SINGAPORE: Malay-Muslim community leaders support an idea to make the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) compulsory for all Islamic religious teachers. The decade-old scheme recognises teachers and scholars who meet the minimum standards of qualification to preach and teach Islamic religious knowledge.
It was discussed in a closed-door dialogue on Saturday (Aug 20) between Malay-Muslim leaders, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, and Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli as part of regular engagements with the community.
Dr Yaacob had announced earlier this month that ARS would be extended to all local religious teachers, to provide assurance to the public that religious teachers who provide religious guidance are well-qualified and trained.
About 80% of Muslim religious teachers are currently accredited under the scheme, which is run by the Asatizah Recognition Board and Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS).
Speaking to the media after the session, Muslim leaders said making the scheme compulsory would ensure religious teachings are not divisive and will not seed extremist ideologies.
Chairman of the Asatizah Recognition Board Ustaz Ali Mohamed said religious teachers themselves must see the need for this scheme to be mandatory, to better guide the community. “I think the time has come, as we have many asatizah – about 1,700 of them – registered. All of them come from different institutions and universities, so it’s best that we bring them together to ensure that what they learnt from overseas universities are applied to our local ways.”
Said Ustaz Pasuni Maulan from PERGAS: "ARS as an idea originated from PERGAS in the face of challenges we see today. Religious teachers do not only develop the community spiritually but also socially and economically. If religious teachers isolate themselves, they are not able to contribute to the community. Hence, when all of them are on one platform, the impact will be bigger and this will contribute to our prosperity and progress.”
Other community leaders said making the scheme mandatory would be a progressive and pro-active step.
“As a whole, the community would have more confidence in terms of ensuring that whatever is actually delivered by the asatizah is something that is relevant and contextualised to modern living,” said president of the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association Rahayu Mohamad. “I think indirectly, this will also increase the confidence of the parents in sending their children to madrasahs, or to the public sector providing education, that their children are put in good hands.”
Chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals Abdul Hamid Abdullah echoed the sentiment. “It clearly signals not just to the Muslim community but also to the rest of the community in Singapore that we are concerned about getting the right, credible people to teach religious teachings.”
But he added that the issue of implementation needs to be addressed. “How do you operationalise the plan? I think that will be a great challenge because it won’t be easy to ensure that every person who is providing religious teachings is registered, ultimately. There will be gaps, and if that happens, what are the mechanisms in place to bring these people into the scheme?”
Earlier this week, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) highlighted the importance of ARS, in the wake of an announcement that four Singaporeans were dealt with under the Internal Security Act for supporting Islamic State extremists. "There can never be a substitute for a proper learning support network of peers, family and especially credible local teachers who are registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme," said director for Religious and Policy Development at MUIS, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir.