A hush descended over the 1,000 worshippers at Al-Muttaqin mosque yesterday afternoon.
They were expecting their imam, or religious teacher, usually cloaked in a long, grey robe, to make his way to the front to deliver the weekly Friday sermon, but they saw a man in shirt and trousers taking his place instead.
"Remember not to over-indulge in your food portions and these are the healthier foods you can break fast with," said the speaker as he flashed presentation slides on the wall.
The special speaker of the day was Mr Adzhari Boimin, a senior clinical nurse manager with the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). The foundation has teamed up with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to incorporate health messages in its sermons, which were broadcast live to the other 67 mosques islandwide from Al-Muttaqin mosque in Ang Mo Kio. The health message was also played on radio last evening to extend its reach.
More of Singapore's new dialysis patients are turning out to be Malays, and NKF hopes to emphasise the importance of a healthy diet to the community, especially during Ramadan when some end up bingeing after fasting.
"During this time, there is an abundance of food, with more selections of sweets and high-calorie food, and people are more likely to consume more calories if they are not mindful," said NKF's senior renal dietician Chow Pek Yee, who helped to come up with the Ramadan health message.
According to the National Nutrition Survey in 2010, Malays are more likely to take deep-fried food and sweet drinks. Food that is high in fat, salt and sugar increases the risk of kidney failure.
Ramadan - the ninth month of the Muslim year during which fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset - started late last month and will last till July 27. It is traditionally a time of prayer and abstinence, but Singapore is not alone in fearing that it may become a time of unhealthy habits.
Those abstaining from food, water and smoking during the day sometimes end up bingeing at night, with heavy, rich meals or parties until dawn. Usually, Muslims break fast at sunset with a date and sweet drinks. They move on to richer meals of lamb or other meat, rice, potatoes and sweets.
To combat the health issues that can mar the holy month, newspapers and television advertisements in Jordan, Dubai and Saudi Arabia routinely urge healthy eating and exercise. Health officials in Jordan had said that cases of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and simple indigestion skyrocket during the first week of Ramadan.
That is why NKF and Muis are not taking any chances. The Ramadan health talk yesterday is part of a series of health talks and screenings to be conducted at the mosques, which are key meeting points for the community.
Kidney failure is a growing problem here and affects a disproportionate number of Malays.
New dialysis cases almost doubled in 13 years, from 536 in 1999 to 913 in 2012. Of these, one in six was a Malay in 1999. But by 2012, this was one in four. Last year, 28 per cent of NKF patients were Malays who, however, form only 13 per cent of Singapore's population.
The health message resonated deeply with Mr Juraiman Rahim, 47, manager at Al-Muttaqin mosque. This is his first Ramadan after he was diagnosed with diabetes recently.
Since he was a young boy, it has been a tradition for his family to break fast with foods such as nasi briyani and ice kacang. "As a reward or encouragement after fasting, we could eat whatever we like and there was no limit," said Mr Juraiman, who has to have three insulin shots every day during the Ramadan month instead of the usual two.
"Having diabetes is a wake-up call for me and this year we are having home-cooked food to set an example for my children."
During this time, there is an abundance of food, with more selections of sweets and high-calorie food, and people are more likely to consume more calories if they are not mindful.
- NKF senior renal dietician Chow Pek Yee
This article was first published on July 12, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.