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Investing in our future asatizah

Speech by Dr Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Committee of Supply Debate 2020

Introduction

  1. Mr Chairman, our asatizah anchor our community to values and traditions in a rapidly evolving world. Increasingly, they are expected to dispense religious guidance on matters not limited to faith and rituals, but also on finance and estate matters, science, medicine and family.
  2. Socio-religious issues are becoming more complex. Bio-scientific developments pose new ethical questions. Demographic shifts such as an ageing population, evolving concepts of gender roles, and challenges brought forth with the internet of things, require clearer religious guidance.
  3. In March 2019, we formed the Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) and I led the engagements on the vision for future asatizah. COFA members included representatives from the asatizah fraternity, Malay/Muslim community leaders, professionals and academics from different fields. The diversity reflects the expanded role expected of future asatizah. We held 16 engagements sessions over 9 months, involving over 1,900 stakeholders. These engagement platforms include focus group discussions, round tables, online survey, street surveys and interviews. COFA concluded its deliberations with the following vision for future asatizah:
    a. As religious leaders in a multi-cultural and diverse society, our asatizah must proactively engage on issues of the modern world and connect with other communities to build a cohesive Singapore society.
    b. As professionals, our asatizah are advocates of lifelong learning, acquiring new knowledge and skills in guiding Singapore Muslims to respond to contemporary challenges.
    c. As role models, our asatizah are rooted to Islamic traditions, resilient, adaptable, compassionate, driven and committed to the betterment of Singapore society.
  4. COFA proposed to realize the vision through three strategic thrusts: 
    a. First, we will professionalise the asatizah sector; 
    b. Second, we will strengthen key religious institutions; and 
    c. Third, we will do more to nurture inspiring asatizah.

    Professionalising the Asatizah sector

  5. Today, a significant proportion of jobs in the religious sector are unstructured, and as Mr Zainal Sapari highlighted, this results in limited opportunities to progress. To transform and professionalise the sector, I am glad to share that MUIS is developing an Asatizah Workforce Development Plan (AWDP) to enhance the attractiveness of the religious sector, and the skills and competencies of our asatizah.
  6. This year, asatizah can look forward to the first initiative under the AWDP, which is the Career and Competency Framework (CCF). This framework articulates the different roles and pathways within the formal religious sector and provides information on the respective skillsets needed. With this framework, asatizah can better plan their careers and proactively learn about skills and competencies required for the various career pathways. 
  7. In the next three years, MUIS will develop more initiatives under the AWDP. This includes salary guidelines, a religious talent programme to identify and develop future religious leaders, and more opportunities for skills upgrading. The religious talent programme, like the Muis scholarship Mr Irshad mentioned, will be open to deserving applicants on the basis of merit, regardless of race.
  8. For asatizah who are interested to upgrade themselves on emerging issues, Muis will organise relevant courses on digitalisation and the use of social media. Lifelong learning is crucial and critical for all Singaporeans who want to stay relevant, and our asatizah are no exception. The top-up to their Skills Future Credit announced at Budget 2020 will be an additional boost for them to explore new frontiers of skills and opportunities.   

    Strengthening institutions

  9. As we nurture a stronger, more adaptable asatizah workforce, it is also important to strengthen religious institutions.
  10. I agree with Mdm Rahayu Mahzam that madrasahs play an important role in developing future asatizah. MUIS has been working closely with our madrasahs to support the development of teachers, improve programmes and curriculum, and enhance the facilities of the madrasahs. For example, Madrasah Al-Arabiah has a new campus. The campus is equipped with better lab facilities and resources for students, so that our young asatizah can build a strong foundation in both religious and secular subjects.
  11. The Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) and Syariah Court also play key roles in the lives of Singaporean Muslims. While overseeing the registration and solemnisation of marriage and managing divorces will remain their core roles, these institutions can play a bigger role in shaping community life. For example, to further enhance Bersamamu, ROMM has been working closely with MSF to train Kadis and Naib Kadis to better engage and support soon-to-wed couples. Thus far, Bersamamu has benefited close to 3,000 couples since its launch in July 2019.

    Nurturing inspiring asatizah

  12. COFA saw potential for asatizah to contribute to adjacent sectors, such as social work, and to provide Singaporean Muslims with advice on how to navigate contemporary developments in the use of technology and finance. To help our asatizah step up to this role, the Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS) will also expose them to social sciences, develop counselling, social work and other vocational skills to prepare them for an exciting and promising future. In addition to partnerships with renowned Islamic institutions like Al-Azhar University and the University of Jordan, and our local publicly-funded universities like NUS and SUSS, PCICS will include  a practicum component to equip students with on-the-job training, exposure and experiential learning for their future roles in the workforce.  

    Conclusion

  13. Mr Chairman allow me to continue in Malay, please.
  14. Asatizah kita membentuk keperibadian masyarakat kita. Ini adalah satu tanggungjawab yang amat penting. Peranan asatizah telah berkembang daripada hanya mengajar sebagai guru agama kepada pemimpin agama yang menyumbang kepakaran dalam sektor agama dan sektor bukan agama. Visi jangka panjang kita adalah untuk membangunkan golongan asatizah masa depan sebagai tokoh-tokoh agama yang disegani di dalam dan di luar negera. Tuan Pengerusi, saya ingin membuat kesimpulan dalam bahasa Inggeris.
  15. Mr Chairman our asatizah can be great assets to the community, beyond the mosque and the madrasah. We must continue to invest in their development. In turn, I hope that our young aspiring asatizah will rise to the occasion, be the confident guides that the community needs to navigate future challenges, contribute to the vision of a Muslim community of success and help us build a strong and cohesive Singapore.
  16. Thank you.

    English translation of Malay paragraph

  1. Our asatizah shape the character of our community. This is an important responsibility. The role of asatizah has evolved from only functioning as religious teachers to religious leaders who contribute their expertise in the religious and non-religious sectors. Our long-term vision is to develop our future cohorts of asatizah as religious thought leaders who are highly regarded locally and internationally. Mr Chairman, I would like to conclude in English. 
Last updated on 06 March 2020