honestly alhamdulillah, Singapore is a relatively safe country and we hope that it will stay that way. Unfortunately, hate speech in on the rise so do not believe in whatever you hear/see. It’s just the angsty and irrational part of the brain acting out.
Thankfully, our multiracial society has been largely tolerant and accepting of our differences. If you’re here in Singapore, there are a ton of mosques that you should visit. Of course, make Masjid Sultan the first mosque. Maybe try and visit all the mosques in Singapore? 🙂 Here’s a list!
Singapore is unique, and that uniqueness if rightfully so; you can often find a church, temple and mosque within 1km of each other. I’ve hardly heard of any vandalism on these places of worship and I really respect our society for that, alhamdulillah.
Multiracial & Multiethnic
Our public holidays largely centers around the 2 major holidays of each major race – Chinese, Malay, Indians and Eurasians. Of course, with interracial marriages on the rise, the boundaries between race are rather obsolete now. However, these public holidays still stand today. On days such as Chinese New Year, you can observe children wearing qipao (not so much the older generation and youth) and lots of shops are closed during this period of time. Nonetheless, if you’re invited to visit a house, do accept that invitation! It will be a fun experience knowing another culture. 🙂 Also, I personally enjoy Mid-Autumn festival during the fall break. Even though it isn’t a public holiday, you can always join families in playing with lanterns and firecrackers in the park or void decks.
I also love to visit my Indian friends’ homes during Deepavali because I love laddu laddu is life. Indian food has always been my first love, and you really have to try it! As for the Malay Culture, come and see us decked in Baju Kurung during Hari Raya or even on weekends where we attend wedding receptions.
Singapore’s cultural scene is indeed colourful, and it’s a safe place to experience all of that. Try to move away from the touristy sites such as Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street and get into the residential areas. You can immerse yourself much better into the local life (and definitely spend much lesser too $$).
Of course there are other reasons such as transportation and lots of interesting stuff you can do in town and elsewhere, but of course, do not forget our regional friends!
Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei
These countries in the Malay Archipelago offer much raw experiences if you’re looking for a kampung lifestyle. My ancestors came from Malaysia (and then China), so I occasionally go back to the countryside from time to time. Of course, your first point of contact with Malaysia will either be Kuala Lumpur (by air) or Johor Baru (by land/causeway). Food is 3x cheaper in Malaysia, and they have much more untouched places to explore.
Brunei is a small country on the island of Borneo. There isn’t much to explore i.e. you can traverse all the sights in one day. It is a country that practices strict Islamic laws. It’s been some time since I’ve been there, but what I can remember is the friendly people and the laid-back lifestyle that Bruneians have. Btw, the Singaporean dollar and Bruneian dollar can be used interchangeably!
Same goes for Indonesia! I absolutely love Yogyakarta and miss it so much. It’s one of the best places to experience the Indonesian cultural life. If you have time, visit Yogyakarta or the capital Jakarta. Things are way cheaper there than in Singapore of course, but what stays the same throughout this region is the hospitality that you will, insya’allah, receive from all of us. 🙂
I hope I have convinced you that Singapore is a really cool place to be in, especially for Muslim exchange students. If you’re looking to study here and need more advice, do leave me a comment, or email me at email@example.com.