Muis 'has to empower and educate community'

MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS YAACOB IBRAHIM
MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS YAACOB IBRAHIM

Yaacob: Amid growing diversity, it can't just be Islamic affairs regulator

In the face of growing diversity and disruption, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) cannot just play the role of a regulator, but must also help Muslims here come to their own decisions on their religious life, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

While Muis will still have to set the standards and regulations on issues such as the halal labelling of food, its role in people's religious life extends beyond that to education and guidance, he said.

"In terms of religious life, in terms of diversity of views, in terms of how we deal with different lifestyles, Muis needs to empower people so that they understand what are the basic Islamic thoughts on the matter," he said.

Adding that he believed Muslims here do not want a regulator that is "very totalitarian and imposing", he said: "We cannot impose this on our community, but we can educate them that these are the various strands of thoughts, these are the rationale that the scholars have arrived at, so you make the decision."

Dr Yaacob was speaking on the sidelines of a discussion on the religious life of the Singapore Muslim community, held at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

About 60 religious and community leaders discussed issues ranging from how Muslims can reconcile animal welfare and religious practices such as the korban ritual, to gender equality and the different schools of thought in Islam.

Speaking to reporters after the session, Dr Yaacob said educating not just the community, but also the religious teachers, is key to helping people understand the context in which Islam is practised here.

GUIDING MUSLIMS

In terms of religious life, in terms of diversity of views, in terms of how we deal with different lifestyles, Muis needs to empower people so that they understand what are the basic Islamic thoughts on the matter...We cannot impose this on our community, but we can educate them that these are the various strands of thoughts, these are the rationale that the scholars have arrived at, so you make the decision.

MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS YAACOB IBRAHIM

For instance, younger Muslims will be increasingly confronted with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issue, with society becoming more open, he said.

"They need to understand, and they are looking for guidance. I see this as an opportunity for us to shape a certain discourse which is more progressive, rather than a discourse where we say it's right and wrong, black and white," he added.

Summing up the discussions, Muis senior director of religious policy and development, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, said that as the Muslim community embraces diversity and disruption, it should also be aware of how this could affect religious life.

He added: "We can be diverse... we can be different, but we must remain united in our humanity, and our common values we share."

The event was the 12th of 20 such sessions planned, as Muis marks its 50th anniversary this year.

Mr Ilyas Yeow Shih Yeh of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore, who was at the discussion, said that as Singaporeans become more educated and religious, there is a need to overcome the tendency to become less tolerant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Muis 'has to empower and educate community''. Print Edition | Subscribe