Piety and the worker

Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Articles, Stories

By Benjamin Wong

It is seven in the evening. The crowd at the TWC2’s Cuff Road meal project starts to pick up and workers slowly stream towards the restaurant. They wait in queue, decked out in varied attire — some are in jeans, others in bermudas, with their t-shirts and polo-tees. Among them, one man stands out with his bright white kurta and skullcap. He captures the eye of senior volunteer Alex Au, who approaches him and asks him if there is any special reason he is dressed like this.

“Go mosque,  I always wear like this.” Habibur tells Alex.

“How often do you go to the mosque?” Alex asks.

“Now no working, I everyday go five times.  Everyday can wear like that to mosque.”

Muslims are called to prayer five times a day.

Habibur Rahman Sadiman is a long-timer in Singapore – he first arrived in 2001, working for 11 years at a timber factory before an unfortunate accident this year. On 7 September, Habibur was working at the factory when his hand was injured badly by the cutting blade of a machine. He was put in the hospital for two days, following which he was given a five weeks medical leave, followed by four weeks of light duty. Unfortunately, his work permit was cancelled at the start of November.

“But what about when you were working? Boss okay with you praying during working hours?” I ask Habibur. Alex and I were curious about boss’ attitudes to workers’ perception of their religious duties.

“Yes, my factory also have three other people [who pray]. Only take 5-7 minute. I ask boss, maybe during kopi break, can go pray, boss say can,” Habibur replies, “I working 11 years same boss. Boss good lah. Have small room inside factory, can pray inside.”

Most of the time, Habibur works in the timber factory, and perhaps that’s why he was able to get a dedicated space for prayer.

Although Habibur’s boss had provided a space for Habibur and his fellow workers to pray, working at the factory, in Habibur’s eyes, had its limitations too. “Got work, I cannot go mosque. Six day a week I working. Four day working 8am-7pm, two day I working 8am – 5pm. But sometime got OT.” In Singapore, ‘OT’ is short for overtime.

“In factory, only can pray inside room. But during holiday boss no call us back. Holiday can go mosque no problem.”

A migrant worker’s job is often physically taxing and with long hours, and I am curious about the month of Ramadan, “What about fasting?” I ask.

“Fasting? No fasting,” Habibur lets out a big smile, “Working, too hungry lah. Koran say if if very bad, no need fast. So I think okay”, Habibur laughs.

Now that he is unemployed, Habibur can afford to visit the mosque more than he used to. Working or not, Habibur tries his best to follow what is close to his heart. And he is not alone. He tells me that religion is also important for his friends, and they accompany him to the mosque whenever they can. “This one very important to me,” Habibur emphasizes once again, before taking his leave.

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our

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