I read with pleasure that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech, has come to acknowledge that Singapore Malay Muslims have developed an unique identity for themselves, and instead of withdrawing the community has reached out to engage other communities. Instead of becoming confrontational, they have sought an adaptive approach.
PM also noted that this reflects a growing self confidence and progressive attitude when handling sensitive religious issues. It is therefore timely at this point in Singapore’s history for the government to make two systematic changes in its policies towards Malay Muslims
Government can now stop nannying Malay Muslims
Given the confidence the prime minister has expressed in Malay Muslims, the government can therefore stop playing nanny to them. The Association of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), which was implemented in the late 60s, can now be systematically revised or even repealed. MUIS governed by the AMLA can today divest its control of the mosques and allow mosques to function independently like any other place of worship.
Warees which controls the properties and monies endowed by earlier generation Muslims can also divest its control over those waqf endowments to the various original Muslim communities (such as Arab Muslims or Indian Muslims) or families.
As PM Lee noted the Malay Muslims have made significant progress in education. Indeed there are enough Malay Muslims qualified to manage the wealth of the community to meet the aspirations of the community. Since Singapore Malay Muslims, as noted by PM Lee, are not confrontational and are sensitive towards religious harmony, the time has come for mosques to independently operate and MUIS need no longer have to control each weekly sermon.
Government can discard old suspicions
MM Lee once remarked that he would be worried to hire a Malay Muslim to an important position in the government or army if he has relatives in Malaysia or Indonesia. Till today the Malay Muslim community has not seen any assurance that Malay Muslims will have full opportunities and access to top government posts and military recruitment. Given PM Lee's observation of the Malay Muslim community to be one with a unique identity and that which will put itself as Singaporean first, it is time for such old suspicions to be discarded.
The time has arrived for the SAF to disclose what proportion of the armed forces include Malay Muslims, by operational units, and by NS/regular service. Should there be any apprehension behind any potential under-representation, then a formal revision of recruitment policies can be made. Malay Muslim representation in important government positions and even in the top cabinet posts can be reviewed if old suspicions are found to be a reason contributing to under representation.
Hearing PM Lee's speech, the Malay Muslim community will be appreciative if we can move beyond the token Malay Muslim National Day parade commanders and token one star general. PM Lee and the other leaders have always stressed that changes require time. Indeed the time to start has arrived.
Abdul Gafoor is a young married researcher working in UK after leaving Singapore. He hopes to return someday to the Singapore he knew as a teenager.