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Speech by Minister

SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT, SECOND MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS FOR MUIS’ ONLINE WORK PLAN SEMINAR 2021 ON SATURDAY, 8 MAY 2021

“Emerging Stronger: Building our Resilient Future”

Hadirin dan Hadirat sekalian

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

Dan selamat pagi kepada semua.

1. Sepanjang tahun lalu, masyarakat kita telah menghadapi lebih banyak cabaran berbanding sedekad lalu.

  1. Di bidang kesihatan, jumlah kes COVID-19 dalam masyarakat meningkat lagi baru-baru ini. Beberapa masjid turut terjejas dan terpaksa ditutup buat sementara bagi menjalankan kerja-kerja pembersihan untuk membasmikan kuman. Mujur kita menerapkan langkah jarak selamat di masjid dan Trace Together. Ini membolehkan penutupan dilakukan hanya kepada masjid yang terkesan sahaja. Justeru, ia merupakan satu peringatan penting agar kita terus berwaspada dan mematuhi sepenuhnya langkah-langkah pengurusan selamat. Ini perlu dilakukan walaupun semakin ramai kita  telah mendapatkan vaksinasi.  

  2. Dari segi ekonomi, ramai dalam kalangan masyarakat kita turut terjejas. Mereka hilang pekerjaan atau gaji mereka merosot. Kita belum pasti berapa lama lagi ekonomi akan pulih sepenuhnya. 

  3. Dari sudut keselamatan pula, kita diingatkan untuk menghargai kesejahteraan dan keharmonian yang kita nikmati di Singapura. Pada awal 2021 sahaja, dua remaja yang menjadi radikal telah ditahan. Remaja pertama merancang serangan di masjid-masjid kita, manakala remaja kedua pula merancang untuk menyerang rakan-rakan Yahudi kita.

  4. Dari sudut keharmonian dan perpaduan sosial, masyarakat Melayu/Islam telah mencapai kemajuan yang ketara dalam kehidupan sosio-agama kita, di samping memiliki nilai-nilai progresif, penyesuaian diri dan keterangkuman dalam masyarakat Singapura yang berbilang kaum dan agama. Walaupun demikian, kita akan terus dicabar misalnya oleh pandangan dan pengaruh asing dan luaran yang bercanggah dengan nilai agama dan budaya kita. Ia akibat globalisasi serta penggunaan media social secara meluas. 

2. Persoalan yang menanti kita ialah, bagaimanakah masyarakat kita dapat terus kekal berdaya tahan dan yakin untuk menyahut cabaran dalam konteks Singapura? Dan bagaimana kita dapat melakar jalan kita sendiri sambil menangani anasir luaran?

3. Saya ingin berkongsi tiga pandangan daripada cabaran-cabaran ini sebagai persiapan masa depan kita - bagaimana Muis boleh membimbing masyarakat untuk bangkit dengan lebih kukuh, dan meningkatkan lagi kehidupan sosio-agama kita demi membina masa depan yang lebih berdaya tahan.

  1. Pertama: Memperkasakan masyarakat kita dengan panduan agama yang kukuh lagi mantap untuk menangani cabaran-cabaran baharu;

  2. Kedua: Memperkukuhkan sektor agama kita sebagai persiapan untuk masa depan; dan

  3. Ketiga: Memastikan kemampanan jangka panjang institusi-institusi kita.

4. Izinkan saya teruskan ucapan saya dalam Bahasa Inggeris.

Our Community - Empowering Muslims with Sound Religious Guidance

5. Ladies and gentlemen, let me elaborate on how Muis is guiding the community to emerge stronger, and further enhance our socio-religious life to build a more resilient future based on the challenges I highlighted earlier.

6. First, Muis must lead in providing our community with sound religious guidance to navigate challenges and new developments. Muis and our religious leadership were united and were able to take swift and decisive steps to guide our community through the pandemic. They had to make difficult and unprecedented decisions in the past year and rally the community together, which helped safeguard public health and curbed the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

7. In recent months, there has also been much discussion on the wearing of tudung and I am appreciative of the support by Muis, our asatizah fraternity and our Malay/Muslim Organisations on the Government’s deliberation on allowing nurses who want to wear the tudung with their uniform. It is a complex decision with many considerations and trade-offs. Many of our asatizah have contributed their feedback and ideas during the Government’s consultations with them. Our asatizah also continue to provide guidance and reassurance to the community to preserve our social cohesion as we uphold our religious practices. This is just one example of how as societies evolve, we must be prepared to make changes while always holding on to our values and preserving our social cohesion as a nation.

8. There are many Muslim minority communities around the world who look to the Singapore Muslim community as an example and share our aspiration to live harmoniously with others, and to succeed in contemporary, plural societies. There is a need to amplify and learn from the success of such communities where citizens not only contribute but work together to build dynamic and contributing religious institutions. In this regard, Muis will hold an International Conference on Communities of Success (ICCOS) in the near future to advance and deepen engagement and collaboration between religious scholars, state officials and community leaders on how we can build successful Muslim minority communities.

9. As a lead up to ICCOS, Muis will hold two seminars this year that bring together international scholars to begin developing a body of knowledge on how minority Muslim communities can harness their religious traditions to live harmoniously and successfully in a plural and contemporary society.

10. Another area where we will require strong religious leadership is on halal practices. Observing a halal diet is an important part of our religious commitments. Over the years, Muis has put in place a robust system of halal certification to support the needs of our community.

11. At the same time, dining is important to how Singaporeans express their social connections to others, be it through sharing daily meals, celebrating festivities or marking important life events. Eating together is how we bond in Singapore, whether it be sharing a meal, or sitting side by side at hawker centres while we each enjoy our own fare. In this way, we have been able to bond with our fellow Singaporeans and come together for meals despite our various dietary restrictions and preferences.

12. We must be careful not to go overboard. In some countries, halal practices have been extended to non-consumable products like refrigerators, slippers, diapers and pet food. These trends are usually motivated by business rather than religious imperatives, and reduce the common space that Muslims share with the rest of the society.

13. So in the coming year, Muis will provide more religious guidance on the observance of Halal food requirements in Singapore, as well as strengthen its halal certification process. Even as we observe our Halal food requirements, we must continue to uphold the shared common values of respect for other cultures and faiths, and embody these values in the regular interaction with other communities. This will strengthen the precious trust and cohesion that we have built up with the other communities in Singapore over the decades.

14. Second, our religious leadership and sector must remain forward looking, dynamic and cohesive. The community was able to make adjustments during the pandemic because of its religious leadership, who supported the Office of the Mufti and rallied the community to remain cohesive and united.

15. Given the restrictions on physical gatherings, our asatizah were also quick to pick up new skills to continue supporting the community through online classes and other digital channels. To support these asatizah, Muis allocated $1 million towards the Asatizah Training Credits (ATC) to support all registered asatizah in upgrading themselves in skills such as digital literacy and technology-enabled learning and delivery. Thus far, over 300 asatizah have applied to tap on the ATC for such courses.

16. One of them is Ustaz Mohd Nor Mustaqim Abdullah, a pupil coordinator at Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri. Ustaz Mohd Nor attended a course on Online Facilitation. The new facilitation strategies that he learnt made him more confident to engage his students during online lessons. I encourage more of our asatizah to utilise these training credits before they expire this December.

17. Asatizah have to undergo continuing professional education to maintain their recognition under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS). . To better support asatizah who are pursuing lifelong learning, Muis has recently reviewed this framework, taking in lessons learnt from the pandemic.

18. I am pleased to announce that Muis will introduce an enhanced Continuing Professional Education framework (or “CPE 2.0”) from the fourth quarter of this year. This enhanced framework builds on the existing CPE scheme, and will have four main features - Integration, Quality, Relevance and Accessibility:

  1. There will be an integration of multi-disciplinary religious content with skills development, to help asatizah take advantage of the Asatizah Career and Competency Framework (CCF) that was launched in April last year.

  2. The quality of courses will be continuously improved through structured evaluation of learning at different points. Course trainers will also be equipped with up-to-date methodologies and skills to enhance learning.

  3. To ensure relevance, the learning pathways and experiential curriculum will be customised to meet the various needs of asatizah. For example, asatizah who want to specialise in teaching children can opt for courses focused on pedagogy and on-the-job training. 

  4. Learning will be made more accessible through the introduction of self-paced and blended learning, to make it easier for asatizah to upskill while working. To support this, I am glad to announce that a dedicated Integrated Learning Management (ILM) portal for all ARS asatizah will be rolled out next year

19. Beyond broad-based upskilling support, we also want to create a sustainable pipeline of talent in our asatizah fraternity to serve as our future religious leadership. Muis will share more about its plan to develop our religious leadership and talent later this year.

Our Religious Institutions: Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability Community

20. The third and final takeaway from the pandemic is that we need to prepare for long-term sustainability of our institutions.

21. Our mosques are critical nodes that connect our community. In recent years, our mosques have been doing more to serve and uplift the vulnerable through Zakat and supporting M3 efforts. Through the contributions of our community to MBMF, we have been able to build a mosque in every town. Over the past 5 years, $60 million have been spent to build 2 new mosques, namely Yusof Ishak and Maarof Mosques, and upgraded 11 mosques. I would like to thank the community for your continued support to the MBMF that have enabled the development of our mosques.

22. In these challenging times, the livelihoods of many workers have been affected. We expect the recovery from the crisis to take some time, and the coming years will continue to be challenging for the community. In view of this, Muis has reviewed the Mosque Upgrading Plans to ensure even greater prudence in the use of our community funds.

23. Plans to build new mosques, including in Tampines North will be deferred and reviewed when the economy recovers. Muis will instead prioritise the upgrading plans for existing mosques. By end of 2022, the community can look forward to the completion of upgrading works to Bencoolen, Malabar and Khalid Mosques, which are already in progress.

24. Over the next 5 years, Muis will upgrade 4 mosques in the heartlands, namely Darul Makmur, Alkaff Kampung Melayu, Ar-Raudhah and Darussalam, that were built using MBMF funds. Muis will also secure longer leases for Tentera Mosque and Ahmad Ibrahim Mosque, which are currently on Temporary Occupation Licences, and has plans to upgrade them.

25. These mosques will be upgraded with better accessibility provisions, such as lifts and ramps, to support the larger number of seniors in our community. The new designs will adopt greener and sustainable practices – such as being more energy and water efficient. Not only will this be more prudent in the long run, we will also be responsible stewards for the environment.

26. While the MBMF has helped raise funds to build new mosques and upgrade existing ones, mosques should plan on how they can finance their future operations, including when their leases need to be renewed. Mosques should therefore regularly set aside funds, which can be appropriately invested to generate returns.

27. Last year, I shared plans to develop Wakaf Masyarakat Singapura or WMS. Even with a healthy contribution by the community to Zakat and MBMF, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our reserves and the need for our mosques and madrasahs to be financially resilient and sustainable. WMS will help secure the resources needed to grow and strengthen our religious sector and institutions in the years to come. I will share more about the plans on WMS in the coming months.

Conclusion

28. The past year has been full of challenges. But amidst these challenges, we have witnessed acts of courage, perseverance and solidarity which give us the confidence that we can and will emerge stronger – to build a resilient future.

  1. I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone who have helped to make it happen: Our mosque leaders and staff for keeping our sacred spaces safe and secure for our Jemaah;

  2. Our asatizah who adapted and innovated quickly, so that they could continue to engage, educate and inspire our community;

  3. Our community organisations, youth organisations, agencies and colleagues in the social sector for safeguarding our community’s wellbeing;

  4. And to all the administrators, ground staff, social workers and volunteers and many more who worked silently and tirelessly behind the scene.

29. The strides we have made in navigating this crisis is a testament to the strong partnership among various stakeholders such as yourselves. Because of the collective sacrifices and efforts to keep the virus at bay, we are still able to observe more of our practices for Ramadan this year, despite the latest round of measures, Alhamdulillah. I urge everyone to remain patient as we ride through this together. I am confident that we can emerge stronger and build a better, resilient future as long as we continue to work together.

30. Allow me to end by wishing you a fulfilling last five days of Ramadan. Let us not lose this golden opportunity to not only deepen our spirituality and strengthen familial ties, but to also share the blessings of Ramadan with the community at large. Let us continue to stay cohesive and resilient as a Community of Success or Masyarakat Gemilang.

31. Wabillahi-Taufiq Walhidayah Wassalamualaikum Wr. Wb.