SINGAPORE: Muslims in Singapore are a community underpinned by character, competence and citizenry, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said on Friday (Jun 14).
Speaking at an annual Hari Raya get-together, Mr Masagos described building a "community of success" - first mentioned at the Committee of Supply debates in March - including investments for the religious sector.
Mr Masagos talked about how the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will adopt strategies to ensure religious teachers can develop their skillsets to seek other careers in the future, professionalise the industry, and contribute toward raising competence in the larger community.
Islamic religious teachers, or asatizahs, play a crucial role in developing a sense of citizenry, said Mr Masagos, who called on them to help Muslims deepen their sense of confidence and discernment so that they can go about their religious practice with confidence while contributing to mainstream society.
"We do not have to worry if it is a religious problem to attend milestone celebrations or life events of friends or even family members of a different faith," said Mr Masagos.
"In fact, we should wish them well during their festivals. More confidence in our faith will allow more of us to participate actively in social activities at our workplaces, neighbourhoods and schools."
To that end, he announced that Singapore will host a conference on the theme of being a community of success next year.
It will discuss how Muslim minority communities can use religion to become "dignified and contributing citizens in their societies".
Encouraging asatizah to work with the Office of the Mufti as well as other community leaders to develop a Singapore Muslim school of thought on Islam, Mr Masagos said: "MUIS, as well as our religious scholars and asatizah, can contribute their wealth of experience, fatwa, and irsyad.
"These can be discussed by other religious scholars around the world. This can be Singapore's contribution to the world."
There are 4,500 asatizah in Singapore. Mr Masagos said about 200 of them have come forward to take part in initiatives under the M3 umbrella, formed by the Mendaki self-help group, MUIS and Mesra.
There have also been just as many volunteers from the professional sector who contribute their time, with Malay-Muslims having the highest rate of volunteerism of all the communities in Singapore, said Mr Masagos.
UNLIKE OTHER MUSLIM MINORITY COMMUNITIES
During his speech, Mr Masagos also said that Muslims in Singapore differ from those in other countries, where many are "stuck in an under-class" and isolate themselves from mainstream society, which can give rise to extremist views.
In Singapore, Mr Masagos said, Muslims are not viewed with suspicion because of the acts of terrorists who claim to be Muslim.
"What differentiates us is that our community condemns such ideologies," said Mr Masagos. "We are very different from other Muslim minority communities."
Added the minister: "We need not be apologetic for terrorism, nor do we need to see ourselves as victims. We are not liabilities. Rather, we contribute to the nation and the economy, and we solve our own problems. We have the trust and respect of society."
This, he said, is recognised by the world.
"When I was in Egypt three months ago, I met both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Grand Mufti of Egypt. Both of these esteemed Islamic scholars told me how impressed they were with the observance of Islam here, and the harmony in which our Muslim community lived with the rest of Singapore," said Mr Masagos.
"They felt that our Muslim community was a model of success for other minority Muslim communities living in plural societies."
He also said that secular leaders from the United States and Europe who are grappling with issues of religious harmony and integration of their Muslim communities have visited Singapore in recent years to study the community as a model.
Five hundred guests attended this year's Hari Raya get-together, including 64 outstanding individuals recognised in the Malay-Muslim community.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu were in attendance as special guests, as well as the Mufti of Singapore.