Singapore Islamic Hub, 7 October 2017
Guest of Honour,
Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law
Mr Hj Abdulrazak Hasan Maricar, Chief Executive, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura
Ustaz Ali Bin Mohamed, Co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG)
Ust Mohd Hasbi Hassan, President, PERGAS.
Respected presenters, asatizahs and representatives of Muslim organizations,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Assalamualaikum Wr Wb,
A very good morning to all. We are having this seminar today to discuss on the roles that we can play and the efforts that we can take in strengthening the religious resilience of our Muslim community in Singapore. As the threat of terrorism continues to plague the global community, various initiatives have been put in place to strengthen the social resilience by building trust among members of our various communities. One of the key thrusts in combating threats of terrorism and radicalization is to ensure that we build a cohesive society.
A cohesive society values people regardless of who they are, and appreciates plurality of human experience as one of the integral parts of an inclusive society. In the early history of Islam, the immediate priority for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) after he had settled down in Medina was to build a cohesive society. He established peace between Medina's two main Arabian tribes who were constantly at war with each other for ages. The Prophet united the residents of Medina with the immigrants from Mecca, and established a social compact that aimed to build peaceful co-existence among people of various faith traditions within the Medinan society.
The importance of unity and appreciating diversity of humankind is recognised and strongly upheld in the Islamic tradition. The Islamic faith acknowledges the plurality of human experiences and it seeks for humanity to know and be enlightened of these differences. While there is a certain universality that binds humanity together, universality of humankind does not in anyway equate to uniformity in human experience.
The existence of various belief systems, differing moralities and diverse attitudes and perceptions in dealing with issues have always been part of the established reality of the shared world that we live in. With the advent of globalization and advancement in communications technology especially the social media, it is important to ensure that these differences does not lead to a new divisive force defining our fault-lines.
The essence of an inclusive society is such that we first treat others how we want to be treated. A society that cares and respects towards one another in spite of the differences. A society that is bounded by our common humanity, recognizing that despite the many manifestations of faiths, we are one.
For the Singapore Muslim community, let us continue to ensure that our religious instructions promote social cohesion and respect for diversity. As asatizah, let us continue to rally the community to strengthen our relations with members of other communities. In order to build social cohesion, it is first and foremost important to attempt and make efforts to know and integrate with people of other faith traditions, ethnic groups and religious orientations. Fear of the unknown would usually lead to biased and reservations of the ‘Other’. Living in a multicultural Singapore and a globalised world, we must not develop an exclusivist outlook. This is not in accordance with the teachings of our beautiful faith.
As a society, we respect and share the happiness of our various communities in their celebrations of special occasions. We cherish our strong communal bonds as we uphold our multicultural and multireligious harmony. Therefore, we must resist and reject any call that seeks to break these strong relations that we have built over the years. We must come out strongly to denounce religious teachings that promote enmity and hatred as the basis of human relationship. . We cannot allow such an ideology to be perpetuated, for it seeks to destroy our social cohesion, sow discord and create distrust. Preachers who harbour and propagate these exclusivist ideologies must not be given platforms to spread their teachings to the community-at-large.
However, in this age of social media, we do realise that such teachings are easily accessible online. Therefore, there is a need for religious contents that we develop and propagate to be appealing to the masses, especially to the tech-savvy millennials. Our asatizah today not only are expected to preach in mosques and religious classes, but are also to provide religious guidance online. We need to engage the young, capture their minds and win their hearts, and lead them to choose us as their choice of receiving religious guidance and instructions. In order for us to do so, our approach to religious learning must continue to be relevant and makes sense to them in leading their lives in today’s post-modern society.
There is a need to go beyond forms and rituals in developing the understanding of Islam for the community. Manifesting values and ethos of Islamic faith must be emphasised in guiding the community. There is a dire need for us, asatizah, to provide sound religious guidance that the people can relate to as they navigate their lives in facing with the multifold challenges of the day. In propagating religious teaching to the people, asatizah should not only focus on the transmitting of information, but also to impart relevant skills that are crucially needed to build a rightfully guided and discerning community. In discussing the doctrines or concepts from the classical texts, for example, there is a need to instil critical thinking to the students that would enable them to discuss these issues objectively and responsibly.
As a further example, in discussing the concept of khilafah and political leadership, there is a need to provide critical discussions and deeper reflections of its nuances. We cannot simply conclude that every single concept or doctrine that was developed by scholars more than a thousand years ago can conveniently be applied in the context of our contemporary era. There is a need to question some assumptions of our fundamental understandings of these concepts, for they were not formulated in isolation of their respective social and political contexts of the time. We need to dig deeper into our texts and critically examine the discourses. Often times, discussions or critical explorations on the validity of these concepts and doctrines were sealed by declaring that these issues are considered to beijma', or have been unanimously agreed upon, and therefore the discussions are believed to have been conclusive. However, is this long-held assumption even valid to begin with? Are there no alternative discourses to this issue?
In the case of the khilafah, is it really fundamentally conclusive that the only political system that Muslims can live and participate is the caliphate system? Has the system ever evolved and undergone changes in the different era of various Muslim dynasties? In defining the term khilafah, was there only one single conception and theory by scholars? What about issues with regards to the legitimacy of the caliph? Initially, according to a number of hadith narrations, only the Quraish can assume the caliphal office. We know, however, that in the course of Islamic history that spans over 15 centuries, this has since changed.
In the light of the changing context, different world order, and emerging contemporary political system, is khilafah the only ideal and legitimate system for the Muslims? We have seen claims by some people that Islam cannot co-exist with democracy. Muslims cannot participate in the political process of modern political system. Non-muslims cannot be elected by Muslims. Women cannot lead. Should these be simply presented and propagated to members of public at face value? Are these the kind of religious teachings that we want to perpetuate to our society? Are we sure that the answers to these questions have been cast in stone in the traditional texts that leave no room for reassessment and rethinking?
Clearly, this is not the kind of religious narrative that we want to promote. We need to challenge such claims and provide compelling arguments that are sound and relevant. Muslims have to be guided to be able to question claims of ijma' in issues of religion. Part of inculcating critical thinking in our community is to expose them to myriad of religious viewpoints and discourses. We should promote our community to study Islam comprehensively and not to develop absolutist religious views. Religious absolutism is dangerous as it fuels sectarianism that drives some to conveniently declare others, even among Muslims, as heretics for their differences.
In summary, as we seek to strengthen the religious resilience of our Muslim community, I wish to highlight the following approach that we need to continue embark.
1) We need to tackle misinformation by providing easy access to sound Islamic knowledge and guidance.
2) We need to promote contextualized understanding and practice of Islam that is in line with the multi-religious Singaporean society.
3) We need to provide critical discussions and deeper analysis of our religious texts.
4) We need instill a sense of belonging and identity as a confident Singaporean Muslim and build a cohesive society
Let us continue to promote the peaceful message of Islam. Let us be a community that is pro-active in spreading goodness to the larger society. Let us spread an Islam that is progressive, an Islam that is contributive, an Islam that promotes love and not hate. The Islam of the heart.
May this nation be safe and united, always.