Not all Ramadan bazaars are, halal?
After the long-hiatus due to COVID-19, festivities are finally back in full swing. Ramadan bazaars are now scattered islandwide to mark the fasting month for Muslims. Aside from the well-known annual Geylang Serai Bazaar, other pasar malams in the heartlands remain accessible to everyone.
While the Ramadan festivities continued in full swing, it was abruptly interrupted by TikTok user @mvkbudvk finding stalls selling pork at a bazaar - Bazar Raya Utara- in Marsiling.
The video garnered 29.8K views and many expressed their disappointment for the bazaar’s organisers in the comments. The bazaar was also branded as a Ramadan bazaar and not a pasar malam or night market, which added to the displeasure of many Muslim patrons.
The traction this news brought prompted the Marsiling Constituency Office to issue an apology on their official Facebook page. Upon finding out that pork was being sold at the bazaar, they raised the issue to the organisers who have since “engaged with the operator” to take “immediate corrective steps” to stop the sale of pork on the premises.
Should bazaars serve only halal food?
Prior to the launch of Bazar Raya Utara, the organiser, Azriman Mansor, spoke about his aim for the bazaar.
Credit: Berita Harian, M.O Salleh “Bazar Raya Utara will host stalls that introduce Malay, Arab, and Chinese food, among others. Additionally, there are many Muslims within this area (Woodlands), so more than 80 percent of the food stalls sell halal food and drinks,” he said.
We did a survey on Instagram to find out whether patrons would be more comfortable with Ramadan bazaars that are fully halal-certified, or if they would be open to having both.
One respondent said: “If you are referring to bazaars that cater to the Muslim community and are there for Muslims to buy food and break their fast, then yes, it’s better to have fully halal stalls. Why call it a Ramadan bazaar when there’s pork being sold?”
Facebook user ‘Slim Shaa’ visited Bazar Raya Utara and commented on her experience: “Quite a number of them (non-halal stalls).. One of them sells pork sticks, and it was located right in the middle of the bazaar instead of in a corner.”
A Ramadan bazaar is not a pasar malam
Many shared the same consensus: not to rebrand a bazaar or a pasar malam as a Ramadan bazaar. By keeping it as a regular pasar malam , organisers can opt to include non-halal stalls to sell food as well. Some survey respondents even suggested segregating the halal and non-halal stalls in such cases to promote a multi-ethnic experience.
Bazar Raya Utara was not the only Ramadan bazaar in Woodlands that was observed selling pork products. Lisa, a resident in the area, was surprised to find a pork-selling stall in the middle of Sembawang West Bazaar Ramadan, across from Admiralty MRT. The event organiser - Adex International - clarified that the bazaar is divided into two separate sections: halal and non-halal.
Although Marsiling Constituency has stopped the sale of pork within the bazaar, it has mentioned that it “..will do our utmost to provide as best as a Ramadan experience as we can; this includes performances during the weekends as well as halal, Muslim-owned, and non-halal stalls to cater to all residents,”
This statement has further sparked a debate, and comments have accused the constituency of disrespecting the Muslim community further.
Mohd Khair, the Admin of Facebook page ‘Halal Cafe & Restaurants in Singapore’ also addressed the situation.
He acknowledged the quick turnaround on removing pork from the bazaar, but also recommended a name change to the event - from Bazar Raya Utara to simply being known as Marsiling Pasar Malam, without having to leverage on the term ‘Hari Raya’; commonly attributed to the Muslim celebration.
As of April 2023, the bazaar is still ongoing with no changes to the name.
Not the first time bazaars have faced such backlash
In 2017 and 2018, the bazaars at Geylang Serai were launched on the basis of inclusivity. However, local websites The Halal Food Blog and Halalfoodhunt found that almost half of the bazaar’s food stalls were neither Muslim-owned nor Halal-certified.
The Geylang Bazaar has been a fixture for over 40 years. The prevalence of Malay-Muslim vendors in the early years meant the halal status of food was hardly ever an issue. It was the introduction of ‘hipster’ food stalls that raised doubts about both pricing and halal certification.
Credit: The Straits Times
Wisma Geylang Serai took full control of the 2019 bazaar and implemented its own criteria: 60% of food stalls will have to sell traditional Malay delicacies, while the remaining 40% can sell other food items. Additionally, all food stalls have to be Muslim-owned, MUIS halal-certified, and approved by halal consultants engaged by the organisers. However, a majority of non-Geylang Serai bazaars continue to remain as pasar malams to cater to the general population. Ultimately, it is up to the organisers’ enforcement to ensure that a night market labelled as a Ramadan bazaar - be it in the heartlands or popular areas such as Kampong Glam - that all vendors go through a Halal-certification check prior to renting their stalls.