This is the English version of Association of Muslim Professionals’ official response to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s comments in his book – Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. An excerpt of this statement in Malay was published in Berita Harian today.
AMP Responds to Comments by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going
- The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) deeply regrets certain comments made by Minister Mentor (MM) Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his book Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. These comments are in relation to the practice of Islam by the Malay-Muslim community (MMC) where MM Lee had urged the MMC to be less strict in their practice of Islam in order to facilitate integration, and in relation to the issue of gaps between the MMC and other communities in Singapore, where MM Lee opined that the MMC will never catch up with the other communities. We note that these views of MM Lee are not new. It is not clear why MM Lee has chosen to repeat them at this point.
- However, because these views come from MM, and are repeated in print, it is important for the community to set its rejoinders. We do not agree with MM’s views. In our view, MM’s comments have hurt the community and are potentially divisive.
- Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong for any community in Singapore in being distinct, for it to carry out its religious practices, or in asserting its identity. Islam enjoins Muslims to integrate within the broader Singapore community. It is not mutually exclusive for a good Muslim to be a good Singaporean. In fact, a good Muslim is duty bound, in Islam, to be a good Singaporean.
- Many other religious communities practise their rituals. There is nothing wrong with this. Further, many ethnic communities assert their identities. Again, there is nothing wrong in this. For example, the state-promoted policy of SAP schools (where it could be argued that students do not have the same opportunity to mingle with other communities) manifests the assertion of the Chinese identity. The Speak Mandarin campaign is yet another example of the assertion of Chinese identity. The MMC has accepted these assertions of identities as part and parcel of living in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. Just like other Singaporeans, we celebrate diversity of beliefs and practices. It is therefore perplexing to see the Malay/Muslim community as being unfairly singled out for reasons which we cannot fathom.
- It is unusual for MM to conclude that Muslims have not integrated based on his sporadic observations of eating practices of Muslims. Many Muslims have no qualms sharing tables with their non-Muslim friends and colleagues. Muslims are obliged to observe certain dietary restrictions, inasmuch as people subscribing to other religions (e.g. Buddhists or Hindus who do not consume certain types of foods) or others having dietary restrictions (vegetarians, vegans). It is a stretch and disingenuous to suggest that Muslims are against or less likely to integrate primarily on account of our dietary restrictions or eating habits.
- Ironically, MM’s comments, which had purported to touch on integration, could be potentially divisive. MM’s comments create the misperception that the MMC is against or disinterested in integration, which is untrue and unfounded. It tends to perpetuate this misperception for younger Singaporeans in particular, who may take his views, as the first Prime Minister of Singapore, as the truth. These misperceptions could hinder integration going forward.
- Apart from the issue of the practice of Islam, MM had also commented that the Malay/Muslim community will never catch up with other communities in Singapore. Again, this is regrettable. To state this in print is effectively condemning the MMC as a lagging and marginalised community, even in the longer term.
- MM’s comments also raise questions as to whether they reflect the thinking of other political leaders. Does this thinking (relating to the misperception of Muslims being disinterested in integration, or that the MMC will never catch up with other communities) affect, directly or indirectly, other government policies? If this is not the case, then the State should clarify this. Otherwise, the perception will be that the comments expressed by MM Lee, as a core member of the Cabinet, reflects the official position of the Government.