DILI: Muslims in Dili, the capital of predominantly Catholic East Timor, have welcomed Ramadan with great joy.
Julio Muslim Antonio da Costa, the imam of Dili’s largest mosque An Nur, said as the holy month approached, the mosque council set up a committee to organize Ramadan-related activities, such as preparing meals for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset) and collecting alms.
“We had up to 400 people for iftar on the first and second day of Ramadan, and we prepare the food every day throughout the month,” da Costa told Arab News.
Some congregation members stay in the mosque for the rest of the evening to perform the Taraweeh prayer and listen to sermons delivered by clerics from neighboring countries.
The clerics also “deliver sermons in other parts of the country, where there are smaller Muslim communities,” da Costa said.
Every Sunday afternoon, Nurul Habibah, 28, organizes a daily Qur’an recital with fellow Muslim women.
“We have sermons and recital after the Asr prayer, and we involve children from the adjoining orphanage,” said Habibah, who hails from Lombok island in Indonesia.
Muslims make up about 0.3 percent of East Timor’s population of 1.2 million, most of them concentrated in Dili.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.
“There’s no problem with religion in my country,” he told Arab News. “The problem is only when you mix religion with politics, but it’s a problem at the high level. There’s no problem at the people’s level.”
Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular, and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of society.
“Every Eid Al-Fitr, the president comes to An Nur after Eid prayer to celebrate the day with the Muslim community,” said da Costa. “It’s a symbol of religious tolerance in East Timor.”
The offices of the president and prime minister, as well as other government offices, send livestock for sacrifice to the mosque for Eid Al-Adha festivities, said Arif Abdullah Sagran, president of the Center of East Timor Islamic Community. But finding halal food is still a problem in the country, Sagran told Arab News.
Da Costa said: “The lingering misperception now is that food is halal as long as it doesn’t contain pork. We don’t yet have a special body to regulate halal food, but for the time being, we can get halal food from Indonesian traders here.”
An Nur was built in the 1950s during the Portuguese colonization of East Timor and was developed during Indonesia’s occupation.
“After our independence (in 2002), the government built two towers in the mosque,” said da Costa. “Now it can accommodate up to 3,000 people.”