June 28, 2017

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by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think that with all the anti-Islam prejudice us Muslims chafe against, we would be better at recognising and weeding out the bigotry in our own backyard. Apparently not.

Last Monday’s (May 1) Yahoo article on the minority Ahmadiyyah community in Singapore drew a flurry of Facebook comments. This particular one bothered me:

Yes, Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim even though mainstream Muslims don’t, given the fundamental differences in some beliefs. Even so, neither threats nor anger are justified responses. I was hoping this blatant bigotry was a one-off incident but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Muslim community is not a homogenous one. Just like how Christianity has a multitude of denominations, Muslims are diverse, with many sects and groups approaching the faith in different ways. Broadly speaking, there are two mainstream Muslim sects: Shi’ism and Sunnism.

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Earlier this year, Minister for Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim spoke about the need for Muslims to embrace diversity in an interview with Malay-language newspaper Berita Minggu (BM). He specified the need for the majority Sunnis to respect the minority Shias (also known as Shi’ites), reported ST which had referred to the BM interview.

Said Dr Yaacob: “They pay MBMF (Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund). They come to our mosques. They pray together with us. They celebrate the same Hari Raya. So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?”

So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?

There are no firm numbers in Singapore, but a 2009 Pew report estimated less than 1 per cent of Muslims here are Shia. Over 457,000 Muslims reside here according to the G’s 2010 population census. Globally, up to 13 per cent are Shia.

There was no Shia-Sunni divide during Prophet Muhammad’s time. The split happened a few decades after his death over competing views on who should lead the Muslims. The political struggle evolved into a religious split as different interpretations emerged from different sources of authority, resulting in some differences in practices and theological views on certain issues.

There are many sub-sects within Sunnism and Sh’ism. A minority of Shias in Singapore are from the Dawoodi Bohra sub-sect. They tend to be Indian Muslims and they pray at Masjid Al-Burhani in City Hall, the only Shia mosque in Singapore. The majority Malay Muslim Shias tend to be from the Twelver branch.

Like Dr Yaacob said in the interview, Islam is “very diverse”. Nonetheless both Shias and Sunnis share the same fundamental tenets of the faith. In 1988, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) issued a fatwa (ruling) that Shias are Muslim. A MUIS spokesman said that the fatwa remains valid to this day.

Still, “there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia,” said Mr Yusuf Roslan. The 32-year old radiographer, who became Shia about 10 years ago, once overheard a Madrasah teacher praise the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing Shia Muslims. Another time Mr Yusuf’s friend was chased out of a mosque near little India when his turbah was spotted. Unlike Sunnis, some Shias rest their forehead on a clay tablet, or turbah, when prostrating during prayers.

there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia

Mr Habib Albaity has been involved in various Shia organising committees through the years. The 61-year old taxi driver said that there were times when the application to use mosque facilities for Shia events were unsuccessful. He is sure it had to do with them being Shia Muslims. While they have their own space on the second floor of a shophouse at Guillemard Road, it’s inadequate for larger events. They opened their new, larger, Shia centre yesterday (May 11).

When TMG emailed MUIS to ask if Shia Muslims can hold events at mosques, whether said events can be publicised on mosque property, and the possible reasons why they might be denied the use of mosque facilities, a spokesman only had this to say: “A mosque is an open, shared space for all Muslims regardless of orientation, to use for worship, learning and service. All Muslims are free to attend congregational worship together.”

It’s a curious response. Surely, a simple yes you can hold Shia events at mosques but like everyone else successful applications depend on availability, would have sufficed? There was no response to the question on publicity.

But the challenges are not from the Islamic authorities, said Mr Habib. It’s from the ground. People don’t understand Shi’ism and “give bad remarks as if we are not Muslims but very bad people”.

Since her school days, for example, 28-year old Ms Sakinah Abdul Aziz said she has heard offensive comments like “Shia are Kafirs (disbelievers)… oh they are orang sesat (deviant)”.

These are not benign stereotypes.

These are not benign stereotypes. In October 2015, a video of Shia Muslims singing and slapping their chest – a well-known practise – was uploaded on Youtube. There was public backlash significant enough that the owners of the private space near Bedok North, which they had rented, advised them not to apply the following year, said Mr Muhammad Al-Baqir. The 32-year old who was part of the organising committee added that the owners “have nothing against us… it was just the situation at that time”.

So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that mosque managers would prefer to avoid rocking the boat by disallowing Shia Muslim events to be held.

This discomfort with Shi’ism has taken a nasty turn up north. Shia Muslims face legal persecution by the authorities in Malaysia, said Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas. But it wasn’t always the case, added the National University of Singapore (NUS) academic who specialises in sociology of religion.

A 1984 fatwa by the Malaysian Islamic authority, JAKIM, made it clear that Shi’ism was acceptable. This was reversed in 1996. Anti-Shia fatwas were issued in various states in subsequent years. This is contrary to the views of leading Islamic scholars, like the Shaykh Al-Azhar and Shaykh Qaradawi, from around the world. Now, Shia Muslims are detained and harassed by Malaysian authorities, their places of worship raided. Hate speech is also allowed to circulate.

“The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this,” said Dr Farid. And it’s to a “very great” extent, he claimed.

The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this

I went online to see for myself. A quick search led me to posts and comments on social media and Youtube which demonised Shia Muslims as monkeys, satanic, kafir, sesat, and so on. There’s also a public Facebook group called Melayu Singapura Tolak Syiah (Singapore Malays reject Shi’ism) with over 1,800 members.

It’s not just online. A trip to some Muslim bookstores along North Bridge Road and Geylang Serai revealed some questionable material on Shi’ism – mostly from Malaysia – like this book for example:

Self-flagellation as shown on the cover was outlawed decades back by the highest Shia Muslim religious authorities, said Mr Habib. The blurb describes the book’s contents as a “clear” outline of the “ideological background, and threats posed by Shi’ism against the true Islam… a warning against falling prey to the calls of the Shi’ites.”

There are legitimate doctrinal differences to discuss but “usually these anti-Shia books present a caricature and attack that caricature… it’s substandard scholarship,” said Dr Farid. Traditionally in the Malay- Muslim world, he said, the majority “Sunnis are not anti-Shia” to the extent it is now. There are many reasons for this shift.

One reason is “the rise of more extremist Ulama (religious scholars) influenced by Salafism” which in turn is “partly related to the greater influence of Saudi Arabia in Malaysian affairs”, he said. Salafist anti-Shia propaganda from Saudi Arabia spread in response to the Iranian revolution in 1979 which saw a secular government replaced by a Shi’ite-oriented leadership.

While there is extremism in many branches of Islam, including Shi’ism, Dr Farid believes “Salafism is the most dominant form of extremism in the Muslim world today”. He stressed however that “the vast majority of Salafis do not condone physical violence and are in fact against terrorism”. He meant extremist “in the sense that” it is too “exclusivist” and “legalistic” to the extent that even Sunni branches of Islam like Sufism are also considered deviant and dangerous. That said, Salafists are Muslims and he is “not a fan of banning” them.

Exclusivism, or the idea that there is only one narrow interpretation of Islam, is at the heart of the discomfort with Shias. This poster from 2015 for example advertised a seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the “dangers of Shi’ism”:

Seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the dangers of Shi’ism to be held on the Deepavali holiday.

It’s not clear if the seminar went ahead or whether anyone had complained to the authorities.

It’s more difficult to hold such seminars now. Since Jan 1 this year, all religious teachers must register under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) to ensure what is taught takes Singapore’s context into account.

According to the Code of Ethics which must be followed, an Islamic teacher “must recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam and may choose to adopt and teach any of these” so long as it does not cause public disorder. Also teachers cannot claim any practice of Islam is “deviant or unacceptable” unless the “Fatwa Committee has pronounced it to be so in a ruling”.

This is good methinks but more can be done. Given what is found in some bookstores, on social media, and the personal accounts by Shia Muslim Singaporeans, it’s clear that anti-Shia sentiments in Singapore are not insignificant. While such sentiments cannot be banned out of existence, stereotypes that fuel bigotry need to be engaged directly by religious and community leaders of all stripes together along with the community.

MUIS’ azatizah code of ethics recognises that there are “diverse opinions and schools of thought” in Islam. Maybe MUIS can consider having exhibitions and seminars presenting the diversity of Islamic thought at the various mosques – a grassroots education programme. Intra-faith dialogues at mosques would also be a good start.

Recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam

There is a view that addressing differences in plain view – even if not sensationalised like the Imam video case – will blow the issue out of proportion riling people up unnecessarily. I think this misses the heart of the problem.

The point of the ARS is to ensure Islamic teaching is contextualised to our own society. But foreign celebrity preachers have the largest social media presence. Who vets them? Some like Zakir Naik are controversial and are banned from speaking here.

Yet through videos and social media posts, the ideas flow unchallenged, freely, online, publicly. Closed door engagement will never come close to the reach of viral videos. We risk having only one narrow interpretation of Islam dominating, that too a foreign one. Islam’s diversity in Singapore should be actively defended.

So public engagement should supplement closed door sessions. No doubt some will see engagement as a direct challenge and get upset. But it’s cowardly and wrong to stand by quietly while bigotry festers. Let’s take a stand, please.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Najeer Yusof

FOR the past four years Muslim foreign workers from the dormitories along Kian Teck Avenue have been gathering along the pavements to pray the Eid Adha prayers. Since the nearest mosque is quite a distance from their dormitories, they have decided to organise their own prayers, just outside their dormitories.

There are about 2,000 Muslim foreign workers and a total of three different groups organising the prayers. Each group prays at a different time slot to cater to the population. TMG observed the group that conducted their prayers along Kian Teck Cresent. They began laying the canvas and setting up the sound system at around 6.30am and the prayers commenced at 7.30am.

 

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SERMON: The sermon for Eid Adha prayers are read from this book. They are in Arabic and come with Bengali translations. Two sermons were read out for the Eid Adha prayers. These sermons are similar to those read in all the mosques in Bangladesh.

 

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SOUND SYSTEM: A speaker secured to the trunk of a tree using raffia string. The Imam, who leads the prayers, wears a microphone set around his neck, as he delivers the sermon and the prayer commands. There are two speakers placed along the street to magnify the Imam’s dictation for the huge turnout of foreign workers. About 1,000 Muslim workers joined the prayers today and that has been the average turnout.

 

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NEW CLOTHES: A fellow worker ties a turban around the cap of his friend before heading for prayers. The wearing of the turban around the cap was a practice of Prophet Muhammad. Turbans have been worn by the Arabs even before Islam was adopted and the turban is worn in a reversed manner, with excess cloth hanging at the back of the turban for shielding’s one’s face during sandstorms.

 

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THE IMAM: Mr Mohammad Botchan, 26, has led both the Eid Adha and Eid Fitr prayers for four years. He has memorised the entire Quran, as part of his Islamic Studies in Bangladesh. After his parents passed away, he had to support his siblings and decided to come to Singapore to work as the pay was better. Since Islamic Studies would not land him a job in Singapore, he acquired the skills of piping and welding in Bangladesh. He came to Singapore in 2009 and has been working for Alpha Engineering Private Limited, in Keppel Shipyard, for seven years. “Anyone can come and pray. The police watch us every day, as we conduct our daily prayers here too, but there is no problem. The Singapore Government also understands that we are only conducting prayers and not misleading anyone. We just want to encourage our fellow men to continue practising the teachings of Islam and not be misled,” said Mr Botchan. Mr Botchan was able to get his siblings married off after coming to work in Singapore and plans to get married in Bangladesh after his work permit expires in July.

 

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ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS: Muslim foreign workers crying as they ask for forgiveness. After the prayer, the Imam leads the rest with asking for forgiveness and seeking blessings. This portion is done with the cupping of both hands as a symbol, and one can ask God for anything he wishes.

 

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‘EID MUBARAK’: Muslim foreign workers from the first group embracing one another after the prayers and wishing each other a blessed Eid Adha, as the second group, also about 1,000 strong, prepares for their prayers. There were two groups led by different Imams and they led their prayers at different time slots, one at 7.30am and another at 8am. The different time slots were to cater for the huge population of Muslim foreign workers from all the dormitories along Kian Teck Avenue.

 

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MEALTIME: Muslim foreign workers from the first group enjoying a meal together after the prayers. One of the fellow workers prepared the meal in the morning before the prayers. The meal was served in huge round plates and the workers sat in groups of fives, around each plate.

 

All images by Najeer Yusof.

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Green clock showing 8.30.

IT’S a Batam-based radio station that broadcasts Islamic messages. You can access it over the airwaves and through some live-streaming sites. It features speakers with extreme Islamic ideologies, according to terrorism experts.

It seems to have been effective enough to convert a couple of Singaporeans to the cause of the Islamic state and make plans to travel to Syria. ST interviewed the head of religious affairs in Batam, Mr Zulkifli Aka, who said the Indonesian government was gathering evidence to shut it down. Three years ago, a group of Muslims picketed the station, angered that it was describing those who do not subscribe to its version of Islam as “infidels”, he said.

So should the G wait for the Indonesians to act or find some way of blocking Singaporeans from listening in? You figure out what the G thinks:  “The Government will block websites and radio stations, or remove online content that promote radical ideology, when it is deemed necessary,” said the Home Affairs Ministry.

“More important, however, is to sensitise the public to the dangers of extremist rhetoric, and equip them with social media literacy so that they will not be vulnerable to terrorist propaganda. In this regard, our community and religious organisations have put in considerable effort to counter the radical ideology of Isis and jihadist terrorists.”

The two men have been detained under the Internal Security Act. Another two, including the wife of one of them, have been put on Restriction Orders. This brings the number of people detained under the ISA to 22, including four Bangladeshis. Another 24 Singaporeans are on restriction orders which curtail their movements and activities.

Moving from religion to race….

ST is late with reports on the race survey, not surprising since it was rival Channel NewsAsia which had commissioned it. But ST highlighted an aspect of the survey which seemed to have been downplayed by other media: what the communities think of demands for more cultural rights.

Four in 10 minority Singaporeans think the majority Chinese demand more cultural rights. On the flip side, three in 10 Chinese think it’s the minorities who want more.

Put that aside for the moment and look at what the minorities say about themselves. Four in 10 Malays or 40 per cent think their own community wants more cultural rights, while the figure for Indians is one in four or 25 per cent.

What are cultural rights? The reports didn’t specify but it would be safe to think of language use and promotion, for example.

There’s another figure that is intriguing and was cited by the lead researcher of the survey Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies in a commentary in TODAY.

He said the Chinese majority here should get some credit for positive race relations here. Despite being an overwhelming majority, only a third of those surveyed supported the statement that “It is only natural that the needs of the majority race should be looked after first before the needs of the minority races”. Yes, he used the word “only”.

So we have the statistics but the problem is interpreting them. What to make of these demands for cultural rights? Should we look at the glass as half-empty of half-full? Is anyone surprised that three in 10 Chinese think the minorities are more demanding? Or is anyone appalled that one in three Chinese think that it is right that they themselves should get better treatment than others?

The trouble with such surveys: It’s all about how people perceive the results of other people’s perceptions. And that varies from person to person.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

HERE’S what we know about his condition so far: The stroke was due to an aneurysm. It happened when a blood vessel in the brain burst, and doctors had to perform emergency surgery last night (May 12) to relieve pressure in the brain and stop the bleeding. They were successful in closing the aneurysm and as of 11.30pm last night, he remained under intensive care at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

What’s next? He’s expected to continue receiving treatment as Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam oversees his duties as Finance Minister. We’ll keep the updates coming.

Well wishes poured online when news of Mr Heng Swee Keat’s stroke broke in the evening after the Prime Minister’s Office issued a brief statement around 7pm. He had collapsed at around 5.30pm during the Cabinet’s weekly meeting at the Istana.

Messages on Facebook posted later by Cabinet ministers filled in what happened: After he collapsed, three ministers who were doctors immediately tended him and managed to resuscitate him. An ambulance then took him to the hospital where a CT scan showed he had a stroke. A Facebook post by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describing him as a valuable member of the Cabinet has been shared close to 1,000 times.

The New Paper reported a neurologist, Dr Charles Siow, who said for someone to collapse from a stroke, it must have been a major one. Dr Siow did not attend to Mr Heng.

People who saw him earlier in the day say he looked fine – though, he had also been “very tired”, said Mr K Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister in a Facebook post.

News of Mr Heng’s stroke dominated headlines this morning but there are other things you probably want to know: Such as the return of teen blogger Amos Yee, who was arrested on Wednesday after absconding overseas to avoid the police.

Police had been investigating him for remarks he made online last November about what former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng said about Islam (NOTE: Mr Cheng spoke about killing the children of terrorists, not about Islam. We apologise for the error). This is his second arrest; Yee was convicted last year for similar comments made about Christianity.

If you’re a security supervisor or arts instructor, time to go for some extra classes if you want to keep your job.

As many as 3,300 security supervisors could be demoted if they don’t attend a compulsory course within the next three months, warned the National Trades Union Congress yesterday. The compulsory module and at least two other recommended courses are part of the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications Framework.

To continue teaching for the next two years, arts instructors who conduct school workshops that are subsidised by the National Arts Council (NAC) have until the end of this year to complete the NAC-Arts Education Programme. The requirement was announced in 2013 and NAC will be adding more runs to the course to help instructors complete at least 40 hours of training in time. Arts instructors who do not finish the course will not be allowed to teach NAC-supported workshops until 2018.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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Flickr user https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassyjakarta/6122736873/

by Suhaile Md

THE kerfuffle up north, between the Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ibn Sultan Iskandar and constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari, on Arabisation and its effects on Malay culture has piqued interest here at home. Non- Muslims and even non-Malay Muslims, like me, are observing keenly. But let’s not dance around the issue. Public interest on the matter here is likely heightened more so because of the threat of Muslim extremists than purely a sense of nostalgia. Rightfully, methinks. So let’s frame the issue accordingly.

First thing to note, the Quran is in Classical Arabic. Our translated copies are never our primary texts. When our sermons are given, the verses are always recited in Arabic followed by the translation. The vast majority of Muslims recite the verses in its original Arabic during the five daily prayers. Although many may not know the language, part of our education includes learning what the verses mean. It’s an integral part of daily Muslim life.

So while comments like “we must not allow Arabic to be used” may seem to be an obvious course of action, it is actually misguided.

However, regarding the increased usage of Arabic terms in place of existing local terms, matters are less clear. (For example, “iftar” instead of “buka puasa”, “ana” instead of “me”, “anta” instead of “you”.) Is it born of a desire to be more religious, and confusing religiosity with using the Arabic language day to day? If so, some education will sort this out. If not, could it just be a consequence of globalisation where Muslims around the world are communicating with each other more than ever and so resort to the more commonly understood Arabic terms? Then, we have a non-issue, I think. Or is this a result of hardliners insisting that the use of any term other than the Arabic one is wrong? In that case, we have a problem. It’s one thing to defer to Arabic terms when referring to Quranic concepts and completely another to substitute the pronouns in daily conversations (“ana” instead of “me”). But we also have to ask how widespread this is or is it just a passing fad? These questions need to be answered before we can meaningfully address the issue – if there is any in the first place. Hopefully, someone’s researching this somewhere.

With regard to cultural artefacts like clothes, there may be a hint of hypocrisy when non-Malays, like me, exhort our Malay friends to protect their culture from foreign influence. That line of argument is best avoided. Because you know, Indians and Chinese here wear kurtas and cheongsams every day. And our schools are at the forefront of preserving cultural identities with their ties and blazer… which by the way really is the best possible attire for restless kids in a tropical country, no?

That said, there is a problem when the Arabic jubah is worn not for reasons of fashion or personal taste, but because it’s seen to be holier than wearing the Baju Melayu. Is the Baju Melayu any less than the Jubah in adhering to the Islamic ideal of modesty? Anyone who has seen the outfits will surely reply with an emphatic no!

 

No conflict

My family and I are Bengali Muslims and we see no conflict between our culture and faith. Traditionally, Bengali women wear sharis, a single piece of cloth about a metre wide and up to eight metres long. It’s wrapped around the waist with the end draped over the shoulder. The shari is worn over a petticoat and blouse piece. The cultural norm is to wear a cropped, short sleeved blouse. The final ensemble leaves the midriff exposed.

My mother, a strict Muslim, believes in leaving only the face and hands exposed but sees no conflict with her heritage. She merely ensures that her blouse piece is not cropped, that the sleeves are longer, and styles her headscarf such that it complements the shari. The sheer variety of her stash of scarves never ceases to amaze me! My father and I are much simpler though: we pull on our Kurtas or Fatuas over the nearest pair of pants we can find before heading for Friday prayers.

It is fallacious to wrap Arab culture together with Islamic religiosity so much so that following Arab customs is perceived to be the height of religious expression. Seeing the two as one and the same is problematic at the very least because it helps fulfil one of the core aims of extremists: To create a homogeneous, monolithic supranational Muslim community based on the exclusivity of the outward forms of faith while debasing the much harder, more inclusive, inward function of faith.

And so we have come to the nub of the issue – how do we tackle it? It’s not easy but it’s clear. Focus on educating the inner function of faith and the outward forms will take care of itself. Cultural and religious norms often merge to form distinctive practises. Understanding the principles of the faith will enable us to distinguish the practise of our faith from imported culture and decide for ourselves how we want to live.

 

Diversity forms a unique culture

There’s more to it than just the religious approach. Culture transcends attire and a sprinkling of words. Poetry, art, folklore… These are just as important in shaping the Malay Muslim identity. In all honesty, can Arabisation take all that away unless the cultural gatekeepers, that is the community itself, allows it to happen?

Islam has its intellectual traditions of debate and discussion and openness that really applies to any culture without eroding it. Local Muslim intellectuals and religious people taking the lead to establish centres of excellence that reflect Malay society and culture goes a long way in helping to form a uniquely Singaporean Malay Muslim culture.

Perhaps ending with a Quranic verse is apt: “Another of his signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know” [30:22]

Do we really want to lose that diversity?

 

Featured image from U.S. Embassy, JakartaCC BY-ND 2.0

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by Clare Thng

OVER the last two days, news reports have laid out predictable trends such as falling fertility rates and climbing elderly numbers in line with the 2015 General Household survey results. But what about the lesser known, almost unbelievable, data? After trawling through pages of statistics and graphs, here are five facts we came across which you may not have known:

1. Chinese are the least bilingual.  

Over a span of five years, the proportion of the resident population literate in two or more languages has increased by almost 3 per cent. In 2015, nearly nine out of ten of literate Malays were able to read in two or more languages. This was followed by 82.9 per cent of Indians who could do so as well. On the other hand, it was the Chinese who suffered the lowest proportion of residents for multi-language literacy at only 70.3 per cent.

While a majority of the Chinese and Malay were literate in English and their mother tongue only, language literacy was more diverse among the Indians. In addition to the 45.7 per cent who could read English and Tamil, 14 per cent of Indians were literate in English and Malay as well.

2. In almost half of all marriages, husbands are as smart as their wives. 

In 2015, 46.1 per cent of married couples comprised husbands with the same educational qualifications as their wives. The other 54 per cent being married couples where either the wives had lower qualifications than husbands or vice versa. Among married males with university qualifications, 67.7 per cent of them had a spouse who was also a university graduate.

With more females joining the workforce, dual-career couples have been on the rise as well from 47.1 per cent to 53.8 per cent. Within these five years, the proportion of marriages where only the husband worked had fallen from 32.6 per cent to 27.7 per cent.

3. Almost half of primary school students walk to school.

If they chose to anyway…

In light of the close proximity of schools to their homes, 44.7 per cent of pre-primary and primary school students did not require transport to school in 2015. This was a slight fall from 46.2 per cent in 2010.

4. Indians have the most diverse religious affiliations. 

Aside from language literacy, the religious affiliations of Indians were most diverse compared to the other racial groups. In 2015, Hinduism with 59.9 per cent was the predominant religion of Indians. This was followed by Islam with 21.3 per cent and Christianity with 12.1 per cent. Other religions such as Sikhism made up about 5.4 per cent.

5. Among the ethnic races, the number of persons in Malay households saw the largest fall. 

The average household size for Malay households fell from 4.2 persons in 2010 to 3.9 persons in 2015. Over the same 5 year period, Chinese households experienced a marginal decline from 3.4 persons to 3.3 persons while that of Indian households remained unchanged at 3.6 persons. This makes the shift towards smaller households the most notable in Malays out of the ethnic groups. In spite of this dip in numbers, the Malays continue to have a larger household size on average than Indian and Chinese households.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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GUYS, don’t skip your National Service. Someone was jailed for 1.5 months yesterday for avoiding NS for six years, bringing the spotlight back on sentencing guides for NS evaders.

At first, Brian Joseph Chow, now 25, was fined $4,500 but the prosecution asked for jail time to deter other evaders. He could have been jailed three months but the judge settled for 1.5 months since Chow had surrendered himself to the authorities, and because he had performed well in-camp, the judge said. Chow had left Singapore at age 14 to pursue his studies in Australia. He returned in 2013 to register for NS at age 22 after repeatedly ignoring calls from the Ministry of Defence to enlist.

A warning came yesterday also from Mr Masagos Zulkifli, in a translated transcript of an interview with Malay current affairs programme Bicara, which aired on Suria last night. He said that while Malay-Muslims in Singapore have always got along with other non-Muslim Singaporeans, more youths today are being influenced by foreign radical ideologies via social media.

“Some of these influences are disturbing, such as the belief that we should create a (religious) environment that is pure and perfect,” said Mr Masagos, according to TODAY.

Two months ago, in December, the head of the fatwa department of The Council of Islamic Scholars of Zimbabwe cancelled his appearance at a Quran conference here. Mufti Menk is a controversial figure and some local Malay-Muslims had complained that his beliefs were linked to extremist groups including ISIS.

The G said he could not enter Singapore because his application for a Miscellaneous Work Pass, required for foreigners who wish to speak on issues related to religion, race, and politics, was not approved by the Ministry of Manpower. Read our story here.

 

Featured image by The Middle Ground

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by Reuben Wang

PLENTY of people spoke up today in Day 4 of the Parliamentary Debate. Here are the most interesting 15:

 

1. Mr K Shanmugam, Nee Soon GRC, Minister for Home Affairs & Minister for Law

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“Any religious group with values contrary to social harmony will be treated as a security risk.”

Mr Alex Yam Ziming, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, started off the day with a set of heavy questions. He asked what was being done to tackle increased radicalisation in youths, whether informal religious groups are tracked for potential risks, and if there were access controls for foreign preachers seeking to come to Singapore. Law Minister K Shanmugam responded by saying the ministry would continue to work with the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) and not allow “intolerant” foreign teachers to preach in Singapore. He also said that “any religious group, whether registered or informal, that preaches values or promotes actions that are directly contrary to our social harmony, or threatens our safety, will be treated as a security risk”.

 

2. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Jalan Besar GRC, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs

“What we must guard against are ideologies and practices that divide our community, and which set our community against the rest of society.”

How is Singapore handling the increasing diversity of Islam in Singapore? That was the question Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef put forward. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim responded by saying MUIS launched the Singapore Muslim Identity (SMI) to articulate desired characteristics of Muslim religious life in the context of Singapore’s diversity. He added that MUIS, through its Fatwa Committee, can issue a fatwa to pronounce “what it finds objectionable and provide guidance to the Muslim community”. He emphasised the need for community leaders and religious teachers to speak out against divisive ideologies.

 

3. Dr Ng Eng Hen, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Minister for Defence

“As long as terrorist organisations can influence and induce others to their cause and to their bidding, no country is safe, not even those located thousands of kilometres away.”

What is the current situation of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) deployment against ISIS in the Middle East, and how effective has it been? In response to Mr Alex Yam’s question, Dr Ng Eng Hen said the SAF will continue to deploy its Imagery Analysis Team with the Combined Joint Task Force in Kuwait. Beyond providing military intelligence, the SAF had sent KC-135R air tankers in support of coalition aircraft in the region last year.

 

4. Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Marine Parade GRC, Minister for Social and Family Development

“Take-up rate for Lasting Power of Attorney has risen. MSF accepted about 8,360 LPAs in 2015, 160 per cent more than 2014.”

Three questions for oral answers were submitted to Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, all back to back. To Mr Seah Kian Peng’s question about the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), Mr Tan said over 20,000 LPAs have been received. After efforts to make it more convenient in 2014, the take-up rate increased 160 per cent last year to 8,630. Ms Denise Phua followed up, asking what were the key challenges of getting more people to get LPAs. Mr Tan replied, noting the “lack of publicity and inertia”.

The next question submitted for oral answer was from Macpherson SMC’s Ms Tin Pei Ling. She asked the minister about the efficacy “of the pilot programme started in 2014 involving the appointment of a panel of volunteers as deputies for individuals who are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves.” Mr Tan responded, saying there are currently 18 professionals from the financial, healthcare, legal and social work sectors, and the ministry had received positive feedback on how vulnerable individuals have benefitted from the programme.

The third question submitted by Mr Seah Kian Peng was about paternity leave. He asked the minister how many working fathers took a full week of paid paternity leave, and how many employers have agreed to provide an additional week of paternity leave. In response, the minister said in 2013, 5,500 eligible working fathers applied for Government-paid paternity leave in 2013. The number increased to 11,900 in 2014 and 12,300 in last year.

 

5. Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Tampines GRC, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

In response to a question by Mr Christopher de Souza about efforts to prosecute errant companies which contributed to the haze, Mr Masagos Zulkifli said that six companies were issued notices to stop activities that caused haze pollution last year.

 

6. Dr Amy Khor, Hong Kah North SMC, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources & Ministry of Health

“We need to ensure sustainability of care models, because the needs will grow, and subsidies come from taxes.”

What is the Ministry of Health doing to promote innovation which provides dementia patients with greater privacy in nursing homes? In response to Mr Leon Perera’s question, Dr Amy Koh responded that a variety of measures are being taken by both the public and private sectors. Some of the measures she gave included building closed-loop outdoor garden next to dementia wards, the “cluster living” concept found in Ren Ci’s new Ang Mo Kio nursing home, and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s specialised ward which is designed to provide minimal distraction in allowing for more personalised care. She also added the G will continue to innovate in dementia care in various ways, including giving out grants.

 

7. Dr Janil Puthucheary, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Education

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In response to Dr Lee Wee Kiak’s question about the sexual misconduct of teachers, Dr Janil Puthucheary said that 14 such cases over the last five years were reported to the police. He added that teachers and other officers will be dismissed if there is misconduct, and every case of sexual misconduct is one case too many.

 

 

 

 

 

8. Ms Grace Fu, Yuhua SMC, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth

“The operators are finding their feet, sorting out the operational problems and understanding the costs of operations. Sports Hub has acknowledged the challenges faced, and, with our regular feedback, is continuously looking to improve its operations.”

What can the G do to help the Sports Hub attract more iconic international sporting events? That was the question Dr Lim Wee Kiak put to Ms Grace Fu. Her response? The Sports Hub operators are still in a “start-up stage” having been in operation for less than two years. While MCCY is paying close attention to all issues and concerns raised, the ministry will give the operator “some time and room” to respond to feedback. In response to a supplementary question, Ms Fu added that MCCY is well-engaged with the operator of the Sports Hub.

 

9. Mr Lawrence Wong, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Minister for National Development

“We will continue to monitor the market closely and adjust the supply when necessary, in line with our broader plan to keep supply at a sustainable level over the long-term.”

Mr Alex Yam of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC asked Mr Lawrence Wong about the status of HDB’s Build-to-Order (BTO) scheme, inquiring about the success rate for first and second timer applicants, and whether the current building rate is sustainable in the light of the changing application rates. Mr Wong said that from 2013 to last year, about nine in 10 first-timer families and seven in 10 second-time families successfully applied for BTO flats in non-mature estates. He added that HDB tapered the BTO supply to 22,400 flats in 2014 and to 15,100 flats last year after the demand-supply balance was restored, and it plans to offer 18,000 BTO flats this year to meet new demand from recent policy changes.

 

10. Ng Chee Meng, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) &
Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport

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“The idea of the Singapore Heartbeat is that all of us are indispensable and complementary parts of a living system, our Singapore.”

In the first speech of the day not a response to a question, Mr Ng Chee Meng spoke about the need to build a “Singaporean heartbeat”. What is a Singapore heartbeat, you might ask? He defined it as the “source of inner strength to keep us united”, and that there are two dimensions to it – to “keep united in vision and purpose, with one heart” and to “nurture deep bonds of kinship”.

A way of strengthening this heartbeat, said Mr Ng, is for our education system needed to encompass broader definitions of success and fulfilment as part of our evolving approach to meritocracy. He finished his speech by saying another way to strengthen the heartbeat is “to have deep bonds of kinship and the pride of simply being Singaporean”, and not only be proud when we meet fellow Singaporeans overseas.

 

11. Mr Low Thia Kiang, Aljunied GRC, Secretary-General of the Workers’ PartyLowThiaKhiang

“We must see value in having alternative parties around, and having the opportunity to develop an alternative party is valuable, because they are insurance to any failure or collapse of the existing ruling party.”

In discussing the President’s address to Parliament, Mr Low noted a good political system is not only about “good policy and ensuring there is no gridlock”, but one which is “able to withstand shock and turbulence, including the unexpected collapse or slow corruption of the ruling party.” He continued: “Our narrative should not be shaped and monopolised by the ruling party. The government should recognise many ongoing and independent national conversations, and should allow for differences in opinion to flourish without marking these conversations as disloyal and divisive.”

 

12. Ms Cheng Li Hui, Tampines GRC

“As we strive to be a Smart Nation, I hope we can also be a compassionate and cosy home for all Singaporeans.”

Speaking in her maiden speech in Parliament, Ms Cheng Li Hui called for schools and neighbourhood parks to be used as places for bonding between generations. Schools, she said, have safe open places and exercise facilities and can be places to organise bonding activities for elders and children to interact. She finished her speech by talking about how more could be done with neighbourhood parks, such as urban farming and the building of childcare facilities.

 

13. Ms Tin Pei Ling, Macpherson SMC

“We should work to improve the situation in Singapore so that women can thrive both in motherhood and their career.”

Speaking about the need for a more caring society, Ms Tin Pei Ling talked about various ways we can better help the elderly and young families. On the elderly, she said they should be allowed to work “for as long as they want”, and be able to easily access social networks of other elderly. For young families, among other proposals, she proposed to “leverage more on homemakers with childcare experiences within the community”, and “continue to entrench the belief that mothers can continue to contribute and value-add in the workplace and society.” That is to say,  make sure new mothers have access to older mothers for tips and help, and for mothers to be better recognised in the workplace.

 

14. Mr Edwin Tong, Marine Parade GRC

“The NCMP scheme helps opposition members gain exposure. It is far from ‘navel-gazing’.”

Speaking about PM Lee’s proposed constitutional changes, Mr Edwin Tong said that the “NCMP scheme does not take away the ability or opportunity of candidates to contest freely in elections and become elected MP”, while proposing the Council of Presidential Advisers be required to outline the ground of its advice to the President, for the sake of transparency and public confidence. Ms Slyvia Lim took issue with his statements about NCMPs, speaking as a former NCMP: “While yes, we are in the chamber contributing to the debate, it can never be the same as a MP representing constituents.”

 

15. Mr Patrick Tay, West Coast GRC

“Even as we re-create current jobs and create new jobs, we should provide diversity and variety so that we can marry aspirations, passions, skills with good jobs and quality jobs.”

Talking about the job security and jobs of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), Mr Patrick Tay called upon the G to move to a “Singaporean PME Led” and “Foreigner PME Lean” economy. Explaining the challenges facing PMEs, he suggested the implementation of a PME ratio for sectors with a lack of Singaporeans (ie. mandating Singaporean quotas in the IT industry) and imposing stricter Employment Pass application conditions. He also noted that there is a lack of awareness of the Career Support Programme, which was rolled out October last year and provides subsidies to employers who hire PMEs who are above 40 years old.

 

Featured image by staff photographer Chong Yew.

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by Wan Ting Koh

THE news of the arrest of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi construction workers under the Internal Security Act last Wednesday has put the spotlight on foreign construction workers and the problems they face practising their religion here. TMG presents Mr Chandi, a Muslim Bangladeshi worker who has been in Singapore for five years. He works on a construction site in Jurong Island and stays in a Kranji dormitory. Note: this is a work of fiction, based on reported facts. We suppose you can call it fact-ion.

“I am going to shave off my beard. It’s not good to have a beard now because people will think I am a terrorist. Those 27 Bangladeshi workers are really giving us a bad name. We’re now wondering what Singaporeans will think of us. Will they shoo us away from the void decks? We Bangladeshis have always been known as a peaceful people. In fact, we write beautiful poetry.”

“The last time, it was the Little India riot. Small group of Indians, big trouble. Now small group of Bangladeshis, hopefully small or no trouble.”

“Most of us just come here to work. We don’t want to cause trouble, or else we get sent home without any money. Why should we do anything silly when we have family at home waiting for us? These 27 people belong to the Ansarullah Bangla Team, which is banned back home. This is a very extreme group which has been blamed for a series of murders of bloggers and activists in Bangladesh. I wish they stayed home so that the rest of us can work in peace. Why do they want to bring their politics here? And why mix it with religion?

In Singapore, anybody can pray to their own God. There are also religious groups which share premises. That’s actually quite eye-opening for me. In Bangladesh, some Muslim groups actually kill people for being non-believers or infidels or kaffirs.

“Please don’t think I am not a religious person. I am very religious. In Bangladesh where 80 per cent of us are Muslims, we pray five times a day. Here, we work such long hours that we don’t have time to pray. Pray quickly and get to work. It upsets me. Even in the dormitory, my room is too crowded. I share it with eight others. Some are Hindu, some Christian – so not convenient for me to pray inside. If I want to pray, I have to pray outside by myself. Last year, some Muslim Bangladeshis who live in the same dorm decided to build a small makeshift prayer corner at one area in the dormitory so that we can do our evening and morning prayer before we go to work. Better than nothing.

But now we’re wondering how long the prayer corner will last. Another Bangladeshi friend told me his boss asked him to stop holding religious classes for fellow workers. He is a member of Tablighi Jamaat, an informal international Muslim missionary group. His boss is scared that the police will arrest him. If everybody is scared to let us pray or hold religious meetings, then what do we do? When do we pray? Where do we pray? These 27 people were not really praying, they were learning how to kill people. Now, do we have to convince our boss, Singaporeans and our non-Muslim colleagues that we are peacefully praying and not planning something evil? How do we show this?

Maybe the safest way is to go to a mosque to pray and attend meetings held by the mosque leaders. But that can happen only on Sundays for me because I cannot go out of my dormitory after a certain hour. I know there is the Abdul Gafoor mosque in Little India. I go there to meet my fellow nationals there and we pray. I wanted to register for some of the classes in other mosques but the problem is language because I don’t speak Malay.

Once in a while, I’ve bumped into some Bangladeshi devotees on one-month visit passes outside Mustafa Centre. They are looking for donations for religious causes back home. I suppose they come here because many Bangladeshis are working here. They seem to know the religion very well, quoting the Koran and hadiths. I listen to them but I don’t know what to make of what they say.

The minister said to us on Saturday that we don’t have to worry as long as we follow the law and stick to our work. But of course we are worried. What is an acceptable religious meeting? What is an acceptable theology? So many foreign Muslims here, following different teachings. Some foreign preachers are not allowed into Singapore.

Maybe we should all just keep our heads down for a while. If something else happened, these Singaporeans might get so scared that they don’t want us to build their houses and fix their roads anymore. Then how will we get work?

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

GOOD morning! Following the announcement on Wednesday, that the Internal Security Department had arrested 27 Bangladeshis plotting to launch terror attacks in their home countries, Singapore ministers have continued to speak out against extremism and call for the need for harmony. At a thank-you lunch for Bangladeshi construction workers at Khadijah Mosque, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said foreign workers have nothing to fear unless they dabbled in extremist activities, and also warned against Islamophobia in Singapore. Some of the workers at the lunch told the minister that that, like themselves, their children suffered discrimination – but in school.

“We need to educate the wider Singaporean public that that is wrong. We focus on terrorism, and we deal with it. We deal with it as a community. If we start going down this route, of tarring people of Islam as terrorists, Singapore will be in trouble,” Mr Shanmugam responded upon hearing a remark that some children had allegedly said to their Muslim schoolmates. The remark? “You are Muslim, you are wrong, your religion is bad.”

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, during a visit to Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol yesterday, stressed the maintenance of social harmony in Singapore, that those of different races and religions should focus on the things they have in common. He said: “Singapore is a multiracial, multi-religious country and it’s very important that we focus on the many common things we have together, rather that become obsessed with the differences between us”.

The Bangladeshi police have continued their investigations into the aforementioned group of Bangladeshi workers deported from Singapore. Of the 27 arrested, 26 were reported – with 14 currently detained in jail for having links with banned militant groups and 12 released but monitored – and one is serving a 12-week jail term in Singapore for trying to leave the country illegally after learning about the arrests of his counterparts. Bangladeshi Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan stated that “We don’t allow anybody to create a hub for terrorists. Bangladesh is a secular country and we do not entertain terrorists.

And during a discussion on the Global Security Outlook at the World Economic Forum, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that a military conflict between a military conflict between the United States and China, while unlikely, will still have major consequences for the region. Emphasising that Singapore was the most religiously diverse nation in the world with representations of every major religion, he spoke about how Singapore had to make religious harmony work from the start, and now has to redouble efforts on this front.

Closer to home, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing spoke of the importance of broad definitions of success, urging participants at the inaugural St Gallen Symposium Singapore Forum to go beyond the academic yardstick to define success. He said: “While we can create all these opportunities, we must not end up in a situation where our minds are closed to these options.”

 

Featured image by The Middle Ground.

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