Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

MPs raise need to strengthen community ties

Malay/Muslim lawmakers stress need for right understanding of Islamic teachings

Malay/Muslim MPs yesterday stressed the importance of ensuring the community has a firm foundation of what Islam teaches.

They also highlighted the need to tend to - and strengthen - the close bonds built between people of different races and religions over the years, at a time when extremist terrorism threatens to cause such ties to fray.

Speaking at the start of the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said the right understanding of Islam will keep the community from being led astray.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) - a statutory board under the ministry - has in recent years ramped up efforts to get more people, in particular the youth, educated about Islamic teachings. "This will help to ensure that our young remain rooted to the proper values. The actions of extremists in the Middle East have been generating plenty of curiosity and controversy," said Mr Saktiandi. "There is a prevalence of flawed online resources masquerading as Islamic teachings. These resources are often dynamic and provocative, and youths who do not have a good understanding of their religion run the risk of being susceptible to erroneous teachings and becoming misguided."

He felt a solid Islamic studies curriculum can nurture a cohesive and progressive Muslim community.

While Mr Saktiandi asked about plans for part-time Islamic education in the coming year, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) wanted to know what was in store for religious teachers.

He also wanted to know how the community could continue to stand together amid a heightened climate of terror and suspicion.

Several MPs have, in recent weeks, spoken about the danger of Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim sentiment, gaining ground in Singapore.

Mr Zainal said people of different races and religions have presented a united front on this issue thus far. But he added:"As a Muslim, I am worried that people of other faiths may have a biased view of Islam in light of recent events around the world. There is an urgent need to counter any possible negative perceptions."

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) felt Singaporeans studying in Islamic institutions abroad could also be engaged, as they were potential community leaders who should feel rooted to Singapore.

Another area of focus among the nine Malay/Muslim MPs who spoke was how the community could tap the national SkillsFuture initiative. Last October, self-help group Mendaki set up the Future Ready Unit to help the community better adapt to the changing economy.

Families too came under the spotlight. Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked about programmes to help underaged and teenage couples, while Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) wanted to know about measures to help divorcing couples.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim will respond to these issues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth MPs raise need to strengthen community ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe