3 threats to Malays' progress: Masagos

Three external challenges threaten to hinder the progress made by the Malay Muslim community, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli yesterday, when he explained why it "cannot rest on its laurels".

These are: foreign religious influence, global economic shifts like technological disruptions, and extremist influence from abroad.

In particular, religious influence has led to an erosion of the community's cultural values, said Mr Masagos, who took charge of the portfolio on May 1.

Speaking in Malay, he told his people that failing to tackle the challenges will hinder the community's progress in the future. But to deal with them will require building up the collective strength of the 3M, he said, referring to the community's three key institutions.

These are: the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), self-help group Mendaki, and the Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra).

Their ranks will be fortified by other Malay political office holders and MPs who will all work together as a team, he added.

They include: Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman, Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Parliamentary Secretaries Faishal Ibrahim and Amrin Amin, as well as Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, who will serve as a Mesra adviser.

Elaborating on the harm economic shifts bring, he said technological disruptions can lead to the death of jobs and skills. Mendaki needs to modify its programmes, ensure students possess basic education and empower those with potential from as early as pre-school.

It will also work with government agencies and other organisations to address obstacles to the education of children, especially those from troubled homes.

Raising the red flag against foreign religious educators, he noted they have already changed how some Malays lead their religious lives in Singapore.

And to some extent, he said, "they have succeeded in eroding our cultural values as Malay Muslims in the region, and also our Malay heritage that we should uphold and continue to preserve".

He said Muis, which oversees the socio-religious life of Muslims, needs to improve the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which religious teachers must be on before they can preach here.

This is to ensure religious messages are not only attractive but also "effective and relevant to life in Singapore", he added.

Mr Masagos spoke extensively on religious extremism, which he said is not only about terrorism but also exclusivity.

To boost interaction between Malays and other communities, he highlighted the role of Mesra, which is under the People's Association.

Mesra, he said, needs to go beyond promoting language and culture.

It needs to build "wider and deeper relationships within the Malay community".

Malays must also be willing to give back to society when they become successful, he said. From 1980 to 2015, the monthly household income of Malays had risen sixfold, Mr Masagos noted.

"It would be unfortunate if we build a community that is merely rich in material wealth," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline '3 threats to Malays' progress: Masagos'. Print Edition | Subscribe