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Investing in our community of success

Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs & Minister for the Environment and Water Resources at the Committee of Supply Debate 2020

Mr Chairman,

Introduction

  1. Last year, during my Hari Raya speech, I said that our Malay/Muslim community is a Community of Success, or in Malay, Masyarakat Gemilang. While we are part of the Malay diaspora in the region, there are three things that make our community unique – character, competence and citizenry, or what I call 3Cs. The first “C”, character, is about the outlook of the community and the values that it cherishes. The second “C”, competence is self-explanatory. We cannot be successful if we are liabilities. The third and final “C” is citizenry, a sense of responsibility towards nation-building and society. We cannot be satisfied merely with being equal in rights, we must also be equal in substance as citizens. Singapore is our home, and we have a duty to it.

    Citizenry

  2. Mr Chairman, in the midst of our fight against COVID-19, I want to start by talking about citizenry. In a number of dialogues with the community, we received feedback that the community is happy with the support that the Government is extending to citizens in response to COVID-19.  I am happier to see that the community is contributing where it can in the fight against the virus, not just happily receiving help. For example, Masjid Assyakirin teamed up with Bo Tien Temple, representatives of the Baha’i faith, the Calvary Bible-Presbyterian Church and Jurong Christian Church to prepare lunch boxes and notes of appreciation for healthcare workers in Jurong Polyclinic. In support of their initiative, Al Ayza Restaurant sponsored half the food and helped with delivery. Other Muslim-owned restaurants, such as Kinamaya, Rumah Makan Minang, Hajjah Maimunah Restaurant and Positano Risto, also stepped up.  They teamed up with the riders of Dadah Itu Haram, who delivered the food to frontline healthcare workers in Singapore General Hospital. Over the past week, MUIS also raised money in the mosques to contribute to the Courage Fund. MENDAKI, too, organised a walk to raise funds.  MESRA Youths made and distributed 1000 ribbon flowers to our frontliners to tell them – we remember you.
  3. Many Malay/Muslims have been at the frontline in the healthcare sector, home team and even the passenger transport sector. I am proud they are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow Singaporeans in this fight. During this crisis, we see that citizenry is genuinely demonstrated.

    Character

  4. Standing bravely at the frontline and stepping forward to help, exemplify character, the second “C”, one of the three qualities that our community wants to be known for. As Muslims, character is closely intertwined with our religion, culture and therefore our identity.  There are many minority Muslim communities around the world that struggle with the practice of Islam in secular jurisdictions, multicultural societies, and against contemporary challenges. In Singapore, we are fortunate to have a strong fraternity of asatizah, who are also fellow Singaporeans, and their guidance has made all the difference to our community. 
  5. Our asatizah bear significant responsibility in guiding the community on how to thrive in our multicultural society, live in harmony with others, and navigate in contemporary and future challenges. This is why we formed the Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) last year, to better understand what our community would like to see in our asatizah, and in turn, how we can better support the asatizah fraternity. After extensive engagements, COFA found that the community would like our asatizah to guide them on issues of the modern world, and to see them connecting with other communities to build a cohesive society, and contributing to Singapore. 
  6. My colleague, SMS Maliki, will elaborate further on what we intend to do with COFA’s recommendations. I agree with SPS Amrin Amin who spoke about the importance of being able to address Muslims who live in a multicultural society. And as Mr Irshad said, there is diversity not just in our society, but also within our community. We can look into grooming more religious leaders who can engage in various languages. MUIS will also work with our asatizah to develop a body of knowledge and practice to guide Muslim life in multicultural societies. Singapore is not alone in this challenge. There are other minority Muslim communities around the world that share our belief that Muslims can thrive in plural societies. We want to learn from these communities, and we want to learn from each other. This is why MUIS will organise an International Conference on Communities of Success later this year. 
  7. We must also re-think the role of asatizah. Over the past two years, the work of M3 has shown us that asatizah are well-placed to provide spiritual guidance and support in various facets of Muslim life, beyond the mosque and the madrasah. They can provide pastoral care to the incarcerated, the sick and the aged. They can be spiritual guides to couples, whether they are trying to build a new family or overcoming trials and tribulations to preserve the home. Mr Faisal Manap asked how the Syariah Court has handled the divorce cases that has come before it. In my view, the more pertinent issue is to work with the community upstream in strengthening families and preventing divorces. Through M3 flagship programmes like Bersamamu and FITRAH, our asatizah volunteers have helped close to 3,000 soon-to-wed couples as well as 40 families where at least one parent is incarcerated. 
  8. There are many ways an ustaz or ustazah can contribute. The Muslim community needs religious curriculum developers for our madrasahs, specialists to administer religious programmes in MUIS, ROMM and our mosques, and jurists to support our Syariah Court and Fatwa Committee. These institutions need able asatizah. 
  9. Importantly, we need asatizah who do not shy away from grappling with contemporary issues. As a Muslim Singaporean, I feel proud that our asatizah have risen to the occasion. For example, when NEWater was introduced, our asatizah sought to understand the water technology used and were quick to recognise that the end-product was clean and also halal. 
  10. Such clear-minded, progressive thinking is even more important in exceptional times, like now. To minimise the risk of transmitting COVID-19, our asatizah gave guidance on bringing our own mats when we pray in the mosque and refraining from shaking hands for now.  Singapore is probably the only place in the world where Muslim religious leaders give practical, medically-sound advice with such speed.
  11. If we can train and enable more asatizah to support our community in these ways, our community will be better for it. The job of an ustaz is not easy. To perform his job well, an ustaz must not only be well-versed in Islamic knowledge, but also au fait with psychology, sociology, social work, comparative law, science and technology and much more. As several of our MPs pointed out, we must support our asatizah in this journey. We are therefore making an investment not only in asatizah training but also to transform the formal religious sector. To facilitate this transformation, MUIS has developed the Asatizah Workforce Development Plan (AWDP), on which SMS Maliki will elaborate.

    Competence 

  12. How effective our asatizah are in nurturing the character of our community therefore hinges on their competence. But for our community to succeed, we must also encourage every Muslim to aspire towards excellence and contribute to the community and Singapore. In as much as the camaraderie amongst our healthcare workers and home-team members matters, it is also their competence that earned them the trust of Singaporeans in the fight against COVID-19.
  13. As a community, we have come a long way. In 1980, only 16% of Malay/Muslim students achieved five GCE “O” level passes. We marshalled community resources to form MENDAKI, which then worked with MOE as a partner to develop a support system for Malay/Muslim students. By the end of the decade, we doubled the proportion of Malay/Muslim students who achieved five GCE ‘O’ Level Passes.  Today, this proportion is four times that in 1980.  Last year, our students outperformed their OECD peers in Mathematics and have made substantial improvements in Reading.  
  14. Today, 9 in 10 of Malay/Muslim students in a P1 cohort make it to university, polytechnic, ITE or other post-secondary education institutes. As we move forward, we must make sure that all our students are able to acquire at least a Nitec – this is the “red-line” that MENDAKI must ensure no one falls below. Concurrently, we must grow the numbers of our youth who can graduate with a university degree.  During my Hari Raya speech, I called this our “blue line,” and MENDAKI must help as many as possible to cross it. 
  15. The truth is, addressing dropouts and failure rates are already problems of yesterday. We need to prepare our young for a tomorrow that will be challenging and volatile. In today’s economy, ITE, Polytechnic and University qualifications are merely hygiene factors. MENDAKI’s efforts are only as good as it keeps pace with the changing educational, social and economic landscape. Thus, we have started a comprehensive review of MENDAKI’s policies and programmes, to ensure that MENDAKI can be an effective partner to MOE and our educational institutes. Beyond that, there must be an equal emphasis on lifelong learning in our community, much like in the past, when we emphasised the importance of educating our children well. We cannot just be focused on tax-rebate vouchers to manage today’s cost-of-living; our community must also take advantage of other forms of support like the SkillsFuture Credit, to acquire new competencies and qualifications for better-paying jobs, especially when their current skills run the risk of being irrelevant in the near future. The same applies to Malay/Muslim SMEs and funding support for digitalisation and venturing overseas for them to grow. MOS Zaqy will speak on the shifts MENDAKI will be making and how we are encouraging lifelong learning.

    Conclusion 

  16. Mr Chairman, allow me to conclude in Malay. Masyarakat kita mampu untuk menyumbang dalam pelbagai bidang dan sektor. Banyak initiatif telah dilakukan oleh sukarelawan di bandar-bandar M3 dengan kerjasama erat MUIS, MENDAKI dan Mesra. Seiringan dengan langkah ini, satu siri perbincangan yang dikenali sebagai CiptaSama@M3, telah dibentuk untuk mendengar pandangan daripada masyarakat Melayu/Islam mengenai isu-isu nasional yang dekat di hati mereka dan mencari huraian bersama demi kemakmuran masyarakat dan negara.  Kami telah pun memulakan perbincangan dengan para pemimpin di bandar-bandar M³, dan kami mengalu-alukan penglibatan setiap lapisan masyarakat pada bulan-bulan yang akan datang. 
  17. Dalam membentuk Masyarakat Gemilang, tiga jati diri masyarakat: Keperibadian, Kemahiran dan Kewarganegaraan mesti dijaga. Kerana para asatizah kita membentuk keperibadian dan jati diri masyarakat kita, pelaburan seterusnya dalam pembangunan asatizah adalah komitmen yang penting. Kami juga melabur untuk masa depan kanak-kanak dan belia kita, melalui sokongan pendidikan untuk melahirkan generasi masa depan yang berkemahiran dan berupaya untuk menyumbang kepada masyarakat.  Dan kami beriltizam untuk berganding bahu dengan warga Melayu/Islam Singapura, bukan sahaja untuk membina sebuah Masyarakat Gemilang, malah untuk turut bersama-sama membina masa depan Singapura.

    English translation of Malay paragraphs

  1. Mr Chairman, allow me to conclude in Malay. Our community can do more to contribute in various areas and sectors.  Our volunteers have worked closely together with M³ agencies, MUIS, MENDAKI and MESRA, to roll out many initiatives at M³@Towns. In line with this, we have created a new engagement platform, CiptaSama@M³, to hear the views of the Malay/Muslim community on national issues that are of greatest concern to them and co-create solutions that can be implemented so that we can prosper together as a nation. We have started the conversation with the leaders and volunteers of the M³@Towns and we look forward to engaging members of the community from all walks of lives in the coming months.
  2. In building a Community of Success, we must continue to uphold the three key values of the community – Character, Competence and Citizenry. As our asatizah shape the community’s character and identity, we must be committed in our investment to enhance our asatizah’s competencies.  We will also invest in the future of our children and youth by providing educational support to  develop future generation that is competent and capable in contributing back to society. We are determined to work together with the  Malay/Muslim community, not just to build a Community of Success,  but also to build a prosperous future for Singapore.  
 
Last updated on 06 March 2020