SINGAPORE: Two Muslim leadership bodies will work together to make the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) mandatory, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Malay National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).
The decade-old scheme, which is currently voluntary, recognises teachers and scholars who meet the minimum standards of qualification to preach and teach Islamic religious knowledge.
"MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) will work with PERGAS (Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association) and the Asatizah Recognition Board (ARB) to make (the scheme) mandatory," said PM Lee in Malay during his speech, which began at 6.40pm at ITE Central.
He added: "I commend the community for these initiatives and for their resolve. This will ensure that all Muslim religious teachers here are able to guide their students to practice Islam in the context of Singapore's multiracial society."
Earlier in his speech, Mr Lee had said that it is critical for local asatizah (Muslim religious teachers) to understand Singapore's multiracial context.
He shared that several topics, including an understanding of contemporary issues and context, are incorporated in professional development programmes offered to asatizah by the ARS.
"I understand that many asatizah find this exposure useful and important," he said.
On the sidelines of the Rally, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said the plan is to start making the ARS mandatory from the beginning of next year, although there will be a transition period.
"We want to have every religious teacher to be qualified and be on the ARS. If some of them do not have the necessary qualification, we will run programmes, we will basically work with them to ensure they can be part of the ARS," he said.
The Minister added that 80 per cent of teachers are already registered under the ARS.
"The remaining 20 per cent are those operating on the private sector; those are running their own classes. We will be meeting them and I think they understand the need for the ARS and some of them are coming forward and I think some of them also fear that they may not have the necessary qualification."
In that situation, the authorities will work with the teachers to see what assistance is needed to ensure they meet the criteria to be qualified under the ARS.