SINGAPORE: Singapore Malays are distinct from their regional counterparts with a “unique identity” in the way the community practises Islam and emphasises education, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally Malay speech on Sunday (Aug 18).
“(Singapore Malays’) influence on Singapore society helped shape our national identity as a multiracial country in Southeast Asia,” he said.
“In this process, Singapore Malays have developed your own unique identity, and you have become distinct from other Malays in the region, and from Muslims elsewhere in the world.”
Mr Lee said this identity comprises firstly of character, which is formed by how the community practises religion in Singapore’s multicultural context.
In Singapore’s plural society, he said Islam is practised “in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness”.
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Central to this are the asatizah who help nurture a progressive Muslim society, Mr Lee said, adding that they should maintain high standards and be confident leaders in the future.
Mr Lee said a committee led by Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman is reviewing how to improve asatizah’s professionalism and build on the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, while the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will launch the Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies next year.
“It is meant to train them in the application of what they have learnt overseas to our Singapore context,” he added. “We also hope to explore new approaches and pedagogies in the teaching and learning of Islam.”
In the bigger picture, Mr Lee said Malay Muslims in Singapore are “well-regarded as a model for other Muslim and minority communities” because of the country’s success in building “harmonious racial and religious relations”.
He cited how Singapore recently organised the International Conference on Cohesive Societies where scholars and practitioners had “fruitful exchanges” with their foreign counterparts.
“The conference served as a reminder to many of us that we should to persevere in strengthening our religious harmony, even as race and religion are causing serious conflicts in many other societies,” he added.
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EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION
Mr Lee said the next part of the Singapore Malay identity is competency, which the community has enhanced through its emphasis on education.
“More Malay parents have been sending their children to pre-school because they understand the importance of providing their children with a good foundation before primary school,” he said.
“In school and post-secondary, Malay students are also showing better results. More Malays now graduate with diplomas and degrees than before.
“Our Malay community has progressed because of your emphasis on education.”
Mr Lee also noted that seven in 10 Nitec graduates at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) go on to upgrade themselves, although he expressed hopes that more could do so with an ever-increasing demand for better skills and knowledge.
“The Ministry of Education will soon announce expanded pathways for ITE students to upgrade themselves,” he said.
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As for university, Mr Lee cited how the number of Mendaki Awards recipients who graduated with first-class honours has increased from seven in 2007 to more than 70 in 2018, adding that a younger generation of Malays now hold important positions in the community.
He cited this year’s Malay President’s Scholar, Muhammad Dhafer Muhammad Faishal, who not only excels academically but also volunteers in the community.
Mr Lee said: “To Dhafer and his family, including his father, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim, congratulations!”
“Each successive generation of Malays has been better educated, and thus held better jobs and led more fulfilling lives than the previous,” he added.
“YOU CAN ALL BE PROUD”
Mr Lee rounded off by saying Singapore Malays “can all be proud” of their achievements, having built a strong community and enriched Singapore’s history over several centuries.
“The Malay community has prospered with the nation. Now, Malays have their own distinct identity,” he added. “At the same time, you have integrated with other communities, and formed solid instincts as sons and daughters of Singapore.”