SINGAPORE: The Malay-Muslim population in Singapore has made significant social and economic progress over the years, and they can become a community that’s modern, vibrant and confident, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday (Apr 1).
That was the vision he laid out for the Malay-Muslim society at an annual seminar organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP). To achieve that, Mr Shanmugam said first, the majority of the community needs to do well and he highlighted the achievements it has made.
For instance, the proportion of Malay Primary 1 students who go on to post-secondary education has doubled from 45 per cent in 1995 to 93 per cent in 2015. Those who eventually receive polytechnic diplomas, professional qualifications or university degrees have "gone up over a five-year period to 21 per cent," said Mr Shanmugam.
He added that the proportion of Malays working as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) increased to 28 per cent in 2010 and the median real monthly income per capita has doubled since 1990.
Nearly 90 percent of Malay households own their own homes. “Even more significant is that more than 70 per cent live in 4-room and higher-end housing,” he said, noting that a Malay middle-class has formed.
“With a significant equity and assets that they own, they do not have to worry about where they are going to live, with a bright future for their children, confident that their children will go on to post-secondary education … The framework has therefore been created for tremendous success."
“BEACON” FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD
Singapore’s Malay-Muslims can achieve even more, said Mr Shanmugam calling on the community to be an example for the rest of the world.
“Look around the world today. Many Islamic societies are searching for the path forward on how to be successful. They are asking themselves what is the correct path? How will they achieve success? What does successful mean? In that context, look at the future and see how our Malay-Muslim community can be the beacon for the rest of the world,” he told the audience.
This can be achieved, Mr Shanmugam said, not only through gaining material success but also understanding the community’s culture, religion, traditions and be proud of them.
“At a time of considerable change in Islamic societies around the world, our Malay-Muslim society is now in a position to be successful in science, technology, maths, computers, and at the same time, practise our religion and values, and be strong internally within the framework of a multi-racial, multi-religious society.
With a stable, strong political system, with a strong Government, with a guarantee for the minorities … with this framework, we can become the community that Muslim societies in other countries look towards and say, this is the example,” he said.
Community leaders at the annual seminar organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals. (Photo: MHA)
Already, Mr Shanmugam noted that a Singaporean Malay, in terms of education standing, skills and wealth, is better off than a Malaysian or Indonesian Malay.
"Look at the progress in education - our PISA scores, look at mathematics, science, reading. Compare a Malay PMET in Singapore and a Malay PMET in Malaysia, who is doing better. The same goes for the Indians, and for the Chinese in Singapore. Take them versus their counterparts across the causeway or around the region, we do better," said Mr Shanmugam.
However, he cautioned that while Singapore is doing better compared to many parts of the world, "within Singapore there is still a gap," he said. "Our competition is no longer just Malaysia or Indonesia, we are competing with the world."
CHALLENGES FACING THE MALAY-MUSLIM COMMUNITY
While significant progress has been made, Mr Shanmugam singled out three challenges facing the Malay-Muslim community: Radicalisation, PMETs who have lost their jobs and the over-representation of Malays being caught for crimes and drug abuse.
The minister cited a Pew Research Centre study which showed that 10 per cent of Malaysian Malays had a favourable opinion of Islamic State (IS) and nearly one quarter were not prepared to come out and say that IS is wrong.
“We have to make sure that we do not get there. And a key part of that depends on you, the leaders of the Malay community - whether you can make sure that the right religious values are put forth. We have to work hard at this because the influences are on the Internet,” said Mr Shanmugam.
On drug abuse, the minister said 53 per cent of drug abuses arrested last year were Malays. This is an increase from 10 years ago when the proportion of Malay drug abusers arrested was 32 per cent.
“To prevent the offending and to reduce the re-offending, the recidivism, it is challenging,” he acknowledged and called on Malay-Muslim organisations to work with the ministry to help those caught up in drugs. “Your help will be essential in the area of sending the message across, education, aftercare. It is a general problem, it is not a specific problem, not specific to the Malay community."
This is a long-standing problem, the chairman of AMP Abdul Hamid Abdullah told Channel NewsAsia after Mr Shanmugam's speech.
"We acknowledge that preventing drugs is not our forte, but we want to focus on building stronger family units that will prevent people from committing crime,” he said, adding that AMP is working on a pilot project with the Singapore Prisons Service to help inmates with financial literacy and education, in the hope that they can reintegrate with the community when they are released from prison.
Mr Abdul Hamid said he is "heartened" by Mr Shanmugam's concern over the state of affairs of the Malay-Muslim community. "He comes from a different minority group and he empathises well with the issues and concerns our community faces," he added.
Ultimately, Mr Shanmugam said organisations like AMP and MENDAKI can play a key role in improving the lives of Malay-Muslims.
“More hard work and organisations like yours must continue to lead the community and the Government must continue to first lay down the rules clearly - racial and religious harmony, guarantee of equal rights for everyone, guarantee of minority rights, absolute, unquestionable.
"It is in Singapore’s interest to make sure that everybody succeeds and that the under-performance is not defined by race and religion,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“I think you can achieve a lot,” he concluded. “We can achieve a culturally and religiously vibrant, integrated, modern, successful Muslim community. And may that vision be achieved soon.”