Opportunistic Musafirs of Geylang Serai

October 15, 2006

After being viciously cornered on four separate occasions by random individuals known as musafir asking for money today, I sincerely feel that something is wrong with this whole idea of donating money to such people if at first glance,
a) there seem perfectly physically able to work (since they are so aggressive and industrious in their search for donations) and
b) that you can encounter so many of them in Geylang Serai or even at the comforts at your own home!

According to MUIS, musafir or ibnu sabil are stranded travelers on a permissible journey who are in need of money. Such individuals are immediately recognised by their white innocuous songkok haji donned on their heads, white long sleeved shirts and an open hand constantly gesturing for money. You can even add in a white moustache or beard for a more realisitic effect.

Once such people approach you, they will use the Muslim salutation of Assalamualaikum to greet you and speak Malay in a fake arabic accent, asking for donations, dropping Islamic references here and there and even quranic phrases to religiously compel you to donate. Because in doing so, when you refuse to donate, you are by implication going against the main tenets of Islam, proving to everyone how heartless and selfish you are.

But why is there a sudden deluge of kaum musafir roaming the streets of Geylang Serai and Kampung Glam during the month of Ramadhan? I would assume that they fall under this category because most are ethnically Indian. Is the state of poverty of those underprivileged that bad in Singapore? If so, why do they only make an appearance during Ramadhan? Doesn’t this mean that since they know people are generally more generous during Ramadhan that they take this opportunity to ask for money since they know on religious and moral grounds, they would have a higher chance of getting the money they want? Such individuals go to the extent of roaming your HDB flats, knocking from house to house trying to find a Muslim family and minta sedekah or beg for money. Isn’t there something very wrong in that when even at home you are not free from the constant inundation of people asking you for money? Isn’t there something even more wrong when my parents, brother and I were breaking fast on our car boot at the car park in Geylang Serai, that we were asked by not one or two but three different individuals asking for money while we were eating, when we are most vulnerable and busy? (There wasn’t space at the various eateries along Geylang Serai so we decided to head to the car)

I’m not saying that we should not help them. I believe that there are more sustainable ways of helping such people earn a living so that they can focus their energies on something that can help themselves. Asking people for money during Ramadhan is simply a short term measure, something that does not solve the real problem of poverty at hand. At the same time, I must remind all Muslims to pay their Zakat Fitrah during this month because the money collected will go towards helping those who really need them in a equitable manner. To know more about zakat read here.

Doesn’t anyone else find this a persistent perennial problem that occurs each Ramadhan? Am I wrong to say that I can exercise my right not to donate money to such people since I already paid my Zakat Fitrah and that maybe one is enough not four or five? Aren’t there checks and balances on such occurances so that people do not get conned into giving money each time they see such people which may be 5 or 6 each visit to Geylang Serai?


The dilemma of Malay Marriages

December 21, 2005

An article on the Straits Times on 15 December 2005 talked about saving Muslim marriages, how such efforts have proven to be quite encouraging in terms of solving the problem of dysfunctional families in Singapore. For the purposes of this entry, I’m equating Muslim marriages as Malay marriages since a large percentage of Muslims are Malays.

Some facts mentioned :
– Project Discovery, a programme directed at Muslim couples who apply to the Syariah Court for divorce, had rescued 52% of the 124 troubled unions since 2003.
– Project New Leaf which targets couples who change their minds after registering for divorce had caused 92% of the 255 couples counselled to be reconciled after the programme.
– No of Muslim divorces fell about 12% last year from 2105 in 2003. Of this, 1368 involve first time couples, 255 had one partner divorced before and 227 were couples who had both been divorced once before.
1 in 4 Muslim marriages was a remarriage.

First question to ask is why are there so many Malay couples heading for divorce in the first place? Is it because of the fact that Malays make up one in five teens aged 19 and under being married, therefore having very unstable unions? Or is it because of our dire socio-economic status which makes marriage an even more precarious journey that it makes it even more difficult for it to succeed? Or that marriage is seen as an end point of education and the start of employment, entering the next stage of their lives in Singapore?

Sometimes I find it hard to fathom why some Malays marry at such an early age, not knowing what it entails being married to another and staring a family. I simply cannot imagine why they would want to get married when their incomes are still relatively unstable, or that they don’t even have a home to begin with, or a tentative plan for the future for their family. When I heard from a Malay NSF that he did not go to Taiwan for training because he was married, I was quite shocked because he was only 22 and only earning about $300+ a month! There’s even a Malay guy in my company who has been in the army for four years because he went AWOL a few times due to family problems and is now going through BMT because he has not even completed it before! And he’s married with two kids! He’s already 25, earning about 300+ a month!

One theory to explicate this puzzling phenomenon would be the fact that traditionally Malay families are relatively huge, therefore marrying off the children of the family would lessen the burden on the parents economically and emotionally. But this would only mean that our culture is anachronictic because Singaporean Malay families today are relatively quite nuclear, having three or four children only. Why would their parents want to marry off their children at such an early age, or to reflect our modern age, why are Malay teenagers so eager to marry at such a young age with no thought of their financial future?

Another possible extension to the previous theory would be the fact that while family numbers have decreased, incomes have not increased exponentially to meet the expensive standards of living in Singapore. While in the past living in kampungs and old HDB estates did not cost much for a typically large Malay family, today the standard of living demands that a large proportion of income is spent on paying rent, food and other monthly payments. Again having children would only to worsen the situation, and it will be best to marry them off at an early age.

However again I am assuming that because Malays make up one in five teens aged 19 and under being married, the divorce rates among Malays is high. there is no causal link to justify that the majority of Malay divorces involve marriages between the ages of 18 – 25 years old. I have been thinking about this and cannot really understand why Malays want to marry so early, or why we have so many divorces. Anyone care to explain why?

Who is the Moderate Muslim?

November 12, 2005

Chanced upon this article in singabloodypore. The link to the original article here.

by Abukar Arman in International Herald Tribune

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the disastrous war in Iraq, the argument that “moderate Muslims” – the so-called MM Factor – are the “only legitimate defense against Islamic extremism” has found its way onto center stage and has found acceptance in certain circles.

But, who are these “moderate Muslims”? What is the ideological engine driving them? What indicators are there to authenticate them? And, more important, who should interpret the readings of such indicators?

Before an objective debate on these questions could get under way, neocon activists like Daniel Pipes have been spinning the whole MM Factor in order to push a handpicked list of what he describes as “anti-Islamist Muslims.” Not surprisingly, the list includes controversial figures like Khalid Duran, a notorious Islam-basher and a friend of Pipes; Irshad Manji, who hosted “Queer Television” on Toronto’s City TV; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-declared atheist who collaborated with the murdered film-maker Theo Van Gogh on a film offensive to many Muslims.

Granted, these are individuals who are exercising their freedom of expression and who may want to “shock the system” from the periphery. But this tack will not moderate the current trend of extremism. Bringing Islam back to its original nature of being a middle-ground faith, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, would require a moderate tone and judicious dialogue. Lending support and a platforms to individuals considered pariahs could simply undermine the whole MM-Factor.

Credibility and sincerity is the name of the game.

For anyone to be accepted as a moderate voice and for his or her message to resonate with the broader Muslim population in the United States and around the world, one must demonstrate, among other things, the following three characteristics:

First, that he or she is a devout Muslim with a track record of community service – an individual without any apparent ulterior motive. Second, he or she is an independent person with an independent mind, an individual not predictably on the same side of any issue all the time, since neither truth nor justice is predictably on the same side. Third, he or she is a sensitive bridge-builder willing to cultivate a peaceful, tolerant community that respects the rule of law, who supports his or her position through Islam’s main authority – the Koran and the Sunnah (the legacy of Prophet Muhammad).

Unfortunately, there seems to be a competing standard for moderation based on one’s position on the Israel-Palestine issue – not on the moot question of whether Israel has the right to exist, but whether the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and to resist oppression and occupation. This is what the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America have gradually come to understand as the real litmus test.

Muslim thinkers and activists who are apathetic or oblivious, or are supportive of the status quo are readily embraced as “moderates” while others, regardless of how moderate or liberal they might be, are declared radicals or terrorist sympathizers.

A case in point is the routine harassment of prominent Muslim activists like Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – who is famous for his peace songs and indeed activism; of widely respected moderate Muslim scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who made a career campaigning against extremism and radical literalism; and of “liberal” thinkers like Tariq Ramadan, who is known for being a pioneer in bridging Islamic values and Western culture. All three were, in one way or another, denied entry to the United States for “national security reasons.”

Recently the U.S. Embassy in Cairo denied Sheikh Abdul Hamid al-Atrash, the head of Al Azhar Fatwa Committee, an entry visa give to lectures and sermons at a number of American Islamic centers during Ramadan. Ironically, in addition to being the oldest and most prestigious Islamic university, Al Azhar is considered the most moderate Islamic educational institution.

It goes without saying that any such subjective alienation and deliberate silencing of those widely recognized as genuine moderates will only fuel more cynicism, anti-Americanism and extremism. If the goal is to defeat extremism in the marketplace of ideas, both Muslims, whose religion has been eclipsed by terrorists, and the United States, whose foreign policy has been highjacked by ideologues, ought to find genuine Muslim moderates to support.

And until a bona fide definition crystallizes, there will always be the risk of blindly embarking on yet another quixotic foreign-policy endeavor.

(Abukar Arman is a freelance writer and a council member of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio.)

There has been many talk about labels which, rather than simplify, complicate matters inextricably into one big mess. What does being a “moderate muslim” mean? Is it a Muslim who remains true to the pure elements of Islam which does not preach death to non-believers but life to everyone? Is it a Muslim who agrees with the western doctrine or American one to end the war on terror? Or is it one which assimilates modernisation and development with Islam and change the seemingly perpetual anachronism at all levels of belief and practices?

Contrary to Samuel Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilisations, Islam does not see the future in such determinist terms. According to Idris Rashid who talked about Ibn Rushd (an Islamic philosopher and law expert) on a series called Islamic Thinkers on Mediacorp Radio,

“The modern civilisation also proved to be heritage of the Islamic civilisation and together, we have to contribute to the good in each other because the fate of the entire human race will be determined by the development of contemporary civilisation. With this, we can reject the current prevailing ideology that instigates the clash of Western civilisation against the Islamic civilisation.”

In today’s Straits Times Review, an article about using ideological discourse with extremists were tried and tested in Yemen proved to be quite successful in reconfiguring their misconceptions about Islam. I felt that this was the right way to defeat the seemingly overpowering force of the Al Qaeda’s brand of Islam and Jihad. I hate to use this analogy but winning the hearts and mind of the Singaporean and Malayan populace during the Emergency did stem the threat and spread of Communism, even though it was during the post war era. More should be done to bring back Muslims to the “moderate” fold, one which does not use violence as a modus operandi to validate its cause.

Contemporary Islamic World

October 23, 2005

Islamic Thinkers is a refreshing change from the incessant dogma and indoctrination I have been experiencing since young about Islam. What I am able to do is to appreciate its argumentations on Islam on an intellectual level as well as challenge its Islamic worldview which I sometimes find highly fallalious and incongruent to reality. This is not to say I am being unislamic or sinful in any way – what I am trying to do is to understand the problem Islam is facing and what must be reflected upon.

The first chapter of the book deals with the Contemporary Islamic World and all its discontents – woman rights, the global Muslim, terrorism as well as poverty and Islam. What was interesting is that, going beyond portraying Islam as a very “liberal” and “dynamic” faith, it emphasized the idea of freedom in interpretation, that Islam is beyond what we believe it to be – absolute homogeneity in thought and practice. Ms Mariana noted:

“The fact is, Islam possesses dynamic interpretations that are suitable to the context of sociology and history. It stresses the maximum use of rational abilities of the mind, while maintaining purity and essence of Islamic laws which have been suited to current progress and development.”

What needs to be emphasized is “interpretation” as well as rationalism. Above all, Islam is all about “interpretation” and to follow every single dogmatic rule without self-reflection is pure idiocy and imprudence. There are so many strains of Islam in Indonesia, each one sounding even more blasphemous than the other, with Islam Abangan which syncretises Islam with animism, Hinduism and Buddhism while Fundamental Islam rejecting such practices altogether. And there seem to be a sudden loss in rationalism in most Islamic teachers who seem to be better at preaching and proselytising rather than teaching and educating the mind and heart.

But who is to say which is right and wrong? Or to follow a postmodernist perspective, isn’t every single view to be accepted since Islam is all interpretation and absolute truth is unattainable? This brings us again to Ms Mariani’s quote that the “purity and essence of Islamic laws” must be maintained in any interpretations, that taking into account the diversity of cultures and dictates of geography, some differences in thought and practise must be allowed.

Another thorny issue of contention in the contemporary Islamic world is rights and roles of women. Its is the view of Ms Mariani that Islamic liberation as seen in Professor Amina Wahad, who led one Friday prayer in the US, and Ms Zainab Anwar are both against Islamic values. And she compares this to the female Acehnese rulers in the 17th century, noting how these leaders were “abdicated not by way of liberation”, that they did not demand such rights as Professor Amina and Ms Zainab did.

I found this point highly incongruent to the argument that the women still have rights because the fact is, the female leaders did abdicate anyway when a fatwa was released by Mekkah that they could not rule. This even though they were highly competent and capable leaders who maintained diplomatic relations with many countries and worked alongside prominent male intellectuals. What I inferred from her argument was that they were great political leaders but when it comes into conflict with religion, they were viewed differently. Which leads me to this question – what are the rights of Muslim women and how can we call this gender equality when the definition of equality is the equality of responsibility, that both the men and women have different roles and obligations to fulfill which will never be synonymous with each other?

She also brought up the problem of the creation of the “New Muslim” or “born-again Muslim” as termed by Professor Oliver Ray in his book, Globalised Islam – The Search for a New Ummah. A “New Muslim” is one who is full of passion who, through a process of “Islamisation”, wants to portray an overt Islamic identity living in a secular country. Also known as the “neo-fundamentalists”, he is not tied to any culture and is hailed as the “pure, genuine or fundamental Islam”. This assumes that Islam in essence assimilates cultural nuances in difference countries and racial grouping, therefore creating a spectrum of practices and beliefs rather than a singular homogenous template as perceived by the “New Muslim”.

This is most definitely one of the most salient reasons why there has been a revival in Islam, that we are suddenly caught in a wave of “Islamisation” all over the world. Globalisation and migration of populations has created numerous Muslim minorities in various countries who sometimes fall into the dogma of being a “New Muslim”. In wanting to make sense of himself, he uses Islam as a sole means of identification, breeding a destructive mentality of exclusivity and denial that is so characteristic of many Islamic communities today. This is an issue which will be discussed later in the book.

The book has been very thought provoking so far. I’m very much interested in learning more about the various Islamic intellectuals, who contrary to popular perception, still remains relevant in the world today. Maybe I should try to take up Islamic studies somewhere in the future.. On top of politics, international relations, Malay Studies, Philosophy and Law. Hehehe.

Malay leadership: Interest, protection and their imposition

October 5, 2005

This is a provocative essay which I chanced upon in Singaporeans for Democracy. You can read the whole essay here. Written by Mr Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, the essay essentially highlights the problems of being a Malay MP under the PAP government – how do you walk on the political tightrope, with competing and almost contradictory pressures from the PAP, National interests, and the Malay community? Its a very sad reality that as much as the government says it represents the ideals of the people, somehow it is usually at the expense of many, even whole communities for that matter.

I knew about the controversy surrounding the Compulsory National Schooling and how it threatened the existence of the Madrasahs. What I did not know was this:

“What was notable in the madrasah/ Compulsory National Schooling (CNS) issue was the way the Malay MPs acted. Mr Maidin Packer, then Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education, supported the PAP’s position for the closure of madrasahs. Zainul Abidin Rasheed, then Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a more polished politician, said that he has not made up his mind. Abdullah Tarmugi, then Minister of Community Development and Sports and Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs and his other colleagues were quiet. This despite the community submitting a petition with over 33,000 signatures. This despite the PAP government’s arguments debated in Cyber Ummah and with all its flaws shown. “

In the ensuing debate surrounding the madrasah issue, what was soon revealed were the fallacies of their arguments, ultimately of how they were placed in a position of impossibility. I believe this soon led to a new type of Malay leadership where, rather than make public appeals on behalf of the community, such leaders were encouraged to use closed door discussions with high ranking Ministers to state their cause. Some argue this is a more effective method but at the cost of political accountbility, personal freedom and ultimately the respect of the Malay community themselves.

“Throughout the issues of SAF, madrasah, discrimination, tudung, the Malay MPs have not only failed to protect the interest of the community they were supposed to lead, they were at the forefront in attacking the community.”

How does one be a community leader, but not make public appeals on behalf of their community? How does one justify the party’s position which compromises the community’s standing in the society? Arguments that the madrasahs were not on par with the mainstream schools is unnecessary, noting the extra religious subjects plus the complexity of the subjects itself. And the fact is that the madrasahs were improving during the 1990s.

I never knew the book by Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim (She’s a doctor! I apologise for calling her a Ms all this while. Please forgive me Dr Lily!) created such a controversy that forced the then PM Goh to respond. And his flimsy arguments and blatant euphemisms ultimately showed how true Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim was. And Mr Abdullah Tarmugi even contradicted his statement, highlighting the fact that the Malays were lagging behind (25% of 12000 workers retrenched in 1998 were Malays!).

“But the Malay MPs cannot be taken as the leaders of the community. First, they were not voted into parliament by the Malays alone. Second, those who voted for them did not do so because they wanted the interest of the Malays to be protected. Third, they have failed to protect the community’s interest.”

I didn’t realise how true he was until I read this. And its very true. Forcing Malays as part of the GRCs does not mean we are voting for the Malays per se. And saying that this is to ensure the continued Malay representation is utter bullshit and slap to all our (Malay) faces. The reason on why Mr Yatiman Yusof was elected was particularly hilarious:

“They voted for him so that he could take care of the gardens and drainage in Tampines. “

Ha! I am highly amused. What is the standing of the Malay MPs today? Above anything else, they seem more reactive towards proclamations of high ranking Ministers rather than take the initiative to make public appeals on behalf of the community. “Oh the Minister says we have a high divorce rate and dysfunctional families. Lets do something about it!”

All for the sake of peace and stability? I don’t think so. As Mr Zulkifli emphasized, there is definitely ulterior motives involved, all for the sake of entrenching the almost God-like powers of the government.

People keep asking me whether I want to be a politician. After reading this, do you think it is wise?

The Burden of Youth: Social Consciousness and The Role of Youth in Society

October 4, 2005

This is an academic paper by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib presented in a seminar I attended last Saturday (1/10/05). In his paper, he identifies the latent potentiality of youth are a force of progress and change, and discuses the three hindrances which impede the development of youth as agents of change, namely religious obscurantism, middle class mentality and media representations. The lack of social idealism among youth, evident through surveys conducted by the National Youth Council, is a pressing problem which needs to be addressed critically and wholistically. He analyses the problem through the “socialisation process” of youth, emphasizing the role played by independent groups and institutions in addressing the problem.

Initially, I was put off by the lecture simply because it didn’t interest me at all (I attended the seminar more for the discourse on Islam, when my friend told me that a professor from the American University of Cairo was lecturing). But upon reading the essay and listening to his presentation, I found it bore an uncanny resemblance to the Malay Marginality issue and that I agreed emphatically with his arguments, especially those made on religious obscurantism and middle-class mentality. I was also pleasantly surprised by his level of intellect (knowing how little I have interacted with the more critical and intellectual of the Malay population) and motivated to learn more about what he has to say. His credentials are certainly very laudable, but I am unable to fully list them in full since I did not take them down during the seminar.

He identifies most prominently that religious obscurantism is one of the factors that impede the “socialisation process” of youth, due to its tendency to “devalue the present world and reduce it to a sense of anomie”. It causes the individual to be “overly and overtly preoccupied with the otherworldly dimensions to the neglect of their present social situations and needs”. The reason he gave for this was the traditionalistic religious orientation in the Malay religious scene. To what extent this is true, I can’t possibly judge, since I am not an Ulama of Islam in Singapore. But I was very amused when I read this:

“At the juncture of facing a high divorce rate amonst Muslims in Singapore, such [religious] books seek to divert attention from concrete societal problems by discussing issues such as whether a human being can marry a jin and who can solemnise such contracts”

It is true that Islam (from what I learnt from weekly weekend Madrasah lessons) emphasizes a lot on the afterlife, that the trials and tribulations are mere tests for the world after. This can be justifiable seen as Islam seems to have failed on most fronts in uplifting the socio-economic status of the Muslim community and stay relevant in today’s modern world (some view that we are permanently stuck in the middle ages). While we can argue that some Muslim countries have progressed, such as Turkey and Malaysia, the most of the Middle east have been continuously plunged into a state of political chaos and social instability. Can anyone safely proclaim they have met an ustaz who pragmatically seeks to deal with real problems such as poverty, divorce and drug abuse without quoting off-hand quranic verses or hadith which sometimes does not adequately solve the problems of today? I am not saying we must be secular and throw Islam altogether. Islam must not cloud our perspectives towards solving critical issues of today.

“In short, religious obscurantism renders religion as a non-functional in the midst of contemporary problems and reality; it imbibes in adherents a sense of false consciousness that hinders his ability to grasp reality.”

I thought his “middle class mentality” argumentation had several echoes to the “inequitable” meritocratic ideals espoused by the state, as previously proposed by Ms Lily Zubaidah Rahim in my previous entry, with specific reference to the Malay marginality dilemma. Mr Imran however uses the phrase “the language of exclusion” when the middle classes rationalise their success purely due to their hard work, whereas denounce the lower classes who are simply lazy and lethargic. He has a very low opinion of the middle classes (which I presume to be that of the thrifty and hardworking Chinese community) who are unable to view reality in its totality, with the existence of structural inequalities. This is the similar line of argumentation by Ms Lily Zubaidah Rahim who provides the example of how the PAP consistently relies on the cultural deficit thesis to explain the lacklustre development of the Malay community.

I found his idea on the culture of “assistencialism” very profoundly true (why didn’t I realise this before!) on solutions towards poverty, especially since we are entering the month of Ramadhan tomorrow (we are encouraged to give money to the poor during this month).

“To what extent, for example, will giving food packages during the fasting month of ramadhan assist the poor move out of their poverty cycle? What is even more saddening is when middle-class mentality disguises its own needs to absolve themselves from guilt of consumption and took it upon themselves to ‘give back to society’ through misguided notions of charity.”

In conclusion, Mr Imran poses the challenge to the intelligentsia to solve the lack of social idealism among youths. One of the problems which he cites as problematic to the intelligentsia – the “mass-man mentality” (as identified by Mr Ortega Gasset in his book, The Revolt Of the Masses) can also be argued to have plagued the whole Malay community at large. Essentially, what this means is that the intelligentsia have no notion of excellence and refuses to go beyond what is common and above others. I was, at this point during the seminar, virtually jumping up and down, wanting to scream to him that this is the Malay problem! I didn’t had the opportunity to ask him the question though since there wasn’t much time.

I felt very enlightened by his lecture. I will attend more soon!

My Call for Intellectual discourse in Islam has been Answered!

September 29, 2005

Reclaiming Islam from extremists

Moderates must speak out, says Dr Tan; We are, says Muis
Loh Chee Kong

AS GLOBALISATION sweeps the world, the trend of religious revivalism is becoming a “potent force” in many countries, said Dr Tony Tan, chairman of National Research Foundation, former Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence.

“For a variety of reasons, people in many countries have felt the need to return to religion,” said Dr Tan. “By and large, the call to religion is to be welcomed … However, religious resurgence can be a problem when people’s need for faith is twisted.”

Addressing about 100 participants at the opening of a two-day conference organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Dr Tan called upon moderate Muslims in Singapore to “dispel suspicion by unequivocally denouncing terrorism, countering erroneous teachings of jihad and working with the Government to root out extremists and radical teaching”.

Said Dr Tan: “The challenge for moderate Muslims in the Islamic community today is to seize back the agenda from the small band of extremists … It is no small thing to speak out against terrorists.

“But to stay silent would be wrong as the radicals and extremists would take the silence of the peace-loving majority as support for their outrageous acts.”

Referring to the recent “forthright denunciations” of violence and terrorism by the Muslim communities in the United Kingdom and Australia, he said that these are examples which Muslims in other countries should “consider emulating”.

While Dr Tan applauded the efforts of local Islamic religious leaders who have “taken it upon themselves to go down to the ground, to counter the extremist ideology”, he stressed that “the community as a whole, and not just individuals, must partake in such efforts, if we are to stand a chance of keeping the vulnerable segments of our community, like our youths, from the clutches of terrorism”.

Responding to this call, the president of Muis, Mr Mohd Alami Musa, said: “The local Muslim community has been and will continue to be vocal against acts of terrorism, violence, the abuse of religion. There is a sense of ‘enough is enough, we do not want to bear the brunt of all these’.

“The Singaporean Muslims are very focused and clear in their minds what the teachings of Islam are and they know that what had been put forth by these irresponsible groups and individuals are things alien to Islam and have to be rejected in its totality.”

Mr Mohd added that a fresh approach is needed to reach out to young Muslims.

“Gone are the days when the ustaz (teacher) will stand at the blackboard, using a chalk-and-talk kind of approach and everything is either halal or haram,” said Mr Mohd Alami. “We are changing our tack and making our Islamic education more connected to their lives and more relevant. We are talking about issues which mean a lot to the young now such as issues of identity, relationships and self-esteem.”

Calling traditional Islam the “antidote to extremism”, Professor Syed Farid Alatas, from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Sociology, questioned the label of “moderate Muslims”.

“What we need are not moderate Islam or Muslims, if by moderate we mean Muslims who are less strict about their religions,” said Prof Syed Farid. “What we need, in fact, are Muslims who are strict about their religious observances, practices and values.”

To help Muslims better understand challenging issues, Mr Mohd Alami announced that Muis will roll out its Distinguished Visitors’ Programme next year. The programme, of which Dr Tan will be a patron, will invite personalities of high stature in the Muslim world to deliver lectures here.

Thank Allah swt for my prayers have been answered! I am certainly looking forward to such lectures, giving me an opportunity to understand what it means to be a Muslim and the role of Muslims in a highly globalised and modernised world of today.

While the first portion of the article deals with the much emphasized “Muslims-must-speak-out-against-extremists” platitudes (seriously, there is much more than we can do besides denouce their evil acts!), the second part promises some inkling of change in the Muslim mentality of endless self-denial, aggressive finger pointing through arbitrary labels, and the acute sense of insularity of the role of Islam in our modern world itself. I applaud MUIS for taking a first step forward, ever since the JI tried to carry out their heinous plans of bombing one of our MRT stations a few years ago.

However, I could not stifle my disbelief over the fact that religious education in Singapore has gone through a paradigm change, or has gone through any change at all. Tthe fact still remains that in the classroom, the ustaz ultimately has the power to influence the minds of the children with whatever they seem fit, even though it may not be reflective of our modern times. When he said, “We are changing our tack and making our Islamic education more connected to their lives and more relevant”, I just recalled anecdotes by my old ustaz and how he used stories of teen pregnancies, drug abuse and other “Western-related” excesses (or so they claim) to justify the return to Islam as a form of salvation, and how the West is evil and so on. Its basically the same thing. Is there any change? If so then what has been done?

The issue of labels is a highly contentious issue which needs careful explication and understanding (something, which I confess, am not very good at yet). What Professor Syed Farid Alatas said is true, but the term “Moderate Muslims” came about more as a reaction against extremists and fundamentalists, rather than too strict or too literal in their practices. Using peaceful methods of discussion and consensus as a form of communication, rather than the more violent forms of miscommunication.

Simply cant wait for the lectures next year. Hopefully, it will be conducted on weekends when I am out of camp!