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Speech by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs at the Committee of Supply Debate

A resilient & confident community: working together for the future.

09 Mar 2017

1. Madam, more than ever before, we face an uncertain world. The past year has seen a culmination of trends many years in the making. Global economies are facing difficulties. Communities in many countries have become more fragmented, while social support systems are straining in the face of growing challenges.

2. However, I am confident we can find a way to remain resilient. Our community has worked hard in partnership with the Government and we have come far. In a uniquely Singaporean way, we have embraced diversity and forged strong bonds with people of other races and religions. We can never be certain of the future, but we can be stronger if we look out for each other. We can be confident of success if together, we build a more resilient and confident community.

3. Madam, we will achieve this through three key strategies: First, our community institutions will enhance efforts to develop a future-ready and resilient workforce. Second, we will strengthen and safeguard our families. Third, we will nurture a strong socio-religious sector.

Nurturing a future-ready and resilient workforce

4. To ride the transformation in our economy, we must work together to expand the opportunities for our community to be upskilled and ready for the jobs of the future. Yayasan MENDAKI currently provides assistance to low-wage workers and their families through its subsidiary, MENDAKI SENSE. However, as Mr Zaqy Mohamad highlighted, we should also support the lower-middle income Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians, or PMETs. I have heard their anxieties and worries. MENDAKI SENSE will therefore step up its efforts for PMETs to better prepare them against employment setbacks.

5. In this regard, I have asked Parliamentary Secretaries Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Mr Amrin Amin to lead this important task. They will co-Chair a new committee to help lower-middle income PMETs. This committee will focus on helping this group retrain and rebound from potential employment setbacks. One area for improvement is the community’s take up of national skills-upgrading initiatives, such as SkillsFuture. As of December 2016, out of 126,000 Singaporeans, only 8.4 percent of Malays have used their SkillsFuture Credits. More can be done to explain and link them to SkillsFuture and other national schemes. We will push hard to encourage more to try, and for those who do, we want to support them.

6. One individual who worked hard and benefited from skills-upgrading is 34-year old Dzahri Bin Dzulkifli. Dzahri was an IT Technician for 6 years, before he took on an enhanced, multi-faceted role as an ICT analyst and trainer. To add value to his new role, Dzahri attended MENDAKI SENSE’s International Computer Driving License (ICDL) course in 2016. He has completed 6 modules ranging from Basic to Advanced programmes, putting in hard work outside of work. Dzahri is now into his 5th year in this role, and continues to find meaning in what he does.

7. Dzahri’s example shows that while training may not be easy, and may not pay off immediately, it pays off with perseverance.

8. To help workers like Dzahri, MENDAKI SENSE will step up its efforts, in partnership with Workforce SG and Skillsfuture SG, to provide good employment opportunities that resonate well with the community. But at the same time, more must be done to make continual learning and training a social norm or natural impulse of our community.

9. So, as Mr Saktiandi Supaat has asked, how can we help grow this culture of life-long learning? Madam, Yayasan MENDAKI has always pursued efforts to empower our community through education. This year marks MENDAKI’s 35th anniversary, or M35, which it will be celebrating through a series of initiatives. Let me share on three M35 measures. The first is Digital Learning@MTS. This is a pilot programme to promote e-learning among students in the MENDAKI Tuition Scheme, or MTS, and to engage them beyond the usual 3-hour weekly MTS sessions. Digital Learning@MTS was recently launched on 18 February 2017 with 150 Primary 4 and 5 students at 3 MTS centres.

10. Secondly, MENDAKI is producing the Rahsia Keluarga Bestari book – a collaboration between MENDAKI and Singapore Press Holdings which features the success stories of Malay/Muslim families. We hope that these stories of ordinary and everyday heroes will inspire the rest of our community. Further, the sale of these books will contribute to the Educational Trust Fund, which supports the education of children from Nursery up to ITE.

11. Thirdly, MENDAKI will organise an Education Symposium to discuss the important, positive role parents must play in their children’s education and development. MENDAKI will be inviting 500 key stakeholders and national partners to discuss issues and research on early childhood education at the Symposium.

12. I have outlined some of MENDAKI’s plans to promote learning at an early age, but more work will also be done downstream. Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked for an update on MENDAKI’s Future Ready Unit launched last year. The Unit has conducted several engagement sessions to promote SkillsFuture, particularly among students and parents. These efforts have reached out to over 1,000 students and young adults to better understand and support their aspirations. Moving forward, MENDAKI will run more of such programmes to forge a future-oriented mind-set among our young. It will also introduce a new Future First programme for Malay/Muslim students in the Higher NITEC courses this year. Starting with about 150 students, the Future First programme will take a skills-based approach to developing competencies such as critical thinking, communication and IT skills.

Safeguarding families

13. Madam, our key community organisations are working hard in partnership with the government agencies to support the community in the areas of education, employment and employability. There are families facing socio-economic challenges, and we must do all we can to help them.

14. Dr Fatimah Lateef asked how Government agencies and community organisations have been coordinating efforts to better support the low income and stepfamilies. One way we do this is to nurture strong and stable families and ensure that the services we provide meet the needs of these families. So the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) partners Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), on the Vista Sakinah programme. Launched in 2011, Vista Sakinah provides specialised marriage education and support programmes for remarrying couples and stepfamilies. Since its inception, more than 1,600 couples have benefitted from the remarriage preparation programme, and more than 1,200 families have benefitted from post-marriage support.

15. Vista Sakinah will continue its good work for remarrying couples and stepfamilies. One initiative involves tapping on our asatizah, or religious teachers, who have relevant skills and good outreach. We want to encourage our asatizah to broaden how they can serve the social needs of our community, and remarriages and stepfamilies are one group who require support.

16. One good example is Ustaz Muhammad Hafiizh Rapiee, who has been conducting support sessions for stepfamilies since 2014. These families face complex and challenging issues. To help Ustaz Hafiizh, Vista Sakinah familiarises him with the families’ situations so that he can provide complementary religious guidance. He is currently one of 11 asatizah engaged by Vista Sakinah.

17. Another example of the benefits of working together was MSF’s collaboration with MUIS and MENDAKI in organising the 5th Engaging Hearts and Minds Seminar. Held last October, and themed “Seeding Resilience for Our Children”, the Seminar shared trends and insights on contemporary child-raising from the sociological, religious and practice perspectives. Such sharing is important so that educators, social workers and asatizah are able to better understand the families’ needs and tailor their interventions accordingly.

18. Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked for an update on the Syariah Court’s plans to improve its capabilities. Madam, over the next 2 to 3 years, the Syariah Court (SYC) will be enhancing its Case Management System and processes to provide users with a more client-centric experience, with a focus on improving online services. With these systemic improvements, we believe that SYC will better serve their clients.

19. Madam, SYC administers Muslim family law relating to divorces. It must, therefore, be staffed by capable people and open to a diversity of talents. I am happy to announce that two new Presidents joined SYC last year – Ustaz Muhammad Fazalee Jaafar and Ustazah Raihanah Halid – both of them are on secondment from MUIS and have the religious qualifications as well as the necessary skills and temperament to administer Muslim divorces.

20. The secondment is part of a broader collaboration between MUIS and SYC to ensure that there is a robust talent pipeline to lead our Muslim statutory institutions. I thank the retiring Senior President, Ustaz Mohamad Rais, as well as President Zainol Abideen Hussin for mentoring these new Presidents so that they would be able to carry out their responsibilities well. Let me also place on record my gratitude to both Senior President and President Zainol for their long years of service and contribution. Syariah Court will continue to tap on their services even after their retirement.

Growing a strong socio-religious sector

21. Madam, this brings me to my third key thrust – growing a strong socio-religious sector. The Singapore Muslim community draws strength and guidance from our asatizah. In turn, our asatizah have the responsibility to provide the community with sound religious guidance that is appropriate for our Singapore context. This is especially so amidst an increasingly diverse and vibrant socio-religious landscape, a point that Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar has also noted.

22. A key example of this is our Fatwa Committee, which has the responsibility of guiding Muslims on contemporary socio-religious issues. Chaired by our respected Mufti, the Committee comprises experienced local asatizah who issue fatwas, or religious opinions, to help Singaporean Muslims understand and balance their religious and civic identities and obligations. In deliberating a wide range of issues, the Committee has also tapped on experts from diverse disciplines. Our fatwas have endeavoured to help Singaporean Muslims stay true to the teachings of Islam while living out their lives in modern, secular and multicultural Singapore.

23. So at the inaugural Fatwa Conference on 11 February this year, our Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram said that “finding answers to new questions is not as straightforward as conveniently saying, ‘let’s go back to the Quran and Sunnah’…A responsible fatwa authority is one that provides guidance to real challenges faced by the community.” He also cautioned against feeling contented with ‘the voluminous compilations of positive law produced by classical scholars, however excellent these intellectual treasures might have been’”. I agree with the Mufti wholeheartedly, and understand that the Fatwa Committee may at times depart from the positions of religious bodies elsewhere in the Muslim world. And I hope that Singaporeans will appreciate the Committee’s efforts in providing religious guidance that is contextually appropriate for the diversity in our Muslim community, and in our multi-racial and multi-religious society.

24. With this in mind, MUIS is developing a Fatwa Rulings Compilation. The first of five volumes was launched at the recent Fatwa Conference, and is an important contribution to scholarship, and as a source of public education. MUIS also hopes that Singapore’s experience at making progressive fatwas can contribute to the advancement of global Islamic jurisprudence.

25. Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar asked how MUIS can better equip our asatizah to meet the needs of the community, while Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim asked for an update on the mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS). Mandatory ARS came into effect from 1 January 2017 and now covers all asatizah – including Quran teachers. To date, more than 2,500 asatizah and Quran teachers have registered under this initiative. Registered asatizah are assessed to have the minimum requirements to provide religious instruction.

26. This system provides the community with greater assurance that those who offer religious guidance have the baseline qualifications and training. It is not just about the asatizah’s paper qualifications – their religious guidance must also be compatible with our cherished values and way of life in modern, multicultural Singapore.

27. Many of our asatizah are graduates of the 6 full-time madrasahs offering primary, secondary and pre-university education to more than 3,500 madrasah students. Madrasahs play an important role in developing future generations of asatizah with strong grounding in both the religious and secular subjects.

28. To Mr Zainal Sapari’s question, the existing madrasah quota of 400 students per cohort has been able to produce the asatizah needed to meet our community’s needs. MUIS monitors these numbers, and also looks at the competencies required. To ensure that our asatizah meet these competencies it is imperative that we continuously focus on raising the quality of madrasah education and inspiring the students to do their best.

29. In the last few years, our madrasah students have improved their performance in the national examinations. In 2016, 98% of madrasah students who sat for the PSLE were eligible for a secondary school course, up from 91% in 2012. More students are also qualifying for the express stream. These trends bode well for the future of our asatizah fraternity and Muslim institutions.

30. Madam, in his National Day Rally speech in 2015, Prime Minister announced that our Government would strengthen the teaching of secular subjects in the 6 full-time madrasahs. So I am pleased to announce that the Government has set aside up to $1.5 million annually to support the training of madrasah teachers who teach secular subjects, and provide incentives to encourage madrasah students who do well in secular subjects. Students can now look forward to about 350 new awards being given out for good performance from this year onwards. Teachers will also benefit from additional training funds and incentives that scale with their qualifications.

31. I would also like to share that MUIS will match the government’s assistance in the form of new student awards and teacher training grants for religious subjects. This partnership between the government and the community will encourage our madrasah students and teachers to continue to improve themselves, and be the best that they can be.

32. As part of its wider support for the madrasah sector, MUIS is also developing a new Madrasah Al-Arabiah campus in Toa Payoh. Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked for an update on the design of the campus. This new campus will have up-to-date IT infrastructure and facilities to aid learning, and is estimated to cost about $17 million. MUIS has set aside $10 million for the new campus, with Madrasah Al-Arabiah engaging the community to co-fund the remainder. MUIS will consult the school’s community on the campus design in the third quarter of 2017.

33. Madam Chair, the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF) is a uniquely Singaporean approach to meet our socio-religious needs. In response to Mr Amrin Amin’s question, I would like to update that MBMF collections within the first six months of the revision have been healthy. The support for the changes to the MBMF is an affirmation of the affluence of our community, and of our spirit of self-help. Through the MBMF, we come together to build our mosques, strengthen our religious education, and uplift Muslim families.

34. The rate revision last year will also help ensure that there are sufficient funds to pay for current and future mosque developments. Mr Amrin Amin had asked for an update on the construction of the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands. Funded by the MBMF, the Yusof Ishak Mosque is the 26th mosque to be built under MUIS’ Mosque Building Programme. I am happy to update that the mosque is nearly complete, and will be opened to the public in April 2017. With a unique architectural design and a capacity to accommodate 4,500 congregants, the Yusof Ishak Mosque will be an institution that we can all be proud of.

35. Madam, beyond building new mosques, various other upgrading works have also been carried out, such as Sallim Mattar Mosque, Al-Falah Mosque, Al-Khair Mosque, Al-Muttaqin Mosque, and a temporary prayer facility at Al-Istighfar Mosque in Pasir Ris. I am happy to report that since the MBMF was used for MUIS’ Mosque Upgrading Programme in 2009, MUIS has provided a total of 23,200 additional prayer spaces for the Muslim community.

Amendments to AMLA

36. Lastly, Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked for an update on the plans to amend the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). Our agencies have been working together closely to fine-tune this key legislation for our community. The proposals seek to reinforce Muslim institutions, enhance the management of Muslim assets, and further strengthen Muslim families. We will be putting up the draft proposals for public consultations on Tuesday, 14th March. Allow me now to continue my speech in Malay.

37. Puan Pengerusi, dengan iklim dunia yang tidak menentu, masyarakat Melayu/Islam tiada pilihan selain untuk bersiap siaga, terus menyesuaikan diri supaya kita berupaya maju seiring dengan masyarakat lain di Singapura. Saya percaya kita boleh lakukannya kerana kita berada dalam kedudukan yang lebih baik, berkat kerjasama erat dengan pemerintah sepanjang lebih 50 tahun. Kita kini lebih yakin untuk berdepan dengan cabaran. Saya lakarkan tiga strategi untuk kuatkan lagi usaha kita bersama. Pertama, badan kemasyarakatan kita akan memperhebat usaha membentuk tenaga kerja yang berdaya tahan dan bersedia untuk masa hadapan. Kedua, kita akan memperkasa dan melindungi institusi keluarga. Ketiga, kehidupan sosio-agama kita akan terus diperkukuh.

Membentuk Tenaga Kerja Masa Hadapan

38. Ekoran pertumbuhan ekonomi negara yang dijangka perlahan, kemahiran pekerja Melayu/Islam di pelbagai lapisan perlu dipertingkatkan. Usaha untuk meningkatkan kesedaran masyarakat dan menggalak mereka memanfaatkan skim peningkatan kemahiran nasional seperti SkillsFuture, harus dilipatgandakan. Badan kemasyarakatan akan bekerjasama dengan pemerintah agar pekerja Melayu/Islam dapat meraih peluang-peluang pekerjaan yang lebih baik. Golongan bergaji rendah pula akan terus dibantu MENDAKI SENSE. Namun, kita juga sedar tentang cabaran yang dihadapi golongan pertengahan iaitu para Karyawan, Pengurus, Eksekutif dan Teknisyen atau PMET. Oleh itu, sebuah jawatankuasa yang dipengerusikan bersama oleh Setiausaha Parlimen Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim dan Encik Amrin Amin akan dibentuk, khas untuk membantu golongan PMET khususnya dalam menangani cabaran pekerjaan. Antara lain, mereka akan dibantu dalam mendapat latihan semula serta persiapan sekiranya diberhentikan kerja.

39. Persiapan untuk menghadapi masa depan yang lebih mencabar memerlukan kita menanam sikap gigih menimba ilmu sepanjang hayat, sehingga ia menjadi sebati dengan naluri kita. Dari itu, Yayasan MENDAKI akan memberi tumpuan untuk memupuk nilai belajar sepanjang hayat, di samping memperkasa masyarakat melalui pendidikan. Sempena ulang tahun Yayasan MENDAKI yang ke-35, tahun ini, pelbagai inisiatif akan dilancarkan untuk mencapai matlamat ini. Antaranya, pelancaran Digital Learning@MTS untuk menggalak pembelajaran dalam talian bagi pelajar Skim Tuisyen Mendaki; penerbitan buku “Rahsia Keluarga Bestari” yang memaparkan kisah kejayaan keluarga Melayu/Islam; serta Simposium Pendidikan untuk bincangkan peranan penting ibu bapa dalam pembangunan kanak-kanak.

Memperkasa Dan Melindungi Institusi Keluarga

40. Keluarga yang kukuh adalah tunjang negara. Lantas, badan kemasyarakatan Melayu/Islam akan terus berusaha melengkapi program nasional untuk memperkasa institusi keluarga. Mahkamah Syariah sebagai satu institusi penting dalam mentadbir undang-undang keluarga Islam, akan pastikan bahawa kepentingan keluarga diutamakan. Sistem dan proses pengurusan kes di Mahkamah Syariah akan diperhalusi agar lebih mesra pengguna, khususnya dengan memperbaiki khidmat dalam talian. Mahkamah Syariah juga telah menerima dua Presiden baru tahun lepas, iaitu Ustaz Muhammad Fazalee Jaafar dan Ustazah Raihanah Halid. Mereka merupakan pegawai yang dipinjamkan daripada MUIS. Kerjasama antara MUIS dan Mahkamah Syariah ini adalah sebahagian usaha untuk pastikan aliran bakat yang berterusan demi memperkukuh pentadbiran institusi Islam di Singapura.

Memperkukuh Kehidupan Sosio-Agama

41. Puan, beberapa Anggota Parlimen bertanyakan tentang usaha mengukuhkan sektor sosio-agama kita. Februari lalu, buat julung kalinya, MUIS  menganjurkan persidangan fatwa untuk berkongsi bagaimana institusi fatwa membimbing masyarakat kita. Sejak 1968, Jawatankuasa Fatwa telah mengeluarkan fatwa yang menyentuh pelbagai aspek kehidupan, agar masyarakat  menjalani kehidupan beragama sesuai dengan konteks kita. Saya mengalu-alukan usaha MUIS untuk menerbitkan kompilasi fatwa yang bukan sahaja dapat dijadikan sumber rujukan, malah membuktikan bagaimana kita, sebuah masyarakat Islam  minoriti, mampu menyumbang kepada perkembangan perundangan Islam sejagat.

42. Keperluan sosio-agama masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura sentiasa diimbangi dengan golongan asatizah yang profesional dan berkemahiran. Oleh itu, mutu pendidikan madrasah akan dipertingkatkan lagi. Dalam Rapat Hari Kebangsaan pada tahun 2015, Perdana Menteri melahirkan sokongan pemerintah untuk pengajaran dan pembelajaran subjek sekular di kesemua enam madrasah sepenuh masa kita. Hari ini, saya gembira mengumumkan bahawa pemerintah telah memperuntukkan $1.5 juta setahun untuk menyokong latihan guru madrasah yang mengajar subjek sekular serta memberi insentif kepada pelajar yang cemerlang dalam subjek sekular. Bagi subjek agama, MUIS akan memadankan sokongan pemerintah dengan memperkenalkan anugerah pelajar dan geran latihan guru untuk subjek agama. Di samping itu, bangunan Madrasah Al-Arabiah akan berwajah baru. Dianggarkan bernilai $17 juta, bangunan baru itu akan didirikan di Toa Payoh dan dilengkapi infrastruktur IT terkini. MUIS akan menyumbang $10 juta. Bakinya akan dibiayai bersama oleh pihak madrasah dan masyarakat.

43. Saya bersyukur bahawa Dana Pembinaan Masjid dan Mendaki (MBMF) – sesuatu yang unik bagi Singapura – telah berjaya menampung keperluan sosio-agama kita. Sumbangan masyarakat kepada MBMF kekal sihat setelah kadar sumbangan diubah tahun lepas. Ini membuktikan bahawa masyarakat kita semakin berkemampuan dan semangat gotong-royong kita semakin utuh. Akta Pentadbiran Undang-undang Islam (AMLA) juga akan dikemaskini agar institusi keluarga diperkasa, aset masyarakat diperteguh, dan pentadbiran institusi kita diperkukuh. Jadi Puan, apa yang telah saya bentangkan adalah strategi kita untuk mendorong masyarakat Melayu/Islam mencapai aspirasi kita seperti yang ditanyakan Encik Faisal Manap. Tentunya yang kita inginkan, adalah pencapaian yang lebih banyak bukan sahaja di bidang tersebut, tetapi dalam semua bidang di Singapura. Tetapi ini akan memakan masa. Saya dan rakan-rakan saya yakin bahawa apa yang kita telah lakukan selama ini InsyaAllah akan memberikan kita kecemerlangan yang kita inginkan di kalangan masyarakat kita.

44. Puan, pantun Melayu ada menyebut:

Juang serangga hancurkan mangsa

Dahan dilubang tikam binasa

Juang kita luhurkan bangsa

Lawan gelombang alam semasa

45. Kalau gelombang alam melebarkan prejudis dan prasangka, kita di Singapura membina persefahaman dan ikatan persamaan. Kalau gelombang alam menyebarkan permusuhan, kita bersatu mengukuhkan persaudaraan. Inilah cara kita di Singapura.

46. Apabila warga Singapura menjalin persahabatan dan persaudaraan yang berbilang budaya, kita menjiwai erti sebenar kepelbagaian. Norma dan nilai sebeginilah yang mencerminkan ketinggian dan keluhuran akal budi.

47. Pengalaman di negara lain cukup mengajar kita tentang akibat buruk jika gagal mengambil kira maslahat umum. Keadaan menjadi tidak menentu, syak wasangka berleluasa dan ruang persefahaman semakin mengecil. Bagi saya, kebijaksanaan yang berhemah lebih bermakna daripada semangat berkobar-kobar tanpa mengira apa yang sesuai demi kepentingan umum. Itulah sebabnya para pemimpin perintis kita bersikap bijaksana dalam menyelesaikan masalah yang rumit. Bak kata pepatah, “Bagai menarik rambut dalam tepung, rambut jangan putus, tepung jangan berserak”.

48. Sebagai sebuah negara kecil, Singapura terdedah kepada pelbagai ketidakpastian yang boleh menggugat kestabilannya. Namun, sikap positif dan berpandangan jauh telah membolehkan kita mengatasi cabaran dan perbezaan dengan cara yang matang dan jujur. Yang nyata, masyarakat Melayu/Islam boleh berbangga dengan pencapaian kita bersama serta sumbangan kita kepada Singapura sepanjang 52 tahun lalu.

49. Jadi, marilah kita terus berganding bahu dengan Pemerintah, untuk saling membantu satu sama lain dan bersatu hati untuk mengatasi apa juga rintangan mendatang dengan penuh yakin demi mencipta masa depan yang lebih cerah buat kita semua.

Conclusion

50. Madam, in closing, every one of us in our community has hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, and our children. It was no different for our parents and grandparents, who had striven hard to forge a future in a new nation. Their future then is what we enjoy today. Our Singapore Muslim community can be proud of how far we have come over the past 52 years. Today, we stand strong because of our can-do spirit and our strong Muslim institutions. We stand strong because as a community, we work together and care for each other.

51. By building a resilient and confident community that stands united with the rest of Singapore, and in partnership with the Government, we shall overcome whatever challenges that come our way.

52. Thank you Madam.

Source: MCCY

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