SINGAPORE: The Malay-Muslim community in Singapore has seen the fruits of its meritocratic system, but it cannot rest on its laurels. In order to continue progress, it has to tackle three external elements, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.
Speaking during the debate on the President’s Address on Monday (May 14), Mr Masagos pointed out that after 50 years of independence, the country’s Malay-Muslim community is one that “no longer resign ourselves to fate only”.
In terms of education, only 1 per cent of its children do not complete 10 years of schooling, Mr Masagos said, while 94 per cent have a post-secondary education.
The percentage of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) from the community has also increased from slightly more than 7 per cent in 1980 to more than 32 per cent in 2015, he added.
But he cautioned the community against resting on their laurels.
“This is because there are three external elements that we must tackle. Failing to do so will hinder our community’s progress in the future,” Mr Masagos said. He is also minister for the Environment and Water Resources.
LOCAL RELIGIOUS TEACHERS MUST BE AS GOOD AS FOREIGN ONES
One of these challenges is how external elements have changed and influenced the way some in the community lead their religious life here and, to some extent, succeeded in eroding the cultural values of Malay-Muslims in the region, the minister said.
These external elements can also divide the community and even among family members, he added.
Thus, the role of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) in supporting local Muslims in their socio-religious life and their interaction with the country’s multiracial community is “very important”, the minister said.
“We will continue to strive to ensure that local religious teachers are on par and as good as foreign religious educators who may be seen as more glamorous. This is because the religious messages must not only be attractive, but more importantly effective and relevant to life in Singapore,” Mr Masagos said.
The Asatizah Recognition Scheme must thus continue to be improved with guidance from the Office of the Mufti and support from religious teachers, as the scheme will authorise these teachers to spread Islamic teachings in line with the way of life and context in Singapore, without compromising the basic tenets of Islam, he explained.
The second element to be tackled is the distinct shift in the economy, Mr Masagos pointed out.
The country’s strong position is being challenged and countries in the region have become “fierce competitors”, and new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics will be disruptive forces. These contribute to making jobs obsolete and yesterday’s skills irrelevant for the future, he said.
Mendaki, thus, can make play an important role to mitigate such effects.
For one, it will continue to ensure students have basic education and empower those who have potential – from as early as pre-school age, the minister said. It is working with Government agencies and other Malay-Muslim organisations to focus on addressing factors that may hinder children’s education, particularly when there are troubled families, he added.
“This is because children from troubled families are not only unable to realise their full potential, but also face the risk of falling into the pitfalls of crimes and drug abuse,” Mr Masagos elaborated.
FIGHTING RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM WITH INTERACTION
The third external element is foreign religious extremism and the influence this may have, the minister said.
Religious extremism is not limited to terrorism as such attitudes encourage one to be exclusive, which can cause the Muslim community to isolate itself from other communities, said Mr Masagos, adding that it has “already hindered the integration between different communities” to some extent.
The People’s Association (PA) Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (MESRA) thus plays an important role in making sure the community have opportunities to interact with other communities – whether in schools, offices and beyond, he said.
“This is how Singapore develops a friendly and harmonious society because there is great interaction between one another regardless of race, religion and culture,” Mr Masagos said. “At the same time, we are sensitive to our equal rights and responsibilities as citizens. This is what makes our society united.”
To further empower MESRA, the minister said Malay grassroots volunteers should work towards building wider and deeper relationships within the Malay community, he said. One of the ways it is doing so is through the programmes started by MESRA advisers like Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim, Mr Amrin Amin and Ms Rahayu Mahzam involving professionals in sectors like law, health and education.
These programmes will be widened and brought to more estates as well as the MESRA Centre at Wisma Geylang Serai, the minister announced.
Another initiative is to strengthen the leadership within MESRA, and Mr Masagos announced the setting up of the MESRA Advisory Council which comprises seven advisors, MESRA’s top exco members and the professionals.
“This is the greatest product of meritocracy in our Malay-Muslim community, in which our outstanding professionals who have achieved success, return to serve the community,” Mr Masagos said.