Closing speech by Minister for Communications and Information, Minister-In-Charge of Cyber Security, and Minister-In-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, at the second reading of the Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, 01 August 2017
Madam Speaker, I am heartened to see the strong support for marriage preparation programmes for minor couples. Strong families are the foundation of a resilient nation. But as many of us would know, building a strong family requires constant effort, good communication, and mutual understanding. These are but some of the important practices that our marriage preparation programmes seek to promote and encourage among couples.
During the public consultations, there were also calls from the community for the marriage preparation programmes to be made mandatory for other couples, a point also raised by Mr Faisal Manap. Marriage education programmes tailored for different groups are already available, but we are making it mandatory for minor couples for now as they represent the group that most requires support. This is similar to the approach adopted for minor marriages under the Women’s Charter.
We have several approved private partners onboard offering the Cinta Abadi marriage preparation programme for Muslim first marriages, and this makes the programme accessible and convenient for all couples to attend. In fact, when we developed the Cinta Abadi, it was developed in consultation between MUIS, Syariah Court, ROMM and our community partners. It is based on values of the religion and touches on the pillars of marriage in Islam. We can continue to strengthen the programme in consultation with the religious teachers. For remarriages, as raised by Prof Fatimah Lateef, there is a dedicated remarriage preparation and enrichment programme for the couple, and programmes for their children to help them adjust. For couples who need more support, counselling, and even referral to relevant social assistance schemes and services, are provided. Ultimately, it is about helping couples prepare for marriage, and educating those who may not be aware of the importance and availability of such support. The Government will continue to study the landscape, to assess if more needs to be done to support our couples. So we will start with minor couples, but will study further for other couples.
I would like to address Mr Azmoon’s concern about the need to seek consent from the Kadi or Naib Kadi, if a couple wants a wali to solemnise their marriage. I would like to assure Mr Azmoon that this does not take away or affect the wali’s right to solemnise a marriage. Rather, it seeks to ensure that the valid wali has been appointed to solemnise the marriage, and once this is clear, the wali can proceed to solemnise the marriage.
There was also strong support for the proposals to better support divorcing couples. To answer Mr Zainal Sapari’s query, the family support programmes available for divorcing couples are aimed at ensuring the best interest of children of divorcing parties. I will highlight three key areas. First, for couples with children below 21 years old living in a HDB flat, the Syariah Court will refer these cases to HDB for the couple to make informed and sustainable decisions on housing post-divorce.
Second, the Syariah Court refers parents who have at least one child aged between 6 to 15 years old to PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre to participate in PPIS’ “Children-in-Between” programme when necessary. The As-Salaam Support Centre is one of the four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies supported by MSF, and this programme equips parents with co-parenting skills to help reduce parental conflicts and thus minimise the impact of divorce on children. The programme also seeks to help the affected children build coping skills to deal with their parents’ divorce.
Third, divorcing Muslim couples with children up to 21 years old are also required to attend a free 2-hour post-divorce consultation session before the collection of their divorce certificates. This one-time consultation session provided at the Syariah Court is known as “Parenting PACT”, and is conducted by PPIS. The session provides further resources and guidance on cooperative co-parenting skills and self-care strategies. It also provides information about the community support resources available post-divorce.
So it is hoped that these programmes give the strongest support possible to couples and their children in these difficult times. They also complement the parenting plans that couples with children up to 21 years may be required to submit, which essentially are post-divorce co-parenting and care arrangement plans.
Madam Speaker, there were concerns as to whether such provisions for family support programmes or counselling would unnecessarily prolong divorce proceedings. Let me emphasise that counselling goes beyond reconciliation and saving marriages. Counselling in fact provides the safe space to discuss the implications of divorce, and enables parties to receive proper guidance on self-care and post-divorce arrangements for the children of the marriage. As regards the timelines post-counselling, if the parties are amicable and come to an agreement on the divorce and ancillary matters, their case can be completed within 3 to 6 months. However, there are typically 30 per cent of cases that are either acrimonious in nature, or more complex with multi-faceted issues. For such cases, it is only to be expected that their divorce proceedings will take a longer time.
Madam Speaker, I will now move on to jurisdiction on divorce. Ms Rahayu Mahzam,Mr Saktiandi and Mr Louis Ng spoke of a Singaporean lady who obtained a divorce in Johor, but faced difficulties in settling her divorce ancillary matters in Singapore. They were referring to the case of TMO v. TMP (2016), which was brought to the Court of Appeal. The Court eventually allowed the appeal for the wife to seek financial relief at the High Court, on the basis that Chapter 4A of Part X of the Women's Charter can apply to Muslims where necessary. More importantly, the Court of Appeal confirmed that there is no lacuna in the law. The High Court retains residual jurisdiction over matters which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court. So therefore, parties to a foreign Muslim divorce are not stranded, as they can proceed to the civil courts to claim financial relief, including an order for division of matrimonial assets. As was done in this case, the Syariah Court will continue to make orders related to both nafkah iddah, which is the maintenance during the period which the divorced woman is forbidden by Muslim law to remarry, and mutaah, the consolatory gift upon divorce.
Madam, let me now address Prof Fatimah’s and Mr Saktiandi’s comments on the management of our wakafs. First and foremost, there was no specific case that prompted these amendments. But allow me to reiterate some key points. By virtue of AMLA, it has always been MUIS’ responsibility to administer all wakafs. Trustee management is critical to the management of the wakaf, because the accountability that comes with trusteeship helps ensure that the wakaf is maintained and developed well. Disputes related to trusteeship can be complicated, messy, and potentially long-drawn. In the medium- to long-term, the management of the wakaf can be adversely affected.
It is therefore MUIS’ priority, in the interest of all wakaf beneficiaries, to ensure our wakafs are run well, so that they can generate the maximum returns, and are sustainable for the long run. The effort to introduce a Wakaf Dispute Resolution Committee was an innovative but necessary approach by MUIS, to ensure that there are neutral individuals with the necessary expertise to help mediate disputes. So to answer Mr Faisal Manap, we do have a scheme to resolve wakaf disputes outside of the civil courts, and this is through the Wakaf Dispute Resolution Committee appointed by MUIS. We do not want the wakaf’s resources to be drained by unnecessary legal fees. This Committee is thus an expedient and prudent option, specially made available for our trustees and mutawallis who we value greatly for their contributions to the community. MUIS will continue to engage the trustees and mutawallis to ensure that they are all aware of this platform, as well as their respective roles and responsibilities. Disputing parties who do not agree with the manner in which the MUIS Council reached its eventual decision can resort to judicial review by the courts in appropriate circumstances. But we would advise against this and would rather all parties come together for an amicable resolution.
So let me stress again Madam that AMLA had long provided for MUIS to administer all wakafs. These amendments are intended to add greater transparency and clarity to MUIS’ powers, such as in the grounds for removal, for the benefit of trustees and mutawallis. I wish to stress that these amendments on wakaf management should not be misinterpreted as an effort to give MUIS unfettered power. They also help provide more self-sufficient avenues for the wakafs, through contributions to a sinking fund for the maintenance and upkeep of the wakaf.
We must laud the noble efforts and farsightedness of our community’s early philanthropists in establishing the wakafs. We must also commend the good work of all the trustees and mutawallis who have looked after the wakafs well ever since. And so we will continue to respect the traditions and objectives of the very trust deeds that gave life to these wakafs. They are as much a part of our history as they are important community institutions of today.
Allow me to now address some of the comments on the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund, or MBMF. Madam Speaker, the regular contributions from the community to the MBMF over the years made possible the building of new mosques and the upgrading of existing ones. Maarof Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque are our newest mosques built with MBMF resources, with another in Tampines North set to be our 27th MBMF mosque. Since 2009, MUIS has leveraged on the MBMF to add over 23,200 prayer spaces, built more religious class facilities, and introduced more elderly-friendly and disabled-friendly features. In the past year alone, we have seen 6 mosques upgraded, such as Al Muttaqin, Al-Khair, and just recently, Haji Muhammad Salleh at Palmer Road.
When we brought this proposal to the public consultation, the reception was positive, but there were similar concerns to what was aired today. There was recognition that good development of our madrasah students is critical to filling our “hardware”, our institutions, with strong “software”. But there were also concerns as to whether this use of the MBMF may compromise allocations in other areas, such as our mosques. I would like to give my assurance that these uses will not compromise the existing building and maintenance plans we have for our mosques. MUIS will continue to ensure that the MBMF is used judiciously, and to this end will only approve necessary or useful works for our mosques and full-time madrasahs.
Let me address two more points before I conclude my speech. Prof Fatimah and Ms Rahayu raised two areas which were not included in this round of amendments to the Act. On Prof Fatimah’s and Ms Rahayu’s query on having more amendments related to inheritance and nuzriah, allow me to state at the outset that my team and I recognise the need for a comprehensive review on these matters. I have said the same to the community leaders when I met them in March this year. More time is required to assess the changing landscape and study the implications of any such amendments to AMLA. MUIS and MCCY are happy to work with our stakeholders, such as, the Muslim Law Practice Committee of the Law Society of Singapore (MLPC) and the Muslim Financial Planning Association (MFPA), on this review to better serve the best interests of the community. In the meantime, members of the Muslim community are currently already able to make gifts during their lifetime or make nominations to benefit the parties Prof Fatimah and Ms Rahayu mentioned – such as, non-Muslim parents or adopted children – through their CPF and insurance policies, or separately through a will.
Madam, Prof Fatimah touched on the recent challenges in the Muslim world, which I take to mean on exclusivism and extremism. Madam, I will highlight that MCCY and MUIS recently introduced subsidiary legislation through the “Administration of Muslim Law Act (Muslim Religious Schools) Rules 2016”, to better support the asatizah fraternity as well as our Islamic education centres and providers. The Rules came into force on 1 January this year. Central to the Rules is the Code of Ethics, which all asatizah, and Islamic education centres and providers, are required to abide by. The values within the Code are easily relatable to the wider community, such as recognising diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam, not denigrating any racial or religious group, and not advocating any idea that is likely to encourage extremism or violence. To answer Prof Fatimah’s query, there are indeed processes in place to assess if an asatizah has breached the Code of Ethics. The Asatizah Recognition Board will assess the matter, and will subsequently put up a recommendation to MUIS on the next course of action.
Another aspect of the Rules is that all individuals who wish to teach or preach Islam must be recognised under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, or ARS. Our asatizah bear the heavy responsibility of providing the Singapore Muslim community with sound religious guidance amidst an increasingly diverse socio-religious landscape. They are also our leaders in preventing problematic ideologies and practices from taking root. The ARS thus seeks to raise the professionalism and quality of our asatizah, and ensure that they continue to be a key source of confidence for the community, one with strong professional qualifications and training to provide guidance on the practice of Islam in a modern, multi-religious and multi-racial society.
Madam, I would like to once again thank Members for their support of this Bill. They remind me of the equally warm reception we received during the public consultations, where many of our stakeholders and community leaders saw this review as a step in the right direction. It was heartening that from the very start, people saw this as an opportunity to work with the Government to strengthen our community. Many indeed came with valuable ideas and suggestions – some we have incorporated in this round of amendments, while some others we will continue to study with our partners to find the best way forward. So Rahayu, wait. What remains important is that we must continue working together, for we will always be stronger when we are united. And it is this very spirit and confidence that will see us through, no matter what the challenges are, to an even brighter future.
Madam, allow me to conclude in Malay.
Puan Speaker, pada tahun hadapan kita akan meraikan lima puluh tahun pembentukan Akta Pentadbiran Undang-Undang Islam atau AMLA. Akta ini telah dilakarkan oleh Peguam Negara Republik Singapura yang pertama, Almarhum Professor Ahmad Ibrahim dan bertujuan untuk memelihara keperluan sosio-agama masyarakat Islam di Singapura.
Berkat tekad dan usaha sama antara keluarga dan badan-badan masyarakat, statistik perkahwinan dan perceraian dalam masyarakat menunjukkan kemajuan. Walaupun jumlah perkahwinan semakin meningkat, perkahwinan antara pasangan bawah umur semakin berkurangan dan kadar perceraian kekal stabil. Namun, perkahwinan antara pasangan bawah umur tetap terdedah kepada risiko yang lebih tinggi. Justeru, program persiapan perkahwinan wajib akan diperkenalkan, bermula dengan pasangan bawah umur. Ibu bapa atau waris perlu memberi izin sebelum pasangan tersebut mendaftar untuk bernikah. Ini bertujuan untuk memberi asas yang baik kepada pasangan tersebut dalam tahun-tahun awal untuk merintis jalan ke arah perkahwinan yang berkekalan.
Puan Speaker, kami akur bahawa kadangkala perkahwinan tidak dapat diselamatkan. Namun kita harus mempertingkatkan usaha agar tren perceraian tidak meningkat. Oleh itu, bidang kuasa Mahkamah Syariah akan diperluas bagi memastikan agar pasangan yang ingin bercerai menghadiri Program Kaunseling Perkahwinan. Mahkamah Syariah juga akan diberi kuasa untuk melantik pakar bagi membela hak anak-anak daripada pasangan yang bercerai. Ini penting untuk memastikan kebajikan anak-anak terpelihara dalam sebarang perceraian.
Di bawah seksyen 58 dalam AMLA, MUIS bertanggungjawab untuk mentadbir semua hartanah wakaf di Singapura. Pada tahun 2016, MUIS mengagihkan lebih tiga juta dolar daripada pulangan hartanah wakaf kepada masjid, madrasah dan pertubuhan Islam. Ini dicapai hasil perancangan teliti MUIS serta kerjasama erat dengan para pengamanah dan mutawalli atau pengurus hartanah wakaf. Untuk meningkatkan keupayaan dalam mengurus wakaf, MUIS akan diberi kuasa untuk menarik balik pelantikan pengamanah atau pentadbir wakaf sekiranya terdapat sebarang bukti salah laku. Langkah ini penting agar hartanah wakaf ditadbir secara profesional dan telus. MUIS juga akan diberi kuasa untuk mengarahkan agar sejumlah daripada hasil pulangan wakaf disalurkan kepada dana terikat atau sinking fund untuk membaikpulih dan membangunkan wakaf tersebut.
Puan Speaker, setiap pindaan yang diusulkan bertujuan untuk memperkukuh kehidupan sosio-agama masyarakat Islam di Singapura. Keluarga yang utuh adalah tunjang masyarakat yang berdaya tahan. Institusi-institusi Islam perlu diperteguh agar dapat menjalankan tanggungjawab dengan lebih berkesan kepada masyarakat. Pengurusan aset masyarakat harus sentiasa dipertingkat untuk memberi manfaat yang berterusan kepada masyarakat.
Disini saya ingin membalas pantun Encik Faisal Manap.
Singapura negara bermaruah
Rakyatnya bijak rajin berusaha
Setiap kita dianugerahi amanah
Menegakkan keadilan keutamaan bersama.
Saya berterima kasih kepada semua pihak yang telah terlibat dan menyumbang kepada setiap semakan AMLA sejak dari mula lagi. Ini termasuklah para wakil badan-badan Melayu/Islam, para karyawan, anggota masyarakat serta anggota Dewan ini yang prihatin termasuk Puan Speaker sendiri. Saya yakin Puan Speaker akan terus memberi sokongan padu terhadap usaha-usaha kita untuk mengukuhkan masyarakat Melayu/Islam, tidak kira di mana Puan berkhidmat. Harapan saya agar kita akan terus bergabung tenaga dan minda, demi menyokong usaha murni bagi membina sebuah Masyarakat Islam yang Cemerlang di Singapura. Terima kasih.
Madam Speaker, I would like to bring my speech to a close by once again thanking everyone from the Muslim community for their support – not just for today’s review of AMLA, but for all the past reviews of the Act. This includes Madam Speaker, who was always there with her wise counsel and valuable contributions to our discussions on past AMLA Bills. It is indeed an admirable spirit and bond that our Muslim community share, united by a common purpose to do what is good and what is right for the people. So I look forward, Madam, to your continued support in this endeavour, in whatever capacity you may be in.