Muslim community studying plans to set up a local Islamic college: Yaacob Ibrahim

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim hosting the annual Hari Raya gathering at Regent Singapore on July 15, 2016.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim hosting the annual Hari Raya gathering at Regent Singapore on July 15, 2016.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Muslim community is looking at setting up an Islamic college here to produce religious leaders who are grounded in Singapore's unique multiracial and multi-religious society.

Announcing this at a dinner on Friday, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said such a project requires careful study on its viability in a small country.

"It will need to be sustained by the community and be able to attract good faculty," he said. 

"We must also aim high to build an institution of international repute yet (one that is) affordable."

Dr Yaacob, who is Minister for Communications and Information, was speaking to community leaders at the Regent hotel at an annual Hari Raya gathering, at which he outlined the need to build institutions for the community just as the pioneer generation had developed various welfare organisations as well as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and madrasah.

Madrasah graduates who choose to be religious scholars often enrol in overseas Islamic universities, he noted.

"The various Islamic universities in the Middle East and the region have served us well," he added. 

"But there is a need for home-grown religious leaders anchored in our local multi-racial, multi-religious context and attuned to the concerns of our community in the ever changing global environment."

Community leaders welcomed a local Islamic college, saying it would enable students concerned about the security situation in the Middle East to further their higher education in religious studies.

It would also ensure that religious teachers are aware of local sensitivities, and have a strong appreciation of religious harmony. 

Dr Yaacob said he has asked Muis to study the feasibility of such a college, and he will be consulting community leaders on the idea as well.

In his speech, Dr Yaacob stressed the need to continue strengthening the leadership of the Malay/Muslim community and build upon the legacy of its pioneers for future generations.

He outlined steps to develop youth leaders and preserve the knowledge and wisdom of the older generation. 

Muis will work with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to develop a core curriculum on inter-faith and inter-community understanding for secondary-level madrasah students. They already learn about such concepts, but there is room to deepen appreciation of the country's inter-faith ties and heritage, he added. 

Community self-help group Mendaki will also expand a leadership scheme by matching young professionals with experienced community leaders. 

Said Dr Yaacob: "From this process, we hope new ideas will emerge on how best we can move our community forward." 

He added that it is important to preserve the wealth of experience gained by the community. 

One way to do so is through the recording of oral histories of the older generation. 

The National Library Board and the National Archives have conducted such recordings with around 400 Malay-Muslim personalities such as award-winning potter Iskandar Jalil, former Cabinet minister Othman Wok, and the late Mr Abu Bakar Maidin, former president of welfare group Jamiyah. 

The two agencies will set up a committee to look at how the interviews will be organised, and additional personalities to profile. 

He said these "will help us understand better how the key players in our community made decisions, acted on their convictions and commitments, and helped shape our community".