SINGAPORE: Madrasahs will be strengthened “holistically” as they are key components of a large blueprint to develop future-ready Islamic religious teachers or asatizahs, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagaos Zulkifli said in Parliament on Friday (Mar 8).
In his Committee of Supply Muslim Affairs speech, Mr Masagos emphasised that asatizahs today play a critical role in guiding the Singapore Muslim community.
“Our aspiration is for them to reach the highest level of religious scholarship and leadership, contributing to our community in Singapore and beyond – especially in building up religious knowledge that is appropriate to guide a Muslim community living in harmony with other communities and the wider society,” said Mr Masagos.
“With their grounding in both Islamic knowledge as well as secular subjects, asatizah(s) are well-placed to serve in many adjacent fields, such as social work, counselling, Islamic finance, law, and beyond,” he added.
In support of the vision to strengthen the development of asatizahs, he said that the first batch of 26 students from Madrasah Aljunied started on the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) this year.
They were selected based on their performance at the end of Secondary Two.
Madrasah Aljunied is now an accredited IB-authorised school, and to meet the requirements of the IBDP, MUIS said it has expanded the number of subjects offered.
Mr Masagos said MUIS has also “worked closely” with Madrasah Wak Tanjong on a Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) to strengthen its administration and education programmes with a new management board who will be able to contribute multiple perspectives to guide the madrasah.
Last year, the school signed the S$7.5 million package with MUIS, which includes funding for a 30-year lease for its current premises at Sims Avenue.
PUBLIC CONSULTATION EXERCISE TO DEVELOP FUTURE-READY ASATIZAH
Mr Masagos also announced that a Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) will be established.
COFA, which will be chaired by Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, is a public consultation exercise to obtain the community’s feedback on how MUIS can develop a future-ready asatizah workforce.
The committee also comprises of community and religious leaders, asatizah and individuals with relevant professional expertise.
“COFA will co-create our vision of the “Asatizah of the Future” together with the community, and advance the thinking on the skills and competencies that our asatizah will need to better serve the Singapore Muslim community in the future,” said Mr Masagos.
COFA 'A CRITICAL STEP' IN DEVELOPING SINGAPORE ISLAMIC COLLEGE
Dr Maliki said the committee's work is a "critical step" towards the development of a Singapore Islamic College (SIC).
The SIC is MUIS' vision for a local tertiary Islamic institute that will develop Islamic leaders and scholars who are steeped in Islamic tradition, anchored in Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious context, and attuned to the contemporary, real-world concerns of the local Muslim community.
MUIS had earlier embarked on preliminary engagements with various stakeholders on the idea of the college, and it will continue to engage stakeholders and the public on it.
Dr Maliki said that through COFA engagements, MUIS will be able to chart the holistic development of its asatizah, from the madrasahs to the universities, and into their employment.
"MUIS will also be able to map out the skillsets that our asatizah will require to serve our community effectively, and develop pathways for careers within and beyond the religious sector. These findings will provide us with a strong foundation for establishing the SIC in the future," he said.
Mr Masagos also announced that the Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS) will be rolled out next year for all religious graduates returning from overseas studies.
The PCICS will replace the existing Islam in Context Programme today, and place greater focus on helping participants acquire work-relevant skillsets, Mr Masagos said.
Elaborating on the PCIS in his speech, Dr Maliki said the certificate will offer modules that deepen Singapore's returning graduates’ understanding of the country's geo-political and socio-religious context and how Islam can be practised effectively in our multi-racial and multi religious society.
"This is important to prepare them for their role in providing religious guidance to the community. The PCICS will also equip participants with work-relevant knowledge and skillsets, such as in social work and counselling, digital literacy as well as entrepreneurship, to open up more opportunities for them," said Dr Maliki.
He added that graduates of the PCICS will also be recognised under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS), a scheme that recognises teachers and scholars who meet the minimum standards of qualification to preach and teach Islamic religious knowledge.