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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Minister Dr Yaacob tried hard to defend MM Lee's comments on Muslims

Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, tried hard to defend Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yee's recent negative comments on the Muslim community in Singapore. Yaacob urges Singaporeans to put MM Lee's comments about the Muslim community into perspective.

The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), which comprises mainly elite Muslims, had raised its concerns over MM Lee's latest comments and demanded clarification over what does it mean when MM Lee said Muslims in Singapore are distinct and not easy to integrate. Another high profile Muslim community, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), had raised similar concerns.

AMP's Official Response to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's Comments in Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going [via]
1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. ]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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

Issued by: Board of Directors, AMP

MUIS's Response to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's Comments in Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going [via]
Islam no barrier to integration: Muis

THE highest authority on Muslim affairs said yesterday that the teachings of Islam do not hinder Muslims from integrating fully into Singapore society.

In fact, the true teachings of Islam obligate believers to live harmoniously in a multi-religious and multi-racial society, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said.

The statement on its website was in response to questions from the public about whether Islamic practices were a barrier to the integration of Muslims in Singapore's plural society.

These questions were prompted by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's comments in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, that Muslims in Singapore tend to be 'distinct and separate'.

Muis said the Muslim community here is deeply aware that Islam's teachings exhort believers to live together harmoniously in a plural society like Singapore's.

'An ethos in the Singapore Muslim identity elucidates clearly that a good Muslim who is true to his religion, is also one who is a good citizen,' it said.

Mr Lee's comments have drawn reactions from Muslims here and overseas.

In the book, Mr Lee, when asked to assess the progress of multi-racialism in Singapore, said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.

'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, intermarriages and so on, Indians with Chinese, Chinese with Indians - than Muslims. That's the result of the surge from the Arab states.'

He added: 'I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam.' He also said: 'I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'

His remarks have been criticised by some leaders, officials and readers in Malaysia and Indonesia after they were reported in local newspapers.

Muslims and other Singaporeans have also written to The Straits Times Forum page on the issue.

Muis said yesterday the Muslim community has always played a role in national development:

'The integration process is readily accepted by the Muslim community as an integral part of the nation's development and progress, which is a shared aspiration of every Singaporean.

'This can be seen through the active participation of Muslims in mainstream society and also through the various multi-racial and multi-religious activities, be they at the individual or at the institution levels.'

Muis said that Muslim Singaporeans' commitment to integration is motivated by two factors:

First, by the aspiration to live up to the country's tenets, as laid out in the pledge to live 'as one united people, regardless of language, race and religion'.

Second, by the teachings of Islam, which obligate Muslims to live harmoniously with those of other races and religions.

'This is reaffirmed by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad through the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and his life journey,' the statement said.

It recalled that in 2005, Muis launched the Singapore Muslim Identity project to bring home the point that Muslims can stay true to their religion comfortably while being active citizens in a secular, multi-racial state.

'The fact is, this set of ethos has been an integral part and practice of the Singapore Muslim community for many years. It has been well-received by the Singapore Muslim community because it is not a new construct in the Islamic faith. It is in fact derived from the tenets of the religion.'

Muis added that it was confident that this better understanding of the true teachings of Islam has led Singaporean Muslims to take a progressive outlook and become very much part of the mainstream.

Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim must know it is not prudent to offend and upset MM Lee, AMP and MUIS. What a dilemma!

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