FEATURE ARTICLE  
   

The Singapore Muslim Community:

A Model for Unifying Muslims
Zainul Abideen Rasheed - President, Islamic Council of Singapore

As-Salamu Alaykum, Audhu billah imin ash-shaytan ir-Rajim Bismillah ir-Rahmani ir-Rahim, My dearest brothers and sisters, it is a real honor for me to be here tonight. I asked my friend to invite Shaykh Hisham to come to the Islamic Center and to meet the Mufti and my fellow managers of the Islamic Council. It was a real pleasure to have met Shaykh Hisham.

I would just like to share with you a little information about my own community in Singapore. We are a secular state, just like America, but it is a kind of secularism in Singapore that I call "secularism with a Soul?" It is such that religion is given a place, it is given a role to play. The government of Singapore set up the Islamic Council or Ugamah as a government body established by Parliament to look after the interests of Muslims in Singapore. Now this a rare opportunity and a rare step taken by a secular government. They didn't set up such a council for any other religion. It has a historical reason: the Malays or Muslims in Singapore are indigenous, therefore they were given this protection; this special position.

Zaynul Abideen (l), Dr. Muhammad Razzaq, Imran Khan, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani and Mohammed Khan at a fund-raiser held in Los Angeles for Imran Khan's Cancer Hospital in Pakistan. Over $70,000 was raised by Dr. Yahia Khairy and Shaykh Hisham.

We are very fortunate indeed with the Council because we've got the administration of the Muslim Law Act, established by the Parliament, again to look after the interests of Muslims, especially in areas of inheritance and Muslim Law, not criminal or civil law. So we are have a very nice blend of - civil and family law practiced in Singapore. This is the Muslim-managed law.

I think that this the challenge that we Muslims from all over the world face today. How do we adapt within any secular government - within the context of our own Muslim needs and purposes? We believe that this is blended in Singapore very well.

Alhamdullilah, more and more, we find that we are able to bring about the kind of environment, the kind of sentiment, the kind of motivation, that are very Islamic in terms of promoting our Muslim interests.

At this point, I would like to give some examples of how our Muslim community in Singapore have come a long way in throwing away the kind of petty rivalry, jealousy, and problems we initially faced and which in the final analysis don’t matter. But for the first 20 years of our independence, we wasted a lot of our energies, our valuable energies, in quarreling amongst ourselves, trying to show that one is more Islamic than the other or one is more progressive than the other. But now we have brought ourselves together—in two councils—one is the Islamic Council and the other is the Council for the Development of the Muslim Community. The latter's purpose is to bring the community forward and the former's is to establish religious affairs.

We got our act together, we’ve got programs in place to push us to greater heights. We put our money where our mouth is. Every Muslim worker—there are 150,000 Muslim workers out of a 500,000 Muslim population out of 3 Million persons in Singapore. So we are just 15% of the population, though not an insignificant minority. Out of that 500,000 Muslims, the 150,000 workers contribute monthly from their salary $2 or $3 monthly. First we started with just 50 cents a month. With 50 cents a month we were able to build new mosques. Singapore was undergoing redevelopment, industrialization, urbanization. We needed new mosques for each new satellite town. We started about 20 years ago with just 50 cents a month, and now we have built something like 20 new mosques. And now, after the first mosques were built, the Muslims saw what we could do when we got our act together; what we could do if there was unity. From 50 cents, we now contribute on the average from $2 to $5 for the building of mosques. On top of the building of mosques, the Muslims contribute from $2 to $3 for the upliftment of the community through social, educational, and economic programs. This is done by using government machinery where our salary is deducted at source and then goes to a central fund. Then those at the Islamic Council and the Council for the Development of the Muslim Community are able to disburse funds for the Muslim community.

Alhamdullilah, although we are a minority, we are able to show numbers, though still small, but it shows how if we get our act together, we can do a lot. To the point, that even Malaysia and Brunei look up to us as an example to motivate their own people. They are quoted as saying: "If the Muslims of Singapore can do it, there is no reason why the Malaysians or the Muslims of Brunei cannot do it." The Muslims of Singapore first started the Islamic Unity Trust Fund (Amana Trust), when we launched it, and we expected to raise 10 Million dollars, but within a month we raised $30 Million. Now Brunei also has a unit trust fund—Brunei is much richer than us—but the idea is to get everyone to contribute towards establishing a unit trust in order to show that Islamic Finance is practical—even in a secular state.

So these are the kind of examples which we feel that we are able to show in small ways—what Islam is about, what Muslims can do if they get educated. And we still have a lot to learn. I believe in America for example, there are a lot of Muslim communities emerging. These are the emerging forces of Islam and a Muslim community: young professionals who are on the frontier of urbanization, industrialization, science, technology and pluralism, which are the reality of today’s world. We cannot just talk in terms of a homogeneous Muslim community. We live in a kind of plural society. We have to learn to live in that kind of environment. It is very difficult to be a Muslim in an urban, industrial, and plural society than a homogeneous society like Saudi Arabia, where Muslims are a majority. The challenges are far greater, we got to be intelligent about it, we got to be pragmatic about it.

Singapore, is just a small example, we are in the course of learning. That is why I make the effort when I travel to America and Europe to keep in touch with the Muslim communities, as they are also minorities, in order that I can learn from their experiences. Because I think it is from the learning that we will enrich ourselves be able to cross-fertilize ideas and thus become even richer and even better prepared to meet the challenges that are to come in the next century insha’Allah.

So on that note, I would like to say thank you again for this opportunity, and I look forward to actually learning from your experiences here and I’m sure that this is just the beginning of our relationship. Wa billahi. As-salam alaykum.


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