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A confident and self-reliant Muslim community that embraces Singapore’s diversity

Speech by Dr Mohammed Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs at the parliamentary debate on the second reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill

  1. Mr Speaker,
  2. The Singapore Muslim community welcomes and supports the proposed amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), which will further strengthen religious harmony in Singapore.
  3. The community recognises the importance of practising one’s religion in a way that is respectful towards those who may profess a different belief.
  4. Singapore is a multi-religious society. Singapore is a successful, thriving nation-state not just because Muslims and non-Muslims live side-by-side in peace and prosperity, but because many Singaporeans deeply believe that our diversity does not divide us, and instead is a source of strength. We believe that Singapore can flourish as a cohesive society and as one united people, only if we safeguard the common space for people of all races and religions, including those who do not profess one.
  5. While religion is a deeply personal matter, the community recognises the need for laws as an important enabler to allow communities of different faiths to co-exist in harmony. The law sets the tone for the norms that we treasure and uphold as a society, and in the case of the MRHA, the laws are the ultimate safeguard for religious harmony.
  6. The amendments proposed in this bill are aligned with our approach of managing Muslim affairs in Singapore. Our Muslim community is a confident one and how we practise our faith is founded on the strong underpinnings of Islam and contextualised to our way of life in Singapore. It cannot and should not be influenced by foreign forces, as our community must chart our own way forward, based on the set of values that have allowed Singapore and Singaporeans to thrive in an increasingly polarised world. In support of the launch of the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony in June 2019, Mufti Ustaz Mohamed Fatris Bakaram had said that MUIS’ efforts have always been guided by the vision of establishing a common space and advancing the common good for all in our society, and to keep out divisive and isolationist tendencies.
  7. The practices of our mosques and religious institutions under MUIS are already aligned to the enhanced safeguards in the MRHA amendments, in particular, to ensure local leadership of our religious institutions, as well as regulations on foreign funding.  For example, all members of the MUIS Council and the board members of our madrasahs, are Singapore citizens. We are also proud that the strong support of the Muslim community in Singapore – through the monthly contributions to the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF) – has allowed us to raise funds from our community to build and upgrade mosques in all our estates and to support education in our madrasahs without the need for foreign funding. We can and must continue to be self-reliant so that as a Singapore Muslim community we are able to address our own needs without becoming susceptible to manipulation by foreign parties for their own agendas and risking the peace and harmony we have enjoyed as a society.
  8. We will not condone any foreign preacher advocating violence, segregationist or intolerant teachings that could divide our multi-racial, multi-religious society, and build up unhappiness across different faith communities. In 2017, Imam Nalla, a preacher from India, was charged and repatriated for making remarks against Christians and Jews. Our community leaders and those of other faiths met with him. Before leaving Singapore, he apologised, and showed that he understood the implications of his remarks on trust between communities in Singapore. Both the Muslim community and non-Muslim Singaporeans welcomed his apology and gesture of reconciliation.
  9. However, we need more than MRHA laws to ensure that our Muslim community remains strongly grounded in how Islam is practised in Singapore’s multi-religious context. Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap mentioned about how integration takes place in Australia. But here in Singapore, we must determine what works best for our unique multi-religious context. We must always uphold our common space. And our schools are critical common spaces, where we nurture a shared identity and a shared experience among our children regardless of race and religion. This has worked well for Singapore. Our entire community, our religious teachers, and our leaders, must continue to be proactive and have the conviction that religious harmony is imperative to the survival and success of Singapore, and then to equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to live out these values every day.
  10. This is why to be registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme or ARS, one must possess the necessary qualifications as well as abide by the Asatizah Code of Ethics, which states that religious teachings must not encourage extremism or violence, nor denigrate other faiths, and instead inculcate respect and understanding toward others. The ARS was introduced as a voluntary scheme in 2005, and community support, including amongst the asatizah, has been strong. This was underscored when community and religious leaders asked in 2016 for the ARS to be made mandatory.
  11. Today, we have more than 4,500 asatizah registered under the ARS. Several crucial ingredients make the ARS work. First, the Asatizah Recognition Board (ARB) - comprising senior and respected asatizah in the community – oversees the ARS, supported by MUIS. Second, the Board and MUIS take ARS registration seriously, instituting provisional periods of observation and requiring additional interviews as the Board deems necessary. Third, ARS asatizah are required to attend regular Continuous Professional Education training programmes, and their suitability as an asatizah is periodically reviewed. Their accreditation will be revoked if they breach ARS standards. For example, Murad Mohd Said, who was placed on a Restriction Order in December 2018, was struck off the ARS earlier in May 2018 for his segregationist teachings that contravened the ARS Code of Ethics. In summary, the ARS is a robust, community-led system. It shows the Singapore Muslim community’s strong sense of ownership and commitment to ensuring that its religious teachers are credible and that their teachings are in line with Singapore’s multi-religious context.
  12. To enhance further, starting next year, all returning religious graduates from overseas Islamic universities must also undergo the Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS) programme to be registered under the ARS. The PCICS will enable local asatizah who have been trained in overseas Islamic institutions to remain anchored to Singapore’s multi-religious context. Under the PCICS, they will learn about other religions in Singapore, and through this, appreciate the importance of inter-religious understanding in strengthening social cohesion.
  13. Mr Speaker, I chair the Committee on Future Asatizah, or COFA, that looks at supporting the development of our future religious teachers to confidently lead and provide guidance in the religious life of the community that is suited for Singapore. In my conversations with the asatizah community as part of COFA’s engagement, I am heartened that they recognise the importance of teaching Islam that is suited to our multi-religious societal context and support the introduction of PCICS. COFA will submit its recommendations to the government early next year.
  14. Our community’s religious leaders also lead by example. They have a strong tradition of working closely with the leaders of other faiths to strengthen interfaith trust and understanding. For instance, our mosques officials are active members of the Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circles or IRCCs. Several asatizah have been involved in deepening interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding, through the “Ask Me Anything” and the Common Senses for Common Spaces (CSCS) dialogue series promoting interfaith conversations, while others volunteer as docents at the Harmony Centre.
  15. The religious leaders of the different faiths mooted and developed the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony that was launched during the International Conference on Cohesive Societies in June this year. The Commitment emphasises the common values across different faiths, and sets out how Singaporeans of different faiths should interact with one another in a manner that grows trust and social bonds in our society. How we can dine together, and express good wishes for and attending each other’s festival celebrations and life events.  MUIS and the leaders of key Muslim religious and community institutions, including all mosques in Singapore, have since endorsed the Commitment.
  16. Mr Speaker, in Malay please.
  17. Tuan Speaker, masyarakat Islam Singapura akui pentingnya kita mengamalkan agama dengan cara yang menghormati penganut-penganut agama lain.
  18. Singapura adalah sebuah masyarakat berbilang agama. Kita sebuah negara yang berjaya bukan hanya kerana orang Islam dan bukan Islam hidup bertetangga dalam keadaan aman dan makmur, tetapi kerana rakyat Singapura faham bahawa kepelbagaian kita tidak memecahbelahkan kita, malah ia merupakan sumber kekuatan kita. Kita sedar bahawa Singapura boleh maju sebagai sebuah masyarakat yang padu, hanya jika kita memelihara ruang bersama dalam masyarakat, tidak kira kaum atau agama, termasuk mereka yang tidak menganut sebarang agama.
  19. Walaupun agama itu bersifat amat peribadi, masyarakat kita akur bahawa undang-undang itu penting untuk membolehkan masyarakat berlainan agama untuk hidup bersama dalam harmoni. Undang-undang mencorak norma-norma kehidupan yang kita hargai dan yang kita dukung, dan bagi MRHA, undang-undang adalah pelindung muktamad bagi keharmonian agama.
  20. Pindaan yang diusulkan dalam rang undang-undang ini sejajar dengan pendekatan kita menguruskan ehwal masyarakat Islam di Singapura. Masyarakat Islam kita adalah sebuah masyarakat yang yakin. Cara kita mengamalkan agama kita pula berpegangkan asas-asas agama Islam dan disesuaikan dengan cara hidup kita di Singapura. Ia tidak boleh dan tidak harus dipengaruhi oleh kuasa-kuasa asing, kerana masyarakat kita mesti mengorak langkah kita sendiri untuk maju ke hadapan, berdasarkan nilai-nilai yang telah membolehkan Singapura dan rakyatnya untuk terus maju dalam dunia yang semakin berpecah belah.
  21. Amalan di masjid-masjid dan institusi-institusi agama di bawah naugan MUIS sudah pun sejajar dengan perlindungan yang telah dipertingkatkan dalam pindaan terhadap MRHA seperti memastikan kepimpinan institusi agama dianggotai rakyat setempat, serta peraturan mengenai pembiayaan asing. Misalnya, semua anggota Majlis MUIS dan anggota lembaga pengarah madrasah kita, merupakan warga Singapura. Kita juga bangga kerana sokongan kuat masyarakat Islam di Singapura – melalui sumbangan bulanan kepada Dana Pembinaan Masjid dan Mendaki (MBMF) – telah membolehkan kita mengumpul dana daripada masyarakat kita untuk membina dan menaik taraf masjid-masjid di semua estet dan menyokong pendidikan di madrasah, tanpa memerlukan pembiayaan asing. Kita boleh dan mesti terus berdikari agar dapat memenuhi keperluan kita sendiri tanpa mendedahkan diri kita kepada pengaruh luar yang mempunyai agenda mereka tersendiri lantas menggadai keamanan dan keharmonian yang telah kita nikmati.
  22. Walau bagaimanapun, kita memerlukan lebih daripada undang-undang MRHA untuk memastikan bahawa masyarakat Islam kita terus mempunyai asas yang baik untuk mengamalkan agama Islam kita dalam konteks Singapura yang berbilang agama. Semua anggota masyarakat termasuk guru-guru agama kita, dan para pemimpin kita, mesti terus proaktif dan yakin bahawa keharmonian agama adalah penting demi penakatan dan kejayaan Singapura. Kita perlu melengkapkan diri kita dengan ilmu dan kemahiran untuk menerapkan nilai-nilai ini dalam kehidupan seharian kita.
  23. Inilah sebabnya kita mempunyai Skim Pengiktirafan Asatizah atau ARS. Untuk mendaftarkan diri di bawah Skim ARS, seseorang itu perlu mempunyai kelulusan yang bersesuaian serta mematuhi Kod Etika Asatizah, yang menyatakan bahawa ajaran agama tidak boleh menggalak ekstremisme atau keganasan, mahupun merendahkan agama-agama lain. Sebaliknya, ia perlu menyemai rasa hormat dan pemahaman terhadap orang lain. ARS telah diperkenalkan sebagai skim sukarela pada 2005, dan telah mendapat sokongan yang kuat daripada masyarakat, termasuk daripada kalangan asatizah. Sokongan kuat ini amat ketara apabila pada tahun 2016, para pemimpin masyarakat dan agama sendiri yang meminta agar ARS diwajibkan.
  24. Hari ini, kita mempunyai lebih 4,500 asatizah yang telah didaftar di bawah ARS. Terdapat beberapa unsur penting yang membuat ARS berjaya. Pertama, Lembaga Pengiktirafan Asatizah (ARB). Terdiri daripada asatizah kanan yang dihormati masyarakat, ARB menyelia ARS, dan disokong oleh MUIS. Kedua, ARB dan MUIS memandang serius terhadap pendaftaran ARS, dengan memperkenalkan tempoh pemantauan sementara dan mengadakan temu bual tambahan jika dianggap perlu oleh ARB. Ketiga, asatizah ARS perlu menghadiri program latihan di bawah Pendidikan Profesional Berterusan, dan kesesuaian mereka sebagai asatizah disemak dari masa ke semasa. Pentauliahan mereka akan dibatalkan jika mereka melanggar Kod Etika ARS. Jadi rumusannya, ARS adalah sebuah sistem teguh dan dipelopori oleh masyarakat sendiri. Ini menunjukkan semangat dan komitmen masyarakat Islam Singapura untuk memastikan agar guru-guru agama mereka boleh dipercayai dan ajaran mereka sejajar dengan konteks Singapura yang berbilang agama.
  25. Sebagai satu peningkatan, mulai tahun hadapan, semua lulusan agama dari universiti Islam luar negara perlu menjalani program Sijil Pos Siswazah Islam dalam Masyarakat Kontemporari (PCICS) sebelum dapat mendaftarkan  diri di bawah ARS. PCICS akan membantu asatizah setempat untuk terus berpandukan konteks Singapura yang berbilang agama. Di bawah PCICS, mereka akan belajar tentang agama-agama lain di Singapura, dan melalui ini, menghargai peri-pentingnya memahami agama-agama lain dalam mengukuhkan perpaduan sosial kita.
  26. Tuan Speaker, saya mempengerusikan Jawatankuasa Asatizah Masa Depan, atau COFA, yang ditubuhkan untuk menyokong pembangunan asatizah hari muka agar dapat memimpin dan memberi panduan secara yakin, mengenai kehidupan masyarakat beragama yang sesuai dengan Singapura. Dalam perbincangan saya dengan golongan asatizah semasa sesi maklum balas COFA, saya teruja kerana mereka faham akan pentingnya mengajar Islam yang sesuai dengan konteks masyarakat berbilang agama dan mereka menyokong pelaksanaan PCICS. COFA akan mengemukakan cadangannya kepada pemerintah awal tahun hadapan.
  27. Tuan Speaker, masyarakat Islam Singapura fahami bahawa kita tidak boleh mengambil mudah tentang hubungan antara agama yang aman dan harmoni hari ini, dan kita tidak boleh memandang remeh pengaruh, idea dan amalan luar yang boleh memudaratkan masyarakat dan perpaduan sosial kita. Orang-orang Islam dan yang bukan Islam di Singapura telah menunjukkan kepada rantau kita dan juga dunia, bahawa tidak mustahil untuk mencapai sebuah model yang berteraskan harmoni, untuk hidup bersama secara damai, serta menjalin hubungan yang jujur dan ikhlas di antara para pemimpin dan penganut agama-agama yang berbeza.
  28. Justeru, kami percaya bahawa sedang landskap sosio-agama global terus berubah, pindaan kepada MRHA akan memastikan ia kekal sebagai satu perlindungan undang-undang yang berkesan untuk menjaga keharmonian agama, dan menyokong usaha berterusan masyarakat untuk mengukuhkan perpaduan sosial kita. Rang Undang-Undang ini menekankan keyakinan Singapura bahawa kita tidak akan membiarkan golongan dan pengaruh luar untuk menentukan cara kita menjalankan kehidupan beragama kita. Rujukan dan rundingan dengan MUIS telah dilakukan bagi pindaan khusus kepada MRHA, dan MUIS menyokong pindaan tersebut. Saya juga mengalu-alukan dan menyokong Rang Undang-Undang ini.
  29. Mr Speaker, the Singapore Muslim community recognises that we cannot take today’s harmonious state of inter-religious relations for granted nor underestimate the influence of foreign ideas and practices that are inimical to our community and social cohesion. Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore have shown our region and the world that it is possible to have a model anchored on harmony, peaceful co-existence and honest, genuine relationships between the leaders and followers of different faiths.
  30. Hence, we believe that as the global socio-religious landscape continues to evolve, the amendments to the MRHA will ensure it remains an effective legal safeguard to protect religious harmony, and bolsters the community’s ongoing efforts to strengthen our social cohesion. The Bill underscores Singaporeans’ conviction that we will not have others prescribe for us how we should live our religious lives. MUIS has been consulted on the specific amendments to the MRHA, and supports them. I too welcome and support this Bill. Thank you.

 

Parlimentary Matters Community 2019
Last updated on 08 October 2019