Friday, January 28, 2011

Islam: Integrating Muslims

Jan 28, 2011

Islam no barrier to integration: Muis

Council responds to queries from Muslims over MM Lee's remarks

By Rachel Chang

THE highest authority on Muslim affairs said yesterday that the teachings of Islam do not hinder Muslims from integrating fully into Singapore society.
In fact, the true teachings of Islam obligate believers to live harmoniously in a multi-religious and multi-racial society, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said.
The statement on its website was in response to questions from the public about whether Islamic practices were a barrier to the integration of Muslims in Singapore's plural society.
These questions were prompted by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's comments in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, that Muslims in Singapore tend to be 'distinct and separate'.
Muis said the Muslim community here is deeply aware that Islam's teachings exhort believers to live together harmoniously in a plural society like Singapore's.
'An ethos in the Singapore Muslim identity elucidates clearly that a good Muslim who is true to his religion, is also one who is a good citizen,' it said.
Mr Lee's comments have drawn reactions from Muslims here and overseas.
In the book, Mr Lee, when asked to assess the progress of multi-racialism in Singapore, said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.
'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, intermarriages and so on, Indians with Chinese, Chinese with Indians - than Muslims. That's the result of the surge from the Arab states.'
He added: 'I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam.' He also said: 'I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'
His remarks have been criticised by some leaders, officials and readers in Malaysia and Indonesia after they were reported in local newspapers.
Muslims and other Singaporeans have also written to The Straits Times Forum page on the issue.
Muis said yesterday the Muslim community has always played a role in national development:
'The integration process is readily accepted by the Muslim community as an integral part of the nation's development and progress, which is a shared aspiration of every Singaporean.
'This can be seen through the active participation of Muslims in mainstream society and also through the various multi-racial and multi-religious activities, be they at the individual or at the institution levels.'
Muis said that Muslim Singaporeans' commitment to integration is motivated by two factors:
First, by the aspiration to live up to the country's tenets, as laid out in the pledge to live 'as one united people, regardless of language, race and religion'.
Second, by the teachings of Islam, which obligate Muslims to live harmoniously with those of other races and religions.
'This is reaffirmed by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad through the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and his life journey,' the statement said.
It recalled that in 2005, Muis launched the Singapore Muslim Identity project to bring home the point that Muslims can stay true to their religion comfortably while being active citizens in a secular, multi-racial state.
'The fact is, this set of ethos has been an integral part and practice of the Singapore Muslim community for many years. It has been well-received by the Singapore Muslim community because it is not a new construct in the Islamic faith. It is in fact derived from the tenets of the religion.'
Muis added that it was confident that this better understanding of the true teachings of Islam has led Singaporean Muslims to take a progressive outlook and become very much part of the mainstream.

Jan 28, 2011
We have no problem integrating, says young Muslim

MOST of my peers and I practise different religions but our faiths have never been a barrier to our ability to socialise and integrate ('MM's remarks on integration draw flak'; Wednesday) .
We eat at the same table although our dietary content might differ according to our religious strictures or preference. We have no difficulty respecting one another's faiths and beliefs.
Indeed, recent inter-religious dialogues conducted by various religious student societies on university campuses helped us understand more of one another's practices, and respect one another's faiths.
As a young Muslim Singaporean, I dare say we are well-integrated without sacrificing one another's belief even as we interact in the common space provided by school, national service, workplace and the neighbourhood.
One should not pre-judge a faith based on how one practises it, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew did when he compared the strictness with which Muslims practise their religion now with the situation as it existed when he was the prime minister.
Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions are distinct and separate but this is because we hold different beliefs.
As long as one does not hurt another in the course of interaction and interact meaningfully in a common social space where all faiths are respected, integration is possible.
Muhammad Yusuf Osman

[It is heartening to hear from the Muslim community that Islam is no barrier to integration. But if I may read MM Lee's comments more precisely, his comments were addressed to the Surge of Arab "Islamism". Until Arab (desert) Islamism came to this region, Muslims here practiced a more progressive, inclusive, and "integrate-able" Islam.

In several countries, law-makers have taken the position (rightly or wrongly) that the Arab-style Islamic dressing for women are too distinctive and raises barrier to social interaction and integration. They may have a point.

How did the Malays move from kebaya to abaya? Why have the Malays subordinated their culture to the Arab culture? And there is even debate as to when this Arab culture even came about.

Thomas Friedman and other writers suggests that this repressive form of Islam came about with the discovery of oil.
Excerpt from link above:
Contrary to widespread Western beliefs about the trajectory of the Middle East as a hesitant but inevitable climb to liberal democracy, the region is actually going the other way – fast. Academics call this "Islamicisation", the spread of radical Shi'a and Wahhabi beliefs and practices throughout the region. Because of this trend, the Middle East one sees nowadays is nothing like it was, say, fifty years ago. Around the 1950s, about the time oil was being discovered in the Gulf, many Muslim nations were relatively liberal by today's standards. Alcohol flowed freely, women went uncovered and there was lively public debate about "Ataturk's way", the separation of Islam and state, modernisation, and dialogue with the West. The Middle East seemed to be going in the right direction.

Saudi oil changed all that.

Oil meant that the Saudis now had the means to change the world to more resemble them. The mountain would come to Mohammed. Their mission... was to change the world to be like them... Many educated Arabs secretly bemoan the fact that Mecca is situated in a place of such ignorance and extremism. Why not Oman? ask some. Neighbouring Oman, has a much more gentle brand of indigenous Islam known as Ibadhism, which preaches tolerance as a key Muslim virtue. Why not Oman, indeed.

But Saudi it was. God had willed it, as the Saudis still claim today. Saudi Arabia soon started flexing its economic and theological muscle – vastly expanding the number of mosques and madrases in its mainland, and exporting its... puritanism abroad. It did this by funding mosques, madrases and "payments for conversion" throughout the region and beyond, to North Africa, Central Asia and South East Asia, notably Indonesia. Many of these countries were poor and welcomed the "grants" and status projects afforded by the Saudis. The great "Islamic revival" had started.

Unfortunately, as Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, it gives the Saudis a lot of influence over the direction of Islam. Unfortunate. It makes it harder for Muslims to consider if a less repressive, more modern, more open, more liberal Islam is as valid and authentic.

Below, damage control by SG govt.]

MM Lee was describing "worst-case scenario": Dr Yaacob
By Hoe Yeen Nie | Posted: 29 January 2011 1700 hrs

SINGAPORE: The Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was describing a "worst-case scenario" when he recently spoke about the Malay Muslim community.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who was at a cheque presentation ceremony at Yayasan Mendaki, was responding to media queries regarding Mr Lee's comments in his latest book, titled "Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going".

Mr Lee had said that multi-racialism in Singapore was "progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came".

Dr Yaacob said the rise in religiosity in almost all faith communities has been described as a reaction to modernisation and noted that Mr Lee believed these reactions can be divisive and saw it as his responsibility to warn Singaporeans about the possible risks in society.

Dr Yaacob added that Singapore is a secular country that respects and protects the rights of Muslims to practise their own religion, and this is fundamental to Singapore's identity.

"Many Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore have commented on MM's remarks about Muslims...They have told me, and told us, that the scenario painted by MM is not the reality that they face in the day-to-day lives that they experience here in Singapore.

"To me, that is a very good sign. I would be personally very worried if Singaporeans agree with the scenario that MM has painted, because it means that for us to be a committed Muslim or of any other faith, is incompatible with being a loyal citizen."

Dr Yaacob urged Muslims to take Mr Lee's comments in perspective.

"Let's look at this rationally, read the book and understand where he's coming from. And don't just read one book, see MM in his whole lifespan and the struggles he has gone through.

"At the end of the day, he has a certain perspective. That perspective may not be accurate now, maybe 40 years ago. So that's where I disagree with him, as I mentioned, in the book. That the reality on the ground is people are working together side by side."

Dr Yaacob declined to speculate on the impact the issue might have during the general election, but said: "At the end of the day, as far as the government policy is concerned, we want to integrate everybody, irrespective of your race and let's put this in perspective."


The final word, after debate in Parliament.

Mar 8, 2011

MM on Malay-Muslim integration: 'I stand corrected'

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said he 'stands corrected' on how well-integrated Malay-Muslims are in Singapore.

In a statement issued late last night, he said: ''Hard Truths' was a book based on 32 hours of interviews over a period of 2 years. I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably 2 or 3 years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date. I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future.'

In the book Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, published by the Straits Times Press in January, MM Lee said among other things that 'Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'

Asked what Muslims could do to integrate, he said: 'Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, 'Okay, I'll eat with you.''

The remarks caused a storm of protest from Malay-Muslim groups, some saying his remarks were unfounded and others calling for him to apologise.

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