Singapore Muslims advised to skip mosques in haze

SINGAPORE - Singapore's top Islamic authority on Friday allowed local Muslims to skip Friday prayers at mosques as smog levels hit a new record high due to forest fires in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

"The Office of Mufti opines that it is permitted for male Muslims not to attend Friday prayers during the subsistence of haze which may have hazardous effects to their health or may potentially threaten their lives," the religious authority said.

It said that the men may perform the midday prayers somewhere else instead of mosques.

Friday mosque prayers are obligatory among devout Muslim males.

Muslims, mostly ethnic Malays, comprise more than 13 per cent of Singapore's population, according to 2012 data.

Singapore's smog index breached the critical 400 level on Friday, which is potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly people if sustained over a 24-hour period. The index eased off in the afternoon but remained at officially "unhealthy" levels.

Indonesian and Singaporean officials have been holding emergency talks on how to extinguish the fires on farms and plantations on Sumatra, which are also affecting Malaysia.

Indonesian helicopters have been sent to Sumatra for cloud-seeding operations to trigger rain and douse the fires, some of them deliberately set off to clear land for cultivation.

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago stretching between mainland Asia and Australia.

Despite generating the haze, Indonesia remained a popular destination for Singapore residents seeking short-term relief from the bad air, a survey showed Friday.

Skyscanner, a global travel search site, said in a statement that online queries on outbound flights had risen by 22 per cent from Singapore between June 17 and 20, with Indonesia's resort island Bali as the top destination followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Phuket in Thailand and Indonesia's capital Jakarta.

Bali and Jakarta are located far enough from Sumatra to remain unaffected by the smog.

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