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Chairman and members of the Asatizah Recognition Board
Deputy Chief Executives of Muis, Dr Albakri Ahmad Mr Esa Masood,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Assalamualaikum Wr. Wb.
Importance of Contextual Religious Learning
1 Earlier this year, on 1 January 2017, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) became mandatory. The ARS requires two things: (i) Firstly, anyone who teaches Islam and any centre of learning which offers Islamic classes must be registered with Muis; (ii) Secondly, registered religious teachers as well as centres must abide by the conditions of registration, including observing the Code of Ethics.
2 The support of religious teachers for this Scheme has been overwhelming even before it became mandatory, thanks to the hard work of our partners, Pergas and the Asatizah Recognition Board (ARB). Many individuals had voluntarily registered with the Scheme before it became mandatory. I am heartened to note that today we have more than 3000 asatizah already registered under the Scheme. Their names are listed online, so that members of the public can refer to the Asatizah for their religious learning needs and to access appropriate religious guidance for our context.
3 When the ARS became mandatory, many more individuals came forward to register. Some of them do not possess the formal qualifications but have been teaching voluntarily, including to their own families. Naturally, they were anxious to know how they can be assisted to meet the registration requirements, because they are passionate about imparting Islam and wanted to ensure that they could continue to do so. Muis had earlier reassured the community that we would facilitate the registration of all religious teachers so long as they meet the minimum criteria for registration. I am happy to report that Muis has been working closely with our partners PERGAS, ARB and Darul Quran at Masjid Kampung Siglap to develop the Basic Certificate for Quranic Teachers (BCQT). Upon successful completion of this course, the religious teachers will be registered under the Scheme. In addition, Muis will be heavily subsidising the course and participants will only pay a minimal registration fee. This course will benefit around 700 teachers. This is part of our commitment to ensure that the mandatory ARS is as inclusive as possible and supports the development of our religious teachers.
4 Today, we also welcome, for the first time, Islamic education centres and providers who have met the registration requirements and are now registered under the Scheme. To date, 193 IECPs have been registered, and most of the IECPs are here today will formally receive your registration certificates. Like the ARS for individual teachers, the names of the IECPs are also listed online for public reference.
5 The support for the Scheme from both Asatizah as well as IECPs is a testimony of our collective sense of responsibility and the commitment of our religious fraternity to offer Islamic education and instruction that meet the needs of the Singapore Muslim community, whilst at the same time, keeping out undesirable elements and teachings that are exclusive, divisive and not suitable for our context from creeping into the true core of teachings of Islam. The Scheme ensures that only qualified and suitable individuals can teach Islam. The position of a teacher (called an Ustaz or Ustazah) is a very revered and influential one in our community. We must therefore not lose sight of the influence that they have on our congregation.
6 This role is more pronounced today in a more challenging socio-religious landscape, where ideas on religion float around easily and quickly.Anyone can now easily access religious positions which are not suited and can harm our multi-cultural context. Besides violent and extreme ideologies, which in my view may be easier to ascertain and identify, there are other dangers which are less obvious to the untrained eye. For example, there are calls for segregation and isolation of Muslims laced with misinterpretations or narrow interpretations of religious texts. These calls, if allowed to influence our community, will bring harm to both the religious life and social harmony of the Singaporean society.
7 We must thus ensure that we impart the right teachings at all times. We must also become shining examples of how to contextualise living Islam to our modern and multicultural context. We may have mastered the traditional Islamic sciences from our various academic backgrounds. But this is only part of what we need to know in order to be effective and relevant teachers.We must equally be competent in understanding the society we function in. We should appreciate the norms of a multi-religious society. We must, for example, understand and teach how a good Muslim can function alongside others of different races and religions, towards the common good for society.
8 This is something we must commit ourselves to. We must take a firm stand on the kind of teachings that should not be allowed in our context. For example, we have uncovered the use of problematic texts and materials in some IECP programmes. Some examples include books which contain problematic teachings such as this: that Muslims living in a majority non-Muslim society must maintain a feeling of enmity and animosity towards the non-Muslim. Many of these materials unfortunately were sourced from overseas without any due care to review the materials contained in such books or publications. Such materials and teachings clearly contravene the Code of Ethics, which guides all of us on what is and is not acceptable. Hence, IECPs which carry such teachings found in books or literature will not be allowed to use them. I would like to urge all IECPs to work with Muis if they wish to introduce any new books into their curriculum. This will be institutionalised henceforth.
9 Likewise, the same criteria used to assess local religious teachers are applied to all foreign preachers on Islam. Muis has not supported applications for some foreign preachers whose views contravene the Code of Ethics to speak in Singapore. Some of these ideas are deeply problematic and very unsuited to a multi-religious context in Singapore. This includes teachings with absolutist leanings. For example there are views which assert that wishing others during their religious festivals is totally prohibited and will nullify a Muslim’s faith. There are also calls for a multi-cultural and multi-religious society to be made exclusive only for Muslims, and to make non-Muslims subservient to Muslims. Clearly, these teachings are devoid of the values we uphold dearly that can contribute to a progressive and thriving religious life in Singapore.
10 Yet, unfortunately, the ideas and teachings of such speakers can still be accessed through other means, either online or abroad, when Singaporeans travel for study, work or on leisure. I wish to reiterate that Singaporean Muslims need to exercise caution and have a critical and enquiring mind. As local asatizah and IECPs, it our collective duty to build the resilience of the Muslim community to protect them from easily getting influenced by such unfounded and irrelevant ideas, however charismatic the preacher(s) may be.
11 I must admit the task ahead can be challenging. However, rest assured that Muis is committed to assist and support Asatizah’s development so that, as Asatizah, you will be equipped with the necessary knowledge to be confident in teaching Islam effectively. The benefit of the ARS is that you can exemplify and be role models in seeking knowledge to the community. Your learning can and will continue even as you teach. Through this Scheme, you have the opportunity to attend Continuous Professional Education courses which will provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge of contemporary issues and challenges. We will also introduce new training courses gradually, and some of these will equip asatizah with skills on effective communication, delivery of lessons as well as social media optimisation.
12 Today, we recognise the IECPs who have undertaken the tremendous responsibility and commitment to this journey to provide constructive and progressive religious guidance to the community. Once again, I wish to congratulate you for your successful registration. Let us pray for Allah to grant us the sincerity, strength, wisdom and determination to continue to enhancing the religious education experience of Singaporean Muslims. One which is vibrant, dynamic and relevant to the contemporary challenges yet rooted to traditions of Islamic scholarship.